Chapter 22: Her Worst Nightmare
"Master, I've got an update for you."
Lorenzo, who was about to access the Animus and begin tonight's session, sat back up. It was Demeter, holding a tray of coffee that she set down on the table right beside him. Normally she'd save updates for after his session, so if she brought this to his attention now it must've been important.
He looked up at her and nodded, a signal for her to proceed with her report.
"Our comrades report that the traitor Daniel Cross has been spotted in the area."
The expression on Lorenzo's face hardened at that. He knew all about the man, alright. Daniel Cross was a former Assassin, one of their most promising. He hadn't been with them long, but even then their Mentor had considered choosing him as his personal apprentice and eventual successor. Not only that, he'd even met Cross face-to-face in their headquarters at Dubai, which was saying something considering that no one at the time was even sure if the Mentor really existed.
Unfortunately, for his generosity, the Mentor was repaid with treachery.
It was still a mystery to them how it had happened; they'd gone over his entire history with a fine-toothed comb the moment he'd been taken to one of their training facilities in the United States, and there was no hint the man was involved with the Templars. Hell, he'd first been found about to kill a man he thought was one. Likewise, according to the operative who'd been closest to him, Cross had never come across as anything more as a loyal and determined member of their Order.
And yet, somehow, he'd turned out to be some kind of Manchurian Agent. Not quite unbelievable, considering one of their own had been turned against them before, but all the more disappointing and saddening for it.
The sound of someone knocking on the door recalled Lorenzo to the present.
Speak of the devil. She's here.
"Hi there, Demi. It's been a while."
When Demeter opened it, she was greeted by a petite, brown-eyed woman with long, red hair
"Good evening, Hannah," Lorenzo greeted, smiling as he turned to face the newcomer. "Come on in, I assume you're tired."
Hannah Mueller stepped into the flat, gratefully taking a seat on the couch overlooking the balcony as she took off her jacket. From the look on her face, she was clearly tired and exhausted, though he had a feeling her weariness was more than just physical in nature.
As he looked at her, Lorenzo reflected on how she'd changed. It wasn't just entirely due to the passage of time, he knew. Cross' betrayal had affected all of them, given how Abstergo came down hard on the entire Order not long after, but she'd probably felt it most acutely. The Hannah he'd first met had been a much warmer person, as opposed to the somewhat guarded woman that now sat in his presence.
"Nice to see you too, Lorenzo," she greeted him shortly. "Is it true? Daniel's in the area?"
Her use of the traitor's first name wasn't lost on him, either. In the entire Order, it was Hannah who knew him best, and it was Hannah who was closest to him. Rumors had even gone around that the two had been in a relationship of some sort, and indeed she'd been spotted coming out of his cabin more than once. Being the first to learn of his betrayal must've been painful for her.
Nevertheless, Lorenzo had to be honest.
"…Yes, Hannah," he admitted reluctantly, unsurprised at the way her expression hardened. "He's been spotted in…"
"…St. Benedict's Academy?"
He trailed off as he read the words in front of him. It couldn't be, surely not –?
Son of a bitch.
Lorenzo felt a bucket of ice cascade into his stomach as he stared at his laptop, still not quite believing the report their comrade had sent him. St. Benedict's was where Rei, his brother-in-law, went to college. It could have been coincidence, he knew, but he wasn't willing to take a gamble where his family was concerned.
Maybe I should have Ceres watch his back.
"I see," Hannah nodded. Though she did her utmost to hide it, Lorenzo could still see a hint of sadness in her posture; the way her head was bowed easily gave it away, as did the manner in which she had her arms folded across her chest. After all these years, she still hadn't completely gotten over his betrayal.
"What could Daniel be doing there, though? I highly doubt there's anything there Abstergo's interested in… unless…"
Lorenzo looked at her, puzzled. "Unless?" he prompted, somewhat dreading the answer he would receive.
"Remember their so-called Project Seraph? Abstergo tried creating a superpowered persocom assassin of its own, but she went rogue and practically murdered her way out of the Far Eastern branch," Hannah explained, recalling the information brought to her by one of their insiders. "She had a mind of her own, and obviously enough, she didn't like what they did to her."
Lorenzo shook his head at that. He'd heard of Project Seraph, and he knew that Abstergo knew all about the existence of combat capable persocoms. Hell, they'd learned the hard way what they were capable of. But then, capable as Demeter and Ceres were, their enhancements weren't quite as ambitious or extensive as compared to those possessed by what they had created.
It was true, thought Lorenzo; the durability of his beloved twins did surpass that of ordinary persocoms, and they did have lengthened operation time thanks to the improved energy batteries they both possessed. But if what the information he'd received was anything to go by, Abstergo's so-called Platinum Angel had a prototype accelerator built into her, was near-indestructible, and apparently utilized an ultracompact nuclear reactor that could be overloaded should she choose to self-detonate.
Even Lorenzo, a veteran of the Assassin Order, couldn't help but feel a chill run down his spine at the thought, fleeting though it was. Abstergo had clearly intended her to defeat entire armies on her own, considering the raw destructive potential she possessed; in that light, it was a good thing for them that she'd gone rogue.
"And from what our spies have told us," Hannah went on after around a minute had passed, "Daniel's the one assigned to deal with her."
Lorenzo fell silent once again, going over the significance of what he'd just learned. "And where's she now?"
He couldn't help but notice the hesitation written on Hannah's face as she opened her mouth once more. "Well… according to the very last report, she was taken in by a family…"
Ceres did mention that Rei now had a persocom of his own, and that he was very fond of her…
Could it be?
"He's hiding something, isn't he?"
Freya looked up at Ceres as she was setting the table for dinner. The bluenette's perceptiveness never ceased to amaze her; just days ago, she, Ceres, had confronted her over her feelings for Rei. Of course she'd have to have noticed that he was acting rather strangely over the past couple of days, having become unusually quiet ever since his accident at school.
"…Yeah," Freya replied after a long silence. "I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights ago, and it seemed he'd gone out somewhere."
Freya did bring this up with Rei, telling him of a nightmare she had. As a persocom, she didn't exactly have dreams, but if she did, that would probably be her worst nightmare. Besides, given how she'd done her utmost not to think of his disappearance as she laid there, it may as well have been a bad dream.
Promise me, Rei. Don't ever vanish like that, okay?
She couldn't help but feel scared as she recalled his reaction when she'd confided in him. Not only that, his hesitation when she'd extracted that promise out of him was itself far from reassuring.
"It's like he hasn't been himself lately. Like he's being manipulated, or something."
For her part, Ceres was startled at what she'd just heard. It wasn't the first time Rei had done something like that, but it hadn't happened in quite a while now, not since they took Freya in. It was part of the reason Ceres had warmed up to her so quickly – that she, Freya, had somehow gotten him to change for the better.
"I see," Ceres nodded thoughtfully. "What about you, Freya? Do you have secrets of your own, too?"
Freya said nothing. She had a feeling she knew where this was going, but decided to wait for it first. From the way Ceres brought it up, she'd been putting it off for a while.
"Like those hidden blades you've got," Ceres jerked her head at the bracers Freya was wearing as she placed the lid on a pot of food she'd laid on the dining table. "Those aren't exactly common, now are they?"
Without waiting for a reply, the Mikage family's retainer stood up straight, light streaking across her eyes as she and Freya interfaced with each other.
"What are you exactly, Freya? Does he know?"
Freya responded in the affirmative. She recalled that night where she unburdened herself of her secret, how she'd fully expected Rei to banish her – and those words he'd told her. And of course, she clearly remembered the way she'd embraced him that night, the relief and joy she'd felt.
Drawing strength from that memory, Freya steeled herself as she told Ceres her story.
Ceres felt for her fellow persocom, not blaming her one bit even as she recounted the massacre she'd precipitated at Abstergo's Far Eastern branch. Though no one in this household but her mistress knew about it, Ceres herself was a combat capable model, with enhancements that granted her capabilities far above and beyond any normal persocom.
But even then, she and her sister had been created that way. Regardless of her lack of fondness for the tasks that had once been put to her, Ceres could never truly despise the life she had first known. Besides, neither her master nor her mistress had ever treated her with anything but respect and even love.
Freya, on the other hand, was created a normal persocom. She'd died once already, she said, only to wake up in a cold laboratory with all those upgrades built into her against her will. Not only that, the first thing she'd been told upon her 'resurrection' was that she was brought back as a killing machine.
In that light, her murderous fit of rage wasn't that surprising. Ceres reflected that she wouldn't like it very much, either, if she'd been tampered with against her will – especially if the one responsible wasn't even her master.
Somehow, Freya had found her way to them. Her mistress had come to trust her, and even more incredibly, Oyuki adored her just as much as she did Ceres herself. That was an achievement in and of itself, considering how the child usually was around people outside their family.
And as her thoughts turned toward Rei, Ceres smirked inwardly. There was no need to guess how he felt for Freya. He'd been the first Freya had told of her secret, and he hadn't run away screaming, now had he? If anything, it served to bring them closer to each other.
Still, Ceres needed to confirm something. She thought she already knew the answer, but she wanted to get it straight from Freya herself.
"Tell me, Freya," Ceres asked. "Do you love Rei? Because I for one can tell how he feels about you."
Which was literally true, as far as Ceres was concerned. It was all too obvious from the way they were together, and most of all, the way he unconsciously clasped Freya's hand while they were out was a dead giveaway.
"Yes, I do!" she answered forcefully, without even the slightest hint of hesitation. "More than anything else! Can't you tell, Ceres? I wouldn't be worrying so much about him otherwise!"
Ceres wasn't surprised as she heard the answer she already knew Freya would give.
"I see. Take care of him, then. I'd hate it if something happened to either of you."
"Platinum Angel or not, I'll personally end you if you hurt him in any way."
Satisfied with the answers to her questions, Ceres severed their connection. She decided that she'd have to have a word with Rei later.