A/N: This is the second in a prospective series of Vivio stories, following "The Road Onward." So if you're wondering why Vita is tutoring her, or why Parsifal is speaking German, take a glance at the earlier story!
~X X X~
Jurisdictional disputes were never pretty. The tension between local police authorities and the TSAB military involved multiple degrees of this, particularly on the more technologically advanced worlds where the borderline between a dimensional crime and a purely local offense could be extremely fluid. Organizational pride and defensiveness concerning spheres of influence kept locals from asking for help, while orders from On High-in the wake of certain scandals concerning the Council and the leadership of the Ground Forces-similarly kept the military from horning in where the boundaries weren't clear.
Still, reasonable people could always find ways to work together, which was why City Police Captain Aston Connery found himself looking at Brigadier General Yagami Hayate across a communications link.
"...And that's the situation, General. I'll have to order in a tactical unit if we can't get some help here, and that's going to increase the risk of casualties substantially."
Hayate nodded. Now twenty-six, she'd been the youngest person in TSAB history to carry each of her successive ranks, and she was in line to continue that trend with another star on her epaulets within the year. Those kind of promotions didn't come along without knowing how to build and nurture a network of contacts.
"I see. I think we can extend a hand."
"It has to remain a police operation, though," Connery quickly put in. "You know what the commissioner would do if the evening news reads that the army had to bail out the police in chasing a criminal, even if it is a rogue mage."
"Don't worry. I think I have just the person-and the excuse-to resolve this without too much in the way of collateral damage or bad P.R. I'll have them there within the hour."
Relief showed on Connery's face.
"Thank you, General."
"Not at all. Someone has to keep the city safe."
When the captain had signed off, Hayate made a second contact.
"Yes, Mistress Hayate?" Vita looked like a girl of around twelve with red braids. That age estimate was only a few centuries low; she was one of the Wolkenritter, the guardian knights once linked to Hayate's Device, the Tome of the Night Sky. Though technically enlisted in the military, her loyalty was to Hayate personally and not to the chain of command.
"Do you think your student is up to a field mission?"
~X X X~
Takamachi Vivio might have been an adopted child, but she clearly had a lot of her mother in her. That was the only thing she could think of to explain why she actually enjoyed getting up early so she could spend two hours each morning working her butt off at combat training before school started. Take this morning: she was running at a flat-out spring, lungs burning, over irregular terrain, while her tutor floated in the sky shooting at her, she wasn't permitted to use her defensive magic, and she was smiling.
The smile went away when a shot vaporized the rock Vivio was standing on as she was in the act of jumping off. She went flying, crashing onto the pavement in a blow that, thankfully, her Barrier Jacket absorbed. She tried to get up, but it was too late; the next shot hit her in the side, launching her about ten feet to the right. She rolled over and over twice until she hit up against a low wall. That hurt. As she turned, she realized with horror that the next shot was coming in already.
"Panzerschild," echoed the deep, rumbling voice of Parsifal, Vivio's Intelligent Device. The triangular barrier sprang up in front of her, stopping the Schwalbeflieger missile harmlessly. Vivio sighed; the exercise was over, her magic use marking an equivalent of surrender for her.
Darn it; I got forty yards farther last time; she thought as Parsifal informed her of her statistics.
"It's all about mobility," Vita had told her. "For the center and fullback types, that's not such a big deal. Shooting magic handles the distance issue on its own and support magic is for helping your own side, the people next to the caster. We forwards, though, have to get right up to the enemy to do most of our damage. It's even worse for you, because you're primarily a defensive mage. A wall doesn't do much good if the people it's supposed to cover are on the wrong side of it.
"Most of us use movement magic to cover the distance. Signum and I fly. The Nakajima sisters-you remember them?-have those rocket-powered rollerblades of theirs and the Wing Road spell to build paths in thin air. You...have problems. So we're going to be working on that from now on in addition to your regular training."
Vita had always pushed her hard, so her wind wasn't a problem, but where the benefit was starting to show was in her reflexes and foot speed. Still, Vivio worried. Defensive magic was the one area in which she really excelled, and if she couldn't use it to protect her allies, she'd be dead weight as a combat mage.
She stood up and dusted herself off, surprised that Vita wasn't already there with advice and a slightly acerbic status report.
"Vita-sensei?" she called.
"Yeah? Oh, hold on a sec," Vita shouted back. Vivio noticed that there was a communications screen open next to her teacher, though she couldn't see who was talking. A moment later it closed and Vita descended from the sky, grinning.
"Change in plans today, kid."
"What is it, sensei?"
"You're going into the field."
Vivio felt her jaw sag.
"The...the field? You mean, a mission?"
"Yep. If you think you're up to it, of course. You're technically still a recruit, not an enlisted private, so you don't have to do this."
"But...you think I should?" Vivio guessed. "You wouldn't be asking me otherwise."
"Yep. It's a favor for Mistress Hayate, but yeah, I think you're ready. From what I understand, it's a job your average nine-year-old could handle."
Vivio sighed while Vita laughed at her own gag. Just because everybody in my family was saving the world at nine!
"Seriously, though, I think you're up for this. You've been training hard with me this past year, and I'd put you on the line with any army troop. So get out there and get your feet wet."
Vivio nodded firmly.
"All right, Vita-sensei. I'll do it!"
"That's my girl. Come on, then."
~X X X~
Officer Chris Sable scowled into the sky.
"Damn it, Sarge; where's our backup? They don't expect us to take this guy alone, do they?"
"Relax, Sable. The captain said he'd arranged for the army to send someone."
"The army? Geez, we've gotta give this over to them? We tracked this guy here. No way we should let those glory-hogs grab the credit."
"The captain says it's still our case." Sergeant Vincent Shelby fished in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes.
"How'd he pull that one off?" Sable said, a little disbelievingly.
"Beats me. Called in a favor, or maybe gave somebody one. Look, all I know is, with what we've learned about that dingus, there's no way I want to take that guy on without a tactical squad or some badass Ace backing us up. We investigated, identified the perp, and traced his location. Much as I'd like for you and me to wrap this ourselves, we're out of our league here."
He put a cigarette between his lips and was about to flick the lighter when he was interrupted.
Shelby glanced down. It was a girl, maybe eleven years old or so, with blonde hair and mismatched red and green eyes.
"Hey, we're on police business, here. This area's dangerous, kid."
"Yes, sir. If you're Sergeant Shelby and Officer Sable, I was told to report to you," she said in an excessively serious voice.
"Report to us? What do you-oh, man, you can't be-"
The girl saluted sharply.
"Takamachi Vivio, C- rank mage recruit, TSAB Ground Forces reporting, sir. I was told to place myself under your command."
"Sarge, is this some kind of joke?" Sable protested, but Shelby didn't answer at once.
"Takamachi...Takamachi..." he said aloud, turning the name over on his tongue. "Why the h-heck does that sound familiar?"
The girl blushed, looking away shyly.
"I think you mean Nanoha-mama."
"Yeah, that was it. Takamachi Nanoha. Hotshot air force combat instructor. She gave a two-week seminar for the guys from tactical a year back." His smile grew. "Scared those hardcase bastards sh-spitless. Won me a hundred, your mom did, off one loudmouth who bet me one of those miniskirted flygirls couldn't show them anything new."
Since the girl was currently a color somewhere between a tomato and a beet, he figured he had the right memory.
"Okay; if my captain thinks you can handle yourself, then you're in. Get ready."
"Parsifal, set up!"
"Jawohl. Panzer Modus."
Royal blue light swirled around the girl, and her clothes were suddenly replaced by a Barrier Jacket: a dark gray bodysuit underneath a blue-piped black dress and blued-steel boots and gauntlets. The device that had surprised Shelby by speaking had assumed the form not of a weapon but a vambrace on Vivio's upper fight arm. Her hairstyle had changed, too, now being up in a ponytail off the left side of her head, tied with blue ribbon.
"Huh. Never seen a device like that before."
"I specialize in defen-get down!" She suddenly pushed him back and tried to step past him.
The girl's barrier was raised just in time; a bolt of searing violet light shot down from an upper-story window of the target building two hundred yards away. It hit the shield with a deafening boom, knocking the girl onto her seat.
"Are you okay?" Shelby asked.
"Yes, sir. It...it didn't get through."
"Then get up and move!"
~X X X~
Vivio struggled back to her feet. The blast's impact had taken down her shield in a single hit! She knew things could do that-Vita had hammered the point home more than once in practice-but having it happen here, in for-real battle, was a real shock. However hard Vita pushed her, however many bruises she racked up, Vivio knew that Vita would never really hurt her. That definitely didn't apply to Jack M. Cooper, rogue mage and suspected thief!
The two police officers led her around the corner of the building where they had cover; though it was quite possible an attack of that strength could shoot through the building the rogue still had to find what he was shooting at. Which...
That's not impossible, is it?
"Parsifal, do you detect any Area Search or other scrying magic in effect?"
Vivio let out a sigh.
"Good; keep scanning and warn me if you do."
"I guess that thing really works like they said," Sable muttered.
"The experimental Storage Device, Memory Lancer?" Vivio asked.
"Yeah...hey, how do you know?"
"My teacher briefed me on the way here. I think your captain provided us with the details while requesting our help? It was created to not just hold mana, but actual spells, pre-loaded by a more powerful mage than would actually use the device in battle." She figured that it was kind of like the Belkan cartridge system that was used by Parsifal and most other high-end devices, except that cartridges contained a supply of mana to be used with multiple spells at the user's option while Memory Lancer contained only certain specific spells.
"That's the size of it," Shelby agreed. "Cooper was ranked C+ when he washed out of the Navy three years ago, but our information from the lab indicates that the device was charged up with AA rank shooting magic for testing purposes."
"AA rank?" That's why it took out my shield!
"Yeah, the research bigwigs wanted to show off to the military how their toy could turn foot troopers into walking death machines."
"Can't be that hot, if you managed to stop it," Sable muttered. He doesn't trust me, Vivio thought.
"No, it was that strong," she corrected. "I'm kind of a specialist at defensive magic."
"So that's why they picked you," Shelby said. "How are you at shooting?"
Vivio looked down.
"I have one attack, but it's pretty weak. I'm best in close."
"All right, then, we'll-" The sergeant broke off. "Sh-geez, I can't believe I was about to use a little kid as a decoy!"
"I'm a TSAB Ground Forces mage trainee, sir!" Vivio piped up. "If I was a child that needed protection, I wouldn't have been assigned to this mission! You should use my skills to the best tactical advantage for arresting this criminal, sir!" Her hackles were up. How am I supposed to prove myself if I don't get a chance?
The look in Shelby's eyes, though, stole the burst of anger almost as soon as it had come. They weren't the eyes of an adult dismissing her ability; they were the eyes of a worried, caring person. Maybe he had children of his own, or maybe he'd seen them hurt too many times as a result of crime or neglect. Whatever the reason was, Vivio knew that look because an almost identical one was written in her mind as her very first happy memory: it was the look Nanoha had shown when she'd said she would be Vivio's mama.
"Please?" she asked softly.
He shook his head, not to her question but at himself.
"Damn, I don't understand what the military is thinking, putting little kids out there as soldiers, but...all right." He called up a schematic of the building Cooper was holed up in. "I want you to enter from here. Try to draw his attention, but be careful. I'll enter from here, this second-floor window; I can reach it from the next building. Sable will come from the other side. We'll try to get the drop on him while he's trying to deal with you. Will you be okay?"
"Mmn!" Vivio said, nodding eagerly. "I mean, yes, sir!"
"All right, then. Move out, and everyone signal when you're in position."
The three of them split up, moving out in different directions so they could best choose an angle of approach that suited the plan. Vivio rounded another corner, expecting as she opened up on a direct line of sight with the target building that she'd draw fire, but things remained quiet. I bet it was my triggering my Barrier Jacket that warned him, she thought. He can't believe we're dead, though. Why isn't he firing?
To get to the building's main door, she was going to have to cross open ground. In essence, she'd have to expose herself to attack just to get in position to start her decoy role. She took a deep breath.
All right, Vivio, this is it! Your first real mission! It's time to show what you can do!
Presuming, of course, that the butterflies in her stomach didn't make her lose her breakfast from sheer nerves. How did my parents do this so easily?
She took a deep breath, gritted her teeth, and set off running. She burst out of the narrow airshaft between buildings and began to cross the open ground in front of the target area, her boots ringing as they struck off the pavement. She covered ten feet, twenty, thirty-
Parsifal's autoguard called up the barrier again and two shots were stopped by it-but this wasn't the same buster-like ray that had been used before. These shots were small, individual azure orbs.
Homing projectiles! she thought desperately as the next dozen or so arced around her shield, some coming from the left, some the right, some directly behind. Vivio jumped left, letting the first missile blast chunks out of the pavement. It was her morning training session all over again, except that Vita hadn't been trying to kill her, and Cooper's shots were coming in much greater numbers at once. She dodged again, then a third time, which gave Parsifal a chance to autoshield a three-strike cluster that made Vivio think she might get through this unscathed.
Which of course was when a shot clipped her leg, not penetrating her Barrier Jacket but making her stumble, and the last seven missiles pelted the eleven-year-old from all sides in direct hit after direct hit.