Chapter 1: The Crew And The Assignment

I walked into the conference room and noticed that half the seats were already filled. Akatsuki was late as usual, yet Erina and Mr Prospector were right on time, waiting patiently for their boss to get there and start the meeting.

I stood in the corner with Kazama and observed the people who were already in attendance. From what I had been told, these were all members of Akatsuki's elite inner circle. But Mr Prospector had assembled them all. I wondered if Akatsuki even knew their full names.

There was an alluring blond with a serious look on her face sitting to the right of Akatsuki's chair. Kazama said that her name was Inez Fressange, a virtual encyclopedia of scientific knowledge. She looked like she came right out of a comic book or something, as a woman who looked that good having a sky-high intellect was a rare occurrence.

Directly across from her was a middle-aged man with grungy hair and wearing a mechanics uniform. I knew who he was. Seiya Uribatake: a womanizing mechanic who was actually a genius when it came to technology or anything of that nature. I had heard he's the one Inez uses to create her more complicated inventions.

Next to Inez was a purple-haired, freckle-faced girl named Megumi Renard: a former voice actress who can tell instantly if people are lying or telling the truth. She can also mimic other peoples voices, which is handy for voice-activated authorization, making people think she is someone else over the phone, etc. I knew Megumi more so than the others because of a special job she helped me with. She used her vocal skills to make the front desk security people think that their boss was calling them allowing me to see him personally. I had killed him and left without anyone figuring it out for hours. She was also pop princess cute.

Next to Uribatake sat Ruri Hoshino: a seemingly emotionless twelve year old girl bought by Nergal seven years ago and conditioned to be able to control all types of computer systems through the IFS devices on both her hands. She's the ultimate hacker; there isn't any system she can't call her own. She was responsible for rerouting the phone lines to her so that Megumi could tell security to let me in so I could kill their boss. (To her, it was nothing.) She had silver hair and gold eyes that didn't seem to blink at times and had a habit of calling people idiots. I liked her for some reason.

Next to Megumi sat Jun Aoi. Originally Nergals inside man in 'acquiring' military technology from the UEAF, he was rescued from arrest and 'made' when his part in numerous thefts was suspected. He excels in military strategy and protocol. Kazama also suspected that he hadn't been laid in years. He looked like a total straight man, never doing anything unless he was told to.

Next to Ruri sat Haruka Minato. A stunningly attractive young woman with some racy fashion sense, she was a former secretary to a powerful rival corporation, and had a bad habit of sleeping with their numerous executives and passing on secrets to Nergal. She now oversees the call girl operations for Nergal. Rumor has it that Uribatake is her best customer.

Just then, the rest of Akatsuki's inner circle came in.

"Alright, we're here, let's start this thing!" a fiery voice sounded through the room.

I knew that this voice belonged to Ryoko Subaru. I had never had the pleasure of meeting her, but from what I was told she was a real piece of work. She had blue eyes and green hair, cut short to give the appearance of a tomboy. From her attitude she seemed less like a woman than anyone present. She had been brought into Nergal because of her overly aggressive nature, which had proven very useful, and given command of her own sweeper unit.

She was flanked by two other attractive women whom I assumed were the rest of her team. The first was a shorter cute girl with glasses and reddish brown hair. She seemed overly perky for someone working in this business, but rumor was that it was an act to put people off their guard. Her name was Hikaru Amano and she was eighteen years old, self-proclaimed manga artist, blood-type B, and liked pizza crusts and soggy rice cakes. (She just loved to tell people this for some reason)

The third woman was the taller of the three. She had long dark hair that covered half her face and seemed to be staring into space. She had a twisted grin on her lips that made me wonder if what I had heard about her was right. According to the rumor, she was as insane as she was sexy. She was into the occult and had even been an apprentice Shinto Priestess before joining Nergal. The rumor went further in that she used spells and curses to kill people. From her pale skin I figured her to be a vampire of sorts. Her name was Izumi Maki.

"Calm down, Ryoko, and think happy thoughts." Hikaru giggled and blew on a small tube attached to her collar that caused two colorful party blowers to spring from the band on her head.

I sweatdropped at this.

"Yeah, otherwise you'll kill yourself instead of your assignment." Izumi laughed.

This time, Kazama sweatdropped.

Akatsuki was late, as usual. Ryoko started getting upset and inpatient, so she turned on me.

"Hey! Mr Statue! Yeah, I'm talking to you!" she nearly screamed as she walked over to me.

"Yes, Ms Subaru?" I responded formally.

"I heard you were the one Akatsuki gave the Tsukino job to."

"That's right."

"Don't see why, it was a simple enough job. I could have handled it without incident!"

Seeing as how this conversation wasn't going to go away any time soon, I decided to play along.

"You are an incident."

That probably wasn't the best thing to say.

"WHAT WAS THAT? How dare you accuse me not being in control!" she shouted, rushing forwards and grabbing me by my collar.

I replied to her calmly. "I'm not accusing you, I'm telling you straight out."

"Well you better take it back before I get aggravated!"

"Look down."

"What?"

"Look. Down." I repeated slower.

Ryoko scowled, but did turn her head down. She froze when she saw one of my Blademaster guns just an inch from her stomach. I had popped it out of my sleeve when she grabbed me.

"We work for the same organization. I follow orders just like you do. So if you want someone to be mad at for giving me the assignment, blame Akatsuki." I said calmly, staring into her eyes.

She flushed for a second and then released me.

"Though I can see why you're part of this group."

"And why's that?" she asked.

"You're aggressive and assertive. You don't fear anything. That's a definite advantage."

"Well don't you forget it." she huffed, her fire returning as she went back to stand with Hikaru and Izumi.

"I think she likes you." Kazama teased.

I could only sweat drop at that comment.

That was enough to kill time as Akatsuki suddenly walked in. I wondered if I was the only person to notice that he had a slight bruise on his cheek. One that looked like it had come from a hand.

He had long black hair that was a straight as his posture. His suit was white with gold buttons and an eye-catching red tie. His black shoes polished to a mirror finish.

"Sorry I'm late, everyone. My meeting ran long." he smiled as he sat down in his chair at the head of the table. "Alright. First, the old business." he said as he looked at Erina.

The coal-haired secretary opened her folder and looked at her notes.

"Ms Fressange has an update on the new drug she has invented."

The blond woman stood up to be recognized. "Actually, it isn't a drug. It's a special serum that will enable us to control a person for a twenty-four hour period. It can be injected into their system either as a powder or a liquid depending on the preference of the user. It's fast acting and will work for a period of 24-hours, after that, it completely dissolves and the subject remembers nothing."

"Does this serum have a name?"

"I call it the Manchurian Cocktail."

"Nice. Rather obvious but nice. I'm sure we'll all be more careful around you, my dear Fressange."

She grimaced slightly at the 'dig' he made, but sat down.

"Alright then, now, where do we stand on the new robots?"

"They're called Aestivalis's."

"Right, and where are we with them?"

"Well, the plans that Jun Aoi acquired from the military special research division were of immense help in finishing our Aestivalis Project. We've got six units up and running with other ten in the works." Uribatake said

"Are they custom built or standard?"

"I didn't know there was a difference yet."

"Yes. Four are zero-G effective, the other two can be modified with any type of special harness. They are all equipt with the latest on-board computer systems, special navigation and communications uplinks not to mention the finest in heavy armor and high-powered weapons, which include machine guns and rockets. Ohhhhhhhh the firepower of these babies make everything the military currently has look like a bunch of toys made from spare parts." the mechanic said as he started drooling.

Ruri and Minato started backing away from the man. Not that I could blame them.

"And have arrangements been made for their placement?"

"Yes, sir. We sold the military on the idea, but we had to go through three of our front companies so there wouldn't be any suspicion that Nergal was involved."

Yes, it wouldn't do for the public to learn that the military buys its weapons from a crime syndicate. I thought as Akatsuki continued.

"What about the recruitment?"

"That's a problem. Our recruitment drive hasn't been as successful as we'd like. And the projections so far put us behind schedule."

"That's unacceptable. Do we have any other options?"

"Well, we could get another company or group to recruit for us. Or loan us additional manpower." Minato suggested.

"Not a bad idea."

"That could be costly."

"And of course it would have to be someone with a lot of pull and resources. Someone who had that kind of manpower on standby."

"I have a couple of possibilities, but I'll need to check on which one would be approachable first."

"Right, right."

"Now, there is also the matter of the inside information needed for the Nadesico Project. There's a person who can get the information for us, but he wants to meet with Ruri specifically."

"Me?"

"Yes. Apparently he is a fan of your computer talents."

"We have to have the information, Ruri."

"Very well, sir."

Somehow I didn't like the way Akatsuki asked her to do something she wasn't sure of.

"Alright, now that that's out of the way, on to new business!"

Finally, we were going to be told exactly why all of us had been called for.

"First of all I'd like to thank all of you for coming on such short notice. This meeting is important because Nergal is about to embark on it's most daring enterprise to date."

Only half of the group seemed interested in this.

"The military has spent billions and billions over the last few years developing a new fleet of space battleships with highly advanced technology apparently based off of alien technology they uncovered on Mars more than three decades ago. One of these ships is supposed to be completed within the month. And we're going to steal it."

That got everyone's attention. Including mine.

"The other ships are going to be finished by the end of the year, but to get them all, we need control of the first ship."

"What's this ship called?"

"The Nadesico."

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Well, what do you think?

Come on, come on. I want to know.

And don't worry, I'm getting closer to having Yurika and the rest of the characters: like Ms Howmei and the Howmei girls show up.