Disclaimer: I do not own Armored Core. Armored Core belongs to Fromsoftware and Agetec. I only own the main characters in a few of the stories.

By: Black Howling0

Note: As a very few of you may remember, this was originally a series of script formatted stories, which should help explain the tricky (and irritating) present tense style. Chapter 12 was the last of those scripts (I cut out several of them). I've also gone ahead and returned to standard writing format, hence the 2.0. This story takes place throughout Nexus.

Remember:
Chapters 1-12 Originally script format (ugh)
Chapters 13+ Standard (yay)

Chapter 1: Another Pretender

It's dark. The gentle voice of a woman now cuts into this blackness. "Looks like you're late." she says.

"I was relying on you to wake me, Mother. Buut…I think we both have to share the blame for this one, would you not agree?" the calm voice of a man responds.

"Yes, well, I'm not as young as I use to be, remember? I'll make sure to wake you on time from now on." the mother speaks softly. "Zen, you need to hurry or you'll miss your appointment." she follows in a more serious tone.

"Right, Mother. I'm leaving now." he answers.

A young man now stands alone in a cold metal room. Back turned, his long black hair spiking down to his waist. He's wrapped in a sleek onyx suit, a Raven's pilot wear. "That was rather impressive, Zen." Another man tells him. The young pilot turns, revealing his dark skin and even darker eyes. Eyes that seem to hold on to some deep strand of sorrow.

Despite that, he wears a warm smile on his face. He then answers the tall silver haired man who just entered the room from behind. "If you say so. But that test wasn't as tough as I would have expected." Decked in the same type of suit (his colored ivory), the veteran, liking the rookie's spirit, smiles lightly in return.

"So, Jack, I guess you want to chalk up that record breaking success to you being my observer…Eh?" Jack-O, one of the top-rankers in the Raven's Ark. Stern, well respected, and above all else, dangerous.

"Not at all. You earned that score with skill alone." he calmly tells Zen. "Now that you've been registered as a Raven, I suggest you go ahead and get yourself settled in. You've got a good deal to upload. Corporate information, Operator assigning, R and R-" Jack is cut off by the new Raven.

"R and R?" the rookie responds with a raised eye.

Jack shakes his head negatively. The vet turns away from Zen and walks back to the opposite of the room. He brushes his hair behind shoulders. "Rules and Regulations…" he answers in earnest. "One thing I don't tolerate. One thing I give no exception to…Are those who don't follow the rules and regulations of the Ark." Jack folds his arms after saying this.

"A stickler for order, are we?" Zen says with a smile. "Not to worry, I feel the same. However, those who issue these rules should always abide by them at all times themselves. If not, they aren't rules. Just the dominations of those in power."

Zen's eyes almost piercing Jack, the elder nods in agreement. "Well said, young Raven. With your natural skills and way of thinking, you should do well here." the Raven says as he prepares to leave. "First and foremost, I recommend that you go to your new quarters and purchase a combat worthy AC. That is…Unless you'd like to do battle in that standard model." he says with a mild smirk on his face.

"I already know exactly what I'll need." Zen responds.

"I thought so. Very well, Zen. I'll be keeping an eye on you. Don't turn out to be a disappointment." Jack exits the room with those words.

Zen smiles and closes his eyes. "Same goes for you." The new Raven exhales lowly.

After almost a day of absorbing all the information a Raven needs to live by, Zen shuts off the monitor he'd been at for hours. He exits his well decorated room and makes his way around the Ark. Ravens, engineers, doctors, professionals of all fields could be found within this vast complex. Zen finds himself at the Ark's AC garage, where he notices that a couple of female workers appear to be whispering secrets among each other. Zen offers them a coltish glance, knowing he was probably their topic.

At one of the garage help windows, Zen speaks with a young employee stationed there. "I'm Zen. I placed in my order about an hour ago. Is my AC ready?" he asks respectfully. The teenager begins typing on the console before him at a professional's pace.

"Let's see…Zan…Zanba…Zen…Okay, here we go. Armored Core name…Replica. Set up…Queen, Gaea, CR-B83TB…Baboon?" he says strangely before continuing. "Cougar, Pixie3, Fairy, duel Hydra2, M-" Zen interrupts the young worker.

"Listen, I know-" the kid interrupts in return.

"Sorry about that, Raven. I tend to get lost in the information. Anyway, your AC has been customized and colored as requested. Onyx base, black aid, silver options, red details and grey joints." he almost sings.

The kid likes to talk. Zen thought to himself with the usual arch just below.

"If you'd like to take it out for a test run, just let me know."

Zen nods in agreement to the offer. The kid's fingers go into a flurry once again. "Okay, sub arena A-11 has been reserved for Replica. The AC itself is just down to the left. Hanger A-6." the nameless kid tells him.

"Thanks."

"No problem, Raven."

Zen heads down to the specified hanger, passing and being passed by several hulking ACs. To his surprise, there are already a few Ravens standing near his AC. As he approaches, one of them appears to be laughing at Replica. The jesting man notices Zen and cuts his antic short.

"I see you find something amusing about my AC. Care to let me in on it?" Zen asks with that same warm expression on his face.

The two Ravens in company look to their stocky, bearded associate, who was just so full of laughs a few seconds ago. He responds to this by clearing his throat and taking on a serious tone. "Listen, kid. I was just telling my comrades, that this here's a fool's AC."

Zen raises an interested eye to the remark as the Raven continues. "I mean, who in their right mind uses Baboons on an already high drain middle weight? Then on top of that, equips duel MGs that exceed their accuracy. It may look menacing, but that machine is a death trap." the Raven proudly states as others are now taking notice of the scene.

Zen's gentle reflection doesn't falter. "To those who can't see past numbers and statistics, their futures as Ravens will be short ones." Zen states while looking over Replica. "It seems you've yet to open your eyes."

"What are you trying to say?" the now angered Raven shouts. He dislikes the fact that Zen, a day-old rookie, has preached down to him in front of numerous Ravens. Noting his rising anger, one of the Raven's buddies tries to take him aside before real trouble starts up. He refuses.

"Damn kid thinks he's something because he broke the entrance exam record!" the Raven yells while being held back.

"Is that what this is about?" Zen sighs. "I'll give you one last piece of advice, Raven. The ones who bark like dogs…usually die like them…You'd do well to remember that." Zen casually says while preparing to ride the ramp to next level. It takes both his associates to help restrain the fuming Raven this time.

"Trasher, calm down! Why are you letting this guy get to you?" one of them adds while pulling him.

"I'm good, Vernhunt. I'm cool…" Trasher explains to the slimmer Raven trying to calm him.

"I think that's more than enough for today, guys." the voice of a woman interrupts from above. "Trasher, you're already on probation, aren't you?"

"Humph, damn rookies think they own the place these days…" he mumbles to his people while looking up at the woman who just spoke. Trasher and his goon squad begin to leave as Zen arrives on the next level of the garage. Trasher gives him a final hateful gaze. Zen, again, returns the opposite.

"You're new. You should try not to make enemies so soon." the sleek, casually dressed woman with fiery red hair explains. She continues studying Replica. It seems she's been doing so for a while.

"So, you're saying there's a time to make enemies at the Ark? When exactly should I start then?" Zen asks her in a frivolous manner.

She catches herself and smiles. The woman then takes an unplayful stance. "Listen…This AC's base set up and color scheme…Where did you learn it?"

Zen sees she wants a straight answer. He gives her one. "From a Raven of the past. This AC is called Replica for that reason. A reason I'm sure you know." he answers seriously.

The woman narrows her eyes and looks Zen over for a bit. "I see. Well, I'll tell you this. Using that design may get the attention of certain individuals. You aren't the first Raven to do this. The pilots who used similar set ups in the past didn't last long here." she says solemnly.

"I'm not just another pretender. I'm using Queen." Zen lets out will another lighthearted smile.

The female Raven desperately tries to keep herself from laughing at his playful response.

"Etzam. A Raven." she said while extending a hand to Zen, who accepts.

"You can call me-" she stops him, and finishes his introduction.

"Zen. I know. The rookie who broke one of Genobee's records on his first day." an impressed Etzam finishes. "Don't act as if people haven't noticed. Word spreads fast in this place." Etzam adds as she fearlessly sits on the second level railing. "By breaking that record, you've already made friends, rivals..and enemies. That's just the kind of place this is."

"I can tell." he replies. " See? I'm gonna make enemies no matter what I do." he tells her while stepping onto the bulk of Replica's back.

"Guess that advice I gave you isn't so useful." she sighs.

Zen can tell the Raven has a good aura, and decides to ask: "Would you like-" Etzam cuts in again.

"To spar? Then maybe show you around the Raven's Ark?" she casually answers. "Sure." the Raven smiles.

They share now a laugh. As the two continue speaking, Jack-O watches the young Ravens from the display inside his giant ivory AC. Fox Eye, its name as popular as its appearance. Jack's face appears lost on the two. He then receives a transmission on a secure channel.

"Jack, the new Raven you requested we watch is having trouble with his first mission…" a stern female voice relays to him. "You're wasting my time…"

"Pathetic…I guess that one was gifted with more luck than skill to have done so well before." Jack says in a discomfited voice. Inside a personal garage reserved for top-rankers only, Fox Eye comes to life. "But, he has potential. We can't afford to waste those who may be useful to us in the future." Jack tells the voice.

"You're actually going to help him? You must be in a good mood today. I take it you've found some new prospects?" the voice says in an interested note.

"Three, actually. One Raven who has been purposely staying below the radar. I've just discovered this about her today." he answers, as Fox Eye now walks out of its garage.

"And the other two?"

"The other two just joined the Ark today. Zen. Extremely skilled. He's obviously piloted before, but won't disclose that information." Fox Eye now boosts down the launch bay. "However, during my background check, I discovered nothing to prove this. He's interesting…It may sound strange, but he acts as if knows what's going on." Jack says with a interested look in his eyes.

"Is that so…? Send me the information, I'll have someone keep taps on him, along with the rest." she responds.

"Very well. The last one is…Evangel. He definitely has what we're looking for…" Jack says in an almost distasteful voice.

"But?" the voice asks.

"But, I get a bad vibe from him."

"Well, he is a Raven after all. Besides, that's hardly a means to pass him up."

"It isn't that simple." he counters. "I don't trust this one."

"You don't trust me either, Jack. But that hasn't stopped us so far, now has it?" the voice asks with a seductive air to it.

"Humph…" Jack exhales.

"It isn't Ravens that can't be trusted. It's humans…But that's what makes our lives so interesting."

"Are you saying we'll eventually betray each other?" Jack asks.

The woman expires a chesty chuckle. "Jack, you're a veteran Raven." she explains. "You should always be prepared for terra incognita."

"Just make sure you hold up your end of the design, Schneider…" he coldly responds.

"Yes, not to worry. The future is what I desire as well. Until our goals are fulfilled, you can rest easy, Raven."

Jack's face is filled with mentation. Fox Eye has exited the Ark, and is now boosting across rocky terrain. "Be that as it may, we can't afford to waste those who may prove useful to us. Right, Jack?" Schneider asks. Without needing an answer, she cuts her transmission. Jack's eyes sharpen in agreement too her words as Fox Eye boosts into the distance.