A/N: Chances are I have a mob somewhere with my name on it, but I encourage you to read the chapter first, then kill me. If you want to hear my excuses, then feel free to indulge in the A/N below.
"Drop your weapon and come out with your hands up!"
I cursed to myself as I hid behind the wall next to my safe. Being a maximum security bank (on the outskirts of Nerima), the police around here responded very quickly, and it didn't take long for a whole armored squadron to camp right outside the door.
"I repeat! Drop your weapon and come out with your hands up!"
Without moving, I considered my options. I could probably break out of the vault with some work, but these walls were reinforced steel, designed to handle Neriman type punishment. It was doubtful that even the breaking point technique would be able to do much to them.
On the other hand I could…
"This is your last warning! Come out with your hands in the air!"
God damn that guy was annoying, if I wasn't listening the first time, what made him think that I'd listen to him…
"We will open fire. Come out with your-" BLAM!
I smirked and ducked back into hiding as I heard the officers cursing and shouting. The person who'd been shouting was now clutching a broken piece of what used to be his megaphone.
If it actually came down to a firefight, I wasn't too worried. While the cops were well trained, my superior equipment and reflexes would probably see me through this unscratched.
On the other hand, I wasn't exactly ready to gun down several people just to get out of a bank. I'm not above maiming in the name of the greater good, (the greater good being my personal safety most of the time) but I didn't do it callously…unless I was beating up my dad. Then again, any time my dad got beat up was for the greater good.
"STAND DOWN NOW!"
My eyes widened in surprise as I heard a voice that I hadn't heard in three years. Cautiously I peaked around the corner and spotted the telltale white armor of agent Washington, an acquaintance I'd known from basic.
"Agent Texas, you can come out now."
I stepped out hesitantly, pistol ready to be brought into play at a moments notice. Agent Washington wasn't among my numerous lists of enemies but the fact that he held authority over these officers probably meant he was with some sort of corporation or another that I didn't want to deal with.
Washington was in full body armor, same as me. His style was much like my trainer Wyoming's white armor except a darker shade and some gold highlights where the joints were.
The freelancer gave me a short nod before turning to the assembled squadron, "I want you all out of here, now. Any word of this incident gets out and I will personally see those involved manning radar towers in Alaska. Move!"
I blinked, and the hallway was clear except for a janitor sweeping up the pieces of the shattered megaphone.
"Agent Texas, good to see you're still alive."
I would have raised an eyebrow but the effect would have been lost with the tinted visor in place. "How did you know I was here?"
"Information from our mutual acquaintance," he provided. Gesturing with his hand, I fell into step beside him. "You're not the only one she's been keeping tabs on. Although I can't figure out how she found you when all the resources of the largest military division in the world stopped trying to tail you after six months."
I rolled my shoulders back, loosening the joints on the armor. "Disappearing is easy. Just don't have any contact with the civilized world for the better part of four years and people tend to forget about you."
"The company has a long memory," cautioned Washington. "And they put a bit too much money into this project to back out, no matter how bad things get."
We began walking up a flight of stairs. A habit we had gotten into after finding out the armor we wore tended to overload most elevators.
"How bad have things gotten?" I inquired.
"Rouge AI's running around causing havoc, freelancers being bought up left and right, repeated reports of mentally stable soldiers going rouge, and more shady cover-ups than a canvas factory. So, about normal."
I sighed, mentally imagining the work ahead. "So about the usual huh?"
"Where are we going anyways?"
"Tex dropped me a line and 'requested' that I secure transportation for you. I pulled some strings and acquired a longsword. Nothing fancy but it will get you to where you need to go." From his side pouch, he produced a ring of electronic keys. "Just try to bring it back in one piece."
I took the keys and put them in my currently empty grenade pouch. "No promises. You know my track record."
Washington was silent for a moment. "Do you think you could make an exception just this once?"
"And break my perfect streak?" I snorted. "Just bill me for it."
Walking up the final flight of stairs, we opened the door to the roof to see the docked longsword fighter that Washington had acquired. It looked to be military stock, a gunmetal gray-ish color. The shape was reminiscent of the stealth bombers but had had obvious modifications to make it space-worthy. I walked up the ramp to the cockpit and watched as the ramp slowly raised.
"Wait a sec, you mean to tell me they actually paid you?" shouted Washington before I was obscured from view.
"It's been six years," I shouted back. "I've got to have some back pay coming." His expletives were blocked out by the ramp finishing its closing procedure.
Imagine for a second if you will, a plane ride. Got that? Good. Now imagine, a plane ride with no in-flight movie available. Or company. Or peanuts. Now, replace those semi-comfortable seats in third class with hard plastic and no headrest. Now imagine a vast void of silence.
Are you getting the picture yet? If you haven't, allow me to spell it out for you. Space travel sucks. Especially when you're on your own. Sure, space may be entertaining for a while, but believe me when I say the novelty of that wears off quite quickly after ten solid hours of nothing to do. The ship had a programmed destination and was heading there via autopilot so driving wasn't necessary, and the frantic pace of the day had left me pretty much unable to sleep for the moment.
I checked the estimated time of arrival once again. Eight hours left. Briefly I considered raiding the food stores, but the thought of military provisions made my stomach turn. Even so, they weren't nearly as bad as Akane's cooking. Then again, I could mix salt, sugar, mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, ketchup, salami, rat poison, Tylenol, wine, and beef then boil it in grease and alcohol and still be leagues away from Akane's level of bad cooking.
I was getting sidetracked again. Although there really wasn't much to do in the great empty void of space other than think.
"Suppose I could check out my armor," I said aloud. I reached for the back of my head to undo the clasps to my helmet. Not quite as easy as it looks considering the heavy armor placed on my hands and the fine motor control skills needed to undo the damn thing.
"DING! Instillation complete."
My hand froze, halfway to my head. What the hell was that? Words began scrolling down my visor, too fast to make any sense of them. Just when I was about to tear the helmet from my head, the text disappeared and was replaced with a single line.
'Finalizing. Caution: Do not remove helmet.'
As if in answer to my question, the text changed.
'Integration in progress. Removing helmet may cause permanent neural scarring or brain damage.'
I let me hand fall to my side before another question popped into my head. "Wait, what exactly are you integrating?" The text changed again.
"For what? What the hell is going-" SCHINK!
Want to know what I'm feeling right now? Take a pen and jab it into the back of your skull. Now, with your other hand, grab a tuft of hair and yank. Needless to say, I was floored. All my senses were on fire and a loud ringing sound was reverberating through my ears. It felt like hours but must have only been about two minutes. Text was rolling across my visor again.
'Integration complete. Greetings Ranma Saotome.'
"What the- what the hell?"
'Configuring artificial voice. Standby...'
"Ah, that's much better."
I tapped the side of my helmet worriedly. The voice felt like it had come straight from my head. "I believe this is the part where I'm supposed to ask if I'm crazy and hearing voices in my head," I said aloud.
"Half right," said the female voice from within my head again. "Then again, I don't have access to your psyche records, so I can't confirm if you're crazy or not."
"Says the talking voice in my head," he said sarcastically. "Seriously though, what the hell are you?"
"Who knows?" said the voice smugly. "Maybe I am just the voice in the back of your head."
I smacked the side of my helmet.
"Alright, take it easy," the female voice chided gently. "My classification is C0R74N4, code name Cortana. I am a fully functional multi-purpose, state-of-the-art-"
"Wait!" I shouted suddenly. "Do not tell me that you're an AI."
There was silence for a second. "Alright then, I won't tell you."
"Son of a bitch. Tex wants me to go hunt down a rouge AI and now I have one in my freaking skull. Just great. Oh she's gonna love this one. How the hell did you get installed in this armor anyways?"
"This platform was uploaded to your helmet approximately six years ago."
I guess that experiment wasn't a failure after all. "If that's so, why are you only activating now?"
There was a moment of silence. "No data available."
"Why am I not surprised?" I sighed, not getting an answer.
"Incoming message," said the AI suddenly.
I blinked. "Huh? From who?"
"Buenos dias cockbite."
"If I timed this right, you've probably met your on-board guest by now. If not, then make sure to keep your helmet on unless you want to be mentally scarred for life."
Gee, thanks for the heads up.
"You're probably wondering why I'd want you carrying an AI while I'm hunting one, but I've told you before that Omega can jump through communication lines, and when he integrates himself with your system, it's damn near impossible to get him out. However, if you already have an AI in your system, then it can stop another from gaining access."
'And what stops the one inside me from taking control huh?' I thought savagely.
"I suppose you're probably thinking 'What stops my AI from taking over' right?"
Actually at the moment I was trying to think of the most painful death I could give her, but I suppose it was close enough.
"This one was specially built, using old data from a special UNSC tried, true, and trusted AI that was used constantly during the covenant wars. Aside from the classified memory banks of the first, it's a perfect copy."
"Oh, and it's permanently hardwired into your brain. I'll let it explain. See ya soon!" The message cut off.
I could feel the AI waiting patiently in my brain as I conjured up every single dirty word that I learned in the training with my old man. What in the hell was she thinking? We couldn't even get the AI's to behave well when we installed them as software.
"Are you finished?" asked the AI suddenly, interrupting my thoughts and expletives.
"No," I replied bitterly. "I'm only about halfway down the list."
"Well then, let me know when you're ready to stop feeling sorry for yourself so we can establish our working relationship, alright?"
"Well gee, you sound about as happy with this as I do."
"Less so actually," she said quite frankly. "My last memories were ones of working with Master Chief. Sorry if I don't think you stack up."
"This coming from a copy of an AI who had worked with Master Chief."
I could feel the eye roll on that one. "Oh I can tell this is going to be lots of fun."
"Yeah, it'll be fun once I find out where the mute button is."
"As if having voices inside your head would be anything new to you."
"Well I suppose you'll have company then, Ms. Annoying voice in my head."
"Oh well aren't you mature Mr. I narrate everything I do."
I didn't really know where this conversation was going. Hell, I was just exchanging vibes with her to pass the gruelingly long space flight. At least this way-
"See? You're doing it again."
"You're narrating to yourself. Pretty loudly too."
"You know what? Unless you've come built with an in-flight movie, then shut up and deal with it. It's my thing, okay?"
Anyways, I didn't really know where this banter was going. Mostly I was just doing it to pass the time. Military standard meant zero in the way of comfortability and entertainment.
"Well I'm sorry the UNSC can't bend over backwards to provide you with leather seats and an on-board television. Perhaps you should be thankful that you're even getting an in flight meal."
"Do you come with an instruction manual? Because the only way I'll be thankful for anything at this point is when I learn how to turn your volume off."
"I have the instruction manual downloaded to my core. If you ask nicely, I might show it to you."
Internally, I debated the merits of my pride versus my peace of mind. Although, being a Saotome pretty much made that decision for me.
"Meh. Easier just to ignore you." For some reason, I could feel Cortana smirk at that remark. "Do you come with an alarm function?"
The AI fell silent for a moment. "You're asking a free-thought highly advanced artificial intelligence capable of bypassing almost any security system in the galaxy whether or not she has an alarm function?"
Ooh. Looks like I'd found a button to push. "I'm not hearing a yes."
"Did you know that with my level of processing power, I could send a neural shock to your brain that can leave you a drooling mess for up to twelve hours?"
"...You're real cute you know that? Just wake me up when something interesting happens." I didn't wait for her reply, merely closed my eyes and tried to drift off to sleep.
"Wow, are you really engaged to three different girls?"
Tried being the key word.
"Get out of my head."
"Oh, and what am I supposed to do for seven hours, listen to you snore?"
I groaned. "Don't you have a hibernate function or something? Sleep mode? Standby?"
"What do I look like to you, Windows? Don't insult my intelligence." Odd, she actually seemed offended by that. Maybe she was an Apple product.
"Fine. Whatever. Dig around all you want. Just don't blame me if you get traumatized."
The AI scoffed. "I have simulated emotions muscle-man. It's impossible for me to get traumatized."
Just to be petty, I sent her an image of Happosai and Cologne making out in swimsuits.
"Please, I've seen worse on You-tube."
I brought up my memories of "two girls one cup."
"Okay, that was pretty bad, but nothing you can't find on 4-chan."
I conjured up my memories of a fanfic called Artemis' Lover.
"Okay okay I get it! Damn you have a sick mind! We're you born in a gutter?"
"No, just brought up in the military. Don't say I didn't warn you."
I heard her sigh. Man, those simulated emotions were realistic. "Fine. I'll wake you up in seven hours. Try to keep your dreams clean okay?"
"No promises," I retorted easily. Pressing a couple of buttons on the side of my visor, I changed the tint to a full black, blocking out the artificial light on the ship. Making myself as comfortable as I could, I let my mind wander. Cortana didn't seem as bad as the other AI's. At the very least she hadn't shown the incredibly violent tendencies that the ones like Omega had. Then again, this was probably how all the machine revolutions started in those Sci-Fi films. Everything starts out innocently enough, then someone flips the wrong switch and then BOOM! Everyone's human batteries. Maybe I wasn't showing enough caution.
"Daisy, daisy, give me your answer true..."
"Cortana, shut up."
"RANMA WAKE UP! THE SHIP'S UNDER ATTACK!"
I jerked to wakefulness instantly, my eyes darting to the heat scanners used to track ships against the absolute zero of space. The scanner was empty.
"What the hell, how could they-" My mind suddenly caught up with my adrenaline. "Cortana, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Waking you up sir," she replied a little too innocently.
"...That wasn't funny."
"You're right sir, it was hilarious. Too bad we don't have a camera on board."
God damn I needed to punch something. "How long 'til we get to Blood Gulch?"
"About five minutes. You requested that I wake you up when we got close."
So of course she took the 'request' in the loosest sense of the word. Stupid computers.
"What was that?"
"Nothing. Let's just start the landing procedures."
"You ever wonder why we're here?"
"No. I never ever wonder why we're here. Semper fi bitch."
The two soldiers were speechless as a longsword fighter crashed into the ground, right in front of them, kicking up a huge wall of dirt and rocks before coming to rest right in front of their base. There was a long moment of silence.
"You ever wonder why this shit keeps happening?"
"All the damn time."
A/N: Ugh. Where to begin. Well, honestly, I don't have much to say. Actually, that's not right. I have a little too much to say, and if I wanted to say it all, then I'd probably be in violation of fanfiction dot net rules for turning author's notes into a chapter. For those of you who are curious as to what I've been doing during my incredibly long absence, then please check out my profile. There you can find a summary of my stories, their update status, and so on. If anyone feels the need to flame me for being gone for so long, then I'll gladly hear you out via review or PM.