Armored Core: Connect

|Phase 0-0: The World|

The year was 2018, and the world had taken a giant leap in terms of information technology. On the year 2015, a group of researchers at a multinational computers company had successfully created a quantum-based supercomputer artificial intelligence system incorporating high speed calculations and huge data reserves to integrate most, if not all of the world corporate and financial information transfer system. The system, which was dubbed the ANSWERER system, now helped calculate finance risks, political moves and even developmental strategies.

By mid-2016, most of the world media and network services are part of the new supercomputer high-speed network. The advancements of artificial intelligence created a world of much faster information propagation, where news and currency exchange happen on the fly and access to databases are easily available to everyone. The system had also changed the

Of course, this new paradigm wave in information technology did not leave the video gaming industry behind. With the advent of the new information age, an innovative new game Connect-02 was released during winter 2017 and is now the video game with the largest number of player world-wide. (Surpassing the fame of a fantasy MMORPG that was released about 10 years prior to it.)

|Phase 1-0: Haru Sakuraba|

Connect-02 World;

"Hey merc kid, can you read me?" An irritating male voice was heard through Haru Sakuraba's headphones, who was completely immersed in the Connect-02 world through the Razor-XV500 integrated visor/microphone/headphone gaming gear. For once Haru wished he would get a nice female operator for one of his missions, for all he know that guy could be a fat greasy guy sitting at the basement of his mother's house.

"Loud and clear… sir." Haru answered monotonously. He had no obligation to get all friendly with his operator, nor the other members of his current mission. He looked to his sides, the game's motion detector was amazing recreating that effect of shifting his vision according to the motion of his head, and saw 2 other Armored Core units next to his.

Armored Cores (AC) are giant mechanical weapons which are used by the pilots in the fictional world of Connect-02. Standing about 5-metres tall, these weapons are highly responsive and are highly customizable. In-game the ACs are fully customizable to the player's preference, from the weight of the frame to the weapons load-out and the color scheme of the mechanical monsters.

Haru assessed current situation quickly. His current mission is an ambush by Kisaragi on an opposing company's prototype weapons convoy which is en route to a nearby city from their outback R&D laboratory. His job is to take out all AC escorting the convoy as well as any other hostile units. The attack would be carried out at night on the most direct route to the city, on a desert route with two rocky canyons over both side of the road. The convoy would pass through the route while Haru's and another team of Kisaragi's forces would pour from the canyons and crush any resistance between them. A simple assault run.

His team is made of a heavy bipedal AC and quadruped support AC to complement Haru's own middleweight AC. The other ACs on his team are painted a uniform black and yellow to symbolize their undying allegiance to Kisaragi. Haru smiled slightly as he thought of them as nothing but a bunch of dogs on the corporations' leash.

"The convoy is within sight, initiate combat. Go go go!" the annoying operator shouted commandingly. Slightly harassed, Haru switched his AC from 'Normal Mode' to 'Combat Mode' with a push of a button. His AC's, which was christened the Conquista, H-11 QUEEN head camera flashed green for a second as his blue and white AC rose from the rocky cavern side of the desert. To his surprise however, gunshots and explosions could already heard from the combat zone. Kicking his boosters into action, Haru moved the Conquista to a higher rock formation to get a better view of what was going on down there.

To his surprise, the other Kisaragi team was ALREADY engaging the convoy defenders in a fierce firefight. Clearly the defenders had the upper hand, and several of Haru's friendlies had already been taken out. The defenders had less ACs than them, but had the advantage of having several tanks and armored vehicles equipped with missile launchers and chain guns.

"Operator, sitrep!" Haru barked into his microphone. Instantly a few tactical maps and charts sprung up on his visor and from the looks of it, things are not going too well.

"Looks like someone decided to pull a Leeroy Jenkins on us. Hahahaha!"

"Damn!" Haru slammed his fist on his desk. "Hey!" he shouted when the two ACs on his team also began to boost down the canyon slope, laying cover fire for their allies. "Pull back! Our lines have been broken!" Haru shouted, but to no avail. "DAMN IT!"

Furious, Haru fired the HYDRA2 and FUNI missiles from his AC's left shoulder into the air before firing up his boosters to join his allies in the chaotic attack. The bigger missiles split into 4 smaller missiles and rained down upon an unsuspecting tank, destroying it in a flash of explosions and fire. Not taking even a moment to admire his work, he activated his shoulder mounted FUNI relation missiles and HYDRA2 missiles. Taking to the air, he let loose the moment he got a solid lock on an enemy AC. The missiles rushed across the cool night sky, hitting the AC squarely in the back in a magnificent explosion.

The enemy AC was damaged slightly, and was very very unhappy about the back attack. Turning around, it turned to point its arm mounted grenade launcher to Haru's blue and white Conquista. A rocket propelled grenade round flew out of the launcher barrel, ready to bring a fiery death to the moderately armored Conquista. "Ugh!" with a grunt Haru pressed a few buttons on his control panel while at the same time struggling with his control levers; the Conquista responded by faking a left before jetting right, causing the grenade round to miss its mark completely.

In response, Haru lit up his FAIRY machine gun oh his AC's left arm and the CR-WR93RL linear rifle on his right. Hot lead sizzled between the ACs, some rattled on the enemy ACs core while some made more severe marks and tore pieces of armor off the blue AC. A few bullets breached to core and set off explosions which torched the AC middle up.

"Flank them! Don't let the convoy get away!" Haru shouted. A few hurried affirmatives and the Kisaragi forces reformed their assault formation, knocking down enemy units one after another. Haru was not about to be outdone, and picked out a missile truck with machinegun fire. Dual-wielding his guns, Haru assisted a Kisaragi AC in taking down an agile hover AC. Haru shot the floater in the legs, disabling its hover system and rendering the grounded and defenseless AC to be executed by the Kisaragi grunt.

Haru turned to his next prey, a middle-weight quad carrying a sniper rifle and medium-sized some dumb-fire rockets. This one was not having a uniform paint scheme unlike the other units on the defense forces. This AC's armor was maroon with white details, and the emblem was of an inverted skull.

Mercenary. Haru thought. Just like me. This should be interesting. He added, smiling to himself. The other mercenary must have thought the same thing, as he is headed straight for Haru, sniper rifle already trained on the Conquista. The shell came fast and deadly, a direct shot the Conquista's core. A swift movement from Haru moved the AC out of the way of the line of fire, but the AC was not fast enough and the bullet impacted on the Conquista's right shoulder, knocking the airborne Conquista's off balance and tumbling to the ground.

"You coward!" Haru cursed as the mercenary let loose his rockets on the fallen Conquista, rocking the AC and blurring the vision on Haru's visor. Working quickly to get his AC back on its feet, Haru barely managed to avoid the next round of rockets, though some managed to hit his AC's legs. Haru returned fire with his FAIRY machinegun together with his core's Exceed Orbit (EO) weapons, putting the pressure on his four-legged opposition. He let loose another round of missiles, which the quad struggled to evade.

Switching to his RL for added suppressive firepower, it was not long before the rest of the Kisaragi assault forces joined him in his attack. Weighing the virtually impossible odds, the quad mercenary turned tail and ran, the precious cargo left behind. Deciding not to give chase, Haru looked back at the cargo. He did not need the nerd-gasming operator to tell him "Mission Accomplished."

Tokyo, Japan;

Haru stretched on his greatly sore body. His gaming gear hung from his neck, which he then removed and placed next to his flat-screen LCD monitor. He had enough gaming for one morning, and he have to go to class soon. Dressing into his favorite blue T-shirt, black jeans and jacket, he then looked into a mirror to give some finishing touches to his spiky black hair, the skinny teenage boy picked up his bag and laptop computer. He then picked up the game gear again, connected it to his iPod Touch, and headed out.

New Tokyo University, Tokyo, Japan;

"Hey, did you hear?" a gossiping girl's voice caught Haru's attention. The girl was very fair, her face always lit up in a beautiful smile. She has the kind of laugh that could melt a guy's heart and you better not get Haru started on her eyes, which according to him, is the most beautiful in the whole wide world.

Exaggerations aside, the girl, Midori Hayashi, is one of the popular undergrad girls in Haru's Engineering Faculty. Well, who would not want to approach such a pretty and kind girl such as her? She's in Haru's classes, a freshman like him, and both of them were at the top of the class throughout their first year, but unlike her, Haru is not at all popular among his peers, and he would rather stay at home playing Connect-02 rather than go out for karaoke with the rest of the class. To put it simply, Haru is the geek of the class.

"Hey, everyone!" Midori stood up after their last lecture of the day. Everyone turned to give attention, except for Haru who was too focused on packing up and getting home for more Connect-02 action.

"I was thinking…. Let's start a Connect-02 group for our own class!" she called out. The word 'Connect-02' caught Haru by surprise, even more the idea of Midori Hayashi suggesting that everyone to play and join the group. What was even more surprising was that more than three-quarter of the class had also been playing the game, and the rest are planning to jump the bandwagon as well.

Haru watched in amazement as the whole class buzzed excitedly over the idea of the group. It is true that Connect-02 offered more than just Armored Core combat, but also offers simpler game types and also a world-simulation-like environment where people can meet and have many types of fun together. But Armored Core combat is what really most gamers see in the game, and is the main pull of the franchise.

Haru was not interested and quickly proceeded to exit the lecture hall in a hurry. However as he was riding the train back home, he could not stop but think about the possibilities he have with that new group Midori is forming… But then, there is that one small issue, he thought, as he looked at his game gear headphones, the deep ebony Raven symbol emblazoned upon it.

To be continued….