Volume 14, Chapter 44: Alternative Days of the Future (I)
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Wednesday Summer Quarter 2016 Week 3

I leaned back on my bed headboard and stared at the bookmarks Mirei gifted me. What kind of scenarios were contained within these?

"All right, what will I see this time?" I muttered, slipping one of the bookmarks into my grimoire before shutting it close.

I examined a calendar pinned near my room door. 2020, the future again? I opened it and stepped out into an empty hallway. Ah, I was in a dormitory, but what was this uneasiness? I glanced around and returned to my room.

Okay, let’s check my pockets first. I pulled out a small, thin booklet and flipped through the pages. There was a picture of me on the upper left corner of the first page and my personal information to the right.

“Alpha-Zero?” I noticed the Greek letter and the number zero with a slash.

There was a knock on my door. I hesitated but if I took long to respond, it was suspicious. I unlocked my door and saw Jen.

“Oh, you’re finally awake! Sorry about the room arrangement. Resources are a bit strained at the moment.” Jen greeted me with a smile.

“No, everything’s fine,” I assured her.

“That’s a relief! Please follow me to Commander Zha’s office. If you feel any discomfort, please be sure to tell me,” Jen requested.
Commander? She was the Gatekeeper so that role fit her perfectly. I glanced at Jen’s military uniform. On her upper right sleeve, there was a patch depicting a butterfly in flight and the pattern on its wings resembled a Lorenz attractor. Above the design was “α-ONE” in bold font.

“I tried convincing them you need an extra day of rest. But with how things are, the administration wouldn’t allow it.” Jen turned around and peered at my face.

“I’m feeling good so you don’t have to worry about me!” I assured Jen.

“I’m not happy about this at all! But we can’t be selfish though,” Jen muttered as her expression darkened.

“Taking our guest to see the Commander?” a familiar man’s voice questioned as we passed him.  

“Yes, Commander Zha wanted to see her as fast as possible. I believe she’ll be joining your squad,” Jen revealed.

Kisai Jin. Appearances didn’t vary too much in these scenarios Mirei concoted. Although, his face was much more worn and scarred than the one I knew. The same applied to Jen as well. The text on his patch was “α-Ø”, matching the one in my booklet.

 “Seriously? We can finally split up the chores so I can do less. Just kidding, we wouldn’t do that! I’m looking forward to seeing what you can do.” Kisai grinned and headed in the opposite direction.

Damn, Tess’ office was really far away. It must be over fifteen minutes by now. Jen paused and saluted a familiar person.

“Major Kyoi!” Jen stood at attention.

“You’ve brought the latest member of my team. We’ll have fun doing aptitude tests later. Be prepared!” Kyoi tapped my left shoulder with a smile.

“Almost there. Don’t let her rank deceive you. Her tactical prowess is on the level of our commander,” Jen revealed.

We arrived at a door with multiple scanners and a console next to it. She slid her card before the scanners checked her face, handprint, and eyes. After a ten second wait, the door finally opened.

“Sorry for the wait. Please head inside. I will be waiting here once you’re done. Commander Zha wants to meet with you alone.” Jen directed me inside.

I took a deep breath and walked further in. My footsteps sounded louder than usual. Alright, nothing to worry about. This was still Tess, right? She sat behind a wide metallic table, her elbows resting on the surface, and white gloved hands clasped together with a serious expression on her face.

“Please, have a seat, Tomo Yuki. I have important matters to discuss with you.” Tess unclasped her hands and gestured at a chair.

Even simple eye contact with the woman unnerved me. A globe, chains wrapping around it, and bold letters “GDF” beneath it were depicted on her uniform patch.

“You are from another world, one with very similar people. Am I correct?” Tess questioned.

“Yeah. It’s not surprising you know that.” I confirmed her suspicions.

“For what reason have you come here?” Tess inquired.

“I was given a chance to see what other possibilities existed for me. I didn’t exactly choose this to be my destination,” I admitted.

Tess remained silent after my answer. She closed her eyes for a brief moment before retrieving a folder from her drawer.

“Since you are here, I might as well make use of you, Tomo. The amount of raw power you exude is outstanding. However, that means nothing if you can not harness any of it. You will find all the necessary information in here.” Tess tapped the folder.

“Is that all?” I flipped through the documents inside it.

“For now. I will summon you again tomorrow. Second Lieutenant Jian will be your guide so ask her any questions you may have. You are dismissed, Cadet Tomo,” Tess replied.

I picked up the folder and exited. Damn, that was scary.

“Commander Zha has requested I take you to the mess hall and introduce you to everyone. Of course, this is all circumstantial until you pass the exam. Oh, I didn’t mean to say that you won’t. It’s just… the exam’s really hard but don’t worry about it! I’m sure you’ll done fine!” Jen encouraged me.

She led me to a large area full of people eating and conversing at the same time. Was it time for dinner already?

“There they are!” Jen pointed at a table.

All the heroes on Tess’s side, excluding En and Zhuyu, were present.

“Everyone here is part of the Alpha squadron. You’ve already seen Major Kyoi and Major Kisai. The tall one is Major Shigetzu. The Alpha-Null squad consists of these three and one other member who isn’t present right now. They are a frontline group who deal with powerful and unique threats,” Jen explained.

“We’re just guinea pigs they send out since no one else wants to do it,” Shigetzu joked.

“You better hope the higher-ups don’t hear you say that!” Ichaival chastised.

“We’re missing Zhuyu and Zhang. They’re both recovering from injuries. You’ll meet them eventually,” Kyoi revealed.

“Lieutenant Kuan, Second Lieutenant Ichaival, Second Lieutenant En, Second Lieutenant Shui, Second Lieutenant Jacque, Second Lieutenant Pizam, and myself make up Alpha-One. We provide reconnaissance and support,” Jen disclosed.

Oh, Pizam was Kristoph. Even though he wasn’t a hero in my world, he played a larger role here.

“Nice to meetcha! We’re a pretty chill group unless the higher ups are chewing out Jin or Long for some dumb mistake. Kuan and I use mechs out in the field so hit me up if you wanna learn,” Kristoph said, extending his right hand out.

“You barely passed the test. She’s better off asking me,” Kuan pointed out.

“Nah, don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m just bad at all the terminology stuff. I’m a beast when it comes to actual piloting,” Kristoph disagreed.

“How big are the mechs you pilot?” I questioned.

“Around 19.7 meters. Depends on the model really,” Kuan replied and showed me photos of them.

“Never knew,” Kristoph quipped.

Wow, these were really intricate. Their designs reminded me of the shows Ichizen watched back in elementary and middle school. This was definitely a dream come true for my childhood friend if he was still alive.

“Look forward to workin’ with ya!” Shui said, offering me a drink.

“Thanks. Are you guys always this carefree?” I asked.

“Kinda have to be with everything going on out there. Don’t worry, everyone is crazy strong when we’re actually fighting. Trust me, I’m the weakest one here so I know,” Jacque replied and spat out his gum into a foil wrapper.

Glad to know some things never change.

“That’s enough from everyone! Come on, I’ll take you back to your room. Get some sleep so you’ll be ready for tomorrow,” Jen decided.

She led me back to my room after everyone said their farewells. I crawled into my bed and stared at the ceiling. This was a good time to end the dive but I was curious about this world’s circumstances.

“Ten years ago, a rift opened, connecting Earth to an area known as the Crossroads. Further investigation revealed that the Crossroads itself was a hub, a central area which served as connections to even more worlds. The residents attempted to close off these connections but interference from the government and other underground organizations prevented them from succeeding. Their failure resulted in instability and more connections to other areas were established.”

I read further, discovering prominent cities on Earth transformed into smaller versions of the Crossroads. Outsiders from other worlds then arrived. At first, there were attempts at friendly discussions but after several missteps from the government, such tactics failed. Some treaties were signed but a majority of the newcomers viewed Earth as a prime area for conquer.

“No wonder things are so dark.” I realized the severity of the situation.

I would stay for one more day and then exit.  It was callous of me to just sit back and observe. But I reminded myself this was all a product of Mirei’s powers. Still, I should be careful. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best.

Next Day

I heard a knock and groaned. Opening my door, I saw an unexpected guest.

“Here,” Zhuyu said with a terse tone.

He handed me a piece of paper and departed immediately. Great to know his personality was terrible here. Directions and a schedule for today were listed. I arrived at the mess hall. Zhuyu sat alone and chugged down a bottle of water with a flat expression. This was awkward. Hmm, what to do?

“Looking for me?” I felt someone’s hands on my shoulder.

I spun around and saw Kyoi smiling at me. Weird how she didn’t make me tense up.

“Thought the entire squad was already here,” I said.

“Zhuyu’s usually the first one. He’s always like that,” Kyoi explained.

“How long have you known him?” I questioned.

“Around eight, nine years now. I recruited him but I’ll save that story for another time,” Kyoi revealed.

“What’s this scrimmage on my schedule?” I pointed at the time slot.

“Just a little aptitude test all new recruits go through,” she answered.

“If I’m joining you guys then I’ll be facing against one of you?” I guessed.

“Very perceptive. Usually, I would have you go up against Long but he’s still recovering. So you’ll face Jin instead,” Kyoi confirmed my suspicions.

Damn, not an ideal match-up for me. However, I didn’t have any information on how their powers so I might just get through this unscathed.

Kyoi and I chatted for a few minutes before she left. Should I even sit with Zhuyu? No, I should keep my distance. I searched for an empty table but people were streaming in now. Suddenly, Kisai stood next to me with a grin.

“Hey, need some help?” Kisai greeted me.

He motioned for me to follow him and sat next to Zhuyu. He glanced up at his friend’s arrival and acknowledged him with a slight nod.

“She’s my opponent later. So, uh, chances of me totally beating her are pretty good, right?” Kisai joked.

“Sure.” Zhuyu provided a one word answer with no emotion.

“Come on, give me some deep analysis. There’s a reason Tess made her join us,” KIsai prodded.

“Probably. Good luck, Tomo,” Zhuyu said before leaving.

“I’ll take you to the next place on your schedule.” Kisai stood up and waved his hand at me.

He led me to a door with an “NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ALLOWED” placard. Kisai slid his ID card and there was a click as the door slid open. There was a biometrics reader and another door. What was in here that required this type of security? The hero scanned his hand and eyes before the second door slid open.

“It’s a simulation room designed by the Commander to help us train. I’ll set up the initial parameters,” Kisai explained.

“Why’s it so secretive?” I questioned.

“This training can really mess up you brain. I’ll give you a couple of easy enemies an adjust it from there. Enter that pod over there,” Kisai directed.

Oh, it resembled the ones in Shane and Emily’s laboratory. I inserted my ID card into the outside slot before entering the pod. Inside, there was a helmet with a flashing visor. I placed it on my head and leaned back into the seat. A pop-up screen appeared and confirmed my credentials. Alright, time to do this!