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Gunpla Breaker, Heart Taker


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“I’m breaking up with you.”

Gabe caught his breath at that sentence and did pause to turn and look at Meer. “Wha- what do you mean babe?” Even as he spoke the words he felt their strength waver at the truth that was beginning to form in front of him. She was cute, maybe too cute for the likes of him. She always took the effort to do her makeup and look phenomenal as soon as she stepped out the door. To top it off she looked like a casual version of her name sake with pink hair and gold hair pin. Was she out of his league? He never considered it before but as her statement hung in the air suddenly all the unsung insecurities began to crop up. 

She rocked her hips, her left hand resting easily on her body as she looked up at the sky. Her blue eyes seemingly searching for an answer to his confusion. “Listen Gabe… I’ve been going out to parties the last few weeks without you…”

“So you’ve been cheating on me?” Gabe hacked the words out in disbelief. The girl grimaced and bit her lip while slowly shaking her head. “Gabe no… I just… I’ve been just going out without you… nothing more…” the tone she had did little to comfort Gabe and he wrinkled his face in growing anger. “So that’s it you just want to ditch me?” He shook with contained rage but still looked around helplessly as the beautiful girl gave him a sad look, “look I didn’t come to this decision easily… I just need to be able do chase my dreams Gabe and I can’t do that with you…” he voice faded away as Gabriel Winter spun on his heel to storm away. 

———
A few days later

Gabe remained hunched over his desk in his dimly lit room. An orange hue attempted to breach his room from his window shades but was drowned out by the fluorescent light above his work station. He hadn’t left his room besides going to work since his break up with Meer. For the last few days he ran through all the scenarios in his head as to why she’d want to leave him. They had been together for over a year and not until recently did he feel any animosity from her. His mind wandered to them first logging into GBN and it dawned on him that maybe that was the beginning of it all. 

Meer was a cosplayer and a good one at that, but she was fiercely self conscious and had a hard time making friends because of it. Meer wasn’t even her real name but the alias she chose to be called by to associate herself more with her hobby.  Gabe was always the one pushing her to reach out of her comfort zone, to meet new people.  GBN was the happy medium for them both; he could build Gunpla for them, while she could try different costumes and plan out outfits for the real world while actually making friends. It felt good at first, a win win situation. 

As Gabriel mulled over his thoughts he trimmed and filed the gauntlet for his latest Gunpla. The blue plastic was becoming discolored from his attention but it would hardly matter once he painted the whole kit. In a fit of rage he took apart all the Gunpla on his shelves when he got home that night they broke up. He was ashamed that he actually broke a lot of the kits when he flung them off the shelf. At the moment he wasn’t sure that he wanted anything to do with GBN, all he did know was building something aloud him to not be so angry, it let him direct his focus from his sorrows. It was as if he took all the anger he had at the world and was condensing it into the single kit in front of him. 

He was a mediocre builder at best. He never won any awards before and was always afraid to make the extra commitment of scribing, paint and panel lining; the sort of thing she would add to the kits he gave her after he built them. This time was different, he was possessed to make the best kit he possibly could. Even if she never saw it, he would have the satisfaction of having something so pristine that she would not. 

When they dated he was always afraid to take risks, whether it was in building his Gunpla, or not doing particular missions. “No more…” he muttered to himself as Ash Liked Snow played in the background, “no, more hesitation… I have to reform myself… my Gundam…”

—-

A few days later 

The indicator for his email inbox showed the vast number of missed messages, something he had neglected to pay attention to the last couple of weeks, he simply wasn’t in the mood. Now he decided was the best time to finally drudge through the messages, most of it being spam. A few notes did catch his eye and give him pause. The first was from a mutual friend him and Meer had on GBN, a woman by the pseudo name Stella. She had apparently asked him to join a Force in the game. His initial reaction was one of hope, maybe Meer was trying to get him back in her life? To rekindle their relationship? But his face immediately soured the next message down where Stella retracted the earlier offer, saying that she didn’t want things to get awkward with Stella already on the team. 

He sighed, but that eventually turned into a sob at his own predicament. He wasn’t just loosing her but all his friends it would seem. Through tear filled eyes he read through the next few GBN messages, all varying between apologies and other sad things he didn’t want to bother with. He was about to close his messages when a notice from GBN itself popped up just then. Curiosity caused him to open it immediately, he was surprised to see it was an invitation for a private beta of the new version of GBN. Apparently he was chosen by lottery to test in and partake in the new version. It offered exclusive rewards, but more importantly to Gabriel, it offered a blank slate, a fresh start. One of the features the invitation offered was the chance to replace you’re user tag and avatar for free. With tears still slipping down his face he responded that he would be taking the opportunity. As the message went into the digital nether he gazed around his room to the Gunpla standing defiantly in the middle of his desk, maybe 80% complete, ready for final details and paint. Wiping away the tears he stood up to resume his work. 

—-

A week later 

PLEASE ENTER USERNAME:

Gabriel gawked at the display and the flicker of where his new title would show up. His fingers remained frozen over the keyboard as he swam through his thoughts. With a fresh start there would be virgin usernames out there with little chance of redundancy, but still it begged the question of what he should call himself. He wasn’t in a social mood still, and he wasn’t even sure what he was really doing on GBN all alone. Scratching the stubble on his chin he kept staring at the otherwise boring screen. “I suppose I’m looking for something…” he finally said out loud, his own voice startling him. Slowly his fingers chipped away a new identity. Next a wardrobe menu popped up and he scrolled through the options to pick out something to hide behind. He was never audacious enough to pick an avatar too unlike himself and he hated when Meer would as him to be a character to match hers. He stayed away from the generic Chars of the options and instead chose a black cloak like pancho and a matching mask. He did change his hair color from his typical black to brown and cleaned his face to be clean shaven. Finally he loaded up the new information and was satisfied to see it accepted. All that remained was...

“Please scan your Gunpla.”

He reached out hesitantly and grabbed the white and red mobile suit he had so diligently been working on over the last month or so. He traced the features with his fingers and was suddenly apprehensive about using the model. Once he placed it down it would become alive. Part of him would grow to be beyond just a hunk of plastic, and his declaration towards his ex would be made reality. 

“Please scan your Gunpla.” The mechanical voice repeated. Gripping the Gunpla a little harder he grimaced and placed the model in the scanner. With a scowl watch on his face he logged into GBN, to hunt for something he didn’t quite understand just yet. 
 

((Big shout out to Frosty for starting the side story trend, not to mention for his help with the yet to be revealed Gunpla! I thought it would be fun to do a new (if not slightly used) character. I’ll be adding more soon!))

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As Gabriel materialized he reflexively brought his hands up to study his virtual self. His hands had black fingerless gloves on and he look at his palms and wrists respectively before looking up at the lobby around him. It didn’t particularly look much different from the normal GBN but there was a lack of people around which was somewhat startling. The few people walking around did garner attention as he traded glances with several other divers before slowly walking along the lobby. A trio of Zeon looking soldiers walked by, one noticeable with a snake head, they all chatted away about their last mission and their teamwork. The boy grimaced at their camaraderie, if he was being honest with himself he would admit that he was jealous of their friendship. Ever since Meer left him, he just couldn’t find it in himself to socialize with other people. Friendship on GBN reminded him of Meer and all he wanted to do was get away from her shadow; then again, maybe this beta would have enough people who didn’t know about her? 

He tried to shake his worries out of his head as he brought up a menu. He did after all, have a very important thing to try out. He browsed the missions available, one in particular caught his attention, it was apparently a battle already in progress between two factions. Oddly enough it was giving him the option to join mid battle and he pressed the button to load up the additional options. Even more quizzically it didn’t ask him to join a particular side. “What is this game getting at?” He mused to himself as he hesitated. It was listed as being extremely difficult and it wouldn’t list an author behind the mission. The old him wouldn’t have look at such missions, he didn’t enjoy the risks. “Not anymore…” he echoed to himself as he clicked the button to join.

His cockpit materialized around him as his machine prepped itself to launch. His objective popped up in his screen, its’ simplicity made him smile for the first time in weeks.

STOP THE BATTLE AT ALL COSTS
DISABLE OR DESTROY ALL COMBATANTS

COMMENCE ARMED INTERVENTION?
Y/N

For the first time in a long while, excitement coursed through his body as he grasped the controls and hit the affirmative on his options. “This is Hunter! Ardent Exia! Commencing Armed Intervention.” 

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His Custom Exia launched out from it’s digital catapult and flew into the busy battlefield between Zeon and Federation forces. It was a jungle city, and from what Hunter could tell it was actually the last battle from the 8th MS team series! Exia dropped down from a high altitude as the city became bigger and bigger. He could see lines of bullets and lasers being traded between – what ? Not just NPD’s Hunter realized, but actual players. “Is this supposed to be some sort of suicide mission?” he gasped  aloud as his altitude continued to decrease.  He was just one player, and he was supposed to attack everyone? Zeek and Feddie alike? He hardly had time to contemplate the full implications as a pink bolt shot up at him forcing him to flare his GN drive thrusters to dodge the shot. Despite the implications a bitter smile grew on his lips, maybe there was no better way to test the Ardent than to bring to its absolute limit? 

Instead of using his thrusters to slow his descent he did the opposite, pushing his controls to will his machine to top speed. He decided right there and then to focus on the players and then worry about the NPDs if necessary. Two teams of three riddled the battlefield, one side (the Zeon side) appeared to be Gundam Wing flavored while their Federation opponents were a hodgepodge of units. Heavy Arms was apparently engaging in a shootout with a Blast Impulse Gundam, while Deathscythe was having a brawling match with a GN-X through the streets. Of the six only two moved dynamically, proving very quickly to be flying units of some sort. His emotions rolled between anxiety of failure to bloodthirsty vengeance. He knew he didn’t have time to consider the options as the city began to fill his entire display. The old him gripped the controls in fear while Hunter tightened his grasp for better control. How was he going to act? What was he doing making a fool of himself like this on a battlefield not even his own?

Everything evaporated, all his fears, all his anxiety, all his memories. And just like that, he shed his past, with the flare of a GN drive he no longer was Gabriel the meek, now he was Hunter the Gundam Miester. In a heartbeat he let himself go and Hunter took full control of the Ardent Exia at that critical moment. Exia leveled his GN pistol and shot down at the Heavy Arms, catching the diver off guard and making one of their Gatling guns explode and eject off its’ frame. Hunter didn’t skip a beat and fired a shot at the Deathscythe as it weaved through the streets with its’ opponent. Hunter’s shot scored a critical hit, making Deatyscythe’s arm fly off along with its’ signature weapon. By that point the Ardent Exia was low enough that Hunter leveled off his descent to weave between the few tall buildings in the city. He knew that surprise, shock, and confusion would be his only allies so he had to move quickly to capitalize on gains. 

The building in front of him suddenly exploded as Wing Gundam fell backwards through the rubble, its’ beam saber in hand, warding off an attack from the Destiny Gundam and its’ beam sword. “This is my intervention!” Hunter growled as he quickly came up on the side of Wing Gundam. He snapped his GN blade out in front of him and whipped it out to the side just as it’s sharp edge sliced through the unsuspecting Wing Gundam. As he zipped past Wing and Destiny, the latter erupted into flames, Hunter’s first player kill in his new machine. The radio was abuzz with confusion from both sides, the din making Hunter slowly grin in satisfaction. 

Keeping up his pace he flared his engines to halt his mad speed and threw his legs out to press into the side of a building and jump backwards to reverse his direction. He came back hard towards the startled Destiny and swiped again with his GN Sword, his blade hitting Destiny’s Sword hard. The diver of the Destiny didn’t quite know how to react from the violent change in the battle, one moment they were battling the Wing Gundam and the next an unknown Exia model, which was helping their side just a moment ago. 

A shaky male voice hailed Hunter over the comm, “hey dude! Aren’t you on our side?!” Hunter responded with a growl and another swipe from his GN blade. His attack knocked Destiny’s sword out wide, leaving hunter’s opponent seemingly open. Destiny responded by letting go of the sword with its right hand and reaching out with a glowing palm. Just as the destiny was about to grab Exia’s chest Hunter responded quickly, by kicking up hard with the tip of his right foot. For a moment it seemed as if the Destiny Gundam had put an end to the intruder, but the power faded from its eyes and its sword deactivated. Ardent’s foot had a beam blade which was protruding from the kick Hunter placed on the cockpit. His attack was well placed but his victory was short lived as everyone began to wisen up to his antics. 

“Shinn!” A woman’s voice screamed over the comm in disbelief. Hunter kicked away from the Destiny, the enemy suit simply falling out of the sky. He turned off the foot blade and charged back towards the Heavy Arms which aimed its good twin guns his way and began firing a volley after him. A few bullets plinked into his armor forcing him to weave back between buildings for cover. A flicker of green caught his attention as the Deathscythe charged at him, one handed with its’ weapon. Before the Deathscythe could close the distance of the building its’ charge was halted by the GN-X shoving its’ crimson beam sword into the gut of the Deathscythe. Hunter didn’t relent his assault as he whipped the sword away to pull his pistol out and shoot at the GN-X.  

“No you don’t!” Screamed the woman from before, as she suddenly appeared on Hunter’s left. The Blast Impulse burst from the cover of a building, leveling its beam cannons towards him. She would have had him had she not jumped in so close, she was only about a hundred yards away. “Not today…” Hunter easily retorted as he swung his arm and the sword back out. His lunge accompanied by his sword closed the distance in a heartbeat, the Impulse fizzling and exploding as he took yet another opponent out of the fight. “Two left…” he muttered stoically under his breath as he flew away from the renewed assault from Heavy Arms. The old suit didn’t give him much respite as it fired a volley of missiles his direction. 

Hunter flew backwards and up while pulling out his pistol once more, taking shots at the oncoming harm. Explosions led a trail closing in on his suit as he slowly got one after another of the incoming projectiles. There were too many however, and soon one after another connected with his suit forming a black cloud of debris where he was. The smoke hung in the air like a storm cloud but was suddenly sliced apart as a beam boomerang flew down hard towards HeavyArms. Surprised, but with distance to spare, the Wing era suit opened up a volley at the projectile easily shooting it down. That was all the victory Heavy Arms would taste however. Exia flew in hard from their right. A trembling voice yelled out, “how!?!” As Hunter sliced down with a beam saber in his left hand. “Trans-am…” Hunter chastised was he ended the second to last enemy. The explosion from the missiles had destroyed his shield and subsequently destroyed one of his beam boomerangs but the Ardent Exia was still very well armed, if not banged up a bit. 

His reverie was short lived as a crimson shot flew just past his head. The enemy GN-X was still up and willing to fight it seemed and Hunter was more than happy to oblige. Ardent Exia burst into motion its’ own speed startling Hunter ever so slightly, as if he couldn’t contain the machine. He closed the distance to the lone enemy and wiped his GN sword in front of him to dive into the enemy cockpit when at the last moment he batted hard to the side severing the GN-X’s weapon hand instead. “You!” He hissed out loud, more so to himself than his opponent. His voice was frantic, cracking even as he yelled out the single word. He was breathing hard as his mobile suit remained frozen in front of the suddenly familiar suit. The design on the GN-X’s left shoulder told Gabriel the story all too well. The nose art was of one Lacus Clyne done in a pin up sort of fashion. His opponent was in a mobile suit he himself had crafted, it was his ex girlfriend. 

She wasn’t showing any sign of acknowledgment as she reached for her beamsaber with her good hand. The crimson blade making Hunter yell out in complete rage. He was beyond any sensible words as the only thing he could yell out again was “you!!” He blocked the attack with the beam saber if his left hand, it was an awkward angle but effective for the way she was trying to slice him. He flared his thrusters to slam her unit against a building, the action forcing her to loose her grip on the weapon. Tears welled in his eyes as his saber slipped down across her torso. 

He was besides himself as the screen simply blacked out and slipped him away from her. The words of victory sprawled across the screen did little to comfort him at that moment as he lifted his hands to look at what he had just done. He wanted to see her again so badly, to show her how far he had come already. He got his wish it seemed, just not the way he would have liked.

He should have recognized the voices, the reference to Shinn and Stella their mutual friends, heck even their combination of machines. What was it that came over him? It was at that moment he finally realized he had taken down five enemy players single handedly. “Five?” He repeated to himself in awe. He never would have been able to do that before. Was it him? Or was it the Gunpla? After a moment of contemplation he finally decided that it had to be him, not without due merit to a Ardent Exia of course, but it was definitely him. There was a calmness, a focus, he had never experienced before while piloting in GBN. He let out a deep breath as he looked at his menu to save the video from the encounter. He was still a jumble of conflicting emotions at that moment but he decided quickly that he wanted to find another battle. He wanted to be Hunter again…

—-

Stella let out an audible sigh of frustration as she saw her friend Meer get cut down by the Jerk with the Exia variant. “Dang it!” She scoffed out loud as Shinn came up beside her to watch the monitor from their force nest. “Damn just who is that guy?” He mused outloud as he stood next to his girlfriend. A moment later and Meer materialized in the nest with her two friends a look of frustration crossed over her face. “Damnit!” She groaned as she hugged herself in disbelief. 

“Hey it’s ok Meer!” Stella chirped at her as she went to hug her friend. Stella and Shinn predictably looked like their Seed counterparts but hardly acted like their characters. Their Force was one dedicated to cosplay both in and outside of GBN. As the two girls hugged, Shinn scratched his head as he looked at the highlights from the mission. If anything the entire ordeal taught him not to let his guard down, a lesson he had to appreciate. Still the question nagged at him, “just who was that guy?” 

“He was a Jerk!” Stella shot back, startling Shinn who didn’t realize he asked the same question again out loud.
 

“There was something familiar about him…”
Mused Meer who seemed in a thoughtful trance, Stella still wrapped around her body in a hug. “What do you mean?” The blonde asked innocently.

Meer gazed at the video replay and shook her head more in disbelief, “It’s going to sound ridiculous…” she started, “but I… I just feel like that was Gabe…” both Stella and Shinn snapped their heads at their friend in disbelief. Stella chuckled, “no way! I don’t see that at all, he could never pilot like that before…” 

Shinn shook his head the entire time, “yeah sorry, I don’t buy that either…” Their disagreements did little to sway Meer’s impression as Shinn added, “what I do know for sure is when that jerk shows up again.” He cast Stella a wicked look, “he won’t know what hit him. I don’t care what the situation is I’m gonna get revenge on that punk.” Stella nodded her head in agreement and Meer snapped out of her revere to smile back and nod, “I can agree with you there!” She added cheerily. 
 

Edited by Roromi
Added a picture of Ardent Exia. All thanks and Credit to Frosty!
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  • 4 weeks later...

The world of GBN could easily be overlooked, though no easily discounted when one took the time to simple pause look around. Gabriel was having a moment of repose as he lay on a shallow hill overlooking a valley. In the greater distance there were clouds clashing with mountains in bouts of lighting. He was exhausted, he had just completed another “intervention” and was trying to gather himself before logging off. A screen floated in front of his lazy eyes as he held his hands behind his head. 

The vista below him rolled into his memories as it intimately reminded him of the past. Back before he dated Meer he rolled with a bunch of mission programmers who specializes in making fan missions for GBN. There was a particular situation that he could vividly recall in his head with Zeon and Titans fighting in the hills. The crescendo of the mission was a duel with an enemy Gouf. Gabriel’s mind lingered on the fond memory as it soured his expression. Back then he was having fun with friends on GBN, what he was doing now?

The thought caused him to turn on his side in anguish as he felt the bitterness of his reality set in. Here he was doing the opposite of what he strived for in the past. Now he was invading other people’s missions, possibly ruining their experiences, and for what? Gabriel crinkled his nose and closed his eyes tightly. “If I can’t be happy why should they be?” He muttered to himself. He slowly relaxed his eyes open, “if they want to emulate combat so badly then they should be ready for anything.” He squinted ahead past the screen which seemed to float directly in front of his eyes. 

Gabriel has been having resounding success with the “intervention” missions and he didn’t question how he kept getting the prompt to do, them despite their shady origination. Although he had gotten his share of lickings, Gabriel’s proportion of damage was very much in his favor and even worth bragging. It even seemed that he was starting to get some renown as a talented player, a deed he never even got close to before. His fingers touched the mask gracing his digital persona and he smirked. He had to admit that he liked the feeling of being respected.

A message popped up on the persistent display and Gabriel frowned as he saw it was a message from the same party that had been giving him the missions. The topic simply read as “Warning Bounty” and he didn’t hesitate as he opened up the text. 

“A word of caution, our agents have been contacted and paid to place a bounty on your mobile suit. We are forced to oblige the details of our contract. Players will be able to engage you at any time…. Be careful.” 

His display erroneously fizzled out of existence as he read the last words and he looked around in sudden alarm. A flicker from the storm on the horizon made him squint and on sheer instincts he yelled out loud, “Exia!” He crossed his arms in front of him in a reflexive nature just as Ardent Exia formed a barrier around him. The Armor of the Exia illuminated in brilliance just as one of the “lightning bolts” burnt into the hill he was just standing at. 

——

“Clever kid…” the man crowed as he licked his lips and moved the aiming apparatus once more. The digital cockpit was completely custom, woven to appear more like the cockpit of the Dynames than the simple glowing aura most regular players were used to. Still it had its moments when it would flicker as ethereal but the use of Dyname’s aiming rifle was par none, especially for a person was was used to firing real weapons. “1 degree…” he whispered as he squeezed the trigger again. His rifle barked out again, the mirage calloid engulfing his mobile suit pulsing out of a existence before attempting to conceal him again. 

Much to his dismay the Exia variant had a shield up for this round which shattered just as it absorbed the shot. “Crap he already has an idea where I am, better reposition…” the man released the fake rifle before grabbing the controls and pushing his suit back into its feet. The mirage calloid shimmered around him as he moved but persistently did its job. He didn’t fire his thrusters but rather made his black suit run along a ridge on the mountains edge. There was a path just wide enough that he could get a good kilometer or two from his previous position. Although he suspected Ardent Exia would make a much larger gain in that timeframe he was confident that his extreme distance would forgive his repositioning. 

Most marks didn’t last past the first shot, fewer still survived a second. Maybe his colleagues were right about this “Hunter” fellow. The man chuckled as he found his next position, he had it set up ready for him already and it was as simple as parking his mobile suit in the designated area. “No this one is already tons of fun! If he does as well as I suspect, he’ll be most useful…”

The scruffy man was already pulling down the fake rifle to rest his cheek on the buttpad. Unlike a human a mobile suit didn’t have a pesky thing to deal with such as a human heartbeat. The long weapon was collaborated with the two weapons conjoined in sniper configuration still. Of course all of its features were still hidden under the veil of mirage calloid, nearly making him completely invisible, especially when not even moving. The crosshairs of the display placed the charging Exia at the very bottom of his scope still, signifying the extreme distance he was trying to shoot from. “That’s it, come to daddy!” The man mused as he leveled for another shot. 
 

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“What do you fight for kid?”

The eerie blue energy from the sniper rifle flared again along with its thunderous chorus. Grunting the man began to sprint away from the position. Caring little to see if his shot followed through, and more invested in repositioning to his final spot. “Things will get cozy if he gets any closer…” the shooter considered as he pressed his mobile suit’s back against a rock. 

He grimaced as he studied his sensors, sure enough the kid dodged the last shot. The man’s instincts were certainly proving to be true about this mark so far. “Alright no more games…” he muttered as he disengaged his rifle’s configuration and alternated it’s position to have the blunt end of the weapon as the main cannon now. Of course his version of the Buster was heavily modified. Instead of the typical colors the phase shift on his machine was simply black. The glow that radiated from the eyes was blue along with the energy of his shots, which was in itself quite rare and intriguing. The Edlen Buster was equipped with mirage calloid as well as an N-Jammer Canceller and a nuclear reactor. So unlike, the stock version he was able to rain continuous fire and even hide for his initial assault. The added boosters also increases his mobility while offering him twin beam sabers for close encounters. 

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The reticle of his crosshairs changed to designate the difference in weapon being aimed. The gun launcher shotgun would be sufficient for the medium range the boy was beginning to enter into. The Exia variant slowed its pace to a cautious patrol as it entered a ravine on the side of the mountain that the sniper had been using. “Surely he knows it’s a trap…” the sniper muttered as he leveled the invisible shotgun to aim. He waited patiently as the range dwindled down to the desired distance, not too far that the target could slip away from effective range, and not too close as to easily find himself. That’s when the fool did something the sniper wasn’t expecting. “He’s turning away? What a disappointment kid…” the Exia presnted it’s back just as it began to flair its’ thrusters. 

—-

Hunter readied his hands over the control. He had a feeling that he wouldn’t make it out of this encounter cleanly but he felt compelled to try. Whoever was shooting at him was darn clever and kept quietly repositioning. And the inconsistency of the shots proved to be almost maddening. As he approached the ravine it became clear to him that it was a trap of some sort. “We won’t play your game…” he huffed as he turned the machine around, as he did so a wicked grin grew on his masked face. “Take the bait…” he muttered. 

As if on cue a shot rang out and pelted the back of his suit, severely damaging his thruster pack. Hunter grunted but set his plan into motion, ejecting the GN Amplifier. The sacrificed piece fully exploded sending a cloud of GN particles everywhere. By now their hue was burning dark orange nearly burning red. The red intensified as Hunter immediately pushed the Ardent Exia into Trans Am. Everything blurred as made Exia drop nearly to the bottom of the ravine before turning and making the suit scramble up the steep edge of the cliffs. Between the GN drive and the feet of the Exia, he half flew, half hopped up the mountain towards the general direction where the last shot came from. 

—-
“Jigs up!” The man snapped as he tried to fire a second shot into the exploding GN Amplifier. The resulting cloud of particles flared his sensors and he almost didn’t notice Exia dropping like a stone. “Clever little…” he trailed off as he lowered the shotgun to try and get an angle. “You bastard!” He hissed as his barrel hit the lip of the rim overshooting his follow up shot, missing harmlessly above the Exia. “And giving away my location!” The man grumbled as he jumped away from the edge to hide more on the ground he was already on. He maybe had one more chance to get a lucky hit before his Mirage Calloid would be useless at hiding him. “Hmm let’s entertain the kid… he made it this far after all…” he touched a control shutting off the dispersal of his cloak and flared his engines up as he disconnected the rifle to duel wield the rifle and launcher. 

The Exia erupted over the side of the ledge and immediately locked in on him to throw a beam boomerang at his black mobile suit. He hovered to the side, shooting down the attack with his left gun while raising his right to shoot a beam at the Exia. The shot missed as Exia tumbled back down straight at him, a beam saber swipping in horizontally for the Buster’s chest. The sniper obliged the attack by drawing his own beam saber from his back, a blue blade igniting to clash with the red one.


“I can’t recall the last time I had to use this!” The shooter howled over the comm, “you are worth the bounty they placed on you!” The pilot of the Exia grunted and replied by pulling out its signature GN blade to swipe down with it, a move that the Buster blocked with the hammer head end of it’s gun launcher acting more like a club, parrying the attack. “Don’t be hasty! Don’t you wanna know what’s going on? Gabriel….”

((Again, thanks to Frosty for the amazing work on the Edlen Buster!))
 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The man’s voice was coarse, yet somehow melodic. The tone couldn’t help but rub Hunter the wrong way. His concerns grew exponentially as the man called him by his real name. He wanted to lash out, to curse and pout but the eerie calmness he was accustom to made him reply slowly, “Who are you?”

The cackling on the other end of the line did little to ease his fears as the two suits pushed away from each other. Both aimed a weapon at the other, Hunter’s GN pistol to the weird Buster’s gun launcher. “Talk…” he beckoned simply. The other man laughed all the more before calming down, “you could say I represent your benefactor…”

Hunter didn’t say anything as he tightened his grip on the controls. He gritted his teeth and stared hard at the black Buster. The wind from the storm buffeted them both with dust which soon turned into a stead sheet of rain. Drops of water dropped off their weapons and the sniper finally cleared his throat. “You see… it’s no coincidence that you’ve been dropping into people’s games. We’ve been using you to… practice some exploits we’ve uncovered in the code. Whether you want to or not, you are working for us, you have been since the moment you logged into the beta.”

The news didn’t come as a surprise, in fact Gabriel wasn’t so oblivious as to assume what he was doing was officially part of the game. Hearing to spoken so clearly however was alarming. “What does that mean then? Why are you trying to shoot me down?” 

The sniper crackled as if the answer should be so obvious. “It’s simple!”the Buster fired a blue bolt at Exia’s GN pistol beating Hunter to the draw and destroying the GN sword in the process. “I need you to fall!” Hunter exploded into action ditching the broken weapon and charging with the beam saber in his off hand. He yelled out in defiance as he closed the distance. Before he could get close however the Trans am faded off. He talked to me to run my particles out! He realized just as he got within striking distance. The jolt of the machine was noticeable as he ran out of juice and his blade clashed with the blue beam saber. His power seemed to flicker in the cockpit as he brought his right hand to pressed against the enemy cockpit. He got as far as he could though and his beam saber cut off along with all his power. Luckily he didn’t feel it as the blue beam sliced through the Ardent Exia.

He soon rematerialized on the wet rocky ground right in front of the Buster. He looked up quizzically at the machine wondering what would happen now. The enemy pilot could be hear cackling over their PA system before finally addressing him. “Not bad kid! You see you were gaining too much attention! We needed to bring you score down so you remain under the radar. That’s not to say you’re doing anything bad. So don’t take this personally…” 

Hunter glared up at the ebony colossus, “what now? Am I still your little pawn?” He spat the question out accusingly and looked around as the wind and rain buffeted him. 

“I happen to think you’re a little more valuable than that… I’ll contact you in a couple of days kid…” the Buster flared it’s engines and began to hover away. “Keep all this under your hat… Gabriel… You work for Zapp now kid…Just remember… We know how to find you…” the man bellowed out as the Buster floated down the mountain and away. Hunter stood up to watch, perplexed by the turn of events and curious what it all meant. “Zapp?” He muttered, “the Gunpla aesthetics company?”

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  • 5 weeks later...

((After the events of Order of the Seven Stars))

Gabriel browsed the digital shops in GBN. In closely resembled what a real life mall used to look like. Each different vendor offering something slightly different. Some places were themed by series alone. Despite himself he found himself frozen outside the shop for Gundam Seed memorabilia. There was an NPD of Lacus in the display that made him do a double take. 

“It’s not her…” he crooned to himself as he watched the mindless NPD go through a Lacus song. He shuttered out a breath of, was it relief? He cringed and decided to go into the store, heck he liked Gundam Seed long before she even watched it. There were shelves with tags you could press to preview the item, most of them bring costumes. A few shelves offered real world items or kits you could order for your gunpla. Naturally he was drawn to the more “useful” items, given the cosplay items reminded him too much of her. A lot of the offered items were quite cool, with some seemingly more helpful than others. He slowly got to the more expensive this when something did cause him to pause and look. 

“Astray…” He muttered to himself and fingered through the tags on the shelf until he found what he was looking for exactly. “Quantum computer…” he mused as pressed the preview button. A small briefcase sized box appeared in his hands with a display that typed out. 

Greetings I am 8

“Do  you understand me? What’s your function in GBN?”

In the manga series I assisted the natural pilot Lowe Guele with the operation of the Astray Red Frame. I provided technical support as well as analytical information for any battles. I can offer the same level of support in GBN and your unit as well. 

Gabriel grinned stupidly as he looked at the box and looked around. “Can I customize you and your settings? Are you able to audibly talk?”

“If that is what you desire? Then yes. I am a fully customizable unit and was painstakingly programmed. I am worth every credit if you can afford me.”

Gabriel blinked hard and was dumbfounded by the level of detail. He looked around almost as if he would be stealing something. He chuckled, “one last question 8, do you come with a carry strap?”

A few moments later Gabriel walked out of the store with a satchel looking device strapped on his shoulder. True the quantum computer was worth a small fortune but he didn’t see any downside to it. He hadn’t  spent a credit since joining the Beta and has accrued a small fortune even before he obtained the Order of the Seven Stars. As he walked down the shopping center a few other divers gave him curious looks. He wasn’t any more bombastically dresses than the next squirrel girl but he seemed to be getting attention. He swore he heard one person even mumble “Seven Stars!” 

He couldn’t help but grow a small grin. He wasn’t vain by nature, it just felt good to be getting recognition. His mood was soured when he received a message. It was marked as an unknown sender, marked simply as “We need to talk.” He opened up the message and saw that it had coordinates with a link that would take him instantly there. “8 can you have the Ardent Exia ready to go on my que? We’re going into an unpredictable situation I wanna be ready.”

“Will do sir!” The calm robotic voice responded. Gabriel nodded to himself and reached out to click the link. The world shimmered around him and he found himself in a dense forest. He was on a trail surrounded by ferns with a view of a large creek near by. All things considered it was a very tranquil location. The detail to nature was astounding if no breathtaking. He looked around in awe and nearly jumped when he saw a figure in a regular suit, in fact it was a diver dressed like a member of Celestial Being, they also had their visor tinted to hide their face. The site would probably be amusing to any bystander who could see them; two figures hiding their identities talking to each other. 

“I told you to avoid attention, and what do you do? You go and beat one of the hardest challenges in the whole network… you’re really a piece of work kid!” The man shook their helmet side to side in disbelief. 

“I don’t recall signing any contracts to work for you.” Gabriel responded coolly as he looked around nervously. “So what do want? Why me?”

The man clicked his tongue, “you know, you beating Hashmal should be evidence enough. We need talented divers such as yourself. You’re the one who elevated yourself past our own expectations. So in a way you have yourself to thank for that.” 

“You still haven’t explained what it is you want me to do? Am I some debugger for your hacks is that it?” He bit his tongue shy of threatening to goto to the administration knowing where that road would go. The Zapp agent just shook his head again. 

“You keep changing the parameters… so you tell me.” Gabriel paused in disbelief and glared hard at the man. For a long while no one said anything. He couldn’t tell for certain but he was almost sure the man was smirking at him. Gabriel clenched his fists in anger. 

The man gave a infuriating chuckle then finally added, “I got a task in mind I think you’ll agree with… there’s a Gundam Seed meet up in a week. I want you to crash the party…”

Gabriel grimaced, “and why would I do that? That’s divers just wanting to have a good time! They-“

The man simply raised a gloved hand, “you’ll do it because she’ll be there…” That did make Gabriel flinch and shut up. Again he could sense the shooter smiling, “she’ll be there as a performer… along with her new boyfriend.”

Gabriel’s blood ran cold, how long had it been since they had broken up? A few weeks? Months already? How could she move on so fast they had been dating for over a year! He gripped his fists harder and glared menacingly at the mystery man. “And what kind of chaos do you want me to bring?” He didn’t care if he was using him in this instance, there wasn’t much left of him beyond his painful memories of her, of them. If this was excuse enough for him to lash out, he’d take it. 

“I thought you might say that.”

Edited by Roromi
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  • 2 weeks later...

Gabriel was exhausted, the Gundam Seed meet was tomorrow and he had done just about everything he could think to do to prepare. He still hadn’t gone through the trouble of buying a force nest yet so he had found another random location to decompress. He lay on a random beach, his mobile suit kneeling behind him in silent vigilance. 

For the last week he had planned, trained, and worked on making his scheme have the best chance of success possible. He he had even made contact with the Zapp agent a couple more times for technical support, something the stranger was all too willing to help provide. The Zapp agent was peculiar, the man was talented, something Gabriel begrudgingly had to admit. Yet there was something about the man that Gabriel couldn’t shake off about him, something familiar. The man even seemed sympathetic to Gabriel’s plight even though he didn’t know why the guy would be. He had decided to focus more on figuring out the man’s identity after the Seed mission was over with. 

There were more important things than mystery people in the world after all. Gabriel still felt consumed by rage by the news of Meer moving on. He had to get through to her, he had to make her see him? Since the break up he had felt so insecure, like it was his short comings, his timid ness that somehow contributed to her not liking him anymore. But since the break up, since he started fighting again, he felt different. “The old me couldn’t have gotten the Order of the Seven Stars…” he murmured to himself. His words were drowned out by the crashing waves, the water just beginning to tickle the bottom of his feet. Night had settled in and the high tide was growing in on his spot. “Tomorrow you’ll see me…” he vowed to the night air. “Tomorrow you’ll all see me!”

——

The first official Gundam Seed gathering was a spectacle that any Gundam fan was sure to enjoy. The official event was being held on the beaches of the official ORB Union force nest (ORB Union being a fan force composed of Divers and not NPDs). A stage dominated the festival with various vendors set up selling all sorts of Seed memorabilia. Select Seed mobile suits aligned the perimeter of the event with an official judging contest for both original suits and custom variations was to be held as well. All attendees could even obtain a limited edition Haro, something the administration had pitched in to supply. 

Gabriel had arrived at the event on foot, he knew he couldn’t bring the Ardent Exia in, at least not yet. And had to stick to his plan. He grabbed a flyer with a schedule of events and tapped his finger over the “Lacus Concert” being performed by Meer. He had some time, plenty in fact, to do his reconnoitering. He blended into the crowds, opting to “cosplay” as a Phantom Pain soldier, wearing their black uniform, and no mask. He was him essentially, back before the beta, before his heart break. He weaved through the crowds towards the stage until he was right up against the entrance for backstage.

They were there, all of them. People he recognized from his days with Meer, her friends really. They were in lively talk with one another. He was dazed as he looked, shocked almost, because they all looked the same, they all looked like he had just seen them before the break up. His reverie was interrupted by a shrill voice, “Gabriel! Gabriel Winter is that you?” He cringed remembering the voice, it was the pilot of the Impulse, Stella. He turned to regard the blonde cosplayer and she smiled warmly at him, running over from the crowd beside him. Before he could say anything she embraced him. “Oh Gabe it is you! How have you been?” 

There was a lump in his throat he couldn’t quite get past but he managed a smile at least and creaked out, “Stella!”  She let him go noticing his discomfort and gave him an apologetic smile, “ah I see…” she said awkwardly, “Still wrapped up over her huh?” Moistness rimmed Gabriel’s eyes and he weakly smiled back, “This was a mistake…” he muttered and began to leave. “Are you here just because of her?” She asked, making Gabriel pause, he was but he was afraid to admit it. She continued, “You liked seed before she did, we all know that… you don’t have to give it up because of her.”

Gabriel did turn around at that remarked and his weak smile did grow a fraction more sincere, “I.. I know… in fact…” he began to mumble but found his nerve figuring there wasn’t any harm in telling, “I made a new Gunpla I entered in for the contest…” 

Stella brightened up at the revelation, “Really? You did huh? Which one?” She seemed genuinely interested and he couldn’t help a chuckled “uh well.. it’s an Astray Variant…even though it may not seem like it on the outside…” He trailed off still wanting to leave and shrink back into the crowd. “We’ll see it then!” She promised, “all of us! Though I gotta say I didn’t take you as the type to stray away from the instructions! That’ll be really fun to see what you did Gabe!” He nodded in relief and smiled a little wider, “Thanks Stella, maybe I’ll catch you guys then?” He turned to leave again and did pause yet again. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry!” He called back, making the blonde woman freeze in confusion, “What for?” She responded. “For you getting caught in the crossfire so to speak… I know you guys are just trying to be friends with everyone, and it’s not cool for me to be… well me… about this whole thing… so I’m sorry to you and Shin…” 

She crinkled her face in confusion and began to say something back but he left. Not thinking too hard about his words she eventually shrugged and returned to her friends. Gabriel scrunched his face in anger and clenched his fist as he got further and further away. He did know that she was just trying to be nice, but he could recognize pity when he saw it. The truth of the matter was they all flocked around her when the dust settled, he was the dead weight in the relationship. It would be her fault they remembered this day for the wrong reasons, hers and their own. 

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“Ladies and gentlemen! From the Seed Cosplay Coalition, performing as Lacus Clyne it’s Meer!” The crowd erupted loudly as the girl bounced out in the middle of the stage. She waived her arms out in appreciation, tears forming around her eyes but she sucked in her breath and emotions and began to sing. Her voice started off shakily but soon gained her confidence. She shook her hips to the beat of the music and carried on with energy she never knew she possessed. The crowd adored her, for all intents and purposes she was convincing. Even without the use of character skins she bore a remarkable resemblance to the singers she emulated.

“She is pretty good…” the man said to himself as he kept his reticle aimed at the stage. She occasionally crossed the center of the target, not that it mattered. The beam he could fire would surely obliterate the stage in its’ entirety. The sniper kept his hands calmly clasped on the controls and floated around comfortably in his cockpit. The Elden Buster was high in orbit deployed in its’ sniper configuration. He had a camera attachment hooked onto the barrel of his rifle that increased the magnification to the point he could see details that high in orbit. He had tuned his radio to the live feed and could hear the concert in real time making him feel like he was almost there.  As a Diver, he himself had an affiliation for Seed mecha, even the suit he was using was a testament to his own fandom. Still he had to see how this test would work out. It was going to be the peak of Zapp’s current technical capabilities, if a few people got hurt along the way then so be it. 

“How are you doing down there kid?” He called out on his comlink to Gabriel. The boy took a moment before responding back in a hushed tone, “it’s going as planned. There are more mobile suits than we predicted.” 

The Zapp agent chuckled, “oh yeah? Getting cold feet then?” 

“Hardly” the boy responded callously, “I’m getting in position now, are you ready?” 

The sniper shrugged and grabbed the fake rifle in his cockpit to adjust his angle. Of course the controls were dialed down to minimize even the smallest moment to a fraction. At this distance a centimeter could translate into hitting something hundreds of yards away if not farther. Like a surgeon he angle his crosshairs and smiled as he leveled on a target. “Ready kid. Got eyes on a Strike Freedom that would be nasty…” 

“Roger that… 8 call out your target.”

There was a pause before the tinny voice responded. “I’ve locked onto a prime target as well, a Providence variant. That leaves a total of 7 omega types remaining that will need to be neutralized quickly.”

“Affirmative…” Gabriel responded. “Let’s get things started. Take the shot 8!”

The Zapp agent hugged his rifle tighter and waited to see the flash on his screen. He could hear the explosion on his radio, he could only imagine the panic. He squeezed the hair trigger and his rifle barked, the concussive force rippling through his cockpit even. “Damn that 1.8!” He howled in amusement as he moved his crosshairs to the next target. “Get a move on kid!”

—-

Chaos erupted just as Meer was about to start her final song. A pink bolt soared out from the ocean to peg a Gundam in the head. Then the sky lit up in lightning? A blue bolt hitting another mobile suit asunder. Screams and yells flooded the festival as people scattered. Some choosing to immediately log off only to find their ability to do so being blocked somehow. Others with more sense and pride bolted for their mobile suits eager to retaliate. 

One-two, one-two. The enemy fire flew into mobile suits seemingly at random. Making it even more obvious that it was an attack. And in those heartbeats the situation evolved drastically. Mobile suit’s eyes lit up in anger and slowly mobilized. The radio chatter flooded the public channel since most people came From different forces. 

“Where’s the enemy!”

“ I got no visual!”

“Two different angles!”

“Yeah there’s a sniper in orbit!”

“Use the mass driver someone get up there!” 

Slowly but surely the mob began to wisen up. But the time it took them to wisen up costed them dearly. “The sea!” One diver yelled out in a panic. “It’s the Exia variant!”

The dreaded Exia Variant, the white disrupter, the stories had circulated widely since the Seed Cosplay Coalition’s story, the first story in fact. And those stories and rumors had only circulated more since then. There were some who even claimed to see the same mobile suit slay Hashmal, claiming the elusive title Order of the Seven Stars. The one thing no one could agree on was why a diver would be so vindictive. It was clear now however that he had just picked a fight with the entire Gundam Seed fandom on GBN. As each pilot strapped into their mobile suit the mantra was universally echoed. “Today is the day the damned Exia will pay!” 

Edited by Roromi
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Thanks to Roromi for letting me participate!

When Aida entered the SEED festival, he was not thinking of attending the party, singing along to that famous Diver's J-Pop covers or discussing the shows and their side stories. Rather, when Daniel sent him a virtual flyer of the event, he scoffed at the idea, since he wasn't a big fan of Cosmic Era, even though he had watched the main series. But Daniel, who was an avid fan of the timeline and wanted to share his love of it with his best friend, convinced him to give the festival a try with the excuse of entering his old JANET Murasame in the build contest, for the chance of winning a Quattro Vaharo - a golden, sun-shade wearing, child-loving version of the ubiquitous franchise mascot. And quite like one of the previous limited editions, the Char Aznaharo, it was a very talented fellow when it came to piloting a Mobile Suit autonomously. Perhaps taking it into his possession would prove useful: AI companions were perfect for the task of automating certain systems or tasks. And he was in the process of building a space-use GM III that would greatly benefit from an independent G-Defenser craft. With this in mind, he painted the Murasame candy red, bought Rau Le Creuset's white uniform at a Zapp vending machine (then the mask, out of fear of running into one of his old crew mates and being recognized), and got ready to pass his machine as an "Alex Dino" custom… whoever that guy was.

In retrospect, it wasn't such a brilliant idea. When he finally entered the festival as a contender, authorized by the organizers to bring his Gunpla and land it anywhere he felt like, he realized he had bit more than he could chew. The other contestants all had beautiful, well-crafted machines, some of which he recognized, some of which he didn't. And while he felt capable of taking on most of them, sadly, there seemed not to be a single time trial, race or battle in hand. Rather, it was going to be a beauty pageant, and Aida knew he didn't have a chance in the world to win based on looks alone: after all, the JANET Murasame was first and foremost a sleeper, given the guts of a different Zeta variant depending on the environment it was going to operate in, and a massive overhaul of all its systems, weaponry and avionics. When a Strike Gundam was suddenly given the Memento Mori treatment by an unknown force in orbit and a certain white Exia entered stage left, he was surprised, but knew he wouldn't have to walk away empty-handed and call it a day in the red, so while everyone else in the show was cussing out both tangos, he instead thanked them, wholeheartedly, for giving his humble flyer a chance to shine.

I know what this is… the orbital bombardier and the fast chaser. This is just like our evasive training at the JANET Force Nest! I knew there would be challenges! I gotta ace this! He turned on every system again, and quickly took off, leaving the festival behind and reaching a stable pace. Not yet. Soon, he could see a new flash in the sky, showing up above him in the Zeta panoramic cockpit. Unsure, but assuming it was meant for him, he floored it, and a pair of seconds later, surprisingly, a powerful beam that came from above missed him. “Hahaha! Get real!” Knowing that having missed him could’ve pissed off the orbital sniper, he prepared to evade again. Reaching a stable speed, he knew what he’d try next, so a second before the acceleration burn, he used his verniers to perform a surprise 180º roll, and accelerated away in the opposite direction. He soundly succeeded, as this time, the beam missed him for twice the margin. The sniper had attempted to fire at what he thought would be his future location, to make him fly into the beam, but had been outsmarted twice. Soon, he felt Creuset’s mask rubbing off on him, and laughed louder. “AHAHAHA! This is SO contagious!” For the next trick, he just made the switch to MS mode and waited in the air. Soon enough, four quick blasts appeared to his left, right, back and front at once, and before the fifth appeared, the Murasame was on the fly again, evading death once more. “Oh, god, he’s so pissed, I know it!”

The fun did not last long, however, with the white Exia coming to rain on his parade. Having annihilated the other contestants of the Mobile Suit pageant, it was coming for him. “They’re already dead, I won... Why does it still want to gut me?” At least i ain’t gotta worry about that damned orbital sniper for the moment. He can’t reliably take a shot at me without hitting the other guy. Seeing the Exia fly towards his Murasame, he stepped on the pedal and went sky high. One could imagine his surprise when, after having reached his operational ceiling, he switched to MS mode again, only to see the white Exia already on his face. “How did he?!” Panicking, he fired his head-mounted CIWS at the assailant. From the Exia’s back approached a new Gunpla, in support of the red Murasame: it was Daniel’s.

- “Hold on tight, Aiden! We’re gonna take this guy out! No Gundams...” Daniel spoke, from the cockpit of a silver Kampfer, sporting a GINN’s wings and backpack. He couldn’t enter it in the contest, but since the attack began, the barriers were lifted for anybody to bring their own Mobile Suit, in defense of Orb. 

- “... no problems! Hiyaaaahh!” Aiden, regaining his confidence, drew two Type 70J Beam Sabers from their holsters and attacked the Exia from the front, while Daniel aimed two Giant Bazookas and two Sturm Fausts at the Gundam’s back, then fired.

Edited by Replicator
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((Special thanks to Replicator adding more depth to this side story! And thanks to Frosty for the amazing works on the pictures!))

“Be advised, we have a few divers wisen up to the orbital bombardment.”

The Zapp agent’s voice in his earpiece made Gabriel grimace as he worked the controls of his mobile. Sure enough enemies began lining up to assault the lone Exia. The first couple of waves proved ineffective as the Exia shot down a pair of Windams with its GN pistol. The only advantage Hunter seemed to retain still was the disorganization of the opposing force. If they could coordinate better he would likely have a much harder time dealing with the enemies. 

Gabriel pulled his mobile suit up right behind an unsuspecting CGUE and plunged his blade straight into the machine taking it out of the fight. He came up to another enemy, an Aegis Gundam, and performed a similar trick with a beam saber, quickly deactivating the blade after it briefly ate into the enemy’s cockpit.

It was then he noticed a Murasame of sorts giving the sniper a hard time. “Damnit that red ones playing me a fool! He’s coming for you Exia!” It was a dangerous game they were playing and the stakes were increasing dramatically. The Exia engaged the crimson mobile suit high in the clouds, poising its’ GN blade for a swipe mid section, bullets stung into the armor but hardly slowed the machine. Gabe gasped when he noticed the ruse for what it was,  “8! Behind – cut thrust! Drop now!” But it  was too little too late. The blast from behind knocked the Exia practically into the Murasame’s blades. The Exia’s GN Amplifier was destroyed and a pink blade was cleaning protruding through the middle of the Exia. As it crashed into the Murasame it knocked both suits towards the ground in a tumble. 

- "Yatta!" Aiden was all too happy that he had actually landed a hit on the dreaded Exia. Perhaps the rumors of its invincibility were greatly exaggerated, after all. There wasn't time to celebrate, though, as the Exia was knocked into him way too hard. Now, both were free-falling towards the ground, and Aida attempted to recover, as Daniel's Flügel Kaempfer went into a nosedive, following both of them as both of his bazookas loaded another round in the chamber. "Aiden! Get it off, you're gonna hit the floor hard!"

“Not bad…” Hunter mused as he poised his saber. He angled the weapon to retaliate. As the two suits fell down they both suddenly jerked, an unseen force pushing against them high above the ground. A new pink blade impaled both suits, stabbing into the Murasame’s back. The mirage colloid shimmered away and an odd looking Astray chucked a beam boomerang from the limp Exia’s body at the kampfer following them down. “Too bad you fell for the decoy…”  the Astray fumbled with the falling debris to retrieve the GN blade from the limp arm. Strapped to the inside of the shield guard of the weapon was a  small case for 8. “Good piloting 8 leave the rest to me!” The Astray fixed the weapon on its’ arm. Hunter pushed away from the wreckage, putting his beam saber away, just before the trio hit the ground. The Gold Astray variant landed on its feet sliding away and shimmering into more mirage colloid. 

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Perhaps it was the shock at seeing another mobile suit seemingly appear out of nowhere, or that it would raise a weapon in defense of the Exia menace, but Daniel reacted too late as the boomerang collided with his cockpit, yanking him out of the massacre. 

For the last week Gabriel wasn’t just practicing against dumb AI. He had spent a small fortune on an assistant of his own and 8 had already earned its’ value back tenfold in his opinion. It’s possible that the administration didn’t consider the possibilities when entering in such a strong item in the game, and it didn’t help any that the Zapp agent had tampered with the item to fully “jail break” it. Gabriel had 8 run a list of all known Seed Divers and made educated guesses as to who would show up to the event (as well as picking up on social media posts). They took things a step further and programmed 8 with Diver profiles, the most relevant baseline being based on Hunter himself. By the end of the week, 8 had worked up to mimic his combat style convincing enough and with brutal indiscrimination. Together, Hunter and Zapp, turned 8 into an effective mobile doll. They even worked to port in the extra mobile suit so that the quantum computer could use it. 

Hunter studied his scopes as he caught his breath from the brief excitement, so far he had been attacking enemies that were fixated on the Exia that they never considered another invisible enemy among them. He had to wonder if anyone caught his interference with the Murasame and kampfer however. “Are we clear over watch?” He waited to hear a response and was unnerved when no one replied back to him. “Are you there?” He asked impatiently. 

His worries compounded when an explosion erupted near the Astray’s feet. He jumped back cursing wondering if his mirage colloid was malfunctioning. “Don’t run.” The command was simple if not eerily calm. “Don’t deny me a chance at redemption…” Gabriel scowled and scrunched his nose in recognition. It was then he noticed the gaudy thing hovering in the air above him. “Drop the disguise Exia… or is it? Gabriel?  Ready your weapons…” hovering directly in front of him was a golden mobile suit, some sort of hybrid between the Akatsuki and Destiny Gundam. “Shinn…” Gabriel growled.

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Columns of smoke rose around the festival grounds, blending into the growing cloudy sky above. Flames licked goods stands and wrecks of mobile suits littered around the main stage, which was spared any destruction so far. It would have been a beautiful day, seaside with fair weather, Gabriel had managed to ruin it however. 

The steady hum of fans was the only noise Gabriel could hear besides his own heavy breathing. He remained frozen as the golden destiny hovered above him. He was calling Shin’s bluff, he didn’t think the enemy knew where he was and that it was a lucky potshot earlier. 

“Ahh I see, so suddenly you became a coward is that it?” The voice echoed off the stage and debris from the Destiny’s PA. Slowly the machine hovered around and Gabriel became convinced he was still safe. The Destiny showed him its’s back as it seemingly scanned for him. “One good strike that’s all I need…” Gabe growled as he poised his hands over the controls. He waited for a good angle and as the Destiny scanned around he was given the opportunity. 

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The Astray jumped up and Gabe let out a roar as he slashed down with his GN Blade. “Not good enough!” Shin nearly laughed as he spun around to slap the attack away with Atkasuki’s beam saber. “What the-!” Gabriel screeched as he worked to dodge the counter attack, he barely managed to avoid the return swipe as he landed back on his feet again. He spun the Astray around to keep his foe in front of him and he leveled his blade as if to charge straight forward. “You’re too loud idiot!” Shin mocked and that comment made Gabriel tilt his head. He wasn’t used to using Mirage Calloid and he had to think about it for a moment. He had installed a N-Jammer Canceller in this unit because batteries seemed so impractical unless you were a purist. “Batteries are quiet…” he mused and realized that the Destiny was toying with him.

“Let’s oblige him 8…” the Mirage Colloid melted away even as the computer objected, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” Gabriel shook his head, “not really…”

“There you are! You creepy little bastard!” The Destiny turned to fully regard him as it put away the beam saber and pulled out its’ anti ship sword. “Do you know how I knew you’d come here?” Disembodied voice taunted from the Destiny. 

Gabriel bit his tongue, he still think he had a chance at keeping his identity a secret but then he shook his head. Who was he fooling besides himself? Deep down he wanted to be found out. “You don’t understand…” 

“Ha! The coward speaks! And what do you mean I don’t understand? Do you know what I know? You are a hacker! You are a good for nothing cheat! A mere creep who can’t stand being rejected by a girl who hates him!” The words were cold if not brutal, “I knew you’d be here because you can’t let her go! You can’t stand it that she’s moved on!” 

Gabriel grimaced and clenched his hands tightly on the controls yet still his voice was calm, “I didn’t do this just for her… Can’t you see? I did it…” he affirmed Shin’s comments but carried on, “I did it so you would all see me!” He yelled out in sheer anger as he pushed the Astray to charge forward. He had no TransAm, no special abilities beyond the Mirage Colloid. The Destiny on it’s own had the Wings of light which on a good day could compete on some level with TransAm. The Astray ran forward each stomp echoing loudly, “Do you see me now?!” He called out frantically. The Destiny flared its’ wings and dived straight at him in response, Shin yelling out in rage. 

As the two clashed they both got glancing blows on each other, their blades barely scrapping the sides of the other’s cockpits, their arms clamping down to hold the other’s weapon in place. They spun around on their feet as they struggle to get free or see if the other would abandon the weapon for an alternate attack. “I mostly did it for her though!” Gabriel admitted, “Meer can you see me?” He cried out as he struggled. 

“You leave her out of this you creep! She’s not into you!” Shin yelled out as he moved to head butt the Astray, the move stunning Gabriel who let Shin’s sword slip slightly from his lock. The hot blade began to eat into the side of the cockpit, the glow becoming visible to Gabriel. 

Hearing her name and utterly fed up with the situation Meer stormed out to the middle of the stage, grabbing the microphone. In anger she cried out, “Enough of this! Gabriel we’re through! I never liked you! I take it all back! I wish we never went out!” 

Gabriel’s eyes widened in shock, he let the blade slip further and it angled to eat more against his side and cockpit. The screens on his left side  exploded from the heat sending shards inside, “You don’t mean that!” Gabriel cried out in pain, moisture growing on his face. He jerked his controls to bash into the Destiny knocking them free, as he did so the tip of the blade glanced the damaged cockpit, bursting open the front,  and sending the Astray spinning towards the stage. Gabriel managed to stop his fall by putting his arms out, the GN blade knocked free from his grasp. He found himself suddenly looking at her clearly, with no monitor or armor obstructing them, the Astray haunched over the girl. He glared at her as he whimpered, “I… I loved you…” even as he tasted the word “loved” felt too painful. She was stunned either from the near hit of the goliath or from actually seeing his face. There was a fear on her features that didn’t settle right with Gabriel though. Warmness splattered down on his hands and out the cockpit, his eyes quelled with emotions. “I didn’t want you to see me as a coward anymore… I wanted you to see my talent…” he tried to explain but she shuttered in terror. “G-Gabe!” Blood speckled her face, “You-You’re… You have to leave!” She screeched finally. And she stepped backwards in pure terror, or was it disgust?

“You need to step away from my girlfriend!” Shin cried out and Gabe could sense that imminent attack just from the words. He pushed the Astray up and reached up to draw both beam sabers. His movement barely moved him out of the way from the Anti-Ship Sword slashing down over his body. Shin didn’t relent, he transitioned his attack to a sideways slash, something Gabriel was able to block with one of the pink blades. Still the force of the two handed attack sent him spinning around, and he tried to use the moment to counter. As he made his 360 he dived in past the sword. He got a hit into the Destiny’s belly, but the blade splattered against the material. Still he knew that if he could hold it there just long enough. “No you don’t!” Cried Shin as he moved to hit him with the blunt end of the sword, only for the Astray to vanish. The Destiny Jerked from the lack of resistance and Shin looked around in confusion, “I thought I told you the Mirage Colloid won’t wor-“ his words were cut short as a pair of physical blades slammed down into the wings of the Desinty. 

Hunter’s suit was damaged and he had to cover the cockpit with his hand as he retreated to make the illusion work. While Shin was right, that didn’t mean the illusion wouldn’t work for small bursts and cause some confusion. He drove the pair of sabers into the Wings and his efforts were rewarded with an explosive burst of particles. “Let’s make this an even fight!” He taunted as he hopped back. The Destiny jerked forward but recovered quickly enough with Shin growling out in rage. He spun around with the sword and moved to thrust it at the open cockpit, Hunter expertly parried the attack, both blades moving in an “X” to intersect and divert the blade away. He used the block as an excuse to move closer, he let go of the left sword to bring his palm foreward toward the Destiny’s head. 

Shin was over committed and he knew it, he let the sword go just as he recognized the attack Gabriel was going for. The Astra’s palm cackled as a ball of light formed for a devastating attack. Shin responded in kind by brining his right hand up to block, light emitting from his palm as well. The two palm attacks exploded against each other and the concussive force knocked them both flying back. The Astray went skidding away along the beach, sand erupting into the air. Gabriel breathed laboriously as he studied the damage to his suit. “8! Can we still fight?” He didn’t have a heads up anymore so he had to rely on what he could see with his own eyes and the prognosis wasn’t good. “Heavy damage, left arm is destroyed.” Gabriel’s scoffed, “I see that!” Still the computer carried on, “both sabers missing, all that remains are your beam sabers, and Vulcan cannons. The Mirage Colloid will not function properly with this amount of damage.”

Without magnification it was hard to see but the Destiny began to clammed up to its’ feet. Gabriel tried to do the same. “We might want to retreat.” 8 advised as Gabriel struggled to stand up. Something wasn’t working correctly and the suit remained frozen. The Destiny marched over defiantly, its’ beamsaber out in its’ left hand, blade ignited. 

“I don’t think I could even if I wanted to 8…” Gabriel confessed as he ever so slowly tried to rise, a difficult task with one arm. “What’s the point anyways?” He asked. The Destiny soon hovered over him, the blade poised for his face. “It was a good run…” he stated flatly. 

Shin’s voice cascaded down from the mobile suit, “this ends Gabriel! You will go away forever and leave us alone!” The tone was almost maniacal as his enemy towered over him. 

“Not yet kid… I won’t have another one go on me…” the voice rang out loudly through the festival grounds, the Destiny paused and cocked it’s head to look beyond the astray. Gabriel’s earpiece crackled, “you’re too valuable to fall here… 8 initiate safety protocols. Leave this one to me…” Gabriel scrunched his face in confusion as his mobile suit began to clammer away on its’ own. Shin moved to stab down at him but his suit was hit by a blue beam. 

The Elden Buster appeared perpendicular to them both, walking confidently down towards the beach, “your fight is with me now.” The Zapp agent announced, “I’ll even make this a more even fight!” He taunted as he ejected the signature weapons and reached up to draw both beam sabers. “I need the practice.” The agent chided as he moved to engage the golden Destiny.

Gabriel watched as long as he could until the Astray got on its’ feet and turned to flee. He felt relief wash over him as they moved along the beach, just like the waves. “What now? He pondered as he tried to figure out where he could go. He brought up his menu and looked at his funds, “maybe it’s time I get a Force Nest…” he mused as he reached up to touch his face. “What does it all mean anyways?” He mused at he looked at the warm liquid on his fingers.

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It wasn’t fully healed, the wound on his face was painful. Somehow that pain was comforting, it reminded him that he existed. He was too caught up in the moment when it happened to noticed but now, now he knew better than to ignore it. He was of course apprehensive to cover the wound back up, he bandaged it of course. But to hide behind another mask, it felt contrary to the jubilant nature he was feeling at that moment. He was proud of what he had done, happy that he didn’t have to hide in shame for his actions. A great burden had been lifted off his shoulders, and for the first time in a long while, he felt at peace.

Still the Zapp Agent was quite adamant about “remaining discreet”. He had helped him retreat and applied the field dressings with a tenderness he didn’t think existed in the sniper. And so here they were now, two masked men on an orbital elevator car, in a private room, looking opposite of each other. 

Gabriel still wore a Phantom Pain uniform, but his head was encased in a helmet that reminded him somewhat of Vidar from Iron Blooded Orphans. Except the helmet he wore now was mostly smooth over the face, excluding details beyond the reflection on the black material. Perhaps it was his somewhat delirious climb down from the combat high but Gabriel broke the silence with a half serious question, “how come you don’t show me your face?” 

The question seemed as ridiculous as was their predicament, one masked person asking the other to reveal themselves. The sniper did laugh at the question, not a mischievous ploy, but a genuine belly laugh which echoed within the tinted Celestial Being helmet. “Does it really matter?” The man asked as he leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees with his fingers entwining in front of him. Before Gabriel could reply, the sniper continued, “I didn’t know if I could trust you before, are you that curious?”

Gabriel tilted his head and smiled before realizing that the other man couldn’t see the subtle reaction. “It’s become obvious that I can trust you though… is that not a two way street?”

“It isn’t.” The sniper shot back coldly, “it isn’t, and you need to realize that. You have no choice but to trust me, that’s different than mutual trust…” the sniper let the words drip in the air and for awhile, no one said anything after. But then the man did something that was unexpected, he shuffled uncomfortably, looked around as if seeing if there was a camera then looked straight back at Gabriel. The sniper leaned forward to make it obvious he was going to tell Gabriel something when he reached up and deactivated the tint on his helmet. “Just like you… I want to make sure somebody knows what it is I’m doing here…you may have no choice in trusting me… but I’m willing to bet on you…” Gabriel looked at the face and cocked his head, there was something familiar about the man he just couldn’t place. The moment was interrupted by a chime indicating they had reached orbit. The Sniper reactivated the tint and stood up, motioning for Gabriel to do the same. 

—-

They had reached a derelict looking facility with relatively no problems. The sniper piloted a transport shuttle for Gabriel and his Astray. The shuttle navigated some debris to enter the docking bay. They were far out there. Even by GBN standards they were in the proverbial “boonies” of the digital world. The Zapp agent had insisted they travel there physically too, saying something about Admin tracking. 

As the duo entered the complex it became obvious it was some sort of fall back location, a base built into a asteroid, like some sort of resource satellite. Unlike a normal industrial location however, the guts of this base were lined with spare resources, some things Gabriel didn’t even realize were in the game. Then they got to the manufacturing wing, Gabriel was surprised to see 8 moving his Astray into a docking position to begin work and repairs on the machine. 

“You’ll have to use this from now on…” the Zapp agent confided, “we have parts and resources enough to help you out. Feel free to experiment with variations in your free time here, you’re going to need you machine in peak condition for the future.”

Gabriel blindly nodded his head, still in awe at the depth that this base was offering. “So… all this is yours? It feels a bit like over kill for a diver to have?” The man was already shaking his head, “first things first, it never hurts to be prepared for what I do. Second…” the man brought up his menu and navigated a few options then swiped something over, Gabriel instantly noticed an incoming message for him. “This base is yours now…” the man said nonchalantly as he moved pass Gabriel. 

“Why are you doing this?” Gabriel asked as he turned to face the man. He reached up to take off his helmet. “Why are you helping me?” 

The man paused but didn’t look back, “you’re going to need all this if you want to survive… don’t tell me you haven’t noticed it yet?”

Gabriel nodded, fighting back fresh tears. Sensing the discomfort, the sniper turned around and wagged a finger at the young man, “Don’t think you don’t have any meaning… don’t think for a second that this is meaningless! There are monsters in this world, the real world, who wouldn’t think a second about someone like you. They wouldn’t flinch to have you neutralized, erased! I’m not one of those people, and so I’m not going to let them do that to you either… do you understand Gabriel?” 

The young man was crying from the speech, but he nodded in agreement. The sniper carried on, “I have to use you… Zapp won’t let things go lying down… but that doesn’t mean I have to leave you out to dry.”  Again, Gabriel nodded his appreciation and he reached up to wipe the tears away while sniffling, “I’ll…. I’ll do my best… I’ll earn this…” the sniper nodded approvingly and lowered his hand. “Let me show you the control room and quarters.” They carried on, more so to avoid any more uncomfortable words. 

The time came for the sniper to log out, he promised to come back and visit when he had a chance and to give Gabriel any news. Gabriel was left to his own designs and he decided to clean up in his quarters and contemplate his next move. He stripped down to take a shower. As he stood in the stall, basking in the warm sensation he reached up to pick at his wound. He had taken the bandages off to wash himself. Sure enough blood ran down as he poked his flesh. The simple truth echoed in his head as he looked at the warm liquid, the crimson liquid on his fingers. “Divers don’t bleed…” 

———

Classified E-Mail to Zapp board of directors

To Whom It May Concern:

The incident now know as the “Second Bloody Valentine Massacre” is proof positive of our technical abilities. It strongly displays our strengths doing the following:

-Disrupting Diver ability to log out.

-Overclocking Gunpla scanning potential.

-Manipulation of NPD behavior.

-Diver combat data input into third party apparatus.

-Diver identity masking.

Of course our involvement was largely material and direct support was kept to a minimum. No direct ties could be tracked back to our technology and Administration believe this is a security threat performed by lone hacker(s). This latest version of GBN is full of exploitable opportunities that will sell for a premium on third party markets, and further entrenches our ability to create unique cosmetics that will become embedded with the backbone code of the network. 

We will continue to provide material support to the asset being referred to as the “Disruptor”. We have already helped them acquire a new base of operations in theater. Keeping the asset satisfied with our support will ensure easier cooperation for any future endeavors. 

As always you can contact me directly with any concerns or questions regarding this project.

Sincerely,

Marco Creed

Director of Diver Relations, Proportionate Share Holder

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      -----------
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      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.
    • By JohnSeever
      Biography
      Full name Zhane Tan
      Faction: n/a
      Rank: n/a
      Age: 15
      Sex: Male
      Height: 6 foot
      Weight: 155 pounds
      Eyes: Redish-Brown
      Hair: Silver
      Skin: Caucasian
      Handiness: Right-handed
      Ingame name: Lucky
      Personality
      Zhane is a calm and easy-going man. His attitude towards others makes him seem like a loner, but he is a people person and enjoys meeting new and interesting people. Quiet and thinks all the time as he makes notes on what he sees and experiences. He tries to avoid conflict as much as possible with the tendency to do the ‘right’ thing when he knows it will get him into more trouble. Lancer has a sense of honor to his friends and duty to those he works for and with. He stays loyal to his friends and makes sure that he stays true to his word, since he was raised to show dignity, honor and respect to all.
      Strengths and weaknesses
      Zhane is still new to the GBN, having taken part in a few battles. He is quick on the controls and is good as a close combat-based player. Not the best out there when it comes to teams but is amazing in singles. When he dives, he is super friendly and enjoys it. Seems to have a natural ability to piloting and figuring out the Gunpla's abilities quickly.
      Appearance

      History
      Born in the United States, Zhane grew up in the Midwest. His parents traveled due to their careers and so he was never in a single place for more than two to three years. Additionally, he has a few health issues, mainly bone cancer, and is not able to do much, and making friends is hard. Due to this, he spent time building Gunpla and creating his own worlds with them. Finally, after many years and many homes, Richard's family has finally settled down and has stopped moving and now, perhaps he can make friends.
      While not a very good pilot, he does have some natural abilities and is an excellent builder of Gunpla. Due to moving, he was not able to take part in GBN, and has never dived before, however, he might his chance and more and maybe he will find a team he can join or get some time in to better his skills. If nothing else, he will just enjoy what time he can within the GBN.
      Possessions
      Gunpla #1: XXAGET-01X105-2DB Gundam Deathstrike Bullet
      Gunpla #2: XXXGAT-X10201H Gundam Duel Heavy
      Gunpla #3: RXGN-001OP Prime Gundam
      Role plays
      Mairéad Grace Sandilands: For the Homeland
    • By Zhane Tan
      Looking at the Gundam Battle Nexus setup, Zhane blinked and had no idea what to do, "So, I just sit in this and put my gunpla here?" he asks the person at the GBN store as he looked back at them. "That's right," said the worker.  Looking at the machine, he thought for a moment and sat down. "Ok, now what do I do?" he asked as she looked again after placing his Gunpla on the machine. The employee blinked and just looked, shocked more than anything "... you've never done this?" he asked. "My first time," was Zhane's response.  The employee sighed, "You put on the headset, and create an account," and as the employee spoke, Zhane did that. "That's it?" he asked. "Yes," said the employee.
      Zhane is odd in this matter, having not been out in public much, except for his trips to the hospital. He has bone cancer and has been going through a lot to try to stop it and fight it of and the Doctors are sure that they are to the point of getting all of it, so he has little experience with anything like this, and thinking, Zhane types in a name, Lucky. The employee looks, "Interesting name," he states. "Yea," Zhane says. "I have been lucky my entire life, and still am so far," he replies as he listens and places his Gunpla on the machine to scan it in. "Interesting suit design," the employee said. "Thank you," he states simply as he closes his eyes and takes a few breaths, kind of tired but opens them. "Here it goes," he comments to himself as he logs in for the first time....

      Traveling through the VR of the login, he looks around and smiles, "Totally cool," he states as he wonders, will keep his same appearance or will have a different appearance. 

      He looks at the screen and thinks as he gets his answer. smiling to himself, he picks an design that he thinks will be cool. "Can I change my appearance later?" he wonders to himself as he picks his normal appearance with simple clothing. Afterwards, he steps through the door and into the GBN.
      Arriving in the GBN, he looks around as he sees all the different avatars, "Wow, there's someone dressed as Zechs and another as Char.... and... is that a dogboy?" he says to himself as he walks around the floor and looks completely lost.
       
    • By Judge
      “So, this is Orb,” Lowell looked out across the sandy, sunlit beach as azures waves as crisp as crystal crashed against the shore, ticking his sandaled feet. He shaded his eyes against the sun. Even with sunglasses and shorts it was too bright, too hot. It was same thing he disliked about the desert when he was stationed there. The ZAFT pilot much preferred the climate-controlled PLANTs to actual atmosphere and all that came with it.
      Behind him, some meters away, Renato Masters was sitting at an outdoor bar, shaded by the palm-frond thatching and sipping on a deep orange Mai Tai. He was watching Lowell as he trudged his way back up towards the bar and took a seat next to him. Renato had gone to the trouble of ordering him a similarly vibrant drink.
      “It’s very…blue,” Lowell said, picking up the sweaty glass and observing the miniature novelty umbrella wedged between the ice within.
      “It’s called a Blue Hawaiian,” Ren informed him, sipping his own drink. “Give it a try, you’ll like it. It’s fruity,”
      “Wolf Squad really is lucky to have its own former mixologist on board,” Lowell said, sipping at the drink. It was indeed very fruity and very alcoholic. Lowell set it back down and looked out towards the ocean. He wasn’t fully sure why such a natural thing unnerved him—perhaps it was because it was so like space but yet completely alien, ironically. Boundless and vast. “Do you ever miss your place?”
      “What, the bar?” Ren quirked a brow. “Sure, every day. But this is more important I think, don’t you? If we don’t fight here and now, there might not be a bar to miss, you know? Besides, it’s in good hand. My little sister is running the place until I get back and I swear she knows more about business than I do. She’ll probably have bought me out by the time this is all over and then I’ll have to find a new job or become a lifer or something,” Ren chuckled and took another drag of his Mai Tai. Lowell smiled softly and then turned his eyes back to his drink, contemplated it.
      “There’s that look again,” Ren said, lightly pushing his commander’s shoulder. “You’re stressing yourself out again,”
      “No, no,” Lowell smiled. “Just thinking about things back home that’s all,” a silent moment passed between the two as a warm, tropical wind blew through the cabana. Quietly, Lowell made a decision for himself. “Enjoy yourself, Ren. I’m going to head into town to do some looking around but I don’t think it’s a two person job,”
      “Hey, you’re the boss, Lowell,” Ren grinned. “You say drink, I say how much,”
      ---
      Lowell’s rent-a-car slowed to a crawl as he brought it to the side of the road, cursing his bad fortune. He knew he shouldn’t have cheaped out on the rental, but with the amount that Ren was likely to be drinking today, he didn’t want to run up too much of a charge on the unit funds. The smoke coming out from under the hood was dire, but after being in a mobile suit, no amount of minor vehicular disrepair could faze him. It did, however, greatly inconvenience him. His personal phone wasn’t exactly on an Earth plan. Lowell exhaled through pursed lips, his hands on his hips. Of course he broke down on a country road outside of the city. He could even see it in the distance, but he wasn’t exactly looking forward to walking several kilometers in sandals.
      Lowell leaned up against the side of the car and folded his arms across his chest as he tried to think of a plan, when a plume of dust on the horizon caught his eye.
      “Oh! Hey!” he cried out, waving his hands up over his head in hopes of flagging down this oncoming driver.
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