Disclaimer: I don't own Nanoha or the Vocaloids. Sadly.

I'm getting seriously tired of this job. Really. Oh, it sounded good at first: join the Time-Space Administration Bureau's Ground Forces, train my magical abilities, maybe even work my way up to a command position with enough time and effort. I'll tell you right now, that's really unlikely. What they don't mention in the recruiting campaigns is that the B-rank exam has a 95% fail rate.

What, never heard of that test? Mages are ranked according to their power level, you see, from F up to SSS. And unless you're a AA at least, you can just forget about seriously commanding anyone. Oh, sure, even non-mages can command some units, maybe even reach flag rank with enough effort… but that's really kind of rare. Really, it's the powerful mages that get command positions most readily. And of course, like I just said, the B-rank exam is nearly impossible, never mind the higher levels.

So yeah, I get to sit here at C rank for four years, having taken and failed the B-rank exam eight times. Just another Sergeant in the Ground Forces, working as support for the 42nd Battalion. There's really only one reason they keep me around, and that is because for all my attitude, I am damn good at my job.

I'm a mechanic, essentially. I design, build, and maintain the devices used by the entire staff of 42nd Battalion, from the basic storage devices used by the line soldiers all the way up to Major Nakamura's Final Judgment, an Intelligent Device optimized for Midchildan-style magic. Devices have a tendency to be finicky, which means my job does keep me busy if nothing else.

You know, it's probably because of my particular specialty that I noticed that one particular data chip, lying on the ground in an alleyway a few blocks away from 42nd Battalion headquarters. They're the size of a fingernail after all; unless you know exactly what you're looking for, you wouldn't even see the chip, much less realize what it was. But as soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what I was looking at… a perfectly good data chip that looked exactly like the ones optimized for Midchildan AIs.

The one thing that every high-level device has to have is one of these AI chips. Sure, for the storage devices, you can usually just pack them full of high-end processors and let the mage wielding them worry about everything else; the processing power of the storage device makes up for the lack of advanced AI. But for anything more than a storage device, especially the Intelligent Devices, a dedicated AI system is a necessity.

That meant there were two very good reasons for me to go and get that AI chip. The first was that these chips aren't exactly common. In all probability, the thing belonged to someone. Worst case, someone's device had been damaged to the extent that the AI chip was separated from the main core. I knew for a fact that Final Judgment was fine, I had just finished working on it two hours ago… but there are a lot more Intelligent Devices out there.

The second, I must admit, was purely selfish. After all, there was always the chance that the AI chip was unclaimed or thrown away. And did I mention the things are rare? Well, that also means they're really expensive. Shocker, I know. But really, who would turn down the possibility of a free data chip?

Certainly not me. I had gone into the alley and knelt down next to the discarded AI chip practically before I realized what I was doing. Maybe I could use this to make an Intelligent Device for myself. That would certainly make that damn B-class test a whole lot easier. Obviously, they don't bother issuing rare, expensive, difficult-to-build-and-maintain Intelligent Devices to C-rank mage Sergeants, but it's not like they would stop me from using one if I happened to have it, right?

This was, of course, predicated on this chip being unclaimed. And there was only one way to check that. I picked up the small grey square chip, being careful not to disturb the silvery metal contacts along the one edge. Holding it up to the fading sunlight, I examined the casing for the chip's serial number.

There are only so many companies in Midchilda that manufacture these AIs, and they all use the same identification systems to facilitate easy tracking of these chips. A while back, there was some huge scandal over who was responsible for this one damaged chip, so these days people make sure that it's easy to tell. The chip had been lying face down, which was nice because the serial number is always printed on the backside of the chip right next to the contact points.

Or at least, that's what I would have said before examining that one. Because right where the serial number was supposed to be was simply more blank grey casing. I think I just stood there staring at the AI chip for a good minute in shock.

Finally, I managed to pull together the presence of mind to flip the thing over, and got my second shock of the day. You see, decoration is not exactly a priority for these AI chips. You can always be elaborate when building the device itself; the AI chip just goes inside the thing, so it's not like anyone will ever see it.

This chip bucked that tradition too. Painted onto the front of the chip, in nice big military block-style numbers, was a red "01". Not nearly long enough to be my wayward serial number, but at least it was something to identify the damn thing.

I briefly considered heading back to headquarters and turning the chip over to Major Nakamura. Surely, the Bureau would have some way of tracking a lost AI chip, even one as strange as this one… and if it was something else, something less obvious, they'd be able to analyze it in as much detail as they wanted, too.

Needless to say, I didn't do that. I think what eventually decided it for me was that I could analyze the chip too. This is what I do for a living, after all: I maintain devices, including their AIs. I'm as familiar as anyone can be with the little grey chip that I found in that alley. In retrospect, through, it probably would have been smarter for me not to get myself involved, and by taking the chip home to examine it myself, I was most assuredly getting involved.

Oh well. Can't take it back now, right?

So anyway, like I said, I took the data chip back to my home. I live in an apartment in Midchilda's capital city, where the 42nd Battalion is based; we're one of the units attached to Midchilda's Ground Forces Headquarters. Someone called it the "Tower of Law" in a news broadcast a while back, in connection to that really public terrorist attack on the tower. Nickname stuck, at least for the men in the 42nd.

My apartment is, to put it bluntly, kind of a wreck. I'm not home half the time, since I spend a lot of my time either putting in long hours at the 42nd's headquarters or putting in long hours in this one park I frequent to train. These days, both are kind of dull… but it's better than tripping over the five inches of random crap that fills every available surface in my bedroom.

I mean, seriously. When am I ever going to need all of these random tools and equipment? It's not like I could build devices out of these things; no, most of this stuff is tuning or diagnostic tools, but in more variants and specialized forms than one could ever need.

Case in point: this time around, all I needed was my trusty computer. I sat down at my desk, clearing out the crap sitting on my chair, and plugged the mysterious AI chip into the slot on my computer. Within five seconds, I had the chip's entire contents in front of me, to browse at my leisure.

I paged through the directories carefully, examining the files present. I think it would be safe to say that that's when I got the third shock of the evening. Well, it wasn't all mysterious and unimaginable. There were all the typical files for a functioning Midchildan device AI, in all the right places. A few extra personality coding files, but that's just a stylistic thing. That wasn't the problem.

The problem was that there was a lot more occupied memory space on that chip than you normally see. Basically, a standard Midchildan AI data chip is not entirely AI data. Some of the chip is given over to processors, and usually some of the memory space is left open to permit future growth. Without these considerations in place, a device created from that AI chip would be a lot weaker than even a basic storage device, so much so that its superior intelligence would no longer be able to cover the gap.

That said, if you were to pull the AI chip out of an Intelligent Device that had already been through a lot, with a powerful and dedicated master, you'd probably see something like what I got. I mean, I've heard of the White Devil; who hasn't? And if I ever got my hands on her Raising Heart's AI chip, maybe it'd have this much data on it, considering how much those two have been through. I'd never be able to get my hands on Raising Heart's AI chip, though, so really I have no idea.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the inside of this chip was as odd as the outside. There was a ton of extra data on there... so much so that the chip was filled to capacity, and the capacity was large enough to suggest that almost all of this particular chip was given over to memory storage. On top of that, it was data that I did not understand. It wasn't spell data, or personality coding, or auto-guard subroutines, or anything like that. A lot of the extra data was… sound files?

"Why the hell would someone put sound files on an AI data chip?" Yes, I actually asked the question out loud. Don't know who I expected an answer from, but I asked it anyway. I clicked on one of the sound files, and my computer's media player came up… and froze. Apparently the data was locked somehow. Encrypted, most likely.

In case you couldn't tell, this makes even less sense. An AI chip like this has to be accessible to the people creating a device. Completely. Locking data not only makes it more difficult to build a device, it would mean the device created would be similarly unable to access the data in question. Okay, I suppose there are a few legitimate uses for this kind of function, especially for the creation of training weapons… if you don't want your trainees using all of the device's most powerful functions right away, you can impose locks on the system.

In my case, though, I had no idea who had put in these locks, or more importantly, how they could be removed. It didn't even offer to let me input a password or anything. And had those locks been on anything other than sound files, that might have gotten me to reconsider my next move.

But I was getting frustrated, I have to admit. One mystery after another, and I never really had any tolerance for guessing games in the first place. And to my mind at the time, there was one easy way to figure this AI chip out: put it into a new device and see what happened.

Needless to say, this was the second of two really bad ideas that I had that night. If I hadn't been tired of my never-ending C-rank classification and frustrated with doing the same things over and over again, day in and day out, I might have stopped myself from making this particular mistake.

But for all that I'm making sense now, telling this story to you, I was not thinking straight at all that night. I just got to work… a device, even an Intelligent Device, is not actually all that hard to make if you know what you're doing. The challenge really is in maintaining and tuning devices, and those aren't things you get to until you have a completed device in the first place. I suppose you could consider the first round of tuning, after you build a device but before you activate it for the first time, to be part of construction… but I digress.

It really only took me an hour or two to construct the thing. I just grabbed an old pair of headphones that I had sitting around and started messing with those, since I didn't have anything better to use for the main body of the device. I could always change things up later, once I had a better idea of what this chip was, or so I thought at the time.

Anyway, once I had successfully integrated the AI chip with the headphones, I added in some extra processors and the necessary energy control circuits. And yes, the headphones still worked when I was done. No self-respecting device technician would ever destroy the core item for the sake of a device; true mastery is being able to integrate the device functions into an item without impeding its original function. Okay, the standby forms of a lot of the Intelligent Devices that I've seen never had an original function, like gems or rings or playing cards, but my point stands.

Tuning was a little more challenging… I'm only a C-rank mage, as the Bureau never seems to get tired of reminding me, about twice a year or so. No, I'm not bitter about anything, why do you ask? Anyway, it would have gone faster with more magical power at my disposal, but I made do with what I had. It only took me most of the night rather than all of it, really. Which was good since I didn't have all of the night to spare.

Finally, with the sun peeking over the horizon, I was finally ready for the moment of truth. I concentrated for a moment, putting the newly upgraded pair of headphones on. Since the device didn't yet have a name, I couldn't call its name to activate it, nor did it have an activation phrase to take advantage of. That meant the activation process was really just a matter of will.

I admit, I was eager. This was my new device, right? Surely, with my personal Intelligent Device, I'd be able to do something about my constant mediocrity, power-wise. As I focused that eagerness on my new device, I felt something click in the headphones. Magical energy flowed through the circuits I had installed and brought the AI chip online. And then…

"My name is Miku Hatsune, Vocaloid zero-one. I am optimized for synthesizing music, particularly singing, and I look forward to working with you!"

I believe my thoughts at the time, hearing that cheery feminine voice greet me, were something along the lines of "you have got to be kidding me."

Admiral Chrono Harlaown almost visibly growled to see the face of the person calling him. "And to what do I owe this pleasure, Doctor Haynes?" he sighed, putting enough of a twist on the word 'pleasure' to suggest the exact opposite.

The man on the screen frowned slightly in response. "Only the disappearance of one of my lab's research projects," he replied calmly, as if surprised that anyone would be displeased with him. "I was hoping you could put me in touch with one of your enforcers, so that the issue could be properly dealt with."

"You don't need to call me for that," Chrono pointed out with the barest minimum of patience. "There's an official line to use for that kind of report, is there not?"

"The person on the other end of that line doesn't owe me a favor," Dr. Haynes replied smoothly.

At that, Chrono did snarl. "You can't be-" he burst out before bringing himself back under control.

In the moment of silence created as a result, Haynes calmly replied, "You do owe me... do you not, Admiral Harlaown?"

Chrono merely glared furiously at the doctor, face working in anger. Finally, he ground out, "Fine… but we are even after this, understand?" Without even waiting for a response, he stabbed at the 'end call' button, returning the ready room on the Claudia to a state of blissful silence.

Leaning back, Chrono sighed heavily. How did I ever end up owing that snake a favor…? he mused to himself in frustration, as he began typing in a call of his own.

"Fate, would you mind looking into something for me?" he requested almost tiredly, as the call went through.