All Armored Core for Answer base NEXT models, weapons, and game-original characters belong to gaming company FROM SOFTWARE.

Major characters, customized NEXTs, places, and others tagged with '*' are created and owned by Emerald Sonata.


Armored Core NEVER END
Mission 01 || [Heart of Mary]

A crimson 03-AALIYAH NEXT dropped down from the sky. Its deadly talon-like feet touched down across the thick sands, erupting dust around its presence. From the shock of landing the giant machine of destruction straightened its iron spine, its head's LED visor-screen burning bright orange. The red NEXT turned its conical head left and right, searching through the deserted grounds of sand and remnants of Old Peace City.

It held out its left and right arms, bearing a 047ANNR rectangular rifle and a SG-O700 crossbow-like shotgun. Across its back were two identical tri-barrel DEARBORN03 VTF missiles and its shoulders had additional NEMAHA01 vertical-launch retaliation-missiles.

Anton Berdose* stretched a wide and haughty grin. His eyes narrowed, expecting a worthy challenge as he examined the core's HUD; his heads-up display and main screen. His NEXT, Red Faction*, was steady with a calm and excited air, but held its main guns at the ready.

"Come out, come out, little mousy…" chuckled Anton. He twisted the controls around, shifting Red Faction to turn behind it. Guns levelled again, ready to take on anything, "There's no use in hiding…besides…" His eyes glanced up to his radar, showing a detailed 3D map of the surrounding area. It had a wide range of sight, picking up a blinking red dot that was 6 o'clock from his current position. A deadlier smile of triumph widened, "I've got you all figured out."

The lips of a feminine face stretched softly, merely laughing under her breath. Inside her dark and humming core, she raised an index finger and hit a nearby switch across her console.

Anton's eyes widen. His radar's imaging sparkled with distortion. Soon it was hazed with opaque static, "Blast…ECMs," He turned his view straight back at the main HUD, his hands gripping his core's controls tightly, "I won't let you get the better of me, mousy!"

"Time to fly, Queen's Mercy*," said the female lips. Behind the Red Faction, a ghostly green flash zipped out from behind a nearby building. The Red Faction sensed it and spun around.

"No you don't!" howled Anton. Rifle shots barked into the air as the Red Faction fired as mad as its Lynx. Bullets soared but harmlessly skimmed passed the green flash, moving at a tremendous speed. Anton grimaced as he switched weapons, "Tch…" His NEXT's arms lowered and his missiles were raised over is shoulder. Without waiting, he sent off a flashing volley of missiles. They climbed up in an arc and instantly descended in pursuit of their target.

The green flash disappeared behind another building, just as the missile struck a mighty blow. Its structures collapsed like ancient mud bricks, raining shattered debris on the spot. Anton smirked under his breath and Boosted the Red Faction forward for another attack. A figure burst out from the cloud of debris, a massive flare of ghostly green light burning wildly from the back of its core, "What the – Overboost?! Rah!" He threw his body to one side, as if to avoid the incoming projectile from within his seat. Following, the Red Faction Quick-Boosted to the right and avoided the lightning fast figure just in time. It spun around to face its agile opponent.

A dark violet and blue Telus modeled NEXT spun around in a 180 degree turn, its thick bulbous legs skidding backwards across the sands. Its eye flashed bright yellow as it raised its two weapons; a GAN01-SS-WGP Gatling gun attached to its right fore-arm and an ER-O705 railgun-like laser rifle in its left hand. A jet-finned RD03-PANDORA radar was attached as its back-left weapon and its shoulders were armed with AR-O401 electronic countermeasures. Folded over its right shoulder was a HLC02-SIRIUS hi-laser cannon. It charged up and lashed out a devastating energy round straight into the Red Faction's chest. It pierced right through the crimson NEXT's Primal Armor and struck home against the left side of its core.

"HEY!" growled Anton, heavily rattled in his seat. The Red Faction stumbled backwards, but quickly regained its footing by Boosting in reverse for a temporary retreat.

'[Red Faction's AP is down 40%!]' crackled another female voice within the Telus' radio system, '[Keep at it and hit him hard!]'. The Lynx of the violet Telus returned a cheerful and focused nod.

"Got it!" she called back, "After him, Queen's Mercy!" The Telus, dubbed the Queen's Mercy, shot off with a Quick-Boost in pursuit of its target. The Red Faction swiftly veered through the desert ground, twisting and turning around half-buried buildings to gain cover in his escape.

"Blast that, Lynx!" muttered Anton. He swerved around and began his attack run, "I won't let you bring me down without a good fight!" Red Faction launched a swarm of missiles into the air as it continued forward. The missiles buzzed upward and came back down onto the violet NEXT.

The Queen's Mercy Quick-Boosted to the left, avoiding several missiles and shooting the rest down with its Gatling. Anton scoffed as he aimed his rifles and fired away. Again his enemy swiftly dodged his bullets, Quick-Boosting left and right. It then strafed to one side, hammering Red Faction's Primal Armor with its powerful laser rifle. Anton furiously shook his head, "No-no-NO! I won't fail again or GA's going to have my head! DIE!" The Red Faction relentless returned fire, ignoring the instinct of evasion.

The Queen's Mercy's SIRIUS cannon unfolded over its shoulder again, shrieking out a deadly bolt of pure lightning. It shattered the remaining surface of the ghostly Primal Armor and tore of its entire shoulder and arm. Finally with a cry of anguish, Anton and the Red Faction toppled over into the sand. Both NEXT and Lynx fell silent, utterly immobilized. After one short and gruelling minute worth of fighting, only the Queen's Mercy was left standing before the fallen Red Faction.

'[Alright!]' shrieked the voice from the radio, '[Way to go, Itsumi!]'

Itsumi Freihart* let out a long sigh of relief. Her body sagged back in her seat as she wiped the sweat away from her forehead. A calming atmosphere filled her core as she continued to listen to her field operator.

"Yeah, Lulu…we really pulled it off again…" breathed Itsumi with a smile.

'[Ha-ha! GA's NEXT, Red Faction, is toast! Mission complete! Interior Union's going to be happy when they hear this.]'

Itsumi nodded with a cheerful giggle, "That's good to know."

[******]

In the middle of the European continent, a sea of sand could be seen for millions of miles. Natural life and creatures were void of existence across the dunes. The winds tainted with infective pollution shrouded the fields of sand, feeding off any breathing life-form that was fortunate to escape the sun's smoggy rays.

Within the dune seas a large city sized slate of metal was exposed to that infected wind. It was built out of thick titanium and anti-radiation material, barricading the poisonous air from entering any further. The metal slate was in the shape of a giant metal gate, jaws clenched to protect its internals.

Several hundred miles below ground surface was a heavily built and fortified colony, supporting more than 100 000 people that had survived the deadly lands above. People were poorly dressed and looked exhausted from months of working or scrounging scraps of food for days on end. They were also tired from the state their once gorgeous world is in. Vehicles buzzed across the street with battered hides as they crossed the path of larger and well-built trucks of a renowned company. The buildings were made out of pure steel and diamond hard windows, their very infrastructures ready to take a pounding from an earthquake. The entire subterranean colony was known as a Haven*, this in particular was codenamed: Nazeraith*. Inside one of the buildings, of a local baking school, passed a young 18 year old woman by a sooty window.

Itsumi placed down a freshly baked cake onto the steel counter, rubbing her fingers together to disperse the tingling heat from them. A dreamy smile stretched on her lips as she quietly thought over the designs for that very cake. She began by placing on thick and tender layers of icing, to give a delicious and tantalizing look. Her eyes were blue, sparkles of care and kindness dancing within them. Her long silky black hair was tied back in a ponytail with loose ends that reached passed her hips. She had a slender body figure, from piloting the sophisticated Armored Core NEXT and constant practise of bakery. She wore a simple dark grey t-shirt, loose brown khaki pants, and old Velcro running shoes. Around her body was an apron with patches of flour and batter and a small baker's hat rested on the top of her head.

Next she added fruits to the cake's side and creamy face, displaying a masterpiece of patient creativity. She took hold of squeeze-bottle full of whip cream. Gently, she began her final touches.

"I knew I would find you here."

"EEK!" shrieked Itsumi. Instinctively she moved the bottle over a sink to her left, just in time for her frightened reflexes to squeeze a spoonful of whip cream into it. She took several deep breaths before whirling around, "L-Lulu?!"

Itsumi's field operator, Lulu Johnson*, stood right behind her with a waiting glance and crossed arms. She wore a short brown skirt, a blouse that revealed her bare shoulders, had curly locks of dark blue hair that touched the skin of her shoulds, and leather high-heeled boots. Itsumi left out a shuddering breath, placing one hand onto her chest to calm her self.

"Do you always have to do that?" uttered Itsumi.

"Aah, Itsumi. You're at it again," grinned Lulu, mischievously. Itsumi laughed off her anxiety and Lulu had a sincere smile, "It's for those kids again, right?"

"Yes," acknowledged Itsumi, "The orphanage is holding a birthday for Mathew. I promised Sister Alia that I would make the cake for him, as well as treats for the others."

"Itsumi, Itsumi…" shook Lulu's head, "…A Streamgard* Rank 17 Lynx, baking a cake for little boys and girls…What's next, you'll put on a play for the homeless?"

Itsumi giggled as she drew whip cream across the cake, "Sounds like a good idea." Lulu let out a short breath of laughter and shook her head.

"Who knows? If it weren't for the Conflict you might as well have become a baker or something…"

"Heh-heh…It's my dream since I was a little girl…"

Lulu's smile faltered. She looked away, "It was…it was." Itsumi finished the last of the whip cream and stopped. She pulled away the bottle and stared at her beautiful cake with solemn eyes.

"Who would have thought…everything turned out like this?" she wondered.

"ORCA and their 'Closed Plan' have failed…but on par with the League's major losses of resources to support the Cradles…" muttered Lulu.

"Wasn't that Economic War supposed to end? How come it revolves around as another problem?"

"Heh…Ever since the ORCA leader, Maximillian Thermidor, was taken out and the downfall of the great Wynne D. Fanchon…everything is a mess."

Itsumi rested the squeeze-bottle aside and turned, "Now, the problem has spread…affecting even the other Lynx."

Lulu nodded, "League jerks…planning to use the rest of humankind to run a profit making scheme…Serves them right that some of the companies broke off from them."

"Rosenthal, Interior Union, BFF…they're…all on our side right?" wondered Itsumi. Lulu nodded as her friend continued, "Together they make the Guild*…wanting nothing but a greater good for the people that are left surviving on Earth, even with the pollution outside." She sighed, "And because of their separation…Collared's also split into two."

"Well you can't blame them right?" wondered Lulu, "They are the League's middle-men to get you Lynx to do their dirty work. The separating companies were able to convince half of the Collared organization to side with them, while the remaining clung to the League…thus forming the second division of middle-men, the Streamgard…and that's where you, and possible I your field operator, fit in." Itsumi giggled, shrugging off her worries. She turned the cake around to get a good look at it. She gingerly added a large solid chocolate piece and wrote the words: Happy Birthday Mathew. Lulu frowned, "As one of the few, you too went against' Collared and the League's ideals…Are you fine with that?"

Itsumi nodded as she finished her entire cake. She took in a calm and deep breath, smelling the fragrance of freshly baked cookies and muffins, "Of course…everyone's suffering because the world is like this…I wish I can stop this suffering, but just myself is not enough…" She turned to Lulu with a hopeful glint in her eyes, "I want to put all of my effort together with those who share the same desire…to protect humanity in our time of crisis…"

Lulu smirked, "You sound like that ORCA guy, Thermidor…"

Itsumi waved off the remark, "I'm not as direct in action as he was…"

"Well, from my point of view there is another way to make your world a better one…" spoke Lulu with a sly smile, leaning against a nearby counter.

Curious, Itsumi blinked, "Hmm?"

"Get – your~self – a – boy~friend," sung Lulu. The words never occurred to Itsumi right away. It only took exactly ten seconds for her cheeks to burn crimson red, "Oh come on, Itsumi! Don't tell me you can't find one? Name your type and I'll match you up!"

"N-n-n-n-no-no! I'm f-f-fine, please d-don't bother!" stuttered Itsumi, furiously waving and shaking her head.

"Oh…" said Lulu, with a haughty tone, "Is the great Violet Rose shy to find someone she loves?"

"Lulu!" The field operator perked her head up, her thoughts put in pause. Itsumi nervously giggled and quickly pulled forth a scrumptious fruit tart, with lots of strawberry, "Here, can you try this for me?"

"UWAH! Strawberry fruit tart! My favourite!" shrieked Lulu with excitement. She greedily snatched the desert out of Lulu's hands and happily bit a piece off. The fancy field operator practically danced on the spot with joy like an excited girl, "Oh…It's so good! I love you Itsumi!"

Itsumi let out a shaky laugh of relief, knowing Lulu have forgotten their recent subject altogether. She turned around to put the freshly made cake into a cake-box.

"Oh, by the way…" munched Lulu, "What's that smoky smell?"

Itsumi gagged, "AH! The soufflé!" Without another word she dashed towards a nearby stove, leaving Lulu a tad dazed.

"You made soufflé…for a kid's birthday?" she wondered. Itsumi pulled open the often, a puff of grey smoke filtering into the air. Frantically, she pulled out a tray with thick steam coming off its surface. In the center was a sooty white bowl. She leaned in closer to see the insides and blew away the steam. A puff of charcoal black smoke exploded into her face. Lulu jumped on the spot, swallowing the last of her desert in a choking hurry. She coughed before calling out through the billowing black fog, "I…Itsumi?"

The Lynx, Itsumi, stepped forward out of the fog. Her entire face was sooty from black ashes, a solemn look of defeat, "Mou…"

[******]

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" hollered a group of children. They surrounded a ten year old boy, sitting at the end of an old tattered table. He made a speedy wish and blew out all ten candles in a single breath.

"Yay!" giggled Itsumi. She sat in a tiny chair as she watched the children all took a piece of cake that she made. Her face was cleaned off from the soot as she grinned at the children enjoying their treats.

"Don't they have a bigger chair?" muttered Lulu. Itsumi turned to her friend, who sat right next to her in an equally small chair. She had a twisted look of disdain as her eyes wandered around to avoid her dark and dirty surroundings.

"Unless you donate some," quipped Itsumi.

"I don't get paid enough just to buy the right cosmetics…" grumbled Lulu.

"Thank you so much, Itsumi." Itsumi stood up from her seat and turned to face a woman older than her.

"Sister Alia."

"Please, have a seat my dear," gestured Sister Alia. They both sat on the small chairs, both watching the children eating treats and opening presents, "You have done so much for us, Itsumi. I'm not even sure how we can thank you."

Lulu interjected, "Cold hard Credits will—" Itsumi nudged her in her ribs and she lost her breath.

"It's fine, Sister Alia. I really enjoy seeing the children happy," replied Itsumi, with a friendly wave.

"I never expected someone like you would go as far as volunteering and baking food for the orphans. You have our gratitude."

"Itsumi!" The girl turned around to meet the wide grin of Mathew, the birthday boy, "Thank you for the cake! It's really good! Here, this is for you!" From behind his back, he pulled out a strange object. Itsumi joyfully smiled as Lulu took a close look. It was a rolled up white paper towel, in the shape of a rose.

Lulu frowned to herself, "You call that a—" A foot with an old running shoe stomped on the toe of her boot of the latest fashion. She bit her lip as tightly as she could and curled up in silent pain. Itsumi graciously received the present and held it delicately in her hands.

"Thank you so much, Mathew," she replied with a smile. She leaned forward and gave the boy a tender kiss on the forehead, "Happy birthday!" The boy chuckled and ran back to the other children.

Suddenly, a short electronic chirp sounded off. Itsumi and Lulu perked their bodies up in alert, turning to their wrists. From their special wristwatches, a red bulb was flashing in suit with the beeping. The two exchange quick glances to each other, then Itsumi turned to Sister Alia.

"My apologies, Sister Alia…may we be excused for a moment?" said Itsumi. Sister Alia returned a short nod and Itsumi gracefully stood up from her seat. Lulu, on the other handle stumbled in her rise and clasped onto Itsumi for balance.

They both walked over into an empty office room and pushed the door shut. Lulu pressed a button on her watch and its strange alarm fell silent. Itsumi held up her wrist, the electronic screen of her watch covering over her pulse as it still beeped.

With a press of her finger, a large holographic screen was displayed in front of them in the air. Images moved around and focused while a female voice spoke out. The voice was so clear that it felt like someone was actually standing right before them. Itsumi and Lulu listened closely and carefully.

[##ROSENTHAL##]
Sent to: Streamgard Lynx, Itsumi Freihart.
Subject: Support and Protect Supply Convoy
Client: Rosenthal Corporations
Mission Parameters :

'Here is your mission. Rosenthal Corporations wants you to support the supply convoy, Algorica*. They consist of several heavy transports shipping food and resources that are needed to be safely transported to the underground colony, Haven Nazeraith.

There have been multiple reports of enemy attack on them in a series of short ambushes and skirmishes. We have no details of the enemies' origin, but you are authorized to dispatch them if they prove to be any more of a threat to the convoy.

You are also allowed to have a wing-mate to accompany you on this mission, for we have no intelligence regarding the number or strength of hostile forces. You will also be working along with two Independent NEXTs, Ballistic and Edelweiss, who were hired in escorting the convoy from their departure point.

They are currently en route to the Rough Coyote Canyons*, where you and your wing-mate will meet up with them. The canyon area is a natural maze, with plenty of extra routes that can give the advantage of possible enemy encounters. Once you and the convoy have safely cleared the area, you will continue to escort them to Haven Nazeraith.

We hope you can take on this mission. It is crucial that the supplies for the colony stay intact.'

[##END TRANSMISSION##]

Lulu whistled and raised an eyebrow, "Four NEXTs just to protect some transports…" She straightened with a puzzled and unimpressed look, "Either these baddies are really tough nuts to crack…or the higher ups in Rosenthal are over-reacting…" Lulu shrugged, "So, what's your answer?"

Itsumi pressed the blinking 'accept' tab across the holographic screen, causing Lulu's eyes to bulge, "H-Hey! What are you—" Lulu clawed out at the screen, but it vanished just as her fingers touched an edge of it. With staggering steps she straightened her spine, "You actually going with this?"

"Yes," answered Itsumi with a carefree grin.

"Why? You have no idea what you're up against…even Rosenthal doesn't know!" shrieked Lulu, "Not to mention the convoy's already got two NEXT to back them up and its still not enough! I smell something fishy going on and it's definitely not this room." Itsumi giggled as she sat across the corner of the old office desk.

"The people here at Haven Nazeraith have already been delayed of food and supplies…who knows when they'll have another decent meal?" she wondered, "Besides…" Itsumi turned to her friend, who is still astonished by her answer, "I want to do everything I can to help…to bring back happy smiles we all lost because of the Conflict…"

Lulu was stunned as she stood in silence. Shortly she scoffed a laugh under her breath, muttering, "…'to protect humanity in our time of crisis'…"

"Hey, don't copy me!" laughed Itsumi. Lulu shrugged it off, but noticed a blank look on Itsumi's face, "Wait…this is Rosenthal…right?"

"Don't tell me you didn't pay attention to that mission-girl's briefing…" retorted Lulu, "Sure she sounded nice and pretty, but she was a bomb of dead-boredom, come on!" Itsumi never answer and she raised her watch again, projecting several holographic screens. Curious, Lulu watched as Itsumi keyed in words and coding across the screen's keyboard, "What are you—" Before Lulu finished, the screens withdrew back to the main one and it projected a database of some sort. Lulu leaned in right over Itsumi's shoulders, eyes narrowed across the screen. The title heading was: 'List of Available Lynx'.

As Lulu stared at it in puzzlement, Itsumi skipped straight to Lynx name-category 'G'. To Itsumi's disappointed face, it was void of any free Lynx under the chosen column.

"Mou…" she groaned, "He's not there…"

"Who?" wondered Lulu. Itsumi gasped in fear when she noticed Lulu's searching eyes, "Hm…G? Rosenthal? G…AH!" A sly smile widened across Lulu's lips as she gave Itsumi a sultry look, "Itsumi's dream knight in a shining NEXT! Gerald Grendlin!"

Itsumi frantically sprung up from her seat and staggered backwards from Lulu. Her hands anxiously waved in frightened denial, "N-NO, NOT AT ALL!"

Lulu trapped Itsumi into a corner, slamming a hand into the wall over Itsumi's left shoulder. Her arm blocking the nervous girl off, Lulu leaned in for the kill, "Oh come on, Itsumi…I know your little secret long ago! Besides, who wouldn't fall for the handsome knight of Rosenthal…" Lulu perked up her head in excitement, "Not to mention that gorgeous NEXT of his, Noblesse Oblige…Ooh, how I wish I could have a NEXT like that…"

"Eh?" wondered Itsumi, "You…drive a NEXT? How come you never mentioned it before?" Lulu gagged and withdrew her arm. She turned away uncomfortably, staring down at the ground.

"N-no, of course not! I only have an interest in their design schema," uttered Lulu, "that's all…"

"But you never mentioned about—"

"ENOUGH OF THAT!" Lulu's sudden raise of voice took Itsumi by surprise. Her astonishment dissipated when Lulu threw an arm around her shoulder, with a curious look, "So, who do you plan to work with…if not Gerald…"

"Ah…right," Cheeks burning, Itsumi started to create a list of all Streamgard Lynx on stand-by. Lulu let out a long and shaky sigh of relief from the change of topic, as she watched. After a few seconds the list was completed and was projected back onto the screen, reading:

[Lynx Pilots Available…1]

A blank look veiled over Lulu and Itsumi as they stared at the results.

"No…way," breathed Lulu.

"The Conflict between the League and the Guild must be getting extreme…almost every Streamgard Lynx are occupied…" uttered Itsumi.

"So…who's the lucky guy?" wondered Lulu, with crossed arms.

"Eh?" returned Itsumi. Lulu gestured with a nod to Itsumi at the single result on the screen. Itsumi double tapped her slender finger onto the screen and the single profile appeared before her.

It was a young man at the age of 19. He looked thin, but well-built, and made up for his frail physique with a gentle and cheerful smile. His hair was shocking white and his eyes were soft purple, glinting with a mysterious sense of wisdom behind them. The young man had an enigmatic and incomprehensible aura around him, as he stared right back at Itsumi's eyes through the photo. His entire profile was blank, except for his list of mission results, his name, and his NEXT's christening: Endless Evarg and AC DeepGrave.

"E…Endless?" wondered Itsumi.

"Whaaaat? Endless Evarg?" groaned Lulu out loud, "Of all the Lynx in this crummy world, him? You're kidding me?!"

"Eh? Wh-what's wrong, Lulu?"

Lulu scoffed, "If he's going to be your partner, you better watch you back."

"Why's that?"

"Rumour has it he's a horrible wing-man…always leaving the mission boundaries and goes solo…"

Itsumi blinked with curiosity, "Why would he do that?"

Lulu shrugged, "I don't know…heard he always chases after an invisible enemy."

"An invisible enemy?" Itsumi turned back to the Endless' photo. For a long and quiet, their eyes connected. She felt a deep and strange feeling stir within her, from the very aura that Endless gave off from his picture, "He's just recently joined Streamgard…yesterday even."

"Probably he's been kicked out by several different companies because of his A.W.O.L.-ing…" replied Lulu, hotly.

"What?"

"Absent without leave; meaning abandoning his duties without permission."

Itsumi returned a nod, "Oh…"

"If I were you, I would ditch the guy and take this mission yourself," muttered Lulu, "better that than have the guy dumbing you half way in a dangerous mission like the one you're on." Itsumi stared at Endless again in silent thought. Finally, a decision appeared in her mind and she grinned.

"I'll take him with me."

"Now, that's a wise – WHAT?!" Before Lulu could change Itsumi's mind, Itsumi's delicate finger pressed the 'request' tab.


Author's Notes

Mo-u: It is a Japanese term much in the reference as a groaning or utterance of 'Oh…' in distress and/or irritation.

Weapon Data all collected from: www5f-biglobe-ne-jp/~yasuwo/confACfA-htm
NOTE: Replace '-' with '.'