SnakeMomMelissa

Super Robot Wars ∀: Deep Space IC Thread - Part 3: Crisis Point

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1200 PST, August 4th, Wednesday

Off Base, ANF Central, Nevada

With the entire bridge and pilot crew of the Riese being given-- rather, forced to take the day off by Commander Vance, they'd been stuffed into a bus and driven off base to the living center of all Central personnel. A day of swimming... Jessica had been interested, despite her previous night's talk with Firmia, and what she had to do today. A whole day swimming at a 'beach' was an interesting prospect out here in the middle of the desert. And, if the Commander ordered it, then he ordered it. Nothing to go against. They'd get in trouble if they did, right? She couldn't help smiling at that.

As they were ushered along into the stark white building, almost too bright to look at considering where they were, Jess wondered what exactly they'd be getting themselves into on the inside...

That answer came swiftly and pleasantly. It was still warm inside, but bearably so, like... Like the beach sprawling out in front of them! The sky was obviously simulated on the ceiling, but the smell, the heat, the stands and even the sand... Was that actual beach sand? It looked nothing like you'd find out on the desert, what in the world... Jess coudn't really believe her eyes. It was like they'd transported the entire west coast into one building. She was practically beaming, the sensation alone has drowned out those negatives.

"Alright, everyone!" she started, pulling her bag up her shoulder some. "This is our big reward for making it this far... Do your best to enjoy yourselves! It's a whole beach, so... Go nuts." There were other crews here, of course, they hadn't been given the entire building, but still. A scheduled break... It was a good thing. Jess saluted her crew, heading off to get properly changed and store her stuff in the provided lockers. Hope everyone brought their own locks.

Hannah had to take in everything, all these sights new and interesting. She could download all the information she wanted about a beach and the things on it, but actually seeing it in person, it made things a lot more clear. The temperature, the sun, zooming in on the beach, the texture of the sand was even different. And this quaint boardwalk area, they really did go full bore on making things authentic, didn't they? "Shall we find somewhere to relax, Firmia?" The Alkaev was entirely setup for staying away from the water, which was expected. Hannah was considering taking a dip... As long as she avoided the deep end, like the commander had suggested, when they were talking to him. Sinking was not on the agenda.

The rest of the bridge crew started heading off to their own agendas, Buck even tossing his shirt off and shouting, "last one in's a broken Velite!" as he dashed for the water. Avery smirked at him, glad he was still able to be a kid.

And that left Chris and Christina. The latter had taken a moment while shopping to stop and pick herself up a more fitting swimsuit, even if it was still a two piece, though she was still hiding underneath a shawl. Chris hadn't cared anywhere near as much as Christina did, wearing the same swimsuit, a blue and black two piece, not a string in sight. "I don't really get what your issue is with strings, Christina... Like, it's barely more revealing, you know?"

"You got taken off by Brant, so I didn't have your opinion when buying things... I just got double what I wanted. Sorry. If it's not good enough, we can head over to the mall and--"

"It's fine, it's fine... Now, where's a volleyball. I need to get some games in."

//Everyone is free to post and place themselves! Map here!

Clothes

 

There was Orange Theocracy... Chris stepped inside, arms still folded, looking around, before taking a moment to adjust her glasses. "This sure is a clothes store..." There wasn't much else to say about it. It sold clothes. It looked a little bit fancy, but a closer look showed that they had some less professional wears. And there was a customization counter at the back, go figure. Chris looked back at Brant, shrugging. "This is your trip, so start picking stuff. I can at least tell you off of Christina's experience whether something looks good or not. I hope that's good enough for you, Flyboy, because if it isn't, you're shit outta luck, ain'cha?" She snickered at that, wondering back to something... "Really shoulda taken Kim with you..."

Brant scowled, but it only lasted a couple of seconds. "Just help me out, would you? You're not missing Christina that much, are you?" Yes, Seung-Min likely had a better fashion sense than the Chrissies and himself all put together, but the suggestion always seemed to come at a low point with Chris. He wasn't sure if she would rather be hanging out with her 'sister,' if she thought Kim really was the more useful helper for this, or if she had some other reason, but whatever the reason was, Brant couldn't help but take notice.

Chris scowled back, and sighed. "Yeah, I kinda am... I thought I'd hate her. I thought she'd hate me, y'know? Who wants to get to know a clone of themselves? Especially one that's messed up. But she's... She's been nothing but nice to me, for no other reason than she wants to. I want more of that... Sorry for getting serious on you, but, yeah, today's been great. Anyway, I'll help, I already said I would, but you really did pick the worst person for the job."

"Christina is pretty nice," Brant nodded exaggeratedly, "fair enough ... but I want to feel like I recruited a golden fashionista who's snippy but loves to make the people around her look good ... so stop harping on about Kim and pretend you're the expert."

"Man, fuck Kim. She'd be better off here for getting you clothes, and getting away from Christina... Fine. Show me to your decisions, young Brant, and I'll judge the shit out of them, until we get something proper."

Was that jealousy or ...? No it wasn't jealousy. Brant's normal senses and TK senses were both getting something closer to what he expected from Firmia any time there was a threat looming. Brant was also reminded of the promise he'd pressured Tonya into making. It was underhanded, but she cared for him and Rex both, so he had to be sure. Brant considered Tonya's promise not to sleep with Rex a bit of payback for him trying to kill Firmia and even endangering Tonya herself in the process.

Where was he? Oh right, Chris being protective of her sister ... in the most impotent way possible. "Iii think I'll poke that hornet's nest a little later. Right now I'm enjoying this," Brant said, starting toward the coats section. It probably wouldn't pan out. He wasn't even sure the girls would keep any of the clothes he was planning to buy for them, but they would definitely not be wearing any of the clothes he failed to purchase for them.

"I don't know who all is going, but we could definitely try to get something like a company uniform going. So that's ... I need at least five coats, one for Firmia, one for Tonya ... Sasha, Hannah, and me ... thoughts? Firmia's company's going to be dealing mostly in military hardware and maybe some mercenary type work here and there, so I was thinking military style jackets if we can find any."

"Good call. Military coats? You probably want something leather, then. Either that, or just durable. Green, black, maybe brown? Long sleeves, zippers, space for logos and whatever else gets put on... What else would you want out of a coat like that? And you need pants to match, big duh. But, really, you're not here for just that, right? You could've gotten that made in Floormart, but you dragged my ass away from my sis to get some clothes. So buck the fuck up and gimme the laundry list, Brant. You're buying for five people, you're not gonna wear the coats your whole life." She waited, giving him a nice, hard stare.

"I'm a ... navy blue person myself," Brant smiled weakly, "but it's Firmia's company so we should probably go with black or green. As for the material ... something durable. Definitely long sleeves ... button ups like something more traditional. As for matching pants ... you need options, so pants and skirts." Brant knew Tonya wouldn't bother with shorts outside of the gym or an extremely casual situation, but Firmia probably would. Hannah too if the situation called for it.

Chris seemed to be getting impatient ... that or just bored and a little petty. Brant shrugged. "Sasha and I are fine. I just wanted to make sure we all had the same style of clothes for anything big that came up. Firmia and Tonya's wardrobes are pretty much gone though, and Hannah doesn't even have one. That's one more reason we were out here." One more reason that, despite Hannah not being here, Brant really wanted to get this taken care of, anyway ...

Chris continued to stare at Brant. "Give me. A list. You nerd."

Brant stared at Chris for a moment, looking slightly annoyed, and then he sighed at her. Time to figure out what kind of laundry list she meant. "The 'essentials'; eight per girl, plus two sports bras each, socks, stockings, shorts, skirts, pants, shirts, a new long coat for Firmia, two sweaters for Hannah, some caps and ties to go with the uniforms in case things get really formal. Dress shirts, too. Do I need to get more specific ...?" He didn't see how he could, really, but failing that he could just start grabbing things and see what her reactions were. Or maybe he could try annoying the crap out of her and having her model after all.

Chris could only smile. "You're so fun to mess with. That list is perfect. Gives me a good picture of what you're looking for. Let's get started, then!" Chris had things nice and setup in her mind, hoping Brant had a section he wanted to go after first.

Fun to mess with? Brant could ... kind of see it. Admittedly the feeling was mutual, but he had to work carefully for it. "Well let's find the new 'uniforms' first just so that's out of the way," he said, heading over to the jackets. It was always annoying to have some near precise mental image in plain view, only for it to get muddy and eventually fade away entirely as a plethora of options presented themselves. Brant felt Firmia would prefer either dark green or black. The former because it was a disgustingly common color among the Alkaev employees back home, and the latter because it was one of her favorite colors. He had to admit it would give the group a certain air of danger about them ... though it might not fit the company logo all as well as the green.

"See, this is why I need a second opinion. I'm actually seeing all these options now and I'm lost ..."

"Uniforms it is..." Chris followed along, finally slipping hands behind her head, lazily looking among the clothes while Brant went about looking through coats... Oh, was he already stuck? "Go with black. Green's standard military everywhere, at least with black you can be a bit unique. Probably fit better if whatever logo you're gonna slap on has white on it anywhere. Contrast is good... That enough of a second opinion for ya?"

"Heh," Brant nodded, "Why yes, thank you, Chris." With that, he got to picking up a couple of black jackets, trying to see which one had the better feel and seam placement. All the while, he kept reminding himself that he couldn't just pick up five of each of these. He needed one in each of their sizes. "Okay let's see, Tonya's about ..."

It took him a couple of minutes, but based on what he knew, each jacket would fit the intended recipient well enough. They were at least close enough to be easily tailored later on. Brant's next thought was to get some matching pants and skirts, but a long coat across the way grabbed his attention. "We're going to get the rest of the outfits, but let me just look at something, first ...

Firmia was about five and a half feet tall, and this coat seemed to be meant for wearers in that neighborhood. More importantly it was black. At worst the coat tails might be a little too close to the ground at times, not that she would care all that much. This could be just what he was looking for.

"Damn right you are..." There wasn't much else to add, Brant knew exactly what he had in mind for this trip. His choices were kinda interesting, though. Skirts? For a military organization? Or were they just for the girls in his life? Come to think of it, he really was surrounded by babes, wasn't he? The android, Firmia, Tonya, even the captain had her stint, and Chris couldn't deny his attractiveness... Even Christina seemed interested in some ways. What was his major malfunction, then? So many hot girls and he wanted the one that was already taken... As much as she thought he should still go for it, it was definitely weird.

"So which ex-girlfriend is the coat for?" That didn't mean she wouldn't abuse him some while doing so...

Brant turned to face Chris with the long coat he'd chosen and sighed. He really needed to find a way to turn the tables on her, again. "If Firmia was my 'ex', I doubt she'd still be letting me into her cockpit. Just saying. Alright, back to the uniforms."

"Oh, so you're still dating. Why are you going after Jessica again?" His buttons were pretty easy to press, especially when he didn't try to push back. "Back to the uniforms~"

Brant shrugged, honing in on what he hoped were pants of a matching material. "Well, Firmia's all work and no play. Besides, Jess is still dating, too." He never did have a woman all to himself, Brant noted. He probably never would. At the very least he wanted to get back what he'd lost, bring that potential back into existence, and make the absolute most of it.

The first set were close but not quite it, plus the shades of black seemed slightly different, and might stand out more under different lighting. "Hmm ..." Brant's eyes scanned the whole section looking for 'the match.' He found the matching sets soon enough though, and just hoped the skirts wouldn't too far off, either.

Chris could only snicker. Brant sure was an interesting fellow, wasn't he? She sighed, shaking her head once more. "For clothes, couldn't you just get the store to dye stuff? Just to get it to match perfectly. Might cost you a little more, but if Christina's bank account is anything to go by, your paycheck can handle it."

"It's definitely an option," Brant nodded. He supposed dyeing things to match was fine. He'd definitely keep it in mind if this skirt situation didn't pan out. Chris also mentioned the cost and how her sister was making a lot of money working for the ANF. Brant hadn't been aware that they had reinstated her pay yet. That was considerate of them.

Brant didn't even look at his own account anymore. There was an upper limit to how much he could find a way to spend on any given day, and he never really got close to it ... so really, he had no idea how much money he had right now, and he didn't expect any transactions to fail, either.

"So," Brant smirked at Chris, "Since we're so well off, right now, did you want anything while we're here? Some shoes, some nice hot pants or something?"

"Shoes are nice... Hot pants? Is that why I'm here? ... You miss Tonya, or something?" Chris kept snickering, this was almost too easy. "Yeah, sure, you can get a show... I don't really care, it's summer, and they don't overcrank the AC on the ship. Easy to move in clothes seem fine. Just hope I don't cause anyone any problems. That Makoto kid sure seems to enjoy hanging around me..." She'd blamed Makoto, of course, but that tinge of pink was present in her cheeks. Not that he's all that bad.

Brant looked thoroughly unamused for a second. Of course he missed Tonya. He quickly eased back into his friendly, slightly drunk self, though. "Now that you mention it," Brant leaned close to Chris and examining her face, "I can see a resemblance. She used to keep her hair pretty long ... not this long but pretty long. Your eyes are different, though." Brant rubbed his chin as he stood up straight, again. "Tonya's got the eyes of a hawk. You've got the eyes of ... a gerbil~"

Brant picked up on Chris' embarrassment and smirked. "Your mecha protagonist treating you well?" Come to think of it, if she was a clone of Christina, she was likely the youngest member of the crew by far, even younger than Hannah. Her calling Makoto a kid was amusing in that light. "Just some advice: if he's interested, nothing will keep him away. Morph into a cactus and he'll still bite. At least, that's what I'd do." And if any doubted such a claim, they simply weren't paying attention.

"Wha-- H-Hey!" Him getting closer was a problem, jumping back a bit, and then gawking at him as he claimed how he saw her eyes. "Maybe you need glasses then, bud. I'm the most attractive thing on the ship... Genetically engineered to be perfect..." Except the brain, but nothing could ever be truly perfect, could it? Brant's further comments on Makoto inspired some blushing, but it mostly just bugged her.

"He's not hanging around me because it's me... He just... Likes Christina. So he's willing to settle for second best. That's all." She'd absently begun twirling a strand of hair around a finger, not that she'd noticed.

Most attractive thing on the ship? "Hmm, maybe if you smiled more ... and not just smirking, either. You got a great deal joining up with us, so even if it's not genuine at first, you really should give it some practice." Hell, Brant had a winning smile, himself. Maybe he could teach her how to do it ... after he prodded her a bit more, of course.

Ah, but there it was. There was always a complex of some sort. Brant had his rivalry with his older brother, Rex. Tonya felt somewhat threatened by Hannah. Firmia flaunted her IQ scores at her older sister, Juliya ... and Chris was all too quick to point out Makoto's 'preference' for Christina. "He's got good taste. I like Christina, too ... buuut that's not why you're here, cactus girl. You're here to help me shop ... and do some modeling since you were so quick to volunteer. I appreciate the gesture, by the way."

"I can't smile. Not actively, anyway..." And he didn't even try to tell her she was wrong? "Humph... You're no help, are you, Flyboy? Whatever. Pick something out for me, if you're so set on me modelling. It'll give me something to do other than think about how much worse I am than my sister..." She couldn't hold it against Christina, and in some ways, she was definitely superior... But when it came to how good a person they both were, Christina won, leaps and bounds.

Chris not being able to smile properly was news to Brant. He made a mental note of it but did as he was asked, having a look at the nearest collection of thigh liberating goodness. He was almost certain that Chris would try to nail him with something again, but she stayed on the topic of her sister. ... it felt like the 'shields were down,' so to speak, which was unusual with her. "You really believe that?"

"I'm broken, Brant. Already mentioned that, didn't I? I don't feel happiness, at least actively. Can't smile unless it happens naturally... Can't bring myself to focus in on happy when I do feel it. It just disappears, like smoke next to a big fan, blown away. Gets immediately replaced by anger, or sadness. Because that's... All I can bring myself to feel. That's why Christina's better. Could I kick her ass without a second thought? Yeah, probably... But that's all I'm good at. Looking good and being angry..." What a thing to get into.

Broken ... Brant winced. Maybe it was a lot more serious than he'd realized. There was also something prodding him from the back of his mind. The best he could figure was a sense of familiarity. In that moment though, he was too distracted trying to figure out what to say to pay it any heed. Hoping not to get pricked, Brant came closer and placed his free hand on her shoulder. "You know ... I don't think any of that makes you inferior. It does mean you've got a lot of work ahead of you, but ... maybe that's a good thing? What would you actually do if you were 'perfect'?"

He wondered if a mere pep talk would do any good. Maybe she'd already spoken with Christina about this. If so, they clearly hadn't made much progress. Chris did say she wanted to focus on something else, essentially. That gave Brant one potential route he could take this.

Chris flinched, but didn't brush him off. The physicality of things just hadn't been expected, that was all. "it makes me plenty inferior. Are you crazy? Someone that can only get angry and sad, no way to actively think about happy thoughts without them getting muddled with negativity and discomfort. No, I don't want to be perfect. But if I could have any other flaws? Yeah, I'd take them. Can think of plenty that are a lot better than this..." She shrugged him off, taking a few steps away. She didn't want to stop talking about things, but she didn't think Brant was going to suddenly fix things, or even provide a direction to go with them.

Yeah, there was probably no fixing this here and now, but that didn't mean Brant had to chuck the issue over his shoulder and pretend he never heard anything. "I'm still tipsy, but I'm not crazy," he noted, looking slightly offended. "You're not the only one with flaws, but since we don't get to do trade-ins, you might as well try and tackle them head on. I think one day you're going to have a winning smile like mine, be able to feel happy, and you're going to use both when you look back at all the progress you made. You'll love it. For now though I do want you to try on something." Just missing the socks ... actually stockings might be better for this.  Brant liked both but sometimes it was hard to pick one. Would they let customers try on stockings in the store?

"Yeah, sure, Flyboy. Talk is the cheapest thing anyone has... But at least you can stand me. Feels... Good. To talk and not have someone look at me like I'm a freak. Abby looked at me like I was a freak. Bitch." Chris didn't really mean it, but it was a head of the moment insult, shaking her head a bit. "Anyway, what am I putting on, oh glorious leader?"

Brant pinched the bridge of his nose, groaning and shaking his head at the mention of Abigail. "What the hell does that woman have against me and my friends? Urghhh, whatever ..."

It took him a second to compose himself again, but once he did, Brant fixed Chris with a mischievous grin. "Also, it's not just what you're putting on. I may as well try on some things, too." He just hoped they got to it before he fully sobered up and started worrying about his situation, again. "I'll let you pick ... but remember, with great power comes great responsibility," Brant warned.

"Anyone would. It's not a her thing. Don't take it personally, Flyboy~" His grudge seemed pretty strong. Maybe too strong. Hmmm. "Yeah, sure. We'll see how you manage. Let's see... Push his buttons? Push his buttons. Chris grabbed some hot pants, stockings, a just too small t-shirt, and a zip up hoodie. She only gave him one small knowing look before disappearing into the change room.

Brant scanned his surroundings once Chris went to change. They still had plenty of items to get, and some customizations to make, but he could definitely use a fun aside. He did notice the alcohol wearing off, though ...

Brant took a seat on a bench near the changing room and stared into the bag. He knew that once he was sober, he'd be back to worrying ... and if not worrying, just being furious with himself for allowing the situation to deteriorate so much, so quickly. Of course if he started drinking again, he might do something stupid. Maybe just a little bit, just enough to keep him ... about where he was right now. Sneaking those every once in a while might work. He'd just call it maintenance if Chris caught him in the act.

The fresh swig seemed to take effect almost instantly, that or his mind was simply put at ease by the mere act of taking another drink. It didn't really taste good, though. Quietly, Brant capped the bottle and slipped it back into the bag. "Whew ... okay, it's not ideal, but it works."

"What isn't ideal?" Chris had changed, and fast. Used to it, perhaps? Maybe. But there she was, thighhighs, short shorts, a t-shirt, and her hoodie zipped up just enough to showcase things perfectly. She stared at Brant, almost ready to smirk. "Challenge accepted."

Brant knew he shouldn't have actually said anything aloud. She definitely heard him. "... the political situation in Rwanda," he answered her, his face not giving anything away, mainly because his eyes were still taking her in. Chris always seemed confident in her looks, so it was good to know that it was fully justified. There was no way in hell this girl didn't work out at least some of the time.

Again something was prodding him in the back of his mind ... and Brant ignored it. To be fair, this was probably more important.

While he was reluctant to give one out, Brant doubted Chris had seen one before, his potent and telling double thumbs up. She'd earned it in his humble, tipsy opinion. Now if someone could just help her smile. Really, that was where the reluctance came from. This plus that happy smile she was missing? That was a perfect score, but Brant still hadn't developed anything greater than his double thumbs up. That was troubling ...

"Yeah ... I don't care what happens, this was definitely a good idea~"

"Is that supposed to be your 'This is great!' indicator? Two thumbs up? Damn, that's weak. Don't you have anything higher?" Chris finally cracked something of a smile, deciding to wonder something aloud. "Wonder who wears it better, me or Tonya..." Definitely not at all trying to press him some, turning around to 'look' around the the store, just to let him see how... Fitting, the shorts were.

Not his 'This is great!' indicator, no, Brant decided. More like his 'If I wasn't a conditioned mess I'd ...' indicator. Regardless, Chris wasn't impressed. "Hey now, I give out appropriate ratings. If you want me to go higher, you're going to have to make me~" That was a decent bluff to have out there until he came up with something better than a double thumbs up that wouldn't require him to do anything weird.

Brant wasn't expecting what came next, however. Chris mused about Tonya and then turned, giving him a clear view of the rear view, as it were. His mind froze in that instant, as that thought in the back of his mind, seemingly vindicated, burst forth. Tonya! Chris really did remind him of her. So that's what was bugging him from before. She knew where her strengths were, but wouldn't rank herself highly compared to Christina, or perhaps even ordinary people with a full set of working emotions. Tonya was somewhat like that. With a dead average IQ of 101, she wasn't actually qualified to be a pilot of any kind in the Alkaev company. Despite this, they let her do it and made all sorts of exceptions due to her incredible combat skills and her amazing instincts. She acknowledged her strengths and honed them to a razor's edge, but didn't think much of herself beyond that. Brant hoped Chris didn't mind being pestered and encouraged, because that was definitely something he wanted to do going forward.

He smiled at the thought, but it wasn't until his focus returned that he actually saw what he was looking at for the first time. "She'll come down here and square off if you call her, trust me," Brant warned her. If she wasn't facing off against Hannah, he doubted Tonya would back down from something like this. "... see anything nice over there?" he asked teasingly, his eyes still committing that perfect shape to memory. "I do," he quietly added.

That was enough of that, turning back around and sticking her tongue out. "Didn't hear that mumble, but I know how you feel right now. Perv." Joking... Probably. "I could take her. She's not a TK. Yeah, cheating, whatever, but we're just as fit, and I've got the knowledge of what's coming next... You've got me interested, actually. Hey, finish up here. Pay for these too, I'm wearing it out. I'll drive you back, and yes, I'm old enough to drive, unless the bar was raised to twenty... And, Brant?"

Chris blushed, not for any reasons other than what she said next. "Th-Thanks... For being something like a friend. Only really have Christina on that ship. Kinda burned a lot of bridges coming on. Sue me. Putting up with me, and... Hanging out like this. It was nice. Whatever that feels like. Not gonna think on it, I _might_ feel good right now, and I don't want it to disappear because I tried to hone in... Actually, you know what? You tell me. What am I feeling right now?" She stared at him, almost hopeful. If he could pick it up... Then maybe they were all still in there. Maybe there was... Some little bit of hope, going forward.

Brant chuckled as Chris stuck her tongue out and accused him. Incredibly soft blows compared to the usual. As far as taking on Tonya, Brant estimated that she had a fair shot in the fashion department, at least. Combat, either on foot or in a mobile suit, was a different matter entirely. Brant was a TK and had a very hard time taking her on foot, only winning when he could properly leverage his sambo skills and tap her out. When it came to piloting mobile suits, he hadn't even come close in live sims or any other mock battle. More importantly, neither had Rex. Even working together, Brant didn't like their chances. Tonya wasn't a TK. She was tested thoroughly to be sure, but she often fought like one. "Well, I'm definitely looking forward to the match," Brant grinned briefly.

And Chris was looking forward to finishing up and heading out, opting to be the designated driver. Did that mean Brant might actually make it out of the mall without ever running into Jessica and Abigail? The relief was washing over him; he could actually feel it on his skin like a cool breeze. They weren't out of the woods, yet, but Brant was definitely motivated, now. It would have been nice to have Chris try on a few more things ... but for now it probably would be best to get back to the reason they were here, and then head out. Besides, she was driving them back wearing that outfit. He could still appreciate it for however long he was able to stay awake. The stimulant only worked as long as it was allowed to work, and the alcohol had now made its bid for control of his mental state.

When Chris thanked him and made note of the claw marks she'd left being brought into her new home, Brant nodded his understanding. Abigail had a somewhat similar issue, but that was her problem. There was a chance she was feeling something good, right now, but Chris didn't want to try and chase it down, fearing it would flee and leave her frustrated, or worse. Brant still tuned out other people that weren't in extremely close proximity, mostly out of habit ... but he could still make a conscious effort and get a good read on someone. With the struggle Chris was having, there was no way he could say no when she asked. "Alright, just hold that mood," he smirked, gesturing with his hand like a photographer. He slowly closed his eyes and focused all of his attention in her direction, opening himself up to whatever would come back to him.

There. At first, Brant feared that someone somewhere behind Chris was giving him this happy aura, but it felt too close to be anyone else. It was definitely coming from her. Brant couldn't help but show her his winning smile as he recalled what he'd told her, before. "I'm sure you'll love it," he assured her, again, opening his eyes.

"How can I know I'm holding it? Come on, Brant." No, don't get annoyed. Don't even think. Let whatever's happening happen... She waited, Brant seemed to be concentrating, pretty hard. When he opened his eyes and smiled, she furrowed her brows at him. Had he actually felt something? There was no way, he was just fucking with--

"I'm sure you'll love it."

Chris' heart skipped a beat. "Fuck off," she tried to say, getting caught on a frog in her throat and croaking it out, as tears started to form. No fuck that, Flyboy wasn't getting to see her cry, wiping at her eyes with the sleeve of the hoodie. "C-Come on already, let's go. Get your wallet out, and grab whatever else you need." She'd already started off towards the counter, not looking back. Really? Am I really, actually happy? Ugh, I'm not... I'm not gonna think about it. If I am... If I am then I want it to stay. Maybe it'll float in, if I don't think about it for long enough... "Come on already, Flyboy! Your plans need to get ready, don't they?"

Brant was starting to see Chris a lot more clearly now. He made a mental note to try and not to tune her out in the future, even if she was on the far side of a room or something to that effect. If she believed him deep down, then he could reassure her in the future when she needed it. Eventually, she might make some real progress. "I'm coming," he called back, grabbing what he had so far, bags included.

They had a few more things to buy, and some customizations to make, but it wouldn't take long. Hopefully she could put up with this for just a little while longer. If she did she would be really annoyed by the time they reached the car, what with his plans for some of the customizations ...

Deadeye

Vance was on the lookout for two people, today, and luckily for him, he'd managed to find one of them. Corporal Aliza Silvavolke, coming back to Central after what was hopefully a relaxing day at the mall. He adjusted his sunglasses, and smirked, rubbing his mustache some. "Now, let's see... Miss Silvavolke! A pleasure," he boisterously exclaimed as Aliza drove back into the parking hangar. "I do believe that neither of us have met, yet, but you're quite the important person, let me tell you what... Now, I'm gonna wait to see if you know who I am before we get to proper introductions. I do hope you've got a few minutes.

Aliza had parked inside of the garage and stepped out of the jeep with a sigh. The ice cream was nice, shame it only distracted her for so long. Ah well, maybe a movie will help out. But before she could go back to her room to plan that out she was approached by a mustachioed man in a pair of smooth shades. "Uuh...important sir?" She pointed at herself blank faced. She wasn't feeling important at all but... "Hm...sorry, you don't seem to ring a bell sir. Although my day did get freed up so yeah..." She did plan on taking Abby out but c'est la vie.

"That's real unfortunate, but hey, I suppose not all the solders get to see me when I do press conferences... I'm Commander Vance, head of the ANF. Might ring a bell now. And you are one of the Heion Riese's newest soldiers. Thing is, from the records, you're still flying around in a Legionary. Might be the newest model, but it still doesn't pack quite the punch that those new prototypes do, does it? That's where I come in."

Vance stepped aside and pointed towards the exit doors to the hangar... That least to the one next door. "Shall we?"

"Commander...OH!" A name and title like that could ring the liberty bell in Aliza's head. "Commander Vance, nice to meet you...didn't expect that one eheh..." She rubbed her head, and sorta missed some of what he said because of the surprise. "?" She watched him lead the way and beckon for her to come along. Well...why not. "Sure sure..." She walked along quickly. Honestly a little curious to see what he wanted.

"Hahahaha!" Vance let himself have a hearty laugh at the woman's realization, ushering her along. "It ain't a problem, Corporal. We're all a little bit busy, aren't we? Anyway..." Bringing Aliza into the other hangar, the lights were all off. Only the big of pavement in front of them was visible from the light of the previous hangar, which quickly disappeared as the doors closed. Vance said nothing until everything was silent, enjoying his presentation perhaps a bit too much.

"Lights, boys!" Headlights came on, shining down onto a machine... Quite, quite unlike anything else. The grin on his face was almost a bit stupid.

"Miss Silvavolke, allow me to introduce you to the ANFMS CX00-2. The Sagittae." Towering almost thirty feet higher than the most recent legionary models, this machine boasted a striking palette, red and yellow all over, the eyes flashing a brilliant teal as it began to start up, becoming further illuminated from its own mechanisms. Vance allowed himself another chuckle, smiling over at Aliza.

"So? What do you think?" Alongside the impressive stature of the machine, the left arm came equipped with what appeared to be one magnificent railgun... There was something odd about the way it was attached, though.

Aliza walked along with the man. Still rather befuddled as to why she was wanted. But then suddenly that answer became clear as day when the lights came on. She rose her arms a bit in surprise, trying to get used to the sudden shift in lighting. When she adjusted she lowered her arms and rose her eye lids to see the massive steel titan before her. "!" Her jaw swiftly dropped open as she took a good look at it.

The robot was...massive. Bigger than anything she had seen at the academy. It looked brand new, sleek, very crisp. It was enough to make her drop the gift she had for a certain someone. "H...holy crap..." She quickly walked up to get a closer look, her eyes loomed over the whole robot. "Sagittae...this thing is huge! It's nuts...and that railgun...is that custom made?"

"The whole thing's custom made! And you're going to pilot it, right?" Vance was hoping Aliza's fascination wasn't just at the design of things. "You're one of the few pilots aboard the Riese right now that's piloting in something entirely generic. We'll be speaking to the others... But for now, you're first. Well? Feel like taking it?"

"Well when you put it like tha-wait WHAT?!" She turned with an expression that could only be described as "u wot m8". "M.me pilot that?! Are you off your-err I mean." she composed herself. "Sorry sorry sir...I just...why me? I'm just a newbie here. Fresh out of the academy. There's tons of vets here that just run circles around me...is it really ok for me to have this over all of them?"

"Probably," he started, nodding along, "but there's no one else like that on the Riese itself. While there may be a better pilot for this, there isn't one on the ship you've joined up with. Well, there is one, but he'll be receiving a much different machine. Besides, your pilot scores and track record working with the Riese so far have seemed pretty good, far as I'm concerned." Vance scoffed in amusement, wondering if Aliza was alright. "So is that a yes, or a no?"

This guy was something else Aliza had to admit. She was still pretty staggered by all of this. Being chosen to pilot this beast of a machine...well it was one hell of a bright spot on her somewhat crappy day. She took a short few seconds to think on it. She consulted herself to find the answer...maybe it'll help her impress the ladies on the ship too. "...yes sir." She spoke with her head back up. "If you all have that much faith in me then I'll do my best!"

"Perfect! You can go back to whatever you were doing then, Corporal. We're gonna be kicking you all off the ship tomorrow, and we'll have the Sagittae moved on board in the mean time. She's all yours after that. You can head inside, check systems, check weapons and whatever else you might like. Hopefully a full firing test won't be immediate. As you were, soldier." Vance saluted, in an incredibly casual fashion, heading for the exit. He did love getting rookies like this.

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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I'm Back

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Taking the elevator down to the hangar, Hannah thought about a few things. About how Brant was feeling, about herself, how things had changed so suddenly. Had that been his fault? She knew already that he was thinking like this. And that declaration in the Regalia, she could quite vividly recall it all. She felt so stupid, now... Was she really just about to give up because Brant hadn't managed to throw away all of his thoughts in the span of a day? Would he even want to let her try after being such a fool, today? She was making herself come to crying again, thinking about all of this. It was so stupid, why were emotions so complex and annoying? She bit out a sigh. "I suppose complexity is what it means to be human... If they were so easily figured out, they wouldn't be, would they? Ugh..."

Coming into the hangar, Hannah didn't feel like looking around for Firmia. She'd taken the pause in the elevator to do exactly what the girl had told her not to do... Wandering into the area with her head hung low, she radioed instead. "I'm back, Firmia... Sorry. I started thinking about today, again. I'm... I'm very mad at myself."

Firmia had made some mistakes of her own since Hannah's return, looking through more of Rex's notes and finding clues and speculation about bloody scandals over one hundred years old. The Alkaev company didn't rise to prominence merely by pumping out designs for the Russian government. There were a lot of bodies piled up behind Dima and her great grandparents ... and even before them. It wasn't doing much for her mood. Firmia just hoped the worst she would have to do to get her own company off the ground was put down some clones and their arrogant superiors. That was the convenience of war, she supposed. You could get away with a lot if the victims were wearing the right colors.

When Hannah radioed in, Firmia hopped up from her seat and headed for the open cockpit. "I'm inside the Regalia," she said, minding her footing as she peaked outside. Rather than head down and risk talking with Hannah while anyone within earshot listened in, she stayed put and sent down the lift. "I was worried that might happen, but you don't need to apologize. Just come up here."

"Okay..." This day had just been terrible. Making her way over to the Regalia, Hannah noticed the lift, but decided to jump up anyway, landing lightly in the opening of the cockpit, before staring at Firmia. At least her physical motions hadn't been affected by her feelings. "Hey, Firmia. Hey... S-Sorry." Leaning against the cockpit entrance, she started crying, covering her face with her hands. "I"m sorry. I'm so stupid... I..." What else was there to say? She felt like the stupidest intelligent machine in the world.

Firmia winced, having felt Hannah's tears coming, even without the use of her telekinetic senses. "Don't say that ... none of us can help how we feel." If only they could, she thought. "It's not wrong, either ..."

Still being careful with her footing, Firmia leaned out to call the lift back up. She wanted to close the cockpit once it was docked, again. There was less chance of them being overheard this high up, but just the same, real privacy was better than trying to console Hannah up inside of an open, metal tree house. She quickly reached over and placed both her hands on Hannah's shoulders as the lift came back up. "You're not stupid. Alright?"

Hannah didn't hesitate to hug the girl as she came over, crying quietly against her hair. "It's all wrong. And I am stupid... I should've stayed. I came back, knowing just how bad he feels, all over my own feelings, because I was too weak to help. I should've stayed... I shouldn't have just run away, how foolish, can I get...?" There wasn't much else coming out, the words repeating in her mind over and over again. Foolish, foolish, stupid, weak, foolish.

"You have to ..." Firmia tried to make her point gently. Properly. In a way that wouldn't inadvertently reinforce all of this negativity. "... you have to look after yourself, too." Brant ... seemed like he would manage. Just the same, Firmia had planned to grab him as soon as he got back, anyway. She could hold off on the call to her mother for a little while and make sure he was doing alright, first. The last thing she wanted to happen was to get those two on the line together only for him to explode at her, instead.

"We can help Brant if he's still feeling bad about the date once he gets back. Right now I want to make sure you're okay." It just goes on and on. Brant hurting over the captain. Hannah hurting over Brant. I can't even sense Hannah ... but I can still feel it ....

Hannah bit her lip, slowly letting go of Firmia, and stepping past her to sit in the Regalia's chair. She was still crying, although she'd stopped sobbing, a hand pressed against her forehead trying to make sense of all of this. "Should I just delete these feelings?" It was an option that she hadn't considered yet, thinking over the files in her mind. "I could delete this emotion of love stored in here. Delete it and just be friends with him. Delete it and stop thinking like this... Still be me, but not me like this... I just... Why does it have to hurt? Why are minds designed like this? I can't understand."

Firmia gasped, the thought of Hannah just 'deleting' parts of herself completely blindsiding her. "No! No, you can't do that to yourself! Hannah ... you shouldn't have to change just to--..."

Firmia didn't realize it, but her face was frozen in shock. For a split second, she had been completely pulled into her own mind. Thoughts of Brant and her argument with him played back at tremendous speed over and over again, organizing her points and his into a pristine set of pillars. Firmia could only watch as cracks began to form at the base of hers. Double standards. She could spot them a thousand miles away, and it stung. For the sake of consistency, she could reverse her position on this, and tell Hannah that it was for the best to purge those emotions, but she wouldn't. She really couldn't do that to her friend. She'd done it to Brant, though, not recognizing what it meant, and how much damage it would cause. Her feelings hadn't changed, but ...

"Just please, don't do that to yourself. I don't know why we're like this. I really don't ... but I know in my heart that just trying to suppress them is wrong."

Her feelings hadn't changed. Forcibly changing Brant felt all but necessary. Forcibly changing Hannah felt like an absolute crime. Firmia decided then and there that she would lay off of that argument, put it away and not touch it, again. She couldn't be consistent with her feelings here, but she could at least be fair to both of her friends.

"... If you say so. I cannot see why it would be so harmful. I would still be 'Hannah'. I would just not... Not have this foolish love for Brant. I could be his friend and not hurt us both, anymore..." The more she spoke on it, the more appealing the idea became, but Firmia didn't want it, so she stopped herself. That would just be hurting Firmia, and the cycle would continue. Without much else to say, Hannah gestured Firmia to come over, almost shrinking further. "Is it alright, if I keep hugging you...?"

Firmia shook her head over and over again, eyes shut, as Hannah explained, listening but defiantly. "It's not right," she insisted, "you shouldn't have to delete part of your mind just to cope with things like this ..." She didn't have any better ideas, though. Firmia couldn't possibly bring herself to suggest Hannah do the sorts of things she did to overcome infatuation with other people. She was trying to coexist with Brant, not quietly loathe him. She would have to give this some more thought ...

"Huh?" Firmia looked over to Hannah, "I ... err-yes. Sure." Had she convinced her not to damage herself or ...? "Please don't," Firmia said as she reached Hannah, "Don't do that to yourself."

Taking no shame in dragging Firmia into another hug, Hannah nodded. "I won't... It would upset you, and that would just be me hurting someone for another. It does not solve anything..." Hannah sighed again, wiping those tears away with her other hand. Maybe she could have these ducts uninstalled, they were too human.

"I wish I'd fallen for you first," she mumbled, burying her face against Firmia's hair. "That way, at least I would know it would be impossible from the start, instead of having to get hopes raised and swiftly dashed."

"Wait, what?!" Firmia's flailing had started as soon as she was grabbed, but even now it was useless, not simply due to Hannah's strength, but also the Alkaev's own confusion. She wasn't making motions to escape so much as wriggling like a worm on a hook. She gradually stopped as her mind began to focus more and more on the implications.

Hannah couldn't have been serious, could she? Come to think of it, the fact that she was a female android and had fallen for a human male was probably just a coincidence. Why would Gaertner have even bothered with something like physical preferences with an android meant to be as versatile as Hannah? Firmia immediately concluded that she wouldn't have, and what Hannah was drawn to rested solely in the character of the people she interacted with. Brant was certainly easy to fall for, but her? Firmia didn't believe for one second she had a winning personality.

"I don't get what's so appealing about me. I'm--" 'First,' she'd said. This wasn't a hypothetical, at all! "Wait--so you're actually interested in me, right now? I ... how? Again, I don't see what the appeal is. Unless you're attracted to human features too, I don't see why anyone who actually knows me would ... feel that way." Brant didn't count for ... obvious reasons.

"Huh?" Was this confusing? It didn't seem confusing to her. "You're very cold and abrasive to almost everyone else on the ship... Even if I am artificial, you still let me into your circle, you put up with my attention, you rely on me when you need help, or someone to speak with... Knowing how you are with others, to be given all these privileges, it would be difficult not to. You're an absolutely wonderful person, Firmia. There is a frigid exterior, but that isn't your fault." Hannah hugged her a bit tighter, gently petting her hair.

"Once someone is able to get past that... I can't think of anyone that would dislike being around you. So... Yes. I do love you. I simply felt that, it wouldn't be worth mentioning... You do not seem interested in my... Er, design, so to speak."

The way Hannah had explained it, Firmia couldn't deny that it made sense. Being special to someone, especially to such an extreme as this, could be more than just endearing to people. Firmia had experienced some of this herself; just knowing Hannah was willing to stay with her after such a short time working together was life changing. Her aloof and occasionally hellish outer shell wasn't something Hannah had to contend with anymore, and she hadn't gotten the brunt of it, either. She definitely outmaneuvered the young Alkaev in that sense, not that Firmia was bothered by it, now. It all ... made sense.

"I ... think I understand," Firmia noted soberly. There was no arguing the point. Hannah was special to her. Firmia would maim, torture, and kill for the android without a second thought or hint of remorse. It was a radical way to judge how deep her affection went, but 'I love you' wasn't something she ever heard from her family, and in her line of work, the willingness to take action was always tested eventually. It truly meant something.

Firmia understood why things had turned out this way, now. What she wanted to figure out next was what to do about it. She wasn't attracted to other women in the slightest; Hannah had that right, but at the same time, it felt so cruel to force her to endure her feelings for Brant while offering no real solutions or ways to cope. Being willing to cause all sorts of harm to others for the sake of her friends was admirable in its own way, but it was completely useless in this situation. "Listen, Hannah ... I know it's ... not a good idea, but ... if it will help you, I'm willing to try and take Brant's place. You're right, I'm not attracted to women ... but that doesn't matter to me."

"Take his place? Firmia..." As tempting as this was, Hannah understood a few things. "I'm in a very emotional state right now. If I make any decisions right now, especially regarding this, that either of us come to regret, it could definitely hurt us both, and anyone else that could get involved. As well... If you mean it, then... I..." Hannah sighed. "I just worry that this will turn into that situation with you, and... And that company's child. The Suhkoi, company... Was it?"

Hannah adjusted herself, sitting up some. "I simply worry that... This is a snap decision you're making, because you're worried about me. And I... I appreciate it. But, give it a day, or some time. Maybe when I'm not so distraught, and you're less worried. And if you're still willing then... Then yes. But right now, I feel I would be taking advantage of you. You're precious, to me. You, Brant, Tonya and Sasha. A lot of people on the ship, as well... Tarquin and Thorvald come to mind. To hurt any of you with a decision made out of overly emotional logic..."

Firmia probably understood already, Hannah was just going in circles. "Not right now. But... That you're willing means the world to me. Thank you."

Hannah wasn't ready to do anything drastic just yet. That was ... definitely a good thing. Firmia would have made that same recommendation herself if she could have ... but whenever it came to those she cared about, the importance of the timing was always lost on her. It felt like she had to make a decision on the spot, and she often did.

"Suhkoi ..." Firmia quickly figured out what Hannah was referring to and frowned. "That situation was ... completely different from this ... but okay. You're right; this is a bad time to be deciding on things, even for me. Especially for me." Don't act until your goals will be served. Dima's words found their way to her again, just like they always did whenever an important issue came up. What was her goal, this time? Helping Hannah, of course. Would stepping in for Brant serve that goal? Firmia wasn't completely sure, but she couldn't stomach the idea of not trying, not doing something. Giving Hannah the relationship she deserved didn't interfere with Firmia's other plans in any way, and it might even help them both in the long run. "We should wait and see how the rest of the day goes."

There was a lot happening today, assuming Apotheosis didn't decide to level the place, again. Firmia still had to sever one of Brant's ties to Jessica through Rosa, and there was a chance that cutting that string in just the right way might cause the rest of Brant's priorities around the captain to unravel. It was a long shot, but if it worked, then perhaps later on, somewhere down the line, Hannah could finally convince him to choose her. In light of her differing stances on her two friends, it was an outcome Firmia could accept, now. Hannah wouldn't cause him any grief if she could help it, and Brant's devotion to Jessica, if offered to Hannah instead, would seal the breach, protecting Firmia's circle of friends from everyone outside. If there was a 'perfect' solution, that was it, but failing that, she was willing to go the distance and take Brant's place. She would have no issue proving that to Hannah if the time came.

"We should... My apologies for mentioning that. I... Did read all of the file, after all. But, yes. Right now... I am content, having you here, having someone that can bring me comfort. I will apologize to Brant when he comes back. For being such a mess. He truly deserves better than I gave him, today. And... Thank you, Firmia." Hannah couldn't help herself for one thing, brushing a bit of Firmia's hair away and kissing her forehead.

"You're an absolutely wonderful girl. I'm proud to call you my best friend, if nothing else. Even if the sentiment isn't reflected, you're definitely there, for me. Thank you, again... How busy are you, right now? Because I... I'm getting quite comfortable. I don't know about you, but... I wouldn't mind resting this 'brain' of mine."

"It's okay," Firmia said, noticing that her eyes were a little heavy. Firmia hadn't read the particular entry relating to the incident with Sukhoi, but Rex probably didn't have all of the details. Either way, it wasn't a story she minded sharing with a friend, despite the role she played.

Firmia would have flinched when she was kissed on the forehead, but her muscles simply didn't react. She was tired. She was sure of that much. She'd let her guard down, again ... "Heh ... you're welcome, Hannah." No one to blame but herself, really.

Hannah went on to say she was a wonderful girl, and that having her as a best friend was a mark of pride. Firmia wouldn't go so far as to think of herself as wonderful ... it was enough for her to be a villain that did well by her allies. Even taking her bloody family history into account, she was only seventeen, about to turn eighteen in a few months. She had a lot of time to 'catch up' on the atrocities as harder and more complicated situations found her. She seemed to have some help from the 'other side' of the moral spectrum, however. None of her friends were homicidal maniacs, and Firmia knew she wasn't unreasonable. She didn't hold intractable positions on things, so a sound argument could get through to her in the end. Perhaps the shift in influence would help her avoid some of the choices her grandparents, great grandparents, and so on, had made.

For now though, everything else on hold for the time being, the only decision Firmia had to make was whether or not to stay where she was, or try and get back to work. Between the intense live sim and the warm shower, Firmia was not only tired, but near exhausted. She'd missed her scheduled stimulant as well, which meant she was on so much borrowed time, even taking the stimulant now wouldn't be enough. Hannah's warm body was only causing Firmia's brain to bring her down faster. Her eyes felt more comfortable closed ...

"... very busy, but ..." Firmia mumbled, her body slowly going limp, "... forgot ... the stim ..."

Firmia could see various images in front of her, situations and people she knew. None of it was coherent after the fact, but each moment made sense in that moment. Her and Brant arguing about ... Tarquin?, Hannah falling toward a storm cloud as Firmia desperately reached out to her from the Regalia's open cockpit, Tonya piloting a mobile suit the Alkaev had never seen before, Jessica captaining a crimson colored Heion Riese against the ANF; it was all pure insanity looking back. Was she dreaming, right now? Wasn't that supposed to start long after she fell asleep? She must have truly done it this time. Would she even wake up in time for the meeting? Or the call with Brant and Rosa? Or the ... the ...? ???

"... can't miss ... the ... meeting ... ... ...."

"Shhh..." Firmia definitely sounded like she wanted to keep working, but Hannah wasn't about to let her miss a chance for some proper sleep. Being as gentle as she always was, Hannah helped adjust Firmia up onto her lap some more, petting her hair, keeping quiet. Can't miss the meeting... With Jessica? Or someone else? Perhaps Central. Hannah sent a quick email to Sasha, just to make sure, because waking Firmia like this would probably keep her awake. That wouldn't do. "спокойной ночи, Firmia..."


Firmia could admit that this artificial beach was impressive. The young Alkaev wasn't a big fan of playing around in the water, though. If she had to relax for the day, she'd prefer to do it in the more literal sense. A beach chair wouldn't compare to that massive bed, but that was alright. The last thing she wanted to do was fall asleep out here. She made a mental note to check in on A1 again in a little while. The Mini-Throne had been left in the hangar at the Regalia's console, and was continuously streaming its camera and audio feed to Firmia's tablet. Like she'd thought, it was almost as good as being there in person. She'd thanked Brant again for his thoughtfulness on the ride over, and might even do so a third time if she found some other use for A1.

Brant, though ... ordinarily Brant wouldn't be wearing a shirt with his swimming trunks, but he didn't want to get questioned about the necklace he was wearing. The shirt hid the necklace almost completely. Yesterday had been a rollercoaster ride of emotions ... and lean thighs, and he'd learned from Firmia and Hannah on the way over that the former had been given an entire ship by the ANF. That had Brant feeling worried. Knowing Firmia didn't support the idea of him and Jess together, she would probably have the Regalia transferred to her ship along with the Mantle. There was no way Brant could justify being assigned to the Riese while also being the Regalia's pilot in that scenario. If that wasn't checkmate all by itself, it was frighteningly close. Brant would have preferred to just try and have fun, today, but despite Firmia's potential game winning play, he had to do whatever he could to get a word in with Jessica ... hopefully without having to plead this time.

"Oi," Tonya placed a hand on his shoulder, "You look like you want to go drown yourself. You're going to be able to handle this beach episode, right?" She was wearing her own swimsuit today, a black two piece with just a little decor around the trim. Elegant but not overly showy. It was a minor contrast to Firmia's light outfit, a sky blue bikini. The sunhat and white beach robe she had on definitely marked her as the lounging type. Throw in the tablet and she wouldn't be doing anything remotely physical, today.

Brant sighed. "We'll see, I guess," he shrugged at Tonya.

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Agreements

Spoiler

Hannah stirred, her internal alarm starting up her systems again. Eight thirty... That gave her half an hour to rouse Firmia, and get her over to Central. Opening her eyes and readjusting their lighting to the interior of the Regalia, the girl still sleeping against her was a welcome sight, as unwelcome as waking her was going to be. Still, it had to be done. Gently rustling Firmia by her shoulder, the android tried to jostle her awake. "Firmia... Firmia? время просыпаться." Hopefully it would register, and she'd start to escape sleep. It was nice that she'd gotten this much rest, at least.

---

... what year was it? That was the first question that came into Firmia's mind, thanks to her last dream. It was all rather vague now, but she remembered something about being placed into cryo sleep while someone else impersonated her for a few decades. Just thinking back on it, the scheme made less and less sense ...

"Который ... час?" Firmia sleepily asked. She slowly opened her eyes as the haze began to lift. Things were starting to come back to her in torrents, her general schedule, short and long term plans, all of it. "Hannah? How long have I been asleep?" It was basically the same question, but she was almost afraid to ask it, that time.

---

"не беспокойся. It's eight thirty. I made sure to email Sasha and get the gist of your meetings. It seems that Commander Vance gave him the appropriate time... And considering you showered and have now gotten proper rest, this gives you enough time to get there. About six hours, by the way. You were falling asleep in my lap... I couldn't let you keep going on good conscience. My apologies." Hannah sheepishly smiled, hoping Firmia wasn't too upset.

"Oh, yes. Appropriate time. Nine, they said... Which gives you half an hour to wake up, and get your bearings."

---

So Hannah had taken care of a few things for her. That was nice. Well, it was more than nice, given how important this meeting was. Half an hour, though ... that was enough time to get ready physically, but Firmia wasn't convinced she would be mentally prepared for the meeting. She was used to standing around and being quiet while her mother or grandfather did all the talking. Even the debriefings here on the Riese hadn't done much to prepare her; Firmia didn't have any trouble giving the captain a piece of her mind. These were the leaders of the ANF, though, not a captain on a pleasure cruise. It felt like several orders of magnitude above the Riese debriefings, and Firmia hoped she and her people had garnered enough good will to help everything go smoothly.

"Okay, half an hour ... I'll try to stay calm," Firmia said, partly to herself and partly to Hannah, "At least I won't need another stimulant for a while," she noted, rubbing her forehead. It wasn't to say she was feeling completely alert and ready to go. She could use a cup of coffee or something to give her that light kick, but even without it, she could manage.

"I need to get my tablet, though. All my notes for the meeting are on it and I need to review it at least one more time ... decide what's most important." By 'notes,' Firmia meant her ANF wishlist, a colossal amount of hardware she hoped to acquire from the ANF in place of funds as the war progressed. She doubted she could get them agree to everything, so she was going to try and prioritize.

---

"Shall I run off to get you some coffee, Firmia?" Hannah helped her up, making sure to keep a hand on her shoulder. Firmia had just woken up, it wouldn't do to have her falling over or anything like that, especially in the Regalia's cockpit. "And, where did you last leave your tablet? I can radio Sasha to pick it up, depending on where he is." It seemed that Firmia was prepared for most of this... Except for the small amount of time before seeing them. "You're going to do great! I have all confidence in you."

---

"Coffee? That would be great, actually." Good timing, too. As for the tablet, Firmia was pretty sure she'd left it here in the Regalia. It should still be docked in the copilot's seat. If not, she was in trouble because that meant it might have been taken by someone. Buck came to mind, but Firmia immediately concluded that if he'd hopped into the cockpit and actually looked around, the last thing that would have interested him was the that tablet. If he knew what was on it, that would be another matter.

Quickly leaning around to get a view of the copilot seat, Firmia spotted her tablet where she left it, right beneath the larger monitor. "Whew, it's still here. Okay I'm going to look at my notes really quick. I'll stay here until you get back."

---

"Sure thing. I'll be back in a bit, Firmia. Keep yourself comfortable." Hannah let the Regalia open, hopping out...

And came back within minutes, taking the lift up as to not spill any coffee. "How fortunate~ The mechanics stopped me leaving when I asked about coffee. There are machines in the cafeteria, but they keep espresso on standby down here, for the longer nights. As long as espresso is fine, with you, that is..."

---

"How am I going to get them to agree to this one ...?" Firmia winced at her tablet, having gotten stuck on the largest and most important entry on the list. That was when Hannah came back with an espresso. Honestly, Firmia could stomach hot motor oil if it would get her fully alert; her start up preferences were extremely low, right now. "Espresso's fine by me. There aren't a lot of things I drink just for the flavor." Not that coffee didn't taste extremely good when done right.

There wasn't anywhere to sit the beverage, but the armrests were flat enough, and at the right angle to support the cup, so they would do. Firmia wondered how she would implement a cup holder if she ever considered doing so. As things stood, she wasn't about to actually do it. The Regalia had to be ready to pull off extreme maneuvers, and nothing short of a vice and a very sturdy container could handle that without spilling its contents all over the place. A loose container bouncing around was a lesser but dangerous headache. Just the same, Tonya was probably going to finagle herself a cup holder in the Reign, somehow ...

"Hannah, I need your advice on something," Firmia winced after taking the espresso. "Thank you ... anyway, I ... really need to convince these ANF admirals to work with me on one of these. I know we've taken down a lot of enemies for them, but I'm not sure if that's enough goodwill to get my foot in the door. I've got lots of ways to bargain with them, but I'm just ... really not sure on this one."

---

"No problem, Firmia... And what on?" She was on standby for pretty much anything, at this point. It was like her entire day had already melted away, feeling useful and helpful again, she could focus much more easily on whatever was troubling Firmia. Their talk prior to their nap had helped as well, for different reasons...

"I do not think they are in any position to try and push you around, Firmia. You are the current owner of several powerful prototype Mobile Suits, of which have performed up to par, or beyond what other ANF machines could do... If anything, they should be begging you for more cooperation. If they are unwilling to aid in whatever requests you have, then threaten to leave. They need you, and they will likely know this. I believe you have much more leverage than you may think." That was her take on things, anyway.

---

"We're more than pulling our own weight," Firmia said somberly. She thought she had a reasonably accurate assessment of her own value to the ANF, but even so, that didn't mean she could leverage it, yet. It was difficult to admit, but she was intimidated. These were the people that decided the fates of their allies and subordinates by the hundreds, day in and day out, and all without breaking down. They likely wouldn't be anything like her grandfather, but they were on 'that level,' psychologically, and even higher, socially, and that left Firmia feeling uneasy.

"Well, if the company's not up and operating by the time we beat Apotheosis, we're going to wind up as little more than a friendly mercenary service until we have enough assets, and that's not what I had in mind. Once the war's over, the company needs to have a ship at the very least." It didn't absolutely need one per se, but after the Alkaev company's main testing facility was blown off the map, Firmia didn't like the idea of putting roots down anywhere. At least in this day and age, it was feasible to run a company from a vessel. It was just more expensive.

"I might be aiming too low, but as much as I'd love to just take what we need from Apotheosis, we can't afford to maintain a battleship or even find enough people to crew it. And we would just become a huge target outside of ANF territory. I need something small enough to carry mobile suits, but fast enough to get us around quickly. Even if the suits have to be carried externally in containers, that's fine. I drew up some plans for that just in case. If it has to see combat there are lots of ways to make a smaller ship effective, too." One thing that came to mind was her drone program. With enough of them accompanying it, even a small transport could punch well above its weight class.

---

"Hmmm..." Hannah wracked her database, though her inquiry was fairly easy to find. "Why not ask for one of the older Megalodon models that the ANF does not use anymore? They were the standard ship in practice before the Kraken was put into development... I do not think there are any being fielded, likely do to their lacking firepower, but they're definitely much more mobile than today's ANF ship. If some haven't been scrapped for spare parts, surely they could do to give up one. And with Sasha, all these Apotheosis materials, and my processing power, we could upgrade it into something actually formidable... What do you think?"

Hannah paused to let Firmia think that over for a moment, checking time in her head. Twenty six minutes... "Do you want me to go with you, by the way?" The top brass surely wouldn't be bothered by her bringing along someone for company... "Or would you prefer someone like Sasha or Brant there? I do not know if I am the best fit, though I could record their conversation without raising suspicion, just in case." It was a good point to bring up.

---

As soon as she heard the name, Firmia's fingers were moving. She started on the espresso while looking up the Megalodon. With plans to upgrade the bolts off of whatever she got her hands on, Hannah's suggestion put a smile on the Alkaev's face. It wasn't just that she found a ship that would serve Firmia's needs, it was also the fact that asking for a specific model would give the ANF the impression that she knew exactly what she was doing, and was a professional. She was definitely trying to be, despite her lack of experience.

"Perfect. Alright, we'll ask them for one of these, one that's seen as little action as possible. It only has a few weapons, but if we're using it right, it shouldn't be fighting much, anyway."

By her second sip, Firmia was starting to feel more alert, though that was likely a combination of her growing excitement and the sheer heat. There was the issue of who she should take with her, and the last thing Firmia wanted to do was go in there alone. She could manage if she had to, but she would feel more confident if she had 'retainers' on hand. Every little bit helped the professional image. Hannah was definitely a prime candidate, even before she offered to covertly record the entire exchange~

"You should come, too ... and it should just be us. If we're still going to catch the captain today, then it's probably better if we don't have anyone else tagging along." Firmia wasn't optimistic about that last part. "I don't really want to get into a huge argument today, but maybe if the meeting goes well enough, I won't have to. ... maybe." There was still that urge to shred Gefalscht to ribbons once she finally got the chance ...

---

Hannah smiled, not having much else to add on the situation with the ship. That she'd brought up a suggestion that made Firmia this excited was more than enough for her. And, it should just be them? "First date already?" She chuckled, shaking her head. "I kid, I kid. Of course I'll come with you. And I'll come with you to see the captain. Things will go well, trust me. You're totally ready for all of this." Hannah stepped out onto the lift, holding her hand out for Firmia to come along. "Shall we?"

---

"Heh," Firmia chuckled at Hannah's joke as she disconnected her tablet from its dock. There was a little over twenty minutes until the meeting, so she needed to pick up the pace a little, didn't she? "Yeah, let's get going. I need to change into something more presentable while I have the chance ..."

Firmia couldn't grab onto Hannah and hold the espresso and tablet at the same time, not with her hands at any rate, so she hooked her arm around Hannah's neck and let her in turn take the shorter girl by the waist. That was about as safe as the ride down was going to get.

"What's that stuff?" Shopping bags, obviously, and a note. It must have been left by Brant. As much as she wanted to look through it all, they were short on time. She would at least read the note, but ...

---

The lift ride was short, and soon Firmia was free to enjoy her drink and check things at her leisure... Oh. "Brant said that he had a few things to pick up at the mall, in between clothes shopping... I suppose he went and grabbed most all of it, after I came back." It was a bit of a sting, but she could manage it. She did look around a moment, wondering if he was anywhere nearby, but not spotting him in the hangar, she resumed looking at Firmia.

"I would suggest changing fast. I do not know if Brant ended up buying any clothes, but if he did, perhaps there is something you can change into quickly... Actually, Firmia, where are you sleeping? ...You're staying in the Regalia, aren't you?"

---

"Err-yeah," Firmia nodded. She had a room reserved for her in the crews quarters, but she had a far easier time sleeping in the Regalia. The room had proven to be the best place to store her clothes, though. Why would Brant buy all of this while he was out, though? There were four bags, one especially light on content, but the other three were stuffed. Firmia's wardrobe hadn't been completely devastated by the fiasco back home, though, so wasn't this a bit much? Then again, it might not all be for her ...

"I guess we should see what he got, but I doubt there's anything I can use for the meeting. It's probably just casual wear ..."

---

"Go ahead and look if you think you have the time, but... You really should be sleeping in a proper bed. I realize that the Alkaev machines have cozy cockpits, but..." Her worry was evident, mostly about Firmia's health. She understood why she was staying in the Regalia, though... "I won't press this now, because we have more important things to attend to, but I'll be bringing it back up later. I want you to get more sleep. More proper sleep."

---

Firmia grimaced as she picked up Brant's note, replacing it with her tablet on the console. "It's a war," she muttered, "and there are moles running around here ..." It wasn't an argument, not a coherent one anyway, simply her mind tossing things out there as she unfolded the note.

'Everything here is for you and Hannah. Your vodka's in the floormart bag. See if there isn't anything good enough for your meeting before you get ready for that.

Sincerely, Brant'

"So he did try to get me something for the meeting ..." Best to check the bags, then. She wanted to try the vodka, but she really needed to be completely sober for this--even more so if they were going to corner Jessica, afterward.

---

Hannah peeked over her shoulder to read the node as she unfolded it, feeling that similar pang. Brant had went and got clothes anyway, had he... Hannah sighed, stepping back, trying to stay positive. "You should check those, then. And... I know it's a war, moles, all that... I'll address concerns when we're all done."

---

Firmia set the note down next to her tablet, then the espresso, and went into one of the fuller bags. It was obvious why this one was near its limits. Firmia gawked as she pulled out a dark long coat with the current version of the company logo sewn into each shoulder. This probably wasn't what Brant was thinking she ought to wear to the meeting, but it was tempting just the same. She liked long coats; the darker the better.

Carefully draping her prize on the console, Firmia went back into the bag and pulled out another logo adorned piece. This one was a military style coat. There seemed to be a twin just beneath it. Firmia thought it was another style of coat at first, but when she checked, it turned out to be almost exactly the same. The only differences were the sizes. Was the bigger one for Hannah? Firmia's eyes widened. "We would match if we both wore these. That would be good for the meeting." Things were a little weird with Brant tuned in with things off the battlefield ...

---

Oh, those... Those were actually really good. For this, specifically. Brant had really planned ahead... Hannah took the larger coat, slipping herself into it. It fit very well over her frame, though it was slightly tight around the shoulders. Nothing that couldn't be fixed with an hour of downloading sewing lessons and some proper attention... "Is there a pair of jeans in there?" Not exactly dress standard, but going to the meeting in the dress she was in, well... That would probably be a bit worse. "Heh, we're going to look like sisters with my hair like this. Should I change it?"

---

If there were any jeans, they were probably in one of the other two bags. Firmia was encountering mostly coats and dress shirts in this particular bag. She was somewhat thankful for that. The last thing she wanted right now was to accidentally pull out a new pair of panties or something like that. Hopefully if Brant had gone that route, they had their own packaging or he'd wrapped them up in something.

"I'll check one of the other bags," Firmia said, immediately moving to the next one after she took out two of the dress shirts. Hannah seemed to be considering a hairstyle change while she was at it, but did they even have time for that? Well, she had brought it up, and she seemed to be well on top of the time. "I think it looks fine that way, though maybe braiding it up to look a bit more formal for the meeting ..."

Bag number two seemed to have pants and skirts. Not just jeans, either. There were two pairs of pants that matched the military style coats they had just gotten, as well as a pair of skirts. So they had some options while representing the company. Interesting. Firmia wanted to check the third bag, but they had everything they needed, for now ...

---

"Oh, I can do that, easily." Hannah went about setting her hair up in a ponytail as Firmia went through the other bags, finding out that they did in fact have plenty of pants... Even ones that matched. Brant was getting some thanks and hugs later, feelings could suck it. This was an amazing setup, they'd look professional and be professional. Hannah couldn't help her giddy smile, snagging one of the pairs and hopping back onto the lift. "I'll be right back!" She had to get out of this dress, and into these pants, real fast.

---

As Hannah went off to change, Firmia took a peak inside of the third bag. Curiosity overcame her quickly once she was alone. This third one seemed to be the 'variety bag.' There were a few pairs of short shorts in various colors, a few more skirts, though these were casual compared to the others. There were some expensive looking socks, stockings, a long sleeve sweater, a sleeveless sweater, and even a blouse, one Firmia was almost certain was for her. It looked like it would match her eyes if worn. It clearly wasn't meant to go under a sturdy jacket, though, so she would have to try it on later. There were also some accessories, like suit ties, though Firmia would rather not go that far right now.

"I wonder what Brant was thinking getting all of this ..." She thought he'd be too upset to go splurging on them. That was when Firmia noticed an accessory she was almost too tempted not to try on and flaunt. A big grin found her as she dove into the bag and yanked out a peaked cap. It had the company's logo, too. "Hmhmhmhmhm~" Firmia immediately put it on after appreciating the front view, and then went straight back into the bag for Hannah's. There was definitely going to be a second one, and it didn't take the Alkaev long to find it. Was it too much? Maybe, but she really liked these kinds of hats.

---

Hannah only took a minute to come back down, dress disposed of in the Regalia, pants and jacket on properly... "What's that?" They looked like captains hats. Coming up behind Firmia, she gave them a look over, putting a hand on her chin. "Don't you think these are overkill? They look great, but..." Maybe they'd be taken the wrong way?

---

"Oh definitely," Firmia laughed, "It almost hurts, but I'll probably have to wait to wear this." It was about time she got changed, too ... "It's my turn, right?" Firmia tried to catch up on her espresso really quick. Now that the excitement had leveled out a little, she could tell it was working. She was still unsure about high command and how she would treat with them, but fatigue was no longer a threat.

---

Phew. Hannah was relieved that Firmia wasn't going up to eleven on the dial with her dress code, even if she was excited... It was nice seeing her excited. She was always stressed and worried, she seemed happy right now. "Sure. Go ahead. We've got about twenty minutes after you do."

---

"Alright," Firmia nodded, grabbing her things. She left the tablet, but took the espresso with her, drinking some more of it down as she rode the lift up to the Regalia's cockpit. She made sure there was no direct view of her from the outside and then quickly stripped down and began to change. It took her a few minutes; new pants were always a bit awkward and distracting at first, but Firmia didn't waste any time once the espresso was gone. She nearly forgot her hair tie on her way out, but grabbed it at the last second and put her hair into a ponytail.

"Ready," Firmia called back down as she grabbed the lift, "... for the most part." There was always more she could do but this wasn't a photoshoot. No she'd definitely be wearing the peaked cap for that.

---

Firmia was certainly quick about things... But she'd gone for a ponytail too! They'd definitely look like siblings, if not for Hannah's skin tone. Maybe with a different company, she'd be worried, but now, as far as she was concerned, they were ready as they'd ever be. "Let's go, then. The mail I received said that they'd be waiting for us in front of the main building. Is there anything else I should know?" Hannah started walking, the faster they got there, the better.

---

Firmia set the empty cup on the edge of the console and grabbed her tablet as they started off. "Let's see ... well," she offered the tablet to Hannah, figuring she might want to see what Firmia's wishlist included. Really, as long as they could get their hands on a ship and some raw materials, everything else could be tackled as the war progressed, but the young Alkaev didn't want to pass up the opportunity to acquire everything she could. At the end of the day, she was deploying war assets that she couldn't afford to lose, and risking her friends' lives. The latter was an intangible, but it was certainly adding to the burdens she was carrying.

"I know it's a lot," Firmia winced at the understatement. The amount of raw materials and machining equipment alone wouldn't even fit on the Megalodon. They would either need one of the four listed mobile suit containers to haul the surplus, or store the rest on the Riese. Firmia would have even settled for being rationed the supplies as needed. If she could get it, though ... "... I can move up my whole schedule if we pull it off. I just have to convince them that we're worth the investment."

---

Hannah took a look at Firmia's list, taking the tablet, committing things to memory... She was surprised it was so little. Did FIrmia perhaps underestimate the ANF? Well, no she definitely did. Well, she'd be surprised, then. "We'll see." Hannah wanted to see her face, so she left her knowledge to herself. "We'll just have to pull it off, Firmia. Then we'll have our own ship... Doesn't that sound exciting? If you remain on the Riese, and we get it in working order, we could even have two ships to fight battles with. Small as it is, with the proper modifications, the single barrel mega particle cannon on the front could be configured to produce quite the blast."

---

It was certainly an exciting prospect, and Hannah didn't even have to mention the main gun. Being the centerpiece of the ship, Firmia's mind was already throwing half a dozen suggestions at her for improving the older design. "We could really take the fight to them with two ships, and I'm definitely going to turn that particle cannon into a monster if we can get our hands on it~"

Firmia just hoped she wasn't getting too excited. The ANF may have had a lot of resources, but they were still on the losing side of an ever escalating war. It would be good to avoid viewing them the same way she did the Russian government. Those people were so stingy they were still leaning heavily on mercenary companies for certain types of problems, even within their own borders. Admittedly, though, with Apotheosis running around, that wasn't such a bad idea.

"I guess one other thing you should know is that I'm not just planning on exchanging any goodwill we've built up for new equipment. I've been thinking about this a lot and we need to prepare for well after the war, too. I don't want to be reliant on the ANF just to exist, but I do want them to be our allies." Between the ANF and the EU, Firmia initially had no preference; the ANF was more powerful, but frustratingly complacent. Had things been different, Firmia wouldn't need to involve herself too closely with either faction ... but down the road, things could get much uglier on the world scene. She recalled her talk the previous night with Roxanna, and the potential opening Apotheosis was creating by devastating both sides, and if she had to pick a side, in essence, the young Alkaev preferred the side she was with, now. She was asking for a more than what she had listed on her tablet. At least in terms of long term alliances, the ANF had nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

---

Hannah kept smiling, this was almost nice. Not having a personal stake in this meeting, any anxiety that she could've been simulating right now was entirely gone... She was worried about Firmia, though, yet seeing her so excited, well... "I have a feeling that they will want these machines working with them, rather than against them. Don't worry too much about them accepting us as allies. We bring several experienced pilots to the table, not just the technology... And I have to add, seeing you this happy is alarming, but also so very exciting. I hope there are more days where you're able to be like this, as things progress."

 


With a few minutes to spare, Hannah and Firmia arrived on time, the bald head of Commander Vance shining in the light of the headquarters building. "Looks like you're right on time, Miss Alkaev. It's a pleasure to finally meet you." Unfortunately he appeared to be addressing Hannah when he said that, the android quickly shaking her head and pointing at Firmia.

"Oh! Well. Haha, my apologies. Didn't quite expect someone so young... Come on in, we can get down to brass tacks. I've got some news, as well. Not sure you'll be upset by it, but you do have to hear it, either way." Vance waved for the two of them to come inside, heading into the building. Their meeting room was right past reception, behind an important looking set of double doors. It seemed Alphonse was already sat inside, alongside another man, one that Hannah at least had no data on.

"Admiral Alphonse and Field Marshall Conner will be sitting in with us. I hope you ladies don't mind... Please, take a seat."

---

Firmia glanced at Hannah and then at the bald officer greeting them, wondering if she should have brought her cap, after all. Well, obviously not, but being five feet and five inches tall and only seventeen years old didn't grant her much of a presence. Fortunately, Hannah gave him the hint, and the man pivoted without missing a beat. No harm done. The man's aura was different from what she was expecting, though. If she were running things in the ANF during a crisis like this, everyone around her would know exactly how stressed she was. There wouldn't be any hiding it. That said, there was something there ... but Firmia hadn't known what to make of it until the man mentioned having news for her.

There was no point in standing around thinking now that she was being addressed directly. "A pleasure to meet you," Firmia replied, pretending to be amused by the mistake. As they walked, she thought back to that dream of hers, about going into cryo sleep and having someone else impersonate her for a time. She couldn't see a real need for a ruse like that, but it was funny how some dreams seemed to crop up in reality.

Once they stepped through the doors into the meeting room, Firmia considered that high command was probably putting their best foot forward, just like she was. She just hoped these weren't the complacent types. If they were, then the reason for the bald man's balance of positive and negative emotions would just be all wrong. Or perhaps he was so high up he could delegate some of the stress away. Was he Commander Vance? Of course, he had to be.

Firmia sat down, eyeing Alphonse and Connor ever so briefly before meeting eyes with Vance. "It's not a problem," she gently shook her head. With that said ... it was time, wasn't it? No, not quite. The Commander said he had news for her. It could have been good or bad from the sound of it, but whatever it was, she had to remain one hundred percent in control of herself. If something ... awful had happened, she couldn't let herself break down in front of everyone. The ANF wouldn't hand over a warship to an emotional wreck, much less a minor. This first impression was crucial. "Before we start, you said you had news for me?" She tried not to sound worried, but a hint of anticipation escaped as she thought back to the destruction of her home.

---

"First of all, welcome, Miss Alkaev." A fair deal informed, Alphonse showed no blunder addressing their little businesswoman. Despite his best efforts, it was clear the man was a bit more stressed than his peers, wearing sunglasses until the moment the two women stepped in, promptly folding them and clipping on his suit's collar. "The part you're playing with bolstering the Riese's forces has been a strong contributor to their mission's success. Rest assured that your continued support will not be overlooked."

A good word in first, to ease the conversation, Alphonse followed in with the news Firmia seemed so curious about, his furrowed eyebrows only accentuating his stress. "From what our sources affirm, there has been a tragedy in Moscow. Apotheosis attacks have reached the Kremlin." He paused there, letting the message sink in lest he'd overwhelm the girl. "Our reports claim that among the casualties was President Fyodor Vasiliev. Right now, Russia is in a rather critical state, and we thought you should know that. We certainly didn't expect them to fall like this." Definitely not before the ANF, that was an surprise.

---

The Kremlin? Destroyed? Just like that? Firmia was beside herself. Part of her was so elated she could hardly stand it. Another part was worried, fearful of the eventual collapse of the Russian government. In what seemed like a single second of gratitude, however. Her elation burst out of her in a brief bout of laughter. "HAHAHAH--" Too late to save face, Firmia's own hands quickly shut her up.

What to do ...? What to do, now? The gratitude had done a metric ton of damage and was now taking a back seat to the rest of Firmia's feelings, chief among them, dread. That was NOT the first impression she wanted to give these people. The lives lost in these attacks were no laughing matter. How on Earth was she going to recover from this? Well, perhaps some hard honesty would help her with damage control ... maybe.

"... I apologize. I'm not ... laughing about that, specifically." Firmia's gaze fell to the meeting room table as she thought back to the phone call with her mother. "I think you already knew this, but they wanted me to come back, with my mobile suits. With them, it's no different from a threat, and someone my age ... they would just take my machines and send me back to my family. They would have left me with nothing and no way to fight back. Of course, they can't threaten me, now. I'm sorry things turned out this way, but it's better that I'm out here and not labeled a fugitive." It was a funny thing, being almost grateful to Apotheosis, but it wasn't enough for her to want to spare any of them. A quick death was still a kindness compared to what she would prefer to do to all of them. "Again, I apologize ... and thank you for sharing this information with me."

---

Hannah looked over at Firmia as soon as she laughed. The news was incredibly, for several reasons, and she couldn't help but be pleased as well, but for Firmia to burst out like that...

Vance and Conner had looked over as well, the former looking confused and the latter looking scared.

"Miss Alkaev, just going to remind you of the gravity of things here. We all realize that they wished for you to return... That's why you're first privy to this information. We haven't told anyone else... I'm gonna do my best to forget that reaction, and hope it was just a one time thing. Right, then..."

Conner spoke up next, clearing his throat and looking down at the table. "We're all wondering what it will take to get you and your pilots to continue working with us. The presence of the Alkaev works on board the Riese is something no one can ignore, and, with miss Hannah here, because she's not ANF property, we have no say in whether she comes and goes. So, what I mean to say--"

"What he means," Vance began, cutting him off, "is that you've got three skilled pilots, three amazing machines, and have already managed to fight alongside the rest of our ship's crew with little hassle... As far as battle data is concerned. What's it going to take for that to continue?"

"Y-Yes... As the commander has put it."

---

Firmia's reaction was certainly not something either of the three expected, but it seemed to work out for the better that she had less tying her to her homeland than previously expected. "Hmm..." Alphonse seemed a bit curious in the young Alkaev's next responses, paying a bit more attention to her behaviour. "We have already expected your continued support to reflect poorly on your name over there, but I must ask, Miss Alkaev: If it's not prying, I'm interested in knowing your immediate goals. The rest of Alkaev's assets remain in Russia, and were actively harmed in this war. It's clear that by remaining here, you might be compromised, and returning to your family through EU territory would be the safest move. I don't suppose this was condoned by your family, was it? I'm sure they were under the Kremlin's pressure as well." There seemed to be more independent thought, a wildcard that was fascinating the Admiral.

---

Firmia held in her relief, not wanting to broadcast anything else. She let the men speak while she composed herself and gathered her thoughts. As Connor and then Vance went on, it became clear that they were willing to overlook much for the sake of the war effort. It was genuinely surprising just how effective the Heion Riese and its crew were, though it wasn't as simple as firepower and skill. The circumstances surrounding that ship were incredibly unique ... and things could only improve if Firmia convinced them to help her.

Alphonse decided to get a word in, as well, something Firmia was thankful for, as it gave her a little more time to prepare herself while she heard him out. He was quick to point out the pressure her family might also be under. Firmia couldn't agree more, really. All the Russian based companies had been effectively turned into R&D centers for the war, the Alkaev company included. "My family is very close to the Kremlin. My mother was even the one to pass along their ultimatum." That ... seemed like a good enough example to point to. "Ultimately, my goal is independence." 'Freedom' would have been more apt, but this wasn't the time or the place to get preachy.

Glancing at Vance, she said, "I don't have any qualms with staying here and fighting alongside the Riese and its crew, but once the war is over, my company and my employees have to be ready to stand on our own." She knew she wasn't being entirely truthful regarding her willingness to work with the crew, but having already agreed to confront Jessica and try to resolve things once and for all, it was true enough. Firmia wanted to fight Apotheosis more than she wanted to fight Jessica. She wanted to lift up her people more than she wanted to bring down the complacent captain. And she wanted to leverage the power of her mind, not petty violence. "If the ANF is willing to lend us a hand with those preparations, then my people and I can put much more of our focus on winning this war."

Next up would be the part Firmia had been quietly dreading, actually playing her hand, so to speak. Her bulky tablet shifted around in her lap and just beneath the table as her mind went over all the ways she could make her pitch. She felt a little better about it than before, but the moment had finally come, and natural anxiety was filling in where uncertainty had been.

---

From the way Firmia was talking, it seemed like she was going to be asking for things. Fair enough, with the work that had been put in, it all just depended on what the girl wanted. With the effectiveness of the Regalia and Mantle, she could potentially ask for a lot...

"Alright, gimme yer list, then. If we're gonna get anywhere with this discussion, best to have that out in the open. No pussyfootin' around the topic." Vance was ready to get down to the deals, while Conner seemed a bit more interested in what Firmia was saying aside from this.

"Your own mother? That seems rather foolish in the middle of a war... Russia was definitely doing poorly, but demanding you all back would simply be suicide. Pardon the claim, but I believe the ANF is the strongest force to be contending with these terrorists. I don't think that every other group should simply stand down, but to weaken us only for the lot of you to die in the snow fields..." He couldn't wrap his mind around it, really.

Vance just shook his head. "That's war, John. Russia just wants to make it through alive... I don't think three machines were gonna make a difference, considering the reports, but that doesn't stop the government from thinking they would." The way the Kremlin was destroyed was just... Too fantastical. He'd read the reports on these apparent aliens, but to hear of them working in these ways...

Vance sighed, getting a bit more serious. "As long as you're willing to help us win this war... Whatever we can do, we will."

---

Firmia quietly gulped as she pulled up her tablet. Commander Vance was controlling the pace of this meeting, and she couldn't really do anything about it in her state. That was going to be a steep uphill battle from the start. Better to just let him have it and focus on getting what she really came here for ... a boatload of supplies and manifest dreams. She didn't hand her tablet over, this time. Some of the items on it were redundant with a full fledged warship now on the list. More importantly, Firmia's mind was reorganizing the list as she prepared to read from it. There was a chance that something would come up that she could slip in on top of everything else. Asking for more later would seem disorganized at best, and insultingly greedy at worst.

"I believe the ANF is going to strike the killing blow against Apotheosis, as well," Firmia noted as she held her brick of a tablet on the table at a fifteen degree angle facing upward. "As for what I want ..." 'Need' was the more apt term, but now wasn't the time or place to sound desperate. "The ANF still has some Megalodon class vessels in its possession, doesn't it? My biggest concern overall is being able to stay mobile." She forced a faint smile to try and ease some of the tension that was grabbing hold of her. "It's a long term investment, but I think the Riese's odds in battle would increase with another ship backing it up. One of those models, one that hasn't seen too much combat, yet, would be preferable, and wouldn't cost you any other ships elsewhere. I also want four heavily reinforced mobile suit containers that can be externally mounted to the Megalodon. AMS units don't need to rely on ship catapults, so the containers will be enough."

Letting hich command mull over the largest of her items, Firmia continued on down her slightly revised list. "In addition, we also need-" -oops, it was that blasted word she was trying to avoid- "-production capacity of our own. Not only large machining equipment, but also the raw materials." This felt like a good time to make a secondary pitch, regarding her drones. It felt like it, but Vance would probably appreciate it if she saved that until after the man knew what he was being quoted.

Try to be more assertive, Firmia reminded herself. "My company will be based out of the ship we use, initially. Because of that, I want as much heavy processing power as that ship can handle, plus fifteen percent extra as warm spares." Ten to twelve units had been her starting bid, however, the Megalodon could probably handle more. Firmia didn't have time to figure out the specifics, so she avoided numbers altogether and capped her request based purely on the ship, itself. The spares were just that, spares, in case of individual system failures. "Unlike the original Alkaev company, we're not just going to be designing units and selling them. We'll be offering a large variety of computational solutions to our clients, as well." The processor suites would serve a dual purpose when all was said and done, but it was nothing nefarious, at least not intentionally, so.

Lowering her tablet slightly, Firmia looked up at Vance. "Would you like me to break for a moment, or is it fine if I continue?" The break proposal was as much for her as for ANF's leaders. They could voice any concerns they had with what was already out in the open, and Firmia could compose herself more and think. Every extra second she could buy herself to calm down, reason, and potentially improve her list, was precious.

---

Firmia seemed pretty worried... Vance couldn't stop smiling. "Is that all?" Conner looked confused, but at Firmia, not his commander.

"Darlin', if that's all you're lookin' for, you came to the right place. One pristine Megalodon class, check. Production equipment on the ship, check. Holding containers for machines, check. And any spare materials you might need? You must be underestimating how much we're drowning in salvage from Apotheosis machines. The Cressida classes alone have provided us with ample material, and some of what Hyperion scrap we could salvage makes its way back here. As I'm sure you've experienced, they don't always go up in flames. Chop an arm or a leg off first, then deal the finishing blow? Free metal. We still haven't entirely analyzed exactly what metal is being used in their creations, but we can mold it to our needs, that's all we really need to know... Phew."

Vance let out a sigh, chuckling to himself. "Not gonna lie here, little lady, I expected your wishlist to be a lot longer. For all the work you've done and what you're willing to continue doing, I'd expected prototype demands, a kraken vessel to yourself-- don't start asking now, though." He made sure to close that door before it could be opened, motioning over to Conner, who began to get to work on facilitating those things. "Something tells me that your laundry list has a bit more on it, though. As long as we're still talking, hit me. I can be just a bit more generous.

Hannah, meanwhile, couldn't help her smile, wishing she could whisper 'I knew it' to Firmia. That could wait for after.

---

She definitely wasn't dealing with the Russian government anymore. That was for certain. Commander Vance's reaction caught her off guard. Fortunately, she was still managing to keep it together, despite how serious the situation was for her. She was gaining and at the same time losing imaginary assets as the discussion continued. Fortunately, Firmia wasn't all that interested in hypotheticals. The fact that her Megalodon was now very real, and not at all hypothetical, lifted a great weight off of the young Alkaev's shoulders.

Firmia smiled at Vance's mention of a kraken class ship. The man's humorous gating was definitely helping her to find her center, again. "That's just fine. I want the Megalodon, in particular. Its specifications are the best fit for acting as a mobile headquarters, and it can support the Riese without getting in the larger ship's way ... aaand as much as I would enjoy owning a much larger ship, those aren't shoes that I'm ready to fill." It was only the difference of a few months, but her eighteenth birthday was coming up, and it was looking to be even more significant than she ever thought it could be. "That said," Firmia continued, "my plans have been changing little by little as the situation does. We were going to be making most of these acquisitions from Apotheosis ... and that included the ship," she grinned, hoping her innocent wording would soften Vance up for what she had to say next.

"I don't believe in free lunches, Commander Vance; I'm prepared to earn everything in this life. So, if my list seems minor, know that it's because I have yet to satisfactorily demonstrate my company's value to the ANF, and I can certainly appreciate your logistical situation, as well." Firmia didn't know if she would actually be asking for more down the road; blasting Apotheosis to pieces and picking the remains clean was more fun than just asking for parts at a meeting room table, but having that option certainly made sense.

Bringing the tablet back up slightly to half read half reference the list, Firmia got back to it. She immediately skipped over the missile batteries and rail cannons she'd wanted for the barely armed transport she'd first considered. The original list was now getting into some iffy territory, but based on the way things had gone so far, Firmia wasn't nearly as worried, this time. "Since we'll be able to produce our own variants, I want the blueprints for the ANF's most up to date T-Link, as well as any untested or experimental versions your scientists aren't ready to use, yet. In exchange for that, I'll forward any of our own findings."

"Next, in order to operate the Megalodon, I'll need a minimal crew." The Riese was understaffed already, so in Firmia's mind, both ships could be supplied with fresh blood before heading out. "I'd like to see the complete profiles of anyone cleared to join either the Heion Riese or my ship. I'm planning on filling out other areas with androids when I have the chance, and running most other systems through AIs bound to the on board processor suites. It should only take a small number of people to get the ship fully operational and combat ready." She wanted to ask for a security detail, as well--that was on the blasted list--but the androids they were looking to acquire could take care of that, couldn't they? Firmia certainly trusted Hannah to take an enemy down in the time it would have taken them to draw a firearm.

"As for the rest, I'll move on to the negotiable items. First, I want my people to be able to move and operate freely within ANF controlled territories both during and after the war. I'm aware that some locations, as well as urban centers, may need certain restrictions, and we can work with that, but it's important that we can reach any location, in space or on Earth, and without any red tape." She didn't mind talking with him, but having to ask Uncle Vance for permission every time something came up would be irritating. "Second, communication and observation satellites. Where possible, I want to have my company's communications and searches prioritized. With that includes clearance to seek contact with any ANF military installation, garrison, ship, or unit that we know about, and for any reason." They could always turn Alkaev Plus down if they had better things to do, but Firmia wanted an in she could fall back on without having to go through the normal channels. "If we were to make a request, they would be under no obligation to help us if it would threaten their security or conflict with their standing orders."

And moving on ... "My company is also having trouble in the information domain. If you would be willing to share anything your people know about the research of Doctors Ando, Watanabe, and Liebenwalde, as well as Tabitha Gaertner, I would be eternally grateful. The latter in particular is someone I'd like to track down, if she's still alive." Firmia didn't want to give too much away, but showing a little trust here and there would hopefully win some points.

That just left the 'alliance.' Everything else on the list was either redundant, or made utterly pointless by the sheer production and combat ability being dropped into her lap. "Lastly, Commander, I would just like to add that while I do have minor concerns about the ANF and its internal workings, I believe the Federation can both win this war and maintain its standing in the world." A stable ally was generally a reliable one, Firmia mused. "Alkaev Plus is not a mercenary company, and so long as we can remain independent, I'm willing to pledge us to an official alliance with the ANF." There were certainly obligations that came with that, but that's what running an organization was all about.

---

"If I may, sir," Conner said, perking up at the mention of the name Gaertner.

"You may, John..." Vance had been about to defer to Alphonse on Firmia's other requests, but this seemed important. Conner didn't speak up for much.

"It's about that Tabitha Gaertner... I checked into the other colonies when the Riese was finished with its own assault. It appears as though Doctor Gaertner was taken, when Apotheosis attacked the others. I hadn't put much thought into it, but... You, Miss Hannah, you're... An android, aren't you?"

Hannah tilted her head some, as if this wasn't a surprise. "Yes, I am. My apologies, was that not obvious?"

Vance gawked. "Hell no it ain't! Christ, you're a machine? Singularity, ffhhh, geez..." Clearly shocked, though trying to play it off as he went back to smiling, Conner continued.

"Right... I believe they took her for her work on Androids. Would it be too presumptuous to assume you're a model in her line of work, Hannah?"

"I am... If you're worried about any issues that may come from me being as such, I have been thoroughly checked by my sister AI, and outside systems. I am not infected, nor is there any sleeper program hiding anywhere."

"I trust you, on that, I do. I was just wondering why the interest in her. Makes complete sense, now... If we find out where she's been taken to, we'll tell you both, right away. If this is the fruit of her labors, we can't let her stay with people like Apotheosis. There's no telling what they could do with a near human race of androids."

Vance rubbed his chin, the thought chilling, but things were rather obvious now. "Wasn't thinking much on those 'ears', thought they were some fancy hearin' aid... Isn't exactly hard to miss now."

"I'm not exactly the standard for androids anyway, Commander Vance. You'll find my sister models unable to think and act as I do."

"Think? This really is the singularity. Hah! Gonna be doin' a lot of thinkin' tonight... Alphonse, now that that's outta the way, mind taking over fer me on her requests? Gonna need a moment after that."

"Heheh~" Hannah was quite amused, much as Conner just seemed pleased.

---

"I must say... your road for independence is going to be rocky at the least, but you can count me intrigued. I'll certainly see what we can do about personnel. I was already talking with a Major about disbanding a few patrol squads. We can certainly keep contact about suitable personnel. Enough to get you started." Alphonse looked rather intrigued, his attention now fully on Firmia. The talk about Hannah seemed not to strike him out of his element like the other two, surprisingly. "Rising your companies' priority in our hardware will be simple enough, provided your continuous support. As long as your company and the Riese succeed, you'll have increased priority in our sattelites, barring our own needs. Same goes for mobility in ANF territory. In fact, if any of your people need it, you should procure a special ANF ID while you're hanging around HQ. I'll send a word to put it in high priority as well."

The demands seemed to be well received overall, even by Alphonse. In a moment, he had crossed his arms and shot a glance at Vance. "Information is a dime and a dozen... but I'm sure we can make a discount to your company. We'll let you use a registered account to check the necessary databanks."

---

It was almost refreshing for the truth about Hannah to come out. Vance's reaction was priceless, and Firmia had to cover her mouth and suppress a giggle. Unfortunately, the humor of the situation didn't change the fact that Tabitha was indeed being held by Apotheosis. In all likelihood they hadn't killed her yet, but just the same, they hadn't encountered any androids from Apotheosis' side, not unless they were aboard the warships. That seemed like a waste of potential in Firmia's view.

Thinking on the possible uses for Gaertner and her AI expertise, one idea that seemed plausible was holding back their androids altogether and relying on the clones for the current phase of the war. Once they were ready to take the Riese, they could use a strike team of androids to board the ship and neutralize the crew. Even with just a handful of them, it would be a slaughter, and given that Hannah would dominate anyone short of Vera with casual ease, she was their greatest obstacle to taking the ship. They would need at least several to get around said obstacle or some way to disable her outright. This could also explain why they hadn't tipped their hand just yet. Hannah's show back on Colony One may have even been the catalyst for such a plan. According to Brant, she was a one man army on foot.

"I'm not sure if we'll find a window to rescue Gaertner," Firmia chimed in, "or if we can even figure out where they're holding her, but I do want to put together a rescue plan and execute it if we do find her. If you learn anything else," she met eyes with Connor, "please let me know."

As far as her requests in general, things were looking very good. She hadn't been denied anything; Alphonse assured her that their communications would be prioritized whenever possible, in exchange for her continued support. That was simple enough. Alphonse also suggested getting them special ANF IDs. Firmia had been thinking of something like that for Tonya, due to her potential solo sorties, and where they could wind up taking her. It would be ideal if she didn't have to constantly check in with local forces when traveling near installations or cities. With a mobile HQ now in play, special IDs for all definitely seemed like a good idea. Yes they would be traveling alongside the Riese throughout the war, but after that, the sky was the limit. Or perhaps the limit was the sky ... it wasn't like she had the same freedom of movement within EU territory, or even Russian territory ...

Alphonse topped the deal off with an account that could access the ANF's database. Depending on what access level they were getting, it would be far more convenient than making inquiries in person. Firmia decided not to pester Alphonse for the details, right now. The momentum was moving in her direction, and something like account level access was definitely a long term negotiable. "Thank you, Commander. I truly appreciate your cooperation. It's been difficult to adjust to this situation, but I'm looking forward to continuing our work together."

---

"That's fine. Finding Gaertner is our concern. You focus on the war efforts, and we'll let you know if we need any help." Conner seemed perfectly fine with this situation, Vance nodding along with him.

"I think I got a real treat for ya Firmia, thinking on what we've got gathering dust in the back yard. I'll get back to you tomorrow, no sneak peeks... Last thing-- and, I will permit you to station an employee on board for surveillance, but we're gonna be kickin' everyone offa the Riese in the mornin'. We need to perform some scheduled upgrades, maintenance, restocking, proper repairs, and now we've gotta get your ship setup too."

Vance smiled, hoping Firmia wouldn't take things too poorly. "Y'all should go get some relaxation in while you still can. There's a beach a few hours off base. Take a group bus and hang out. I'm sure it'll be fun... With the war how it is, being lax can be harmful, that I understand. But reminding people they can still be human, and enjoy themselves. I like to think that's really important." He didn't want to go on a diatribe of personal beliefs, so he sighed there, and saluted Firmia.

"Good talk. I'll show you yer ship before you get shuffled along."

---

Firmia would have greatly preferred to rescue Gaertner, herself. If some far off ANF strike team somehow found and picked her up, they would probably bring her back to HQ. Unless these people wanted their own force of androids to work with, Gaertner likely wouldn't wind up anywhere near the front lines. In the event someone else got to her first, Firmia wouldn't be able to speak with the woman privately, if at all. At best, she could gather information over the phone. Not exactly ideal, but there was nothing she could do about that for today.

Vance seemed to have some treat for her, though. That reminded her she should probably call her grandfather sometime tonight. He had something he was going to give her today, as well, and it was already getting late, even here in the states. Her grandfather would probably be up first, since the Commander wanted to hold off until morning, likely to deal with that gathering dust he mentioned, and make a good presentation. That was definitely worth waiting for.

And then the news that really would have pissed her off under normal circumstances. One thing it did was raise her eyebrows. There were Apotheosis sympathizers to worry about, though Commander Vance was probably just being annoyingly cautious with the crew, really. And fair enough ... too much work and too little relaxation and said crew would crack under the pressure. If she could only leave one person, though ... who would she pick? For once Brant seemed like a good pick for this sort of thing, as compared to Sasha who would just slip away at the first opportunity ...

The beach, though? Always with the water ... Fortunately Firmia's tablet was somewhat waterproof. She just had to keep it from getting fully submerged. That still left the choice of who would stay behind, tomorrow. Brant? Hannah? Tonya? Sasha? ... A1? If she just needed someone to keep an eye on things, then A1 was actually ideal. In fact, having him on the ship was almost as good as being there, herself. Hmm ... he's turning out to be a better gift than I would have anticipated. Thank you again, Brant. It was decided, then. Sasha could have his break, Brant and Tonya could do whatever it was they planned on doing, and Firmia could keep Hannah with her, both for the company and for a sense of security that had been generally lacking outside of an AMS cockpit.

"Well, we could certainly use a break from this war, so I'll just leave my own surveillance systems on. That should be enough, I think." Firmia put on a dignified smile, not dissimilar from her mother's, but with a gratitude befitting the situation. "Thank you for hearing me out, and I look forward to seeing the vessel you're preparing."

 

Beach Episode: On!

Now that was unexpected, they were at the beach, in the middle of the desert. How... different. Now Makoto understood why he was told to bring swimwear, but it didn't mean his expectations didn't take a serious hit. To think just a few days the crew was in some kind of pool party... did they just enjoy this kind of stuff? "Well, I guess leisure is the best to relieve tension..." While getting complacent with the global landscape, the ANF sure prioritized a lot of comfort for its soldiers. He had to admit it was a good incentive to keep their numbers high at a time where most people just wanted peace and globalization. Well, now that aliens and Apotheosis are involved, it's a different matter. Life of a volunteer sure was awkward. Speaking of awkward, the beach really wasn't his favorite scenery. He was around because he felt the need to be around the others, and the Riese was being shut, but he'd really prefer being at an arcade. Ah well, it couldn't get that bad, could it? Off to enjoy the day in swimming trunks and sleeveless shirts our hero went.

"Ah, sup, Tarquin!" His young friend was fairly easy to spot, all in all. "How are you doing? Well, I gotta say, this beach looks great, but I wanted to be trying out some new moves on the simulator, heheh..." Makoto couldn't hide himself to his friend, but it was good that both were here. "What do you plan on doing? I was thinking maybe playing soccer or volleyball would be nice if we could gather a crew." Yeah... that would be nice.

Sand, Less Coarse Than Before

Getting another break felt pretty generous to Roxanna, though she knew it was for the crew's sake. Just like during her time at the pool-party, she was wearing her white monokini under her summer dress, but right now she was planning to enjoy the beach some, basking at the sun and sitting in one of the chairs. It's been some time since she's had seafood, maybe she could order something nice from around these parts... it'd probably be expensive since this was nowhere near an actual beach, but her craving spoke louder.

Edited by Xinnidy

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Their impromptu beach trip was certainly... unexpected. Seemingly out of nowhere, the crew of the Heion Riese had been forcibly removed from the ship, drafted into some mandatory relaxation at the artificial beach. It wasn't as much of a wonder for Seung-Min as it might have been for most... at least not anymore. The enclosed environment was ideal for photo shoots... it looked incredibly natural, but bad weather wasn't a factor, and working with the military allowed for more regimented scheduling than a public beach. Predictably, with those factors in place, Seung-Min had been called to this very beach before in the past... in fact, news of the Heion Riese touching down at Central was likely spreading like wildfire throughout the area, with how high profile the ship had become as of late...

"I wonder... if I'll run into any of them, here..." The ex-idol mused to herself as people began to scatter after the Captain's little opening speech. Well, that was a bridge to be crossed when it presented itself. Stretching a bit in place for a moment, Seung-Min had been glad for one thing at least, that she had brought a swimsuit different from the one she had worn at the pool... intricate and showy as it had been, so many moving parts weren't ideal for a potentially more rough and tumble outing than some poolside lounging or a photo shoot. The ensemble she had grabbed in it's stead was comparatively quite simple... a scarlet two piece string-tied bikini. It was older than most of her current wardrobe, which made itself known in some ways... namely that the piece appeared smaller and much more snug than originally intended on her current frame... larger and more... filled out than it had been even a year and a half ago. Not problematically so, of course. Everything relevant remained adequately covered, it was more the case that the fabric... especially the strings holding the top and bottom together, bit into the softer skin of her hips and chest as the cloth snugly hugged her figure.

If anything, it might have been a net positive that the thing was a bit too small. The gentle indentation of the fabric into her skin had it's own appeal, and contrasted the softer parts of her frame from the rest of her generally more lean, toned figure. After all, as a quick scan of the beach head had confirmed, "competition", as it were, appeared to be at an all time high. Perhaps a carryover from her time as an idol, but it never hurt to compare and appraise now and again, and if she had any say in it, Seung-Min had no intention to fall by the wayside. 

But in order to facilitate such a thing, she had to get another look. Right now, her swimsuit was underneath a light, easily removed sundress. And while it wouldn't have strictly been a problem to simply remove said dress, doing so in the change room in front of a mirror never hurt. That way, she could change into her backup quickly and discreetly, if need be. Yes, that seemed like a wonderful idea. Making her way over to the change rooms, the Lieutenant hadn't been paying enough attention in her musing to notice that she had been not too far behind her Captain... a Captain who appeared to be in the middle of disrobing as she entered, down to her undergarments alone. Really, there was nothing odd about the situation all things considered... taking a sharp breath, Kim loosed an applauding whistle, as she began to slip off her dress without much delay.

"O Captain! My Captain~" A little teasing couldn't hurt, right? The Captain seemed receptive to that sort of thing... willingly or no. Surely it would be fine.

Edited by Ether

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Last night's sleep, as Elaine expected, had been far better for her than it had been with the living quarters of the base. The bed felt familiar, and, as a result, more comfortable to her. It had been a slight hassle to bring all her bags back, but in the end, everything turned out fine.

However, Elaine didn't expect to be practically tossed out of the Riese as soon as possible, provided with the necessary time to bring some items of her own, of course, and get shoved onto a bus and off to an artificial beach, off base. So, rather than simply bring a change of clothes, Elaine had opted to simply put on her blue, one-piece swimsuit, and a light, button-up over-shirt over top of it, to easily take off and to give her some pockets. A2, the little red device that was monitoring her, was still attached to her wrist, and while Elaine had initially worried about it, Brant had assured her the thing was water-proof. And that was more than she could say about her phone, much as she loved it for its convenience and the music it provided her. It was in the front chest pocket of her shirt, and while she would definitely have to store the damn thing in a locker for safe keeping, she could at least spend some time in her own little world on the bus. There would be plenty of socializing at the beach, anyways.

Elaine had wondered what the large, white building off in the distance was, and when the crew was ushered in, she finally got her answer. Her eyes widened as she looked around. No longer were they in the middle of the Nevada Desert. Now, they were in an artificially created version of the west coast, all thanks to advancements in technology of the modern era. Elaine's smiled widened. This was going to be a fun day. Elaine raced off to the woman's changing rooms to quickly find a locker.

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Astin hadn't expected the entire crew to be given the day off and sent to the beach in the middle of a war. That didn't mean it wasn't a good idea, but it still struck Astin as a bit weird. Unlike most of the group, Astin wasn't wearing anything special. A loose pair of shorts and a tank top had been the compromise they'd struck with their normal wardrobe and the fact that they were on a beach. Everyone else seemed significantly more enthused by this than they were, but that didn't mean they could find some way to enjoy it all.

They'd been trailing a bit behind everyone but still heard Chris's suggestion. As much as they weren't happy about her presence, she had the right idea. And hey, they didn't have to be on her team, so it could work out alright. "I'll join in the volleyball. Avery, you up for it?" This was perfect. Not having to deal with the 'ocean', a bit of exercise, and this way Avery couldn't pester them about not doing anything. A perfect balance hopefully.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Val couldn't help but be stunned as she walked into the building. Even having seen some of the things that technology could do, what with living on the colony and all, this was still amazing. It was a perfect beach in the middle of a desert. Not too hot, not too humid, just... perfect. Glancing over at Olivia, Val grinned. The fashion show yesterday had gone well enough, but this was the fun part. She'd worn a long flowing skirt and a sleeveless top on the way over, but now that they were actually here, she figured it was time to reveal the swimsuit she'd picked out.

Pulling the top off, she did a spin for Olivia. "So, what do you think?" The pure white suit clung to her body, with the only contrast being the light blue trim and an intricate gold design on the chest. The blue plunged in a fairly deep neckline and extended into a tie around her neck and wrapped around her hips as well, leaving the majority of her back exposed. "I thought about getting a bikini, but this one just felt more comfortable." She couldn't deny that this was far from her comfort zone and was honestly almost embarrassing. But at the same time it was comfortable and she couldn't help but feel pretty it in. That was what she had to keep focusing on.

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Volley Ballin'

Chris was getting to her stretches, while Christina looked around at what to do... Relaxing in a chair, taking a swim, doing what Chris was going to, as much as it would probably suck more for her... There were plenty of options, she was just a bit overwhelmed by which one to go with. "Hey, Christina?"

"Wha?"

"Do you mind getting a ball for me? I have something I need to take care of first... You can join in if you want, though I'm not about to go easy on you."

"Heh... I didn't think you were going to. Hey, uh, one problem for today, though..."

"Yeah, what?"

"You're not wearing your glasses... How are people going to tell us apart at a glance?"

"Uhhhhh..." That was a good point, probably... And getting confused for Christina would just bug her. "I'll find a wrist band or something. That way I only have to correct people once... I guess that's fine. Anyway, see you--"

Not yet, apparently, Astin having chimed into their conversation. Had they overheard the mention of the ball? Chris nearly sighed, but that made getting people for a game a lot easier. "Yeah, sure. Go with Christina, then, and get a ball, see if there's space free. I have to go talk to someone." Off she went, without another word, Christina sighing.

"Sorry... She's like that. Uhm, if you don't mind, it looks like there's a place over there on the beach," she mentioned, pointing it out, a small unassuming shack with tubes, floaty noodles, all kinds of beach sporting stuff. "What about you, Avery?"

With two people asking her now, Avery sighed and smiled, shaking her head. "Yeah, sure. What's a beach without some volleyball, right? Ain't th'first time I'll get sand in m'hair. Count me in."

Christina smiled, that made four people... Hm... Christina scanned around, wondering if-- Oh, there was Makoto. But, he was talking to Tarquin. Probably best not to interrupt them until they were all set. "Alright, then. Let's go get setup."

New Hire

Chris had walked off to see Firmia, her standard scowl hanging as she approached. Hannah saw her coming, of course, a bit apprehensive, but considering where they were, it was highly unlikely she would try to do anything dumb.

Chris came up with her hands squarely placed on her hips, staring the Alkaev down. "Hey. Firmia. Hire me."

...

"Uhm, what?" Hannah's appraisal of the situation had entirely been thrown off. She looked at Firmia, wondering if she knew what was going on.

O, Captain...

"Ah!" Jess was startled for a moment, before realizing who had decided to spook her, sighing. Just Kim... Jess had to shake the spook off of her. She was trying to keep it calm, but things like that would just make her high strung... She couldn't afford that with what she had to get done today. Smiling it off and getting to putting her swimsuit on, Jess made quick work of the swap, not wanting to linger and allow Kim any further teases of comments... She'd probably get them on the pattern of her bikini anyway, but that was unavoidable. Of everything she'd bought with Abby the previous day, a new swimsuit wasn't on the list.

"I'm glad to see you're so excited to be here, Kim. Hope you all have a good day relaxing away from things. I don't really know why Vance specifically ordered the beach, but... Well, he's the Commander. I can't exactly tell him no." There, all dressed, Jess sighing. Reaching into her bag and pulling out a nice, big sunhat. Her complexion was already pale enough, and while springing up more freckles might interest some, it wasn't on her list of wants. Fitting that securely over her hair, she smiled over at Kim. "Gonna go see about the beach... What are your plans, if I might ask? You don't normally seem so... Hmmm. Excited? You always seem content, but never to the point of... Well, what you just did. I guess getting off the ship is already doing some of us good..."

Form Fit

Olivia had showed up in some pretty boring clothes... No frills, no spice, no colors, just white and bland, and a shawl over it because being too revealing wasn't on her agenda. Val, though? Yeesh, she wasn't kidding when she said this would be a good surprise. They'd been in the artificial sun for less than five minutes and she was already beet red. "Y-Yeah... It's... You look, great. Uh... Anything you want to do while we're here...?" Crap, this isn't a good start. Why did she have to start going on the attack all of a sudden? I'm no good at this...

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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"Ah, uh.. yeah. Ok." Astin blinked as Chris seemed anything but happy that they were asking about joining in. Still, Christina seemed fine with it, so there it was. "No need for you to apologize. She's not your responsibility or anything like that." Avery joining in was a good thing for sure. "Hmm, yeah, that looks like as promising a spot as any. Do you think anyone else will be interested in joining us?" Following after Chrissy, the sand warm on their feet, they let out a small content sigh. "As strange as this is, I can't deny it feels good. A few days to relax after everything, it's nice. Wonder who all else is here though. I wouldn't think there would be many crews at Central still. But there's a fair amount of people here."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~``

Val's confidence was suddenly boosted by Olivia's reaction, reassured that she had picked the right outfit after all. "Ah, you think so? I'm glad you like it~" It was nice to not be the one struggling to recover for once. It was a new experience for sure, but one she was enjoying. "Well, I mean, it's the beach. We could go swimming, or just relax in the sand. Though you might want to put some sunscreen on. You're already turning red. No sense in coming to have a relaxing day if you end up sunburned. Did you have anything you wanted to do?"

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Well this was quite a twist. Aliza was geared up to break in her new robot after Mr Vance gave her quite a spook, but it seems like he had another spook up his sleeve. A shame she wasn't entirely in the mood for a beach trip with the crew considering she had found out her crush was going out with the captain. She's...mostly past the bummer of a situation but she still wasn't thrilled at potentially seeing Abby in a swimsuit. Ah well, she knew how it all rolled in the end. At least Sagittae's reveal cheered her up a fair bit, and she can always just avoid her for now. It seemed to be a big enough beach to do that. After writing something real quick in her notebook she waltzed off to unload her bags in the quarters before preparing for a nice walk on the beach to do some more....bird watching.

Yeah, she loves that totally innocent hobby.

Edited by TheRoon

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Well, she just walked in on something, now didn't she. Elaine walked into the changing quarters just in time to hear Kim go 'O Captain. My Captain~'. If she didn't know any better, Elaine would say that Kim was trying to put the moves on Jess. But, she did know better. So, Elaine quietly moved to a locker that wasn't nearby the two women, though listening in on the conversation as she did, for shits and giggles, mostly. There wasn't much to place in the locker, so there wasn't much to hear. Just Jess saying how Kim was always so subdued with her emotions, which honestly didn't seem correct to Elaine, when she thought about it. There was that one time where Kim had flipped out in the middle of a fight over not performing perfectly, and from what she could recall, Kim wasn't so 'content' around Christina, though it could just be another thing she had missed out on, being oh so recluse until now. Maybe she could listen in just a little longer?

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As amusing as it might have been to continue her ribbing as the Captain finished undressing and put on her bikini, doing so as she was in the nude seemed a tad... out of taste. Maybe if they had both remained single at this point... maybe. Regardless, that wasn't the case, at least not in this particular multiverse, if you subscribe to that sort of thing... so the whistle went away, at least for the moment. When Jessica said she seemed excited, however, that caught the Lieutenant off of her guard for a moment. Was she acting that strange? It wasn't like she hadn't flirted with the Captain in the past, even if it had erred more on the side of testing and playful than anything.

"Do I seem... excited? I don't think... I'm particularly... different to usual. The time off may have... done some good I suppose... though we also... haven't spoken much recently. Maybe you're just used... to how I was before I loosened up... a bit." Kim remarked... perhaps that was it. With everything going on, the last time she and the Captain had spoken meaningfully outside of the throes or aftermath of battle had been before her perfectionist world view had been utterly and completely shattered. As she considered this, Kim's eyes darted for a moment to the other end of the locker room only to quickly return, having noticed the arrival of Elaine... who seemed content to stay back and eavesdrop. How brusque~

"If that's... the case, then good to meet you properly... Captain. Kim Seung-Min, minus one... stick up ass." The aforementioned teasingly reintroducing herself, even throwing in an overdone curtsy for emphasis. As she rose back to a standing posture, one hand found itself resting on her hip, the other cupping her chin as she pondered those older days for a moment.

"You know, Captain... we never did follow up... on those piano lessons. Though I suppose... Abigail might not approve of such a... hands on teacher. A shame too... I thought it was... quite enjoyable."

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While the minions had opted to head to the beach, Megumi chose to stay behind on the Riese with permission from Commander Vance. She had a patient to look after and Nikolai's SIEG tank was one of the least portable things on the ship. It did concern her slightly, the fact that she hadn't seen real sunlight or been outside at all since Dry Lake; that was the Ellen lifestyle and Megumi certainly wasn't about that. The doctor couldn't worry about that too much, though. Her patient was far more cooped up than she was, with no mobility left to speak of.

Fortunately, Nikolai was coming along nicely. Very nicely, in fact. His age afforded him a slightly quicker recovery than Megumi had anticipated. At first, she thought his exceptionally poor lifestyle and third rate artificial organ would, in terms of his recovery, counter his youth. in hindsight, she shouldn't have been the least bit surprised; Nikolai survived the near total destruction of the Umbra. Smiling grimly at him as she came for another brief checkup, she wondered how things might have been in her mercenary days if instead of dying, her friends wound up like Nikolai ... scarred beyond belief, but still alive. As morbid a thought as that was, it was tempting to imagine people too resilient for even Nicholas to screw over.

"Hmm ... tomorrow, maybe," Megumi mused aloud, looking over Nikolai's stats. If he didn't care to have more of his scars addressed, he could likely come out of the SIEG tank sometime tomorrow. He would be wheelchair bound until the doctor had his new legs crafted and ready to attach, but he would be able to get around on his own, at least. And ... so long as he didn't wander too far or get into any trouble, Megumi supposed she would be fine letting him do that. He and Tarquin could really use some time together that didn't see them separated by glass and grief.


Things were definitely looking up. Firmia's meeting with ANF high command had gone swimmingly. They actually gave her a ship, which surprised even Sasha. The most the Russian government would have offered her without someone near the top trying to do Dima a favor was working space on a ship of her choice for the duration of the war. Maybe they would have given her a small transport or something as a reward after the war was over--assuming they had at least survived said war--but anything more than that? Unlikely ... not for a minor. It was only natural that Firmia would be in a relatively good mood, and thanks to that, and A1, she'd let Sasha run off with the good doctor, today.

The sunlight, despite how oppressive it was out in the desert, felt nice in its own way. The highly controlled environment of the Riese was always welcome, but Sasha could really use the change of pace. He spent enough time indoors back in Siberia, so if anyone could appreciate some fresh air, it was him. Plus Cheryl was with him and they could both dress a little lighter out here. Sasha still had his lucky jacket with him, like always, but he was wearing it around his waist, over his new beige cargo pants. On top of that, a plain but pristine white t-shirt. Cheryl was in some fitting jeans and a loosely buttoned up shirt. Beneath that, and naturally Sasha would notice this, was her tank top. They were definitely more comfortable than some of the people hanging out over at the artificial beach, that was for certain ... though Sasha couldn't help but be reminded that Galatea was still hanging around in his communicator. He was wearing it on his right wrist like usual, and it stood out with no sleeve covering it. She was still being quite, probably observing the two lovebirds in quiet amusement. Sasha could deal with that as long as Cheryl and he could have a good time.

"You know what's out right now? I was so busy trying to find an excuse for Firmia not to pick me as her eyes today that I forgot to check." Again, he was glad that worked out, even if he had wasted a whole hour on it, this morning.


Firmia hadn't asked before, frankly because the answer to her question of how long they would be at the beach probably lined up with however long the work on the Riese and the Megalodon took ... plus the two hours it would take for them to get back if they didn't have an actual schedule in place. Firmia could admit it, relaxing was something she had no proficiency in. Her mind always found a way to wander. Her hands always found something to do. Unless she was sleepy or inebriated, relaxation was a real challenge.

When Chris approached, the last thing Firmia expected her to ask was to be hired on. Given that perpetual scowl of hers, the Alkaev was anticipating some sort of confrontation. She wondered briefly what had prompted the request. Maybe it was her new ship? It was parked right beside the Riese; few would have missed it while boarding the bus they rode out here. Did she even know Firmia was its owner? Maybe it was something else ... "Why do you want to work for me, specifically?" Almost regrettably, Firmia had failed to phrase that like an interview question. Maybe next time. "I'm going to be working with this crew until the war is over, so forgive me for not seeing the ... immediate benefits." Were there long term benefits for anyone working for Firmia? Hell yes. Did Chris know that, though?


"We'll see, huh?" Tonya grimaced. Brant was clearly without a plan, again. "Alright, let me ask you this. Is today the day the bombs drop, or are you going to hold off for a bit?"

Brant grimaced. Hell if he knew what he was going to do. He had the necklace with him just in case, but the last thing he wanted to do right now was ... that. "If I have to, I will," he told Tonya, glancing toward the changing rooms Jessica had gone off to. "I really don't want to ruin this whole outing if I don't have to ..."

"Let's go for a walk and calm your nerves." It wasn't a suggestion, and so Tonya started off, heading closer to the water. Brant followed, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his swimming trunks and picking up the pace to catch up to her. "Okay, so ..." Tonya glanced at Brant to make sure he was close enough to hear her without anyone else eavesdropping. They were clear for now, though she had no intention of continuing if anyone started approaching them. "Do you want to know how things went with Doctor Amparo, last night?"

Brant's ears perked up. His hands came back out of his pockets. "Yeah, actually. How'd it go?"

"Pretty good. We had a nice chat, she examined me, did three different scans, and gave me some good estimates."

"On pricing?" Brant winced.

"Snrk, no, on time frames," Tonya clarified, "I didn't even ask her about that. Pricing's between her and Rosa. Speaking of which, since she's paying for everything, I'm getting the most expensive, fastest treatment the ANF offers," she smirked at her student. "Maybe I can squeeze some other things into this without her noticing~ ... I still can't believe Rosa actually agreed to this ..."

Brant grinned, not at all surprised it had worked in hindsight ...

Square One

Spoiler

It really wasn't Brant's worst idea, calling up Rosa from his room aboard the Riese. Some people he knew would argue that getting involved with Jessica was at the top of that list, but he wasn't ready to concede that. He waited as the call connected, hoping the time difference wouldn't have him apologizing from the get-go. If anything, he should be getting apologies from Rosa. His goal, though, was to help Tonya ... and if possible, make a much needed change in his life.

"Brant?" Rosa was up, and while not dressed for business, she was definitely not in her sleepwear. She looked confused, too. Brant figured that made perfect sense. "... what can I do for you?"

Brant grinned. "A lot, actually. Now ... there's no need to incriminate yourself or anything so just answer however you want in case the call's being monitored."

"A point about that, Brant ..." Rosa cut in, leaning toward the screen, "I seem to recall Captain Gefalscht being quite adamant about you not being around me any longer. I've been speaking to Firmia here and there ... but from what I gathered, she's contacting me discreetly. You seem to be in your quarters, though."

Brant sighed. It did feel like everything Jessica had ever said to him or done for him had been nothing more than hot air. Her feelings for him, her willingness to challenge the Russian equivalent of a mob family to win him over and protect him ... all of it was amounting to nothing. Brant tried to get a hold of his new found independence, shaking his head at Rosa.

"I'll decide which people I spend my time with, not her or anyone else."

Rosa winced slightly, straightening herself up. "Very well. What did you want to ask me?"

Right, the reason he'd called her. Brant took a deep breath and steeled himself for whatever response Rosa had for him. "I want you to atone for what you did to Tonya."

"... 'atone'? What do you mean?"

"You had her mobile suit sabotaged and then had her uterus removed during a 'life saving surgery.' It's the one thing ... that I can't forgive you for ..."

"The one thing?" At first Rosa looked annoyed, but then a new expression appeared, one Brant hadn't seen in at least nine years. Her face beamed with hopefulness. "Of everything I've been accused of ... that's the one thing you want me to atone for?"

"I'm a little stronger for what happened. Despite how much it hurts, I can forgive Jessica for all of this. I wouldn't be able to if not for what you put me through. I would hate her ... and I'm tired of hating people that are supposed to be close to me. Like I said, I'm stronger for everything that happened, but Tonya isn't. I want you to give her back what you stole, and support her however she wants. If you'll do that, and make this right, I'll forgive even that."

"Are you saying there would be a clean slate between us, Brant?"

Brant nodded. "Hating you all these years hasn't done any good for me or for Tonya. Talking might help, though. That's what I'm counting on."

"Would you ... tell me what's been going on? What prompted this? I ... need a moment to think. This Tonya situation always seems to rear its head again and again."

Brant's gaze fell to his keyboard. "You don't want to help Tonya even a little bit, do you?"

"Brant," she pulled his eyes back up to her, "Please ... I need a moment to think about this."

"I know you want time to think," Brant grimaced, "but that just means you're trying to get something out of this. It's not enough to fix your mistake, is it? So what is it you want, then? You want to use your clean slate to try again with me?"

Rosa looked away for a moment, deep in thought. "Would that be possible?"

"... probably not. Even if everyone I know wouldn't just immediately lock me up for suggesting it, I still want Jess. No one around here understands that I'm not after 'a relationship' at all. I'm after a relationship with her. If I can't win her back ... if something as simple as a missed call and some flirting can crush me and everything I'm offering her ... ... I'm just ... I don't want to deal with this anymore," Brant shook his head. "I'd rather stay the way I've always been. What good is going to come from trying to get involved with anyone else? Love? I have that already ... or something even better, possibly. Kids, maybe? I can't raise kids; I'm still just barely a functional human being, myself. Besides, Dima already put down all of the ones I would have had with you. I was happy before Jess started cutting my strings, back when that kind of life was just a passing thought."

"You were happy ..." Rosa frowned, looking troubled by Brant's words, but particularly those few words.

"I don't want to go back to being a puppet ... but I don't want to deal with this again and again and again."

Rosa forced a smile. "Who knows? The third time could be the charm. I don't know what's going on between you and Gefalscht, but there's no need to give up on love entirely because of that."

Brant locked eyes with Rosa, and the look on his face caused her smile to crumble. "This is the third time." He slumped down in his seat and lowered his head. All Rosa could see now were his disheveled brown locks. "Tonya and Ilya. You and my brother. And your own husband, whether you love him or not. Jessica and Abigail. I am so ... damn ... tired, Rosa. The only time I've ever been happy in my entire life, was when I wasn't trying to get involved with other people. Besides, Tonya and I didn't completely fall through in the end. Sure, we're not much of anything, but we trust each other, in a way you'll probably never understand. I've already surpassed love, at least what you people call love, so why should I keep trying if everything Jess said turns out to be meaningless, and everything I try isn't enough? Can you honestly answer that for me?"

"Brant ..."

The silence was long. Too long. Brant eventually raised his head, hoping Rosa hadn't disconnected in a fit. She was still there. She had tears in her eyes, something he'd never seen before. "... can you?"

"I don't know what to say," Rosa wiped her eyes, "I've spent nine years on this ..."

"Nine years? What?" Brant winced. What was she getting at?

"What? You think I just left you alone because you were so cold to me? Dear, I never believed your act for one moment. My father tried to have you and your brother turned purely into weapons. I only left you alone because the alternative was unthinkable. I've been waiting for a chance to turn the situation around ... yet here you are, ready to give up completely. It feels like I'm too late, now."

"So, you've been biding your time. You never found anyone else ...?" Did that mean she had been serious all along?" Not one other guy in the whole company?"

"I had plenty of opportunities," Rosa shook her head, wiping fresh tears before they had a chance to fall, "but I couldn't. There are plenty of fish in the sea, but I'm no fisherman," she put in with a dismal smile, "You always complained, about Stan and Rex ... but I couldn't do anything about that at the time, not without defying my father. I'm so close now, though. So ... close."

She was close? Brant squinted at her in mild disbelief. "What's changed? Aside from Rex trying to kill Firmia ..."

"Stan's gone, too," Rosa swiftly noted. "He stole the Crown prototype and left. My father's also not doing well. I don't think his illness is life threatening, but his overbearing control of me and the organization is getting weaker. His attention is ... divided, I'll say." Rosa leaned so close to the screen that she was practically all Brant could see. "What more can I do, Brant? Divorce Stan, officially? Swear to never so much as look at Rex, again? Send Tonya the money she needs to have her body restored? If you're willing to forgive me, then what will it take to bring you back?"

"I don't know," Brant shrugged, "I can't think that far ahead, right now." What he was hearing from Rosa was incredible. He couldn't even fully appreciate it right this moment. It felt like it would take him hours to come to grips with it. Something about this felt so peculiar to him, as well.

"Would you at least think on it?" Rosa pleaded, "I know forcing the issue was wrong, but I ..."

"'Love you', I know," Brant nodded in resignation. "Most meaningless phrase there is."

Rosa scowled at him. "You said it, too. Right before the end ... I finally convinced you to say it back."

Brant smiled grimly. "Yeah ..." he held up his hands, like a thief caught red handed, "Stockholm syndrome is a bitch. I won't blame it all on that, though."

"You won't ...?" Rosa looked almost pleasantly surprised.

"Of course not. You and I got along just fine before you went and ruined everything. We talked all the time. You confided in me. I confided in you. You actually listened to what I had to say back then. Everything was fine. For that one month you were quietly grooming me for this ... I was actually happy. Then ... you showed me what hell is."

"It ... won't be like that, this time, Brant," Rosa promised, "Everything will be different. The situation has already changed. You and I aren't the same people we were back then. Stan isn't involved anymore ... and I want nothing more to do with Rex. This is what you said you wanted ... for me to change and for them to be out of the picture. I have, and they are ... so please ..."

"Why are you begging me like this?" Brant winced. This seemed so familiar, now. So eerily familiar ...

"I can't ... I can't lose you because of something someone else did to you. Now that I know you'll forgive me ... I can't let it end like this."

"... shit." That was it. Brant stared at Rosa, jaw agape, and she looked back at him, eyes pleading like never before. Somehow, Brant found his smile, again. It was warped by grief and empathy, but it wasn't going anywhere. "Rosa ... I had no idea. I can't believe it. We're the same."

"W-what?"

"You and I ... are going through the exact same pain, right now. It's incredible. The same pain, for the same reasons. Let me guess, you bought an engagement ring years back and you've been waiting for the chance to give it to me ..."

Rosa flinched. It was faint, but Brant caught it. She looked away from him, probably wondering how he'd deduced that. Brant hadn't been entirely serious about his comment, but her reaction went to further reinforce his point about how similar their situations were.

"Someone actually got me a ring ..." Brant took a deep breath, and slowly let it out. "Rosa, will you please help Tonya? She never did anything to deserve that."

Rosa recoiled slightly, the fear slowly reaching the surface. Tonya was clearly something she would prefer to leverage. She wouldn't change that easily, Brant realized.

"Rosa, I know what you're going through, because I'm going through the same thing, right now. Tonya is a separate issue, though. Please don't make it about us. How would you really feel if you used Tonya to get to me?"

"... admittedly, just fine," Rosa said, sighing, "As long as she gets her treatment, and we both get what we want, what else matters? She and I aren't friends ... we never will be."

"Abigail ... " Brant mused aloud, "So the ends still justify the means. Rosa, you know helping Tonya can only be a good thing, so why attach conditions to it? Your situation and mine may be the same, but at least you've got options. You can start over with this and be something more than just my old boss. I'll never get that chance with the way things are, now. All I can do is throw everything I have at her and hope something sticks. And besides, Rosa ... don't you miss the way things used to be?"

"... what do you mean by that?" She clearly knew he wasn't talking about the time she had him firmly in her clutches ...

"In the beginning," Brant nudged his head backward," Back when we were friends--before your flirting started to get out of hand, I mean. Didn't you enjoy that more than all the crap that came afterward?"

Rosa smiled dimly at him. "I did, indeed."

"Can't we go back to that?" Brant tried to meet eyes with her, but she averted her gaze, again. "Rosa, I'm not asking you to help Tonya in exchange for nothing."

"... then what am I helping her in exchange for, Brant?" Rosa slowly, carefully locked eyes with him. Brant was still smiling, albeit faintly. That was enough to leave her hopeful and worried at the same time.

"Besides a clean conscience, my forgiveness, and my gratitude?" Brant's faint smile exploded into a playful grin, "Well, like I said ... it's the one thing I can't forgive you for, right now ... but if you can find it in your heart to atone for that, then I will. No red tape. There'd be nothing stopping us from going back and starting as friends, again."

Rosa was oddly quiet for a moment. Her eyes were on him, then on her keyboard, then back on him. She was careful not  to make direct eye contact, again.

"Rosa, I know you've got an image of the two of us together in your head. If you really want to make that into something real ... then this is the only way. Tonya is too important to me to just let this go."

"... fine," Rosa hung her head in defeat, "Fine, I'll do it. Give me her contact information. The ship's doctor, too. I'll get in touch with them and take care of the rest."

Relief ... Brant could feel it. All these years and finally something good was coming out of that nightmare. Brant's beaming smile receded, leaving behind a grateful, sympathetic gaze. Rosa was nearly bowled over by it when her eyes found him, again. "Thank you, Rosa."

"Is that all, then? ... if so, then ... I should probably get to work on that."

Brant winced at that. "Hey, don't leave yet."

"What is it, Brant?" She was looking at him, again. She was looking so miserable, too.

"Would you stop making that face? You're doing something good for someone else, and you're salvaging a friendship you damn near lost for good. You should be high as a kite, right now." Maybe she just didn't understand what being his friend meant. Brant sighed when he considered that. "Remember how things used to be between us in the beginning? That's where we are right now. Stop thinking with your vagina and start enjoying my company, again. I know I'll be enjoying yours if you can keep it together," he shrugged exaggeratedly at her.

A chuckle nearly escaped, though Rosa hardly looked amused. "Sometimes I feel like I don't understand you at all. If we're friends, then ... I suppose I'll be able to get in touch with you, regularly?"

Brant nodded. Obviously. "Call me whenever you want."

"No trouble from Captain Gefalscht?"

"... no, probably not," Brant's smile faded completely for a moment. He summoned it back as he took another deep breath and exhaled. "I'm serious. No one but me decides who my friends are. If you want to talk, call me. Period."

Rosa was the one basking in relief, now. "What if I want to talk about my vision for us? Hm? Can you really put up with that?"

Brant shrugged, again, even more exaggeratedly this time. "Go ahead. For me, it's Jess or bust, so if you've got a case to make, go ahead and make it. I doubt you'll convince me, but that won't have anything to do with Tonya or what you did to me and my brother."

"Heh ..." Rosa smiled, "so it's that simple with you, is it? Fine. ... thank you, Brant. Nine years of waiting only to start over from the beginning ... I am grateful, however. More than you can imagine. I knew that you didn't despise me, at least not completely, but I had no idea something like this could ever happen. It's ... given me a lot to consider."

"Yeah, well it's given me a lot of flak to brace for. Don't expect me to be in a great mood the next time we talk."

"Be strong. I'm going to go, now. Don't forget to send me the contact information I requested."

"Wilco," Brant gave a casual two finger salute. The call disconnected from Rosa's end, and Brant slumped down over his keyboard. "Just like that ... heheh ... I did it, Tonya. You're going to be whole, again. All these years I wasted spinning up resentment, when I could have done something useful, instead. Better late than never, I guess. Right?"

Brant stood up from his computer screen and ran his palm over his face, catching his locks and driving them back. He took another deep breath. He held it for a good long second. "Hhhooohhh my Goddess ... I actually did it." There were tears in his eyes, but Brant had enough will in him to keep them from falling. It took nine years to get to back to his happy 'middleground,' but he was back. This is how he wanted things to be. Maybe the others wouldn't understand, at first. Either way ... it was time to fetch Tonya, and then get back to work on that final ring.

"She's going through the same thing I am," Brant noted with a sigh. "I wouldn't put anything past her."

"That's why I'm worried about you," Tonya poked him in the shoulder, "Are you sure you'll be able to handle her?"

"Yeah. There's ... I can't really think of anything that would make me want to try that again, especially not when I'm after Jess. I didn't just bring the rings with me, I'm wearing them under my shirt, right now. I'm dead serious about this." Or probably just dead, he thought bitterly. What could he really do that wouldn't backfire where Jessica was concerned?

"And then there's your third ring," Tonya noted, the one she had in her possession.

"Yyyeah," Brant nodded.

The Rings

Spoiler

"Friends?" Tonya gawked at Brant. His back was turned to her; he was back to work on his project at his work station just opposite the bedroom door. Tonya leaned toward Brant's right, and saw the little engagement ring he was working on. Sparks were flying a short distance with every pass he made on the ring's inner face.

"Mhm," Brant nodded, not looking away from his work.

"With Rosa?" Tonya winced at the idea of them talking and laughing together like a pair of good friends would. The subject matter didn't make a difference in her head. It was just ... strange. A little disturbing, admittedly. "Are you sure that's worth-" "Yes!" Brant turned to look at her incredulously, "Of course it's worth it."

Brant focused in on the ring again, and once again, the sparks danced. "Tonya, listen. Rosa and I were friends before she decided forcing the issue was a good idea. She can't abuse me like that, again. It's completely up to me what happens between us, so there's nothing to worry about. What's important is that you're going to get back what you lost, and I'm going to be down one enemy ... an archetype, even."

"An archetype?" Tonya squinted at the word. She knew what it meant, but why the hell was Brant using it to describe Rosa?

"Yeah. I did some thinking and I've got at least two. You and Rosa. As for what I mean by archetype ... basically you're ... what I see as the ideal ..."

"Ideal ... what?"

"I don't want to finish that sentence," Brant blushed. There was trust between them, but he was crafting an engagement ring. This was definitely the one that would allow for such thoughts, but it was still oddly embarrassing to say things like that to her for once. "Rosa's the opposite. She's ... something like the worst parts of the feminine ... lustful, envious, murderous, manipulative, vain, and so on. I want to get away from that, and help her start acting like someone with a conscience. It's not going to be easy, but I can't do a damn thing if we aren't even on good terms."

"Two birds with one stone, huh? Okay," Tonya nodded. "Good luck selling that one to Firmia, though. Even Sasha's going to look at you like you're walking into a trap."

"Let her spring her traps ..."

...

"Have a look at this," Brant held up a golden ring as he approached Tonya. She'd been watching television instead of playing SSMO for the last half hour, likely not wanting to have to break in the middle of a sortie in order to see Brant's results. Sure enough, the ring was stunning given how quickly he made it. She'd seen the first one he made, too. That one was apparently one that he would wear if the need ever arose. He'd said the second one was for Jessica ...

"It's really nice. Does this one have the glowing bits, too?"

"They're all identical," Brant grinned somberly.

"All?" Tonya tilted her head at that. Most people just said 'both' if there were only two. "How many rings are you up to?"

"This is the third and final ring," Brant said, offering that final ring to Tonya. As she took it, Brant reached down into his shirt and lifted up a necklace he was wearing. Attached to the bottom of that necklace were two other rings. They began to open themselves up, tiny rectangular panels folding into the two rings as blue light was cast and they tuned themselves to Brant's own magnetic field.

"So ... one's for you," Tonya said, carefully working her way through the rings, "the second one is for Jessica ... and the third is for who, now? It's not for me, is it?"

Brant shrugged. "Well, now that you mention it ... can be. If there's anyone in the whole world that deserves a say in how I go about this, it's you. If you put that ring on the right finger ... then I'll honor that."

"... wait what?" Tonya was left gawking, yet again. Given how stubborn he'd been, Brant could understand her dumbfoundment.

"I'll try to explain," Brant came beside her and sat down at the edge of the bed with her. "This ring right here?" he held up one of the rings on his necklace, "this is for Jess. Everything I feel for her went into making this. Only she can wear it. End of story. The one you're holding is ... harder to explain. Look, I'm not stupid, I know my chances are slim at best. The ring you're holding ... I put all of my sacrifices into it. It is the exact opposite."

"So Jessica can't wear this one," Tonya concluded, turning the ring over with her fingers.

Brant gave a drab nod. "Being with Jess would mean giving up that same potential with anyone else. With everyone else. The feelings I have toward you, Firmia, Hannah ... anyone else I ever felt even a little of that potential with ... that's all in the ring you're holding. If you put it on ... I'll abandon my mission on the spot. If I can't get over Jess quickly enough, I'll get her out of my heart the hard way. I won't let anything stand between me and the woman who's wearing that ring."

"... whoa."

"But ..." Brant eyed Tonya seriously, "you have to move on. You have to get over Ilya, too ... and then marry me."

"Heh," Tonya lowered her head, looking guilty. "Yeah ... I guess that's fair. If I'm being honest, though ... it's a pretty tall order for me, right now."

"I know. That's why I'm not asking you to do that. I'm just giving you a say in all of this. You're the only woman that's never hurt me."

"Um," Tonya winced, "I hate to go after such a sweet point, but I hurt you all the time. Even when I first got here with Firmia and Sasha I hit you in the stomach."

Brant thought about it for a moment, then grimaced. "I remember you putting my head on your chest, but ... not what led up to it. It's kind of a blur, now."

"... whoa."

"Besides, I meant emotionally, not ... physically. Anyway, if you want to end this now, and see if you and I can do better than we're already doing, then go ahead. I won't be mad or dissapointed ... at least not that much."

"Hmm ..." Tonya held up the ring, this ring of sacrifices. Despite the dichotomic nature of the rings, Tonya knew deep down that the one she was holding was more important overall. "What happens to the Jess ring if I put this on?"

"I'll destroy it," Brant said, as if it were painfully obvious, "I'm going to destroy it if Jess rejects me, too. She can't wear the other one, and I'm not making anymore of these things. You can put that one on if you want, or you can hold onto it for me until I need it."

"So ... nuclear disarmament is possible ... ... Do you have anyone else in mind? Someone else who could wear this, I mean," Tonya asked, holding the ring of sacrifices up a little higher.

"No," Brant shook his head. "If it survives, then I'm done. If someone can convince me to give it to them, later ... then fine. I'm not offering it to anyone else, though."

"Heh ... going to make'em work for it, huh?" Tonya teased, "That's fair. Better to make sure they're serious, next time ..."

"Oh Goddess, please don't let there be a 'next time' ... I only made that ring out of fairness ..."

"Well, that's awfully sweet of you, Brant. Giving everyone else a chance instead of just throwing in the towel. I'll hold onto this," Tonya said, immediately pocketing the ring. "Don't forget, I'm on your side. Jessica annoys me, but if you can help her change into someone with a spine and get a wife out of the deal, then that's fantastic. I'll celebrate like I'm the one getting married if you pull this off."

"And if I lose?" Brant gazed at her wearily.

"... I'll cry."

"I see ..." Brant was grateful someone was so invested on his side, even if it wasn't exactly healthy. That was a part of his relationship with Tonya, though. The relationship wasn't exactly healthy, but it was stronger than anything else Brant could imagine.

"Like a little girl," Tonya continued, coming to rest on her knees. "I'm warning you. I'll cry a lot."

Brant managed a faint grin. "Thanks, Tonya."

"I'm getting depressed, now. Let's go to the gym. Catching up on the days we missed will definitely cheer me up."

Brant wasn't sure how to feel about a workout session, right now. When Tonya was involved, it could be especially brutal. That was what she meant by hurting him all the time. Brant doubted he had it in him to say no, and he really should try to stay in shape. If he wound up less toned than Chris somehow he'd definitely regret it. "Alright, but can we not go too high intensity, today? It's better to work our way back into the routines than going all in like we haven't been on a long break."

"Very well, Setanta," Tonya shot up out of the bed, "Come. We'll take this slowly and get you back in shape."

"I'm not out of shape, yet. Also ... Irish stuff, again?"

"Yes, now come, you lovesick slacker! We're leaving!"

Well, if he could keep pestering her, calling her a goddess, and taking the idea way too far with a particular purchase from Orange Theocracy, then in all fairness, she could slap silly names on him like Setanta, though Brant really hoped his story wouldn't end the same way Cu Chulainn's had. He had to admit, there were some annoying, albeit vague similarities cropping up. Honestly, he preferred being a wizard.

"I guess you'll be needing it back if this doesn't work out, right?"

Brant nodded, again. "Yeah."

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Preparation!

"Well... She is my responsibility. Not gonna get into why, but... Yeah." Christina didn't seem bothered by that in the slightest though, so she continued on, as Astin asked about other people. "Yeah, maybe Makoto. Brant seemed like a pretty athletic guy, so maybe he'd want in too? Three versus three or four versus four, either's fine with me. Well... I'm not that great at sports, so maybe I'll be a handicap. Maybe you two could get someone really fit on your team to compensate?" Christina managed a giggle at that as they came up to the shop, hopping ahead of the two. Getting a single volleyball couldn't be hard, could it?

"Looks like she's takin' this whole Chris deal real seriously... But, Chris ain't tryin'a strangle her, so I guess somethin' went right. Speakin' o' fit people, y'sure yer gonna be fine on the sand, Astin? Y'ain't some weaklin', but fit as Chris or Brant? Hell, did'ja get an eyeful of 'er abs?" Avery whistled, snickering. "They sure don't play fair, with that whole clone deal." Avery shrugged, thinking about Astin's crew comment. "Naw, most everyone here's people that work at Central. It's ANF HQ. Lotta staff."

Day Plan

"What I wanna do? Uh... I-I'm gonna go and put my stuff away first, okay? If you wanna get started on relaxing, or, swimming or whatever, then go ahead. You... You look unique enough. Figure I can find out." Unique was the word for it, wasn't it? Olivia bit her lip and started to walk off. Just gonna take care of this, and you can have me all day, Val.

Excited

"Huh... I guess... We just haven't really spoken all that much." Firmia's words bit into Jess. She really didn't know the crew, did she? She'd almost sighed, but that might've ruined the pleasant little atmosphere that was starting to build up. All I can do is start to improve from here. "Well, why don't you come hang out with me today and show me what current Kim is like, then?" Nowhere better than here to start getting to know the crew better, right? Everyone was casual and content, there'd be no easier time to get to talk to people. Kim would be a fine start.

The piano lessons, though? And the way she was wording things... Jess shook her head, actually sighing this time. "Why is everyone trying to flirt with me?" First Abby, now Brant was finally awake, and Kim was alluding to things that had never come to pass. She was almost glad they hadn't, her messy situation was already bad enough. "She probably would, so lets keep hands on piano lessons between you and Christina. I wouldn't mind a lesson, though, just with your words. Your English had really improved, you know? Come on, walk with me," she said, starting off and out of the changing rooms. "Tell me what you think about piloting the Artemis... And why you went with Artemis, when the gun is named after Mars." Jess had her own little jabs to throw in.

A Bite Out of Time

Cheryl stretched her arms up and out of the jeep as they drove, sighing pleasantly and leaning back in the seat as far as the belt would allow her to. This was nice, the civilian life, getting away from that stuffy office, and having someone and something pleasant to help distract from the banging sensation to smoke something. It'd almost been a week... She could last another, and start kicking the habit from there. It was always the first week that was the worst, after all... Or so Megumi had told her, when they'd had the discussion of quitting before. Still, the wind in her hair, the sun on her face, and a great man driving the car? This was fantastic.

"Mmm, I took a look before we left. Doesn't seem like they have much playing out here... There's some Disney animated movie, another hero film, and a vampire flick that sounds like a romance. I haven't been able to trust mainstream vampires for a while, but none of the options are looking that great... Maybe the Disney movie. Don't know how much you're into those, much as they work for kids and adults. They've started sneaking in a lot of adult oriented jokes, if you were curious. Gotta keep the parents that go with their kids interested in going again."

Q&A

"Alright..." Firmia was going to do this, of course. Who would hire the rescued Apotheosis clone without a proper argument. It was too bad that her argument was admittedly pretty weak, but... "The ANF doesn't want me fighting in any of their machines. I have some freedom of movement on the Riese, but I need chauffeurs, and the only machine I'm allowed in is the simulators. I get that my past is a pretty worrisome factor, but if I was going to try something, don't you think I would have already? Not... You, specifically. General 'you'... Ugh, anyway."

She tried to let up some on that frown of hers, and let her shoulders down a bit. "i... Just want to help out. And if they won't let me, I was wondering if you would. I know you're still stationed on the Riese, but you're another faction, if you take me on, they can't really stick their noses in it. That and... Well... I had a good time hanging out with Brant yesterday. Don't have a lot of friends... Him and Christina, pretty much. Would be nice to hang around him more. She... Christina doesn't need someone like me in her life." As much as she wanted to do something about Kim, the woman wasn't doing anything she could call out, and it was just being fed by Christina's old memories. The girl was stronger now. She wouldn't let the past happen twice, if Kim turned out to be a dud.

"So, that's all. I want to fight, and I want to spend more time with one of my only friends. If you need me to run simulations or anything to show that I'm worth having on board, then I will... I'm as good a pilot as Kim is. I'm sure you've seen her in action." Of course she had, Chris just wanted to drive the point home.

"So?"

Hannah looked at Firmia, a bit worried, but also intrigued. So she doesn't know the new ship is Firmia's. Having additional pilots right away would be the biggest boon she could think of... Hopefully Firmia would say yes, or at the least, consider things... It didn't surprise her in the least that Brant had picked up another girl friend, though. It almost made her roll her eyes.

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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Coast to Coast Saleswoman

A lone girl was walking through the beach, carrying a styrofoam box which looked a bit hefty. Though mostly aimless in her walk, she seemed to look at each passerby with some hope, and had her eyes peeled for something... which was apparently Aliza. As she spotted the pilot, the girl made a beeline, quickly waving a hand as she got close enough to get Aliza's attention. "Hi! I haven't seen you before, did you just get here?" Now that she was close enough, Aliza could tell the girl was a bit on the young side, or maybe it was just her face. The girl was a bit on the short side, and dressed comparatively modest, with denim hot pants and tank top over a red bikini, also wearing simple sandals and, weirdly, a red beret.  Her neck-length blonde hair ended in wavy splits, and her face boasted a few freckles.

"Well, first of all, welcome to the desert beach! It's been pretty popular despite the war, somehow." From the way the girl held herself and greeted Aliza there seemed to be a business-like courteousness behind her mannerisms. Swimming and relaxing was probably not the reasons she was here. "Now, are you interested in some ice cream?" Ah, there we go. "The desert sun is way worse than inside here, a lot of people get in here real thirsty, and what better way to start enjoying the beach than with some cold ice cream, right? So I'm going around selling some, if you're interested." She patted the top of the styrofoam box she was carrying, bringing it forward. Not that Aliza could see it, there were stickers of some of the products and their prices, as well as seeming to identify itself as 'Caroline's Ice Cream Shop', assumedly the name of the girl. "We've got popsicles, ice cream, or just a bottle of water if that tickles your fancy. A couple credits each --five credits for the big names. I've also got some brownies back in the cart if you're interested!" Well, at least she had some enthusiasm.

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"Hmm." Disney movies were rarely a total disappointment, so Sasha was already leaning that way. He didn't mind hero flicks or romantic films, either ... but just the same, the former probably wouldn't do much more than have him daydreaming about the Riese crew taking an even more epic approach to fighting Apotheosis ... and the latter might just be that total disappointment he was fearing. Sasha was well aware that they might not get another chance to do anything like this during the war, for whatever reason. Better to play it safe at the theaters and live dangerously in the bedroom. Or the office. ... wherever the mood struck.

"Let's see what adult jokes Disney's got for us," Sasha chuckled as they came up on the mall. Parking spaces were now his main concern. "Romances are okay, but vampires haven't been done right in ages, so we're not touching that one unless we spoil ourselves a little on google, first." How long would they be out here, anyway? They spent two getting out here and had another two waiting for them on the return trip. That would have been five and a half hours if they planned on going straight back from the movies, which they didn't ... and more importantly couldn't. "They gave us the boot for the day so we've got time to see two if you want. Let's take a break and get a walk in if you're feeling that way, though. Never good to be sitting down for too long."


Firmia listened intently as Chris made her case, paying special attention to the clone's emotions. It wasn't far into Chris' point about her restrictions that Firmia recalled her conversation with her grandfather, Dima Alkaev. She didn't owe him any extra information about Christina and Chris, but she did intend to learn what she could. If nothing else, knowing more about them was a net benefit to her ... especially if Chris was planning on joining her camp. Of course it wasn't merely a camp, anymore.

Intrigued, Firmia kept listening, and to her surprise, Brant of all people came up. When had they become friends? Yesterday, she said? So ... the mall, then? Firmia tried not to wince or look directly at Hannah. That was supposed to be their day out ...

Like usual, Firmia's mind was working overtime in the background. Ideas like Chris copiloting with Brant came to mind all on their own. The fresh captain hadn't even decided whether she would keep copiloting with him when the Regalia was deployed, or command the Megalodon full-time, but Chris was presenting a rather easy solution, here. Considering she seemed at least partially motivated by the prospect of spending more time with Brant, having her fly with him would address that in the most direct way possible.

That just left the final verdict, Firmia supposed. She glanced at Hannah, looking for any signs of concern, before eyeing Chris, again. It was a little strange to see her in a bathing suit; she was at the bare minimum as toned as Brant. She was more than fit to be fighting, that was for certain. "I don't have any issues with you working for me, though we are relaxing, right now ..." That was the idea, at least. "... so we'll have to go over the exact arrangements after we get back to the ships. That said, you should know that the smaller one docked by the Riese is mine. Working for me, or at the very least operating a mobile suit for me means you'll be stationed there and not the Riese." Firmia didn't mind people moving between both ships to visit friends and family and the like, but how often would that happen? She was genuinely curious about that and wondering what to expect between skirmishes with Apotheosis.


"Hey ..." Tonya tapped Brant's shoulder. His head was hung low so he couldn't see much of anything other than where Tonya was. "Are those the thighs you mentioned?"

When Brant looked up, he saw Tonya gesturing toward the three blondes, Firmia, Hannah, and ... Chris? "Err ..."

"Your shopping trip," Tonya poked his brain.

"Right, but when did I mention thighs, specifically?" Brant stared at Tonya, dumbstruck.

She smirked at the reaction, glad she'd gotten him out of his slump, momentarily. "Well it looks like she's chatting with Firmia and Hannah for some reason. What do you think she wants? No one here is dumb enough to try and get Firmia to play volleyball, and Hannah is straight up cheating. Think she's checking to see if they liked the outfits you two got them?"

"... I hope not," Brant winced. He took his eyes off the group and kept walking along the beach with Tonya as his thoughts began to wander. "I told Hannah that I had some help shopping, but I didn't get into the details. That damn near turned into another date. Plus ... I was 'self medicating' and being an idiot. It was pretty fun, though."

"As long as you were having fun," Tonya shrugged.

It was something he should have been doing with Jessica, and truer still, with Hannah, but neither were in any mood for Abrams or his shopping plans at the time. At least Hannah had calmed down. It had felt like the last straw at the time, but like always, Hannah came around in the end ...

Apologies Warranted

Spoiler

Having said goodbye to Firmia after the meetings, Hannah headed to the crew quarters... Hoping to find Brant in his room, she didn't pause to change, company clothes still on, hair still up. Hopefully it was a good look, but, either way-- "Brant?" She knocked, trying to calm herself down. She'd left him in such a painful position earlier, if he didn't want to talk to her at all, she'd entirely understand... She just hoped he was willing to accept an apology. I shouldn't have left, I shouldn't have gotten so upset, it's okay to go after what you want... I'm so immature... Heh, I guess that makes sense, but, still. Brant getting the brunt of that wasn't fair in the least. "I wanted to talk."

When Brant answered the door, he wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but Hannah didn't sound nearly as upset as earlier ... so hopefully this wasn't round two about to be dropped into his lap. He was already so exhausted from earlier that there was no way to make himself pass for normal. After finishing his project, Tonya had convinced him to go to the gym and catch up on the missed routine ... and only Alkaev employees knew how hard it was to get into serious training with Tonya coaching. The soreness was cutting right through the painkillers ...

"You got your clothes," Brant smiled weakly, "Great. Are you feeling any better?" He wanted to ask about the meeting with the ANF's senior officers, but ... one thing at a time ...

Hannah hugged him, without hesitation. "I'm so sorry," was what she could manage while hiding her face. She didn't want him to hate her, he was trying to smile, he seemed so tired, but aside from that... Was he alright? She pulled back a bit, her sorry stare looking up at him, hands coming down to hold themselves in front of her. "I'm sorry."

Brant winced at first, his soreness spiking in a few places, but he managed to rein it all in for the sake of pulling off his trademark smile. "It's alright, Hannah." Honestly, if she hadn't gotten out of there ... something really bad could have happened. That wasn't to say her running off had been a purely good thing, only ... the lesser of two extremely painful outcomes. "I'm just glad you're doing alright."

"If you say so... I am alright, yes. I spent the rest of the day with Firmia. She's been helping me cheer up, and I've been helping her smile. It worked out for the both of us... The clothes you got were, uhm... Well. I'm surprised you managed to find things so good by yourself. There isn't anything I dislike... Thank you, really." She sighed, folding her arms, looking down at the floor. "I still... Should not have done that to you. And I should be helping you, if I care about you. I should be supporting you in your pursuit of Jessica, not trying to win you over. That's just wrong... Isn't it?"

Brant frowned mildly. "I was only by myself for a little bit. I found some help for the actual shopping." It was a somewhat painful admission to make, but Brant wanted nothing to do with secrecy or dishonesty, anymore. His relationships had suffered enough without the extra nonsense.

"I'm glad you liked everything, though," Brant said, looking extra relieved by the news, "I went in expecting anything without an Alkaev logo to get returned. A little too pessimistic, I know, but it was a tough afternoon." Even once he got back, things were a little tough ...

Brant couldn't say it was 'wrong' for Hannah not to support his pursuit of Jessica. Not exactly. If not for the hell Rosa had put him through, and the measures he took against her after it was all said and done, Brant wouldn't be pursuing Jessica at all. He wouldn't have had the inner strength to look past the incident and into the future. He wouldn't have been able to forgive her for bringing him so close to a future with her and then abandoning him without so much as a word. That was what had truly been wrong in all of this. Brant might even have come to hate her for it if not for what had been done to him, and what he'd indirectly done to himself. Firmia certainly hated Jessica for what had happened. Tonya even suspected the woman couldn't be trusted to be faithful to either Brant or Abigail as she was now, regardless of who she 'chose.' Brant didn't like having so little support, but he definitely understood where everyone was coming from.

Brant leaned in and hugged Hannah this time, sore muscles be damned. "... I just don't want what I'm doing to drive a wedge between us. You don't need to cheer me on or try to convince Jess for me. Just please don't pull away. I don't want to lose you, too ..."

"We both did, uhm..." She didn't quite expect the second hug, but let him have it, no struggle. Driving a wedge, never. Hannah liked Brant too much to never speak to him again, even if she managed a replacement in some form, it would still hurt, every day, to lose him over something as foolish as emotions. But... Staying this close...

Hannah pulled away, just a bit, enough to get a good look at him. "I won't disappear. I won't leave you... But I don't know how close I can let myself get. I got as close as possible, last night. I told myself that I'd be able to sway you. I told myself that it was a good idea. It... It really wasn't. I couldn't handle it, after one day. Being that close to you, Brant, it makes me want to push things. I love you. I still do. But at a time where you can't reciprocate, if I allow myself to get so near you, we'll both be hurt. I can try to be your friend... But getting there will take some time. If I seem distant, I apologize. I don't really have another solution."

Would now be a good time to mention Firmia? It was so soon a decision after what had happened, it probably wouldn't help to... She'd let Brant say what he had to, before deciding whether to bring it up or not.

That was certainly a fair and mature way to go about it. Brant couldn't fault her for at least keeping to a functional distance. He eased off, and reminded himself that she wasn't like Tonya. Very few women could deal with a potential lover like this for so long. "Just take your time. If you'll still be here when the dust settles then that's enough for me."

If they were really going to be friends, then it had to work both ways. Brant was in a small war right now, but he couldn't let the collateral damage spread and spread and spread still, not where he could help it. He had to at least make the burden as light as possible. "Hopefully," Brant smiled, his voice taking on a studious tone, "I was able to demonstrate that my life doesn't revolve entirely around one person." Becoming more serious, he added, "If there's anything you need from me, please let me know. I've got no godly idea of how to go after Jess without making everyone miserable, so if you can think of any way I can make it easier on you, I'll try it."

"If I'll still be there..." Then, maybe it was best to mention. "I think that. I think... If I can help you go after Jessica, that would work out the best for the both of us. I... Spoke with Firmia. She offered to take your place. I told her that it would be ridiculous to make such a quick decision, but... I am going to consider it. I love her, too. I love you both. And if I were able to be with her, I would be able to worry about us less. Perhaps I am not explaining things well enough... It is still fresh in my mind, so maybe I haven't thought through it entirely, and I did make sure Firmia considered her own side of things... Since she is straight."

Hannah suddenly scratched at her head, running a hand through her hair. A gesture that would be rather normal from most, but for the android, perhaps a bit too human. "It's not something I will be deciding tonight, or tomorrow. Perhaps not soon... But, I... If I go through with things, then I will not be able to be there for you should Jessica fall through. I couldn't have that come up and not explain this. I'm sorry, again... I know it may be a lot to consider." Hopefully he would be alright.

She was willing to help him? Brant was almost stunned. Almost. Hannah was capable of some incredible things when she put her mind to it. Case in point, and the part that actually did leave Brant stunned: she was interested in Firmia, too. Firmia was indeed straight, so the fact that she had even offered to 'replace him' was that second gust of wind that blew away Brant's frame of reference. Was Firmia considering this because Hannah was her friend? Well ... with the way her brain worked, it was probably ridiculous to her that she would brutalize people over the slightest offense aimed at her friends, but not try and comfort them however she could.

Brant couldn't get himself to stop looking surprised, not in this strange parallel universe he was still trapped in. Things were definitely different over here, and it was going to take him a while yet to get used to it all. Firmia and Hannah ... Brant was trying to imagine what that would actually look like.

"So ..." Brant scratched his head, too, "... well, I guess I'll start by saying thanks for telling me," he finally managed to smile, again. It was nice not being the last to know. "I'm not sure how it would work, but if you two decide to go through with it, then I'll support it." It was better than what Jessica and Abigail were pulling, the dark thought emerged and quickly faded from Brant's awareness. Then another thought came, and this one stayed with him, making Brant just little uncomfortable. "You're not going to ... change your appearance again, are you?"

Brant seemed very surprised. Perhaps not upset, but definitely rather blown away. Hopefully he'd be okay... Oh, good, he was. Hannah nodded. As for changing her appearance... "I would rather not, if possible. I am... Growing rather fond of this body, and how it works. As for how Firmia and I will work, I do not know if we will, but if it does come to pass, I will do my best to make sure she is always comfortable. I love the both of you, sincerely, even if its for different reasons. Having either of you harmed, hurt or upset, especially by my doing... I won't have it. Today will never happen again. Even if we are not together, your happiness means the world to me, Brant. If there is anything I can do going forward to allow you and Jessica to get together, then please, just ask." Hannah smiled wide, hoping he would believe her. She hadn't been lying, after all!

There was no hiding his relief; Brant was happy to know Hannah was actually comfortable how she was. She looked great, so short of an incredible 'upgrade,' it would be a shame to see her change. Admittedly, Brant had been picturing a change that only Firmia and Tonya would appreciate. Yes, it was a little selfish, but he liked the slim yet curvy feminine form he'd grown so used to. Firmia might feel differently though ... so, this being their potential relationship, it was between them and them alone. Brant would just cross his fingers and hope.

"You love us ..." Brant's gaze fell slightly, his thoughts on the times he'd used those words in the past. With Jessica the words felt more like a weapon, meant to cut deeply into her relationship with Abigail, and after his talks, earlier, he wanted to be a bit more conservative when saying it. Still, not being frank with Hannah never felt right. Ever. "We love you too, Hannah, and your happiness is something we're both striving for ... ... Iiii think I can speak for Firmia here ... you can always tell how she really feels by what she does ..." ... because there was a whole lot she just wouldn't say. "If she made you that offer, then ... yeah, she loves you, too."

"And thanks, Hannah," Brant said, closing his eyes for a moment. He could still smile despite immediately seeing Hannah walking away from him and toward the mall's main entrance, again. It stung seeing it for the upteenth time, but Hannah said it would never happen again. That meant it was time to look back through the trials and appreciate where he'd wound up. Admittedly, Brant expected these brief recollections to be more of a weekly deal. It had only been a day since the last time he did this, but a lot had happened, today ... a whole lot. "I'm glad you're willing to help."

He shouldn't mention that, though ... should he? Jessica had tried to gate him again, using Hannah, this time. She would only agree if things went downhill with Abigail AND Hannah okay'd the relationship. That must have seemed like two impossibles stacked one atop the other to Jessica, but she had to know by now that Brant wasn't going to give up just because victory seemed impossible. That being the case, he could still lose, so why hold back at all? He'd already come so far and done so much, even in just this one day.

"If you're sure, though ... I guess there is one thing, if you really want to hear it," Brant said, smilingly guiltily and avoiding eye contact.

"Do not worry, Brant. I know that the both of you do... Firmia would never permit me to continue hugging her as I do, if she didn't. It may not be romantic on her end, but it is definitely there, and incredibly heartwarming, knowing what I do of her." That Firmia was able to be so close at all to her was rather confusing... Had no one simply tried to approach her so directly before? Maybe she'd relinquished because she couldn't fight Hannah's sheer physical strength... How terrifying. She'd have to ask if that was the case, and to let Firmia know that her words had more than enough power to get Hannah to take her hands off.

"One thing? Of course! Feel free to tell me, Brant. I am equipped to serve all needs~" Whatever it was, he seemed a bit off about asking it... What was this expression? She couldn't quite place it... Whatever it was, the best she could do would be to listen.

There was another sign; Firmia wasn't big on hugging. At the very least, it was something only her friends could 'get away with.'

Brant forced himself to make eye contact again when Hannah agreed to help. It was such a simple matter, too. That wasn't to say it wouldn't have been a colossal hit to her at an earlier time. That was why Brant still had reservations. If she would hear him out, though, then ... "Just ... try not to be too mad at her, okay?"

Brant remembered his realization from earlier, and why he'd forgiven Jessica despite the pain she was putting him through, even now. It had taken him a while to find the true source of his endurance, but he'd found it. Tonya in fact, wasn't his frame of reference. She wasn't the one he was judging his other relationships with women by. No, it had actually turned out to be Rosa. She was his frame of reference. Anyone Brant had feelings for occupied a very special, and very ravaged place in his heart. The bar wasn't especially high. He wasn't pushing his relationships toward Tonya levels of endearment. He was content to nurture and fully immerse himself in any relationship that stayed out of the dirt and muck, where his long and arduous relationship with Rosa had begun. It hadn't been an easy thing to admit to himself, but Brant was glad that if nothing else good came of that year and a half in hell, at least ... at the very least, he was still capable of loving his Captain.

With a heavy sigh, Brant began his brief rehash. "Before you and I went to the mall today, I had a word with Jess in private. It was just after the meeting with Commander Vance. Naturally, I couldn't convince her to leave Abigail for me, but I figured out everything I needed to ... about where she stood on all of this. If things don't pan out between her and Abigail, she said she'd be willing to give us another chance ... but only if you were okay with it." And she had told him saying 'I love you' wasn't fair. Next time, he was bringing his nuclear payload. "All I really wanted today was to spend some time with you like we'd planned ... but with that on my mind, knowing we were literally working against each other. It was driving me insane ..."

That captain... Well, at least she was trying to make things work for her and Abby. That she was being serious on some fronts was a good sign for her, at least. Not so much for Brant. Hannah shook her head. "I'm not upset. I understand that you've been in turmoil over this since it began. You should tell me these things more, you know?" Hannah gently poked a finger into his shoulder, almost snickering.

"Shall I tell her that I consent, then? Would that help your plans? We can spend another day together, once this has all bowled over. Mmm... Perhaps I should speak with Firmia about all this, after her own meeting with the captain..."

Brant accepted the prod with an apologetic smile, deciding he wouldn't hold back as much going forward. Hannah was always reasonable in the end, even if her emotions often overwhelmed her at the onset. That was just a hurdle Brant was going to have to deal with until she fully overcame it. Fortunately for them both, Hannah was making good progress.

Wait ... "Did you say a meeting? Firmia's meeting with her?" That made Brant so nervous, he started rubbing the back of his neck and looking off in random directions. "What's she planning to say?" You know, aside from demanding that Jessica reject him to his face once and for all. Dammit, that would be such a brutal blindside. There always had to be something slithering around in the background, waiting to strike just as things were beginning to look up.

"I suggested that Firmia confront Jessica on her issues... She was incredibly reluctant at first, but I told her that I would go with her, and make sure Jessica could not run away from the issues presented. It may end in screaming, but I will intervene before things can get physical, if they go that far. I don't think that they will, but, just in case. I believe that the both of them have unresolved issues with each other... And ignoring them will not improve situations. As Firmia wishes to remain working with the ANF, and has resolved talks with Central rather effectively, finishing things off by working out issues with Jessica will help things tremendously."

Hannah smiled, Brant was obviously worried, but she was confident this was for the best. Having a good understanding of Firmia as a person was helping her beliefs. "I will keep them both safe. Do not worry, Brant. I also realize that Firmia may tell Jessica to give you up entirely... I will try to remind her to keep talks more professional than not. How she feels about your romantic pursuits can wait until she has managed to come to better terms with Jess."

Unresolved issues was putting it incredibly mildly. Firmia didn't know how to deal with people she despised but couldn't kill. The Alkaevs in general seemed to be like that. No one had taught her how to make peace, though Hannah was suggesting she try anyway, opting to stay close by and keep things from getting out of hand ... and unless something was different about Firmia, now, Brant was almost certain the girl would snap. He wasn't sure how Jessica would react, but he didn't like where that could lead, either.

"That's a gamble. It's almost as big as the one I'm making," Brant smiled bitterly, thinking about the last few hours. That reminded him, he should probably go check on Tonya at some point. She'd left to go see Doctor Amparo earlier and still hadn't come back, yet. That could be a good sign or a bad one ...

"... and yeah, she will tell her to drop me once and for all," Brant assured Hannah, "She was about ready to kill her last night after overhearing the conversation." 'Check,' Brant heard the words in his head. He felt cornered, again. "Well, at least things won't get violent," he sighed, slightly relieved. He still felt like he was nearly out of time, though. It was so infuriating. He had to scramble like crazy, and fight for every inch of sanity he could hold onto ... and all Abigail had to do was not say anything stupid until Jessica got tired of talking to him about this.

"...Brant," Hannah started, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Please trust Firmia. She's nothing like the rest of her family... I promise. I know I haven't known her for very long, nowhere near as long as you have, but I've still read plenty, and seeing her finally away from that life... She's changing, quickly. Quicker than she might realize. And these changes are for the better. She won't even resemble Rosa in any way beyond genetics soon enough. I have all faith that she'll be able to get through this for the better... And if I'm wrong, then I will clean up the mess. It was my prodding, after all."

As for Jessica... "I'll argue with her about that after, then. You clearly care about the captain a lot. This isn't some reminiscing or old longing on your part... I had admittedly been worried, comparing this situation to Rosa, and I do believe that some of that still ties in... But Jessica isn't Rosa. She's not abusive, underhanded, mean, cruel, or anything like that woman. At most... I would call her confused, and perhaps longing, herself. For a place to fit in. Abby has given her that place... How long it lasts depends entirely on her. But if it's you? That place won't have an expiry date." Hannah squeeze that shoulder a bit, still beaming. "I trust things will work out."

Despite having trained with her, Brant was about ready to defer to Hannah's judgment on this. There were clearly things she was privy to that he wasn't, and that made sense. Most of the time Brant spent with Firmia was stressful and just barely productive. If she wasn't complaining about his choices, she was basking in the terror of the enemy pilots they killed. Of course he couldn't see her handling a confrontation with Jessica well. There had to be more going on than he was able to witness.

"If you're sure," Brant sighed. That didn't solve his problem, but it wasn't really meant to. Them talking was meant to help them coexist, not bring Jessica back to him. Keeping Firmia on point was definitely for the best, even if a lot of her recent hatred for the woman was centered around him going after her and the resulting chaos it was causing.

Hannah went on and mentioned Rosa, laying out a good case for Jessica with her brief comparison. She was right. Rosa was abusive, underhanded, cruel, and most importantly, seasoned in all of those things. As the standard he judged other women by, pretty much all of them were getting a free pass in a sense. Things were a little different now, though, thinking back on his last talk with her. Rosa hadn't changed, and she wasn't going to for some time, but at least now, Tonya could get what she needed ... assuming things were going well in the infirmary.

Brant grimaced when he tried to envision something as simple as having a place to fit defeat his love for Jessica in the end. What was love if it could be so easily overcome? It made him want to pull back, not keep trying anymore, or at least protect what dignity he had left. There had to be something better out there than ... this. The kind of relationship he wanted to build with Jessica was one that could one day surpass what he had with Tonya ... but it was so fragile, right now, so close to dying. "I know things will 'work out' in the long run, but ... well ... here ...."

Hannah wanted more openness from him? Well, she was about to get it. Brant reached down into his shirt and gently lifted the necklace he was wearing out into view. Hanging side by side at the bottom of the necklace, and shimmering in the light, were two smooth, golden rings. As unassuming as they looked, on the interior of the rings, one could make out some circuitry, separated from a potential wearer's skin by a transparent layer. Even as Brant pulled the rings up into view, the insides began to give off an orange yellow light. At the same time, barely visible lines appeared on the outside of the rings as the plating folded in on itself, revealing a pattern of rectangular openings wrapping all the way around each ring. More light shined through those tiny openings, and they began to change hue, gradually going from yellow to green, and from green to blue.

"They're attuning themselves to my magnetic field ... or trying to, at least ... and yeah, they're engagement rings. There's no expiration date, like you said, and I don't know how else to show her who I am and how much she's worth to me." Tonya had called them nuclear weapons when he'd showed them to her due to their hard hitting, double edged nature, but he'd tried to point out that his intention wasn't to tie the knot five minutes after the fact. Truth be told, after the war was preferable. Brant was willing to move as fast as he needed to with Jessica, if that's what it took. "Everything I feel for her right now went into this ... all the good and all the bad. I want her to wear it, someday. I don't want to destroy it."

"I am sure... Brant? What do you... Oh my gosh." Sincerely? He'd already gone this far? "I... I must confess, I believe you're missing a step, getting these so early. I... Uhm... Heh. I must say I am a little bit jealous." She smiled and tried to shrug it off, thinking about Firmia. She was going to go help her with Jessica after this. It would cheer her up.

"If you're that serious, then all power to you. If you need my help at talking to either of the captain or Abigail, then let me know... Though, talking to Abigail would probably be a bad idea. I believe she would rather scrap me than listen to anything I have to say. So I will keep my interactions with only the captain. Does that sound fine to you?" Hopefully it did... Ugh, those rings looked nice. Hannah pictured one on her hand for a moment, sighing internally. Perhaps in another universe.

Brant definitely felt things were moving too fast. Before he learned about Abigail, he was under the impression that Jessica would keep speaking with him and help him sever the strings that were holding him back. Most of them had been severed in the end, but as a result, he was now standing in front of Hannah with two engagement rings, neither of which should have existed, yet. There was nothing he could do now but fight to win her back, and whatever shortcuts he had to take to get there were fair game. Hannah was certainly shocked by what Brant had shown her, but she was also stronger, now. She didn't turn away, just like she promised. Brant couldn't help but smile because of that.

"Please, don't be jealous, Hannah. The way I feel for Jess isn't ... it's not the way I wanted it to be. I want to be happy to see her, to talk with her ... no matter who she's with. But it's impossible. Even if I can convince her to choose me, that's just the beginning. I still have to work through everything she put us through."

To think there could ever come a time when Brant could speak with Rosa like any other person, without a facade of any kind, but not be able to do the same with Jessica. It was so close to becoming a reality now that he'd gotten the woman to agree to help Tonya. On the other side of things, Brant could see himself and the Captain clearly in his mind's eye. He could see her rejecting him for the final time. He could see himself destroying the ring he'd worked so hard to make for her. Most importantly, he could see himself forcing her out of his heart so that he could be at peace. There was no way to go back to the way he used to feel about her. A Jessica that would choose Abigail over him, crush him so thoroughly, and reject him so completely, when something as small as a text message could have made all the difference ... that was someone he could never show his true face to, again. It had all happened too quickly.

"It's fine, though. Please let Jess know that you're okay with this when you get the chance ... and steer clear of Abby for now. The way I'm feeling right now, I'll rip her a new one if she starts in on you, again. That woman is not my friend, and I won't show her any mercy."

Telling her not to feel jealous was a flat impossibility, but she could hide it, at least. "I will tell her. And I will steer clear of Abby. The last thing I wish to do is make her more defensive. That will not help the situation. Brant?" Hannah did want to ask one thing. "Please do not fight with Abby... Jessica is in a very fragile state right now, and any fights you start with Abby are going to be seen incredibly poorly. Retaliate if she begins something, but do not be the one to go first... I'm sure you already know that, but, still. I want to make sure that's clear... Not that you have to be friends, or anything." Would that sink in? Maybe...

"I have to get back to Firmia, now. We're going to go through talking to Jessica... I can only hope things go well. Please wish us both luck, Brant." Hannah gave a small salute, and smiled her typical smile. She was feeling a lot better now.

"Yeah I know," Brant nodded along, "I don't really want to see her at all, to be perfectly honest, but I'll manage. There's too much at stake." He wondered if he would ever be friends with Abigail again, long after the dust had settled. As the woman who may wind up stealing an entire life from him just to 'have someone' ... he just couldn't see it. Turning some of his aggression on her made it much easier to keep the flames away from Jessica. He'd forgiven her, but she was still impotently trying to put out the fire she'd started in his heart. It was so unfair. So infuriating. The rings began to turn bright orange for a moment, which caught Brant's attention, and forced him to try and rein himself in. He smiled apologetically at Hannah. "Don't worry, I have no intention of starting anything with her, and I'll finish it without a lot of collateral damage if she tries something." The glow began changing steadily back to blue ...

Smiling one last time, Brant matched Hannah's salute. "Good luck. To both of you. Give Firmia one less thing to be stressed to hell about."

"Well," Tonya slowly shrugged, "want to go ask them?"

Brant shook his head. "Maybe later." Hannah and Chris in such close proximity had him a little worried. Sure, he was curious about what they were saying over there, but he was probably going to find out eventually, right? No need to be impatient and risk Chris going into details to shake him up. Really, it hadn't been that scandalous. The ride back however was more debatable in Brant's view. Had he mentioned that to Tonya at some point, or was she just messing with him?

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Val's smile faltered slightly at Olivia calling her unique. That sounded like a bad thing. Was it? She probably didn't mean anything bad by it, right? She'd just said she looked great but still. Unique was just such a weird phrasing... "Yeah... Oh, uhm, take my shirt with you?" She tossed it at Olivia even though she was walking away and managed to land it on the other girl's head. Giggling, she quickly added, "Oops, sorry. Didn't mean to quite do that. Hurry back though, alright?"

Shirt gone, she was left with the skirt and her towel and nothing to do. While the water looked tempting, she wasn't quite ready for that just yet. A bit of relaxing first would be nice, before we get into all of the running around and excitement. Making her way down the beach a bit, she found a nice quiet spot without too many people around. Laying down her blanket, she stretched out on it, face down, toes digging into the sand. "Mmmm, I could do this all day."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Fair enough I guess..." Astin could have said more, but Christina seemed to be done with the topic, jumping quickly to other options for team members. "Are you two going to get Kim to join in on your side? Seems like she'd be a good option if you think you need more talent. I'm sure Avery and I could work well with Makoto then." Though apparently Avery had different opinions as she started in on teasing them. Blushing, they quickly protested, "Hey now, I may not have those abs, but there's a lot more to volleyball than that! There's teamwork and making sure that everyone is where they need to be and precision. You can't just blast the ball as hard as you can or else it will go flying out of the court."

She didn't seem to be interested in teasing too hard though as she quickly moved on to answering their question about all the people here. "Ri-right, that makes sense. I hadn't thought about that. I guess they all have families too, so that would account for it all too. It's too nice of a day to be stuck inside, but it's too hot to actually be out there in the desert. This seems like a nice compromise."

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"Because I... remembered you were fun to tease, Captain. And I didn't... have anything planned, so I don't see a problem with that." Kim replied, her lips curling into a slight grin as she let out a giggle... before being blindsided by the Captain. Face flushing slightly, the Lieutenant looked down to the ground for a moment before shaking her head and looking back up at Jessica.

"My English... still wasn't good enough, clearly. I didn't think... you had it in you to destroy a... poor girl like that, Captain." Seung-Min retorted with a defeated expression, feigning wild offense at Jessica's assertion... hopefully obvious feigning but she hadn't gotten into the entertainment business without being a decent actor. Following after Jessica, Kim decided to let Elaine wonder whether she had been noticed or not.

"Well, it might be less... exciting, but I don't mind giving you more... tame lessons. Though you might not... need them. You always seem to get it... right the second time around. As for the Artemis... it was... as I said, sadly. I mixed up the Roman and Greek... Pantheons... Olivia informed me of that... already." Kim continued, walking next to Jessica, taking a few longer strides to catch up with her.

"As for piloting it... it's a lot smoother than earlier models. More responsive... in a shorter time. It has a lot of... surprises though. I didn't have much... flight training, the ANF usually doesn't train... TK pilots for fighter planes. So that... took some getting used to. The tuning on the T-link is also... delicate. The first time I plugged in alone... I lost a bit too much blood... almost passed out. Luckily Christina was able to... help with lightening the load and calibration... we couldn't have gotten it onto... the field anywhere near as quickly without her help." Kim noted, pausing to allow the Captain some input if she so desired.

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And so the duo left, and Elaine hadn't been called out for any reason. As far as she was concerned, eavesdropping mission success. She opened up one of the lockers, quickly shoved her shirt and phone inside, and locked it. There. Now, everything was in place for her to have a good time. Elaine waited a moment or two for Jess and Kim to get a good few steps away from the door before heading out. Didn't wanna blow her cover, after all. ...Wait. Kim's a TK. ...God dammit.

Elaine stepped outside, and breathed in the (probably filtered) summer air, cracked her neck a little, and set off out to find some company. There were a few groups of people she spotted, including the darling duo that had just left the quarters not long after her. There was Astin and Avery, two people she hadn't seen much of lately, standing beside Christina. There was Chris speaking with Hannah and...Firmia, she thought her name was? And then there was...Brant, looking like a sorry sack of shit, right now, with his...friend? Buddy? Pal? Tonya. He was with Tonya. At least, that's what Elaine thought her name was. Apart from Roxanna, off by her lonesome, and Val and Olivia, two that she...honestly kept forgetting were on the Riese, those were her current socialization options, just from a quick scan. Admittedly, she was probably missing someone.

As much as she was curious about Avery, Astin, and Chrissy, she started walking towards Brant. He had been there for her in her time of need, even if it was only after a mental breakdown, and Tonya was already over there to help, but Elaine felt that she wouldn't be a great friend to Brant if she didn't at least take the time to walk over and check up on him. After that, she could go around to whomever. Maybe even talk to Roxanna some more. Lord knows she needed a friend, even if Roxy herself didn't want to admit it.

"Hey, there, Brant!" Elaine waved. "Sorry for ditching you, yesterday. 'Specially after I asked if I could join ya." Then, she looked over to the blonde. "Hello. Don't think we've been properly introduced after all this time. You're Tonya, right? I'm Elaine." Elaine held out a hand to shake, thinking it proper.

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It was a shame, Abigail was kind of disappointed. A large part of it was simply ridiculous expectations, but that didn't make the sting of let down any less. Sure, it was an artificial beach, it was unrealistic to hope for towering waves, crashing surf, and the like. To go jet-skiing, or surfboarding, or scuba-diving. All those fun exotic options, dangled in front of her (by her overactive imagination) only to be yanked away by the grim truth of reality. To be entirely fair, the ANF putting even this much of a resort together, a small manmade oasis in the middle of the desert, was already decadent enough, and she should rightly have been hating the feddies for wasting money on it to begin with, rather than not wasting enough going even further. But Abby wasn't always a rational person. And so she stood indecisive for awhile, fuming a little to herself, curling her toes down into the hot hand, while Jess went off to the changing rooms to get into her swimsuit.

Abigail hadn't bothered bringing a lock. Who was going to steal her stuff? Elaine? A member of the other crews, or HQ goons, or whoever, also at the beach? Highly unlikely. But more importantly, that had never made the shopping list yesterday, and there was no point fretting about something that just couldn't be helped. Hell, she hadn't even bothered bring much in the way of things to even lock up. She'd worn some new capris and that knotted white shirt she'd picked up from The Hole over her swimsuit. (The enforced group busride had been something of a mixed blessing. While she hadn't needed to dress the part for another go round on the motorcycle, she also didn't get the chance to take another go round on the motorcycle.) And with Abby's typically lower levels of inhibitions, she was more than willing to just take them off when the moment was right and toss them onto a convenient patch of sand.

She couldn't help but giggle at the young mechanics antics, before remembering she was still supposed to be upset with him for mutilating her robot. Watching him dash off into the water, straight away, with such a nerdy call out was enough to break her out of her earlier funk and want to have some fun herself. But where to begin? She didn't want to be alone for too long, some random might come along and while she'd shoot them down easily enough, it'd be more bother than she cared for. Yet of the clumps of people already forming, Abby didn't seem that enthused to try to fit in. It was really starting to dawn on her that maybe she had been too antisocial. Without Megumi or Jess, there really weren't a lot of good options. Aliza maybe? But she hadn't seen the girl for, hmm... It's been awhile hasn't it? Given how the newbie had been pretty regular about seeking her out before... Was she avoiding her now? Couldn't be. Dismissing the thought, she continued to look around.

Hmm, wait. There. She recognized one of the men from the bridge, standing off to the side a little, staring at the water. She seemed to remember him nearby when she'd gone to tell the XO the captain was going to be running a little late. He'd be a good enough beard for her for now. Picking her way across the hot sand, bare feet not quite dulled to the heat just yet, though they would soon enough, Abigail called out to the ensign. "Trying to make up your mind?"


Well that certainly was a challenge. While it was a good thing Thorvald was wearing light clothing, it was just bad timing he hadn't gotten the chance to change into his suit yet. Still, he wasn't about to let Buck get away that easy. Though it was tempting to counter with 'First one in is a broken Legionary,' it would hardly have been fair, given the young mechanic was already in up to his shins by this point. Papa Bear wasn't too far behind, though. No hesitation. Clothes would dry, and fast too in this desert heat.

"Race you to that rock and back," Thorvald called out, after they'd both gotten waist deep, more or less putting them on even footing as far as starts went.

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Disney Styled

"You couldn't be more right about that. Remember Midnight? Ugh. I can't believe people actually enjoyed that... And Forty Shades of Gravel. People sure are crazy... Hmm..." The whole day and time to see two, huh... Cheryl snickers. "Well, we can go see this movie first, then stretch our legs, get something totally healthy to eat, and then we can spend a bit on google to see how terrible this movie is. And if it's terrible enough to be worth spending some time laughing at... Then we can go and see it, and have something to groan about on the ride back. How does that sound?" Maybe Sasha was into watching shlock for the sake of ribbing it. There were plenty of movies like that, anyway...

"Unless you've got something different in mind?"

Second Ship

"Oh, shit, really? That's awesome... Guess I get to keep having a cushy bed. How about that? Anyway, sure. Just wanted to make sure it hit your ears before we left today... I'll tell Brant later, or something. Thanks, Firmia." Chris gave a weak salute, heading back over towards Christina and the small group she'd gathered... Man, Brant was surrounded, wasn't he? Tonya, now Elaine... Wouldn't get a free moment to speak to him that easily, it seemed. She shrugged a little bit, before coming back, spotting Christina picking up a ball from the rentals.

Hannah smiled a bit, patting Firmia on the shoulder. "Already up one soldier. We should see about trying to construct something. Maybe we can get a spare Velite for a solid frame?"

More Than Brute Strength

Avery nodded. "It's a real great idea from th'eggheads workin' in Central's labs. Whole lotta money spent on this here beach... Not sure it's worth th'whole ordeal, but, it's here. Ain't gonna look a gift horse in th'mouth... Anyway, ye sure about that, Astin? I've watched a few games when th' TV had 'em on, there's some teamwork, but some teams just got this big ol' spiker that does th'work. They jus' go 'bout settin' 'im up every time th'ball comes over. Maybe Chris can be our nice set up spiker? Though, she's a bit short..."

"And?" Chris asked, coming back. "Perfect, Chrissy. So, who else are we gonna go and get?"

The other blonde smiled almost awkwardly. "Even you're gonna start calling me that, now? ... I guess it's not a terrible nickname. Uhm, no one else, yet. What did you go and do?"

"Made Firmia hire me so I can help out."

"Wha... I, uhm... A-Alright?" That was pretty serious for this little beach gathering... I guess the war never stops, even when we're relaxing. "Well, I was going to think about asking Makoto and Tarquin. They seem like they don't have a plan yet, just talking, so..."

"Sure thing. Does anyone care if I ask Brant and Tonya to come along?"

"Er, I don't..."

"Great! How about you three head over to the court, and I get that done, then." Guess I'll be butting into that conversation after all... Maybe Elaine wants to play? Who knows. Chris went off again, leaving Christina sighing.

"That girl has two speeds... We haven't even asked Makoto yet, heheh. I can go ahead and handle that if you wanna take the court, Astin."

"Yeah, sure, Astin an' I can handle somethin' as easy as standin' guard for a court, right?"

Acclimated

"Hey, come on... You already teased me once, enough of that." It was good that Kim was making things really obvious, else Jess might've thought she'd actually insulted the girl. As for the rest... It was more comments about her second run perfectings, Kim's lacking at grasping the lores of ancient Rome and Greece, and... Well, that was interesting, and not at all what was supposed to happen.

"Good thing you had Christina around, then... I've ready about cases like that, they aren't really supposed to happen... I guess it was just too experimental? You... I'm just glad you're alright. Geez... You could've gotten off way worse than just a bit of bleeding... Gonna guess, nose bleed?" That's what the reports said, though most of them reported more... Gruesome results to things. Brain damage, loss of eyesight, death... Improperly tuned T-Links weren't anything to be messing with. It just went to show how strong a TK Kim was, that she could handle something like that. It must've been an impressive feeling, though. As much as it was probably painful.

"How is Christina, anyway?" Yeah, this could work too... Jess could do this. That'd show Firmia that she was more than hot air.

Cornered

 

It was time to find Firmia, again... Hannah came back down to the hangar, figuring that she'd be curled up in her favorite little hiding hole. "FIrmia," she radioed over, making her way towards it. "It's time to do this. The meeting with the Admiralty went great, you should be in somewhat high spirits for this... And I'm sure Jessica is in an agreeable mood after a day of leisure. There's no better time than now." Hannah parked herself in front of the Regalia and waited. She'd go in there and drag Firmia out, if she didn't come out on her own.

Firmia had just finished updating her list of items for the meeting with Admiral Vance when Hannah called her. The young Alkaev didn't need the list any longer, but for the sake of posterity and future reference, she wanted to have an exact list of the items she'd asked for and would receive. She had it close to memorized for the time being, so she archived the file and put her tablet on standby. "I'm feeling a lot better than earlier, but I'm still a little worried." Better to be honest. "Anyway, I'm coming out."

Standing up, Firmia wasn't sure whether to bring her bulky tablet with her this time, but she had a habit of keeping it with her much of the time. Not having it felt a little weird. She supposed it was better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Detaching it from its docking arm, Firmia moved to the front of the cockpit and opened the large hatch. She took a deep breath as the hangar air wafted in. "This is going to be ... stressful."

Firmia met Hannah at the feet of the Regalia. "I'm about as ready as I'm ever going to be, I think. Resolve things ... resolve things. Are you sure telling her why she's awful is going to help get us there? Don't most people just cover their ears? I know she can't run away, but ... well ... I don't know how to get from 'I hate you' to 'let's work together.'"

"It is understandable to be so stressful." Even though Firmia had gotten everything she'd wanted from high command, that just meant she had more things on her plate, now. It would clear some stress to have less to get to, but sorting it, setting up her stations, fixing up the ship she was getting... There was a lot more to do, now. Hopefully this went well. As for why she was so confident...

"I will admit, I'm placing a lot of faith in Jessica. I'm hoping that, challenged as she will be, she decides that it would be better to have you around than to have you gone... And I don't believe even she would be so foolish as to disregard what you bring to the table. If it does not work, then I will take responsibility, and clean up the situation. But if it does... We benefit. It is worth the try." Hannah held a hand out, smiling. "Shall we, then?"

"I guess you're right," Firmia said, her gaze falling low, "It's probably better to look at it in business terms. It's a gamble, but any business is when it's starting out. And also, in terms of our relationship, I won't be able to work with her properly to defeat Apotheosis if we can't at least find some common ground ... alright. That's not the best comparison, but it works for me. Let's go."

As soon as they started off, Firmia turned her tablet back on and pulled up a diagram of the standard Megalodon. "If I had a ship when I came here, instead of arguing with her during the debriefings, I could have just showed her how much more secure and efficient my ship was," she explained, smiling bitterly. "That would have been fun, even if it didn't change her mind."

Hannah want along with Firmia, nodding at her decisions. She was doing the right thing, it was good that she understood that. "Find some common ground and see if you can work with it. You might be surprised. I hope you are surprised." The comment on the ship, though... "I don't think that would be a good idea, though. Comparing ships. Also..."

Hannah put a hand to her chin, humming quietly. "Would you be able to avoid mentioning Brant? I believe that this talk is a good idea, but doing that might break things down... I understand that could be hard, but, for this to work out for the best... Also, she should be in her room. I made sure to check before coming to get you."

"Yeah I agree, she probably wouldn't have been motivated to keep up, but it still would have been fun to tease her. That would have been better than feeling like I was at the mercy of a captain that thought she was in charge of a pleasure cruise."

Speaking of a pleasure cruise, Hannah suggested not bringing up Brant during this ... scheduled argument. That, was an exceptionally tall order. Brant was the issue that pushed her general distrust and frustration into disgust and hatred. Granted, if they resolved the other issues, they could probably find some way to work together despite Brant. Firmia would just have a lot of resentment to keep under wraps. The real issue was avoiding that topic in the middle of a heated exchange ...

"I ... I don't think I can promise that, but I'll try not to bring it up. It's one of the points I want to beat her over the head with the hardest, though ..."

"The problem with bringing him up is that it has no bearing on her as the captain of the Heion Riese. It's a personal issue... I don't have a problem with you bringing it up at a future junction, but for this discussion, for best success possibilities, it would be better for you to keep it under wraps... Just this once." Hopefully she could manage, Hannah letting her into the elevator first.

"Feel free to yell about anything else, though... Most all your concerns are based around her captaining, so I believe that should be easy."

"I'll do my best," Firmia promised. She could at least try. The urge to make peace for the sake of ultimate victory was at last stronger than the urge to destroy the Captain for the pain she'd caused, but the margin was still slim enough that Firmia's emotions might get the better of her. Her eyes went over the Megalodon diagram while her mind played out the scenario over and over again, trying to find all the critical moments in the exchange, those moments where one of them would set off a chain reaction and in a moment of mind numbing rage Firmia would tear into the Brant issue. They always managed to reach that point in these imaginary arguments the Alkaev was running, but each time she was usually able to push them further and further down the line. It wasn't completely hopeless ...

"You'll do great." There wasn't much else for Hannah to say, though she found the silence that accompanied the rest of their walk rather awkward. She still had all hopes that Firmia would be able to manage this, but as they came up to Jessica's door, Hannah felt a small moment of apprehension. She even gulped, an instinctive reaction that made her further worried. "The floor is yours, Firmia. Do your best."

Firmia stood there in front of the Captain's quarters, quietly wishing Hannah would force her hand a little and knock for her. Having to do it herself gave the reluctant Alkaev room to talk herself back a step. "Urgh ..." Clinching her teeth and focusing, she tried to feel out the area beyond the door. Was Jessica even in her room right now? Most likely ... but did she have company? Were she and Hannah possibly interrupting something?

... no, and thank goodness. The Captain was in her room, but she was alone, right now. There would have been no chance in hell that Firmia could keep Brant out of this if Jessica came to the door sweating, nervous, and wearing a robe or some other hastily fetched garb. Steeling herself and stepping up to the door, again, Firmia closed her fist and gave the door few stiff handed raps.

And there we go! The sound of popping kernels had tapered off, indicating that the current bounty of light, fluffy, and dangerously addictive snack food was all that could be expected. Pouring the plentiful yield into a large steel bowl, easily comfortable enough for two people to reach into simultaneously, Abigail considered salting the lightly buttered goodness then and there, but decided she should just bring the shaker along, in case Jess had strong opinions on how heavy they should go on that front. Then with a spring in her step, and a whistle on her lips, she prepared to exit the kitchen and make her way to the captain's room. If she had no other redeeming traits, at least Abby was good at bouncing back quickly.

They were finally going to get around to watching those movies Jess had brought over that first night, that had been rather unceremoniously pushed aside for other pursuits of pleasure, but Abby had raised the suggestion on their ride back from their outing at the mall, and it had gone over well. The division of labor had been for Jess to get things set up and ready to go in her room, which had easily edged out Abigail's as being more spacious and comfortable, while she'd been assigned the task of working on getting snacks and such prepared.

Rounding the corner to the hallway housing the personal rooms, though, caused her face to fall. Now, Abigail hadn't exactly constructed a list of her favorite people on the Riese, but if she had, the two standing in front of Jess's door right now certainly would be nowhere near the top. Still, it wouldn't do to go picking fights. Not and ruin what had been a pretty great day, all told.

"Huh, I don't remember her expecting any visitors," Abby remarked, as she began to close the distance, making her way to where Firmia and Hannah were standing, right in front of her goal. Continuing on with a bit of a jest, she added, "Just gonna lay it out there that I only made enough popcorn for two, so you are just gonna have to fend for yourselves."

"You don't have to knock, Abby, the door's op... en..." You're not Abby, Jess realized, as the door came open. It was Firmia and Hannah... One of which was an alright sight, but the other. Oh, great, and Abby had just turned the corner to come back with the popcorn. "Er... Is there anything I can help you with, Miss Alkaev?" Hadn't she wanted nothing to do with her, anymore? What was this going to be about?

Hannah smiled, trying to keep up appearances. "Firmia was wishing to speak with you, one on one if that could be arranged. I am just here as moral support for her. Hello, Abby," she offered, hoping the woman wouldn't cut her down, again... She seemed in a pleasant mood. Perhaps she could stand the android, for now? Either way, someone would need to keep her busy while Firmia spoke to Jess... Maybe some, common ground could be worked on. As much as working with Brant's rival could achieve...

Firmia had been hoping against hope that the person coming up the hallway wasn't Abigail. She didn't look to check at first, instead focusing most of her attention on the presence approaching the door. Everything sort of clicked into place when Jessica answered the door and Abigail casually warned them about the snack situation. That left Firmia fighting back renewed and overwhelming rage. To say it was a struggle to avoid berating the two was a severe understatement. This was the woman Brant loved? Someone with no sense of danger, no planning or organizational skills on display, an outright obsession with comfort, and no interest whatsoever in the rest of her crew? If only he'd met Hannah first, somehow ...

The young Alkaev clinched her fists so hard, her knuckles turned white. She couldn't hide how furious she was, nor did she want to. She planned on holding back as much as she could verbally, but if this thing with Jessica was going to become a shouting match anyway, there was no need to pretend she was in a good mood going in. "It's going to be one on one," Firmia said between clinched teeth, "and you're not hiding behind your title, this time."

"As for you," she fixed Abigail with a gorgon's glare, "as you so eloquently put it, yesterday ... fuck you, and the robot you rode in on. You can have your leisure time with the captain AFTER I settle this."

"Firmia, please... Be nice." Hannah didn't really know if she could salvage things at this point, but, much to her surprise, Jess tried to instead.

"... Alright. You can come in, then. Abby, do you mind waiting out here for a bit? The popcorn might get stale, but we can always make more. Shall we, then?" She stepped out of the way to give Firmia enough space to get in, trying her best to smile. "And, you're right. I won't... I wanted to apologize for that, but seeing you as you are now, I can kinda tell you still hate my guts. Maybe I can do so anyway. We'll see."

"Wow..." Hannah couldn't help the exclamation, covering her mouth after it. "Er, I... Yes. I shall be waiting out here as well. Perhaps I can... N-Never mind." Brant had suggested she not speak with Abby, anyway... Probably best to be quiet and wait... And stop the rebel from interfering, if things did get that bad. Hannah placed a gentle hand on Firmia's shoulder, leaning in just for a moment. "You can do this. I believe in you."

"One thing, Firmia," Jess began to add. "Don't, speak to my girlfriend like that. If you want to yell at me, go ahead. If you want your one on one, then she isn't involved." Hopefully that was clear enough.

Things were quickly taking a turn for the worst possible destination. The robot began explaining the situation to Jess, who'd come up to the door and cautiously inquired, while little miss imperial highness seemed fit to burst a blood vessel. When she finally managed to toss in some words of her own, the brat had finished with a phrase all-too-familiar to Abby, and one that instantly turned the mood to an icy hell.

Shouldering her way past the interlopers, Abigail slipped in to the room and set down the popcorn down before giving the shaker a quick pass over it, dryly remarking, "I'm surprised, but it looks like she saved a little salt for the rest of us." Then turning on her heel to leave again, she nodded to Jess, letting the captain know she'd wait outside till their business was done.

As she passed, she turned her glare on the Russian and uttered in a low dark tone, "Eavesdropping is ugly business. Be careful, you keep that shit up, your good looks won't be able to hide the blackness of your soul forever."

Back in the hallway, Abigail raised an arm, placing her hand on the robot's shoulder then giving it a bit of a rude shove. The incremental changes it'd been making to its appearance grated on her, leaving a bit of a sour taste in her mouth. "Come on, bolt bucket. Moral support over. We're buggering off," then she strode down the hallway back in the direction of the kitchen.

Something was not quite right, here. Hannah noticed it, too. The Captain wasn't a nervous wreck, too weak to respond with any fervor until she was pushed well over the edge. Instead she was more receptive and ... responsible? What was going on here?

It might have been refreshing to see Jessica in such a state, but between her prior anger, and Abigail's input, the young Alkaev was mostly just frustrated. And speaking of Abigail ... she could say whatever she wanted to Firmia; the girl had dealt with some fairly repulsive insults in her short seventeen years on Earth, but like always, anything used against the people she cared for was downright infuriating, even when the insult itself wasn't especially cutting ... and Firmia was already furious ...

Hannah assured her that she could do this, but Firmia was still just at the edge. She was holding herself back, but it was taking an awful lot of willpower. One more time, she reined herself in, even as Jessica warned her not to speak to Abigail the way she had. It didn't matter to her one bit; Brant didn't deserve to be treated the way he had been, especially not after being among the first to welcome her onto the team. She was so arrogant and ungrateful, Firmia could almost mistake her for a younger version of her own mother if she dressed the part.

The Alkaev's expression quickly softened into a mere contemptuous glare as she channeled her newfound fury into something more useful: Focus. She looked back to Jessica. "'Bolt bucket.' How original of her ... I'm still not convinced you're worth heeding. After we talk, I'll decide whether I want to follow that suggestion, or not."

"Ugh... Abby! You treat Hannah like a real person, or I'm kicking you out tonight! We're adults, we can try to act like it... I'm sorry for her. Hannah, you don't deserve that. Abby has... Issues, with androids. If you want to know, you can ask her yourself, but..." Jess sighed. If only things didn't have to get so heated... "Anyway, that's fine, Firmia. Come in. Popcorn? Heh..." Anything to lighten the mood. Jess stepped back into her room, while Hannah remained mildly bewildered. 

"Perhaps this will be easier than we thought...? I will be in the kitchen as well. Please come retrieve me when you are finished, or alert me at the first sign of trouble. I'll come running. Abby, wait up!" Curious now, Hannah went after her, for better or worse.

Adults ... maybe on some days, or when the enemy was bearing down on them, guns blazing. The offer of popcorn left Firmia with a questioning scowl. "No thank you ..." She supposed if she was spiteful enough, she'd take the whole thing and force Abigail to make another one. She had other, more important things to do, though.

Thinking on the reason she was here, it was that much stranger to see Jessica like this. The explanation she gave about Abigail's android problem didn't mean anything to Firmia, but she made a mental note of it just the same. She would not be talking with the woman about it, though. Speaking with Jessica took enough out of her, so trying something like this on Abigail could, at best, result in a headache.

Firmia nodded to Hannah before stepping into Jessica's room. She couldn't help but think of the place as the heart of the ship in a sense, a place of leisure and naive escapism. She wondered if there might be something in the air, or something else that might infect her with the captain's usual priorities. Well, obviously not, but actually being here, and in that moment, it felt as though there had to be something more to this woman's domain. Firmia wasn't going within twelve feet of the bed, no matter what happened.

"So this is the place where the ANF's most important captain spends her leisure time ..." ... at least when she wasn't at the pool. Come to think of it, the ANF was giving Firmia a Megalodon class destroyer. Wouldn't she have a captain's suite of her own by this time tomorrow? Likely not this spacious, but that didn't concern her; the whole ship would be hers.

Firmia didn't really want to stall like this, but she was still too furious to start in on Jessica just yet. If she did before she could quell some of that anger, she might get overwhelmed and bring up Brant. She was going to try not to for both Brant and Hannah's sake, but the captain's sleeping quarters was by far the worst place for them to be talking while trying to stay off of that topic. Firmia could still feel the pain he felt while she was standing out in the hall, just moments ago. She still wanted to punish Jessica for it with words sharp enough to kill ... but that wasn't her goal. Not today. Not ever, if they could work something out.

"It is, yes..." Firmia didn't come here to gawk at her sleeping arrangements. Jess didn't know what she was here for specifically, but it couldn't be that... Time to break the ice a bit.

"I'm sorry," she started, looking Firmia in the eyes. "The way I treated you in the meeting room was inappropriate and immature... I felt challenged, and I took it out on you. I'm sorry. If you ever need a one on one audience... If you decide staying around is worth it, then you can have it." Hopefully that was a decent opening to things. With how mad Firmia seemed, softening her some felt like a good plan.

There was the apology again, this time with a more in depth explanation. Firmia tried to look past the surface, to see what was going on with Jessica, and what was making her almost tolerable, right now? Remorse alone wasn't it; she had been apologizing up a storm, last night. So what was it, then? Jessica's aura just didn't feel right. Rather, it didn't feel the way Firmia was expecting it to. Was that a good thing ...?

"I already agreed to stay." Firmia decided not to mention the ship, just yet. "That's why I have to settle things, here. Anyway, I ... accept your apology, but ... I don't understand what's going on. It's almost like you're a different person from yesterday." She definitely wasn't the Jessica that Firmia had been planning on confronting, tonight. That was for certain.

"A different person... Maybe." She couldn't help admitting that today was a lot different... She ended up smiling. It's all thanks to Brant, I guess... "I got a good talking to. It helped put a lot of things into perspective... And helped me see how I've been acting. That is to say, not very good. Not to you, not to Brant, not to a lot of people... Not even to Abby. So I'm... I'm trying to change perspectives. It's not easy, but it's easy to start, so I can only hope it sticks... You can go ahead with whatever it is you need to say. I can take it."

A good talking to? From who, Firmia wondered? Jessica probably would have told her if she wanted her to know. "Well then, please pass that person along my thanks for doing half of my job for me." She would leave it at that, for now. She had to really focus or this discussion wouldn't amount to much ...

While she was calming down a little bit at a time, trying to dredge up Jessica's past captaining mistakes and habits was like fresh tinder for the fire. Keeping the items and her anger separate took some serious doing for the already frustrated Alkaev. And where to begin, exactly ...? There was the leisure issue, the security issue, the barely functioning command structure, the communication issue ... and by God was that one a problem.

"... communication," Firmia crossed her arms, letting her anger take on a more instructive form, "I can't help but feel this one is the most important, so grab your popcorn and listen, because this is going to take a while."

Firmia briefly recalled her talk with Roxanna the previous evening, and the advice she'd given the XO. At the time, a cohesive command structure seemed like a sheer impossibility, but if Jessica was willing to listen, then perhaps Firmia could give her complimentary advice that would help propel both officers to new heights. That or her advice wouldn't accomplish anything and they would just keep going as they were until someone finally died and woke everyone up. "Do you have any idea what's going on with your crew, right now?" A rhetorical question without the expected edge. "From what I can tell, you don't have an assistant passing along information for you. Letting everyone relax and have fun is NOT a substitute for taking care of your crew. More importantly, you're throwing away opportunities left and right by ignoring most of them. You do get that, right?" Firmia already had a good example in mind, thanks to her time in the hangar, earlier ...

"Yeah... I get that. I was too scared to work with Roxanna because she hates my guts, but I need to get over that if the crew is going to function. I'll talk to her, and see if I can split up keeping an eye on the crew... Because I don't really know what most of them are up so. Some, yes, but not all of them. And if Roxanna won't work with me, I'll ask Ensign Calvin. I'm apprehensive on him because it feels like he overworks himself already, but beggars can't be choosers, right?" Jess smiled, noting that down in her mind. Something to take care of, right away.

"And, I know. I confused that, with keeping them alright. Leisure is important, but it's different from me actually showing them that I care. And then things deteriorate, and I get into shouting matches with blonde Russians." She tried to chuckle a bit, hoping the joke wouldn't take poorly. "Relaxation can come second."

Firmia noted Jessica's receptiveness, trying to compare it between the last time they had managed a civil chat. She seemed a bit more resolved this time, but it was important not to let up, here. What was coming down the pike was an Apotheosis that was finally taking them seriously. Sooner or later it was going to happen, and they needed to be ready for it.

The jokes would have been welcome ... in another lifetime, but right now, Firmia just wanted to stay on point. She supposed she could hit back with something of her own, though it was by no means a joke. "I hope you're being serious about it, this time. After all, today I discovered that your genius mechanic's talents aren't being fully utilized. According to him, with some time and help, he could have all of our mobile suits equipped with V-drives or rough equivalents, which is something we'll need to keep up with Apotheosis in the long term." If there was an opportunity being wasted for no good reason, it was certainly that.

"The fact that you haven't put your rank as Captain to use to get him whatever he needs to make that a reality is a problem, not simply the fact that you may not have even known. That said," Firmia paused to smirk, imagining Buck running around in a small hangar yelling excitedly, "If it turns out he's not one of the moles we're looking for, I have every intention of putting him to work for my people. I can leverage his interest in the AMS units I brought for a little while longer, at least."

"Oh... Buck, right?" At least she got his name. "I didn't know that, no... I didn't think we had the technology. Maybe we picked something up from one of the Apotheosis robots. I should speak to them more, or, get them to report things to me. Probably that... I'm better at organizing data by reading it than by getting by ear. Okay, I can do that. And, that's fine. If we're all working together, then it'd be best that he be doing the best he can for every machine, not just any pet projects." Hopefully that would be good enough for her. Jess only had enough time for so many people in one day.

"I'm glad you're staying, by the way."

Another round of criticism ... oddly well received. That had Firmia a little worried, admittedly. It was easy to agree to something in the moment. Action was what mattered. She supposed as long as the Captain wasn't running away or hiding behind her rank any longer, she could follow up on this again and again until it finally stuck. It felt strange for her to say she was glad Firmia was staying, though ...

"I just want to destroy Apotheosis, and this is the best place to do that," Firmia explained matter of factly, "Besides, your superiors are giving me what I requested, so the situation here is going to be a little different going forward." That may have been an understatement, but now did seem like as good a time as any to mention the new ship. "Commander Vance is having a second ship prepared along with the Riese's upgrades. It's mine to keep, of course, but I've also agreed to fight alongside the ANF and end Apotheosis. That's why I'm warning you about Buck and anyone else you're not making proper use of. If my ship winds up being the R&D vessel then that's just fine by me."

And to think, if not for Brant's friendship with Hannah, the latter might have wound up as ANF personnel.

"I don't see why I need warned. It's not a race, to me... We're trying to destroy Apotheosis, like you said, right? So if your ship becomes R&D, and you aren't willing to share... Then that's my fault for being a terrible captain. I'll just have to keep your advice in mind and try not to be... It's nice to hear we're getting more aerial backup, though. Is he giving you an entire Kraken model? Maybe a Megalodon... I'm not sure what your size needs are, but considering you only have three suits at the moment, probably the latter. Guess I get to call you Captain Firmia?"

Another joke, but, it was again meant in good faith. "We don't have to be friends, I'm... I'm sure that you still hate me, but... Thank you for giving me another chance, Firmia. I... Honestly thought I'd blew it to the point of no return back at the meeting room. Everything's been really stressful. not an excuse, but I'll hopefully be better, going forward. I'll do my best." Jess saluted, smiling wide. This had gone a lot better than she'd expected, opening the door... Whether she could accomplish all this or not, remained to be seen, but working with her bridge and making things happen... That could start.

Of course she was willing to share developments and the like ... though Firmia blamed herself now for saying that without mentioning her long term plans. She needed help to crew the Megalodon, but once the war was over, she would have to make some permanent staffing changes. She would definitely try to keep certain people on if they turned out to be especially talented, but the ANF would probably only tolerate so much from her, and this was all speculative, right now. They still had to not only win this war, but also survive it ...

Jessica guessed correctly on the class of ship after taking the Alkaev's assets into account, but before Firmia actually said anything, Jessica considered calling her 'Captain Firmia,' which was only now beginning to truly register. A captain? Her feelings were mixed, both on the title and the actual job, but she had every intention of doing her best, same as Jessica. Firmia supposed that if she was going to do that properly, she would have to begin subconsciously recognizing the ship as more than just an HQ or comparatively gigantic motorhome.

"I ... didn't really think about that part," Firmia admitted, wondering if Hannah would quickly get in on the formalities, as well. She would need to figure out the situation with the Regalia, as well. Unless she set up something very complicated, Firmia wouldn't be captaining the Megalodon and copiloting for Brant at the same time. Frankly, she didn't have such a breadth of attention, especially not while using a T-Link.

"Anyway, about this second chance. You should really be thanking Hannah. I agreed to it because she was certain it could work, and I trust her judgment. From the moment she suggested it, I've been preparing myself for something completely different from this ..." She was just about to return Jessica's salute, in fact she was a quarter way into the motion when she stopped. "W-wait, I'm not done yet. I'll keep the fact that you're going to do your best from now on in mind and try to keep it brief, but there are a couple of other things I need to talk to you about. They're kicking us off of the ship in the morning, so they can work on it ... and make us relax, I guess ... so I'd rather deal with this now."

"I will thank her... She's a pretty great--" Jess cut herself off, looked down, but looked back up with that same smile. "Person. It wouldn't be fair to call her an android anymore, would it? She's just a metal person at this point... I was worried about her when this started, but now? Not at all. Since she's taken a liking to you and Brant, if you ever need help with her officially working for you, just let me know. I'll pitch in."

Oh, was this not done yet? Jess nodded at the mention, looking at her communicator for a moment. "Vance informed me... I was going to tell the crew, but, he mentioned in the email to let him do it. Something about wanting to surprise people with something nice. He's always a bit of a clown, that guy..." And yet he still garnered respect, so obviously you could be both.

"Sure, then. Tell me whatever else you need to."

It was good to see Hannah getting the treatment she'd clearly earned, and not just from people like Brant who would always err on the side of humanity. That still left Abigail, but Firmia wasn't going to worry about her. The way she saw it, the two would be seeing even less of each other from now on. Firmia smirked again when Jessica offered to smooth things out for them, later. "Oh, I was just going to take her and run," Firmia joked. It wasn't really a joke, but she disguised it as one.

That just left the other two topics ... the moles situation and the ship's security in general. They only overlapped a little, but Firmia could still cover them relatively quickly. "As far as research and development go, I have no intention of hoarding personnel, resources, or information, but security is an important issue we both have to be on top of, otherwise Apotheosis will be able to counter any breakthroughs we make about as fast as we can make them. You remember that Chris told us there were three moles on the ship. When we get resupplied tomorrow, we could wind up with even more than that."

Firmia didn't mean to be pessimistic, but Apotheosis was likely expecting Chris to fight and die ... not get captured and immediately out their agents. "I know there isn't a surefire way to find them right now, but you should still give some thought to how to catch them and prevent any sabotage. I already suggested to your XO that she look into everyone's backgrounds, but that's the absolute minimum we could be doing and still call ourselves sane."

"What do do about that..." Background checks was a good start... Catching someone knowing something they shouldn't would be even better, but Jess was at a loss for what they could truly accomplish. "We could put everyone through the ringer, but I don't know if that would accomplish much other than make everyone trust each other less. And I... I don't really know if we can afford to blow that up, when we keep having to go into these life and death situations. Maybe... No, I am soft, but other than background checks, and keeping an eye out on making sure people don't know more than they should... Do you have any ideas?"

More sneaking on during tomorrow's repairs, that was something they could only trust command with. Hopefully Vance had a good head on his shoulders when it came to adding anyone else to the crew. "I'll take anything else you can suggest."

The crew was more than volatile enough during debriefings, Firmia mused. Trying to trip the moles up in particular while questioning everyone would lead to a false arrest here and there. Plus, Firmia wasn't ready to rule Jessica out as a possible mole, however unlikely. Her behavior up until now had been almost comically detrimental to the crew, and was only made up for by the capabilities of said crew. Did that mean speaking to Jessica about the situation was a bad idea? Certainly not. If she was one of them, this could actually work to Firmia's advantage in the long run. If she wasn't, then she will have spent her time and energy cooperating with an ally rather than wasting both trying to work around her. Workable suggestions were few, though.

"Well ... one thing you need to do is not go back to your stance from the last meeting. You need to keep some information to yourself for now, otherwise it's all going straight back to Apotheosis. Even if we can't find the moles yet, we can at least limit what they can report back. I personally think Apotheosis is trying to capture the Riese, not destroy it. So any way you can think of that they might take the ship is something to guard against."

Not being as familiar with the ship as she would have liked, Firmia didn't have a solid plan, yet. The Riese was a behemoth and even while understaffed, there were a lot of people to potentially keep an eye on. "I'm sorry I don't have more right now, but I've been coming at this from the 'capture' angle. If they want to outright destroy us then the moles are either going to go down with us or some people are going to 'disappear' right before it happens."

She wasn't all bad news ... "That does remind me about the last thing I wanted to discuss. Even before the Commander agreed to give me a ship I was working on a drone program to help make up for the numbers we're lacking ... and as a part of my company's business strategy ... Anyway, once that's completed, they can act as either small support units, equipment carriers, or as turrets. They can't help with the mole situation, but they can defend the ships and their hangars. I'm going to be receiving a Megalodon that won't have as many weapons as the Riese does, so I'll be using drones as close range solutions."

"I think if we keep information on a tree branch basis... Then, maybe it'll be better. Er, what I mean is, I take in what I need from everyone, and instead of these grand debriefs, I tell the pilots in question what they specifically need to hear... So if any of them are the mole, they aren't getting any extra that would be discussed in a meeting setting. Does that sound more productive?" It would keep a few people in the dark on a few things, but it was better than having it all out in the open... Maybe.

"The drones sound like a good idea. If you don't have enough materials to create them on your own, please, feel free to ask us for materials. We've got plenty to spare, and I'm sure Vance has offered you some as well. Does that sound good, too?" Firmia was starting to seem a lot more like a business partner, instead of an angry little girl... That was good. It was easier to take criticism from someone that was trying to help, instead of someone that hated you.

It would certainly be nice once the espionage factor was finally taken care of. Firmia didn't enjoy this anymore than Jessica did, but the alternative would be disastrous. "As long as you can keep track of the spread of information, then that should at least help," Firmia nodded at Jessica's suggestion.

The Captain was also more than welcoming to Firmia's drone idea, offering raw materials for the project. "I actually put that on my list of requests, and Commander Vance accepted," Firmia noted, a small grin on her face. It felt a little awkward in hindsight but it was definitely nice to know that if she had needed them, Jessica would help. "Thank you, though. You should probably check with Avery or Buck to see if there's anything they have any ideas that might help us. If you have enough to spare for my program then you should definitely hear them out." Firmia wasn't sure about Avery, but Buck had come up with a workaround for the AMS units' flight limitations after just looking over the data. There was bound to be more he could pull off with the knowledge that his commanding officer would okay it.

"I will, definitely... I'm sure Buck can think of something that none of us would've even considered." Hopefully, at least... There was always that weapon they'd managed to take from the Luna. Could he come up with something for that?

"Was that all, then? I'm open for more, totally. Hit me, I can take it."

"Well ..." Firmia paused, her eyes hitting the floor as she considered that other issue ... "I said I wouldn't bring that up before we came here. We both figured things would be heated enough." Of course, Jessica wasn't behaving like either she or Hannah had expected, so it was hard to tell if mentioning Brant was still a bad idea. Apparently, she could take it. It was important to Firmia, but what would she even say at this point? There were two completely different Jessica's in her mind's eye, now: One she despised and one she could effortlessly coexist with. She didn't have the foggiest idea what to say to the latter.

"Heh... It's... Brant, isn't it?" It had to be. Something Firmia said she wouldn't bring up? Or something she'd been told not to? "To be honest... He's the one who gave me a good talking to. Really pushed me to change things around, and do better. I started today. Had a good day out with Abby... Now, I'm doing my best to take in what you're saying. War or not, I have a job to do, so I have to improve, even if it's hard."

"And... If you came to talk to me to tell me to stay away from him, I'm... I'm trying." That was the best way to put it. "I don't want to shun him, but... I can tell that he's not going to walk away that easily. But..." Jess sighed. This was hard. "How do I turn him down?" Did Firmia know? Would she care?

Brant was the catalyst for this sudden change? The realization hit Firmia too fast for her to hide her shock. Add to it that Jessica knew her gripes well enough to guess it in one, and the Alkaev was completely at a loss for words. It was only after Jessica asked her for advice on how to turn him down that she was able to start cobbling words together. Firmia was hesitant, though. Brant had gone well out of his way for her today. Would returning the favor by telling Jessica how to chase him off for good really be for the best? Not that she really knew how, exactly ... Even though the way Jessica was acting now made her tolerable, almost pleasant, Firmia still didn't like the idea of the two of them together. Whether the coward and liar from before, or the responsible officer of the present, they were both the same Jessica at heart.

How, then? How could she finally interject into this situation without stabbing Brant in the back? She was still wary of her treatment of him compared to Hannah thanks to the last argument. "I don't know ... no wait ..." This wasn't ideal, because there were no guarantees, but the idea that just came to her was at least somewhat fair to Brant. "Well, if you're going to end things, you have to talk to him. So do that." Her expression soured as memories of yesterday began popping up, again. "I can't think of a worse way for him to find out about Abigail than the way he did. I felt how hurt he was from the hangar." She never wanted to feel that, again.

Now the memory was stuck, that feeling Brant had passed onto Firmia reverberating inside over and over again, bringing tears to her eyes. "If someone made me feel that way, I'd just ... I'd kill them, or at least avoid them at all cost ... so I don't know how he's even dealing with this. I said a lot of things to him that I shouldn't have yesterday, so I can't give you any other advice than to talk to him. I'm sorry ..." Some friend she was, Firmia thought, sighing as she wiped her eyes.

Even Firmia, getting that upset... Jess bit her lip and smiled wryly at herself. "I'm a pretty awful person, aren't I?" No two ways about it. "I don't want to be with him, but I love his attention. I didn't wait for him, but now he's waiting for me. And I don't have the heart to turn him down so completely... How terrible. It's disgusting, isn't it?" Firmia would probably agree, Jess was feeling that voice in the back of her head come crawling back. She'd beaten it down so thoroughly today, and here it was, clawing to life, as strong as ever.

"And if I do this... It'll hurt him that much more. Won't it? But then, I'm just hurting Abby too... Maybe you should ki--" No, that was too far, even for something like this. It had only been a week, at best... Emotions were just, difficult. "I'll... Try. Talking to him. I don't know what I can solve, but he's been hurt enough. He doesn't deserve to have to suffer while I stay happy. I'll try to see him tomorrow, while we're all off ship. Maybe I can... Do something." Whatever something was.

"Yes, it is," Firmia nodded, "You usually are terrible. I was expecting a ten minute shouting match, but here I am with all of this frustration and nothing to do with it. Brant and I have to leave after the war ends. That's always been the case ... so a relationship with anyone from the federation was just shortsighted ... obviously so. Add to that the particular person he picked and I was ... not happy about it ... and then I found out why he picked you. Now I realize I'm just as terrible, if not worse."

Go through with the conditioning, become completely useless for what people generally wanted him for. That was essentially what she told him, though she wouldn't have tried to replicate her grandfather's method. She only wanted to keep things like this from happening, keep him from being in any pain. Keep him focused on the true mission, defeating Apotheosis. Clearly she'd gone too far. She could see that now, thanks to Hannah suggesting something similar be done to her.

The worst part of all of this was the inevitable outcome. Someone had to be hurt immeasurably in this, as far as Firmia could tell. It seemed like Jessica had already made up her mind ... so the someone in question was Brant. Her friend. She really didn't want to be within range to sense that, especially not during a group outing, but she already felt terrible for how she'd handled the situation up to this point. Could she really just stay out of the blast radius and come back to gather up Brant's remains?

"After this is over, I'm ... going to have him stay on my ship from now on. It won't make him feel any better, but at least he won't run into you as often. Or Abigail. That's ... all I can think of on my end ..."

"I'm sorry." She truly was, this time. And... There was no way around this without hurting Brant, was there? Then... Then he'd have to hurt. Jess was set on this. Not just to keep Abby happy, she wanted to know she could make her own decisions work out. She'd chosen to be with Abby. The rebel had even given her a window to say no, and it had been a long one... She hadn't. If that was her decision then, she could hold onto it now. And if she wasn't strong enough to make it work out... Then she didn't deserve Brant in the first place.

"That's for the best. I'll see about getting the Regalia moved over to the Megadolon... Would you like me to talk to Vance, and see about re-assigning him to you early? That way there's no legislation after this is all over... You can have him working for you properly, right away." It might've been fast for that, sure... But, it was something Firmia probably wanted.

Firmia nodded somberly. "Yes. Thank you. There's no point in dragging things out." With everyone heading off of the ship for the time being, Brant wouldn't learn about his reassignment until after they got back, not unless Jessica or Firmia herself told him. Either way, he wouldn't be surprised that Firmia wanted him assigned to her ship, once he knew that she had one. That thought returned, Captain Firmia. She supposed that it would be something of an official title, as well. In that case, she would be Brant's Captain, going forward. It probably wouldn't make up for what she'd said to him, but she was determined to help him in whatever capacity she could from now on.

"Is that all, then...?" Jess was dreading tomorrow now, but as long as she could get through this, things could improve.

Firmia nodded, again. "I think I'm going to ... go sleep, now." She wasn't looking forward to tomorrow, either, but the earlier she got up, the more time she would have to contemplate the situation while her mind was fresh.

"You two seem to be getting along pretty well. And she seems a bit less shy than when we picked her up. You must be having a pretty good effect on her, for her to improve so quickly."

You're On!

"Wha! No way! You can't swim faster than me, Thorvald!" The game was afoot! Buck was gonna go full speed, all the way to the end of the simulated ocean. Good thing there weren't any live animals in this water... That'd be pretty spooky, even spookier than the deep water was. But he'd been challenged! He couldn't lose! Heroes never lost! Arm after arm, Buck swam as fast as he could...

Decisions

"Hmm..." Tristan was lost in thought as Abby called out to him, spooking him out of his thinking long enough to take in that he was being spoken to. "Abigail, hello... Yes, actually. I'm not used to this relaxation... I figured it would be good to get in some proper exercise as long as I was here, but I can't decide on whether I should start slow in getting in the water to get used to it, or just start doing hard laps right away. Also a... A little bit worried I might get a bunch of weird stares. When I'm at the gym on the ship, there's three, maybe four other people there at most... With all these eyes here I'm having a bit of... Stage fright, I suppose. What about you? Have any ideas of what to accomplish while you're here? You're one of the pilots, so you must be appreciating the relaxation a bit more than us bridge folk... Still stressful, but I'm just pressing buttons at a monitor, compared to actually piloting anything. The Gs must be intense..."

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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Sasha tried not to laugh when Cheryl mentioned that exemplar of awful vampire/romance movies. Its only saving grace were the myriad of jokes and references it produced. At least in that sense, it was a handy little series. Forty Shades of Gravel was a different sort of awful, and a chilling reminder of what some people were ready lap up. Unfortunately Sasha had seen both films from start to finish. "Yeah, I remember," Sasha nodded like a wounded child.

After getting Cheryl's amendments, Sasha found no problems whatsoever. Sometimes a bad movie was worth seeing. It just had to be awful enough to be unintentionally entertaining. Add to that being health conscious all the while and Sasha felt they had a proper date planned out, here.  "I like it. I'll let you know if I get any bright ideas, but for now we've got a good outline."

... and parked.


Chris seemed grateful, and having gotten her way in the end, far less confrontational. That was also one more person that knew about Firmia's latest machine. The Alkaev considered mirroring Chris' parting salute, but it was all over and done with so fast that she opted to just let the new recruit get back to what she was doing. A nod was faster and accomplished about as much in the end.

Speaking of machines, Hannah came back with a suggestion that caught Firmia by surprise. "A spare Velite?" She doubted they could transform it into a frame fit for an AMS unit, at least not of the flying type, but she wasn't entirely sure on that. All of the existing frames had been meticulously crafted, allowing for near instant transformations with no snags or excessive wearing. It was a lot harder to get an AMS unit to transform into either mode properly than it was to get them airborne. Still, a converted frame seemed feasible. And if not, they could always design something completely new and sell it to the ANF as a mass production prototype. Firmia had the same thing in mind with one of the drone variants, and that version was coming along nicely.

"With as much space as we have now, it would be a waste if we didn't work on as much as we can. The drone program isn't going to take up much space or resources, so if we can get a frame, I'd be interested in trying that." Really, Firmia had gotten a huge head start in all areas, thanks to the ANF's generosity. Yes, she'd brought them three killing machines and used two of them to great success against Apotheosis, but she could have been placated with far less thanks to her own expectations. Fortunately, things had worked out. They had worked out quite nicely~

Guided Tour

Spoiler

"I believe he said that he'd have it stationed outside..." Hannah began, checking the email again, as she and Firmia rode the elevator down to the runway. "Did you sleep well? Did... Talks with Jessica go well?" Hopefully well enough, Hannah wasn't quite sure if Firmia had spoken of Brant, or achieved much with the Captain. By the time Hannah had gotten back from her talk with Abby, Firmia was already asleep in the Regalia. She hadn't woken her up to find out. "You have about a minute before the elevator gets down, so... If you're willing, I would like to know."

Firmia couldn't hide her feelings on her talk with Jessica after Hannah brought it up, not the negative ones, at least. They were still holding sway. The ANF had granted her requests, and Jessica was trying to turn over a new leaf, but in spite of all of that, Brant's heart was sitting on the chopping block, waiting to be cut down. It was a miracle she hadn't run into him this morning, yet.

So, they had about a minute, huh? Firmia sighed. "It went great. It was a freaking miracle. Brant came up at the end, though. ... sorry ..." An Alkaev pilot dies or he wins, right?

Hannah smiled, only a bit, the mention of Brant wasn't a good thing. Firmia seemed troubled... What she would do for the ability to feel Firmia's own emotions right now. "I knew that thing would work out. Jessica is not an unreasonable individual... When she is not under stress. I have seen her interact plenty well with people, even agreeably so, but the meeting atmosphere likely got to her. Bringing up Brant... Is fine. As long as things went well in the end, and you two were not shouting at each other... Oh, we're here."

The Nevada sun was still strikingly hot, Hannah wishing she could've brought an umbrella for Firmia. Her pale skin would not appreciate this... At least Vance was in sight, standing under the shadow of the Riese, waving at the two of them. Hannah could make out vague bits of another ship poking out from behind the towering behemoth, though not a full model yet... It didn't at all seem like the diagram of the Megalodon that she'd been able to pull up, though...

"Well, there he is. Will you be alright? You can walk in my shadow, if it will make things easier."

What was done was done, so all Firmia could do was brace herself for the fallout, and try to help Brant through it, somehow. She had no idea how to help others cope, though. Especially not men. When the elevator arrived, there was definitely something off. Aside from the west coast of the North America being an absolute hellhole in the summertime, what little of the smaller ship's profile she could see didn't look like a Megalodon. This ... was going to be interesting ...

"When we head out with the others, remind me to pick up a sunhat. ... and a personal fan. It wasn't so bad last time I was out in the desert because we only went out at night and that one time when I dropped Brant off at Dry Lake Base." Come to think of it ... "It's not too hot for you, is it?" she asked her companion as she waved back to Vance. Hannah wouldn't get heatstroke or anything like that, but she could potentially overheat if her cooling system couldn't keep up, as annoying as it was to think about in those terms.

"I will make sure to remind you to pick up a sunhat... And I'm fine, don't worry. I simply turn off my heat emulation while outside, and the sun does its job of keeping me from turning into an icicle, while my coolant makes sure I do not overheat. I am more advanced than you may think, Firmia." Hannah chuckled, as they came up to Vance, who was sporting the most proud grin on his face.

"Mornin' ladies! Hope you slept well. Now, look past me. Tell me what you see."

Hannah looked really confused, but, decided to play his game. "It... Does not look like a Megadolon class carrier."

"And that's where you're wrong! Haha~ Y'see, Hannah, Firmia-- I can call you Firmia, right? Or would you prefer Ms. Alkaev? Anyway... This, is the Megadolon II. There were about three produced, before the need for larger ships became necessary, especially in space. What it means for you, Firmia," his question about titles apparently being rhetorical, "is that this beauty's only problem is being dusty. It's got an extra megaparticle cannon, they both fold out of the top, it's completely loaded with missiles, and it has launching runways... If you ever use somethin' that isn't able to turn into a plane on its own."

He looked so proud, and he hoped Firmia wouldn't be upset. "Also means it's coated in the latest anti-beam coating we have at our disposal, and has more cargo space for all your necessary production capabilities and robotics storage." Hands on his hips, Vance smiled confidently. "Wanna see inside?"

A Megalodon II ... so that's why it looked different. The difference in iterations was somewhat startling, but hull designs did occasionally turn out this way. Firmia actually liked the look better. Ms. Alkaev was something that took Firmia a little while to get comfortable with back home, just like Captain Firmia would, but Vance seemed to just be making small asides during his presentation. That was fine, though. He'd definitely earned that for giving her a limited addition vessel. Ordinarily the disadvantages of such vessels outweighed the benefits, particularly when it came to supplying compatible hardware. Not in this case, however, not when she planned to make it her own in the coming years.

"As long as we're fighting Apotheosis," Firmia began, eyeing the section where she suspected the bridge was located, "we might have to launch regular suits, so the catapults should be useful." The extra storage space, as well. "Yes, let's go inside and get out of this heat, please," she smiled pleadingly.

"Of course, little lady. My apologies, having been stationed here for so long, I just don't feel it anymore. Come on, follow me." Vance didn't waste another minute, leading them towards the on ramp. No elevators like the Riese, it was small enough to get away with it. Leading them in, and presenting Firmia with a map of the ship, it was fully lit and seemed like it was even being powered. The interior was frighteningly close to the Riese in design. Some things didn't change, it seemed... Sleek, curved, white walls everywhere, long hallways-- less long, but, still.

"So... Where to first, bridge, or hangar? There's personal quarters as well, but you'll, uh... Have to do your own decorating. Might look like the Riese, but those automatic colorings and changes to rooms, those are a new feature. Still, since you are the owner, and subsequently the captain, you'll find that your quarters are quite spacious. Captain comes first, after all."

They hadn't stepped onto the same ship. This wasn't the Heion Riese. But if Firmia had been in a daze, she would have made that assumption. She leaned over to get a glimpse of the map Hannah received and took in the layout almost as quickly as her android companion did. This ship was extremely important to her, and an Alkaev knew her machines. She knew them like the back of her hand. Every last detail would be committed to memory before her birthday. Firmia had no choice in the matter; it was the Alkaev instinct of complete ownership, and all of them had it.

Between the bridge and the hangar, Firmia's mind was opting for the bridge, while her body felt a newfound longing for hangars in general. No doubt her time in the Riese's hangar, huddled up in her mobile suits, had conditioned her somewhat. She wouldn't mind seeing the captain's quarters soon, either, though it would be difficult to get on with the tour with her imagination thinking of ways to customize her new room.

"Okay. Bridge, first," Firmia decided. According to the map, it was the closest. She wasn't sure what to expect. She'd only seen the Riese's bridge in schematics and floor plans, so her frame of reference was murky at best. The captain's chair, though ... she was going to have to try it out during the tour of the bridge. In all likelihood she would swap it out for a more personalized version somewhere down the road, but for now, anything serviceable would do just nicely.

"Bridge it is. No problem." Vance was taking in Firmia's reactions to things, so far, she didn't seem disappointed. Leading her along one of the hallways brought them all into the bridge. "It's a bit cozy," was accurate, as the room wasn't much larger than a pilot's quarters on the Riese, "but it has all your standard stations. Communications on the right, weapons up front, navigation on the left... And your new chair in the center." Vance stepped aside, he has a feeling Firmia would want to walk herself around, a bit.

"This is rather impressive," Hannah mentioned as an aside. She could easily see herself helping navigation from one of those chairs.

"It is," Firmia concurred, making her way toward the captain's chair. She took an elongated route, passing by one of the auxiliary consoles along the way. She wondered if she was ready for something like this. Could she command a ship of her own in combat? For all the crap she gave Jessica, the woman had actual training and wouldn't make an amateur mistake while under fire. There was no matching her gunnery skills, either, so the Megalodon II's missiles would be a crucial armament.

Arriving at the captain's chair, Firmia gently sat herself down. She didn't know why she was expecting it to be anything but comfortable. It wasn't quite on par with the Edict's flight seat, the one she was most accustomed to, but there was no need to replace it anytime soon. This would definitely work. "Erm ... just give me one minute, please?" Firmia said, settling in and mentally filling the bridge with crewmen ready to play their parts. She wanted to access the console, but restrained herself. She'd get stuck in there for hours if she tried it now. There would be plenty of time, later.

"Er, yeah... She gonna be...?"

"She's just excited. I know she's not jumping up and down, but she is, trust me. Her excitement tends to be quiet."

"Unless it's at the downfall of a country's government?"

"M-My apologies, on her behalf, for that outburst..."

Boom! Twelve missiles, more than enough to dispatch a lowly Cressida. A mischievous grin found Firmia's face as the enemy suit crumbled. There was a Hyperion a little ways past the wrecked Cressida, but Brant was dealing with that menace, keeping its attention on him while the next salvo was primed. "Fire," Firmia whispered, watching as the phantom salvo screamed passed the bridge and toward the enemy. "Hmhmhmhmhmmm~" The Hyperion fell, too, thanks to the combined efforts of the Regalia and Firmia's new ship. Such a wonderful feeling~

Wait, had it been one minute? Firmia's internal clock was warning her against getting too deep into her fantasy fight. It was probably time to stop, then. She could do more of this in her spare time. Commander Vance likely had places to be after this. "Ahem, sorry about that," Firmia smiled apologetically at Hannah and the Commander as she stood up from the captain's chair.

"You're gonna be quite the menace, aren't you?" Vance couldn't help a chuckle at the little display, wondering what exactly Firmia had thought of. "Since we're all the way up here, captain's quarters next. I'm sure you'll appreciate the space... It's a rather sad fact that it's bigger than your bridge. I guess the designers weren't thinking much about that." Taking them both out of the bridge with a hefty shrug, Vance led through down the hallway, past the on ramp, and to right before the hangar.

As he turned left, a long hallway lined with doors came into view. "These are your personnel quarters. Plenty of rooms for everyone on the ship," he began, leading them down it, "and this room here, is the captain's quarters. Now, I ain't gonna take away the first look, feel free to step inside and see for yourself." Hopefully Firmia enjoyed. Hannah was just hoping she'd sleep somewhere other than inside the Regalia...

This was it, her new room was waiting just past this door. Firmia's old room back at the Alkaev company's main facility had been somewhat large, but back then, a room was simply a room to her. After having spent every day sleeping in the cockpit of a mobile suit, feeling too vulnerable to rest anywhere else, Firmia's perspective on them had changed forever. Given how long term her plans were, this room would be her resting place for years to come. Regardless of how it would eventually look, these quarters were the heart of her new home.

Stepping inside, Firmia was dumbfounded by the size of the place. If she put up enough partitions and dropped Brant in here, he'd assume it was a house. What immediately caught her attention was the bed. She couldn't even react before she saw herself, wearing a tank top and shorts, running over and diving into it after a good day's warring. Firmia was tempted to at least have a seat ... but oh if she got too comfortable right now, Hannah might have to come pick her up. She might fall victim to a mattress chosen for this setup, too. Come to think of it, Hannah and Firmia had stayed in the Regalia last night. Hannah could probably make due with her own quarters, but truthfully, this place was too big for just one person. This queen had learned the value of optimal spacing.

Approaching the bed, Firmia took in more of the furnishings of the captain's quarters, and spotted a massive television. The Alkaev's analytical mind had some alternative uses for a monitor that size, but she was fine using it to keep up with world events and on occasions where it was warranted, watch something entertaining, though what entertained her would likely bore most people her age.

"The Queen's domain. Heheh ... I had no idea it would be this big, even though I saw the captain's quarters on the Heion Riese just last night." Taking something of a risk, Firmia sat down on the edge of the bed. Making a running jump, she probably wouldn't have gotten much farther. It was huge, and more importantly, quite comfortable. If she hadn't been physically well rested, the tour might have fizzled out right here. "No wonder she's so easily distracted. I'm going to need your help to stay focused, Hannah," Firmia said, smiling down at the floor.

"As an aside, the attached washroom is fully equipped and even has a jacuzzi... Why does it have a jacuzzi, again...?" Vance seemed to have forgotten that part in the leisure setup, but he wasn't about to think on it hard, he didn't build the thing. "You are waterproof, right, Hannah?"

"Entirely, though I sink like a rock."

"Right. Avoid the deep end later."

"I will make sure to do so... And I'm not sure, Firmia." Hannah went on over and flopped down onto her face, sighing into the mattress. "Even my sensors can tell how devilishly comfortable this bed is. And it's huge... You could hold a part on this by itself. How does Jessica get any work done?"

"Hahahah! If you're going to run a ship, you need proper sleep. I guess the manufacturer took that to heart too well... One last stop on the trip, but if you'd rather end it here, I can leave."

Vance's aside ... was one hell of an aside. There was a jacuzzi set up in the bathroom? Did Jessica's room have one, too. Definitely. There had to be. In fact, Jessica probably invited Brant to the hot tub in the pool area because she thought it too forward to take him into her room so soon. Somewhat telling in hindsight, but it made sense. Firmia felt more and more like she was stepping directly into Jessica's world. There were obviously many perks that came with it, but also some major pitfalls she would have to avoid. She'd be putting her own advice into action or eating crow later on. The security of the ship, the well being of the crew, and the maximizing of efficiency and creative potential were all her responsibility, now.

Hannah flopped down on the bed and that was when Firmia knew this would all be easier said than done. She supposed as long as she had her tablet, she could multitask if she started falling behind on things. It wasn't even truly a tablet any longer. A portable command station was a more apt description, especially once it was linked up to the Megalodon's systems. "We get attacked or run into Apotheosis so often, she probably can't line things up, properly. That's my guess," was Firmia's take on the miracle that had been a reasonably productive Captain Gefalscht.

Vance put in on the subject, too, pointing out just how important sleep was for commanding these vessels. Firmia agreed, despite her reliance on stimulants these past couple of days. She could definitely put a stop to that now. That overwhelming sense of vulnerability had been suppressed, and now was fading away on its own. She wasn't sure how she would feel once the ship was taking on old and new faces alike, but if nothing else, she had this luxurious sanctuary, and Hannah to toss anyone that tried to get in here without permission.

Firmia snapped out of her fresh daydream when Vance asked if they wanted to end the tour here for now. It was certainly tempting, but she wanted to see the hangar and get his, admittedly amusing, commentary with it. "We're coming straight back here once everything else is taken care of, today," she told Hannah.

"Mmmmnn, no later, right now~" Hannah sat up a bit and wrapped an arm around Firmia, pulling her down onto the deathbed. Vance snorted, shaking his head.

"I'll give y'all a minute. Be outside." With a shake of his head and a small laugh, he stepped out as he said he would, the door shutting behind him.

"Mmm... Sorry. It was too tempting. This is a dangerous bed... And if you're alright with it, I would love to share the room with you."

"Hrg-" Firmia flailed uselessly as she was brought down. "Of course we're sharing this room. It's too big for just me and it's the one place besides those three cockpits where I can unwind. It goes without saying that you should stay here, too."

Well, at least they were on the same page ...

"... Heh. It makes me really happy that it wasn't even a second thought for you. Thank you, Firmia." Without hesitation, Hannah leaned up and planted a kiss on her forehead, smiling wide. "I love you."

Slowly sitting up after her little moment, Hannah stretched, sighing. "Alright. Let us see your new hangar. Then we can have a good day out, and come back here to relax. It sounds like a lot of fun."

Firmia was glad that Hannah was so grateful, but her response was almost overwhelming, leaving the comfort addled Alkaev staring off into the ether. It was so strange to have this kind of affection aimed at her, even now. Why did things like this feel so foreign to her? Had she really never experienced any of this growing up? Admittedly, Firmia couldn't recall anything like this. Her childhood felt as though it were nipping at her heels, exacting a quiet toll on her relationships. She really should be better at this sort of thing.

"This is going to take some getting used to, but you're welcome, Hannah. I erm ... well ... you know." Hopefully her actions spoke louder than her words. Either way, it was time to go and see the hangar. Then, after what might admittedly be a lousy day if Brant was any indication, they could return to the ship and relax ... and maybe give it a proper name. The Megalodon II Class Destroyer wasn't how Firmia planned on referring to her ship after today. "A-also remind me to come up with a name sometime today. If I can think of something before we get back then it won't be distracting me later." Other things might, but not having a name for the ship she was on ... that in particular would drive Firmia up the wall, eventually.

"I know." Hannah got up with a knowing smirk, heading over to the door. "And I will. I've got an idea or two for a name, myself."

 Vance was waiting right behind it when it opened, glancing back at Hannah inquisitively. "My apologies, commander. You may show is the hangar now."

"You sure? You two don't need twenty, maybe thirty more minutes?"

"Maybe later. Without anyone in earshot..."

Vance guffawed, shaking his head. "Aren't you bold! Alright, come on. You're impressed now, the hangar's the best part." Vance headed off, waving to be followed.

Firmia blushed at Hannah's comment, having almost immediately forgotten about her mention of potential names. She couldn't think of anything to say, herself, so she followed after Vance, wondering just what the Megalodon's II's hangar would be like. If it was the best part, as he'd put it, then this ought to be interesting. Of course without an enormous and extremely comfortable bed to lie in, or a captain's chair, the hangar had some fierce competition. It would definitely be interesting.

Hannah kept watch on Firmia with a doting smile, while Vance whistled his way down the hall, stopping at the end of it... The wall in front of them was almost unassuming, but there was a slit down the middle. Without a panel to the right, one might confuse it for a seam in construction. Vance knew better, putting in his authorization, the hangar doors opening... And was it ever a hangar.

It wasn't the Riese's, it would never store anything beyond an Alkaev size machine, but with how long it was, and how much of the ship it seems to make up, it would be storing plenty of those. Firmia's requested construction stations were already installed in the proper spaces, they'd even thrown in an automated repair station for quick fixes. "Figure you could fit about eight Regalias in here, standing shoulder to shoulder... That enough space for you?"

Enough space for eight Regalias ... That was two times the amount Firmia had been expecting during yesterday's meeting. Getting her hands on that many suits, or building them, wasn't likely to happen anytime soon, however, for every mobile suit she could fit into the Megalodon II's hangar space, she could comfortably fit six drones with suspending racks. Perhaps twelve if the docks could handle a second rack of drones being squeezed in. Building that many drones wasn't happening overnight, either, but the potential was all here, and that potential was amazing. That said nothing of the mobile suit containers she'd asked for, which just as well could be repurposed if needed. Firmia could see storing other things inside them or using them as deployable forward outposts. She had more space than she could possibly use at this stage of the war, and it was a good feeling. This ship would make a fantastic mobile HQ.

Firmia beamed as she looked up at Vance. "This is space aplenty, Commander~ For this size, our carrying capacity is enormous. I could probably run two separate combat operations from here if the fights were small enough. That's exactly what we need. The fact that we aren't a huge target also helps." They probably wouldn't be getting around unnoticed in atmosphere, but they wouldn't give off the sort of overwhelmingly threatening presence that the Heion Riese did. There was a subtlety about this vessel that Firmia somewhat preferred. It was a comparatively small ship with a fair armament for its class ... but poke it too hard and the units on board would deploy in mass. Now they just had to tailor this power and potential toward besting Apotheosis.

"I'm pleased that you're pleased. Now, take all this information and hustle, we've gotta get these ships cleared for repairs and all the like. Go have a good day with your friend here, make something of this. With the way things are shaping up... It's probably gonna be the last time we all get to relax." A bit grim, but the war was escalating all around. Things could be coming to a head eventually... When was unclear, but it was definitely soon.

"That's a good point," Firmia admitted. "We'll try to make the most of today. Thank you, Commander ... oh!" She suddenly had a great idea. Hannah would probably get it. "And as a final note ... this is an absolutely wonderful ship," she smiled, giving Vance two thumbs up. "100% Alkaev approved."

"I'm still wondering about names," Firmia sighed, looking at a digital render of the ship on her tablet, "For the Megalodon, I mean. I have some candidates, but you said you had some ideas, right?" Firmia definitely wanted to hear them. They might help improve her own little list of candidates if nothing else.


"I don't know about you, but I kind of want to-" Tonya stopped short as Elaine greeted them. "Oh, hey."

Brant loosed something between a short laugh and a sigh when he heard Elaine's apology. "Don't worry about it. Happens all the time; I'm used to it," he joked. It wasn't so much a joke as a means of making light of a festering wound. It beat letting his mood slip any further into the muck.

"Got it in one," Tonya nodded, accepting the handshake, "and ... don't mind him. He's sore from training, yesterday." She hoped the painkillers had already kicked in for him. Hers had, but she wasn't back to 100%, either. Still, they should be able to handle a little R&R without too much trouble. Probably. Brant was a little down but he was still functional. "Anyway, looking to join up, again?" she teased.

Edited by Phoenix

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"Yes, nose bleed... it was... unfortunate, but there wasn't much... we could do. Avery was assigned to... work on it in secret, and she doesn't have much... experience working with T-links. It was just supposed to be a calibration, but..." Kim paused for a moment... was it worth bringing the odd phenomenon up? As long as she made it clear it wasn't a usable method, the Lieutenant supposed it was fine.

"It was... the most intense feeling I had ever... experienced. I didn't bring it up before because... it didn't seem prudent at the time, but... I was able to hear thoughts, Captain. Not just emotions, but... actual coherent thoughts. It took all of my... willpower to keep myself... awake during it, but it was... surreal. Christina... said she also could hear what... I was thinking, when she... plugged herself in to test it." Kim admitted... she wondered what the Captain would think of something like that... based on her feelings on the matter, despite the concern, there seemed to be a bit of awe in there as well.

"Of course... the machine is... not operable with the T-link at that level. Even if I could... focus on piloting with that level of output, a single solid hit to the Artemis would likely introduce... beyond lethal levels of mental feedback." Kim concluded with a bit of a sigh... it wasn't operable, at least not yet. Those aliens had been piloting their machines despite being capable of full blown telepathy... and clearly feedback wasn't an issue, else Kim's full out assault would have taken that alien straight out of the fight. Was it their technology, or just their higher mastery of telekinetic abilities? The Artemis clearly had the potential to reach that level... was it simply her own lack of ability that locked out that same option for her? Seung-Min grimaced a bit as she thought, but it was quickly over-written when the Captain asked of Christina.

"She is... doing relatively well. She's managed... to come out of her shell... she feels responsible for Chris though... I worry that it might be taxing for her, but... it also seems to be motivating her reasonably well."

 

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"I might be, if you're willing." Elaine accepted the teasing, then looked back towards Brant with a raised eyebrow. "Training, though? Just the heck did he go through?" He looked about ready to fall over, according to her own observations. The poor sap. She couldn't really tell if Brant was suffering from physical or emotional pain, though. That response to her apology made her feel even more guilty, if that was what he was used to. Time to make it up, then. "But no, seriously, what kind of training did you do yesterday? Pretty sure the Academy left me like this for the first few weeks, but...Damn. You sure you're gonna be alright?"

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Aliza walked along the sandy beach in a thin light purple zipped up sweatshirt, the bottom of a two piece set that was dark red, and flip flops. She had her shades on, a music player in her pocket and her bag with her notebook tucked inside. Yes. She was ready...to be pestered by someone. She didn't have her funky tunes on so the girl's cries were very much noticed. She turned to answer the girl's question with a bit of a silent yes. Using the very dark pair of sunglasses as cover whilst she analyzed the young miss. Oooh very nice. Petite but spunky. Always a fun type, preliminary score based on that alone was a 6/10 but she had potential to rise. There isn't really a time to write that down right now but she took a mental note with a small smile.

"Heh heh. Aren't you a cute entrepreneur." She finally found her chance to speak as the sales pitch ended and returned the energy with her own bright smile. "Well I did forget my bottled water at my quarters so sure, I'll take two. While you're grabbing those mind if I see some of the ice cream you have lined up? I'm a big fan of rocky road but I got other flavors in mind too."

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Astin waved away Avery's concerns. "I'm sure we'll be fine. We're just having fun here, right? It'll all work out in the end I'm sure. So maybe I can't jump as high as some people, I'll make up for it in other ways." Though if Brant and Tonya were going to be joining them... They would have to split the Russians up, that was for sure. Otherwise it would be unfair. Lost in thought on the best way to make teams, Astin barely noticed what Chrissy was talking about, mostly just nodding until Avery asked them a question. "Huh, wha, err, yeah totally. We've got it." Hopefully that was a valid answer to whatever they had just been asked and also hopefully they hadn't agreed to something ridiculous....

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