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  1. How Things Could Be… He didn’t understand why he ate. The food tasted just fine, enjoyable even. But why did he eat? Lounging back in his oversized office chair, Aker called out with a mouthful of food. “8 have you had any luck tracking this Spider creep down?” The computer screen in front of the Psuedo EL diver flickered to life and the hacked AI replied, “Negative. The best I can determine is he is using some sort of filter when he logs in.” Aker nodded in agreement; he couldn’t say he was too surprised by that revelation. “He probably logs into his own hellish hacked force nest too I bet. No dice tracking him down there…” he shivered at the memory of their last encounter. He took another bite of his apple as he looked at the screen. Could he get fat? If he kept eating, would he gain weight? He did loose the feeling in his arm before but was that merely a programming glitch or was he fully simulated? Shaking the thought from his mind Aker leaned back forward to glare at the screen. “Alright… lets send out a message to Creed… Time for him to do a favor for me for a change huh?” As he rhetorically asked out loud, he was already typing a message to his sponsor of sorts. Satisfied that he had done all he could do at that moment he stood up to walk, or rather float, along the halls of his spaceship to the manufacturing bay. It still bothered him just how vacant the personal base was. It was after all a battleship of sorts and in theory should have been full to the brim with soldiers milling about. He came to a catwalk that oversaw the production line and he caught the railing to bring himself into a standing position over the silent behemoths in his hangar. The Noblesse stood prominently in display; floodlights activated all around the machine. Despite the obvious attention the Gundam demanded, he couldn’t help himself as he spotted a darker machine in the corner being nearly completed. Aker narrowed his eyes as he studied the machine, still wondering if it was the best course to explore. His reverie was interrupted as he got a video call from Marco Creed. Activating the screen, he asked, “So you got my request?” The middle-aged man didn’t look thrilled by the casual attitude the EL diver was giving him, but he still nodded, “Yeah, I did, and it is concerning. In a manner of speaking ZAPP was supposed to have the corner on gaming exploits in 1.8. This Spider fellow, well he isn’t playing by our rules. Needless to say, I’ve been… ‘permitted’ to give you unrestrained support in your current venture.” The tone in which Marco said “permitted” wasn’t lost on Aker and he slowly nodded his appreciation. He was about to say something else when he felt compelled to ask. “Is… is everything alright?” The older man looked around uncomfortably and sighed, “The board doesn’t like the freedom you’ve been given, they didn’t appreciate your ‘stunt’ of logging back in after you were here last… The point is… well… they’re worried… they’re worried about what you could expose.” Marco gulped and nodded, “half of them want to pull the plug on you. Others want to pull your connections after you get knocked out again, study you… A few want to exploit your existence, tell the world and put GBN in a position to fully open 1.8 for the ‘freak show exhibition’.” The man looked disgusted at the choice of words. Aker frowned and asked, “And what about you? What do you think?” Marco allowed a soft smile, “I think you deserve your freedom… I’m just at a loss as to how you could secure that.” Nodding thoughtfully Aker cleared his throat, “You know.. I often wonder about my existence… about why I do the things I do….” His eyes looked blankly ahead as if lost in contemplation, “I wonder why I feel the things I do… why I like the people I do…” a cold sneer grew on his lips, “And then I wonder why…” his voice trailed away as he shook his head. “Look… I need to find this Spider… at any cost…” Marco gave a sympathetic smile and nodded, “It’s going to be hard to track down a hacker from this side alone… there’s a few new programs I can offer you which might help. If we work together, I think we can fish him out though.” Aker nodded eagerly, “let’s get started then!” -------------- It felt uneasy switching off his digital “mask” of sort. Part of him felt like he would suddenly be put in an awkward situation that could be dangerous. One option after another, Aker maneuvered his floating pane of settings and toggled the last switch. His entire person shimmered as his clothes changed from his Noblesse uniform to a Phantom Pain uniform he had worn awhile ago. It was still stained with blood on the breast and sleeves and looked smothered in soot and ash. Despite himself Aker held his breath as he stood in front of his test machine. Together they were out in the middle of a field not far from the main lobby. A cool breeze brushed the grass and played with his dark hair as he looked around in alarm. There were no sirens or sounds of incoming mobile suits. Nothing that told him he was in for a world of hurt. Reluctantly he let out a sigh of relief. Once again, he had simply become Hunter. He went back into his options to dawn his black poncho and matching mask. “Alright… lets find us a Spider….” A few moments later he was flying to the lobby. It had been months since he had pulled off his so called “Second Bloody Valentine Massacre”. Undoubtedly he would have a lot of players still pissed off at him. Perhaps it was his insecurity, but he swore he felt a few players glower at him as he passed by. The GBN lobby at times could feel misplaced with time, often appearing to be daylight when he was tired and ready for sleep instead. Despite this, there seemed to constantly be darker corners one could find if they were determined. It was largely debated that some of the best hang out spots were in the darker pubs and clubs that GBN offered in the darker recesses. Never the social type, Gabriel went to a shady club and walked up to a grungy looking bartender. The gruff figure gave him a once over and smirked, “you lost boy?” Shaking his head, the EL diver tilted his head to look around at some of the shadowy corners. “I’m looking for a man named Spider… know where I could find him?” A few patrons paused their actions to study Gabriel and see just how serious this outsider was. The barkeep huffed, “Heh! You don’t find Spider, he finds you. If you wa-“ Gabriel was already shaking his head and raised a finger to silence the bartender. “You don’t understand…” he tilted his gaze then added, “Everyone is looking for me. I need to see spider now… otherwise I just might have to lockdown this establishment and wipe everything out.” His tone was matter of fact and he gazed at each patron who was looking at him. Scrunching his face up the bartender replied, “Not possible kid, are you loony?” Not missing a beat Gabriel cut him off, “Second Bloody Valentine… Surely no one else has stolen my log in lock trick, have they?” He was referring to an attack he had perpetrated; where him and Marco Creed hacked a Gundam Seed event and prevented anyone from logging out while they destroyed nearly all the gunpla there. For a long while no one moved, no one said anything as they all studied each other. Gabriel’s mask made it hard for anyone to tell who he was even looking at. Finally, a door in the back of the room popped open, creaking loudly and a voice called out. “Get back here fast!” ----------- “What do you mean you need my protection? What kind of idiot runs one of the most sophisticated hacking attacks in GBN history and not have a fallback plan for when things go bad?” Shaking his head Gabriel replied, “The kind of idiot who didn’t think it would actually work! Look I didn’t come here to poke fun at myself, can you help me or not?” The criminal crossed his arms and studied Gabriel for a long while then slowly stated, “what you’re asking for will not come cheap. And I don’t always take cash for my payment… do you understand what I’m suggesting?” Gabriel nodded eagerly, “Hey you saw what I could do on my own, imagine what we could do together? That aside does that mean you’ll take me in?” Spider waited a heartbeat before nodding, “Sure, I’ll have you stay at one of my private nests while I figure out a way to mask your log in.” Unceremoniously he brought up his menu and sent Gabriel an invite to transport to a new location. Together they both left the back room of the tavern and emerged moments later in a truly unique location. Gabriel gawked around; he was begrudgingly impressed. Together the stood on top of an asteroid inside of atmospheric bubble. It was no normal asteroid however, for they were standing on a heavily modified version of A Baoa Qu. The dome they were inside was on top of the Gate of Zedan and prominent inside the dome was a rather large castle, reminding Gabriel of the palace the Zabi family would use on Side 3. Despite whatever criminal background Spider had he did seem to appreciate the finer things GBN had to offer. The next thing he noticed was four towering mobile suits at each corn and or the castle, or were they statues? As the pair got closer to the door, Gabriel could tell they were skinned with a stone texture. Shaking his head, he focused on what he had to do. “Make yourself at home, have a seat in my lounge and I’ll be back in a few moments.” Spider offered as he gestured to the couch. Gabriel spoke up, “So, did you get all this by selling hacks like the Venom Drive?” Spider paused at that comment and spun around to glare at Gabriel, “And…. How do you know about those?” “How could I not? They’re the hot item right now for anyone wanting to get better at the game fast!” A smile curled on Spider’s lips as if that notion satisfied him. He nodded then walked on towards the back of the room. “you’re certain no one can trace me here?” Spider twisted around to walk backwards and raised his hands up to shrug. “Relax, would you? This is my personal nest. I’ve installed some of the best security credits can buy; not to mention some top-notch hacks.” He turned around and waved a hand dismissively. “You’ll be fine just wait!” Gabriel frowned as he sat on the comfortable couch and waited a moment to be alone before he brought up his menu. The fist thing he did was active the program he had used all those months ago which prevented anyone from logging out of the area. Then he sent a message to his teammates along with a pass to get them into the nest. I got him where we want him. Show up ready for a fight. Be advised my handle here is Hunter, so watch the friendly fire. Be ready for anything. Gabriel closed the menu after he sent the message and leaned back on the sofa putting his hands behind his head. He’d strike when the moment was right, but first he wanted to see this scumbag squirm as everything he worked so hard for crumbled.
  2. “...and remember everyone, mid-terms may be next week but that’s not excuse not to have your essays in to me on time. You’ll have some time to work on them next class, but I better not catch anyone using that time to slack off. Class dismissed,” As Raymond Hermes’s students filed out of the room, abuzz with groans and chatter of their upcoming deadlines, the beleaguered English teacher sat himself down at his desk. He was flipping through papers when his phone buzzed and beeped with a notification. Ray looked down at the phone, quirked a brow, and then unlocked it. He scanned the message once, and then scanned it again, his blood running cold on his second read-through. Son of a… Ray practically jumped out of his chair, shoving his phone in his pocket and grabbing his belongings before charging out of the classroom. --- “What the hell is this all about?” Icarus growled as he crossed the casino floor. The Force nest was garishly coloured and loud—a far cry from the Fleurs’ base. Spider gave Icarus a slimy smile as he approached, spreading his arms wide in mock welcome. “So good of you to make it, Icarus. Pull up a seat, enjoy yourself,” “Cut the crap, Spider,” Icarus said, eyeing the diver up. He was dressed like a stereotypical mobster, his cheap suit adorned with a spider-web pattern. He wore a black domino mask over his eyes, his long silver hair pulled back into a ponytail. “You and me were done. Fair and square,” “You were done, or at least, you thought you were,” Spider’s eyes glistened in the bright casino light. “But my bosses and I had other things in mind. See we need you and your friends to do a little job for us. An easy one, a test of sorts. Accept and perform admirably, and we’ll cut you loose for good, no strings attached. Refuse, though, and…well, I think my message earlier painted a pretty enough picture for you,” Icarus clenched his fist and grit his teeth. He wanted nothing more than to tell Spider off but right now the man across from him was capable of ruining his life and Icarus didn’t doubt that he was willing to do just that. “Fine…” “Good,” Spider smiled again. “Next steps then. In the next couple of days, you’re going to receive a package…” -- And a few days later, Ray did, in fact, receive a package. As he opened it, he took a deep breath and cursed himself, his bad fortune, and most importantly, Spider. -- The next day, he sent a message to his teammates to meet him at the Force Nest. He was sitting in the common area staring at a picture of the Tallgeese QUEST on a tv screen, growing increasingly more miserable as time ticked on. He had told Aker and Wade that this was an urgent matter, but had told them little more. He just hoped that they understood…
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