Ada was almost ready for her mission. She leaned back into her mechanized seat as her eyes skimmed line after line of diagnostic data being displayed on a small monitor on her lap. Situated in the center of a GHQ control center, the entire contraption looked more like an Endlave cockpit than any normal chair.
She was monitored on all sides by government agents. A male employee standing just to the side of her shoulder addressed her in a very business-like manner.
"We typically don't resort to these sorts of measures, but this specific group of rebels has become a problem beyond our control. We think it would be best to destroy the faction from the inside out."
She turned to offer him a confident glance.
"Sounds like my specialty."
The man produced a small photo from a portfolio in his arms and gave it to Ada.
"The boss says there's only one exception. Bring Inori Yuzuriha here alive."
Ada caught a brief glimpse of the random pink-haired young woman in the picture before responding.
"So she's going be the cocoon girl he keeps rambling about?"
The worker's expression remained blank.
"Something like that."
She smirked sarcastically as she handed the photo back.
The man offered her another picture. This time it was a much more familiar face.
"And this is your target, Tsugumi."
Ada took her time with the photo, feeling a certain sense of admiration for her rival. She leaned forward and stretched her arms to work some stiffness out of her joints.
"Good thing she's a cutie. I was starting to get tired of this look."
The GHQ agent gave Ada a perplexed look. He found her attitude toward the whole issue to be somewhat unsettling, but made nothing of it. He had more important things to consider.
"What would you like us to do with your current avatar once the transfer is complete?"
Ada sounded uninterested, placing all of her attention on her console as she answered.
"Burn it, for all I care. The less these guys are able to figure out where I came from, the better."
The agent stopped to watch Ada keep herself occupied for a few moments. When he spoke again, it was in a more stern voice.
"Remember that their operator may be the best we've ever encountered. Don't take this mission lightly."
Ada gave an acknowledging nod as she entered some final commands into her control panel. The entire chair whirred to life and locked her in place.
"I've been studying her file for hours. I know this is going to be a little different from a routine installation."
The GHQ agent narrowed his eyes in doubt.
"What makes you so sure you can even pull it off?"
A series of panels folded out from the top of seat and formed a dome over Ada's head, leaving only the lower portion of her face exposed. Her eyes focused on the device's internal display as her lips curled into a greedy smirk.
"Curiosity killed the cat."
Tsugumi had no time to spare. Funeral Parlor had started their attack on the GHQ's central compound and it was her job to coordinate their efforts. Surrounded on all sides by holographic displays, she had already hacked into GHQ's information network and was looking for a way to disable their defense. She hummed happily to herself as she whisked her palm across the array of floating windows. A cursor shaped like a cat's paw followed her every movement.
"Security Division. Combat Division. Science Division. Old Dudes with Their Thumbs Up Their Asses Division. Pretty boring stuff."
She stopped partway through the list with a surprised look.
"...Operation Pandora? Huh. I wonder what you are."
She poked at this particular holographic file with her index finger. The display unexpectedly flickered for a split second as it opened.
Tsugumi felt a weak jolt of electricity burst from the screen and prick her finger, causing her to instinctively draw her hand back and suck on her fingertip. Once the stinging sensation subsided, she tapped her foot and complained toward the floating monitor.
"Buggy little thing, aren't you? Leave it to those GHQ morons to code an archival system that can kill you."
A tiny, almost insignificant warning window opened to her side. After looking at flashing red tab for a few seconds, she figured it was an innocent system glitch and closed it with an annoyed grunt.
"Ugh. I thought I fixed that thing."
She turned her attention back to the central display to see it had loaded the file she wanted. Her voice gradually changed from curious to confused as she read its contents aloud.
"Experiment successful. Test subject has no idea she is part of a psychological assessment. We will now advance to you stupid little slut, did you really think you could break into this server without... facing the consequences?"
One of her eyebrows quirked. She scratched her chin for a moment, then reached for her holographic keyboard. Fire burned in her eyes as she began typing away.
"Oookay. Let's see how you like a taste of your own medicine."
While she was busy coding a virus capable of bringing the entire system to its knees, some of the screens behind her started to drift away and a translucent disk appeared around her head. It floated in front of her eyes like a visor, giving off enough light to make her squint.
"What the hell is with this thing today? I didn't ask for the periscope program!"
She swatted the halo away like it was a ring of flies buzzing around her head, but it relentlessly floated back to its original position. When she squeezed her eyes shut to block out the intense glow, she heard an equally annoying buzzing sound coming from the cat ear sensors on her headband. She tried to pull the equipment off only to have it painfully shock her fingers again and force her hands away.
Tsugumi was suddenly distracted by a woman's voice. Rather than being broadcast through one of the chamber's audio modules, however, it seemed to echo from somewhere deep inside of her ear.
"Connection established. I'm prepping her cerebral cortex for installation."
Tsugumi's headband vibrated in an almost therapeutic rhythm as the visor flickered. Her vision soon began to blur and she started feeling dizzy. She shouted in anger after trying to shake her head back to awareness.
"Cut it out! I'm gonna rip your damn gizzards out as soon as I figure out where this signal is coming from!"
The numbing sensation changed to a throbbing pain in the center of her head. Her ear pieces began emitting a tiny electrical pulse on their own. The voice playfully echoed inside her ear a second time.
"And in we go~."
Blinded by the visor's increasing luminosity and deafened by a constant stream of scrambled noise flowing through her receivers, Tsugumi clawed at the sides of her head and screamed. Error messages began flashing on and off all around her in a strobe effect. Intrusion alarms shrieked from every direction. The entire chamber changed to a solid red color as it switched to emergency lighting. The holographic halo shrunk to the exact circumference of Tsugumi's head, then disappeared completely.
She was giggling quietly when everything returned to normal.
After the usual residual grogginess faded away, Tsugumi lifted her hand to her face, turned her wrist, and flexed her gloved fingers. She then peered downward to study her own attire. She was wearing a bodysuit made of a latex-like material and studded with several glowing nodes. She spoke to herself in a fascinated voice.
"Hmm... a fully functional interface suit. I'm surprised someone got one of these to actually work."
She paused for a minute to analyze her holographic surroundings. When she returned to her keyboard, she muted her radio transmitter and opened a secure channel.
"Ada here. I'm in."
She stood with one hand on her hip and the other flipping through various screens as she continued speaking.
"Funeral Parlor is already on their way. I'm going to reroute them toward the little surprise you guys have prepared for them. I'll shut down their Endlaves the moment they're in combat range. I'm already uploading an unencrypted copy of their database your way. Personnel data, supply points, combat formations, weaknesses in their mobile units, the whole works. It should be everything you need to slaughter most of them. I'll contact you again once I've secured Yuzuriha."
Once she closed her transmission, it wasn't long before a new incoming signal caught her attention. She opened the channel to hear a female voice speaking frantically to her.
"Hey, Tsugumi, what's wrong with your radio? Why aren't you responding?"
She had to sift through a flood of new memories before she was able to identify the source of the voice. She tried to sound apologetic when she answered.
"Oh, sorry Aya! Their firewall was giving me a hard time. Things were kind of hectic for a few minutes, but everything's okay now."
She glided her hand across her translucent keyboard. After some clever hesitation, she sent a stream of data back to Ayase.
"Hey, uh, slight change of plans. It looks like these guys placed most of their sentries in the direction you're heading. Here's an alternate route you can use to slip around them."
A moment later, Ayase's voice chimed in again with a new sense of relief.
Tsugumi lowered her head to hide a mischievous grin, knowing full well she was sending the rebel pilot straight to her death.
"Don't mention it."
Tsugumi was spending her spare time on some new chaotic venture that had peaked her interest. She was sitting with a cup of coffee at her side and a jacket loosely hanging over her shoulders. The only source of light in the room was from the single rectangular screen of her portable console.
A silhouette approached Tsugumi in ominous silence. When it moved into the light, it became a female figure. She looked different than before, but Tsugumi could still see some remaining traces of Inori in the stranger's face.
"I take it you're Mana."
The girl nodded cheerfully.
"And you must be Ada. Gai told me how grateful he is for your help."
Tsugumi took a few minutes to size up her companion. Between her gothic ballerina-esque dress and her feather hair ornaments, she was slightly put off by Mana's appearance.
"You have a pretty weird fashion sense."
Mildly insulted, Mana's eyes darted to the mechanical cat ears sitting atop Tsugumi's head. As she continued to scan downward, she saw the bodysuit clinging to the seated girl's frame left little for the imagination.
"I could say the same about you."
Tsugumi answered with a passive shrug.
"I work with what I have. I'm not some kind of magical alien shapeshifter. I've used so many different girls as my hosts that I can't even remember what I looked like originally."
She brushed her long black hair away from her shoulder as a content smile crossed her lips.
"I think I'll hang around in this form for a while, though. It's nice living as the only hacker who may have been as smart as me, and the pickings are going to be slim once the Apocalypse Virus runs its course anyway."
She took a sip of her coffee before tilting her head and glancing toward Mana curiously.
"You're not angry at me for setting up that Shu kid, are you? Getting rid of him and his friends was part of my contract. I wouldn't have been able to bring your meat puppet in with them in the way."
Mana at first looked away in regret.
"I'll miss my dear brother, but I know he was a lost cause."
But then a loving grin appeared on her face.
"Now Gai can be my Adam."
Tsugumi rolled her eyes. She shook her head and murmured to herself as she turned her attention back toward her console.