Author Note: Been a while, hasn't it...? Sorry about that. I've been trying to focus on my other story. Also, I was studying abroad in Japan, but then the earthquake hit, and my study abroad program ended early thanks to that... I'm perfectly fine, thankfully (nowhere near the area that was affected by the earthquake, and I've returned to the U.S.), but it did make for a chaotic few weeks that left little time for story writing.

On the upside, right before the earthquake hit I went to a Vocaloids concert in Japan, and that inspired me to get back to writing this, so here it is! Let me know what you all think!

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

Anyway, while I had sat there trying to work through my shock, Miku must have gotten locked into one of the basic subroutines. I assume so, considering what she was saying when I focused back on her after a moment.

"-select the optimum configuration for the barrier jacket and the device's main-"

"Wait, wait, wait," I cut her off. "What the hell do you mean, singing? And how is it that you already have a name, when I haven't named you yet?"

I admit, I wasn't entirely motivated here by an answer to the question. Really any interruption would have worked as well, and if I got an answer to the question, that would just be a bonus. Essentially, I wanted to know how detailed her creators had been in programming her AI.

You see, if I had interrupted a storage device like that, it would have just kept talking and not even noticed my interruption. This is assuming, of course, that a storage device even started talking in complete sentences in the first place. Any decent Intelligent Device, on the other hand, would almost assuredly listen to my objection, but might or might not be able to answer the concerns that prompted it, depending on their level of sophistication.

This self-titled 'Miku Hatsune', though…

"Well, of course!" she replied, still in that too-cheerful tone. "I am a Vocaloid, programmed primarily for singing, so of course that's what I do!" Her voice fell slightly as she continued, "And, I don't remember where I got it, but… Miku Hatsune's just my name, that's all."

This was starting to freak me out a little. Okay, a lot. No Device was this verbose. Even the most powerful of Intelligent Devices, asked about their strong points like that, would almost certainly have responded with a halting, mechanically-inflected "That is my specialty" or something short and to the point in that vein.

Miku here, though… It was if I was talking to another person, not a device. There was no AI, even in Midchilda, that was powerful enough to perfectly replicate a human like this.

Well, I suppose that does depend on whether or not those two are powered by AIs. That is to say, there are devices that can perfectly simulate human beings, to the extent that Miku was right about then. There is a class of Ancient Belkan devices, called Unison Devices, that are nearly indistinguishable from human beings in their level of intelligence.

Of course, there are also only two of those actually known to exist, and no one seems to know how they were created. Well, their masters might have some idea, but I certainly don't. Besides, I don't even know if those actually are powered by artificial intelligence or… I don't know, something else.

Great. More mysteries. I yanked the headphones off my head with a growl and set them down on an analysis machine, hooked up to my computer.

"Um… Master? What are you doing?"

"I'm checking a few things," I replied. "You don't seem to be a normal Midchildan device AI."

"Is that what I am?" she asked innocently.

Rather than answer that question, I activated the analysis system and brought up the data files present on Miku's AI chip. Looking over them again, I confirmed what I had checked earlier: all of the data files essential to the operation of a device were present. Personality coding, energy control subroutines, the main device operation program… no auto-guard subroutine, but then that was kind of an extra option anyway. I could always write one myself once I had looked over her spell database file and found a decent defensive spell to use for that.

Speaking of that… next on the list was her spell database. For all that Miku seemed to believe she was optimized for singing, then, she was a proper device AI. Sure, perhaps a fondness for singing (and the necessary synthesis programs) were embedded in one of the personality files, but surely that was just an extra little feature that was added to make this particular AI a little more lively and interesting… right?

Wait. That spell database file… is kind of strange. Usually it's set up as a database which the device AI can access at will, casting whatever spells are available. The problem was, this file identified itself as the spell database, and was actually a different kind of file entirely, a subroutine to be specific. There was something else going on here.

Examining the file in more detail, I quickly discovered that it wasn't going to be simple to deal with. There was a database in there, but the main section of the file was indeed some kind of program. I stared at it for several minutes, struggling to make some kind of sense out of the lines of code… but no luck. Whoever had written this particular program clearly had never heard of comments.

But I was able to determine that the input for what I was considering to be the "spell subroutine" was linked to the Device's audio functions in some fashion. Poking around in the main program, I noticed that it would call that particular subroutine whenever Miku began generating audio. So maybe she'd get to sing something after all.

"Miku," I suggested, "would you like to try singing something for me?"

"Yeah, all right!" she fired back. I wouldn't have thought that she could sound more excited, but somehow she did. I waited expectantly for a few seconds.

Only dead air greeted me. "Um…"

"I can't!" she exclaimed in a stunned voice. "All of my available music files… they won't open!"

Oh. Right. Damn. Forgot about that. The locks on her system. Was this someone's idea of disabling her as a device? I quickly paged back through her files to the two dozen-odd music ones. Attempting to open them myself proved to be similarly useless… not a one would respond.

That's when a beeping sound from a nearby pile of stuff interrupted my examination. My alarm clock was doing its usual stellar job of mindlessly reminding me that it was time to wake up and go to work. Of course, I hadn't gone to sleep, but I'd dealt with that kind of problem before.

Leaving the newly minted device sitting next to my computer, I stood up. My uniform was kind of rumpled, but I had never cared about that too much to begin with, and this was just the working uniform. Besides, it's not like we had an inspection today or anything. Just another day of keeping the 42nd's devices in working order.

"Master?" a plaintive voice asked.

I looked down at the headphones. "I need to go to work," I informed her. "I've had more than enough of trying to figure all this out for now." With that, I grabbed my wallet and ID card and made for the door.

As it shut behind me, I heard her voice again, so faintly that I thought I was imagining things.

"What am I supposed to do now, then…?"

I sighed heavily as I examined the storage device on the table in front of me. Some joker had managed to put enough stress on the thing to burn out the energy control circuits, rendering the device a very expensive, oddly shaped piece of metal with no discernible use, unless you needed to poke someone from a few feet away. And of course, I was the one that had to clean up the mess and make the thing usable as a device again.

"Seriously, how do you do this?" I asked to no one in particular. Of course, I didn't get an answer. There was no one else in the room, after all.

I kind of wish I could have gotten one. See, if I had my way, you'd have to fix your own mistakes, and so the careless jerk that had managed to wreck his own device would be in here with me fixing it.

But no, apparently military life means you can foist it off on the mechanic and go on with your training. Hell, my orders were to strengthen the device as well to handle greater energy loads. So whoever did this wasn't even getting punished, just getting a pat on the back for apparently having more natural talent than I did.

Sometimes I really hate the fact that I have such an affinity for the mechanical side of things. I have to suspect that I wouldn't mind this so much if I was the one doing the training and foisting the complicated technical work on someone else. But no, thanks to the one natural talent that I actually had, I get to be the one that does all the work.

"Ugh… This really sucks," I complained angrily, massaging my forehead.

"Something the matter, Sergeant?"

I spun around in surprise. Standing in the doorway was a uniformed woman, smiling slightly as she stepped through the doorway. She was a head shorter than I was, around five and a half feet, but her cool gaze and precise manner lent her an aura of command authority to make up for her short stature. Her black hair was tied up neatly in a bun, leaving the rank insignia on her collar clearly visible, and a silver, blocky cross hung on a choker around her neck.

Not that I needed those to know who this was. "Major Nakamura!" I exclaimed in surprise, quickly standing at attention. Saluting was entirely unnecessary indoors, but there are plenty of ways to show respect anyway. "Ma'am, I apologize, I didn't realize you were there."

Had it been anyone else in the battalion staff, I might have just ignored the interruption and let them chew me out for not showing proper respect. But the Major… Okay, I have to admit, she's the one thing that makes this job livable.

And I don't mean that in a 'creepy staring' kind of way. She's smart. Hell, she could do my job for me if it wasn't for the fact that she has to run the entire battalion. If I recall correctly, she's an A+ level mage… and I know from personal experience that she's an excellent commander. She always listens to the line troops, and she's always composed and even-handed when dealing with problems.

Basically, she was the one person in the entire battalion that I had any honest respect for. I suppose it's a good thing that that one person would be the commander of the battalion… although it would have been nice if my direct superiors were tolerable as well.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. Major Nakamura let me stand there for a moment before replying, "As you were, Sergeant. You don't have to stop working just because I asked you a question."

"Yes, ma'am," I replied automatically, turning back around to the damaged device.

"This can't possibly be giving you trouble, can it?" she asked as she walked around to the other side of the table.

"No ma'am, I'm just tired, that's all." My mouth was running on autopilot while I focused on the task at hand. Or rather, while I cursed my horrible luck regarding the task at hand. You see, the outer frame of the device, weakened from its earlier strain, practically fell apart as I touched it. Which made it easier to get at the damage, but also was one more thing I'd have to fix in the end.

"You do look it," she replied calmly. "Anything going on?"

"Well, I finally managed to get an AI chip for an Intelligent Device of my own, but I've been having some problems getting it all to work properly."

… I don't know how she does it. I was just fiddling with the repair work, only devoting a bare minimum of attention to the conversation, and suddenly I've explained the entire situation to her before I even realize it. Although now that I think about it, I suppose this is more my inattention than anything she did.

Of course, she wasn't going to just let that one pass. "A new device? Where is it?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Left it at home," I grunted. "Got tired of trying to deal with it."

Had I actually been paying attention, I might have actually thought about the look on her face. I would have noted the sudden frown, the narrowed eyes, the questioning gaze. Of course, as I've kind of pointed out several times by now, I wasn't paying attention, and so I barely registered the fact that I had said anything.

Well, until she finally spoke up. "You… aren't carrying your new Intelligent Device with you?" she confirmed skeptically, as if she couldn't believe what I had just said.

That tone caught my attention. I finally set the damaged device down and turned to the conversation. "No…" I replied hesitantly as I did so.

"Well, we can't have that, can we, Final Judgment?" she prompted, setting her hands on her hips and casting a glance slightly downward.

The reply came from the silver cross hanging off her neck. "Indeed, ma'am," it assented mechanically.

At this point, I was kind of feeling a little double-teamed. "What?" I objected, still trying to make sense of the situation.

"Look, Sergeant…" she replied. "An Intelligent Device is alive. Even one with a weaker AI, like Judgment, is still more than smart enough to learn from its master and make decisions that could help. Now that you have one, I suggest you take this advice to heart: you need to treat him or her right," she pointed out, with a questioning look.

"Her," I supplied in response, a little stunned by the suddenness of the lecture.

"If you're going to be using magic, possibly even fighting, with your new device, don't you think you should treat her like the trusted ally that she has to be?" she demanded earnestly.

Now, by this point I was not in an agreeable mood. Even Major Nakamura's still an officer, and I really hate it when officers decide to ask cutesy questions and dance around the subject. If you're going to give me an order, get on with it, and if not, well then shut up already.

Which is why I tried to disagree. "But," I objected, "I've already spent the entire damn night trying to sort through the problems I'm having, and she's not a normal Intelligent Device; she's smarter than usual and…" Too late I realized what I was saying and shut up.

"You didn't program the AI yourself? The chip came with one?" Nakamura pounced the instant it was clear I wasn't going to keep talking.

"No ma'am," I replied, caught.

She paused for a long moment, resting her chin on her hand in thought. After a long moment, she sighed heavily. "Look, Sergeant, I can appreciate what you're saying, but I think you're making a mistake. You'd be welcome to go back home and get your new device if you want; I'm sure we can spare you for that long."

"Is that an order?" I snapped back, out of patience with the entire affair.

Her eyes narrowed, fixing me with a sharp glare. "Damn it, Sergeant, I am trying to help you out here. I can't tell you how to treat your device!"

I matched her stare evenly. Hell, if she wanted to lose her temper, that was fine with me.

She didn't, of course. She just sighed again. "At any rate, Sergeant, I do need a report from you about this AI chip you apparently just found somewhere, so you can do that now or do it right after you get back from getting your device."

"Major…!" I sputtered in surprise, gesturing at the still-damaged device on the workbench. And just like that, she was back under control and I was on the defensive. Damn it, how does she do that?

"That is an order, Sergeant," she cut me off sharply. "Either go get her or don't, but hurry up and pick one."

Oh come on! Here I am trying to relax with the one thing I actually understand, and this happens. I suppose going and getting that 'Miku' or whatever the hell she called herself would be something simple and easy to do… better than trying to talk to the Major and risking blowing up at her. That'd be the last thing I needed, to piss off the one officer I respected in the battalion.

"I'll be right back, then," I informed her gruffly. Thankfully, I retained the presence of mind to follow through on all the usual rituals for taking one's leave of a superior officer, before heading off back to my apartment.

"I find this story somewhat problematic, Sergeant," Major Nakamura informed me.

As there was no question or order there, I just stayed silent, standing at something that approximated proper military bearing in front of her desk. The headphones that I had made into a new Intelligent Device were now hung around my neck.

"Have you considered the possibility that whoever made this chip wants it back?" she rebuked me.

"Has such a loss been reported?" I shot back. "Of course I'll return it if I have to, but I'm not going to go around randomly asking people if they're missing an AI chip!"

Nakamura's eyes flashed sharply. "First of all, remember who you're speaking to, Sergeant. Just because you're an invaluable mechanic does not mean I will tolerate an attitude." As I nearly recoiled in surprise at the rebuke, she continued, "And second, what do you mean you'll just return 'it'? You already built the device!"

"Ma'am," I began, carefully keeping a leash on my usual sarcasm, "an Intelligent Device can be just as easily disassembled as it can be assembled."

I didn't get the response I expected to that. I mean, it was obvious, right? A machine can be broken up into its component parts, just as easily as those parts can be put together. Hell, if you don't care about the parts, it's a lot easier to take something apart than it is to put it together. Don't even need a mechanic to know that much, right?

And yet, Major Nakamura visibly flinched. Stared long and hard at me, as if trying to see into me somehow. I met her gaze steadily… even if she was surprised for some reason, what I had said was true, and I had no reason to be ashamed of the truth.

Or so I thought. When Nakamura finally did break the silence, though, she surprised me again. "Why don't you put those headphones on and ask your new device, who did by the way hear everything you just said, what she thinks of that plan," she coldly suggested.

I froze.

It was true. Machines can be disassembled. Computers can be reprogrammed. I was a tech at heart. I knew these things.

Damage a device's power control circuits, or the links between those and the AI core, and the device would be forced into standby mode until auto-recovery systems fixed the damage. Destroy the control circuits, or completely sever the links, and not even those systems would function; the device would cease all operation until repaired by an outside agency.

With mass-produced storage devices, I'd done these kinds of things more than once. Honestly, I probably would have yanked the AI chip out of the device I had started working on earlier. When you're faced with a pile of charcoal where wiring's supposed to be, it's a lot faster to cut out the AI chip and replace it in a new, identical frame than it is to rewire the original one.

Even in Miku's case, it'd be simple. Crack open the headphones and take a pair of scissors to anything connected to the AI chip. It would take me five minutes, and that's if I was careful opening up the headphones. If I elected to use a hammer instead, it'd take me one, and the AI chip would probably be fine in the end. Probably.

But when the computer could talk back, when the machine could truly think on its own… when I wouldn't be doing this to one of Three Company's storage devices, serial number E76-42-03-12, but to one Miku Hatsune… How had I never thought of this before?

Slowly, I slipped the headphones on. Softly, I muttered, "You… heard me?"

There was a long moment of silence. I admit I flinched slightly when Miku finally broke it.

"Would you?"

That was it. No affirmation. No accusations. Nothing but two words, delivered in a soft, strangely calm tone that hit harder than a scream would have. Some small corner of my mind registered the natural-sounding voice, comparing it to the mechanical tones of Final Judgment.

I paused for an instant. A variety of situations ran through my head. And to be honest, even an hour earlier, I don't know what conclusions I would have come to. I was a mage, but I was also a mechanic. I had never held an Intelligent Device that I could truly call my own, and had primarily been working on storage devices. Sure, I had done maintenance on Intelligent Devices, but I had never built one, nor taken one apart.

And now, I was holding a device that I had built personally. One that, admittedly, I barely even knew… but surely that was more my fault than hers. Surely she deserved more from her creator than just being taken apart like just another machine. With that realization, every scenario I could think of ended the same way.


I stood in the 42nd's training room, checking the area around me to ensure that I wasn't in the way. The room filled the entire basement of the headquarters, an area several dozens of times larger than my tiny work space. If you lined up the entire battalion in formation, they might have filled a quarter of the room.

When not in use, the room was a mass of white panels and not much of anything else. Since that was boring, it rarely stayed that way for long when people showed up. After all, the point of those panels was to project a holographic training environment.

Today, the holographic field filling the room was providing a forest environment for one of the battalion's companies, who were conducting some kind of exercise. I didn't really know the details, to be honest. I knew enough to stay the hell out of the way, and that's all I needed to worry about while I dealt with my business.

After Major Nakamura had finally pounded the importance of an Intelligent Device through my thick skull, I went over the strange problems with Miku's code, namely the spell database and the locked music files. That only increased her concerns about who created Miku, and why, but unfortunately talking to Miku herself didn't clear much of anything up.

In the end, the Major ordered me to look into the locked files more. She was starting to make a call as I left the office, but obviously I didn't stick around to find out who she was calling. As much as it irritated me to have to randomly poke at encrypted files that were specifically designed not to be interfered with, I had my orders.

Besides, I thought it might make Miku a little happier to be able to sing something. She and I were at least on speaking terms now that I had acknowledged her existence a little more clearly, but she was still kind of cool and reserved. It was actually starting to irritate me a little… what more did she want from me, anyway?

Well, at any rate, I managed to piece together a few more details. Miku couldn't seem to access her spell database without going through a music file, and she clearly didn't have even read access on any of the files in question. I was a little surprised that she didn't have any passwords at all for them, but if her development hadn't been finished, I supposed it was possible.

Of course, sometimes you don't need those passwords, especially when someone's been lazy. A few of the music files, maybe three or four, had not been encrypted well. Actually, the encryption was fine, but the password was not.

You see, I ran this thing called a dictionary attack, mostly on a lark. Just a quick check to make sure that none of the files had been locked with "password" for a password, among other obvious possibilities. One of them, well… and here I thought no one could possibly make such an obvious mistake. Apparently they can, and did!

So I got access to one of the files, and uselessly ran the attack on another three before I finally lost patience and decided to play with the one that I had. And now, I was standing in the 42nd's training room, permission having been duly gained from all relevant officers, with Miku ready and eager for a trial run.

"Miku Hatsune," I prompted her, "set up!"

The world was erased in a tide of color. A blaze of teal-colored light flowed outward, forming a sphere around me.

"Get ready… start sequence complete!" Miku chirped in reply.

A moment later, the headphones settled over my ears. They felt slightly different, as if they had changed shape slightly… but before I could try to confirm that, a microphone extended forth from the right earpiece, and a visor popped out of the left, sliding into place over my left eye.

Then, I felt something shifting down around my hips. Looking down, I realized that a black, mechanical-looking belt had formed itself in place. The belt connected twin round disc-shaped sections with red highlights, one at either hip.

Just like that, it was over. The light surrounding me shattered, and the forest filling the training room returned. Now, however, I had a fully deployed Intelligent Device ready. There was only one little issue.

"No Barrier Jacket?" I asked curiously. I had expected it to sound slightly muffled thanks to the headphones covering my ears, but rather everything sounded clearer and easier to make out.

"Well, you didn't specify any form for it," Miku pointed out. "I do have some preprogrammed, but I didn't think you'd want to wear any of those."

"If you're sure, then," I reluctantly went along with her reasoning. "Whenever you're ready, Miku. One of your music files should be available."

There was a quick pause, and then an excited "I have it!" A moment later, text began scrolling onto my visor.

MRS, stand by… online. Song file loaded. Confirm activation.

What was this? Surely a spell database didn't need all this fanfare, right?

"What's going on?" Miku asked. "I still can't seem to access the file…"

Only one way to find out. "Confirmed."

Activation confirmed.

The text faded, replaced by a new readout. This readout was dominated by a pair of progress bars, but the strangest detail was the line of characters across the top… a line of characters that I couldn't read.

I mean, the Bureau has had to deal with different languages in the past. Most computers can effortlessly translate between any of the ones the Bureau has ever encountered, and devices take that one step further by being connected directly to their owners. A device can use any language it prefers, whether that be Midchildan, Ancient Belkan, or an obscure language from some random unadministered world, and its master will still be able to understand it as if the device was using the owner's native tongue. Then, why was it that I couldn't read this…?

Then, I felt my new device draw on my energy, as if she was preparing to cast a spell. Miku didn't take all that much, enough for maybe a basic energy bolt attack. The traditional Midchildan magic circle flashed into being at my feet, its various glyphs glowing a soft teal shade.

And Miku started to sing.

It was a beautiful song. I'm not much of a music fan, but I could make out the soft strains of a piano dominating the start of the piece, with a few other instruments coming in as the song continued. Miku's voice flowed perfectly from one note to the next, clearly audible even as the music increased in volume and intensity.

Audible, but not understandable. Whatever language Miku was using, it wasn't Midchildan.

At any rate, the two progress bars in my field of vision began filling as the song continued. The top one filled steadily, advancing second by second, while the bottom one seemed much more random in its progress. As I watched, though, I realized that its growth slowed or even paused as the music did, and grew much faster as the song Miku was singing hit its high points.

Soon, the song came to its conclusion. The top bar filled entirely as the last strains of music faded, while the bottom bar was mostly but not entirely full. A few seconds later, the top bar itself began to fade out.

"That was beautiful," I complimented Miku. "What's that song called?"

"Huh? I thought I displayed the title," Miku muttered, in a voice tinged with the faintest hint of embarrassment. The line of unreadable characters over the fading progress bar flashed once.

"I can't read that," I informed her.


"I said-"

Everything started happening at once. The topmost progress bar disappeared entirely, and new text flashed into existence in its place.

Ritual complete. Ready spell: Protection MRS.

At the same moment, I heard a series of shouts from a ways off.

"Confirmed over-S magical response!" "Ready barrage pattern!" "Wait! That's outside the training area!" "Begin suppressive fire!" "Cease-"

Some small corner of my mind suggested that perhaps my headphones were not only permitting sound to reach my ears, but in fact amplifying it. That thought was soon drowned out by the screaming terror that overtook me. It was an understandable reaction, considering there was what appeared to be a company's worth of magical energy bolts bursting out of the trees nearby in a high arc. The barrage peaked near the ceiling of the wide-open room, pausing for the briefest instant before falling back to earth… right in my direction.

That's when I realized that the circle beneath my feet was glowing brightly. Brightly enough to send up a halo of energy all around me, almost like a heat haze off pavement. My eyes snapped back to the text that was still blinking calmly on my visor.

All of this took an instant. I brought my hand up as if to block the incoming bombardment with my palm.

"Miku, Protection MRS!"

A teal-colored, swirling hemispherical barrier of energy snapped cleanly into existence, an instant before the rain of magical fire came down. Dozens of bolts slammed into the area around me, carving divots into the ground and impacting the barrier surrounding me with teeth-rattling force. Impossibly, the barrier held.

I mean, I had cast Protection before. It was a fairly basic defensive spell, a barrier-type magic that defended a wider angle by absorbing the power of an attack. It was also the easiest type of defensive shield to break; had I cast it under my own power, it might have blocked two or three of the energy bolts before shattering.

This barrier, this "MRS" variant (whatever that meant) that Miku was using, absorbed several times that many before the barrage finally petered out. What's more, it didn't even crack. It stood apparently unaffected for another few moments before I let the spell lapse. A wave of fatigue rolled over me, and I sat down heavily.

Then, I felt a distinct tickle of shock. It was accompanied by a sense that something had shifted slightly. I realized that the emotion wasn't my own, but that of my new device.

"You're a proper Midchildan device after all, it seems," I tiredly informed a shocked, silent Miku. "You wouldn't happen to know what the hell that was, would you?"

The sun sat on the edge of the horizon, lending an orange glow to the city spreading out below.

Fate Testarossa-Harlaown stood on the roof of a building as if surveying the city. Her precise black uniform barely twitched as the wind swirled around her, in sharp contrast to the long blond hair that danced behind her. Grasping Bardiche's standby mode, a roughly triangular yellow gem, she mentally opened a call.

"Ah, Enforcer," came the quick reply. "What news do you have for me?"

"There have been some strange reports and inquiries coming in to headquarters today from the 42nd Ground Forces Battalion," Fate informed him without preamble. "I believe there is a very high possibility that one of the battalion's mechanics may have come into possession of your lost research project, Doctor Haynes."

"Excellent, well done," Haynes on the other end replied. "You have already retrieved it?"

"Not yet," Fate replied. "I was going to confirm the situation with the 42nd's commanding officer tomorrow morning."

"Enforcer, that's not an option," Haynes's voice shot back instantly. "I thought I already told you how dangerous this project was. It needs to be recovered as soon as possible."

"Doctor…" Fate began hesitantly. "I do not believe this mechanic in question merely took possession of your project. The reports suggested that he had a new Intelligent Device with him. At this point, further information would be preferable to quick action."

"No, this is bad," Haynes shot back. "If that research project is misused, we could soon be seeing a catastrophe that will make the JS Incident look like nothing. Enforcer, we're going to need that device and its new master in here for debriefing right now."

Fate paused, concern for the situation mixing with disbelief. "Doctor, surely we can spare the time to go through-"

"Listen to me, Enforcer!" Haynes cut Fate off sharply. "As I recall, your orders from Admiral Harlaown were to follow my every instruction in this matter. Correct?"

"Yes, Doctor."

"Well then, here are my instructions," he continued relentlessly. "You are to take this mechanic into custody and bring him here to my research facility. You are to recover our missing research project or anything built using it. And you are to do this immediately, without informing anyone else."

"Doctor, this is highly irregular-"

"Are you going to refuse?" he asked, in a dangerous tone of voice.

Fate sighed heavily. "Understood," she replied simply, ending the call.

She spared one last glance for the city spread out below her, and then spun on her heel, walking to the stairway down. Within a minute, the rooftop was empty, and the roar of a car engine echoed from the streets below.

The sun slid ever so slowly below the horizon, casting the now-abandoned rooftop and the city below it into darkness.