Chapter 2: Guns, Swords and Witty Comments.

Location: unknown.

"So how are you feeling today, Alice?"

"You know perfectly well that I do not 'feel'."

"I really hope you develop a sense of humor after the next upgrade."

"Sense of humor... According to my database..."

"Please. I know the meaning of those words. Sometimes, knowing the meaning of things doesn't..."

"Is this another illogical concept of human life?"

"...Logic – not as prevalent as you wish it were..."

"Do not comprehend."

"Let's just skip to the usual. How are the carriers of the eSper factor progressing in terms of skill...?

Location: in front of the S4 arena.

"She's late."

"Yeah, even more late than Mark."

The newly formed team minus Emily was occupying a table at the outdoor caffe, which was running it's business on the first floor of the arena. The weather was still warm enough despite the calendar showing the date '20, September'.

"Ooh... Maybe something happened to her?", the youngest member was nervously fidgeting with the rim of her blouse. "I should have insisted on driving her home..."

"I'm sure she's fine," Mark tried to cheer up the sulking Anna.

"She is," Charles' confident tone drew all eyes towards him. "She's just texted me. Quote: 'Sorry, I stayed up too late unpacking. I'll be there in a few minutes. And I found the last member of our team...' insert smily-face here."

Anna let out a sigh of relief and melted into her chair. The others' reactions were less obvious. Who would want to show that the girl's sugar-high assumptions really did affect them?

Ten minutes, one glass of soda and three dumped strategies later, Anna noticed the other girl walking down the street towards them. The fact that there was a two-meter giant walking besides her wasn't that surprising (many adults came to the arena regularly). There was a tiny detail, that seemed a bit off in the whole picture: 'Miss Shyness' was actually bickering with the man next to her. From the bits and pieces of the conversation which she managed to pick up, Anna's surprise-meter went off-scale. They were quarreling about... literature.

"...say that Smith's translation is more accurate!"

"No. You, miss, obviously didn't read the..."

"Fine. I give up. But... Oh! We're here," Emily finally noticed her teammates staring at them with mixed expressions on their faces. "I h-hope we d-didn't keep you w-waiting for too long?"

Silence. Yes... The day was going to be weird.

Location: Observation room floating above Neden-1.

"Woah! Falcon punched! Tell me, Emy, where did you find this guy?"

"Well, he k-kinda saved me from a pair of shady figures..."

Down below, the men were going all-out in a training match. The two recruits were fairing rather well against the twins. Nikolai proved to be a pro melee fighter. Using both plasma and counter swords combined with invisibility, he kept both opponents in a constant fear of corners and boxes... and scared the living daylights out of the bat-wielding Jacob with his third weapon.

Hiding behind the wooden crates inside the warehouse, Jacob was waiting for his prey. Soon he heard the cautious steps of an opponent. Peeking from around the corner of the crate, he saw Mark running in his direction while reloading his SMG. Perfect...

"Surprise buttsecks!"

A pro baseball player would have applauded to that swing. Mark crashed into the wall, dazed by the sudden assault. His attacker closed in for the kill, but was unexpectedly lifted into the air with a giant claw, that gripped his skull. A flash of red – his nervous system was paralyzed by the energy of the Vital Shock and he was promptly tossed into a wall, his body vanishing into binary code.

"Haha. That was some meeting. What happened next?"

"As promised – h-he accompanied me to the d-doorstep of my apartment."

"Naturally, you invited him to join the team and after saying farewell, he went down the stairs, while you watched him from your doorstep..."

"You w-watch too many r-romantic movies."

Each situation required a different approach. To Charles this was an axiom of life. What was the best way to handle a close-range fighter? Shoot him from afar. Simple? Yes. Easy to accomplish? Most of the time. Some creative thinking along with a few moves borrowed from his favorite games – Charles had one-thousand-and-one miniature strategies up his sleeve.

Expect the unexpected, see the invisible. A slight abnormality in the air's structure gave away the target's location.

'Taking both height and non-realistic physics into consideration... a free-fall from the roof should take three seconds...' Charles' mind processed every possible course of action. 'Oh well. Might as well add some style...'

At the precise moment when Nikolai rounded a corner – he made his move. Kicking off the roof's edge, Charles dived head first, twisting in mid-air and sending a hailstorm of bullets at his target. It was impossible to survive the onslaught of or his SMG.

"Get out of here, you Dante wannabe!" despite the obvious laughter in Jacob's voice, there was hidden amazement beneath the surface. Pulling off a stunt like that with no practice beforehand was just... wow.

"Well, t-the funny part is... Remember I told you, that I just moved into a new house?"

"Yeah. Continue."

"Nikolai lives r-right above me."


The death match ended in a tie. Both Mark and Jacob fired their revolvers at point-blank range, effectively raising the score to 100:100.

The captain of the team decided to change the rules a bit. After a few strokes of a virtual keyboard – the familiar shape if Neden-1 began to break into particles of data. A new shape emerged.

"Touch down?", Anna's voice was filled with excitement.

"Yes. We will be playing against the network A.I." with a few more simple commands, everybody was moved to team 'Alpha'. "Quoting the slogan from way back in 2008: show me your teamwork!"

After waiting for the team to get ready, Charles hit the 'Start' button, sending them all to the spawn-point of Station-2.

Five people rushed towards the ball. Jacob, who wall-jumped over the escalator steps, was the first one to grab the Fumbi. His brother followed one step behind.

"I'm invading the base," an accented voice sounded in both of their communicators. The Silent Assassin has begun his hunt.

"I'll be picking up, if you get K.O.'d," by the sound of it – Mark had just sent one of the black space-suit wearing A.I.'s into the empty space below the arena.

Jacob spun around in a whirlwind motion, sending the nearby A.I.s slamming into walls and off the platform. Cover fire and a Shield offered by his brother gave him enough time to launch an Anchor chain to the top area and successfully scored the first point of the game.

"One point! One point lead!"

"Wait a damn minute!" Jacob's voice came through the team's woot-ing. "I thought you agreed to turn off that annoying voice?!"

No answer. And what could Charles say? Annoying his brother was just as fun as winning a one-on-one match against him.

Next round. This time both teams decided to rush to the ball at once. The chaos inside the narrow train-car reached a whole new level. Bullets and blades everywhere, Anna's healing beam, Jacob's whirlwind. The opposing team did the same. In the end – the Fumbi was left lying on the escalator steps with all players knocked out... except for one. Emily rushed along the bridge, dived for the ball, spread her wings and...

"Touch down!"

The A.I. Team was having a hard time dealing with their opponents. Calculating their moves was useless. Completely illogical moves, which resulted in the most epic touch downs – this was a true human team they were facing.

Going solo against a whole base of defenders? Does not compute. Stupid move, but one great distraction coupled with a well-placed cannonade blast. Jumping into the void below? Suicidal. An anchor combo from under the platform, followed by a barrage of bullets? Ow...

Out-of-the-box thinking – that's what the team had in common. The trivial usage of weapons was discarded and replaced with the most bizarre combinations ever.

Anna's sentries used alongside Nikolai's stealth brought a whole new meaning to the word 'bait'. The girl effortlessly made it to mid-field and planted a single sentry right behind the train. Three A.I.s in a row made an attempt to take it out from it's blind spot, but were shocked and tossed away by Nikolai's claw. Meanwhile, the twins and Mark were at the enemy base wreaking havoc and scoring another goal along the way. Or was it the other way around?

The match ended in a 10:1 score. A single player controlled by the network managed to mimic Jacob's first goal and anchored right into the base. Naturally he was greeted by Emily's Semi-rifle, but the ball was already over the goalpost.

Location: outside the arena.

"Say, captain, do we have a name?"

"Pardon?" Charles didn't quite catch what Anna meant by that question.

"A name for the team!"

"Oh. That... To tell the truth..."

He was interrupted by Nikolai's chuckle:

"You never thought about it?"

An awkward silence, which was followed by a few exclamations of 'SERIOUSLY?!'. It was time to brainstorm.

Obvious names were immediately ignored. Long names, no matter how 'cool' or 'badass' they sounded, didn't make it ti the finals either. 'Mirage', 'eSpresso', 'Angelfire', 'Shoot', 'Slayers', 'Mad Hatters'...

"I give up! It was an error on my side..." everybody likes interrupting Charles, right?


All heads turned towards Mark. The grin on his face suggested that he'd just had a brilliant idea.

"Critical Error."

"That sounds..." Anna was the first one to break the silence. "...pretty nice! I vote 'Critical Error'!"

Nobody had any objections. Thus, a new S4 team was born.