... Though, he didn't need to look up to get that confirmation: the answer was all around him. There were navis all around dressed in the style of the Neo-Shogun Empire, a mix of those who chose to dress as generals and subordinates and those who had adopted original appearances (though, for all he knew, they could be other officers he didn't recognize). If this hadn't confirmed the identity of this gathering well enough for him already, a large banner over the "C" gate would: it read "1ST ANNUAL SHOGUN-CON."
Before MachMan could inform his superior that she was understandably a tad out of touch with nerd customs and Skywriter probably didn't have any conspiracies in mind by attending this gathering, Pest showed up... Was Pest the one he was waiting for? A closer look would show her skin-tone was more towards Electopian, but if it wasn't for that detail and the knowledge that he was waiting for Vee, he might be deceived. The navi's wings weren't fluttering habitually either, on further inspection. "Hello," she greeted him, with a bow that made her identity a little more obvious still. "I'm Vee, in case there was any confusion. I know you're probably ready to report the mission as a misapplication of resources and leave, but I think we could still use your help," she insisted. "Oh, and so there's no confusion, Yasu told me to expect you in this form."
She gestured to the building behind the two of them. "This is Shogun-Con... It's mostly a harmless gathering where fans of the Neo-Shogun Empire have come to take part in Neo-Shogun Empire related activities and dress in costumes. Skywriter's been coming here to help set it up, along with some of our soldiers. I decided not to tell Yasu the exact nature of this place because... I think something about all of these Yasu impersonators might set her off regardless, and it seemed like innocent fun. I was going to tell her about it tomorrow, since today's the last day of Shogun-Con... there wouldn't really be anything she could do to mess it up once it's all over. At any rate, there's a problem. Apparently, some odd-looking Neo-Shogun Soldier has been attacking people who are dressed up like Skywriter. No jack-out barrier or anything involved, but apparently he's managed to escape each time. For now, you'll notice very few Skywriters around for that reason... everyone's a little on edge. I think if someone's got enough of a grudge they're going to go that far, we need to track them down and get answers," she explained. A little ironic, since MachMan himself had been thinking of attacking Skywriter just moments ago.
"Anyway, the other problem is Skywriter isn't answering any of her messages. I know she's somewhere at the convention and she's dressed like Aera, but a lot of people are..." she murmured, adjusting her mask and grumbling. "How does Pest do anything with this mask on?" she asked; her lack of a pause seemed to indicate she hadn't heard Aera was gone (and also hadn't thought to ask why she was missing yet). "Anyway, the GMO wiper... I'm told your current look isn't a GMO at all, so that's useful. There's a GMO wiper at the front of each gate that scrubs GMOs. The reason, of course, is these are cosplayers; they pride themselves in making their costumes by hand using materials and things like facepaint, etcetera. They won't accept anyone coming in wearing a GMO. For that reason, I borrowed this outfit from Pest, so I can walk through the wiper without anyone noticing." That must mean her blond ponytails were also a wig, but he'd probably figured that already. "If you're feeling ready, I think our best move is to head inside. I've got a thought of where we ought to go... there's an events plaza where they're about to hold a costume competition and, at the same time, a team event where everyone dressed as one navi teams together against everyone dressed as another. I hate to imagine it, but the remaining Skywriter cosplayers will probably all be at one event or the other... Our attacker is likely to be watching the plaza for another opportunity."
MachMan would have a chance to ask any other questions he might have, or voice any misgivings, before the two headed for gate where the GMO scrubber was located.
Mach arrived at the given coordinates via a cyan beam of light, which crashed down upon the network floor. It quickly dissipated, revealing Mach's dark, angular form. As soon as he logged in, he looked around in an attempt to get a quick low-down of the environment. So far, it looked... fairly benign. Once he determined he wasn't in any immediate danger, he sent a message directly to Roc via a channel he previously used with her.
Comm check. If good, state position. Do you read me?
Regardless of the result of his comm check, his focus was diverted by the arrival of... Pest, but something looked off. Her introduction cleared everything up, while it would've normally left Mach more-or-less at ease, his mind instantly switched to the fact he did nothing to prevent her "incident" with DragonierMan. This was the first he'd seen her since that disgraceful mission, and she didn't seem to hold any discernible grudge, though it seemed like she was naturally difficult to read. He wanted to read her expression, but Pest's lent mask made her even more impossible to read, so he shifted back to scanning the area while he listened. While she described the venue, Mazer remarked to himself ["A 'con'... like a convention? Really? I guess the Shogunate would have a cult following, being full of women and all..."]
Mach overheard, but continued to listen to Vee as she described the problem at hand. He continued to look around, any inattentiveness was obscured by his opaque dark-cyan canopy, then one word caused him to stop cold. Mazer felt something lurch in his chest, nearly knocking the wind out of his lungs, and saw his Navi's statuses literally flicker in response. ["No... no no no no..."] he muttered to himself before opening a channel to his Navi. ["Mach... buddy... talk to me,"] he said, trying to break through to his Navi, his voice rose slightly as his emotions heightened.
Meanwhile, Mach managed to stay perfectly still, though his eye was so fixated on Vee it seemed like he was about to burn a hole in the Shogunate General's forehead, but his unseen expression didn't show anger, rage, sorrow... just... nothing. His mind was focused on her words, until "talk to me" finally leaked into his head. [[color=blue]"I'm here... focus on the mission..."[/color]] Mach responded via their secure line, though the last part seemed to be more of a mantra to himself than to his operator. He struggled to listen to the rest of Vee's explanation, but got the details regarding the .GMO scanner. He initially had a plan to utilize one of his non-NS crosses, but from Vee's description of what "passed," he assumed it wouldn't work.
Mach inhaled deeply and closed his remaining eye, then slowly exhaled in an attempt to center himself, then attempted to respond to the disguised general via a direct line.
Understood, General Vee. To maintain my cover, please refer to me as a female called "Mekka" from this point on... It wasn't my first choice. I have a few questions though. First, I assume I should call you "Pestilence?" Second, should I go in as is, or would a NS-cross be more 'fitting'? Third, what sort of "Neo-Shogun Empire related activities" are they involved in? Is there anything of concern to the empire? I ask because you referred to them as "mostly a harmless gathering." As for the Skywriters' attacker, do you have any information on the program beyond being an "odd-looking" NS soldier?His voice obviously would've sounded more gravelly and strained than the last time she heard it, but at least to Mazer, his tone relatively even-keeled.
After asking his questions, he followed the costumed general towards the .GMO scrubber.
"Yeah, all clear. Lucky you've got a new look or else I'd have already lost track of you! Lotta MachMen around here. I guess when the other choices for guys are Captain Codpiece, full samurai armor, or a sleeveless yellow Karate Kid thing with no pants."
Roc's message revealed that, although she probably ought to have learned that her unique sense of humor was just going to bounce off MachMan at this point, the fact hadn't sunk in yet. Vee didn't seem to have caught the nuances of Mach's transformation yet either, although she was astute enough to look slightly concerned about the way he was just staring at her with one beady eye. She returned the message, switching to speaking privately.
"Understood, I'll call you Mekka. You should call me 'Pest;' I don't think much of anyone calls her 'Pestilence'. I think you can get away with going in without a costume... if that is, indeed, you without a costume. Not everyone here is dressed up, though most people are. You just won't be able to participate in contests and things of that sort, obviously, so keep that in mind. I wouldn't say there is anything of concern that the cosplayers are doing, other than a little bit of embarrassing roleplay and other... embarrassing things. If I'm being honest, it's pretty awkward seeing so many other Vees. It's like being crossed with hundreds of people I don't even know.
So yes. Other than the Skywriter Hunter, there's nothing dangerous happening that I can find. Just embarrassing.
I've overheard that the soldier who's attacking people is wearing a mask that obscures his whole head, I guess that's what they mean by odd-looking. We could probably find out more if we can catch one of the victims... I'd imagine most of those have already left, but maybe one of the other Skywriters would know? We should keep our ears open.
I'll show you the way inside. There's not too much reason to play a character unless you're worried about embarrassing Skywriter... or if Yasu ordered you to. So you can mostly speak out loud if you want. Your call."
The much talked-up GMO scrubber was really pretty low key. A few navis dressed as soldiers (along with one woman dressed flatteringly as Dee and one man dressed less flatteringly as Yasu) were attending the gates to make sure everyone funneled through the gate and didn't hop a fence. "Nice Pest! Good on you, not a lot of Pests in here," one of the soldiers complimented Vee, giving her a thumbs up as she passed through. The gate was much like passing through an airport's metal scanner with very little visual effect to show that it was working; it simply lit up red, then green, then darkened again as the navi passed through. No one was uniformed enough to step through in a GMO, of course, so there was no way to tell if it was really doing its job or not.
The color commentary remained pretty colorful as navis made their way through the machine, but quieted down when MachMan went through. It might occur to him that, beyond just not being in costume, he didn't look like the sort of navi that would attend a convention either, so they were probably all curious as to what his purpose was... but not enough to question him on it. The guy might be dressed like Yasu, but he wasn't poking his chin out the same way she probably would in the face of a suspicious stranger.
"I'll be watching the perimeter since, uh, I can't see through the dome. Good luck with Pest in there.
The message revealed that Roc was probably a little behind the curve in terms of the specifics of the mission, but it wasn't particularly important that she be caught up. On the other side, the convention was a little more impressive than it had looked outside: banners displaying Neo-Shogun generals and subordinates were hung all around, with alternating yellow banners, and vendors everywhere selling elaborate goods. It made the fan stalls at the camp that Vector had once visited look pedestrian in comparison, with its size and scale... though, on second viewing, some of the tunic-wearers around here could very well be real Neo-Shogun soldiers. Generals and subordinates were everywhere, some amusing, some eye-catching, some uncanny, and some uncomfortably evocative of MachMan's lost allies. For once, he probably wished Aera had been a little less charming... but at least no one (other than maybe himself) could dress like Vector anyway.
Vee didn't spend that long taking in the sights; she'd already been in and out plenty over the past few days, apparently. "Well, we've got two options: we can go to the team contest and see if the Skywriters are assembled there, or we can go to the event plaza. The team contest is that way," Vee paused, pointing toward a curtained area off to the right, where a large number of brave men (and a few women) dressed as DragonierMan in his Neo-ShogunMan were assembled. Just behind them, it looked like a group of women dressed like Skywriter had begun to form, albeit in much smaller numbers. Blessedly, none of those were men. "Or the event plaza is that way," she concluded, pointing towards the back of the arena, where the loud voice of some MC could be heard. It was noisy, but indistinguishable from this far away. Another wide curtain decorated with pictures of Neo-Shogun ladies hid most of the area, but a strobe light was flashing inside a darkened area behind it. "Hm... The navi could hide easily inside that dark area... but if all the Skywriters gather in the team contest, they'd be an irresistible target for the attacker. Where do you think we ought to start, Mekka?"
There was also the option of splitting up, of course, but Vee didn't seem eager to suggest that... though, the reason was unclear. She seemed to be watching him closely, her head turned slightly, although the path of her eyes was hidden due to the bug-eyed masked she was wearing.
Have any motives been determined from the previous attacks? Do you think this 'hunter' is actively trying to single out the real Skywriter, or more like a Skywriter fanatic who can't keep their hands to themselves?Mach noted the seemingly lacking security, and didn't exchange so much as a word with the soldiers that manned the gate; they didn't have anything to say, and neither did he. He shifted his comms to Roc once he entered the venue, now that he was out of visual range.
Understood. If you see anyone approaching or leaving in a hurry, let me know. And don't keep your eyes fixed on the ground, you might not be alone up there.He warned, then went back to taking in the sights. Some of said sights were more uncomfortable than others, the more uncanny Aera cosplayers especially; at least Vee indirectly warned him.
As he kept seeing more and more, he almost wanted one of them to look back at him, then see her bright sapphire eyes light up as if she was searching/waiting for him after a long time away. His mind quickly crushed the thought, not even she would be able to recognize him anymore... Meanwhile, Mazer watched quietly, having similar thoughts as his eyes were drawn to the guests decked out in orange and blue. However, he couldn't help but feel at least a little pride; total strangers took time and effort to look like the friends and partners he cared for and "raised."
The floor was crowded, so Mach's footsteps became more deliberate. He hoped his appearance would be enough to have folks clear a path, he didn't want to risk getting thrown out by simply barging through. He briefly considered just using his Invis chip and decoys to let himself get back in, but the ensuing chaos would likely ruin the mission. His head, obscured by his opaque dark cyan canopy/helmet, peered at both the team contest gathering and the event plaza, then considered his options.
You said she was dressed as Aera, correct? Then those 'Skywriters' will be nice bait to draw the attacker away while we find SkywriterHe kept his comms over their private line, since he was still discussing particulars of the mission, and not sure if the alleged attacker was listening in.
herself. Finding her takes priority, I'm not here to babysit Navis playing dress-up. I doubt said attacker would show up with me hovering over the 'Skywriters' anyway. You can watch over them while I keep searching, if you're so inclined. Do you have any details on Skywriter's costume, so I can tell her apart from the others?
After listening to Vee's response, he carefully made his way towards the event plaza. He wouldn't protest if Vee decided to tag along, even though he knew little of her prowess in anything other than getting drugged and hanging all over DragonierMan, she still outranked him. Mach kept his eye open and scanned the room as he clunked towards the sequestered area, trying to pick out any truly familiar faces in the crowd, namely Skywriter's.
So far, it's hard to say. The easiest speculation would be that, for some reason, they hate Skywriter. The other side of the coin is that they could intensely revere Skywriter and be somehow offended by others' attempts to impersonate her. Yet another theory could be that someone dressed as Skywriter is involved in some kind of fight or a vendetta and the others are just being caught in the crossfire... We'll need to find this out for ourselves. They might even be trying to lure you out, but if so, I'd think they'd go after those dressed as you, Aera, or Vector instead.
To your second question, it's worth noting that the costumed Skywriters being hunted range from those so convincing its uncanny to those so unrepresentative that it's a little sad. It's not just girls that look like Skywriter, in either the close impersonation sense or the... "look like Skywriter" sense, if you get my meaning... that are being targeted.
Roc pitched in too, though without the same depth of speculation.
Roger roger, boss.
If MachMan was looking for any affirmation or sense of remembrance in the eyes of the cute Aera cosplayers around, he'd be disappointed: nobody was especially receptive of his current appearance, and given that he was trying to keep wide of others, those others obliged him in kind. Vee's eyes were hidden by the Pest mask, so it was hard to tell where she was looking, but every now and then her head seemed to turn in his direction slightly, before moving back forward. She seemed to "wake up" when another message came in for her to answer, in that she turned slightly to face him for a moment.
I don't feel comfortable calling them bait, but you have a point... those Skywriters know what they're getting themselves into at this point. We need to make sure Skywriter herself is safe. The Shogun's soldiers can't neglect the safety of their fellow officers. Let's stay together for now.
All I know is that Skywriter made for a very convincing Aera, although her complexion's just a little more tan. I'm sure there's somebody in our esteemed soldier ranks who could tell you how their bodies compare, but to the average person, they look close enough. She's dressed in the getup closer to your normal colors, not the soldier getup. I think that's how most folks know her.
I may have asked earlier, but where is Aera right now?
If MachMan didn't feel like answering that question, he wouldn't have to, because the scene behind the curtains in the back was sufficiently distracting that he could play it off. Music grew louder as they stepped behind the curtain; it had been drowned out by the audience from further away, but up close, blasting from sound systems near the roof and mounted on the metal support columns running up to the top of the dome, it worked the other way around. The area was dark, lit by a strobe light near an elevated stage, which was itself curtained off. Everyone's attention was on the stage, so getting around wasn't as easy here... people couldn't get out of his way if they weren't looking out for him. If he wanted a chance to sit down and talk, there were tables here and there with folding chairs set around them, though his stance on sitting may have changed since taking on his new form. If he were to fly above the others (and be careful not to fly through the decorative banners), he could probably move a lot more freely.
The music was high energy with a maddening, thrumming electro-pop noise. Vee didn't appear to be enjoying it, based on the way her shoulders had tensed up... quiet people generally preferred quiet places. If MachMan was wondering what sort of event was going on here in the event plaza, he'd learn soon enough: the curtain on stage opened up, revealing a woman with glamorous, chocolate-brown hair and a fairly rosy complexion. She was very buxom and dressed in the outfit least suited for her body type: the ninja outfit of Vee, specifically, but much more thoroughly filled. As she waved to the crowd and gave an erotic, winking smile, then began dancing to the fast-paced music in a single, color-changing spotlight, it became clearer what type of contest this was.
I found a schedule... Apparently they're on the seventh of ten total cosplay strip-teases in a costume contest... There's no names listed, but I'm sending you a copy of the schedule in case you're interested.
1) General Dee starts off the show with an Eye-Catching magic trick!
2) Arch and Lee's Toned bodies set the right tone for the rest of the contest!
3) Can Escort keep things professional when she breaks out the Biggest boobs in the Empire?!
4) Rodeo and Guillotine: an unlikely pair with a Rough relationship!
5) The Effective team of Aya and Suzume will leave your head spinning!
6) The Forceful First General makes all her soldiers stand at attention!
7) The Shocking General Vee appears, and she's hit her growth spurt!
8) Aera provides the Perfect support and captures your heart!
9) The Enigmatic leader of the Neo-Shogun Empire has a stunning surprise!
10) Skywriter competes for your affection with a Bold final act!
Ew. Do you think she'd be part of the contest? I hate to say it, but... if she was here earlier, that's probably why. Well, anyway, it looks like there's only four acts left. It says that there's no entry allowed backstage by anyone but the participants and the organizers. I know some of the organizers, if you want me to try and track them down... I'm not sure it'll be easy in this place, though. Furthermore, I think they're all dressed like soldiers, so it's going to be hard for me to describe them to you... I can probably sneak backstage if you want me to, though, and I can look for Skywriter there. That might be easier than trying to get her attention during her act- if the next act is indeed her- but what do you think?
MachMan might also think about trying to sneak backstage himself, but his presence back there, should he be found out, would probably be less welcome than Vee's. Funnily enough, Vee hadn't offered to let MachMan enjoy the show... it was hard to tell whether that was her belief in his character or her understanding of his new character, which had very little use for such things. It might be something fun for Mazer, anyway, though it could also be a little guilty watching the other Vee turn, gyrating her hips and running her untied sash across her lower back like a towel, while the real Vee was watching.
Of course, the path of least resistance would simply be to let the show run its course, wait to see if Skywriter took the stage during the next act, and then send her a message to tell her to get off the stage and find cover. It'd be disruptive... and it'd reveal his presence in the audience to her... but it would accomplish the goal of keeping her safe pretty easily. On the other hand, if they didn't look for her, there's a chance she could get attacked early. It would be nearly impossible to find the soldier with his face hidden in this dark area... he'd need to illuminate it somehow if he wanted to get a better look, or otherwise, somehow single out the potential attackers.
Copy all.MachMan responded simply to Vee's theories of the attacker's intent. His furrowed brow remained hidden under his opaque canopy as he grumbled quietly to himself and continued towards the curtained area. He was aware of Vee's position and made a point to not bump into the short Navi, but didn't pay much attention to her otherwise; his cycloptic gaze was occupied by the myriad of colorful costumers and other Navis in the crowded area. Mazer would've picked up on Vee's occasional possible glance in Mach's direction, but he too was focused on the unfamiliar surroundings.
The sudden increase in volume and distracting flashes of light brought a "night-and-day" difference in atmosphere upon passing through the curtains, but Vee's question came through loud and clear. Mach hesitated. He'd already answered that question once, but that was when it still hadn't quite sunk in, and when he thought he still had an opportunity for vengeance. Now it seemed different. Seconds had already passed, so Mach elected not to answer.
Mazer, who was tapped in to the comm line by nature of being the NetOp, heard the question as well. Since Mach didn't answer, he didn't chime in either.Mach's steps became even more careful and deliberate as it became more crowded and harder to see. He tried to use whatever targeting overlays available on his HUD to make the programs around him appear more clearly in his vision, mostly to avoid bumping into/tripping over the more irregularly shaped patrons.
He tried to artificially dampen the music so he could hear himself think, then focused on the stage as the curtain opened. [[color=blue]Of course it is...[/color]] he growled to himself when upon realization of the nature of the "performances" on the stage, thanks to the performer's attire/actions along with Vee's message detailing the itinerary. Normally Mazer would be keen on watching, but it seemed he'd gotten about as desensitized as Mach, and was instead focusing on where/how Skywriter might be involved in this. He then heard Mach respond with marching orders for both Vee and himself.
Can't rule it out. Try to sneak in and see if she's there and/or on the schedule. Make contact with her, and keep her from performing if possible. Regardless, keep her in visual range if you acquire her. I'm going to find higher ground. Mazer, load Invis2Effect: InvisibilityMazer nodded and grabbed the requested chips, then slotted in the Invis2 while keeping the StepCross on his desk at the ready.
Description: Grants the user invisibility. This reduces the chance of being hit by non-Seeking attacks by 50%, but the user will also be susceptible to Area of Effect attacks.
Duration: 2 turns
Trader Rank: C and keep StepCrossDamage: 120 + Slashing + X-Range Attack + Teleport
Accuracy: S for primary target, B for additional targets.
Description: The user warps in front of an enemy, then quickly performs two sword slashes to create an X shape. Can hit up to 5 targets with good RP. Rare
Special: Teleport: When RP Quality is excellent, this attack also counts as a free dodge.
Trader Rank: B on standby.
Mach received notification of the chip's successful upload, and quietly summoned one of his holoprojector-studded decoys up against his abdomen and underneath the fuselage-like point of his upper torso armor. After the decoy came online, Mach paused and kept his eye on the Vee-themed performer. He waited for something particularly attention-grabbing to happen in her performance or a sudden change in lighting. Once it happened or he felt the audience was sufficiently transfixed on the stage, he commanded the decoy's holoprojectors to come online, then activated the invis chip shortly afterwards. He wanted no more than a brief moment of overlap between the two "Machs" before he disappeared from sight to leave the decoy standing in his place.
Using the thumping beat and the noise of the crowd as cover, he utilized his relatively quiet antigrav drives (instead of his massive scramjet engines) to have him slowly and carefully lift off. He tried to maneuver away from the myriad of banners hanging from the roof, giving them a wide berth as not to accidentally cause them to flutter or shift, and made his way towards the speakers mounted near the roof. If he could get a view of the entire arena, while he wouldn't be able to identify people individually, he could pick out programs trying to force their way through the crowd, and possibly even keep an eye on the group of Skywriters in the other part of venue. If worse came to worst, he envisioned his raised position could allow him to quickly respond to an alert from Vee or what appeared to be hostile activity on the ground. Thanks to his NCPs he didn't have to grab on to anything to keep himself aloft, and simply stopped in the air past the speakers, or at any possible spot that allowed him a good view of both the event plaza and the team contest "holding area."
[[color=blue]"Mazer, need an extra set of eyes here."[/color]] Mach grumbled direct to his NetOp. Mazer made a few clicks on his PC to enter a "full-screen" mode of sorts; his status displays and other toolbars slid away to give him an unimpeded view of the area. ["You got it, I can focus around the group of Skywriters if you want. My eyes aren't as good as yours; it's hard to pick out details in the event plaza,"] Mazer replied, trying to reduce his Navi's workload with something he could do effectively. [[color=blue]"Alright, you have the Skywriters."[/color]]
Okay, I'll sneak backstage and let you know what I find. If you are going to sneak around the stage, make sure your Invis doesn't turn off while you're up there... I think the audience might think you are part of the show and who knows what would happen from there.
Coming from someone like Dee, that might sound like a challenge, but coming from Vee, it seemed like an earnest warning. If it had instead come from one of the Terror Girls or someone who knew the state of his current body, it would instead be interpreted as a joke in very poor taste.
MachMan would watch the show, though he was only interested in using it as a cover... he would be aware Vee was watching him watch "her", but whatever her thoughts about that, they were mostly hidden by Pest's mask. When her counterpart on stage had finished the raunchy sash dance and discarded her tunic, she gave herself a smack on the well-filled bottom half of her black-and-bolt patterned navisuit, soliciting a rise out of the crowd. That seemed as good a time as any for MachMan to jump into motion.
The aerial position offered one advantage and one disadvantage... the advantage was that he could see everywhere, unguarded by the curtains, including behind the plaza's curtain where the other contestants were waiting (and, in some cases, dressing). The disadvantage was that up high, the strobe light and the blasting thrum of the music were even worse... the stage hadn't been designed with any intention of a navi being so high up.
MachMan wouldn't have a lot of time to scope out the contestants (there was one resembling Aera, but she looked so authentic that it was hard to tell who she was apart from the costume) before he would notice something more important: crouching atop the wall panels that were erected inside the dome was a navi in a yellow soldier tunic, perched with remarkable poise. His head was fully obscured by a thick bandage, through which tufts of black hair protruded. A piece of metal, at first resembling a single wing, but later identifiable as a tremendous, black hand squeezing inward to pierce the flesh, were embedded into the back shoulderblades of the garment.
The navi was seemingly unarmed, but watching the area below just as intently as MachMan had planned to. It could be a good idea to get the drop on him before invis wore off, or possibly better to wait and sniff out his intentions. There was still a while left to go before Skywriter, if that was indeed her, was supposed to take the stage. From this position, he could see that Vee had taken on a pitch black form and was using it to sneak through the crowd, behind the backstage curtain. It would probably only take her a few more seconds to reach the contestant area.
While Mazer tried to keep an eye on the team cosplay competition holding area, he also took steps to mitigate the increased noise. He lowered the volume coming from his speakers and enabled transcripts for Mach's comms. It sounded like Skywriter wouldn't be amongst the groups, at least not as a fellow Skywriter, so he tried to widen his search for anyone acting strange around the group.Mach cursed to himself when he couldn't get a good enough view at the uncomfortably accurate Aera cosplayer to figure out who she was. He abandoned his attempt after several seconds and widened his view; it didn't take long to find someone who stood out. He focused on the oddly-dressed program (odd even compared to many of the other patrons), and tried to send a few screenshots to Vee. Mazer saw the screenshots as they briefly showed in the corner of his screen to indicate their capture and consequent download/transfer.
Someone you know?He didn't wait long for Vee's answer, and instead sent a message to his NetOp. [[color=blue]"Upload it, this bogey fits the bill."[/color]] ["He could be, or just some Navi who's waaaay into character. This is a convention, afterall."] Mazer countered while keeping the chip in his hand. He'd been to a convention before, and there were plenty of odd-balls who did more than just show up in weird costumes. Some of them even ran around with their arms pointing straight back, which he guessed was either an imitation of what their characters did, or some sort of new fad. Mach grumbled and instead pointed his right arm towards the Navi. His knuckles and fingers rocked outwards as a single unit, then slid back over the back of his hand to expose the rectangular barrel of his buster while an equally rectangular "scope" rose up from behind his wrist.
-Attached: ScrnSht01.png; ScrnSht02.png-
[[color=blue]"There's no Jack-Out barrier, so no harm done even if he's not the target. Give me the StepSword, HawkCut3Damage: 50 + Consecutive Strike + Slashing x 3 hits
Description: Performs a flashy 3-hit sword strike. Gets stronger with each hit, but it's very easy for the timing to be thrown off and fail.
Special: Consecutive Strike: This attack's power increases by 10 with each consecutive successful hit. This stacks with other HawkCut series chips, including DeltaRayEdge. This chip immediately ends upon missing, and the power boost is reset to 0.
Trader Rank: B as well,"[/color]] Mach ordered as he tried to put his crosshairs on the program. With the "scope" active, the targeting crosshairs on his HUD quickly became the centerpoint of a larger rectangular window, that seemed to display everything with much higher sharpness and definition, but with no additional magnification. His aiming was two-fold, to give him the upper hand if the Navi started to become violent, and to see if the program standing on the wall was indeed there, and not just an illusion or decoy similar to Mach's own. If it proved to be the latter, he'd instantly become more suspicious and report his findings to Vee. If it was truly a Navi standing there, Mach would continue to express desire to take him out.
The argument forced Mazer's eyes away from the groups to look back at the alleged target. To Mach's credit, the program was dressed in a soldier's tunic, had a "mask" of sorts, and was definitely out of place. Regardless, other than looking odd, he didn't back down. ["You can't just go around attacking programs on a whim, and a battle could cause the perfect amount of chaos in the crowd for the real attacker to strike,"] he insisted as he went back to watching over the themed groups in the other area of the con floor. Mach snarled in frustration; he had what could easily become a "clean kill," but his arsenal was off the table.
He briefly considered kidnapping the program and somehow handing it off to Roc for interrogation, but the sight of the program whipping through the area like a puppet on a string would likely draw a lot of attention. He had to wait, and it pained him, but he kept his crosshairs firmly over the navis chest while also attempting to keep tabs on the crowd below.
I can't tell them apart, but it definitely looks like one of our soldiers, apart from the head-wrap and that claw. I also doubt many of our soldiers have the means or coordination to get that high up and perch. He matches the description of the attacker, though. As to how to proceed, it's up to you.
MachMan was partway into action before he even finished reading Vee's message in response. Having experienced pain much more lasting than what typically tripped a jack-out barrier, MachMan was willing to adopt a "slice first, ask questions later" policy in terms of dealing with the suspect. Well, there was one question to ask first, actually: was the target even a navi, or just an illusion? Nothing seemed fishy as far as targeting depth when putting a crosshair on him, so with that much confirmed, MachMan was prepared to attack.
Unfortunately for him, Mazer hadn't slotted in the chips requested, to prevent the situation from turning into public violence. Both navis maintained their stance. For now, everything was working okay in that regard, with both going unnoticed, but MachMan would note it was just a matter of time before his invisibility wore off. It was fine for now, though, and the other navi didn't seem to hear or sense anything suspicious. The navi appeared to be keeping its attention on someone below, but whether it was the Aera-dressed figure that was presumably Skywriter, or the woman who was dressing up as Skywriter for another performance, was hard to say based on context.
As for the other event, it seemed to be going off without a hitch. The two groups appeared to be playing something like paintball or laser-tag for the moment, a task for which MachMan's participation would frankly be overkill. Either way, at least from a distance, there didn't appear to be anyone among the players or the front rows of observers that looked like a Neo-Shogun soldier wearing a mask. For now, he could keep his attention mostly on the area below (and the navi in front).
Down on stage, the skinsuit clad navi was making a show of peeling off her skinsuit, starting from her breasts, which were several sizes larger than the real Vee's. Beneath, she wore a black, lightly strained chest wrap around her meat... other more curious types might wonder if Vee herself wore similar. At any rate, the crowd was cheering while the woman on stage cried "It's wunderbaaar!" in a sing-songy voice, looking red-faced and pleased with herself as she gyrated her hips to the music. The sight might make it a little hard for other navis to concentrate on the mission, but MachhMan was unlikely to be sidetracked.
Up top, the claw digging into the navi's back writhed, spreading its fingers momentarily and flexing its fingers at the knuckles, then returned to restive position. The navi began to mutter something which, if not for the booming percussion noises, might be easily understood... Instead, MachMan could only make out bits and pieces:
"Aera's dead... Agony, she's the only one who ever cared... Just looking at Skywriter... Sick, agony, I'm sick...! Tear her apart for what she did... Wanted him all to herself, agony... I'll make things right..." he moaned to himself, rocking back and forth slightly on his perch.
Hey Mekka... The navi you're looking at has one big right-handed claw in his back, right? I just saw a woman with a left-handed one clutched around her neck. She was backstage, wearing a bathhrobe... long black hair, tall... just vanished, I lost sight of her. Let me know if you see her...
A surprise message from Vee would interrupt his listening, though none of the yellow-garbed navi's grumbling made much sense anyway. It looked like a few things were happening at once... one: a navi had begun to put on a bomber jacket similar to Skywriter's off-work outfit, along with tight tan pants and fur boots and gloves, though no goggled cap or wind-breaker yet. Instead, their rust-red hair was visible, different than Skywriter's own. Perhaps seeing the same sight he was, the navi perched in front raised its spear into the air and stood up to its full height. It was questionable whether it planned to throw the spear, dive down, or something else entirely, but it certainly seemed threatening. Moreover, the navi didn't seem to care that the target was clearly not Skywriter; just seeing the contestant dressed that way was enough.
At the same time, however, MachMan would catch sight of the navi that Vee had mentioned earlier... clad in a white bathrobe, she had somehow maneuvered so that she was on the other side of the curtain opposite Vee, almost pressing her back against it. The navi's expression wasn't possible to make out from here... and it was clear that Vee had left out that the navi was fairly voluptuous... but most importantly, a large, left-handed black claw was making its way off of her shoulders and beginning to climb up the wall with alarming speed, like some kind of overgrown, scurrying insect. It was likely the claw was making its way to Vee; whether MachMan wanted to intercept it or otherwise to warn Vee was his own decision, but he also needed to make a snap decision about the spear-holding soldier who seemingly had it out for Skywriters. The claw climbing the curtain stopped at the top and seemed to tense up, as if bending its fingers like knees and preparing to spring at something...
Before Mazer could even open his mouth to give his Navi the "okay," Mach's buster deactivated as he sent himself hurtling towards the Navi, seemingly without worry of his invisibility timing out. If he did start to become visible, his appearance would be very different from before: though the majority of his armor was still dark in hue, the dark blue had been replaced with blacks and browns, with small bits of red, white, and gold. The collar around his onyx-black canopy was raised and flared like a ring of red and gold feathers to contrast his mostly brown upper torso and engine nacelles. His ruddervators were also mostly brown, but the trailing edges were segmented like a pair of heat sinks, which were brown, then red, and tipped with gold. His engine nosecones were also tipped with gold and slightly shorter than normal, but otherwise unchanged. His extremities were encased in heavily-armored black gauntlets and greaves, which were so large and studded, they looked like they were designed specifically for bludgeoning targets.
If Mach had become visible within the second it took to close the distance on the Navi, it would've likely caught a glimpse of Mach's "face," which consisted of a glowing amber left "eye" and slash-shaped scar over the right "eye", and several red and yellow lines like war paint. One continuous red line ran along the undersides of the amber eyes and peaked where his nose would be, with a thinner line that formed a trapezoidal outline of a scowling mouth. Two thick yellow lines drew up from the collar and angled diagonally towards his eyes, but stopped a few inches short. By the time Mach got close enough, the three fingers (and one thumb) of his right gauntlet had snapped open, followed by the shrill metal-on-metal chime from the dark crimson, raptor-like claws that slid forward to protrude from each fingertip.
His first target was the spear. Using his sudden charge to his advantage, he attempted to Brutalize (Disarm + Microburst + 2TCD) the Navi, first by sending his open claw raking through the air in slightly off-horizontal diving slash in an attempt to cleave or rip away the spear. The swing caused his armored upper torso to rotate to the left, and he continued to rotate so he could bring his left leg, complete with sledgehammer-like greave whipping around to fire off a rising angle kick, with the goal of sending the Navi careening into the sloped ceiling of the stadium.Mach had gotten the notification of the StepCross's upload halfway between the slash and the kick, then heard Mazer shout ["The stage!"] Mach's eye only briefly caught glimpse of the similarly-themed female Navi and her oddly mobile claw, and if Mach was no longer transparent, one could see his right hand had moved across his abdomen and was held open under his left armpit, while bits of green started to appear on his armor. A half-second later, he disappeared in a flicker of cyan light, and instantly re-appeared in the air next to the claw as it prepared to jump from the top of the curtain.
It was then his previous pose was explained; his open hand was no longer covered by heavy armor and raptor-like claws, but was then clutching the handle of a long, green-tinged and slightly-curved katana. The rest of his body was criss-crossed with scar-like gouges and cuts in his mostly green armor, with the largest one stretching from the right of his nosecone diagonally up towards the collar and across the brownish-orange canopy itself. A green eyepatch glows over the right side of his canopy, and somehow covers a small part of the large slash mark across its armored glass. It also had three "straps" to make it appear it was strapped to the canopy, but it looked much more aesthetic than functional, in a less-than-subtle homage to a certain Shogunate general. Yokan slat-style armor covered his collarbones, thighs, and upper arms, and his foot struts looked to have been fused into a widened two-toed "tabi" design, which completed the feudal Yokan warrior look.
Mach had raised his left arm, so his right, which firmly gripped the katana could deliver a lightning-fast horizontal slash over the claw's position. The blade made a slightly harmonic chime as it sliced through the air in a smooth arc, before it quickly changed directions once Mach's left arm caught up and grabbed the lower half of the handle. With the extra leverage, he instantly maneuvered the blade to send a second, diagonally-diving slash, which came a mere half-second behind the first.
It was very unlikely his assault would've gone unnoticed, especially by Vee, but he had to get back to the possibly-still-tumbling male Navi.
Other side of the curtain. Take care of her, I have the other one.he messaged her before blinking away in a flash of green. He re-appeared in the air above where he first engaged the mumbling Navi, and tried to use that vantage point to reacquire his target. If he was successful, he warped away, only to suddenly and violently re-appear in front of the Navi; the sudden appearance combined with the concussive wave that blasted out from Mach's body was hopefully enough to briefly stagger the masked soldier.
Mach stood (or floated, depending on where his target ended up) in front of the Navi, his hands no longer wielding the then re-sheathed blade, then called out to the Navi in his "Mekka" voice. "You. State your purpose here, or I will cut you down." The higher-pitched female voice would've normally seemed cute, if it wasn't a threat of violence coming from an imposing, armored Navi that rapidly shifted into a ready position, his hand ready to unsheathe the blade once more.
MachMan would hear a very painful sounding clang, which might be associated with the navi's back hitting the metal, before refocusing his attention on the stage. More specifically, he would need to attack the second claw before it could do any damage, as it was seemingly planning to target Vee or one of the other competitors. MachMan went all put on it, shifting crosses in-flight and landing two sword attacks against the oversized metal claw. Perhaps surprisingly, the claw cut easily; what had looked like some kind of futuristic metal not only tore, but splattered, sending black gunk in several directions, but mostly onto MachMan himself. What was leftover sizzled and no longer moved, perhaps indicating it had been incapacitated.
MachMan left the clawed woman to Vee, instructing his ally where she could be located, before refocusing his attention on the navi he had gotten the jump on earlier. He may be surprised to see that when he looked upward, the navi was still hanging to the steel architecture of the roof, upside down, again, like some kind of cockroach. Whatever the black claw was, it looked partially splattered behind him, but its fingers were still writhing. The navi was already sending him messages, but would go into "standard" conversation once MachMan approached as Mekka, if such ramblings could be called standard.
"My purpose...? Vengeance... I always suspected that... She was jealous but... never thought she'd..." the navi garbled, sounding like liquid was building up in his throat. His chest pumped in and out rapidly, which perhaps made sense, given he'd just been launched into a far off surface. "Have you ever met her? She acts nice but... she only cares about that one person... Aera loved everyone and... she loved me, even me! Buf where is she now? Where?! The rumor is she's... You know! You know!" he bellowed. "Agony, agony, agony....! Help me, agony! I'd trade ten, a hundred, Skywriters back if I could just have one Aera again!"
The wailing was pitiful, but the navi wasn't making any motions to attack Mekka. MachMan might sympathize to some extent, but given his recent attitude, it was unlikely he and the soldier were going to hug it out. MachMan would probably also be more distracted by a voice that had started to speak into his ear, not through messaging, but as though it was inside his helmet...
What's the worst pain you've ever felt? I want you to feel it again... You have to feel it again... It's the only way we can resolve it. ACCESSING... The things we bury are often the most- PROCESSING- dire and in need of recourse. FEED. INPUT. INPUT.
It was an unsettling feeling, but MachMan couldn't feel any particular harm. What Mazer would notice, but would seem entirely incomprehensible to MachMan, was a smaller black claw beginning to reform out of the goo that had spattered on him earlier digging its fingers into the back of his helmet as though clasping onto the cap of his skull. Vee attempted to warn him as well, but the message, which was clear to Mazer, would end up warped in MachMan's eyes:
MachMan, it's on you! I've got her, I'm interrogating her now, but should I take her out instead? Will that destroy the one that's attacking you? I'll make her stop it!
MachMan, I've got her and I'm interrogating her now, but should I take her out instead? QUERY- will that make you feel any better? I need you to ask yourself- QUERY- what is the most painful experience you've ever felt?
The hum of the bass around the room was reaching a fevered pitch as the lady on stage had now stripped down to just the chest-wrap and a pair of ill-fitting, ribboned yellow panties, that seemed almost specifically worn to beg the comment that her butt was too big for them. She was currenrly unwinding the wrap while facing away from the crowd. It was a great distraction, frankly, one that was hiding MachMan's struggle pretty well.
If MachMan looked back down to Vee, he would see that he indeed had the other woman captured, now pressing a dagger to her throat while kneeling over her prone form. The one dressed as Aera was staying close by with her arms pointed out like weapons, so it was easy to suspect that she was actually Skywriter.
My name is Agony. READING. It is a pleasure to meet you, MachMan. I want you to think about what causes you pain... if you can conquer it and destroy it... you should destroy it! If you can't destroy it... I want you to think about the second most painful thing that you can... if it causes you pain, you should destroy it. If not... LOOP LOOP... I want you to think about the third thing...
On one hand, the voice ought to be easy to ignore as insane rambling. On the other hand, it was coming into MachMan's head in a way so internal, so indistinguishable from a stray thought, that it would almost feel as though he was thinking it himself... Doubly maddening was that everyone elses voices seemed to be warped to encourage him the same way the voice called Agony was trying to. Still, he was cognizant enough to know something was odd about the things he was hearing and try to act accordingly.
Mach glanced from side to side out of reflex, it took a second for him to realize the voice wasn't coming from an someone nearby, then looked back at the injured, hanging former(?) NS soldier. Vee's warped message continued to clue him in, and his mind shifted to one thing: BrainMan. Yasu mentioned soldiers still under his control, maybe they were some of the "lost"? It could explain how this one seemed to know Aera, but to his knowledge he'd never seen a female NS soldier... regardless, this was drawing too many similarities for his comfort, and snapped a reply back to Vee.
Leave her, get Skywriter out of here. NOW! Roc, General Vee (dressed as Pest) and Skywriter (dressed as Aera) are outbound; ensure they escape!Mach also attempted to activate a second decoy, which materialzed nearby before it fell away and descended towards Vee and the downed Navi. Mazer, who agreed but for different reasons, chimed in as well via their common line.
Go, otherwise she might infect you too! Mach, debug your systems!Hopefully Vee got the message, but Mach heard something quite different.
"Go, otherwise you may feel significant pain. REDIRECT. Mach, tell me about the worst pain you've ever felt.Mach's eye narrowed as it became more and more apparent something was warping his cognitive functions, while the descending decoy took the form of the YasuCrossed MachMan and touched down near Vee. Once it did, it drew its own sword from its scabbard, and pointed the tip of its green blade towards Vee's prisoner, silently "taking over" the interrogation so Vee and Skywriter could escape.
Mach's body briefly flickered and glowed with green and white light, as he activated both his debug and recovery programs. He wasn't sure if they'd do anything, but he activated them anyway, so they wouldn't be available after what happened next... Fearing his mind would be further compromised, Mach briefly maneuvered himself so he was above a secluded, or at least unpopulated area, then attempted to uninstall all four of his prosthetic limbs. This would remove not only his arms and legs, but also his engines, leaving him incapable of flight and left tumbling to the ground below.
If the attempt failed, he moved to a more old-fashioned method: the bottom surface of the large scabbard opened up like a pair of thin bomb-bay doors, then the green-hued blade was released and fell into his waiting hand. He had to be quick; if it was anything like BrainMan, whatever it was could possibly hijack his body, or drive him insane like the two thralls he attacked. With one smooth, semi-circular swing, he attempted to lop off both of his prosthetic legs just above the knee. ["Wait Mach, what are you doing?!"] Mazer called out, which Mach ignored; he couldn't trust anything he heard anymore.
If he failed to remove his lower limbs with one swift slice, he didn't try again, and instead raised the blade up, as if he was going to slide the blade back into its scabbard. However, he purposefully missed it entirely, and attempted to jam the blade into the intake of his left engine nacelle. If successful, the engine would shudder and throw sparks as it belted out a shrill, grinding noise that rapidly lowered in pitch from the spinning turbine being ground to a halt. If he managed to stab the sword into the nacelle, he then took both hands and grabbed the handle of the sword, then pulled down with all of his might in an attempt to either shatter the blade, rupture the nacelle, or both. Best case: his sword along with his left engine and arm were then reduced to a fragmented, rapidly-dissipating cloud of data.
He struggled to remain airborne if he destroyed the first engine, and started to descend. Not seemingly satisfied with his own self-sabotage, he made a knife-shape out of his right hand, then reached up and tried to jam his entire arm into the intake of his other engine nacelle in an attempt to achieve a similar result. With both engines shelled-out or simply deactivated, Mach plummeted out of the air and clumsily smashed into the ground. As Mach lay there, with what he hoped to be zero working limbs or engines, he tried to communicate with the voice in his head, this... "Agony." [[i]Don't waste my time, parasite; you'll get nothing from me. Now get out of my head...[/i]] his thoughts seethed with bitterness and hatred, while his mangled face oozed with blood from the fall. He knew he left himself completely helpless, but he figured even if Agony wrestled control away, it would only gain an immobile, disarmed, useless body. He saw what BrainMan did to Yasu, and felt this was the only way to prevent the same from happening to himself.
Mazer was left stunned, while it made sense to mitigate the effects of the infection, he didn't expect Mach to be so quick to violently sabotage his own body. Mazer started to feel the same helplessness he felt before... he didn't know if he should try logging Mach out. Mach looked like he was being infected by the same thing that either enslaved or manipulated the male navi, and bringing him to the PET could possibly spread the infection to an incurable degree.
The woman who's been the holder of a claw until a moment earlier got back to her feet, seeming to adopt the same behavior as Skywriter. Her bangs were so long, it was hard to imagine she was seeing much of anything, but her eyes locked onto MachMan's no-longer invisible form after a little while looking. It was hard to make her expression out, but her mouth was open and teeth were showing.
Roc didn't waste much time, but also didn't appear to have planned her entrance: she burst in through a glass panel in the roof, scattering shards among the guests, who were thankfully heartier than ordinary humans and thus not in danger of taking lethal injuries from glass raining down on them. She looked around for a moment, confused at what she was seeing, between the odd show, the dark room, and the midair tussle between MachMan and the ceiling-hugging NS soldier. Finally, she seemed to remember the details of MachMan's message, and shot down amongst the curtains to grab Vee and Skywriter. Once she was there, Skywriter proved perfectly capable of flight, of course, and propelled herself upward under her own power. There was something a little uncanny about seeing Aera fly by shooting bursts of fire out of her palms instead of by her traditional methods.
MachMan, in the mean time, was getting a bevy of less than helpful personal messages:
The three or us are escaping, try to remember the worst pain you've ever felt, then recreate it and overcome it!
I have no idea what's going on but I got Vee and Skywriter is on my wing. Is that an enemy? Also THINKING THINKING are you in pain?
MachMan, I was just scoping out this part or the convention in disguise to make sure it was on the up and up! What are you doing here?
There's something EDITING causing you pain, isn't there? Try to temember it and say it out loud. Repeat it over and over to familiarize yourself.
MachMan sent down a clone to deal with the black-haired woman, who was currently watching it with interest, but making no other motions. "You're MachMan..." she stated plainly, but in a somewhat distracted sounding voice. "My name is... Agony. Are you in pain right now? We should definitely talk through it," she spoke, smiling with an unhinged, situationally inappropriate kindness. "I'm a counselor, you know."
The real MachMan would find himself perfectly capable of breaking off from the corrupted NS soldier and also popping off all of the nice gear that the Terror Girls had gifted him. He would then find himself unable to fly, starting a quick descent as others began to watch the strange UFOthat was suddenly shedding unidentified parts across the convention. He thankfully circumvented the need to mutilate himself with his own sword, at least.
The voice came back again, mixing with a throng of messages that alternated worrying about his safety and encouraging him to relive pain.
I don't want anything from you... I was invited to this place to help everyone here undo some of the pain of a recent loss. CONSOLE. As I understand it, you recently lost several people close to you IDENTIFY, MachMan. You probably need treatment more than anyone. However, to treat you, I'm going to need you to imagine the worst pain you've ever experienced. If you are having a hard time, please DISARM drop your weapon and come closer. I can provide a mental stimulant that will help you to RECALL cope.
Based on her messages and the information omitted, it sounded like the decoy had her fooled. MachMan might hope that the others had taken this time to flee the area or jack out before anyone else could be infected, but a look up showed Aera (Skywriter) flying overhead, trying to find where he's landed. Roc, carrying Pest (Vee) swooped through the air behind her. Behind both of them, the infected NS soldier was crawling across the roof... or more accurately the claw latching onto its back was using its contorting fingers to move both of them across the roof.
MachMan could risk jacking out now, but it was anyone's guess as to whether the gunk would remain on him. However, if he considered the differences between his situation and Yasu's, specifically in what he may remember others said about Yasu's operator while she was under BrainMan's control, he might see an advantage he had comparitively.
There was no telling what saucy bits had happened next in the event floor showroom while he wasn't watching, but the sudden exit of panicked looking navis made it clear that at least some of the scuffle had been seen (or perhaps people were tired of glass falling on them). If MachMan remained where he was, he would soon be met by the others (including their unwanted fourth visitor) but he may want to prevent that some way.
Mach was glad to see Vee retrieved Skywriter dutifully and Roc came in to assist (though the method of her entrance, while unsurprising, left a bit to be desired), but they didn't seem to be immediately fleeing. It appeared like they were trying to find him, instead of making a hasty retreat through the freshly-installed exit in the roof. Instead of responding to them individually, he basically sent a "reply all."
I said get out of here, damnit! You're being tailed; get out, or jack out!Mach spat before he commanded his first decoy to take off from its standing position on the floor. It careened towards the ceiling in an attempt to intercept the Navi that crawled across the roof; he hoped the sudden appearance of a default-form "MachMan" would cause the infected NS soldier to stop or at least briefly hesitate. Regardless, it tried to place itself between the him and Mach's allies, even if it was just to obscure the Navi's view. Since it was likely the program was honing in on his ultimate target, Mach doubted a decoy would be enough; it was time to get drastic.
Skywriter didn't kill Aera...He attempted to send a message to the Navi, though knowing full-well Agony was "listening" and likely warping what he said. If it appeared the message was received, he continued.
I did; Vector too. I watched them both die. I could've possibly recovered them, but I didn't.Even if it didn't throw the attacker for a loop, it certainly did to Mazer. While the first half of his statement was unfortunately not wrong, his last proclamation seemed so narcissistic and cold, he briefly questioned if it came from Mach himself.
I'm now stronger and faster than I've ever been; they just held me back, but no longer.
Hopefully with the infected soldier thoroughly distracted or at least gunning for him instead of Skywriter, their exit path would theoretically remain clear at least for a while. Meanwhile, the limbless Mach continued to lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. It seemed he was still in control, but he suspected it might've given up on trying to control him now that there wasn't much left to control. Regardless, he still had that annoying voice in his head trying to "help" him.
[[color=blue]Right now the biggest pain I'm dealing with is someone poking around where they don't belong. Get out of my head, or I'll put a bullet in it,[/color]] he mentally snarled, then tried to appear he was making good on his threat. His YasuCross decoy still pointed the sword at Agony with its right arm, but released its left and pointed its forearm and hand up towards his canopy. The fingers of the decoy's left hand slid down the back of its hand to expose the rectangular buster barrel, which it looked to have pressed against its own glass canopy. [[color=blue]Ten seconds.[/color]] While Mazer knew it was just the decoy, the sudden suicidal gesture sounded the alarm in his brain. Did Agony somehow take over the decoy, thinking it was Mach, and commanded it to destroy itself?
Roc's message was a little less sympathetic:
I can handle my own tail, okay? You worry about the REDIRECT worst experience of your life.
Not particularly helpful. Roc (still carrying Vee) turned in time to see a new MachMan clone flying up to intercept the soldier that was chasing her. That said, the infected navi was barreling across the ceiling at such speed that it looked as though he might keep going right through MachMan. Thankfully, the sight did cause him to extend his arms out to the sides and put the brakes on his movement, despite the attempt of the bug on his back to continue propelling him forward.
"You... killed Aera? Not Skywriter? You?! You... sick bastard... I'll murder you! Agony, I'll murder him!" the navi growled out loud, reaching out his hands for MachMan's neck or head, it wasn't clear which. He ended up going through the decoy and swiping the air blindly in a fit of confusion. "Get back here! I won't forgive you... for what you did! Not to her! And... what you made me do to... to all those Skywriters!"
That was a predictable response, but the one that Agony sent next was more enlightening.
Good, let it out. We're making good progress. By sharing your experiences, you can become strong. You know, I'm actually acquainted with a group of people who appreciate navis with a true commitment to growing strength. Have you heard of the Right of Operation Templar? The strong know pain, and that pain in turn hones them... you've experienced such pain... you must be very strong.
In the mean time, Roc seemed to take the decoy's disruption of her tail as a sign it was finally time to follow orders. She headed towards the hole in the roof with Vee under her wing. Skywriter, on the other hand, continued towards MachMan, grabbing what was left of the real MachMan on the floor. It seemed as though she was going to head out the front gate MachMan had entered through rather than the hole in the ceiling, which might be a good idea given that she'd have to fly back towards Agony and her minion otherwise. She wasn't as strong as Roc; it seemed like she was going to have a hard time hauling him, even while he was sans arms and legs. If he didn't feel like being carried away, he would need to protest.
In the mean time, yet another MachMan was busy with Agony herself back in the curtained area. "That's another way to deal with sorrow, though a bit of a wasteful one. I know a good friend of mine who also ended up disposing of his brain matter over a pretty immature subject," she joked. "You've made some good progress, MachMan... but there's more in there... others you've hurt and in turn, you hurt yourself... think about your friends, your operator... we need to go deeper into all of that." It seemed she was fooled, but it also didn't seem like she was planning on intervening if he decided to off himself during their therapy session.
"Ma- uh, Mekka, talk to me..." Skywriter encouraged the piece of MachMan she had held under her arm. "If you don't want to talk about CONCEAL your pain, that's REDIRECT harmful, but I need to know why! Also, should we get the pieces you dropped earlier?" It seemed Vee had told her enough to inform her about the fake name but not enough to know that he wanted speaking done by personal messages.
Agony's association with ROT wasn't surprising, in fact it was slightly reassuring; it would've been embarrassing if he became so hostile to a program with legitimate, albeit "unconventional" means of therapy. Now that her attempt at helping Mach turned to a not-so-subtle attempt to recruit, Mach's hate was firmly well-placed. He didn't bother dedicating thought or action to answering her. Stalling for time was working, and everything was going to plan.
That is, until Skywriter picked him up. He finally got the primary enemy to shift his sights from Skywriter to himself, and now Skywriter had put herself back into the crossfire. [[color=blue]Perfect...[/color]] he fumed in his mind as he looked up at Skywriter. She... She really did look like Aera... His single eye blinked hard to put his train of thought back on the rails, then assessed the situation. Protesting didn't seem to work, thrashing about would be less than effective, and he couldn't physically push her away. [[color=blue]" AirRaid2HP: 100
Properties: Normal, Omnishoes, Mobile
Object Damage: 50 + Impact
Damage Method: Telekinesis
Gun Attack Damage: 10 x 15 Shots
Description: Summons a fighter plane to strafe your enemies.
Duration: 3 turns or Until destroyed
Trader Rank: C,"[/color]] he called out to Mazer.
Back in the real world, Mazer was still concerned by his Navi's cold proclamation, but the felt he understood Mach's chip request. With Skywriter carrying him, and the infected soldier now searching for him with renewed fury, they needed something to keep him at bay. He slotted in the chip, and not a second later a dark, angular jet aircraft materialized near the two Navis. It peeled off and shreaked through the air thanks to its single turbojet-esque engine. It tried to stay relatively low to the ground, just above the crowd before it put itself in a good position to engage the soldier from below. It threw itself into a steep climb and lined its nose up with the program before it let loose with its twin cannons. It fired off over a dozen rounds up at the Navi, so hopefully any missed shots would simply impact the ceiling instead of the crowd below.
However, instead of banking away to line up another strafing run, it continued to barrel towards the Navi at full speed. It charged in with full intent on colliding with the enemy, kamikaze-style. Mach's intent was if the bullets weren't enough to slow his advance or leave him unable to attack, the mid-air collision would serve to hopefully finish the job.
After the FighterPlane fired its volley and either collided with the Navi or missed, Mach sent a message to all three of his fleeing allies, though the first part of his message was mostly for Skywriter.
He's after me now, instead of you. I'm outta here, see you back at camp; don't be late!His message suggested he was going to link back to the encampment, which would hopefully convince the others to do the same. He followed up with a message direct to Mazer, and Mazer alone. [[color=blue]"Log me out, direct to quarantine. Don't give me access to any systems, not until I get this "Agony" out of my head."[/color]] Mazer wasn't fully sure of this plan, but he could understand why he wasn't going back to camp; he could still see the oily black claw clamped on the back of his Navi's head. If it could spread to the rest of the Shogunate, it would be potentially disastrous.
After a couple keystrokes to send all inbound data to quarantine, he pressed the Jack Out button. If successful, Mach would've disappeared in a flash of cyan, along with his abandoned limbs. The decoy that stood before Agony didn't pull the trigger, but simply fragmented and disappeared without a word, likely giving away the fact it wasn't the real Mach.
((Attempt Log Out))
Not finished yet, the drone continued to propel its whole body into the waiting shield. It concave inward like a net, not breaking, but not fully stopping the drone either; it continued to push in and barreled into the chest of the host. "Grrk! MachMan! Damn you!" he complained loudly, unable to do much of anything. The black insect on his back was less powerless, extending out a long tendrils to drag across the ceiling and slow its propulsion.
Still, it was enough to get the guy off MachMan's back for a moment, which was all he needed. He transmitted a message to the others, then jacked out, finding the function thankfully uninterrupted. When he reappeared, he'd find himself free of the claw, residual goop, and even the glitches that had been affecting him. That begged the question of why the soldier was unable to do the same, though he might have some theories. The only other question that would be left waiting is what Agony would do now that he was gone... He'd probably know in time.
((MachMan jacked out, to be continued upon next jack-in))
MachMan would find that the convention had mostly cleared out; there weren't signs of an intense battle or struggle, which probably boded well for the safety of the attendees, who had presumably jacked out. The one exception was a group of three navis in the center of the area, which had once been populated by many vendors and shoppers. A MachMan/Aera/Vector stall had been ripped apart, with banners and memorabilia scattered everywhere.
Standing within the stall was the headwrapped soldier MachMan had encountered earlier, still with a black claw hitched around his shoulders, carrying his spear in two wrapped fingers. Opposite him was one injured navi dressed as MachMan, a young guy with an unremarkable body shape and fairly well crafted gear. Along with him was one more MachMan, about the same as him but with a crappier costume, and an Aera who was maybe a little too tall and mature to be Aera. Ironically, the Aera had a cannon equipped to one arm while the other two had no weapons.
The infected navi's mad eyes showed through his bandages, scanning targets wildly. "You don't understand! MachMan killed Aera! He killed Aera!" the navi repeated, looking back and forth between both MachMen rapidly as though the sight of two was confusing him. "This isn't right! Aera is dead and MachMan is a killer!" he protested.
"Dude, calm down! MachMan didn't kill anybody!" the uninjured MachMan protested. "He took the Terror Girls down like ten times without killing any of them! Why would he kill his own SPs?!" The other MachMan looked less ready to jump back into the debate. The lady was raising her cannon arm very, very slowly.
"Have you seen her lately? Seen them? Any of them?!" the infected soldier shot back, clutching his forehead with one free hand as his other crumpled a fan magazine depicting MachMan and his SPs. "MachMan is changed now! He threw them away! This isn't MachMan! You aren't MachMan!"
"I know! I'm in a costume," the baffled MachMan defender responded. "But you're wrong about him! Whatever the crap happened to you, we gotta get that thing off you!"
"I don't want to talk about it any more! I just want to destroy MachMan! Destroy him like he destroyed Aera!" the navi shouted, beginning to twist his torso around for some unknown purpose. It seemed like MachMan and company had one last situation to take care of here at the con, unless they trusted "Aera" to take care of it with her cannon.
A cyan flash appeared in the air, followed by a beam-like horizontal streak that extended several dozen feet before it "deposited" MachMan in the air above the stadium. His arms folded out from their "stowed" positions under his engine nacelles, then rapidly transformed into busters. His thrust vector paddles and ruddervators moved ever so slightly to steer him towards the hole in the top of the stadium, on which his busters were trained. "Mazer, send AirShot3Damage: 120 + Microburst
Description: A buster-like gun that shoots a bullet of compressed air, sending whatever it hits flying.
Special: Wind Type: This chip counts as Wind Type for the purposes of Wind triggered effects, such as traps and terrain.
Trader Rank: B , AirRaid1HP: 100
Properties: Normal, Omnishoes, Mobile
Object Damage: 50 + Impact
Damage Method: Telekinesis
Gun Attack Damage: 10 x 10 Shots
Description: Summons a fighter plane to strafe your enemies.
Duration: 3 turns or Until destroyed
Trader Rank: D, and all other single-target ranged chips," he ordered as he leveled out and rapidly approached the roof. Normally Mazer would've responded with a warning to not harm the civilians, but now that it was a clear objective in the mission, it was likely unnecessary. Because of that, he simply nodded and started to slot in the chips.
Once Mach got close enough, his vectoring paddles and ruddervators twisted sharply to quickly roll his entire body inverted, then dove straight down to the roughly Roc-shaped hole in the roof. After rocketing through, he finally got a good sense of the area. Thankfully it was neither chaotic nor heavily populated, but the infected soldier appeared to have cornered some patrons in a merch stall. He had to get him away, preferably without touching him, so he quickly thought of a solution and snapped into action. He throttled and down and began to glide down towards the stall, and summoned a small, angular FighterPlane just off his right side. After it fully materialized, it peeled off and began to search for Agony.
Mach eventually got directly above the booth, which prompted him to pitch his entire body back and stop his forward momentum, he actually briefly climbed a few feet before gravity took hold and sent him plummeting to the ground below. As he fell, his limbs began to twist and reshapen while a heavily tattered crimson cloak materialized over the majority of his body, with the exception of his engine nacelles. He impacted the ground with a loud thud, and briefly went down all-fours to absorb the impact, which caused the hooded cloak to temporarily cover almost his entire body. The hood over his canopy shrouded it in shadow, save for the single, piercing ruby glow of an eye glaring at the soldier.
As the cloaked Navi stood back up to full height, his engines spooled back up then belted out a shrill howl and a powerful concussive burst of air directly forward. The Navis behind him could notice the exhaust ends of his engines had somehow shuttered, and his now animal-like feet and claws dug in as he was gradually pushed backwards. Mach intended to use that Piercing Gale to send the NS soldier tumbling away, without causing all that much in the way of damage; if he could eliminate Agony, he wondered if that would free the soldier from her influence.
The howl of his engines quickly died down, and his cloak finally stopped fluttering in the gale, so the cosplayers could finally get a sense of Mach's overall body shape. His engine nacelle intakes and exhausts were much more jagged and rough than their normally smooth and rounded shape, and his legs appeared to bend backwards like that of a wolf. Two peak-like protrutions at the top of his head also made it appear he'd sprouted two canine ears as well. He continued to have his back as he addressed the three civilians. "Log out or start running," he grumbled before summoning his two holoprojector decoy drones. They rapidly veiled themselves in perfect copies of Mach's cloaked form, then charged after the NS soldier, who was hopefully still tumbling away. He also sent a message to Vee, Roc, and Skywriter.
Three civilians inside, 2 Machs and 1 Aera. Assist in their escape. I have eyes on the infected soldier, but no sight of Agony. If you see her, give me her location immediately.He briefly looked over his shoulder to see if the trio started to egress. If they hadn't, he slid his right arm out from under his tattered cloak. His fingers looked more like claws, and his elbows ended with jagged metal edges like spiked fur. "GO," he snarled, punctuated by his arm and hand quickly reformatting into a large buster, ringed with several compression tanks.
Mach didn't point the weapon at the costumed Navis, he didn't even turn and face them; he was expecting the NS soldier to come tearing back towards his position. He sent his decoys forward in an attempt to run interference, while his FighterPlane continued to patrol and comb the area for any signs of Agony. His eye occasionally looked to the ceiling and the myriad of support structures that held up the speakers and lights; he was able to hang out up there before, so he couldn't rule it out as a possible spot to kick off an ambush. [[color=blue]C'mon out, Agony. Don't waste my time,[/color]] he readied himself for a possible counterattack from the soldier or an ambush by Agony herself.
The navis MachMan was trying to save didn't seem overly encouraged by his appearance, perhaps because, with his animal stance, his metal coloring, and his and overt preparations to enact violence, he looked more like the enemy they were facing than he did the navi they were dressed as. Thankfully, the others landing nearby him helped clarify which side he was on.
The soldier began wailing again as soon as MachMan appeared in his view. MachMan gave him something to cry about, hitting him with a concussive blast that sent him backward into the stand, breaking the backboard and dropping what was left of the canopy on top of him, along with banners, wallscrolls, and at least one giant Aera stuffed toy.
MachMan urged the spectators to go and thankfully, the lady lowered her gun and seemed to comply. Only the one in the bad imitation MachMan gear was stubborn enough to stay. "I'm not going to leave! This creep attacked my favorite stall, there's still good MachMan merch in there!" he protested, perhaps thinking that looting was okay in such circumstances. "This one has the best stuff!"
"You're really gonna complain about that stuff? This is the real MachMan you're talking to!" Roc scoffed. She either didn't care to keep up the Mekka disguise or otherwise had forgotten to; either option was equally as likely.
"Him?" the guy asked, seeming confused. Finally, Skywriter moved to grab his arm and move him; he complied, turning a little red at the contact with the very pretty Aera lookalike. The other two civilians fell back as well.
An ordinary man probably would have taken some time to get up from a debris pile like the one the headwrapped soldier had just been buried by, but with the aid of his hitchhiker, the navi was out in what felt like a second or two. Claw-like fingers shot through the rubble at odd angles, carrying torn banners on their sharp ends like hanging entrails. Before the rest of the hand pulled its host painfully up through the rubble.
By this time, Roc had taken off to look for Agony, Skywriter had moved the civilians to relative safety, and MachMan had seemingly beefed up their forces with two body doubles. Vee remained near MachMan, drawing a ninjato and keeping her eyes on the enemy. The soldier seemed to be ignoring her completely, glowering at MachMan while tearing away the banners draped over his body. The headwrap came with it; underneath, he was just another Electopian man, with black hair sticking out messily how the bandages had shaped it. His eyes were wide, however, and his lips parted in a hateful grimace.
In a motion almost too fast to track, the insect hand hurled a spear of broken backboard toward one MachMan clone, then a spear through the other, causing both to vanish. The other appendages were rapidly grabbing up more items to hurl. "You're dead, MachMan! You killed them and now you're gonna pay for it!" he howled again.
Neither the FighterPlane nor Roc were having any luck finding the black- haired would-be therapist who MachMan had spoken to earlier. The strip show stage was entirely abandoned now, with only a pile of Vee costume clothing there to remind anybody of the show that had been interrupted. Agony seemed to have vanished, along with her other claws. Noting this, Roc sent a message:
It's no good, whole place is empty, at least that's the way it looks up here. I'm gonna land and take a closer look.
She didn't sound overly concerned with MachMan's battle, but then, the insect-like hand only seemed to give the soldier a significant advantage over other soldiers; that didn't mean it was on MachMan's level of combat capabilities. Still, the guy was rapidly closing in again. Presumably, the creature would keep doing that in order to splatter MachMan again, if it could.
Vee provided some snap strategy, pulling odd yellow, sparking kunai from thin air in one hand as she did.
We can flee the area again; I think that would be wisest until we figure out some way to break Agony's hold over those she is influencjng more severely than you were. If we want to take it out instead, we'll need to use a strong attack to obliterate the claw and we may kill the soldier in the process... i'm assuming he can't EJO in that state. I'm going to try and stun him.
She must be a fast thinker, because she had gotten that message out pretty quickly. MachMan wouldn't have time to send a response; he would have to lead by example.