Time-line Update: Nine months later, Friday August 9th
AN: This is a direct sequel to Shattered Mirror and it is highly recommended that you read that story first before attempting to make sense of this one. If you have already read the prequel then thanks for coming back!
Chapter 1: Preperations
"How are we doing with the Chinese government?"
"They have agreed to crack down on all access to the internet inside their borders and closely monitor all major firewalls as well as government, military and nuclear networks."
"Keeping things from people has never been a problem for them. How about Russia and the United States?"
"They are actually cooperating very well with each other and both are mobilizing private sector A.I. units. Russia is going to monitor incoming and outgoing information and the United States will do the same in more of a blanket measure since there are so many more people and businesses to cover. Tomonari and Magus have been dispatched to present their case to the American government as well as the NAB. Niketas has flown to the Moscow where he will meet with representatives from their government. Your own flight to America is scheduled for late Sunday night where you will join him and discuss forming an alliance. Once you leave, Chigusa will stay here to oversee operations," the aid speaking flipped through the electronic pages on her tablet quickly as Ryou stood there overlooking the operation.
"What about Kaoru?"
"He has just landed in South Africa with Rhodesia where, with Macha's help, they will be making a thorough inspection of the latest military and private robotics facility there Cape Town. Then they will be moving north to visit Lagos, Nigeria and then to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia before finally visiting Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The facilities there are already well established and making great progress in making drones and other practical machines, robots, and other robotics," she said breathlessly.
"Akira and Sentou?"
"Umm, she paused and scanned through the tablet for a moment before answering. "Akira went with Tomonari to act as a bodyguard and provide extra security, while Sentou went with Niketas to do the same," she replied and took a deep breath.
Ryou nodded and leaned forward so the retina scanner could read his eye.
Cleared for entry. Welcome Ryou Misaki an electronic voice calmly intoned.
Looking over his shoulder he flashed his aide an impatient look when she hesitated to enter the area where G.U. did all of their work. As a normal assistant she had never been in here before. Now she that she had been assigned to help Ryou though it was as if a whole new world had been opened to her and it clearly showed in her hurried and eager-to-please manner.
All around the room, the walls, and the floor were blue lines that were glowing softly in the dim lighting. Most everyone who worked here used M2D's so money wasn't wasted on providing bright lighting. Embedded in these blue lines were embedded with high resolution, fiber optic cameras that were watching and recording their every move.
The actual company known as CC Corp had dissolved just over a month after the destruction of The World. It hadn't taken long for the authorities to figure out that the source of the planet-wide blackout had originated from their Japanese servers. Once the news came out a massive sell off had occurred in the stock market and their value plummeted to barely nothing. They filed for bankruptcy but considering their history no one was stupid enough to get involved with them. At the same time as the bankruptcy announcement the NAB had presented CC Corp with stringent threats for their obvious violations as well as private reports that had been exposed online for everyone to see by websites such as Wikileaks as well as the now more organized group of hackers known as Anonymous. Both were individual groups that had come together and started working in association with one another a couple years ago when Anonymous started becoming more organized with its members and making rules and regulations to guide their actions.
Several employees as well as the highest members had been arrested and CC Corp ultimately was dissolved and all information pertaining to it handed over to G.U. which was not only continuing to operate, but was in fact thriving.
Ever since the destruction of The World there had been plenty of debate by the NAB council as to whether the Epitaphs should be allowed to remain free considering how big a threat they were to international security. Rhodesia made the argument that they were highly temperamental beings with major trust issues. The fact that they were willing to still be in association with the NAB at all was a miracle in and of itself considering how they had been treated in the past. Niketas also had argued in favor of working with the Epitaph's and their Users to create a separate group under the official name of G.U. to handle all matters associated with the tracking, investigation, and ultimate capture or take down of the man known only by the name Aihane.
Plenty of A.I.'s had been placed under their direct command as well as a contingent of drones, robots, and other machines that could be used at will and operated as they saw fit. Kisho and Ren had been assigned to work with them on a permanent basis and now lived on site along with the other remaining Epitaph Users. The shop they ran in Akihabara was still operating since it also served as a center for fellow G.U. hackers to pick up parts, hardware, computers and to hand deliver information that they couldn't trust to be delivered via internet channels. It was hidden in plain sight amongst hundreds if not thousands of other shops.
The small secretive group was now a full time operation. Thanks to some creative maneuvering and bidding by the Epitaphs themselves the G.U. group was now only one final vote away from being fully autonomous and independent. The Network Administration Bureau was fighting against it, but was rapidly losing the battle. Whichever group the Epitaphs supported would ultimately stand superior. On paper both the NAB and G.U. were of equal weight and standing internationally. In reality the remaining Avatar's with Skeith as their ring leader were more powerful then all of the world's government safeguards put together. Whether it was a computer system, human personnel, or A.I.'s there was nothing created so far that had been able to hinder them or keep them from entering and taking whatever they wanted.
In light of this fact the NAB had tried to seduce the Avatar's away from G.U. but had met with rather embarrassing results. After numerous denials made through their respective human partners the Epitaphs had finally stopped answering them altogether. They had tried to sweet talk Tomonari away with promises of higher pay and a better position, but Magus had responded personally by planting a virus on their biggest computer system. It even included a chibi picture of himself sticking his tongue out. It had paralyzed their operations for over a week and they finally had to call G.U. and ask for help. Magus removed the virus and no one from the NAB had contacted them since.
Ryou dismissed his aide and she bowed deeply before running off to take care of other matters. It was amazing to think of how far he had come since last year. He had gone from an average teenager to being an Epitaph User and now to one of the most dangerous people in the entire world. That was due primarily to Skeith and he wouldn't trade his partner for anything or anyone else in the world.
Niketas had trained all of them not only in handling hand weapons, but high powered weapons as well the workings and operations of tanks, airplanes, jets, helicopters, drones and countless other military machines. The last few had mostly been for the benefit of the Avatar's although Chigusa of all people had shown the greatest proficiency for running, operating, creating, fixing, and building machines. She always got embarrassed whenever someone brought it up. Reiko proved to be an expert sharpshooter and sniper. She trained mercilessly; every free moment was taken up and Ryou knew that she was doing it so that she wouldn't have time to think about Tarvos being gone.
Tomonari and Magus had both turned into the best computer programmers around. For his part Ryou could do everything else just fine, but he wasn't especially good at it. Instead his forte was hacking and information gathering. If there was anything at all to be discovered then he would sniff it out with mechanical precision. He had a knack for discovering exactly the information they needed and seeing how everything fit together. Working alongside Kisho and Ren had proven to be a very smart decision.
Ryou had matured a lot in these past few months, but his arrogance hadn't faded in the least. His appearance had also changed and his hair was now jet black instead of light brown. It was shaggy and hung down around his face more. Most noticeable were his crimson eyes which served as clear evidence of Skeith's influence. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between the human and the A.I.
"My, my, the Prince of Darkness lives. To what do we owe the pleasure my Lord?"
Snapping out of his thoughts, Ryou looked over to see Ren sitting there with a lollipop in her mouth. She had dyed her hair a smoky gray with dark blue streaks and it was styled into a big faux hawk at the moment. He should have known it was either her or Kisho talking to him in such a sarcastic manner.
"I'm actually getting some work done... unlike you," he fired back.
Ren grinned and waved her hand flippantly. "Details, details. Besides I'm running a security search of all G.U. servers to make sure there are no breaches then Kisho and I have a job from some Arabian prince. Apparently AIDA fragments have been leaving traces on his personal computer and he's worried that his business operations may have been compromised," she said waving a sheet of papers at him.
"Let me guess he's the heir to some giant oil operation?"
"Duh, what else would it be? Electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel cars are more popular now but that doesn't mean oil isn't still valuable. What's most interesting is that this oil is blended into a very special type of fuel..." Ren paused and handed the papers to him.
Raising an eyebrow Ryou took it and scanned through the proposal to see if there was anything special he needed to know. Two words caught his eye: military grade fuel. Why would Aihane be interested in a Saudi Arabian prince's supply of high grade military fuel? It would go directly towards fueling jets, military helicopters, tanks, and other machines which needed a special blend in order to function at maximum efficiency.
I'll look into his business operations and see who exactly he is supplying this oil to, where he keeps his money and what allegiances he currently holds internationally, Skeith said automatically without having to be asked. By the end of the day Ryou would know every last detail of this man's life. Everyone had secrets, it was just a matter of finding out what they were.
So far everything was going smoothly. If only they could find Masato and Shino. Rhodesia had finally admitted to them that she had been helping them take shelter in the northern city of Kori, but after an arsonist set fire to the house they were staying at she had lost track of them. That was what she claimed anyway. Ryou had wanted to press for information but Skeith told him to drop the matter. When asked why the Epitaph said that Innis was the one who told him to let it go and while Skeith was suspicious he did trust her. Chigusa would always squirm when Ryou brought up the subject and finally she had told him one day that the less people who were aware of their location the safer they would be. After thinking for a while Ryou took the hint and decided to let it go.
Thinking about his girlfriend brought another matter to mind. Chigusa had spoken to her siblings and told them about how Innis had discovered their birth father working at the Chiba hospital. After discussing the matter they had all agreed that it would be best not to contact him further. If Aihane found out then he wouldn't hesitate to use the man against them and now more then ever they needed to focus on their work and on tracking him down. This was no time to be distracted.
Shaking his head firmly Ryou took a deep breath to clear his thoughts. No time to be distracted is right. While Skeith is preparing his report I have other matters to look into, he considered as his thoughts turned to Iori the former User of Gorre. Though just a kid he still had been able to help them by gathering pieces of information that otherwise might go unnoticed. Small bits of news that they didn't have time to comb through and examine. Fragments that they didn't have time to piece together due to their lower importance in the grand scheme of things. Iori had been assigned a personal A.I. that would send encrypted reports back to G.U. whenever he found something. However, Ryou had gotten quite the surprise when Iori say that he wanted to meet in person to hand over his latest report. The fact that he didn't want to send it electronically or ask for a messenger to deliver showed that it must be something of great importance.
Turning to Ren he stated, "I'm going out. Tell Kisho that I'll be back later so he can give Skeith and I our final lesson."
"Want me to polish your shoes and iron your clothes while you're gone too?"
"Just deliver the message."
"Yes sir master sir. I live only to obey your commands."
A mischievous giggle drifted through the air as the poor man slammed into another mirror. Frowning he backed up and looked around, but everywhere he looked he could see nothing but his own reflection due to the hall of mirror's surrounding him. He walked to his right but a mirrored panel slammed in his face as two more swung open behind him. More laughter echoed throughout the hallways.
Chigusa looked up and frowned when she saw what Innis was doing. Both of them were in the Epitaph's personal area. Each Phase had one on the network of G.U. servers and all were customized to reflect their personal tastes and methods of conveying or receiving information. Macha and Magus shared an area that was split into a carefully tended garden and a large forest. In the garden each piece of news and every person Macha wanted to follow and keep track of was displayed as some type of plant or flower. Aihane was manifested as a barbed and highly poisonous vine that had extended its clutches all throughout the area grabbing and letting go of different things all the time. It was constantly moving and had tendrils everywhere. A perfect description Chigusa thought. Meanwhile, Magus was more interested in companies, organizations, or different places on the network itself. Whether it was the NAB, various terrorist groups, a company, a website, or different servers all were represented by something.
Skeith's personal area also served as their meeting place and was a castle with endless hallways and rooms. Innis personal area was an ever changing labyrinth that included a hall of mirrors which reflected people and a maze of staircases to represent organizations. Both changed and shifted along with the world scene. The mirrors would shift and move while the staircases would stretch, weave, and curl up and around others. Sometimes connecting, sometimes going right past them. It was a maddening place that was nevertheless a fitting place for the Second Phase now known as The Illusionist.
"Come on Innis just let him through," she said sternly.
Innis looked over with the same stitched together grin she always wore. "No way, he doesn't need to be here. If he has a message then he needs to give it to you not to me. Conversing with humans like him is pointless," she said with disinterest as she flicked her hand and changed the entire area at once. She laughed again when the man threw his hands up in frustration and finally logged out. The fusion of Innis and her AIDA counterpart Dendeira had changed the Epitaph's personality quite a bit. While she had usually been the kind one always ready to provide a helping hand now Innis spoke in riddles and delighted in confusing others. She was a master of words and her silver tongue had left many confused. Any knowledge or intelligence she had wasn't given away freely and she had become a bona fide legend on the network just like all Epitaphs. All kindness had been stripped away and those who got on Innis' bad side found out that her swords weren't just there for show.
It was only when they were alone or with Skeith and Ryou that Innis old personality would emerge again.
But I can't say anything. My personality has changed as well, Chigusa sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them them a mirror was floating in front of her showing her reflection. Her black hair was still long and was currently braided into cornrows thanks to a girls night out last week with Rhodesia, Ren, and Reiko. Her eyes had changed from dark brown to a cool aqua. Her confidence had gotten a huge boost thanks to excelling at her training regimen and Ryou's kind influence. Most of all it was thanks to her partner Innis. Looking up she saw the Avatar looking down at her.
"We've both changed and it's for the better. You're not the same person you were a few months ago and I say that's a good thing. Now that you are free of your adoptive parent's you are free to be whoever you want to be. No one can tell you otherwise," Innis said but the wicked glimmer in her eyes said she'd love to get a hold of anyone who dared to do so. Chigusa nodded and looked back at her reflection. Lately she had been changing fashion styles the way Ren changed hairstyles. Currently it was more of a pseudo cyber punk look. While living with her adoptive parents she had been tied down to whatever they felt was "proper". Never before had she had the freedom to wear whatever she wanted. Ryou said he didn't mind what she wore so long as she didn't dress up like one of those gyaru or ganguro girls in which case he was breaking up with her. The memory of that discussion still made her grin.
"He probably thinks you look beautiful no matter what you wear," Innis said coyly and snapped her fingers. The mirror swirled away into a mist as Chigusa smiled shyly. Blushing all the time was a habit she had finally been able to conquer. A small ping announced the arrival of a message that Innis immediately opened.
"See? I told you that guy would send a message. You are 'wanted in conference room Delta 5 to discuss the progress of your current endeavor.' Why can't they just say upfront that they want to know how you're coming on your latest military defense robot? I don't see the point in all this secrecy when someone could just have tapped you on the shoulder and said the same thing," Innis hissed as her fingers danced impatiently.
"Well I have to agree with that one. It shouldn't take very long so why don't you work out the bugs on the new A.I. you and Magus were working on in the meantime? We're going to need it to be perfect if its going to operate the new machine I'm trying to build," Chigusa ordered and Innis tipped her hat to show that she would get on it. Most of the A.I.'s floating around the network today had been born during the golden years when Aura was still actively a part of The World. Now very few new one's showed up and those that did often were bugged and needed serious reformatting.
Thankfully it hadn't taken long to discover that Magus had the ability to create new A.I.'s from random bits of data. Perfectly formed, intelligent, and highly advanced A.I's at that. All of which fell under the jurisdiction of G.U. since Magus himself had created them. Yet another reason why the NAB disliked them so much.
Innis had also been working together with Chigusa to create new machines for both military, private, and public use. Chigusa didn't like the idea of creating machines that would go out and kill people so each A.I. had a built in command to avoid killing humans whenever possible. So far it had been working out wonderfully. More terrorists for the government to interrogate and prosecute.
I didn't plan for that but you can't have everything, Chigusa thought as she logged off the server. Pulling the M2D off her head she pushed back from her computer desk and stood up. The latest line of machines she and Innis had created was highly classified. No one else on earth had seen them yet aside from Ryou, but she showed him everything and he did the same with her. These would be far different from anything she had done before. Each one would be going to a different country and the A.I.'s would serve there as undercover spies.
So far not a single A.I. Magus has created has turned against us. I don't even know if they can. Either way I hope that holds out and they can accomplish their mission. There's no telling when a government might turn and try to ally itself with Aihane in order to get ahead or to try and spare itself possible danger, Chigusa thought with a frown. On one hand she could understand countries looking out for their own interests, but on the other hand now that Aihane had four Avatars, three of which were in their final forms, there was no telling what he was capable of.
Shino sighed and checked the GPS to make sure they were traveling north through Hokkaido. Traveling with a pack of military machines wasn't easy after all. Especially since very few of them could be convinced to stay behind. The helicopters, jets, and other flying drones had agreed to catch up later when they were out to sea on the aircraft carrier Kyodaina Nami. The tanks had reluctantly followed at a distance through back roads or occasionally blazing their own mountain path when there wasn't a road big enough for them to drive on without being seen by the general populace. Rhodesia was helping to cover their trail and since all Japanese surveillance satellites were now controlled by an A.I. created by Magus it was a simple task to keep the other branches of government out of the loop.
However, all of the smaller machines and drones had determinedly come along saying that "Aura might need protection." Most of them were packed into the three tractor trailers rumbling along behind them. The semi's themselves had to be stripped of all military markings and their windows blacked out so that other drivers wouldn't realize there was nobody inside. Most cars these days could drive themselves once a destination was punched into the GPS unit, but the law said that a licensed driver still had to be in the vehicle at all times. If they got pulled over by the police they would be in big trouble.
Looking back Shino stared into the bed of the pickup truck, but of course it there was a black tarp stretched and tied down across the top. The tailgate was up as well to hide Aura's new robot body from any curious passerby. Turning back around she tried to settle in her seat but within seconds had turned back around to look. A small chuckle came from Masato who reached over and grabbed her hand. "Don't worry so much. Aura is doing just fine and as long as we keep to the speed limit then there's no reason for the police or authorities to stop us. Not to mention avoiding any army bases as well. If we do that then they'll have no reason to search any of the trucks," he reminded her and Shino grunted and turned around, but didn't say anything.
Aura would bang against the bed of the truck if she needed to get their attention for any reason. She had been quiet for several hours and Masato was taking that as a good sign while Shino worried that something must have gone wrong.
"If something was wrong the other drones would let us know as would Rhodesia who is only a phone call away. We'll be fine as long as we keep moving," he reminded, but her only response was to frown more deeply. This whole trip she had been acting funny and her attitude had only worsened in the past few days. No matter what Masato did or said he couldn't snap her out of the funk she was in. Every overture he made only seemed to worsen her attitude so finally he had resulted to just leaving her alone whenever possible. Shino was never one to hide things from him. When she wanted to talk he was always the first person she would go to.
It had taken what seemed like forever before they had finally be able to leave the decommissioned military base they had been at. When Aura had first downloaded most of her data into the robot body she was currently inhabiting she wanted to make preparations and then leave right away. In fact they had been all ready to move out when Rhodesia called them up and said that they wouldn't be going anywhere. Aura had argued with her for several minutes before Rhodesia made the point that no matter how impatient they were because the Kyodaina Nami wasn't leaving its patrolling mission for another seven months after which it would spend another month in port at Okinawa to report back, refuel, be assigned a new mission plan, and receive a thorough mechanical check before leaving for the Arctic Ocean. When it left Okinawa and traveled up the coast of Japan it would bush by Hokkaido at its closest point and that's when they'd have the best opportunity to board it without anyone noticing as it was customary for the ocean going vessel to make a layover of a couple days to do a complete self analysis before heading out to parts of the world where it would take days or weeks for help to arrive should a mechanical or computer error occur.
If they left right away and Aura ordered the vessel to turn around then that action would immediately alert the Navy to the fact that something was wrong and they would track the signal's origin and be on them before they could take another breath. Their present plan would result in disaster within a few days. That didn't even factor the Kraken into the equation. All the alarms were going to go off when the Kraken met up with the mobile naval base. Once they met up and Aura moved her robot body over they would have to scramble Masato and Shino off before the Japanese military came and arrested them.
Aura was clearly frustrated and had fallen silent at this logical explanation. Rhodesia had grabbed the reins after that and told them to stay where they were. She would reroute the electricity and water usage through various local channels so the power companies wouldn't notice that a decommissioned base was suddenly using more power than it had been for the previous few years. Every two weeks they would receive a shipment of supplies with a different day and time for each shipment. They would stay put and not leave the base for any reason. No going into town. No talking to the locals. No taking the drones out for a test drive. Nothing. They sat there and stayed put until the Kyodaina Nami was ready to go.
Now they were finally on the move and Masato couldn't be more relieved, but the stress on Shino only seemed to be mounting up. Glancing over he saw her toss a few pills in her mouth before grabbing a nearby water bottle and taking a swig of it. She was definitely stressed out more than she had been these past months with nothing to do but talk to the drones and monitor the latest news reports.
Either way they would be far out to sea in a few weeks. Maybe her mood would clear up then.
Sentou stood calmly next to the door while Niketas spoke to various heads of each branch of the Russian government and military. He already knew some English thanks to lessons during school and he had learned enough Russian to get by but not nearly enough to fathom all the technical terms they were using now.
Since there was nothing else to do and he could only understand half of what was going on Sentou decided to keep his thoughts busy at least. He was a bodyguard and it was his responsibility to keep Niketas safe even though he was already trained in several styles of martial arts and fully capable of defending himself.
There were two large guns strung on one side, two pistols hidden just under his arms, a taser behind his back, a hunting knife in one of his boots, concussion gel hidden in a compartment in the bottom of one shoe and a fuse and lighter in the other, perfect for blowing up small objects or locks. An electronic code cracker in the form of small USB flash drive and several small blank SD cards for holding any information they may deem necessary to 'liberate' while they were here in Moscow. Sentou had been fully trained in martial arts and several other native forms of self defense both with weapons and without. Both he and Akira had received extensive physical and mental training in addition to working with weapons and the basics of spying and gathering information.
At first he had despised working with G.U. Hated them for the way Niketas had twisted their arms and forced them into submission and now... well things hadn't changed much. Although he did like his new muscles and improved stamina. No longer was he huffing and puffing after half a mile of running.
G.U... Niketas... Rhodesia... all of them can rot for all I care, but for some reason the remaining Epitaph's trust them and without their power all other efforts against Aihane are worthless, Sentou pursed his lips and crossed his arms. His eyes were hidden behind his sunglasses which featured a direct uplink to G.U. Any messages he need to see would appear in the lenses like a little computer screen floating in front of him. Right now there was nothing to see, but it was a convenient way to keep in contact with G.U. and to receive updated mission information.
Still the lingering resentment he felt couldn't completely be banished from his heart. The hatred he felt for Niketas personally, for Rhodesia who had unquestionably done some less than legal things as well, and for the Epitaphs who had nearly killed him several times in the past and even today clearly had no real warmth towards him. Sentou had been in their presence before and Skeith had spoken to him once when they were in The World, but since then they barely acknowledged his presence and whenever they had something to say it was almost always through their chosen master. Although Skeith, who was the defacto leader of the group, was every bit as arrogant as his partner Ryou Misaki.
Sentou took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down. Being resentful of their blackmail wouldn't help the situation any. He had to focus on the fact that he was helping Aura and the world by being here.
Just do your job and stay focused. Like him or not he and Rhodesia are helping to hold this whole operation together and they want what's best for everyone. Even if their methods of doing so aren't ways that I always agree with, Sentou thought let out the breath he was holding. Now feeling cooler and more level headed he rolled his shoulders and kept his eyes focused on protecting his employer.
Nine months had passed and it was becoming clear that various terrorist agencies around the world were starting to work together with Aihane. They didn't have much time left.
AN: Thank you so much for reading! This first chapter is mostly for everyone to catch up on what's going on. There will be plenty more action to come in the future though I can promise you that.
So what do you think? Is there anything you'd like to see in this installment that wasn't in Shattered Mirror? Let me know your thoughts and of course leave a review!