Energia, Web Novel

Chapter 21: The Shinobi

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

With Cara gone, Anna sat up in her bed, resting her head on her knees as she stewed in furious thought. Her mind wandered over each of her attempts to climb the wall, reflecting on every second of each failure. One question repeated itself in her mind on loop. Where did I go wrong? Unfortunately, she was unable to find an answer.

Two hours passed before Cara returned. She walked with her head slumped forward, dragging her feet with each step. Her eyes wandered over to Anna as she walked. “Hey neighbor.” She grumbled, putting on a smile of fake confidence. “How ya feelin?”

Anna did her best to ignore her. She didn’t dislike the woman, even if her accent and volume were headache-inducing. But she had something far more important to worry about at the moment. She closed her eyes, hoping her new associate would take the hint. Surely, she can’t be that clueless.

“Y’know how I told ya I was gonna conquer the wall?” Cara continued, proving herself to indeed be that clueless. “Well, I almost did that! But as it turns out, that thing is way tougher than it looks!” she huffed, sitting on a bed in the corner not too far from Anna’s. “Hits like a bitch, too! Like a shot of whisky without the fun part!” she rubbed her shoulders and chest. “Or the taste.”

How old are you again? Anna thought, looking at her from the corner of her eye. The Irish-woman couldn’t have been any older than eighteen, given her girlish cheeks and short stature, not to mention her behavior. She shook her head. There were more important things to-

“Still, at least we weren’t the only losers today!” she carried on, crashing Anna’s train of thought. “That Eitan boy couldn’t do it! Bless him did he try, though! And that Tommy guy, you know, the good looking one? He almost had it! Until it punched him in the… Y’know…”

Despite her attempts to block the conversation out of her head, Anna couldn’t help but smile. She was suddenly sad that she wasn’t there to see it.

“Sal managed to clear it first. Though he did take one hell of a beating! Crazy bastard took every hit the wall gave him and just kept going! He was like a god damn rhino! And that Russian mate! What was his name? Vodka? I’ll call him Vodka. That dude is crazy! He didn’t just clear the wall! Bastard nearly got to the top of the rope!”

Anna perked up at hearing this. “Nearly?” While she was determined to conquer the wall, she did still need to deal with the rest of the obstacle course after it. Any intel she could get, no matter what the source, would be extremely helpful. “How come?”

“Cause it put up a fight!” Cara laughed. She leaned back in her bed, kicking back and relaxing after taking her shoes off. “The damn rope flailed about like it was alive! And angry! Very, very angry! Like a snake out of hell! It just spun round and round and-”

“I get it.” Anna laid back in her bed, reflecting on what she just learned. A rope that fought back? It wasn’t an absurd thought. Her bruises wouldn’t let her think otherwise. But Cara seemed to be the type to over exaggerate things. She’d need to see the rope for herself before taking her word for it. “So, what now? Did we get any instructions?”

Cara shrugged. “Melcroft says to take a few hours to rest. We’re gonna give the obstacle course another go at five o’clock Earth time. Says we’re not gonna do anything else ‘till someone clears it.”

Two hours from now. Anna calculated. Out of all of the strange quirks of planet Verità, the time was the strangest, as well as the most inconveniencing. Each day lasted a total of forty Earth-hours, while the nights only lasted ten. This was due to the particular placement of the planet in relation to the two suns, which left very few windows of darkness on the planet surface. The human body still hadn’t adjusted to such an odd sleep schedule, so the people of Unity side-stepped the issue by measuring their time by Earth-hours. Very rarely did anyone in the city go to sleep under the cover of night. Luckily, the city’s outer shields could be used to shroud the city in darkness when it came time for people to sleep.

An excited grin spread across her face. Two hours to strategize. That’ll be more than enough. She closed her eyes, trying her best to shut herself away from the world as much as possible. This time, she would definitely-

“I’ll beat it for sure this time!” Cara shouted abruptly, shooting up to sit on the bed cross-legged. “See, I’ve got this plan! First, I’m gonna- hey, where are you goin?”

“For a walk,” Anna said curtly, rising from her bed quickly. “I need to clear my head.”

“Headache?”

“Yup.” She neglected to mention that Cara was the cause behind it. Instead, without another word, she made for the exit, leaving her still rambling neighbor behind. Even as she passed through the door, she could still hear her talking on about her plan to conquer the wall. Something about moving like a spider. It was impossible to tell if she were talking to Anna or herself, given the high volume of her voice.

Well, she’s… interesting. Anna thought as she stepped out into the hallway. Now then. Where the hell am I going? She stopped, realizing that she had no destination in mind. Shrugging, she started down the hall towards the dining hall. May as well try to get a bite to eat.

The atmosphere in the dining hall hadn’t changed, though the population had certainly diminished. The electric buzz of E-Suits had practically died, with only a few corners of the tables still humming with power. Some Operatives still sat at the tables, though very few of them were actually eating.

None of them paid her any attention, which was a nice change of pace. Back home, no matter where she went, she was always the center of attention. People were always whispering about her behind her back, calling her a mad dog or an unlawful degenerate. Walking in silence was surprisingly relaxing.

There was a large variety of food spread out on tables against the far end of the room. An Operative still in his E-Suit, a thin green piece accented by black, went to grab a serving of roasted beef, taking what remained from the platter. As soon as the plate was clear, a hole opened in the table beneath it, swallowing the empty dish in darkness. A moment later, it was replaced by another full, piping hot platter of roasted beef. After watching this process, Anna couldn’t help but feel equal parts impressed and hungry.

She stopped dead when she saw her. There, sitting in a far corner near the sweeter end of the table, was the silent woman from the dorms. She sat cross-legged, staring down at a red-tinted holo-phone in her lap. Her eyes were still, as if she weren’t reading a word off of the display. No one came within ten yards of her, leaving the entire selection of desserts for her alone.

She seems familiar. Anna thought, staring at her. She was certain that their encounter in the dorms was their first meeting. But she couldn’t shake that familiar feeling. Have I seen her before?

“Well would you look at this!” a familiar voice said in her ear, making her jump. “Looks like my good luck charm did the job after all! Hello, Ironchase!”

Having recovered from her near heart-attack, Anna turned quickly to face its owner. A smile crossed her lips at the sight of him. “You’re wearing the same suit.” She remarked. “You ever wash that thing? I think I can smell it!”

“Haha.” Lucas shrugged nonchalantly, but Anna still saw him take a quick whiff of his armpit. “Anyways, congratulations! You’re an Operative now! Or at least an Operative in training! How’s that going for you?” his frowned when he saw her face grimace. “That bad, huh?”

“Well, not that bad,” Anna said quickly, trying to maintain some semblance of an image. The last thing she wanted was for him to try and help her like he did before. Or give him any more leverage over her. “But… yeah. Pretty bad.”

“That’s rough, kid.” Lucas nodded, crossing his arms. “But not to be expected. From what I’ve heard, Order takes its training more seriously here than on any other planet! Apparently, they only want their top Operatives working on Verità. I wonder why.”

Maybe it has something to do with the giant monsters. Anna thought. “Well, I guess that just means we’re the cream of the crop.” She said, looking back to her mysterious neighbor. “Nice to see you again.” She went still, hoping that Lucas would get bored and walk away.

He didn’t. “Well, I may be the cream of the crop.” Lucas chuckled. “As you are now, you’re pretty far from cream. If anything, you’re still the milk!”

Please tell me that isn’t a common saying where you’re from. Anna stared forward, silent. Surely, he’ll get it this time. No one could be that stupid.

“Granted, you’re still fresh milk.” Lucas continued. “I’m sure you’ll make for excellent cream! As soon as- hey, what’re you looking at?” he took a step back and leaned over her shoulder, putting his face so close to hers that she nearly sent him sprawling. After closely following her gaze, he gave a small smile. “Oh? Isn’t that the Shinobi of Verità?”

“You know her?” Anna asked immediately. Maybe his insistence was a blessing in disguise.

“Kind of hard not to!” he laughed, stepping away from her. “Or at least I know her reputation. I’m more than a little rough on the details, but she’s pretty well-known in some other colonies I’ve worked at. Apparently, she did some transfer work for a few years.”

Why do guys like you beat around the bush so often? Anna thought irritably. Keeping her temper under control, she asked, “Famous for what?

“Well, from what I’ve heard, she’s a prodigy,” Lucas explained. “She cleared the entrance exam like it was a walk in the park, passed basic training in a day, then shot up the ranks in a matter of months! By the end of her first year, she was given Access Level 4 for the data files and allowed to tackle Titan Class jobs! Not that she ever did.”

Anna froze where she stood. Order had numerous data files that weren’t accessible to the general public. Any intel you could imagine, Order had it. They knew the internal affairs of each country, their entire histories, classified military projects, top-secret experiments, Order had it all. Only their top agents were allowed access to all of it.

She had tried to dig into it after getting her badge. If she was going to get through the black lines on her mother’s file, that databank was her only chance. But given her current rank, she wasn’t allowed access to any of it. It infuriated her to no end, but she knew exactly why. It didn’t matter; she’d just have to work her way to the top. She had no doubt that she’d catch up to this supposed ‘shinobi’ in no time in that regard.

But regarding the Titan Class jobs… That was another story entirely. If you worked hard enough, you could gain access to any part of the data archives. But only the most capable Operatives of all were given the prestige of going on Titan Class jobs. It was obvious as to why, of course. If anyone aside from the best tried to tackle a Titan, they’d undoubtedly be killed. E-Suit or not.

“Her career’s been on the decline recently, though.” Lucas continued. “Nowadays, she only takes a job if she’s ordered to. And she only takes the elite jobs. The ones that someone else tried and failed to do already. People have started to call her ‘The Last Resort’. Though I much prefer her other nickname.”

“Other nickname?”

Lucas looked at her with eyes of ice. His old smile was completely gone. “They call her a woman with no heart. A cold, merciless killer. ‘The Ultimate Weapon’.”

“’The Ultimate Weapon’?” Anna echoed. “Kind of a ridiculous title, isn’t it?”

“But an accurate one.”

Anna looked back to the mysterious woman. She hadn’t moved from her position, though she’d put her holo-phone away. Now, she laid back with her eyes closed, leaning back in her chair with her legs crossed beneath the table. A finger absentmindedly twirled a lock of black hair back and forth. “What else do you know about her?”

“Well…” Lucas put a finger to his chin. “She’s Japanese. Does that help?”

“Not particularly. Anything else?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. If you want to know so bad, why don’t you just ask her?”

“I-” she paused. “Huh. You know what? I might just do that.” She gave Lucas a small wave, then made her way across the room towards the mysterious woman.

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