Disclaimer: Don't own Freezing. Just a fan. Also this chapter takes note of Rana's origin story from Freezing: Zero, a manga spin-off of Freezing. See end of chapter for author's note.
Inner Thoughts/Dream sequence
Chapter 6: Sisters by Choice
0200 Hours, June 27, 2068 (Military Calendar) / Mirai Army Headquarters, West Genetics Special Forces Barracks
The dream was one she had experienced many times over the years. It was as predictable and reassuring as an old friend.
As always, the dream took Rana home. She was trudging her way through the village, battling a thick snowfall and frigid winds. Winter had come and taken a firm grip upon her people's land. She knew that this year would be particularly bad. Unless it pulled together as one, Rana's village wouldn't survive to see spring.
Her clansmen were hard at work shoveling and pushing the snow from the village's square. As she passed them, Klukuku noticed her and gave a wave. Rana returned the gesture and shouted that she'd be back later to help.
Finally she came to the center of the village. Her family's hut was located in the most sacred of spots, as befit her sister's position as leader of the Kunlun Clan. Her attention though was immediately grabbed by the two figures outside the hut. A man was kneeling in front of a squirming little girl, attempting to push the snow from her hair.
Rana tried to approach them quietly, but the child heard her foot steps and turned. When she saw Rana, she jerked out of the man's grasp and bolted right at her. Rana opened her arms wide and caught the girl as she leapt at her.
"Auntie Rana! I missed you! Won't you play snow angels with me?" Lin said breathlessly. Her cheeks were a bright red as she wrapped her arms around Rana's neck.
Yuuta Ono walked over at a more sedate pace than his daughter had chosen, "Now Lin, what did I say about running in the snow?"
Lin pouted, "But Papa, you said I could play with Auntie when she returned."
Rana laughed as Yuuta tried to explain to her niece the dangers of carelessness in extreme weather. Lin clearly wasn't listening.
"How about this. We'll play angels after we go see your grandmother. Deal?"
The three proceeded to enter the hut together. Despite its outward appearance, the inside was spacious and cozy. A fire situated in the center kept the worst of the cold out. An older woman sat in front of it brewing a pot.
She turned at the sound and gave the trio a warm smile, "I'm glad you decided to come in. It's far too cold out to be playing games."
Rana put Lin down and swiftly walked over to her mother. She took her hands in her own and planted a kiss on Lam Linchen's cheek, "I missed you, mother."
"I missed you too sweetie. Come sit down and have dinner with us."
The dream fed a hunger deep inside Rana. She had not been home in years and desperately missed it. But she missed something else even more.
As if on command the door of the hut was pushed open. A figure swathed in a thick cloak and hood walked in. Snow caked boot imprints lingered on the floor as the figure shook the snow from their body.
Lin immediately stood and ran for the newcomer. Without missing a beat, the cloaked stranger bent down and enveloped the little girl in a hug. Rana moved to join them.
At her approach, the figure removed the hood to reveal thick black hair that was just as long and luxurious as Rana remembered.
Luna Linchen smiled gently at Rana and said, "Sister, it is good to see you again."
Rana wasted no time in wrapping her arms around Luna in a tight embrace. She knew it was just a dream, but Rana didn't care. She got to see her sister again and that's all that mattered.
Separating, Luna leaned back and asked, "Won't you stay with us this time, Rana?"
Rana wanted nothing more. Here was the family she might have had. Her sister, mother, niece, and brother-in-law all watched in anticipation of her answer, love and hope written plainly on their faces.
It would be so sweet, to stay here forever with them. To never wake and be forced to confront the world. All she had to do was say yes. One little word and her family would be returned to her. Just one little word…
The blaring of a klaxon jerked Rana awake. She jolted forward and slipped from the bed in confusion. The floor was cold and hard when she landed. As she laid where she'd fallen, the screech from the intercom began to form words recognizable to her ears.
"This is a Type 2 alert status! This is not a drill! The 13th Platoon is to report to Laboratory #3 immediately! 14th Platoon is to report to the East Garrison Station and stand-by to provide back up!"
Her instincts kicked in and Rana jumped into action. She stripped off her night clothes and activated her Legendary Stigmata. It thrummed to life as a Volt Texture materialized and covered her body. She ran for the door and headed right. The Science Department's labs were on the other side of the campus from the Barracks so she'd have to move fast.
In her rush to meet the new threat, Rana failed to notice that Satellizer was nowhere to be found.
She made it to the lab in record time but found she was one of the last to arrive. Captain Mably, Senior Warrant Officer McMillan, and their respective Limiters were already waiting in front of the entrance dressed in their combat fatigues.
Elizabeth turned to her, "There was an explosion in the lab, followed by an alert warning issued by Colonel Lee. Something very wrong is happening here."
Arnett stepped forward, "All the more reason to bust in and start nailing bad guys to the wall."
Captain Mably shook her head, "We need to assess the situation first. Going in blind is too dangerous."
Before Arnett could respond, the door to the building burst open. Rana and her teammates summoned their weapons and moved to intercept, only to stop in astonishment when a group of scientists came barreling down the stairs.
"I need a medic now!" Gengo Aoi's voice cracked like a whip in the humid night air. He was carrying a comatose Scarlett in his arms, with Atsuko helping a limping Elize not far behind. The team of soldiers rushed forth to meet them.
"Are you injured Professor Aoi!?" demanded Elizabeth.
Gengo's breathing was harsh and labored, "I'm fine, but Chief Scientist Ohara has a concussion and Chief Medical Officer Schmitz has a broken leg. They need medical attention."
The Captain immediately activated her comlink and alerted the medical teams. Rana took the opportunity to observe the scientists. Atsuko's face was pale and frightened. Elize was calm, but obviously putting up a front to deal with her injury. Scarlett was bleeding and unresponsive. The Professor, aside from his breathing, was unreadable.
Elizabeth lowered a hand from her ear, "Medical teams are on their way but you four cannot stay here so close to danger. Arnett and Morrison will escort you to safety."
Gengo shook his head, "There's no time for that. You have to get in there right this minute. If you don't, I'm afraid Su-Na might kill her."
A cold feeling stabbed Rana's belly, her instincts crying out to her, "Who would the Colonel kill?"
For a moment, Rana stared blankly at the man often named the hope of mankind. She must have heard him wrong. If Satella-san dies, I'll be all alone.
Arnett interjected, "What the hell are you talking about? Why would the Colonel kill Satellizer?"
"There was an…accident during our experiment. Satellizer's Stigmata have gone out of control and she's on a rampage. Su-Na stayed to hold her off as we escaped, but it was a close thing. I almost didn't make it. Su-Na won't let that go easily. You have to get in there and resolve the situation before someone gets killed."
Unadulterated fear struck Rana like a thunderbolt. She turned to Elizabeth and screamed, "We have to go now!"
Elizabeth's brow furrowed as she contemplated the situation. Rana had to resist the urge to take her by the shoulders and shake until she came to a decision.
"It seems we have no choice. Supreme Commander Aoi, you and your group will head to the medical teams with Arnett and Morrison. Rana and I shall join the Colonel in subduing Satellizer. Second Lieutenant Evans has already reached the western entrance to the labs and will join us inside."
Rana barely waited for Elizabeth to finish giving orders before she shot up the stairs. She pushed the doors open and ran headlong into the dark, where she knew her lost friend to be.
The emergency lighting set the lab in ominous shadows. Rana, Elizabeth, and André made their way down the center hallway. The echoing of their boots added an almost soothing repetition to the task at hand.
Rana took point, a white light spearing through the darkness. Fear coiled around her heart like a snake. Satellizer had long since become her closest friend. They had shared so much laughter, love, and heartache with one another. Rana would do anything to make sure she was safe.
Elizabeth laid a hand on her shoulder, "I understand your worry, but do not let your emotions cloud your judgement. We all must be level headed if Satellizer is to be saved."
Rana swallowed nervously and nodded. The hallway gave way to a crossroads with four corridors. Elizabeth indicated the left hall and the group turned. The alarm had finally stopped, yet the quiet that replaced it was nerve wracking.
She was about to point out how strange the lack of noise was, given that a battle was supposedly going on, when the end of the hall exploded in a flash. Rana hunkered down and held strong, while Elizabeth was blasted off her feet. There was a painful thump as she crashed into André and the two tumbled away. Smoke and bits of debris blasted Rana's face, making her eyes water and her throat constrict. A loud thunderclap boomed in the distance and made hearing a liability.
Rana ignored all of this, tucked her head into her chest, and raced forward as fast as she could. It took mere moments for her to clear the smoke and she found herself in a large testing facility. The walls and floors had gouges torn out of them, as if some great beast had mauled them in a fury.
Rubbing the irritation from her eyes, the Tibetan Pandora squinted at a blurry figure in the center of the room, which turned to face her. When her eyes adjusted, the figure took on characteristics she was all too familiar with.
Long blonde hair that shimmered like silk. Pale skin the color of porcelain. But her eyes….
A numbing sense of horror began to overtake her as Satellizer's full state became clear. Jagged Stigmatic spikes grew from her back, twisted and grotesque in their wrongness. What had once been her right hand was now little more than a savage blade meant for slaughter. Her uniform was torn and shredded where her body had mutated.
But her eyes were the worst part. They were cold and monstrous and so very, very dead.
Somehow she found her voice, "Satella-san, it's me."
The thing that had once been her friend didn't respond. It simply stood there, staring her corpse stare, as if Rana was a stranger.
Anger quickly replaced fear, "It's me Satellizer! Don't you recognize me!?"
Shouting had been a mistake. Satellizer's neck gave a violent twitch and she stumbled forward quickly, blade held high. As the it came for her head, Rana belatedly realized that she should have kept her own weapon summoned and at the ready. She tried to fall back, but knew she wouldn't make it.
"Move faster you dumbass!"
Another thunderclap boomed, this one much closer. Rana was knocked down and blown away at the force of the blow. She rolled until a desk stopped her momentum. Her head was ringing and her back ached, but Rana forced herself to look up.
Su-Na stood tall from where she had stopped Satellizer's forward advance. Blades were locked in a vicious struggle for dominance as each Pandora tried to force the other back.
The so-called Strongest Pandora grinned menacingly, "That was a close one, eh Satellizer? Can't you even recognize your own friends anymore?"
Satellizer's only response was a roar that sent spittle into the face of Gengo's right hand.
"Right then, now I don't feel so bad about doing this."
Su-Na swung her second blade in a downward slash that Satellizer blocked, but whose force she could not withstand. She was sent soaring across the room and smashed into the wall.
Rana jumped to her feet, "Stop! Don't hurt her!"
The Korean Pandora turned her red eyes towards Rana, "She's been trying to cut my head off for the last half hour. Excuse me if I don't handle her with kid gloves."
"We have to help her! The Professor told us to!"
Su-Na's faced twitched at the mention of Gengo, but before she could speak an explosion drew her attention.
Satellizer stood from the hole in the wall, completely unhurt. She brandished her blade and rushed forward to attack. Rana summoned her own weapons and moved to meet her.
Twin light beams raced past her and struck Satellizer dead center. She tripped and slid forward in a pool of her own blood.
Elizabeth, André, and Amelia came running from the hallway door. The Pandora had their weapons out and were prepared for battle.
"Don't just go charging in, Rana! If you really want to save Satellizer, then get your act together!" Elizabeth's voice was stern and scathing.
"Wow~ that's good advice Elizabeth~." Su-Na shrugged innocently when said Pandora turned to glare at her.
Rana ran forward to where Satellizer had fallen. The pool of blood surrounding her was so dark it appeared almost black. "Don't worry Satella, I'm going to get you to the-" words suddenly died in her throat. Satellizer had heaved herself upward so fast that Rana hadn't even seen her move. The hand around her throat was cold and unyielding as it choked the life from her.
All the while Satellizer's eyes remained the same.
Rana tried to speak, to call out to her friend and reason with her, but her throat wouldn't cooperate. Her vision was beginning to blur and a dull pain had begun to pound inside her head.
Am I going to die?
Through the growing haze Rana heard the pitter-patter of steps. It was a familiar sound that always accompanied an Accel Turn.
Just before the darkness overtook her, the pressure on her throat receded and she collapsed to the floor. Vicious coughs racked her body as the sound of slicing blades danced above her. Raising her head, Rana saw that Amelia had come to her aid. She leveraged her weapon's superior reach and forced Satellizer away from the fallen Pandora. At the same time she shouted, "Get her back!"
A pair of hands wrapped around Rana's torso and began dragging her away from the battle. A pulsating pain still lingered in her head, but she forced herself to look up and saw that André was the one dragging her to safety. She tried to thank him, but found her mouth was filled with sand.
As André reached the group, Elizabeth bent down and snapped a finger in front of her face. She felt spacey and found the noise distracting.
"Can you hear me, Rana? Can you still fight?"
Rana nodded sluggishly before a voice interrupted them, "You're in quite a pathetic state, Rana Linchen."
Struggling, she turned to find Lucy staring down at her. Her eyes were as frigid as ever, but somehow she thought she saw a glimmer of amusement in them.
"Ah…I'd stand and salute if I could...sorry Princess."
Lucy "hmphed" softly in reply and turned to speak to Su-Na, who was watching Satellizer and Amelia engage one another.
"Eyes on me, Rana. We have to work together here. While Amelia has her distracted, you and I will strike Satellizer from behind."
Rana grunted in response and heaved herself up. The room immediately began spinning but thankfully Elizabeth reached out a hand to steady her. A cry of pain suddenly erupted and the group turned to see Amelia reeling from Satellizer's blow, blood pouring from a gash in her stomach.
Elizabeth and Rana sprang into action. Moving quickly, the latter dove to catch Amelia's falling form as the former wove a barrier to cover them.
"Get Amelia out of the way!" Elizabeth yelled, voice partially obscured by the loud booms coming from Satellizer's attacks.
Rana almost smiled in triumph, as Elizabeth's barrier had stopped Satellizer in her tracks. Su-Na's voice suddenly cut into her, loud and desperate.
A telltale flash was the only warning the two Pandora had before a particle beam ripped through the barrier they had huddled behind. Rana felt it graze her left hip and screamed in pain as the flesh was burned away. She turned so Amelia was mostly behind her and protected from the attack. I don't want to die like this. Not by Satella's hand.
The light was suddenly snuffed out, mercifully so, and a powerful explosion its replacement. A wave of dusted rose up and blocked Rana's sight. When Su-Na spoke to her, it was a surprise, though she was too hurt to react much.
"You still alive, Linchen?"
Rana looked up. Her superior's face was a blank mask, but her red eyes were questioning.
"Yes," croaked Rana, her throat seared to ash.
Su-Na murmured a reply that Rana couldn't make out. Her ears were still ringing. Adjusting her damaged left side, she laid a hand on Amelia' throat and checked for a pulse. After a moment, she let out a breath when she felt a steady beat.
A whimper to the right caught her attention, and Rana looked over. André was helping Elizabeth into a sitting position. Her left arm had been burned away from the elbow down.
"We can't keep this up."
At Su-Na's words, Rana gazed forward. Lucy was in the midst of a vicious close-quarters brawl with Satellizer. Her Soul Energy infused strikes met her opponent's blade in equal measure. Rana saw that she had the advantage in agility, but not in strength. Any blow that landed caused Lucy to buckle and she was forced to give ground or be beaten down.
"This has to end. Sorry, Professor."
Su-Na began walking forward. He steps were measured and unhurried, but awoke a fear in Rana all the same.
"Colonel, what are you doing?"
There was no reply. Just more calm steps that carried the Pandora closer to the battle in front of her.
"I asked what the hell you are doing!?"
"She's going….to put an end to this battle."
Elizabeth had limped over to her position, her one remaining arm slung over André's shoulder.
Rana stared dumbly at her. This can't be how it ends. I won't let this be how it ends.
Untangling herself from Amelia's unconscious form, Rana rose to her feet. Her vision was swimming, her side was in agony, and she was fairly certain her left leg was broken. But none of that mattered. Her friend needed her.
Years of following Elizabeth's commands made her stop, even with her mind set on what she must do.
"You can't defeat Su-Na Lee. None of us can. But that's fine. If our goal is to save Satellizer, then we don't have to. Follow my lead."
Rana hesitated for but a moment before nodding. Elizabeth had never let her down before.
Ahead of them, Su-Na had finally reached the duel. Lucy held herself defiantly, but her situation was grim. Her Vital Frames ticked off silently as precious energy slipped away. Satellizer was unmoved. Her monstrous form quivered as the hideous Stigmatic spikes grew longer and thicker. She lumbered forward with her blade dangling loosely, promising murder and mayhem for all. Until Su-Na's voice cried out.
"Hey, you bitch! How about we finish this little dance?"
Satellizer spun around at the intrusion. Before her stood the commander of Mirai's Special Forces. Alone she was, but confident and unafraid.
There was a note of sadness in her voice when she spoke, "I really didn't want to do this, Satellizer. You're a great Pandora. One of the few who might someday save mankind. But," her voice suddenly grew hard and unyielding. "You've become a great threat. A threat to your friends. To mankind. To the Professor. I….can't let that go."
Su-Na spread her legs and squared her shoulders, duel blades held akimbo. Satellizer, dead eyes wide, gave a roar and charged.
She made it three feet before the first of Su-Na's blows snapped her head back like a rubber band. There was a sickening screech as she hit the ground and rolled. She tried to jump up but the second blow knocked her back down. The third kept her there. As did the fourth, fifth, and sixth blows.
The strikes continued to come, an unending rain like that of a storm. Continuous. Unrelenting. Unforgiving.
"She's killing her."
Rana stood on shaky legs as nausea rose up from the pit of her stomach.
"Colonel Lee has lost herself to the battle. Look." Elizabeth inclined her head towards Su-Na.
Looking over, Rana saw the biggest smile she had ever seen adorn the colonel's face. Her red eyes were bright as she hammered Satellizer into the ground with blows heavy enough to split a building in two.
Tears were dripping from her eyes when Elizabeth's words whispered in her ear, "Now is not the time for that. Satellizer can still be saved. Wait for the right moment, and strike with all of your might."
Rana lowered her stance and readied her fists. Her gauntlets and boots felt like they weighed a million pounds each.
Su-Na continued her flurry of blows. The floor beneath Satellizer had given way under the assault and the Nova-fied Pandora was slowly but surely being ground into nothing.
Just when Rana thought Elizabeth would never act, she made her move. Her voice cut through the chaos like a white sword.
"Is this truly what Gengo Aoi would want!?"
And just like that, time itself seemed to stop.
Su-Na froze, her arms extended high in the air but still. Rana knew an opening when she saw one.
She shot forward like a light speed bullet. The wings of light flowing from her back pushed her forward fast, faster than she had ever gone before. Su-Na spun around at her approach, but it was too late. Concentrating all of her weight and strength into her fist, Rana hurled a straight right directly at the face of Mirai's Strongest Pandora.
Her aim was true and there was a boom when her fist connected with Su-Na. Rana caught a glimpse of a feral look in her target's eyes before the force of the strike shot her into the far wall.
Wasting no time at her apparent victory, Rana twisted at the last second and used her momentum to throw herself upon Satellizer. Her hand found the familiar shape of a Legendary Stigmata on Satellizer's chest.
With not even a moment spent considering her own safety, Rana pulled with all the strength left in her arms.
Her reward was a white light as bright as the sun.
"Wake up, Rana."
Rana blinked. Above her was the ceiling of a laboratory. The stark white paint made it painful to look at with her sensitive eyes. She felt a hand on her shoulder and was suddenly but gently pulled forward. There was something heavy in her lap and it made moving awkward.
Elizabeth gave her shoulder a squeeze and smiled, "You did it."
Elizabeth pointed down and Rana followed the gesture. In her lap laid Satellizer. Her blonde hair was brittle and fanned out. Her skin was pale as milk and clammy to the touch. But her breathing was even, and she was so very much alive.
Rana let the tears flow freely from her eyes. Oh thank Kunlun. Thank you for not taking another sister from me.
"Don't try to move too much. You're in bad shape," said Elizabeth.
She was not lying. Her left arm, the one she'd use to tear the Stigma out of Satellizer, had been burned away to the bicep. Her left eye and ear were blind and deaf. She couldn't feel her legs either, though that might have been from Satellizer's weight. I told her all that Burger Queen would make her fat.
Finding her voice, she asked, "How long was I out?"
"Not long. About ten minutes."
It felt like she had been unconscious for years. "Where are the others?"
Elizabeth motioned behind her and Rana spied Lucy and André supporting a now conscious Amelia. We've won then. We saved Satellizer and no one died.
"Don't you just love when everything works out in the end?"
Su-Na's voice was cheerful and light. As if they were discussing their favorite food or hobby. Turning her head, Rana saw the red-eyed Pandora approaching the group briskly. A huge and ugly purple bruise covered half of her face. Besides that though, she looked unhurt. I hit her with everything I had.
As if sensing her thoughts, Su-Na explained, "High-speed regeneration. I'm not one for bragging, but it pays to be Professor Aoi's bodyguard. I get to try out all the best toys. Speaking of the Professor..."
She turned her gaze on Elizabeth and whispered, "That was a dirty trick."
Swallowing, Elizabeth raised her chin and answered, "I am aware. I apologize for it, and for helping in the assault of a superior officer. Rana was acting on my orders. I alone should be punished."
Rana saw Su-Na consider her words for a moment, before smiling. It was the smile of a predator.
"Gosh Elizabeth, how am I supposed to stay mad when you get all righteous and proper? Talk about a buzz kill."
Elizabeth shifted her feet, still clutching her stump of a limb, "You….are not mad?"
Su-Na shrugged, "You two were trying to save someone you care about. I can relate to that. So no hard feelings. How about we shake on it?"
She extended her right hand, palm up, in a show of non-hostility.
Every instinct in Rana's body yelled danger at the offered hand. She tried to speak but found her voice was gone.
Elizabeth stared at the offered hand as well. There was a war of emotions on her face as she debated internally. Rana knew she would shake hands with the colonel though. Her pride would allow for nothing less.
Setting her jaw, she raised her remaining hand and grasped Su-Na's in a firm grip.
Still smiling, Su-Na said, "See? That wasn't too hard."
Elizabeth began pulling her hand back, but was suddenly jerked forward again.
Su-Na's voice was still light and cheerful when she said, "But if we're really being honest with one another, that punch did hurt quite a bit."
There was the flash of a blade and a geyser of blood exploded from the spot where Elizabeth's right arm had been.
The blood splattered into Rana's face, blinding her to the world. The last thing she heard before darkness took was the sound of André and Amelia's roars of protest.
Author's note: Sorry for the long wait everyone. My computer up and died on me, and getting a new one has been tough. I also lost a lot of my files so I had to rewrite this chapter from scratch. Fight scenes remain difficult for me so let me know how it read.
In addition, a friend of mine gave me an idea to toy around with. If people are interested, I'm considering starting a new story of one-shots based on reviewer requests. Give me a character and a scenario/specific theme and I'd try to roll with it. Also I'd try and keep it more on the light-hearted side. Message me if anyone is interested.