If you're here, it's either because you're a new reader or an old one and saw the note I left. Either case, welcome! Come for the story, stay for the... well, story. Btw, each chapter after this will have a list of my favourite reviews. So if you're on this list, congrats! I like what you wrote! :D
Starting boot-up protocol. initializing.
Light flooded their optical sensors, transmitting information from their surroundings. Virtually instantaneous, an image formed, identical to what lied in front of them. Immediately, they scanned the environment, allowing more and more data to take its place in the image. Distance, length, height, motion; all the variables spread in a series of dots that allowed it to form a grid-like pattern, giving the image its depth. Their optical sensors tilted left and right, up and down, ever more expanding the image they formed.
They blinked like a camera's shutter, forever capturing this now three-dimensional image in their databanks. Any new information would be absorbed, updating the existing data.
They were in a high-tech lab of sorts, bright and spacious, surrounded by white walls and highlights of a light blueish tint. Various desks were laid nearby, each with its own assortment of components, tools and equipment. From screwdrivers to computer monitors, goggles and pencils. Long wires stretched itself across the ceilings alongside large aluminium tubes connected to ventilation fans.
A female humanoid; dark hair, fair skin, age unknown but from its height and body structure; an adult. She wore a pristine white lab coat and high heels, the latter unfitting in such an environment. In her left hand was a digital pad, beeping with each tap from her right. She was initially engrossed with the pad in hand but shifted her focus towards it.
"Ah, I see you're awake." The humanoid expressed from its vocal processor. "How are you feeling today? Good? Good…"
She tapped her pad a few more times and suddenly, they felt heavier albeit on one side. "So, I added a few new updates to your design. For example, a partial basic skeleton. Now if you can, please lift your right arm to head level."
She paused, waiting for a response. They stared at her, absorbing the given information. A bit too long to her liking but after a few seconds, they transmitted the responding data to its new appendage and lifted its arm upwards slowly. They looked at its raised arm; a combination of primitive blocks glowing a holographic blue, barely looking like an arm at all.
She typed a few words in her pad. "U-huh… Well, it seems we'll have to ramp up your processing speed. Not to worry! A bit of tweaking with the software and you'll do just fine."
Suddenly, the view shifted. Static filled their display and in a blink of an eye, the environment changed. It felt so quick and so different, like a gap between events.
The new environment was still a lab but different. The desks were no more, replaced by ramps, sinks and other types of obstacles, all clearly labelled and marked with yellow-black striped outlines and a numbered card. There was also a singular red line that went through all of these obstacles. A few cameras were placed nearby, either on the walls or on individual stands. For some reason, they also felt heavier but much more balanced, unlike before. The same woman was nearby, her face recognizable but unmemorable. Nonetheless, she looked so familiar.
"From previous tests, it's proven that subject 'Source Code' seems to be responding well with the modifications, though with a 1.92-second delay with each vocalized instructions." The female humanoid spoke to her pad, strolling around the room. "For now, these delays are acceptable. We can continue with the next testing phase; the subject's ability to respond towards uneven terrain and external stimuli."
The female tapped her pad a few times and a few cameras blinked red. She turned towards them, smiling. "Hello, good morning! Did you have a good sleep? Well, I'm sure you did."
"Now, I need you to do some tests for me. Can you do that for me, dear? Of course, you can." With one tap, they felt their body involuntarily move forward by a step. "Follow the red line and react appropriately to your surroundings. Don't stop until you reach the end. Start at the count of three."
"Three, two, one… begin." She tapped her pad, starting an invisible timer. It took a second or so for a response, followed by a mechanical strut towards the first obstacle; a simple 15° incline. They scanned the ramp in front and automatically adjusted their weight upfront, slowly climbing with little difficulty.
Once on top, they continued and marched forward, targeting the next obstacles. Some were very simple such as ramps of different angles, while others were slightly more complex. A few minutes in and they experienced their first misstep on a wavy path. They tumbled and fell forward, though barely registering it. They could hear the humanoid gasp behind them and started typing.
A moment later, they moved their arms to their chest and pushed themselves up, standing back up. Impressed awe escaped their sole onlooker's lips but like before, no other action was taken. They wordlessly advanced once stable, following the bright red line.
Finally, after an unknown period, they reached the end, clearly labelled by a large red dot. The female humanoid walked beside it and with a few additional taps, checked the results. "Well done! It took you about 12 minutes 34 seconds but I'm sure after a few more changes, we'll be able to cut that time by half."
She smiled. "You'll do great someday. I promise!"
And just like before, their vision was cut to static, like a radio that has lost its feed. The noise tuned and shrivelled louder and louder, unbearably so.
Then their vision returned. All they saw was fire.
"AAAHH!" Miko yelled, her eyes shot open and her lungs gasping for air. She felt her heart rapidly beat, pounding the insides of her chest. She instinctively gripped her chest, pulling her pyjamas strongly. Her blanket was tossed to the side, covering only one half of her body. Despite the cold air in her bedroom, she was sweating heavily and quite shaken.
Miko sat up from her bed and breathed slowly, in and out. With a hand, she wiped off the sweat from her brows and stared deeply at her palm in the darkness. They were not glowing and very much human. She carefully moved each finger, the miniature limbs acting correspondingly to her will.
The purple-haired girl sighed. "Just a dream. Just a weird ol' wacky dream. Wait, did I wet myself? I hope I didn't wet myself."
Suddenly, she heard a click in the darkness and on the other side of the room, a table lamp lit up. Miko's younger sister, Lexi, rubbed her tired eyes and yawned. "Huuuah… Miko? What are you doing?"
"Uhh… Nothing? Just a scary dream, that's all."
Lexi blinked. "… Whatever." She turned her table lamp off and pulled her blanket tighter, going back to sleep.
Miko sighed in relief and internally decided to just go back to sleep and deal with it tomorrow. You know, like how everyone else does.
The next day, Miko dragged herself off her bed and down to the dining room. There, her family, as usual, ate their breakfast in a hectic manner fitting of the Kubotas. Miko yawned, still in her pyjamas, as she was unable to sleep again until after an hour passed. She would know; she stared at her digital clock all night. Thankfully for her, her shift did not start until about 9 AM so she still had a lot of time to prepare.
Unlike her siblings, Miko was the only one who didn't go to a public school. In fact, she didn't go to school at all. It was weird being the sole sibling that was home-schooled and she begged before, wanting to go to a normal one like the other kids. But her parents were against it, never bothering to give her a reason. Her getting a job was the only time she got to leave the house without her parents constantly monitoring her every move.
Miko lazily grabbed a bowl and filled it with what remains of breakfast, alongside a cup of orange juice. Taking a seat, she scooped up a spoonful of cereal and slowly chewed, uncharacteristically of her usual manic personality. Eventually, even her father noticed.
"Sweetie, are you okay? You look terrible." Her father asked with a tinge of worry, lowering his newspapers in his hands. Miko weakly shrugged back. "Yeah, yeah, just— Huuuahh…! Super tired, that's all. Got a weird dream last night, heh. I couldn't go back to sleep."
"Oh, a dream? You know, I did read once from a magazine that dreams are based on things that we've seen before. Maybe you could tell me what that dream's about?"
Miko rubbed her chin. "Well, I was in this super cool lab and there were scientists everywhere!"
"Labs are where you'd find scientists." Nica, the big sister, added ironically, twiddling with her phone. Miko ignored her.
"And I think I was a robot but I wasn't exactly sure…" She tapped her chin further. "Oh, and mom was there! At least she looked like mom. She wore a lab coat and everything, plus she looked way younger. Not that she's old or anything! But y'know…"
Miko's mother was too preoccupied with her morning cup of coffee to notice the remark. "Huh?"
The father nodded. "That's right. She's of fair age."
"Still in one's prime."
The mother placed her cup down loudly, startling the two. "You know, I might have missed the context of this conversation but I can tell when you both are talking about me."
"Sorry, mom." "Sorry, dear."
She glared at her husband and child before frowning and pulling back up her coffee cup. She then brought out her phone, checking today's mail. The two let out a sigh of relief, followed by the father turning back towards her.
"Was that all?" He questioned. Miko thought deeply about it but in the end, she just shook her head. "Yep! That's about it. There was a bunch of fire in the end but nothing else."
"Maybe you went to hell.", Lexi added, taking a bite of her cereal. "Maybe you met Satan but you know, looking like mom."
Miko waved it off. "Pfft-lease, my own hell would be dark and boring, not fire and cinder."
Miko's mother finished checking on her phone and walked towards the door. Putting on her shoes, she called out her family. "Alright kids, hurry up or else you're going to be late for school! Miko, go wash your face. Your father will be sending you off to work today."
"Yeah, yeah. Got it."
After breakfast and washing up, Miko got into her Hinobi Tech uniform and joined her father in the car. Thankfully, her mother had prepared lunch early so she wouldn't have to eat any of the fatty high-cholesterol fast foods nearby. Well, thankful for the mother and not for the child who enjoyed these foodstuffs.
The ride didn't take that long and Miko enjoyed the occasional ride with her dad. Usually, he would leave the house earlier than everyone else but just for today, he managed to get a day off. Lucky him.
"Thanks, dad!" Miko said, closing the door on the way out. She was careful not to forget her lunch this time, even though she was very much tempted to just leave it in the car. "I'll have Five send me back as usual!"
"Alright, sweetie! See you after work!" Her dad replied, driving off after a wave of goodbyes. Miko turned around and walked confidently towards her workplace; the Hinobi Tech Store. Despite the isolated location, the store was always busy with customers flooding in every time a new game or new merchandise is released which so happens every other week or so. Even the normal days had its fair share of buyers.
After placing her lunch in her personalized locker (which has stickers, magnets and a variety of game-based accessories), she saw Five, her fashionable friend with his fashionable hair, walk by with a mop at hand. So, she did the very Miko thing and went off towards him.
"Hey, Five! How's it going? And what's with the mop?" Miko greeted. Five turned to greet back with a smile. "Oh hey, Miko. And uh, this? So apparently one of the mops had an issue with some sticky gunk so Phil sent me to get a spare."
"Oh cool! You're pretty early today. Anything interesting happened?" Miko asked, poking him with her elbow. Five tried to think of one but gave up after a few seconds or so. "Eh, it's been pretty quiet lately. I only came early because I thought I'd find something interesting to do."
"Augh, a slow day? Well, today's gonna be soo boring." Miko groaned. As if fate had listened, their bracelets suddenly chirped a familiar tune just a moment later, causing them to smile widely. "Aw yeah, not a slow day after all! Let's go, Five!"
"W-wait, let me put the mop first!"
"No time! We got GLITCHES TO HUNT!"
The day was going swell. Miko didn't like to brag but much like a lot of people, she loved working at the Hinobi Tech Store. Or more precisely, she loved working at Glitch Techs; a secret underground organization dedicated to protecting the suburban lifestyle from the evils of bad programming and hardware design. Basically, the superhero-version of an exterminator.
She and her partner Five had dealt with their fair share of Glitches before and today was no different. Currently, they were chasing a slow-moving UFO, flying above and across the city. Its tractor beam shifted angles and with a burst of light, casually lifted a car high before dropping it down on the pavement with a glorious explosion.
It's a good thing the owner wasn't in it.
"You got it?!" Five asked, driving the company-issued Glitch Techs van around the block. Miko leaned out from the passenger window, her gauntlet glowing, completely charged. Biting her tongue, she carefully took aim and released a bolt of energy towards the UFO, hitting it directly in its engines. The flying saucer burst into flames and accelerated downwards, crashing out of view.
"Woohoo!" Miko cheered, proud of her aiming skills. Among all genre of games she's ever played, she can proudly say that her first-person shooting skills are top-notch. She was confident she could even beat Mitch Williams in a game, not that he'd ever say it.
"Follow that smoke!" She exclaimed, pointing at the glitching smoke particles. With a grin, Five stepped on the pedal hard and drove off.
Miko sat back into her seat, buckling up for safety. Not that standing out the window was safe at all, mind you. "Man, our third Glitch of the day. We are on a roll!"
"Third Glitch for now. Who knows when the next one will come up?"
"That just means more EXP for us! I'm looking for some new upgrades!" Miko smiled, kissing her gauntlet with the care and love of a mother.
Five rolled his eyes. Even after knowing her this long, she continued to surprise him. He had never seen anyone with her level of skills before, both in games and non-games. It seemed so unreal and nonhuman at times.
A few minutes of driving later, the two reached their target; the forest for where lied the crashed remains of a flying saucer from the game Alienator. The game had you play as a bobble headed grey alien and with your UFO, do all sorts of mischief and mayhem to prepare for an invasion. It was also banned in several countries for being 'a danger to the public'.
Parking nearby, the two readied their gauntlets and carefully trekked through the woods. While the game itself was single-player, the UFO is said to have cloning tech which meant there was a possibility there could be an army of aliens. Five was a man of strategy and planning, which meant he wasn't fond of gambling against the RNG.
"Alien!" Miko shouted, spotting a bulbous head pop out from behind a log. The alien cried out some unintelligible language before pulling out its raygun and shooting the duo, forcing them to take cover. With a quick aim, Five shot it straight between the eyes, disassembling it to nothing but pixels.
"Good shot, Five!" Five blushed at the compliment, only to be interrupted by a plasma blast flying too close for comfort, his tips singed. "Woah! There's more of them!"
Another plasma blast scorched a nearby branch, startling Miko. "What's the plan, Five?!"
"We gotta reach its cloning machine and destroy it." Five announced the objective. "Miko, run forwards as fast as you can and destroy the machine. I'll provide cover fire."
"Got it!" Without warning, she ran out of cover and through the aliens, dodging left and right any plasma blasts that got in her way. The aliens were all taken by surprise and immediately shifted their focus towards her, forgetting one crucial point; Five was behind them.
With a sniper mod, Five placed several shots on the back of the aliens, unaware he was still around. Whenever Miko was targeted in her blind spot, Five was there to stop it before it even started. Eventually, some did wise up and noticed his appearance but he ended them before it could escalate. He wouldn't take the chance.
With Five watching her back, Miko finally reached the cloning machine without even a scratch on her back. "Toodles!" She said, shooting a charged shot straight through the machine, causing it to explode. The remains of the crashed ship slowly dissipated, leaving only the buzzing electric form of a Glitch.
"Wooo! You just got pwned!" She cheered, sucking up the Glitch and blowing on her gauntlet as if it was the smoking barrel of a gun. Stepping out of the crater, she was greeted by not Five but instead, the last remaining alien, albeit injured slightly.
"Ooo, so you're still around, huh? You know what, let's make it more interesting. Let's do a classic Midwestern cowboy draw!" Miko baited, taking on a stance. Her knees wide open and arms far apart, she twiddled her fingers around, ready to grab the gun she didn't have.
She glared at the alien with a big grin, while the alien stared back with anger and anxiousness. The scene was quiet, leaving only the leaves rustling in the wind and the sun just at the right angle, creating shadows at the perfect places to give off that tense vibe.
Miko smiled, her brows furrowed deeper.
"DRAW!" She yelled, bringing up her gauntlet.
Miko felt her arm getting heavier, the scenery slowing down to a crawl. Her vision gradually darkened and once she blinked, everything changed.
"Subject 'Source Code' seems to be learning at a phenomenal rate. Just yesterday the subject was unable to tell the difference between two shapes and now, it seems to have developed a keen sense with numbers." The female researcher said out loud, typing on her pad.
"While forming words is still a far ways ahead, I've concluded that the original model is far from accurate. The subject is growing 6 times faster than the expected rate." She walked around the room, her heels clicking on the floor.
Suddenly, she stopped, her eyes widening. "Further testing is required. It seems that the rate is increasing."
Instinctively, Miko lifted her hand to her head, clutching it tightly. Her head was throbbing uncomfortably but she wasn't in pain. What bothered her the most was why she was having these dreams now? She wasn't asleep and she was far from being tired.
Time gradually moved normally once more but too surprised by her sudden headache, the alien managed to shoot a steaming pile of hot green plasma onto her chest, sending her flying backwards.
"Argh!" Miko screamed in pain, tumbling to her side. Taken by surprise, she was left unable to move, leaving the alien to laugh boisterously at her misfortune. It wasn't sure what happened but it didn't care. The alien aimed its ray gun at its downed foe and grinned like a dictator.
Before it could pull the trigger however, its chest cavity suddenly felt lighter.
"MIKO!" Five yelled, his gauntlet buzzing with energy. The alien disintegrated into pixelated dust, turning to its original form. Five quickly vacuumed it up and immediately checked on his partner. "Miko, are you okay?!"
Five pulled her to the side, turning her upwards. Her body looked relatively fine with not a scratch in place. Glitch Techs armour were well-designed to deal with a variety of threats and dangers and while Five was curious of what it was made of (considering it literally materialized out of nowhere), now was not the time.
What was concerning, however, was the fact that her eyes were glowing neon green, with white lines of code floating rapidly across. "Whaaaa—?"
It didn't take long though and with a blink and shake of her head, Miko's eyes were back to normal. She grabbed her head in pain. "Urgh, what happened?"
Five quickly snapped out of it. "Uh, you got hit by that alien's ray gun. You look okay though but we should go back to HQ to check."
"No no, it's fine!." Miko replied, pulling herself back up. "The armour worked great! I don't feel hurt at all! Well, except for the mild headache."
Five tilted his head sideways. "Yeah, what's up with that anyway? I've never seen you act like that before."
In response, Miko shrugged nonchalantly. "Dunno. I got a weird dream last night and I couldn't get back to sleep. I guess I'm just tired, that's all."
"A weird dream?"
"Yep but that's normal! I get weird dreams all the time!" She laughed, but it died out quickly. "Though, this one felt way too real..." She whispered.
Five clocked his eyebrow, wondering what she was talking about. Out of better judgement, he shook his head and decided to ignore it for now.
"Alright, I get it. Still, you sure you don't want to go check back at home base? It could be something else." He advised.
Miko laughed and waved it off. "Pfft, it's totes fine. I've never felt better! Come on, we still a few more Glitches before we're done with our shift. Mama needs some new upgrades!"
Hearing her talk, he smiled. "Okay, okay. By the way, what upgrades are you planning on buying anyway?"
"I'm thinking gravity hammer. Oh, oh, or better yet, invisibility!"
"Or maybe a companion pet costume for Ally?" Five quipped, scrolling through the Glitch Techs' EXP shop.
"That works too!"
Unbeknownst to either of them, a mysterious figure wearing a full helmet watched them from afar, carrying a large case behind and a familiar gauntlet around one hand.
The next day was just the same. A chaotic family breakfast, her mom sending her off to work with a different bag of clearly-radioactive lunch and Miko spending her morning and afternoon restocking the shelves. No weird dream this time which bothered Miko more than it should but she decided to ignore it. Also, one would think that having the technology to materialize objects from who knows where would mean that she didn't need to restock by hand but apparently, such advanced technology was not designed for something so mundane.
Thankfully for her, she and Five got a Glitch alert today, despite being almost the end of their shift. Then again, being part of Glitch Techs meant that her side job was 24/7. You don't get to plan when Glitches would appear, so you need to be able to act when called.
"BABA-YAGI!" The Glitch shouted with a twirl of her staff. She was an old and pudgy witch with a wrinkled pimpled face, round white hair akin to a pickled onion, and a dark blue wizard's robe. Her staff looked like a cursed tree branch from a poisonous swamp and had a large aquamarine orb at the top. She was also riding a cartoonish yellow cloud.
She flicked her staff forward and suddenly, a swirling portal appeared followed by a purple spotted tentacle, whipping around and causing havoc. Five and Miko stood nearby, armoured up and ready for action.
"I never played this game before. What do you know about this boss, Miko?" Five asked, dodging the tentacle and blasting it apart. The tentacle shrieked and retreated into its portal, disappearing for now.
"Well, it's a new game that came out recently called Witches and Yeast. She summons tentacles and beating them has her floating down where she'll be vulnerable. She got other attacks too like lightning strikes, petrification rays and even bubble shields." Miko answered, blowing up another tentacle with her gauntlet blast.
As if on cue, the witch floated closer to the ground, breathing heavily and wiping her face with a napkin. Now open to attack, Five yelled out a command. "Miko! Take her down!"
Miko saluted and with a tap of her gauntlet, she summoned Ally, her rideable companion pet, and raced towards the witch.
"Ally, use Double Kick!" Miko shouted, causing the bird's eyes to gleam and its leg accelerate. Before the witch could do anything else, Ally spun like a hedgehog and gave a powerful kick with both of its legs, sending the Glitch flying off of her cloud and a good 15 meters back.
The Glitch growled in anger and twirled both of her hands up high. The air grew cold as the winds got stronger, dark clouds forming above. Miko immediately knew what was coming and turned around to her partner. "She's using her lightning strikes!"
Five looked up and watched as electricity crackled in the clouds. Tapping his gauntlet, he summoned a blue luminescent shield and lifted it upwards, covering him. With a flash, the lightning cracked down onto the pavement in bolts, shattering any stone and cement in contact. Some hit the nearby vehicles, causing their alarms to flare. Five's shield protected him from the attack whilst Miko and Ally dodged the bolts easily, having remembered its pattern.
Full of determination, Miko sped straight towards the witch with Ally as her stead. "Ally, Double Kick! Again!"
Glitches tend to follow specific programming patterns as their video game counterparts. This meant that every Glitch Tech employee had to be skilled in video games to be able to handle them. Unfortunately, Glitches were not exactly the same and do have some leeway with their behaviours.
"BABA-YAGI!" The witch screamed, putting up a spherical shield around her. Ally's Double Kick slammed its surface and while the bird's kicks were strong, it was not enough to break through. The shield expanded rapidly, pushing the bird and its rider off. The witch chortled, resummoning her yellow cloud.
With another twirl of her staff, more portals appeared and with it, a fair share of giant tentacles. Five readied his gauntlet and Miko stood by his side with Ally.
"Augh, this is going to take all day!" Miko groaned, aiming at the tentacles. "Any way we could just snipe her from afar?"
"She'll see it and put up a bubble shield. We'll have to play by the book." Five exclaimed, jumping to the side, avoiding a tentacle slam.
"That's the difference between you noobs and me, a pro."
Suddenly, the witch heard a charging noise from behind. Before she could turn, a blast of energy blew her into smithereens, turning her back to her electric form. She tried to escape but was quickly sucked into a gauntlet. The tentacles all glitched out and disappeared, along with her yellow cloud.
A familiar figure appeared from behind the cloud, one not well-liked by the duo. Mitch Williams, pro-gamer and top Glitch Tech employee. "Thanks for the distraction." He exclaimed in his usual ironic manner. His voice may be smooth. His personality, however, is debatable.
"Mitch.", Miko said out loud, her voice laced with venom. "You're kill-stealing again! Stop it! Stop kill-stealing!"
"Okay, first off, I'm not kill-stealing. I was sent here by Phil because you noobs were taking too long." Mitch explained, not at all sorry. "Second, it's your fault for being so slow."
Miko gasped. "How dare you, sir! I'll show you slow!" Miko angrily countered, stomping her way towards him. Before she could get any further, Five grabbed her in a full nelson and pulled her back.
"Easy there, Miko! It's not worth it!" Five argued, struggling to keep his hold. Miko kept trying to wrestle out but her short stature proved to be a disadvantage against Five's superior height. Also because he was literally lifting her off the ground.
"Hmpf! I don't have to deal with this. So long, losers!" Mitch exclaimed, running off. Once out of view, Five let Miko down gently who had stopped wiggling.
"You know, I really don't like that guy.", Miko said, crossing her arms in frustration. Five rubbed the back of his head, unsure. "I know, I know. But you shouldn't let it get to you. Besides, we took down that alien yesterday! That was pretty cool!"
Miko smiled. "Yeah, you're right! It was cool!" Immediately after, their gauntlets beeped the company's jingle, alerting them. The two pulled up their gauntlets to check. "Seems we got ourselves another Glitch downtown. Wanna go check it out?"
"I mean, we kinda have to. It's our job and all." Five answered. "Did you have lunch yet?"
"Psh, I had lunch hours ago! Why, you hungry?"
"Nah, just wondering, that's all." He replied with honesty. "Come on, let's go!"
"It's a GLITCH QUEST!" Miko cheered with enthusiasm. The partners-in-crime ran off, unaware that yesterday's mysterious person followed them closely behind.
"Is it the target?" A garbled and modulated voice spoke from a communicator. The figure pulled it up and pressed the switch. With a feminine voice, they replied. "Yes, the description fits. I'll be moving to Phase Two."
Releasing the switch, a short silence followed. "… Confirmed. You'll be entering radio silence for the next 6 hours."
"Avoid direct communication with it and do not get caught."
"HIIYA!" Miko screamed, kicking a midget to a light post. It exploded on contact in a shower of sweets and candies.
Captain Eduardo von Schweetz, a famous character from the arcade-style beat-em-up game known as Foodz Brawlz, whose theme was a pirate captain made of sugar. A ruthless pirate, he was cursed by the ancient treasure of Los Caramelo del Diablo and transformed into a walking skeleton made entirely of lemon drops, candy canes and lollipops. Anything touched by his golden finger would turn into candy.
He also could summon midget candy pirates, which is what Miko had kicked earlier.
"I will break my curse and conquer the seas once again!" Captain Eduardo howled, much like his in-game dialogue.
Miko kicked another of the midget pirates, punting them into the air. They weren't that hard to beat but since captain here could summon as much as he wanted, it was imperative that he'd be taken out as fast as possible.
Five pulled out a laser sword and charged at the pirate captain. In retaliation, the Glitch pulled out his candy sword and blocked the strike with a clang. "En garde!" Five shouted, swinging his sword left and right in battle.
Punting another like a football, Miko called out towards Five. "You know, there's been a lot of Glitches lately. Did you notice that?"
Five blocked an incoming strike by his fearsome opponent. "Y-yeah, I noticed! I thought you liked fighting Glitches!" He exclaimed, pushing the candy sword away.
"I mean, I do! But—" She punched another to dust. "It just seems weird, ya know?"
"Rrgh, I guess?" Five replied, parrying the captain, followed by a counterattack.
Meanwhile, at their company-issued Hinobi van, the mysterious figure strutted closer. They kneeled down to the vehicle's undercarriage and from their pocket, they placed a magnetic disc at the bottom. The disc instantly latched onto the vehicle and lit up. The light began spinning slowly like a loading animation.
The figure grabbed a ladder and climbed up the nearest building. Once on the rooftop, they looked down and saw the two Glitch Techs fighting the candy-cursed pirate. They removed the case from their back and began unloading and put together its contents.
It didn't take long and in less than a minute, a fully-assembled high-tech scoped rifle was constructed. It was futuristic with a black-chrome finish and unlike anything anyone had ever seen. It looked even more advanced than Glitch Tech equipment.
They set the rifle at the edge of the building and stared down the scope. Turning slightly, the rifle was aimed at Miko, unaware of the danger targeting her. With a flip of a small switch, the safety was off and with little hesitation, they pulled the trigger.
Back on ground level, Five continued his fight against the pirate captain, slashing his laser sword against the candied one. Eduardo von Schweetz was a formidable foe and a heck of a good swordsman but unfortunately for the Glitch, he was fighting against a Mexican-American teen with at least 8 years of gaming experience.
"RAAAAAAA!" The pirate captain roared, chopping his sword down with his mighty candy strength. Dust blew from the concrete, blanketing his surroundings. It settled quickly and looking at his sword, it had buried itself into the ground and missed its target.
All of a sudden, he felt a burning sensation pierce his heart; the only part of its body not skeletal or candy-based. The pirate captain gasped and turning by an inch, he saw Five, laser sword in hand.
"Omae wa mou shindeiru." Five unironically exclaimed. Captain Eduardo von Schweetz slowly crumbled into a sweet mess and from his sugary ashes, came out the Glitch's real form, one that Five quickly vacuumed up with his gauntlet. Rapidly after, the pirate minions all crumbled as well, leaving nothing behind.
"Alright, Five! Also, you weeb." Miko cheered, teasing him afterwards. She eagerly poked his side, giggling at his use of a meme.
"H-hey, it was a good quote! I don't see you thinking of anything better!"
"How about 'Sweet time is over!' or 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away!'?" Miko suggested, mimicking the fallen pirate captain's gruff voice.
"Okay first off, that first one was horrible. Second, the other isn't even about the dentist!"
"Hey! Dentists are totally doctors!"
"That's not the point!"
While the two continued to argue about who of the two had the best finishing quote, a pellet of energy whizzed through the air at blistering speeds. And without a single warning, it struck its target directly in the back; Miko's back.
Miko gasped sharply like the worst pain ever had suddenly hit her out of nowhere. Too shocked and sudden, the girl couldn't fully process what had happened. And just like that, she felt her mind turn blank as if a black void instantly consumed her.
"Miko?" Five asked worriedly, noticing that his friend unexpectedly turned quiet. His eyes instantly grew wide as Miko fell forward like a dead body. Five quickly reacted and caught her before reaching the floor. "MIKO!"
"MIKO, ARE YOU OKAY?!" Five asked in distress, shaking her slightly. His heart stopped for a moment when he saw her eyes; glowing neon green with white lines of codes floating rapidly across, just like yesterday.
"Oh. Oh. That's not good." He whispered to himself. Carefully, Five lifted the unconscious girl bridal-style and carried her back to the van. She was surprisingly lighter than she looked but he was far too worried to care about that now. Something was wrong with Miko and he had a feeling it was Glitch-based.
Once at the van, he delicately placed her in the passenger seat and buckled her up. He then ran to the other side and into the driver's seat, started the engine and set up the van's communication device.
"Salutations, Glitch Tech employee!" The chirpy voice of BITT greeted at the other side. "What can I do for you toda-!"
"BITT, I need you to get a doctor, stat! Something's wrong with Miko!"
The robot helper buzzed. "Emergency situation detected! Glitch Tech employee in need of medical assistance. Dispatching professional back at headquarters."
"Thanks, BITT!" Five clicked the intercom, ending the feed. He slammed the pedal hard, shifting the motors to full gear and spinning the wheels. Releasing the breaks, the van drove off as fast as it could back to the Hinobi Tech Store.
On the roof, the figure watched as the van moved further away and whispered to themselves. "Phase Two, completed. Moving to Phase Three."
From downtown, it would have taken at least 6 or 7 minutes to reach the store. At the current state, however, it took less than 3.
Five drove the van into the store's garage, exclusive for the company's and employees' vehicles. Since Hinobi Technologies was such a large company, it could afford this kind of privilege for its branch stores. Once inside, he stopped the van completely and with a press of a button, the parking spot's outlines glowed a light blue and the wall in front transformed into a swirling portal. Slowly, he drove inside.
Parking the van next to the others, Five frantically got out and went to the passenger side, pulling Miko out. During the entire ride, she didn't even blink once and it wasn't exactly a smooth ride at that.
"I-it's alright, Miko. You're going to be just fine." Five said out loud, more to reassure himself than the comatose girl. Before he could carry her any further, Zahra, his Muslim Glitch Tech co-worker appeared and with her, BITT and a stretcher. She was also wearing a lab coat, albeit somewhat unbuttoned.
"Zahra? You're a medical professional?" Five asked, surprised to see her. Zahra pulled the stretcher closer, allowing Five to gently place Miko on top. Buckling the Asian-American, Zahra turned to her tall friend.
"My build focuses on support, remember? That also includes some on-field medical skills. I might not be a doctor but I do know how to do a rudimentary check-up and a few procedures. Plus, Glitch Tech med-equipment isn't exactly hospital-standard." She explained, locking up the last buckle. "Also, the actual doctor isn't here at the moment. So I'm the only one you got."
Five and Zahra pushed the stretcher inside, heading straight towards the med-bay. In front of them was BITT, leading the way and opening the path. The robot was also mimicking some ambulance noises, though not as a recording. It did, however, have the emergency lights play out as a video on the face-slash-screen.
"Now tell me what happened." Zahra ordered, pushing the stretcher alongside Five. The boy answered, feeling distressed. "We were just doing our usual Glitch hunts! Then Miko suddenly got quiet and fell over! I don't know what else happened! But…"
"There is this…" Five said, looking at Miko's unclosed eyes. Zahra turned to it as well and was left with her mouth gaping. "That's… not normal…"
Zahra quickly shook her head to focus. "Look, never mind that. We just need to get to the med-bay and have a full-body inspection. Glitch Tech has one of the most advanced medical equipment in the world."
She turned towards Five, placing a hand on his shoulder. "She's going to be just fine. Trust me on this, kay?"
Despite the anxiousness, Five did his best to swallow his fear. "Alright, I trust you."
From in front, the two heard BITT yell out for them. "Ms. Zahra, we are now entering the med-bay!" She nodded in response.
At the door, she stopped briefly and grabbed both sides of the stretcher. "Five, wait here. I have to do a check-up on her to find what's wrong and I can't have non-personnel be in the room."
"Everything is going to be all right, Five! Now, wait outside the door!" She pushed Miko through the door and closed it behind her. The metal walls slammed shut, just inches away from his face. Five wanted so badly to be in the room as well but stopped, understanding that Zahra was right. If he was in there, he'd be nothing but a distraction.
He sighed, turning away from the door.
Back at the van, the disc latching on the undercarriage continued to blip. Sensing that no movement had occurred in the past minute or so, it unlatched itself and dropped on the floor, sprouting little mechanical legs at its edges along with a miniature camera. It skittered away from the vehicle and onto some open space while still in the parking lot.
Using the miniature camera, it rotated around and scanned the room, looking for any living and non-living beings. Detecting none, it blipped once more before planting its legs into the concrete and turning off the camera. With a hiss, the disc's back slowly opened like a powder makeup case. Static filled the air and from the disc, a pulsating orb floated upwards and stopped, about one or so meters off the ground.
The orb expanded and from it, a portal opened, similar to that used by Glitch Techs. Electricity ran across the edges and the sudden expansion released a minor electromagnetic pulse, causing the lights to flicker and pop. A moment later, a leg appeared, crossing through, followed by the rest.
"Phase Three, completed."
Five dejectedly walked around the metallic hallways. He was far too worried about Miko's condition and despite Zahra's reassurances, his heart simply could not calm down. What happened yesterday was so abrupt and ended so quickly that he didn't bother to question why it occurred at all. The two may have been partners but the truth of the matter was that Five didn't know Miko that well.
He tolerated this ignorance and now, it felt like he was paying the price.
Five sighed, unsure of what else to do. Just then, the lights began to flicker, something akin to a horror movie. He was pretty sure that wasn't supposed to happen. "Whaaa—?"
On any normal day, he would've agreed that to be a coincidence. But yesterday and today had been pretty weird and he was sure this was no random act of chance. The rate of high-levelled Glitches, the whole green-screen-eye-thing and now this? His gamer sense tingled.
And he was right.
Just around the corner, Five glanced at a person wearing a fully black bodysuit with a utility belt around their waist. They were carrying a big case in hand and wore a helmet, fully covering their face. But the real kicker was the gauntlet in their left hand, one with a similar but still different design than those used by Glitch Tech employees. Had he been a second later, he would've missed it; a second early and he'd be found out. One thing for sure was that the figure was in no way a member of Glitch Tech, or maybe even Hinobi Technologies.
"Who… is that?" Five whispered to himself. Not like he was going to get an answer just by standing around. He watched the figure walk down the halls and sneakily followed behind. Now that he thought about it, he really should've invested in those Soundproof Boots upgrade. He never realized how loud his steps were.
The tailing didn't last long. Not because he was caught or anything, just that Glitch Tech HQ wasn't as big as it seemed. The figure stopped in front of a large door, a room he had never seen before. There, they pulled out a red holographic screen and began typing. Five couldn't exactly see what it was from the distance but he doubted it was good.
Nonetheless, after a few seconds, the door unlocked itself with a click and opened wide, allowing the figure to waltz in. Five tip-toed his way closer and with a hand, stopped the door from closing automatically. Just from the entrance, he looked around the unknown room and was left in awe.
Inside was a large spherical room with a single electronic pillar in the middle. The room was like a puffy doughnut where the entrance and pillar were connected by a singular hard-light bridge. At the centre was a computer screen, CPU and keyboard, all linked to the pillar by numerous cables and thick wires. The screen looked old like it was built a decade or so in the past. Five looked down and all he saw were more wires, drives and electronics, way outside of his understanding.
Pulling out the keyboard, they began typing into the search bar, making tick-tack noises with each key. They took out a small USB flash drive and plugged it into an open port, causing a little confirmation pop-up to appear and disappear in seconds. Five watched as the intruder began downloading information from the computer; classified information.
"Okay Five, some weirdo is trying to steal data like that game Spies High. So, what are you gonna do about it?!" Five spoke quietly to himself. Watching the screen, nothing immediately came to mind. In any RPG, the main character would've declared their presence and fought off the intruder. Two out of five times however, these usually ended badly. Thus, Five wasn't sure if that was a good idea in this one either.
He didn't even understand exactly what all the information was but then, his heart stopped momentarily when he saw a file with a picture of a younger Miko in it, one that was labelled 'Subject Source Code'. She also looked detached, something Five thought was unnatural of her.
"Miko?" He blurted out unintentionally. Immediately he covered his mouth but by then, it was too late; he was found out.
The figure turned sharply behind them and in a moment of stress-induced panic, Five pointed his gauntlet and shot a charged energy blast at the CPU, destroying it completely. The screen flashed red, having the download interrupted. The loading bar was left stuck at a measly 60%.
The intruder hissed and he could feel their glare cut through him like butter.
"Oh shi—!" Before he could finish his sentence, the entire Glitch Tech headquarters lost power and the rooms turned dark.
A minute or so in the past, back at the med-bay, Zahra moved Miko's unconscious body off the stretcher and onto a medical table. The table had a small screen built into a stand connected to it, and a large thin hoop at the end, circling the table. Zahra removed Miko's gauntlet and set it aside, causing Miko to turn back to her usual Hinobi Tech Store employee uniform. Once positioned correctly, she pressed a button on the screen and the hoop began to rotate and slowly moving across the table, scanning Miko's entire frame.
Zahra watched as the loading bar on the screen slowly filled and at 100%, she immediately checked the findings. What she found however completely blew her mind.
"What. The. Heck." She exclaimed, looking at Miko's data. For the most part, it looked relatively normal; bone structure had nothing out of the ordinary albeit too perfect, muscle density a bit higher than most people her age, oxygen level and brain activity nominal. She was, in all scientific terms, a completely healthy girl.
The big flashing label that says 'GLITCH DETECTED' though, that was not normal.
Often, this was because some Glitch was living in an employee's pockets or maybe they forgot to clean out the gunk from their last hunt. The computer could detect and point exactly where it was, allowing accurate and safe removal. The problem lied on the fact that Miko's whole body was highlighted, down to the very smallest cell.
The only two explanations were either Miko was possessed by a possessor Glitch since childhood, or she was a full-on Glitch. The gauntlet scanners would've picked up the former, which meant…
"Miko's a Glitch." Zahra whispered, too shocked by the reveal, and wobbled back, almost slipping off her feet. She never even suspected Miko to be that. In fact, no one did. There was no possible explanation as to why and how this could've happened.
Glitches were always based on video game characters because the Hinobi game consoles were the only way they could materialize from. It was true that in the early Glitch Tech days, the organization tested out the creation of Glitches and how they came to exist but these were well-documented. Any and all Glitches that ever appeared should've been detected by Glitch Tech and if Miko was based on a video game character, everyone would've figured out in a glance.
Miko was unlike any Glitch she ever encountered. The girl had a loving family with several siblings, a relatively normal past and a love of video games. Zahra knew since every Hinobi Tech Store employee had a mandatory background check.
The Muslim girl breathed slowly, calming herself down. She needed to test this somehow, ideally without hurting the patient. The blasters, while designed to work against Glitches in mind, were too powerful. She needed something a bit weaker.
Then, the lights flickered. Zahra knew that wasn't normal either but at the moment, she was too preoccupied with the revelation.
Zahra opened the nearby cabinets and rummaged around. She grabbed a syringe and needle and extracted a bit of Miko's blood. It was still weird that a Glitch could even have blood but she didn't want to think too deeply about it. With a small squeeze, she placed a drop onto a glass slide, fixed the sample onto a microscope and began examining.
Meanwhile, Miko was going through her own set of traumatic events.
Where… am I?
It felt weird to ask such a question, especially when they already knew where they were. In a lab, like all the other labs they've been in, all the labs they've visited and grown up in.
Growing up… Such a weird notion. They have no understanding of what that meant and yet, it felt natural. Real, like it was always there. All their life, it was just one lab after another. Occasionally, they'd get one with a different geometry or maybe the walls are of a different colour.
She always liked purple. Purple and yellow.
"You can't do this! The subject is not ready!" She heard the female humanoid speak. The professor, she remembered her colleagues calling her that. Turning around, she watched as the professor argued with a shadowy man on the screen. The professor looked angry, a negative emotion often expressed by humans when they are displeased.
"The subject has gone through all the necessary testing phases. You yourself reported it as so." The man exclaimed, his voice garbled and heavily altered.
The professor however still disagreed. "That doesn't mean she ready for a field test! Everything was done in a controlled environment. She has yet accumulated the required experience for an actual mission."
"I'm sorry but did you just call it a 'she'?" The man asked, his tone harsh. The professor relaxed, her voice getting quieter. "Subject Source Code has shown to be more receptive towards specific signs when issued commands. More precisely of the female variety."
The professor turned to the man, her eyes wrought with desperation. "She's still learning. The rate of data being absorbed is unfathomable but it still has limits. At her current rate, she won't be ready until after one or two years."
"One or two—?!" The man glared at her, his eyes unseen by the darkness. "Do you think this is some kind of a joke?!"
"I am not joking, sir." She exclaimed with exasperation. "She's learning at the rate of a 6-year-old but unlike one, she doesn't have the additional information built into her akin of a genetic code. We are literally creating life from scratch. No one in history has even come close to this level of progress!"
"I don't care about progress, professor! I care about results! You promised me a working prototype in 5 years. Well, 5 years have passed and you have brought me nothing!"
"If you send her out now, she'll die!"
"Then just create a copy." The man argued, tired of this nonsense. "Download and import all of her information into a new subject. With all the research you and your team did, that shouldn't be too hard."
"It wouldn't be exactly the same! Every time she encounters a new experience, she automatically creates new scripts and protocols regarding it. All of the previous data she's accumulated are linked with one another in a complex and delicate web. Even touching it could lead to disaster!"
He snapped. "Then fix it! I want it ready in two months! Else, I'll take it myself."
"SHE'S JUST A CHILD!"
"It's a machine ." He hissed with a venomous tint. "In fact, it's even less than that. Subject Source Code is nothing more than a digital construct in the real world; a walking hologram made of hard-light voxels. It is not human, nor will it ever be!"
The shadowy man in the screen straightened himself. "Two. Months. That's the deadline. If the subject is not ready by then, I'm pulling the plug on this entire operation. Do you understand, professor?"
Her hands gripped in frustration till her knuckles turned white. "… I understand."
Accepting the response, the feed was immediately cut, leaving the woman alone with her thoughts. She didn't know why but seeing the professor this way… it hurt. Pain is such a foreign concept for her, one she was not fully used to. She understood it by theory; the professor often told her about human things; but never did she expect to experience it.
She walked up to the woman and grabbed her sleeve, tugging it lightly. The professor turned towards her, looking down due to the height difference. Her fair and smooth skin riddled with wrinkles. Her previous ebony black hair had turned lighter with a few grey strands here and there. Even her clothes, once pristine without even a speck of dust, had been ragged and blemished.
"Are you… comforting me?" The professor asked. She stared at her, blinking from time to time. Despite never experiencing joy to smile or sadness to cry, she nodded. The professor kneeled to her height and looked straight into her emotionless eyes.
They used to be clouded and empty but the woman saw more than that. The woman pulled her in and wrapped her with her arms. She felt the tiredness in her bones and the weight on her shoulders. This… this was a hug.
"You are human. Or at least, you will be." She said, her voice so comforting and loved. "Don't ever forget that."
Slowly, she lifted her arms. Slowly, she reciprocated her gesture and wrapped her own around the woman. The professor was so warm and soft. It felt… safe.
She didn't want to let go.
Back in the real world, Zahra stared down into the microscope, carefully examining Miko's blood sample. Using the dial, she tuned the intensity, focusing and clearing the image and what she found were red blood cells, looking exactly as one expected them to. Though with one exception; strings of ones and zeros were seen on its surface, swimming by translucently.
"Incredible! Each individual blood cell is Glitch-based, made up of a small array of digital data. I've seen what highly-advanced Glitches looked like but never this sophisticated. Not even close to this!" She exclaimed out loud, too amazed by the findings. While she did take medical classes out of necessity, she had to admit that this blew her mind.
Being far too distracted, Zahra was unaware of Miko's condition. The Japanese-American clenched her fingers inwards, scratching the table's surface. Small bursts of electricity crackled on its tips, weak but uncontrolled.
"This," the professor began, showing her a cat-like plush doll. It was bright yellow and crudely sewn by hand, with large black buttoned eyes, a pink sewed-on nose and a big happy smile. "Is your new best friend. Her name is Meeko."
The professor placed the doll in her hands and smiled. "She'll always be there for you. So take care of her, okay?"
She accepted the doll, holding it tight. She did not smile but felt a kind warmth in her chest.
She felt something stab into her, like a large needle in her back. It wasn't that painful as she was used to it. She was however bothered by the tears streaming down the professor's face, though she couldn't show it.
"I'M SORRY! I'M SO SORRY!" She pleaded, frantically typing on a keyboard. She was breathing unevenly and looked like she was on the verge of a stroke. "YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS! NO ONE SHOULD'VE LIVED LIKE THIS!"
The professor pressed the Enter key and immediately after, she felt a hot pain through her back. It was the worst pain she ever felt, the very worst she could imagine. She screamed in agony, feeling as if her insides were ripping themselves apart if she even had any. And despite all of her begging, no words escaped her mouth. She watched, as all the professor did was beg for forgiveness.
"I'M SORRY! I'M SORRY!" The professor continued, watching her squirm. Why was the professor hurting her? She didn't understand.
The professor sobbed, her words falling silent. "I'm sorry… for creating you… You shouldn't have existed…"
Her skin tingled and sparked, electrons bouncing on and off in a purplish chaotic fashion. She gritted her teeth as her entire body trembled and her eyes twitched. Suddenly, her hair began to glow brightly, the galaxy-esque colour pulsating from root to tip at increasing speeds.
Zahra felt the room shake slightly and noticed the lights flicker. She pushed the microscope away and swiftly turned around to her junior. "Miko!" She shouted, running towards her.
Her purple space-themed hair pulsated faster and faster and Zahra, not sure what to do, stared in trepidation. She looked around, searching for any way to wake the girl up. Her heartbeat accelerated and before she could do anything else, Miko's eyes stopped twitching and flicked blue.
'VIRUS REMOVED. REBOOTING…' Her eyes displayed. 'REBOOT COMPLETE.'
Instantaneously, a pulse of electromagnetic energy exploded from her body, sending Zahra flying across the room, destroying most of the machines nearby. The EMP spread through the entire Glitch Tech complex, shutting off all electronics and electrical equipment in the vicinity. From lights and PA systems to communication and automated security, everything was out. The emergency lights blared red, giving the rooms a horror movie feel.
For the first time since its establishment, Glitch Tech HQ was in a blackout.
"OH NERDS, OH NERDS, OH NERDS!" Five screamed, running away from the mysterious figure. This was not how he saw this was going to go. Sure, he didn't expect to be fighting against this person mano a mano but running away was also not one of his plans. Something about them just screamed danger and despite all of his habits of planning, Hector Nieves was the kind to trust his instincts.
The unknown person in black chased after him at inhuman speeds, jumping off walls at every turn. They pulled out several small discs and flung them towards him. Mid-air, the discs unsheathed with the click, revealing sharp blades spinning along the edges and propelling them further.
Five quickly turned left, skidding slightly on the floor. Some of the discs crashed into the wall and detonated while others successfully curved past like a pair of homing projectiles. Seeing a more open space in front, Five jumped into a roll and allowed the remaining discs to whizz past him. He then aimed his gauntlet and with the blasters, shot them out of the air.
One managed to escape and twisted back towards him, so Five brought up his shield to guard. The disc ricocheted off of his shield and to the ceiling, exploding dramatically and filling the room with smoke. The force of the disc surprised him, pushing him off his feet and landing on his butt.
"Ggh, that's not gonna go away soon…" Five grumbled, waving his arm lightly. For something so small, the discs sure packed a punch, more than he realized.
Feeling a presence, Five immediately turned but was hook-kicked in the face, sending him flying across the room with a spin, shattering his visor. He landed on the metallic floors with a heavy painful thunk, pain flared from his shoulder and cheek.
With a groan, Five slowly shifted to his back, rubbing his aching cheek. He then heard a charging noise and looking up, he found himself staring at the end of the figure's gauntlet. Sweat poured from his forehead and his eyes widened.
"Sweet dreams, boy. Also, sorry about this but you know too much." They said with a feminine voice behind the mask. He gulped and wanted to close his eyes but he knew something like that wouldn't be enough. "No hard feelings. Though, no feelings at all."
Out of nowhere, a bolt of energy whizzed from behind him, hitting the gauntlet directly. The attacked caused them to reel back. With a glance, they could tell that the gauntlet was severely damaged while the memory wiper was broken completely. Staring deep into the smoke, they saw a silhouette approach and from the clouds, Mitch walked forward, pointing his own at her.
"Mitch?!" Five exclaimed in shock. The absolute worst person he knew had come to save him? Though, now he guessed Mitch is the second-worst… "Mitch, what are you doing here?!"
"What am I—?! What do you mean 'what am I doing here'?! I WORK HERE!" He yelled, before shifting his attention to the intruder. "I was just chillaxing on social media, chatting with my fans when suddenly the lights turned off and the Wi-Fi got cut off! And now you're fighting some girl weirdo in a mask?!"
"You are just a magnet of trouble, you know that?!" Mitch scolded him, not like he was any better himself. Five stopped abruptly, swinging his head to the douche. "Wait, 'girl'?"
"Yeah, 'girl'! What, you couldn't tell or something?" Mitch scoffed, still focusing on the mysterious person. Now that he looked closer, they had quite the feminine figure, curves and all, and was also about Miko's height. Maybe the intruder was actually a woman?
Five shook his head. "Look, it doesn't matter. She's the one that did all this and I think it has something to do with Miko!"
"Miko? Your girlfriend?"
Five blushed. "W-whaat?! No, she's not my girlfriend! She's just a friend! We've only known each other for like a month!"
Mitch scoffed. "Hey man, not judging. Love lives are like hard mode."
"SHE'S NOT MY GIRLFRIEND!"
Just then, the mysterious figure leapt forward at blinding speeds. Spikes protracted from her gauntlet and she aimed directly at Mitch's punch-able face. If it were anyone else, that hit would have nailed them into the wall and sent them to the hospital for months.
Unfortunately for her, Mitch Williams wasn't the top Glitch Tech member for his fabulous hair.
Just by moving his arm, he blocked the hit and struck back, hitting her in surprise. The figure sent a flurry of blows but Mitch wordlessly dodged and countered almost all of them, fighting back in an intense one-on-one brawl. She was fast and her punches were strong but in terms of experience, Mitch was untouched.
With his right fist, he clocked his opponent right in the face and blew her away by five or so meters. She recovered quickly before hitting the ground, somersaulting back. Lifting her head, the once clean helmet that covered her face had been broken, leaving the visor partially intact. Inside, Five could see her left eye, cloudy but determined, along with some pale skin.
In a final attempt, she broke open the case and pulled out her gun, one that assembled itself automatically. Mitch, however, was having none of it and rushed forward, summoning a plasma blade from his gauntlet. She aimed the gun at him but he was faster; he stroked his arm up and sliced the gun in half, rendering it useless, and kicked her back, causing her to tumble behind.
"You're good, girlie. But I'm better." Mitch taunted, ready for round two.
From the mysterious person's perspective, this didn't look good. She stared at her broken weapon and knew she couldn't return empty-handed, not like this. From her waist, she pulled out two discs and threw them close to the duo's feet. The discs latched tightly on the ground and its top opened, causing two portals to appear.
And from those portals, familiar video game characters flooded out. Very familiar ones.
"Urgh, what happened?" Miko exclaimed, rubbing her head in pain. The last thing she remembered, she was downtown with Five, fighting some candy pirate captain. They then had a debate on what one-liner was the best and then, nothing. She blacked out in a snap of a finger.
Then there were those dreams. These were different and yet, felt so familiar. Like she was once there sometime in the past. She could see and hear them clearly but it felt fragmented like they were incomplete or hidden. A part of her believed they were real, like locked memories behind traumatic events. Another argued that they were just her overly active imagination running wild which made way more sense, now that she thought about it.
Just then, something wet dripped on her thigh. She traced her finger on it and lifted upwards, reaching her face. "Wait… Am I crying?" She said, the tears stopped flowing. She wasn't sure why she was crying. It wasn't like she was sad or anything. She just woke up from a bunch of weird dreams.
"Hold on, where am I?!" Miko asked out loud, looking around the area. It was so dark and the only light source was the blaring emergency light at the top. That itself was barely enough to illuminate the room.
Suddenly, a groan echoed on the walls, startling the young girl. She twisted around, searching for the source of the noise. Glaring into the darkness to get a better view, she managed to find an arm and with it, an entire body. More precisely, an entire person who went by the name Zahra Rashid.
"Z-Zahra!" Miko yelled, leaping off the table and running straight towards her senior. The Muslim girl was surrounded by small rubble, forcing Miko to push them off and pull her to safety. Miko turned Zahra around and onto her back, away from any rocks and other hazards.
"Zahra! Are you okay?! Oh no, no, no, no, no!" Miko panicked, checking on her in pitch-black darkness. She didn't know any first-aid and the senior didn't look too well. Underneath these conditions, there was no way Miko could accurately tell what was wrong.
She needed help. Both of them did. Miko rushed to the keypad by the door, tapping it furiously. However, it didn't respond. "Come on, why isn't this working?!"
Miko turned to the door itself and tried to pry it open but to no avail; it was shut tight. "H-hello?! Somebody help! Zahra is hurt! HELLO?!" She yelled, slamming on the door as loud as she could.
Meanwhile, BITT was spazzing out in the control room, its circuits about to get fried. The unknown EMP that appeared out of nowhere took it by surprise, attacking it during its most vulnerable state; not doing anything. After escorting the three Glitch Tech employees to the med-bay, BITT resumed its duty in the control room, overseeing any and all company activity.
BITT originally existed for the purpose of training Glitch Techs on the field with guaranteed safety. However, it was then decommissioned when the company discovered its faulty programming and decided to cut costs and save some money. It was after all expensive to build a BITT and even more so to maintain it. Due to Five and Miko's intervention though, Phil allowed BITT to stay in Glitch Tech HQ as an unpaid unofficial somewhat-permanent intern.
Thus, BITT spent its time helping people around the complex in any way it could by using the cameras to stalk them with complete disregard of one's privacy.
"E.M.P dEtEcTeD! dEpLoYiNg cOuNtErMeAsUrEs!" BITT voiced automatically, sounding twisted and messed up. Its body hissed loudly as pressurized air was released from its crevices. Then, white foam burst out from every nook and cranny, covering the robot inside and out with what looked like a thick brand of shaving cream.
"Countermeasures deployed! Thank you for your service!" BITT exclaimed with its usual chirpy voice. Looking around, it noticed the lack of electricity in the nearby equipment. Searching through its files, it selected the appropriate protocol. "Power outage detected. Commencing manual back-up power restoration sequence."
BITT floated to the security screens and opened up a panel. There, several mechanical tendrils popped out of its body and were inserted in the nearby open sockets. After a brief loading screen, the lights flickered and turned back on, illuminating the room. The whirling sounds of the ventilation systems was also a welcoming noise.
Using the available processing power, BITT inspected room by room to determine the source of the EMP. The Glitch Tech headquarters was designed to resist electromagnetic waves from outside of its compound, meaning that the pulse had to originate from somewhere inside. It was easy to figure out though, as electromagnetic waves tend to lose energy quickly over long distances and interferences.
For one to be able to affect the entire complex meant that the closer it is to the source, the more affected it would be. Using that logic, BITT pinpointed the origin to be at the med-bay.
BITT enabled the speaker, calling for assistance. "For any nearby Glitch Tech employee, please inspect Med-Bay 002 as an unknown irregularity has caused the short-circuiting of nearby equipment! Thank you!"
Inside said med-bay, Miko continued to slam on the door for help when suddenly, the lights flickered before burning out and BITT's voice greeted through the intercom. She wasn't sure if the robot could even hear her but she had to try. "BITT! IT'S ME, MIKO!"
"Ms. Kubota! I am glad that you are finally awake! How were the medical facilities? Would you like to answer a short survey? It will only take approximately 20 minu—!"
"Not the time, BITT! I need you to open this door! Z-Zahra, she's hurt and I don't know what to do!"
"I'm sorry, Ms. Kubota. I am unable to help." BITT's voice boomed from the speaker. "The unpredicted power outage has caused a significant drop in the building's resources. As of right now, the emergency power is used solely on the communications, ventilation and illumination systems."
"However, there is an emergency door latch located nearby. If you pull it, the door would be forcefully opened." It added.
"A-alright then! Tell me where it is!"
"It is located at the exterior of the room!" The robot answered, unnervingly chirpy. Unfortunately for it, Miko gawked at the response. "WHAT?! WHY WOULD YOU PUT THE EMERGENCY LATCH OUTSIDE OF THE ROOM?!"
"Indeed. It is quite a security flaw." Ping! BITT's scanners picked up some unidentified signals within the building. Cross-checking it with existing profiles, the robot determined the presence of unrestricted Glitches running amok. This had turned into a major emergency.
"ATTENTION, ALL GLITCH TECH EMPLOYEES! SEVERAL GLITCHES HAVE BEEN DETECTED WITHIN THE PREMISES! NON-COMBATANTS, PLEASE EVACUATE TO THE SAFETY ZONES LOCATED!"
"WHAT?!" Miko screeched. Glitches were in the building?! The only way that could happen was if someone messed with the tutorial room but that place was sealed off ever since the garbage incident. This was not good.
"BITT! You gotta open this door!" Miko begged, struggling to pry it open. From the speakers, the robot replied. "I'm sorry, Ms. Kubota. I simply cannot at the current state. Not to worry, two Glitch Tech members are already in position; Glitch Tech members Mitch Williams and Hector Nieves. Though, their heart rates have skyrocketed."
"FIVE?!" Now she really had to go. With the last bit of her strength, she pulled as hard as she could. The door budged slightly, giving her a fleeting sense of hope but immediately slammed shut. There was no way she could open this, not without her gauntlet.
Miko fell on her knees, unsure what else she can do. She slammed the door once more, frustrated and confused. "Argh, this is hopeless!"
She turned, leaning on the metal surface, slowly sliding down as her legs felt weak. Normally, she'd compare this with some video game but the reality was that this was nothing like a video game. Being stuck in a closed-off room with no way out and her friend unconscious nearby, this… this was horrifying. More so than any video game she had ever played.
Miko was just a teenage girl. Sure, she fought giant kitty cats and handsome vampires on a weekly basis but she was always so sure she'd win. It was dangerous work but she knew she'd always come on top. And even if she lost, she was never afraid because she could always climb back up. That's what made video games so appealing! The ability to take as many tries as you wanted and still succeed in the end.
This time, she wasn't sure. There were no retries, no save points, no extra lives, no nothing! There are no second chances.
Miko curled herself up, pulling her chest and knees close. She knew what frustration felt like but she couldn't remember the last time she felt this. Despite the lights and heating systems, it felt cold and dark. Such a familiar feeling.
She was all alone. Just like when the professor abandoned her.
All of a sudden, her hair glowed a purplish radiant light, floating as if it was underwater. The glow became brighter and brighter, engulfing the wall where her back touched. Her weight shifted as she continued to lean back, the light slowly pulling her in.
Then suddenly, she fell on her back. "Ow! What the heck?! Huh?"
She tried to feel the door behind her but instead, it was just more of the metallic floor. She looked front and instead, found herself staring at the said door. But it was the other side; Miko was somehow outside. Her mouth gaped wide open, aghast. "H-how did I get here?"
She touched the door and caressed it. The door didn't open, so how did she pass through? Did she go insane? She sure hoped not, or else that would have severe consequences on her gaming career.
"D-did I just phase through the door? Am I a ghost? Am I dead?!" Thinking about it, being dead would be way worse than being insane. Or maybe less, depending on how you looked at it.
"Wait!" She shouted, remembering something. She ran to the side of the door and opened up a panel, revealing the emergency latch inside. With a hard pull, the large doors hissed open, no longer locked. Miko quickly jumped in and grabbed Zahra, pulling her out of the destroyed room.
She sighed, glad that was over. She was pretty sure she's mortified and became a bit claustrophobic but this was fine. It's been a weird couple of days and honestly, she just wanted to climb back into her bed and play something calming like Harvest Valley. That's always her go-to game in dealing with stress.
"AAAAAAAHHHHH!" Miko heard a scream. It was loud, high-pitched and came from around the corner. It must've been some poor little girl, crying and lost within the complex maze that is Glitch Tech headquarters. She was not sure why there was one but now was not the time to question things.
"Oh no, a little girl is in need of help! Zahra, stay here and someone will definitely find you. As for me…" She scowled with determination. "I need to go be the hero. I'M COMING, LITTLE GIRL!"
And then she ran off, following the cry of help.
"AAAAAAAHHHHH!" Mitch shrieked, running away from a black-variant of Chomp Kitty. The cat Glitch had menacing glare with a red-black theme and looked like some kind of evil twin version of the titular character. Also, Mitch would never admit it but he had been somewhat traumatized ever since he spent a good 5 minutes in its stomach with a bunch of snot-nosed kids.
Five, on the other hand, was pinned down on the ground by Garbile, the walking talking humanoid garbage, except this one was coloured in toxic yellow and had evil red eyes.
"OH YEAH! YOU LIKE THAT, DON'T CHA?!" The yellow Glitch spoke in some wrestling accent.
"NO, I REALLY DON'T!" Five charged his gauntlet and aimed directly in Garbile's face. "G-get... Off!"
With a blast of energy, he shot the Glitch's head clean off its shoulders, causing it to explode in a shower of pixels. Five wheezed, breathing in and out in exhaustion. Sure, he fought these Glitches before but not all at once. He wasn't sure how much longer he could take.
Before he could completely recover, a pair of muscular arms grabbed him from behind, immobilizing him. Five struggled to pull free but the hold just became tighter, enough to squeeze the breath out of him. He rotated his head slightly and saw his captor; Count Nogrog from Castlestein, albeit with a different colour scheme.
"Ggh, I never liked your game anyway!" Five shouted in anger. It was a lie though. He loved the Castlestein series. He was just too caught up in the moment. And just behind him, Mitch finally got chomped by evil Chomp Kitty.
The Glitches all moved towards their leader; the mysterious female intruder. Chomp Kitty happily barfed out Mitch by her feet, still horrified by the experience. Tank, the commander from Oversight Squadron, then grabbed, squeezing him tight.
The mysterious figure nodded, signalling the Glitches. They brought the two Glitch Techs front and centre, unable to move and completely surrounded by the rest of the Glitches summoned.
She walked forward towards Five, who continued to struggle in vain. Grabbing his arm, she unlatched and pulled off his gauntlet, turning him back to his employee uniform. His gauntlet was slightly damaged from the scuffle but still usable, especially the memory wiper.
Her position was compromised but she can still salvage this. Snapping her fingers, the Glitches dispersed and went elsewhere, making as much chaos as they could; the perfect distraction. Now she was left with two Glitch Techs and their captors.
"Psh, good luck trying to use that, girlie!" Mitch taunted, despite being defenceless. "All Glitch Tech gauntlets have a bio-scanner in it. Without the correct bio-signature, you'll never get the proper authorization to use it."
"Wait, really?" Five asked. He didn't know that.
Mitch scoffed at his ignorance. "Duh really, noob! It was in the tutorial!"
"... You actually did the tutorial?"
She inspected the gauntlet, admiring its design. Broken or not, it truly was a marvel of engineering, almost as good as her own. "Glitch Tech, huh?" She spoke nonchalantly.
Putting it on, she immediately pointed it in Five's direction. The gauntlet buzzed, activating. "I must be a member then."
Five stared at the light, sweat pouring like a waterfall. He barely dodged the last one and that was because Mitch was there. This time, there's no getting out of it.
At least, in any other universe.
Miko ran furiously, yelling out her battle cry. She jumped over the two Glitches and with a flip, she dropkicked the mysterious girl right at the centre, sending her tumbling back.
Too surprised by her sudden appearance, she then jumped upwards and kicked the bishounen vampire on the cheek followed by a low sweep on the gruff alien commando, releasing both Five and Mitch, the latter of which took no hesitation in blasting the two Glitches into smithereens.
Five rubbed his butt, having suddenly dropped out of nowhere. He looked up to find Miko, giving him a hand.
"Hey there, partner!" Miko exclaimed, still as happy as ever. Meanwhile, Five stuttered and gawked. "M-Miko?! You're okay!"
"Of course I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be?" She asked, tilting her head sideways. To her surprise, Five suddenly hugged her tight, leaving Mitch to watch in disgust.
The hug lasted a full 8 seconds before he realized what he just did and pulled away, blushing. Five coughed, the atmosphere suddenly turning awkward. "U-hum, sorry about that."
Miko, unbeknownst to him, also blushed slightly. Okay, these are new feelings she was not used to. Let's just lock them up somewhere and deal with them later.
Five turned to his partner, smiling affectionately. "I'm... super glad you're okay. When we were on a mission, you suddenly blacked our and your eyes were glowing green and stuff! It was super creepy by the way how you wouldn't talk and all, so I had to carry you back and—!"
"Five? Five!" Miko shushed, closing his mouth with her hand. "It's fine. I'm A-okay and had a weird trip down Dreamsville or now that I think about it, probably memory lane."
"Memory lane? You mean like, old memories?"
"Yeah kinda, it's a bit hard to explain but basically, I don't think I'm human! I... I think I'm a—!"
""Glitch."" The two said simultaneously. Miko recoiled, shocked that Five knew. "H-how did you know tha—?"
"Well... I might have glanced a bit on your files and saw some stuff." Five explained, rubbing the back of his head. "I wasn't sure, like at all, but then you came and told me this stuff so maybe you had the same idea."
Oh, that made sense. Though from Miko's perspective, that seemed more like throwing a rock in the dark in hopes it'll hit something but hey, it just wouldn't be Five if he didn't read between the lines.
Though unfortunately for both of them, Mitch was still there and he heard everything.
"Wait, hold up! You—!" He pointed at Miko. "Are a Glitch?! But wha—? HOW?!"
"Honestly Mitch, if I knew, I would've said it sooner."
Suddenly, a ball of energy hit Mitch directly in the chest, sending him flying back. Before he reached the ground, the same ball then expanded, trapping him in a bubble-like prison and keeping him out of the fight.
Miko and Five shifted towards the shooter, the only other person in the room. Her black helmet cracked ever more so, breaking bit by bit. The singular exposed eye glared at the two, or more precisely, Miko. There was hatred in that eye, one buried deep but never forgotten.
"Miko... Is that what you call yourself?" She sarcastically exclaimed with a snort. "Hehehe, what a silly thing, giving yourself a name."
Miko got into her fighting stance and glared. "Look, lady! I don't know who you are but nobody messes with my friends! Especially after trying to mind-wipe them!"
"Yeah, what she said!" Five added in agreement.
The unknown laughed, neither Five nor Miko could tell if it was genuine or otherwise. "Hahaha, 'friends'?! Programs don't have friends."
Five stepped forward, stomping his foot down. "Well, this one does! And we're not going to let you get away with it!"
She stared at the two, her pupils shrunken by the response. Though, the effect didn't last and abruptly switched back to normal. She growled, bringing out a plasma blade from the stolen gauntlet.
"Alright then, show me this how strong your 'friendship' is." She taunted, stepping closer and closer.
Neither Five nor Miko were willing to wait, and from an acknowledging nod, the duo rushed straight after her, fists winding back. The girl however anticipated this and blocked their attacks easily. "Is that really the best you can offer?"
With a battle cry, the two launched a flurry of punches and kicks, trying to land even a single solid strike. The two were untrained and inexperienced but they were incredibly coordinated. Whenever Five struck high, Miko would hit low. The same too vice versa. They were also extremely cautious of the sword, dodging it when can.
But against a highly-trained and experienced opponent? The outcome was clear from the beginning.
The figure punched Five in the nose, causing him to reel back in pain and kicking him onto the floor. Thankfully, it wasn't broken but he'd definitely feel sore in the morning. Miko threw a punch to retaliate, only for it to be caught after. She tried to move her fist but to no avail. The grip was too strong.
"Pathetic." She said, twisting Miko's wrist, causing the Japanese to writhe in pain.
"I never understood what she saw in you, and I guess I never will. This mission has been nothing more than a disappointment."
Miko, despite the pain, blurted unintentionally. "S-'she'?"
That seemed to set her off. The intruder snarled in anger as if a tiger about to kill their prey. Without hesitating even for a second, she kneed Miko in the stomach and threw her off to the side. Without her armour, she was just a normal teenage girl. That meant taking the full brunt of an attack.
She felt like she was going to puke.
"I had orders not to touch you while I was here but really, I just can't help it." She spoke with a mocking tone. While Miko squirmed on the ground, the figure placed her foot on her back and pressed harder. "Everything about you just makes my blood boil."
Miko coughed, her chest tightening. "Hrk, p-personal much? I don't even know you."
All of a sudden, she felt a weight slammed into her back, pushing her foot off of Miko. Five had grappled her out of the way, holding her tight like a crocodile's jaw. In response, she stomped his feet, shifted her own behind his and pulled her leg, causing him to slip back with a thud.
Five wheezed, his body in deep pain. He really missed those armours now. "Hah, hah... I-is that... all you... got?"
She resummoned the plasma blade. "No."
"GET AWAY FROM HIM!" Miko yelled, running after them. The black-clad girl spun, blade in hand, aiming directly at her torso. Five watched in horror, powerless to do anything. He wanted to warn her or maybe push her out of the way, but it was too late.
The plasma blade fatally pierced Miko, leaving a 5-inch gaping hole in her chest.
"Game over, girl." The figure mocked, digging her blade deeper.
Glitches are beings made of pure data. Yet somehow, Glitch Tech weapons worked wonders on them. Even though it seemed to make sense that it would work but it wasn't like Glitches had a physical body. Data barely took up space in a computer after all. A hundred gigabytes worth of memory was the size of a rock and just by changing the architecture and circuitry, that could change to two hundred or even a whole terabyte.
That was because Glitches were limited by their programming. They could only do what they were designed for, nothing more and nothing less. Thus, they stay the same size and shape, even though they could've done something else to win. But what happens when you have a Glitch that was designed to learn and grow, change with the seasons and events? One that could, in all terms, become human?
You get Miko.
"YOU FREAKING THOUGHT SO!" Miko barked, grabbing onto her opponent's gauntlet. The blade was still lodged in her chest but no blood spilt out. Instead of a gruesome organic hole full of guts, there was a glitching one made of colourful neon pixels and unrendered graphics.
If it were any normal person, this would probably kill them. And contrary to expectation, this still hurt a lot. But at the current moment, Miko was hopped up on pure anger, angst and adrenaline; the three A's of survival.
"Ggh, let go!" She complained, trying to push Miko off of her. The latter, however, kept holding on, unrelenting.
The two struggled to one-up one another, trying to make the other give up. The figure placed her hand on Miko's face, pushing her harder and harder while Miko's grip never gave even a micro-inch.
After many long seconds of struggling, she finally was able to get Miko off, pushing her away. Breathing heavily, she chuckled menacingly and lifted her arm at the girl. "Good try but not good enough."
What was supposed to be a blast of energy, instead came out nothing. She glanced at her fist and found herself staring at a bare arm, nothing but the clothes on her back. Meanwhile, at Miko's side, she rolled around, revealing the gauntlet in her hands.
"Looking for this?" She taunted, pointing the same gauntlet at her oppressor.
The figure glared, fire in her eyes. She clenched her fist and stomped forward, ready to pummel that smirk off of Miko's face. "It's going to take more than a gauntlet to beat me, program!"
Schwing! A bolt of blue energy flew by, heading straight forwards to the figure. She gasped and leapt back, barely avoiding the assault.
"Well, t-try two!" A voice spoke from nearby. Turning around, Miko and Five saw Zahra holding her arm up front, albeit wobbling. She was limping by one leg and leaned by the side of the wall, still injured from the previous explosion. Her uniform was slightly singed.
Another buzz was heard, this time from Haneesh Jyoshi, the short but super smart member of Glitch Tech. He made his way towards Mitch and with a few taps, caused the bubble prison to pop. After standing back up, the two pointed their own weapons with the full intent of arrest and possibly a bit of harm.
All of a sudden, more and more Glitch Techs appeared, some familiar while others new, all their weapons drawn and aimed at the intruder. Gradually, the hallways were blocked and she was left surrounded.
"Woah...!" Five awed, amazed by the sheer number of people coming to help.
The figure stepped back, anxious. This wasn't supposed to be how it went! If everything went exactly as planned, none of this would've happened. But then, this 'Five' had to butt in and slowly and steadily, more Glitch Tech members came.
And then, there was Miko. She wasn't supposed to recover yet, not this quickly. She was assured that the virus should've put her to sleep for a week. Instead, it didn't even last a day!
"Give it up! We got you cornered!" Miko shouted, the gauntlet buzzing sharply.
And she was right. There was no physical way of running from this. All escape routes blocked, all enemies on high alert. In any other stealth video game, this was pretty much a game over. Dealing with one average Glitch Tech was fine, but dealing with all of them? Not possible, not without the right equipment.
She sighed, disappointed. A tactical retreat was all that's left and barely anything to bring back. She grabbed one of the discs on her utility belt and flung it upwards. The disc spun with static and with a pulse, a dome of electricity suddenly formed itself, covering the intruder along with Miko and Five inside.
Mitch instantly took lead. "Haneesh, take down that shield!"
"Already on it!"
"The rest of you noobs!" He called out with an insult, pointing his arm at the dome. "Blow it sky high!"
Wordlessly, the members of Glitch Techs simultaneously blasted the dome with their gauntlets, the energy bolts exploding on contact. Some turned on their mods and continued firing, weakening it slowly but surely. The dome cracked under pressure, the damage growing with each second.
In the meantime, Miko and Five were left in the mercy of the same person that kicked their butts just a minute ago. Weapon or not, she could still continue kicking their butt if she wanted to. And truly, she really wanted to. After all the trouble they made her go through, she wanted to kick them off a mountain.
Preferably Miko. Especially Miko.
Instead, she clapped sarcastically. "Good work, Glitch Techs. You've beaten me. Oh, how heroic you must feel, being surrounded by a bunch of weak and fragile humans. Hehehe…"
"The next time we meet, however…" Suddenly, a portal opened from behind, the same that summoned all those Glitches to wreak havoc. "You won't be so lucky."
She turned and walked calmly through the portal. Just as she got fully through, the electric dome collapsed, its disc fizzing out and detonating itself. The portal also fizzled out and exploded, leaving all trace of the intruder completely ruined.
It was over. It was finally over.
Miko hurled her lunch on the floor.
For the first time since forever, the med-bays were full. Most of the time, Glitch Techs were relatively unharmed after their daily routine of hunting down monsters. Their skills, critical thinking and impressive reaction time meant that they could handle pretty much anything handed to them. Plus, they always had access to info that gave them an advantage.
The difference this time was that they were caught with their pants down. After all, no one expected a Glitch attack in their home base. When those video game characters went around causing as much chaos as possible, the members had to scramble their way to safety and think of a counter-plan. They managed to have it dealt with as fast as possible but not without a few injuries here and there.
"Urgh, how much longer? I'm like, super bored!" Miko complained, being forced to sit on a table with one arm strapped to a bunch of wires. With her were a bunch of doctors, gathering up samples and checking for any imperfections and injuries. So far other than the scuff marks and bruises, she was still fine and healthy. She'd be completely fine after a few days of rest.
Still, she was a Glitch. At least, she assumed she was and so did everyone else. Truth be told, no one truly knew what she was and that bothered her more than she thought. Glitches are, by definition, video game characters brought to life by a malfunction of Hinobi's advanced gaming technology. And she knew darn well she wasn't from a video game.
"Just a few more tests and you'll be ready to leave, Ms. Kubota." A doctor spoke positively, his face disguised by a mask and a pair of goggles. In fact, all of the doctors were wearing the same thing; the traditional blue operating clothes, some masks and white gloves, and a pair of thick goggles. She honestly couldn't tell who was who.
Outside of the room, Five waited for Miko to come out. He held an ice bag to his cheek with one arm wrapped in bandages. He had somehow been consistently hit in the face all day and while there were no serious injuries, that didn't mean he enjoyed it. He really liked his face.
"Hey there, boss." A voice spoke from behind him. He turned and was faced with Zahra, currently in crutches. Her right leg was heavily bandaged, more so than his arm. Plus, she had a few others taped on her head.
"Zahra! You're okay!" Five greeted, happy to see her well. She nodded with a smile. "Yeah, the doctors said I twisted my ankle after being hit by those rocks. No broken bones or anything but Phil told me to take sick leave. Paid though, so I'm not complaining."
An awkward silence entered, followed by a cough. "So… how is she?"
"Oh uh, Miko?"
"No, I meant the president of your fan club." She replied, rolling her eyes with sarcasm. "Of course I meant Miko."
"Oh haha, she's fine! She should be coming out any second now!" Five answered, laughing a bit.
Zahra nodded. "Good, good! That's great news."
Another awkward silence, though no one coughing this time. It was weird that they stood outside like this anyway, not like there were benches nearby.
"So, uh… She's a Glitch. Wanna talk about that?" Zahra started. Five just shrugged in response. "Honestly, there's not much to talk about. During the fight, she told me she had a bunch of dreams or memories and suspected herself to be a Glitch. She's… she's taking it pretty well."
"Sounds just about right. She's always been a tough girl." Zahra praised.
"Yeah but imagine if you woke up one day and suddenly figured out that you weren't human! Wouldn't you start to question your very existence?!"
The Muslim girl shrugged. "Dude, we fight video game characters and deal with rowdy customers every single day. The fact that we can actually explain how she exists makes this way easier."
Five wanted to argue but for the life of him, couldn't find one. She made sense, as much as nonsense as that sounded. This was the new normal and it really should bother him, but it just didn't. He sighed, admitting defeat.
"Still, at least those dreams tell us one thing.", Zahra added, staring at the door. Five turned head, confused. "What do you mean?"
"You said that those dreams were possibly memories, which meant she has some buried past that even she didn't know about. It could be some childhood traumatic event but after what happened today, those dreams of hers are definitely connected."
"This just got way bigger than she realized and I don't think we even scratched the surface of this rabbit hole.", Zahra explained with a serious tone. Even the misuse of idioms didn't bother her.
Five turned and stared at the door, the one barrier that separated the two humans from their companion. His throat felt tight and uneasy, his mouth dry from anxiety.
"D-do you think we can handle it?" Five asked, hoping for a good answer.
Zahra smirked with confidence. "Kid, we're Glitch Techs. We can handle anything."
In front of the Kubota household, Mitch drove his van and parked by the entrance. Since Five was injured by one hand and Miko was too young to drive, that meant someone else had to drop the duo back home in the evening. He really didn't want to but Phil just had to make him do it. Today was just the worst.
"Welcome home, losers. Or at least, one of you." Mitch called out, annoyed that he had to work as a chauffeur for them.
Miko climbed out from the back, her clothes messy and torn. Her shirt, however, was brand new, having to replace it after the fight left a big hole in the middle. Thankfully, that was free of charge along with with with a two-day paid leave, courtesy of Phil.
"Thanks for the ride, Mitch! See you guys tomorrow!" Miko waved from the porch. Mitch scoffed with an ugly face while Five waved back.
"Hey, Miko?" Five called, sitting in the passenger seat. Miko's head tilted sideways. "Yeah?"
"If you want to talk about stuff, just give me a call, okay?"
Miko was slightly dumbfounded by the request but smiled. She knew that he meant well. "Yeah, sure. I got your phone number!"
Miko continued to wave as the van drove away till it was out of view. She took a deep breath and walked to the door, entering after a busy day. Inside, she saw both of her parents by the living room, looking extremely distressed. They turned their heads to the door and upon seeing Miko, they immediately stood up.
"MIKO! You're back! And you're all okay!" Her mother cried, scurrying towards her. She grabbed her daughter's face and examined closely, moving her head around. "You're not hurt, are you?! Oh, there's a band-aid on your cheek!"
"M-mom, it's fine! I'm completely okay!"
Her father walked by, stopping next to her. "Well, we're both glad you're not hurt. When the whole city lost power, we got word that there was a gas leak at the store! It was all over the news and the ambulance was there!"
Wait, the whole city lost power? Miko was sure that only the Glitch Tech HQ were affected. Did the company pull some strings to cover it up? Seemed a tad excessive.
"Are you sure you're not hurt? You can skip work if you want!" Her mother said, her eyes watery with tears of worry. Miko had never seen her like this before. She was usually mad at her in some way. This was somewhat concerning.
"It's fine, mom. I got paid leave for the next two days. I'll be staying home anyway." Miko assured, looking at both of her parents.
Her father placed his hand on her shoulder. "If you say so. After the heart attack you gave us, we've decided to take the next few days off too. It's been a while since we spent some time with you, Miko."
"Wait, really?! What about your jobs?!"
"It's settled already. We have to admit, we did focus a tad too much on your siblings. So for the next few days, we'll be yours."
Miko couldn't help but smile widely. "Oh my gosh, you guys are the best! I can't wait to show you my favourite games! Oh, or maybe give you a few tips 'cause I'm a pro like that!"
She excitedly told them her plans for tomorrow, happy that she finally got the attention she wanted. She was so used with being the runt of the litter that she forgot what it was like to be the highlight for once. She loved her parents very much, even if they often forgot about her own plans.
She was glad to part of this family.
Somewhere in a dark room, a figure emerged from the shadows, her footsteps echoing in the room. The room itself was simple; a perfect cube with square LED tiles on the walls and ceiling. Other fixtures were also seen nearby but it was too dark to determine.
At the end side, however, was a small podium. With it was a large curved screen built into the walls. The figure walked on the podium and with a clank of her boots, she stopped. Suddenly, the screen lit up bright, revealing a different shadowy figure behind it.
"... How was the mission?" They asked, the voice altered to a garbled but understandable mess. "I take it was a success."
She bit her lips in frustration. "I'm sorry to say this but the mission was a failure. I've only recovered a portion of the data while the rest was destroyed. Please, forgive me."
"Forgiveness is an act of virtue, one that is to be earned. I am disappointed but not surprised. You'll have another chance to redeem yourself but for now, you shall rest."
"Take this time to reflect on your actions, M-2. You are one of a kind, after all."
A lie, she knew it. Her existence was proof of that, one that she despised. But she did not voice out her opinion. It was not her place.
"Thank you for your kind words. I will do as you command."
"See that you will." And with that, the screen blipped black, ending the call. She breathed in deeply and grabbed her helmet, pulling it off with a hiss. It was damaged but that didn't matter. She could just get a new one.
She stared at the offline screen and into her reflection. Purple galaxy-themed hair, pale skin and black eyes. She had a stubby nose and somewhat chubby cheeks, just slightly less so. Her hair was cut shorter to shoulder length but other than that, she was an almost perfect copy of Miko, down to the smallest detail.
The resemblance was uncanny but she knew it all along. Even though she beat her, she still lost. So long as Miko was around, she'll always be second-best. She knew that better than anyone else.
She glared at herself. She glared at Miko.