All characters portrayed herein are the

Intellectual and copyrighted property of

Fred Gallagher and Fredart Studios Lic.

Megatokyo: NewGames.

Chapter 9

Outskirts of Shinjuku

It would have taken a very fast camera to capture a picture of Ping as she ran full tilt away from the warehouse, heading towards her friends. When the big American had been telling her about the events of the day, he had mentioned that the Microsoft robot had tracked Miho-chan through her cell-phone signal. She knew that they had disposed of the phone, but she guessed that Piro-kun still had his on him.

The little GPS screen in her vision field sub-display showed his location, relative to her position. She was only a couple of kilometers away from the signal source. She increased her speed to the point that her footsteps were fracturing the pavement beneath her.

If there had been a camera fast enough to take a picture of her nearby, it might have caught the message backlit on her earblades.

:: Mode: Auto ::

:: End User Protect Mode: Enabled ::

:: Maximum Threat. 100 Power Access ::

She was at full power, and prepared to annihilate anything that was threatening her friends.

Just a few more minutes, Piro-kun, she said to herself, punching through a recently repaired wall.

Shinjuku

Junpei stood on the roof of a building and surveyed the damage below. Before the robot had even started its attack, the big ninja had grabbed Miho and leapt upwards, landing nimbly on the roof of a building across the street.

He saw that Largo was in the alleyway, watching the robot.

L33t Master plans attack, he said to himself.

He'll get killed if he does, Miho said suddenly, materializing out of the darkness at Junpei's elbow. If she had surprised him, he gave no sign of it.

Trust L33t Master, Miss. He is warrior.

Miho gave no reply, just sat watching the tableau unfold. She was fairly impressed by the way Great Teacher Largo battled the Box-Bot. She would have never guessed he was capable of a fight outside of a computer environment.

You're not going to help him? Miho asked curiously.

No, miss. Very rude, interrupt battle. L33t Master get hurt, Junpei help. Not get hurt, Junpei not help. Is way of honor. Junpei never took his eyes off the fight, wincing as Largo crashed onto the police car. He was still watching Largo struggle to stand upright, and was beginning to wonder if he should help, when he heard Miho spit out a curse right before she shimmied down the side of the building. He could not see what she was holding on to as she descended.

He was fairly surprised at how much trouble he was having following her movements as she ran across the street, and then turned to head towards the Box-Bot and the former idol. He saw Largo grab the severed arm from his old mech, and lean back to throw. He was preparing to leap down onto the robot to distract it long enough for Largo to complete his attack, when he saw Miho slam into Erika and knock her out of the robot's grasp. He paused long enough to see Largo's mech tackle the Box-Bot, sending them both tumbling down the alleyway. He jumped up in the air, and landed on the roof of the building across the street, right next to the alley that the two mechs had tumbled down. He briefly noticed Piro and Kimiko hurriedly exiting out into the street.

He strode down to the end of the alley, and watched Largo square off against the robot. He was worried that the Box-Bot had the advantage in the narrow alleyway.

His dismay increased as Largo grabbed the neck of the Box-Bot after its initial rush and left himself completely open to a counter-attack. Even though he was expecting it, seeing the Box-Bot kick Largo's mech out of the alley stunned Junpei for a moment. He ran to the other end of the building and saw Erika limping towards Largo. He glanced back down the alleyway, and saw the Box-Bot striding purposefully towards the street. It took Junpei less than a second to decide to act.

With a fierce battle cry, meant more to distract the robot than anything, the big Ninja jumped down from the roof with both feet extended in front of him. The Box-Bot quickly turned in the direction of the shout, but due to the echoes in the alley, it thought that Junpei was directly behind it. Junpei hit the robot's chest as hard as he could, which caused the Bot to stumble back a few steps. Flipping over after the impact, Junpei landed in a crouch in front of the robot. The two of them looked at each other for a brief second before the Box-Bot rushed forward with inhuman speed, striking Junpei in the chest with its outstretched arm.

When the Box-Bot kicked Largo's mech up into the air, Miho turned away in disappointment. 'Wait,' she thought. 'Disappointment? Why disappointment?' She was kind of confused by this feeling. Had she felt disgust, it would not have surprised her. Was it possible that she was beginning to feel that Largo was a worthy opponent again? Is she disappointed that he had been beaten just as he was showing his true abilities?

Before she could continue that line of thought, she noticed the Box-Bot moving towards Erika with deadly intent. Before she could think rationally through what she was about to do, she cursed and jumped off the edge of the building. As she fell, she started grabbing window ledges and small outcroppings on the building face to slow her descent enough that she wouldn't break her legs when she hit the ground. Her hands were moving so rapidly that anyone watching would have only seen her pressing her hands lightly against the building.

She hit the ground only a few meters from where Erika was bracing herself to escape from the Box-Bot, using a technique that Miho herself had used earlier in the evening. She was going to dive between the Box-Bot's legs. Knowing the robot's level of intelligence as well as she did she knew that the Bot would not fall for the same trick twice. Miho's heart was beating rapidly, and she prayed she would have enough stamina to get Erika out of the robot's grasp. She shot forward as quickly as she was able to. As fast as her hands had been moving against the building, they would have seemed mired in molasses compared to the speed with which she could force her legs to move.

Moving so quickly that tunnel blur distorted her vision slightly, Miho almost instantly traversed the distance between herself and the robot's newest victim. Just before she impacted with Erika, she abruptly slammed both feet down mere inches from the statuesque woman, in an effort to kill some of her momentum. It would not do to save Erika from the robot, only to kill her with kinetic force rupturing her organs.

The two women collided, hard. Miho's inertia carried both of them out of the robot's reach, just before Largo's mech crashed into the Bot.

It had been a hard day for Miho, who had fallen out of the habit of exercising. She had put more strain on her body today than she would have in a normal week. Between all the exertion and the shock of her impact with Erika, Miho's awareness floated away on sea of gentle black waves.

Here, let's lay her down in this doorway, Kimiko said decidedly to Piro.

Watch her head, Piro answered, easing the short girl to the ground.

They arranged Miho in what they hoped would be a comfortable position. The two friends sat back on their heels and tried to catch their breath.

Piro, Kimiko said suddenly with a trace of panic in her voice, have you seen Erika since we came around the corner? She started looking around.

What? Piro asked, stupidly. She was right behind us, I thought.

Do you see her anywhere, now? Kimiko asked with irritation in her voice. I'm sorry, Piro, she apologized immediately. We've got to go find her! She was limping, and maybe her ankle was hurt worse than she thought! Kimiko stood up and started walking towards the ruined street they had just left.

NO! Piro said panicking. Kimiko looked at him with anger flashing in her eyes. Piro held his hands up. I mean, you stay here with Miho, and make sure she's ok. I'll go and look for Erika. He was not feeling really brave, but felt that it would be better if he went to look for Erika. He didn't want Kimiko put in any more danger than she had been.

Before she could object, Piro stood up and half-ran back the way they had come.

Be careful, Piro, Kimiko called out.

Come back to me, she said to herself.

Piro jogged up to the corner and paused before going out into the disaster area. He leaned his head out from around the edge of the building and glanced up and down the street. Seeing no sign of the Box-Bot, he started looking for Erika.

He took a cautions step out into the street, but could not see anything moving. He heard a strange hiccupping sound coming from around an overturned police car, and quickly, but quietly as possible, ran over to the car to investigate. He leaned around the car, the pungent stench of hot radiator fluid stinging his nostrils. His eyes widened in horror. The image he saw as he looked around the wrecked car would haunt him for a good long time.

Erika. Kneeling next to the mech that Largo had been piloting, sobbing like a broken-hearted child.

Largo. Pulled halfway out of the mech, red liquid pooled around him, soaking his hair and his shirt.

With no hesitation, he started out into the open, heading toward his friend. Largo. The person who had stood by him through more troubles than most people even saw in their lives. Largo, the one man who had put himself between that robot and Erika.

He took two steps past the car when the Box-Bot came running out of the alley, following Junpei. The Ninja ran across the street, and leapt up in the air. He hit the building across the street with both feet and rebounded through the air towards the robot. The Bot leaned back slightly and grabbed the airborne Ninja's shirt. It tossed its arm upwards and for the second time that evening, threw Junpei into a building. The big Ninja crashed into a window and vanished from sight. The Bot immediately started moving towards Piro and Erika.

The Box-Bot covered more than half the distance between them, when it suddenly leapt backwards several feet.

A Tokyo Police mech crashed down to the ground right where the robot had been standing mere moments before. It stood up, and through the settling dust, Piro saw that this mech was painted black, with "Tokyo Police: Skirmisher Division" in white block lettering on its back. It was a medium sized mech, but where the Cataclysm Division mechs tend to be fairly hard and square looking, this mech was sleek and dangerous.

Two more mech's quickly landed in a triangle around the Bot. The Box-Bot crouched slightly and waited.

Piro wasted no time in running over to the ruined Urban Defense mech. Sliding to a stop next to Erika, he grabbed her shoulders and shook her.

Hayasaka-san! Hayasaka-san! What happened? You need to get out of here! Piro shouted. He was having trouble hearing his own voice over the booming noises coming from the area where the TPSD was fighting the Box-Bot. He glanced over, and saw that the TPSD was not fairing so well against the Box-Bot. The Bot had one mech by the legs and was using it as a bludgeon against the other two.

When Erika failed to respond to him he raised his eyes to where his friend lay within the mech.

Up close, the vision was even more alarming than from across the street. Largo was struggling in the harness of the pilot's cavity. He was trying to take his pants off.

A brief lull in the fighting nearby allowed Piro to hear his friend cursing.

"D4mn p4nts! G3t 0ff! J00 are h4mp3ring my b4ttle!" he was almost helplessly tangled in the harness. He tilted his head back and looked at Piro. "J0, d00d. Give me a hand, here. This hydraulic fluid is making it difficult for me to get out of this thing."

"Largo! You're not dead!" Now that Piro looked at the liquid covering his friend, he realized it was not actually red, but was a dark orange color. In the inconsistent light, he had only thought it was blood.

Erika had managed to gain enough control of her self that she had heard Largo speaking. She stood up and leaned over the side of the mech to look at Largo.

"Largo! You're alive! You're…half-naked," she said with dry irritation. Largo had managed to get his shirt off, and had his pants halfway down his waist. She drew in a breath, but whether she was going to express her happiness, or remove large pieces of Largo's ego was something Piro never found out. A grinding screech interrupted whatever she was going to say as the remains of the legs of the TPSD mech the Bot had been tossing around flew over their heads.

The Bot lowered its arm, and looked over at the trio huddled around the junked TPCD mech. Piro saw dents all long the body of the Box-Bot, and a deep tear in the armor down the length of its right arm. The TPSD had put up a serious fight. The Box-Bot took one step towards Piro, Largo and Erika, but halted. It was having difficulty moving its left leg. Every time it tried to take a step, some sort of pressurized gas vented out of the knee joint. Gamely, it started hobbling towards them.

Hayasaka-san, help Largo out of this mess. I'm going to distract this thing. It won't be able to move as fast as it had been, so I might be able to stay away from it. He looked over and saw her objections forming behind her eyes. Hayasaka-san, please. Get Largo to safety. He's probably hurt worse than he knows or will admit. With that, Piro sprang up and ran as hard as he could away from the TPCD mech. He turned and saw that the Box-Bot still had its attention focused on Largo and Erika. He looked around frantically. There was a scattering of building rubble lying about. He scooped up a decent sized rock, and hurled it at the robot's back.

He missed. But, the robot turned anyway having determined that Piro was now more of a threat than the other two. Piro started walking backwards, still hurling rocks every time he saw one he could manage to throw. He missed most of the time, but he hit often enough that the Box-Bot stayed with him. He glanced over to where Erika was trying to help Largo out of the mech. He thought they might have the buckle undone. Good. Just another minute or two and he could turn and run. While his attention had been diverted, he failed to watch his step and stumbled to the ground, striking his head against the street.

Ping came around a corner, and immediately saw Piro being attacked by the Box-Bot. Without slowing down, she shifted her course slightly, and ripped a decent sized traffic sign out of the ground.

Bright points of light exploded in Piro's vision, and it took him a minute to regain control of his limbs. His eyes cleared right as the Box-Bot grabbed him and lifted him up by the neck. The metal hand began to tighten slightly as the Bot held Piro up straight out in front of itself. Piro kicked the Bot, but it twisted its body slightly so that Piro was dangling from its outstretched arm, with the robot's torso in profile.

Piro kept kicking, even though he could feel his kicks getting weaker.

A strange noise filled the night air. It was an unusual noise, punctuated by a staccato hammering and rapid cracking noise. He started to focus on the noise, but the world went silent. Just as his vision was beginning to darken, there was a shower of sparks in his eyes, and a hard, jarring impact rattled his teeth.

Before he could orient on what had occurred he fell ingloriously to the ground with the Box-Bot's arm lying on top of him. He turned his head and saw Ping sliding on the street, her hand on the ground to maintain her balance. She held a mutilated street sign in her other hand.

"What the hell?" Piro asked.

Get away from Piro-kun! Ping almost snarled as she dropped the sign.

The Box-Bot turned towards Ping, and Piro saw the stump where the arm that had been holding him used to be. It was a jagged mess of metal and wires.

Get away from Piro-kun! Ping repeated, with even more venom in her voice.

Piro struggled with the severed arm that had him pinned to the ground, but it was terribly heavy and he was having difficulty moving it. The Box-Bot noticed his movement and shifted slightly to look at Piro.

Ping shrieked at an earsplitting volume and shot forward towards the Bot. It saw her coming and turned to defend itself. In less than a second, Ping covered the distance between them. The Box-Bot held its arm in front of it, but Ping brushed the appendage aside as though it were the flimsiest silk. She crashed into the Box-Bot's chest and the two of them fell to the ground.

The Box-Bot hit the ground, and rolled backwards. It tried to get its feet set under it, but the damage to its knee was too great and the joint gave out. The Bot landed on its butt with an inglorious clanging noise.

Ping had jumped clear of the Bot when it had started to roll backwards, and shot towards it once more. The Bot was more ready for her though and managed to roll sideways to avoid her. It clambered to its feet just as Ping managed to stop herself. Without giving the Bot anymore time to prepare, she launched another headlong attack. The Box-Bot sidestepped and grabbed Ping's hair as she shot past. She jerked to a halt and her feet flew out from underneath her. Before she could regain her footing, the Box-Bot lifted her off the ground by her long braids.

It started to spin in a circle, swinging Ping around like the proverbial rag-doll. Before it could spin fast enough to throw her, however, its knee betrayed it once again. With a tortured hiss, the joint locked and the Box-Bot stumblingly halted, still holding on to Ping. The little Sony android had apparently had enough of this Microsoft upstart, and was ready to end this fight. Still dangling from its hand, she reared back and punched the Box-Bot's wrist, completely destroying the hand control servos. The metal hand holding her hair went completely limp, and Ping dropped lightly to the ground. Before the Bot could assess and react to the new damage, Ping hit it with both hands in the chest.

It flew backwards several feet and ground to a halt on its back. As it was trying to sit up, Ping leaped onto its chest and drove it back down to the ground. She used her momentum to drive her fist into the already cracked faceplate, shattering the glass. Her fist tore through the Box-Bot's motor-control processor and it began spasmodically twitching and thrashing around. With her fist still in its brain, she jumped clear of the malfunctioning robot, taking its head with her. The Box-Bot gave one last shudder, and with decreasing hiss, lay still.

In the deafening silence that followed the fight, Piro struggled gamely to lift the ruined arm off of his chest. Ping straightened up and looked around. The moment she spotted Piro, she let out an inarticulate cry and ran over to him. With no apparent effort, she lifted and tossed the severed arm away from Piro.

Ping! Are you… what are… what are you doing here? he finally managed to ask.

Piro-kun, don't move! she admonished him as he attempted to stand up. You might be hurt! A quick scan showed her that he hold only minor surface injuries. A couple of bruises were beginning to form around his neck. Relieved that Piro was not seriously injured, she reached down and lifted the short American to his feet.

Piro-kun! I'm so glad you're alright! she exclaimed, reaching out as if to hug him. To her dismay, though Piro recoiled in horror as she stretched her hands out.
Ping… can you… can you take the head off your hand, please? he asked, shakily.

Ping looked down at her hands, and noticed that the Box-Bot's decapitated head was still attached to her hand. As she was shaking the head loose, Kimiko came running up.

Piro! Are you OK? What happened? I was watching, but everything happened to fast! Oh! Ping-san! You're here! Did you help Piro?

Piro was feeling slightly dizzy, and Kimiko's flood of questions was beginning to make his head whirl. Kimiko-san, please! I'm fine. Just give me a moment to calm down, please. He had begun shaking, uncontrollably in the aftermath of his near-death experience. Is Tohya-san still unconscious? He asked, trying to give Kimiko something else to think about.

Miho-chan was here! Is she hurt? Where is she? Ping asked rapidly. She had been just as worried about her friend as she had been for Piro.

Don't worry, Ping-san, Kimiko said soothingly, Tohya-san is ju…

Right behind you, Miho said quietly, startling Kimiko so badly that she jumped forward, stumbled and fell backwards. Piro knelt down to help Kimiko to her feet.

Miho-chan! Ping exclaimed, reaching out and hugging her best friend. She did a quick scan on Miho, as well, and saw that her pulse rate was low, as well as her blood pressure. Miho-chan, you're not feeling good. You should go to the doctor!

I'm fine, Ping. I just need some rest. I have been worried about you. I'm very glad to see you operating again. Miho visually checked Ping over for obvious damage, but aside from being dusty and her clothing a little tattered, the android appeared to be operating normally.

What's going on? Piro asked in confusion. I thought that you had been taken apart, Ping. How did you get put back together?

Before Ping could answer, a small fleet of police cars come screeching around the corner, followed by a squad of TPCD and TPSD mechs.

FREEZE! one of the Cataclysm Division troopers shouted though his loudspeaker. Everybody stopped and turned towards the oncoming police force. The flock of cars and mechs surrounded everyone standing in the street. Every one of the mechs had some sort of weapon pointed at the ragged group. Ping stepped to the front of the group, and placed herself as squarely as she could in from of Piro and Miho. The tableau remained frozen for several seconds until one of the officers in the back gave an order for the mech units to stand-down.

Two of the mechs stepped back, and cleared a path for Inspector Sonoda to come through. He looked the worse for wear, but was steady on his feet and his gaze was unwavering.

You've made a right fine mess of this street, haven't you? he asked of no one in particular. Are any of you hurt, or need medical attention? he asked. Ping started to speak up, but Miho put her hand on the android's shoulder and shook her head slightly. But, Miho-chan… Ping began. Miho just shook her head again, with a slight smile. We're fine for the moment, Inspector, she said.

Sonoda looked at her for a few seconds before nodding. Where's the robot? Everyone stepped away from the wreckage of the Box-Bot as it lay with oil and hydraulic fluid still seeping from its shell. Sonoda walked over to the mangled remains and looked at the group of humans and android.

Wait! What about that Ninja? He was hurt, wasn't he? Kimiko asked, concernedly. Piro smacked his forehead and regretted it, instantly. Fighting past the throbbing pain in his head, he told Sonoda about Junpei's fight, and showed him which building the Ninja had been hurled into. Sonoda motioned for one of the medics to come over and spoke rapidly. The medic ran off, grabbing two other medics. He shook his head slightly and motioned for one of the troopers to start collecting evidence and photographs of the scene.

Let's get out of their way, for now, he said to Piro and started walking over to a pile of rubble that looked like it could serve as seats for everyone. He sat down on the flattest piece of rock he could find and sighed. OK, tell me everything that happened, from the beginning, he said.

Piro, Kimiko and Ping all began talking at once, with Largo loudly proclaiming his prowess in battle. Hold it! Sonoda yelled, holding up a hand. One at a time, and slowly enough for me to write this down. He produced a pad of paper and pen.

Piro started talking first, and detailed everything he knew about what went on. Sonoda asked a few clarifying questions, but otherwise allowed Piro to tell his tale all the way through. Afterwards, he had Kimiko and Erika tell him as well. He looked over at Largo and Miho after Piro and the other girl's finished talking, and was trying to decide if he had enough info.

I think you will find the perpetrators of this whole escapade at Kanasago Industrial Park, Inspector, Miho said, and sat down next to Ping, clearly unwilling to say any more for the moment. Sonoda looked over at her for a second, and keyed the mike on his radio. Dispatch, send a some units over to Kanasago Industrial Park. I want a mix of squad cars and Skirmish mechs out there. Over. The radio squealed with some unintelligible words for a few seconds. Sonoda looked mildly surprised. Very well, send them here. Over and out. He put his radio back in his belt holster.

Well, it seems that there was some sort of fight at the warehouse, and two of the guys called the police. All three people there are being brought here, now.

Before he could say anything else, Junpei limped over to the group after assuring the medics that he didn't need any sort of medical assistance.

"Junpei, dude! They told me you got thrown into a building!" Largo exclaimed.

"Yes, L33t Master," Junpei answered morosely. "Junpei was defeated."

"Don't worry about it," Largo said. "That thing pwnzed me, too. I do not remember very much about the battle, but Piro said it even destroyed several Skirmisher mechs." Largo had a look that combined both awe and dismay. "The b4ttl3 pr0w3ss that robot displayed was extraordinary. The pilot's of those mechs will be remembered as heroes."

"Actually," Sonoda interjected, "the Skirmisher division is made up of entirely remote operated mechs. The pilots were 15km away from the fight."

"Remote operation?" Largo looked horrified. "The pilots were nowhere near the fighting?" Anger blazed in his eyes. "Small wonder they were defeated so easily. Without being within the sphere of contention, one cannot feel the battle wrath come over them!"

"Would you rather the pilots were killed," Erika asked, mildly.

"What? No! Of course not," Largo said. "However, had the pilots been within their mechs, they would not have been given such a beatdown."

The wailing of sirens interrupted the argument as two more cruisers and an ambulance rolled up to pile of rubble where everyone was sitting.

Sonoda beckoned to the officers in the cruisers and they hauled Soren and Yamadera, both in handcuffs, out of the cars. The ambulance doors opened and Adamson stumbled out of the back. He had an enormous swath of bandages around his head. He, too, was wearing handcuffs. The officers escorting the three guided them over to the group of friends amidst sulfurous swearing from Yamadera.

You little bitch! Yamadera yowled when she saw Miho standing there, apparently unharmed. I'll kill you! Take these off! I'm going to strangle that bitch with my bare hands!

Well, that answers that, Sonoda said mildly, gesturing for the officers to take Yamadera back to the cruiser. Which leaves you two, he said, looking at Soren and Adamson.

"Soren should not be in handcuffs, Inspector," Miho said. "Without his assistance, I do not doubt that the robot would have killed me, tonight. Adamson, however, I'm not sure about."

"Hey! I took a bullet for you!" Adamson protested, indicating a heavily bandaged cheek. "I don't need to be arrested, either!" Miho looked over at him with an arched eyebrow. Sonoda looked at Soren.

"Why don't you tell me what happened, then," he said to the big man.

It took Soren a few minutes to relay everything that had happened, but when he was done, Sonoda nodded to the officers standing behind them and promptly had their handcuffs removed. "You're free to go, for the moment, but please don't try to leave the country for a few days. After the investigation, if everything checks out, I think we'll be able to ignore the theft charge provided that the rightful owner of the Sony android does not wish to press charges." Considering that Tsubasa was still wandering abroad in America, Sonoda was fairly sure there wouldn't be any charges.

"I think that is everything I need from you now, but I'll probably be talking to you all over the next couple of days depending on how the investigation goes. For the moment though, you should all go home and get some rest. I know I need it." With that, the Inspector got up and walked over to a cluster of officers, giving them final instructions before getting one of the patrol cars to give him a ride home.

Piro-kun, do you mind if I go home with Miho-chan? I want to stay with her and make sure she's going to be OK. Ping looked pleadingly at Piro.

No, I don't mind, Ping. As long as you're sure you're OK, as well.

I'm fine! She replied brightly, pleased by his concern. I'm just glad everyone is OK!

Kimiko walked up and wrapped her arms tightly around the little android. Her shoulders were shaking slightly.

Thank you, Ping-san. Without you here, Piro…I mean we would probably have been killed tonight. Before Ping could reply, or even hug her back, Kimiko let go and walked a little ways away. Piro jumped up and walked quickly over to her.

Kimiko-san? Are you OK? he asked. Kimiko's shaking seemed to be getting a little worse. Abruptly she turned and embraced Piro.

I'm fine, Piro, she said in a lightly quavering voice. I'm fine.

Piro stood there, holding Kimiko, with a look of confused wonder on his face.

"Junpei must go, L33t Master. Need to report to Head Ninja." He stood for a moment, looking at Largo. "L33t Master fought well tonight."

"Dude, that robot would have given any warrior a hard fight." He put his hand on Junpei's shoulder and shook his head. "Your help was greatly needed, tonight. If your Head Ninja has a problem with that, you tell him to go pack sand."

Junpei chuckled slightly, the first Largo had ever heard.

"Good night, L33t Master." With that, Junpei bounded up to the roof of the building and took off into the night. Largo stood for a moment, looking up, and the turned and looked over to where Piro stood hugging Kimiko. He shook his head again. Piro was either more reckless or stupid than Largo had supposed. He turned to walk away, and almost ran into Erika who was standing right behind him. She had a thoughtful expression on her normally impassive face.

"Are you unharmed," Largo asked with a scowl marring his stoic features.

"I'm fine," she replied. "What about you?"

"Your ankle was damaged. Does it bother you, still?" He looked down at her feet. He could see the bulge made from the wrapping the medic had put on her foot.

"It's fine, Largo. Just sprained. Are you hurt?" she repeated.

"I am not permanently damaged."

"That doesn't answer my question. Are you hurt, at all?"

Largo's scowl deepened slightly. "Does it matter?"

"Yes," Erika said, still with a thoughtful expression.

"I have a few minor injuries, yes. They are nothing that you need to worry about. I have sustained greater injury at your hands than I have tonight." Largo thought back to his broken arm. "I will recover easily."

Erika raised her hand to Largo's face. Largo tensed, waiting for the blow to land. Her fingers came to rest, lightly, against his cheek. "You said you don't remember very much about the fight?"

He looked wary, and avoided eye contact with her. "No, I don't. I remember getting beaten in the first mech. Then a few seconds after I climbed into the second mech." He reached up and pointed to the tear tracks in the dust on Erika's face. He looked at her for a moment and then moved his hand and took Erika's hand off of his face. "I'm going to get some b33r," he said. "Would you like to come?"

"You really don't remember anything else?" she asked, thinking of their brief conversation before his second fight and her reaction to seeing him unconscious in the battered mech. Also, she remembered his crying out her name as he threw himself headlong into danger to protect her. Oddly, it didn't annoy her, in the least.

"No." He shook his head as he said, still not meeting her eyes.

"Pity," she murmured while turning away. She looked over her shoulder. "There's a bar two blocks away that should still be open. Try not to over do it. Goodnight." With a casual wave of her hand, she walked off.

Piro and Kimiko released each other after what had seemed like an eternity in each other's arms. Some night, huh? Piro asked stupidly. Kimiko only nodded slightly.

I…I'm sorry for asking you to get involved in this, Piro. I know it wasn't your business, and if I had known that asking you to help them out would have almost gotten you… her words came to a trembling halt. She looked down at the ground.

Hey, no, don't worry about it, he said trying to sound soothing and calm. He hoped she would ignore the quaver in his voice. I would have felt worse if anyone had been hurt and I hadn't been here at all. I'm OK. And you're OK. Largo and Erika are going to be fine. So, please don't worry about it. Piro reached out to touch her shoulder, but drew back at the last moment. He stood watching her for a moment. Kimiko-san?

Kimiko raised her head up and looked Piro in the eye. She looked like she was about to say something, but then she turned and saw Erika walking away from Largo.

I…I should get going. Erika is going to need help walking home on that leg. She turned and started to walk away, before Piro could speak. He started to follow, but she turned suddenly, and the two of them almost collided. Their faces were only inches apart. He could feel her warm breath moving across his lips for an instant. Kimiko rested her hand lightly on Piro's chest. Every fiber of his being screamed for Piro to lean slightly forward, and bridge the gap between them.

Mere instants before his resolve crystallized, Kimiko broke the tableau by stepping back. Goodnight, Piro, she said softly, and turned and walked quickly over to Erika.

It took Piro a few seconds to realize that Kimiko had addressed him in a fairly intimate manner. His head started spinning with something he had not felt in a long time.

Hope.

Largo stood watching Erika for a few minutes, the sting of the lie burning on his tongue. He remembered quite a bit about the fight. He needed time to explore his feelings about it. About what he said, thought and did. He needed time, and beer. He turned and walked toward the bar.

Miho watched the entire tableau from a nearby alleyway. She wasn't sure whether to be happy or sad by the way the game was progressing. There were too many variables in the mix. Still, she believed it to be a game still worth playing. She would continue playing, tomorrow. For now, she needed rest.

Come on, Ping. It's been a long night. Let's go home, she said. She turned and, holding on to her only real friend's arm, walked off into the night.

END