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

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So Nina had realised that it was him? It was an unfortunate part of battle, but both of them had survived. Previously he hadn't even considered the fate of the pilots he'd shot down. It wasn't that he'd gone out of the way to ensure their deaths, but it never really bothered him what happened afterwards. The only exception had been Carlos, he was an enemy that Tarquin had a personal investment in seeing again. Nina was an interesting case, it was only in retrospect that he had some qualms about opening fire at her. What was more confusing was how she'd identified a similiarity between themselves, something that required some degree of independent thought.

"I'm glad I didn't either, it's nice to meet someone similar to me. When I was made, I did everything I was ordered to, without questioning anything. It didn't matter whether I thought it was right or wrong, I just did it." Tarquin replied, recalling his last visit to Corona Ten - it wasn't one of his finest moments. "But it wasn't a good way to exist. I didn't get to go to school or have friends, I was always by myself. The only thing that made me happy was reading and being told that I had done well."

Why was he telling her all of this? Some sort of emotional floodgate had opened up, would she even understand what he was talking about? It wasn't fair to unload everything onto someone who had no exposure of the real world.

"What I wanted to say is that life is better when you make your own choices." Tarquin added, returning to the point he was trying to make. "I've had to learn quickly, and I've made a lot of mistakes... but I'm making friends and speaking for myself. Maybe one day I can be a grown-up and do whatever I like. The cafeteria isn't far, it took me some time to learn the ship layout but it's logical. I can show you around later if you like."

-

Talia could barely look straight at Makoto, her head still hanging in embarrassment. Had everyone seen that as well? She wished that the ground could swallow her up, or she'd wake up from this surreal dream. Fate wasn't going to allow her such a luxury, she would have to deal with what she'd done. Thankfully Makoto had led the conversation back on track, perhaps it would be easier if they both just pretended nothing had happened? That would definitely save her nerves some stress.

"You need to be careful, Makoto. The Phalanx isn't that strong, maybe you could swap to one of the more powerful models?" Talia suggested, looking around the hangar. There had to be some spares that the pilots weren't using, most of them had upgraded to what she could only call super robots. "Oh? The infirmary... I can come, if that's OK with you."

Edited by Shin

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Whoa, whoa, he'd said 'if he resisted' or something right? Monty was a little taken aback as the android swiftly went into motion, but ultimately it made little difference. He still had his job to do. If doing so wouldn't have impaired the operation, he'd have shrugged. Instead, he just finished extracting another shard of glass, then began working on the next.


Jess threw another disbelieving look, a landshark, really? But her curiousity was too piqued at this point. Plus, it was always nice to watch someone eat something you'd cooked for them, so she had another small incentive to tag along. "Okaaay, maybe you are sober, but you can't blame me, coming in here with that story." Pressing a thumb against the steak, gauging how done it was by the firmness it opposed her touch with. Excellent, a perfect medium, and well seared and seasoned. Somebody will be happy for sure. "Well, let's get these on a plate and go have a look, shall we?"

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Slip

"On the contrary," Kazue began, not wanting Kim to tear down her work so quickly, "were we to combat each other in machines, I feel you could certainly come out on top. I have an appreciation for melee combat, and mobile suits that are, faster on their feet help me considerably... But, I... It's, a b-bit of a shame to say, my scores with ranged combat are... I have not passed a single, exam, for ranged weaponry. On foot, o-or in machine..." She smiled wryly, Tristan a bit shocked.

"Then... Wait, they still let you..."

"My scores at melee combat were far beyond expectations, and I could handle any machine presented to me. I am... Still a sergeant, because I have not been able to pass my range tests. It is a bit shameful to say... But everyone is good at different things, lieutenant. Do not be disappointed that you can do so much so well." Hopefully that would help her. If she were to seriously focus on any one subject, Kazue was sure she would destroy it.

"Well I'll be..." Tristan was shocked that the ANF had let someone through that couldn't handle a gun. But, her skills with melee weaponry were nothing to scoff at. Imagining if she had something better to work with than a repurposed Cressida model... It was like they had their own Vera, minus the augments. If Kazue and Astin were ever to team up, nothing would be able to touch them. Frightening.

Someone Like Me

"Making your own decisions is a good thing... Okay. I will try to do that. Am I... I am allowed. You have all told me I am allowed..." It was apparently difficult to overwrite what had been drilled into her that quickly, but Nina was going to try. People wanted her to try... And even if that was still, in a sense, telling her what to do, it opened up into her own choices. What she did from here on out would matter a lot.

"Should we go, then?"

Believe This

"I know, who would? That's why I've offered you come up. The whole ship's going to need to meet her eventually, might as well get a few stray cases out of the way first."


2100 hours, Riese Meeting Room, August 5th, Galactic Century 0251

Jess sat at the head of the table, Roxanna to her right, Vance to her left... And to the left of him, both of their aliens. Cheryl was waving at Alriana from the back of the room, giving her a thumbs up. Hopefully nothing would go wrong there... This was Jess' first time seeing either up close, as well. The one that had attacked her was... More physically impressive, and it made sense that it had been sent to kill her. If she was as human as she'd likely been assumed to be, it would've been a resounding success. The other looked... Odd? Horns, multiple eyes, some sort of, robed getup... Had there even been another alien? She must have missed it in her panic, but, better now than never.

Now there was, the rest of the crew to address... Oh, there was... Wait, another Christina clone? Sure enough, there was a third blonde head of hair between Christina and Chris, though she looked... Like she wasn't even there. Apotheosis' work was progressing a lot faster than she'd expected. Well... Either way, it was time for her immediate crew. She'd sent a notice to the rest a few hours before this... A good twenty percent had applied for transfers, everything happening with the Riese was too much for them. Then again, only that many leaving, it was rather impressive.

So finally she sighed, smiling somewhat, and waving at everyone. "Hi. So. As all of you know, now... I'm an android. These are... These are aliens. If you have any questions, please, voice them now. Or later, I'll take whatever needs said in private. Just... The floor is yours, for whatever needs said. Commander Vance has something to address after, but there's no rush."

"None at all, Captain. And, er... If our new friends want to speak to the rest of the crew, by all means." Vance was staring at the aliens more than he'd wanted to, it was just so... So much to try and handle.

Christina and Chris were more focused on Nina, but they were still rather shocked by the visitors from other planets. It was the next step to this real life sci-fi they were living in...

Hannah was mentally taking notes, Firmia would want to hear all of this, as she'd been too busy to attend.

And Kazue... Well, she was just trying to stay in her corner, and hoped no one would say anything to her.

Not Up To The Task

 

"Helena. Respond. We need to talk, now." Trel'vaar was hailing Helena in her office, this mess with the Riese today and their lack of coordination, and the failure of that Stygusian... What a waste of a race, they couldn't even take out one girl. But that wasn't just one girl, was she? She was an android, that was the last thing they'd managed to pick up before Jessica's connection was severed. And they hadn't been informed? Much as Alriana had failed them, the fault wasn't entirely on her. Some of it was on him... And he couldn't tolerate that. Not for one second. Helena couldn't be in command anymore... The Sacarians were taking over.

Of course. Of course the Sacarians would bother to contact on their own terms, never Helena's. "...Trel'vaar." She turned to address the alien, suppressing the world's longest eyeroll before she turned to meet him face-to-face. "You should know better that this wasn't a good way to plan an infiltration. Without notifying us. If it wasn't for quick decision on my troop's end, your backup could have suffered more fire. Not that they managed to lay a dent on Alphonse, anyways." That old dog still had tricks he hadn't shown...

"I'm still waiting on the Australian front, but our reports are far more positive over there. Now..." She leaned on her desk, "Have you come here to make amends and improve communications between us, or what?" Her patience was shortened, especially after today's events. She didn't need any of it. The assault on ANF's HQ was a failure, and took many allies she relied on, but they still had other venues...

"Be quiet, you useless woman," he boomed, his mind invading Helena's to shut her up. "How dare you speak to me as if this was my fault? Improve communications indeed, because of you we sent the wrong assailant for the target. An android, is she? And you didn't think to advise us?" His scowl tightened into a glare, the pounding in Helena's mind likely getting worse.

"You are hereby relieved from your duties as acting leader of this rabble of terrorists... I will be taking over from today forth, and anyone that has issues can dive into the sea. Useless..." He left communications open for the moment, willing to let Helena reply with whatever she dared. He was taking command either way, it was time for the Sacarians to do what the humans could not. Win.

First that telekinetic oppression. Great. Helena closed her eyes as the assault on her mind started, retreating a bit. This was not the time for Trel'vaar to start acting fed up. Ugh. "...If we'd known of an assassination attempt, we would have. She was our feed to the Riese, but now that she knows she is an android, she actually bothered to check her systems. We've lost one of our eyes on the Riese." She wasn't going to relent that there was some fault in the way the Sacarians were handling this alliance. Proud as he was, they'd just lost big time.

But no, the Sacarian thought even higher of himself instead. Absurdly so. "What do you mean, 'relieved of my duties?', Apotheosis relies on me for everything. It's impossible to make a decision like that on your own!" Madness. After all the hell she went through for this alliance. What did the Sacarians thinks they're doing. "We're not losing the war simply because they pushed us off of HQ! Their government is crumbling!"

Surely, the Sacarians were more rational than that...

"I told you to be quiet!" He pressed further, the throbbing becoming like a migraine for the poor leader. "We gave you what you needed to make this a reality, you would not be here were it not for us, and today's plans resulting in failure is because of your lack of communication with us. Either stand down, or I will kill you myself. Do not think us powerless. You have done well so far, but your results are lacking, and you continue to lose to this single ship! We will tear it apart, and then you may have your victory! Fool." His transmission cut, Helena's words were worthless to him now.

"Gh..." Of course it was as one sided as it could have been. This race barely acted the part of a type-3 civilization... or maybe that was their own great filter. It was depressing to think of them as a frame of reference for future humans. Give me a break... "Good luck with taking that ship down, then... urgh." She mumbled out of spite as the comm cut the concersation short, crumbling and holding onto the desk for support. "Damn it..." Helena had been set up, absolutely. Did somebody else incite the Sacarians to act like this? The assassination attempt was already irregular, but with Carlos' report from hus previous Riese encounter... "God damn it... why are they preparing for war? Was it Swart?" She grit her teeth.

Helena would need some painkillers for now.

What do Your Snake Eyes See

 

It had only taken a moment to convince the ANF engineers to let Galatea interface with the corpse of the Regina. They were wary for a moment, of course, but the Avalon had been as big a part of the battle as anyone else, so they quickly dispelled any worries on what could go wrong. If Vance or anyone else was upset at them, he could take it up with Firmia... Besides, all the android had asked for was data, and one arm. It wasn't like she was trying to haul the whole body off. And if she tried to steal data instead of copy it, well, they'd be able to tell. Problems would start there.

Hannah had settled the Mantle down, initiating a connection between it and the Regina, what was left of it... That hole in the cockpit area was splattered with blood. Much as Hannah was deadly curious, she wasn't in the mood to inspect a dead body. Especially with what had done the deed... If anything of her was left, it wouldn't be pretty. "Galatea, are you alright with trying to gather some information?"

"Sure... Just, anything?"

"Whatever we can decrypt... And please, retreat, if a virus springs up. I don't want you messing with something like the Alkaev's protection again."

"Hah. Worry not, Hannah, my dear sister~ I've developed a rather nasty counter-hack for anything I run into. You just wait and see~" Galatea phased herself out of the Mantle and began her trek through the Regina, humming slowly fading into silence as she melded fully with the Apotheosis machine.

"Alright... Time to wait, I suppose... Firmia," Hannah radioed over, "I've begun extraction of data from the Regina. Once I'm done, I'm bringing back one of its arms... Is that fine?"

"An arm?" Firmia was pleasantly surprised if her voice was anything to go by, "That's more than fine. I was expecting a tail segment or an armor plate, but one of the arms is much better."

Firmia glanced at the entrance to the infirmary for a brief second. "I haven't gone back in to check on Carlos yet. It's probably better if Monty finishes with his injuries before I talk to him again. So if there's anything important in the data you can share with me as it comes in, go ahead and tell me."

"Uh... Well, I sent Galatea in. She said she was protected, this time... I don't know how long it's going to take her to send anything back to-- me..." Hannah skipped a beat as Galatea already sent back a file... One that... "Th-That's... They're, in the Arctic?" It wasn't exactly surprising that the Regina, one of Apotheosis' main machines, would contain data pertaining to the location of their base, but... The arctic? All the way above Canada? And they were fighting down here, in Nevada? What foolish distances can their teleporters cover? This is ridiculous, unless they have forward bases...

"Apotheosis' main base is located in the Arctic... No specific location yet, but... I, suppose that's important data."

"The Arctic?!" Firmia wasn't sure why she expected someplace less ... remote. Apotheosis seemed to be everywhere at once, so pinning down their main base was difficult. Nowhere in particular made complete logical sense, being either too easy to find and strike at or too out of the way ... and the Arctic was very, very out of the way. "Well at least now we know what part of the world we're heading to next. The AMS units are already optimized for extreme weather, so only the ship may need looking over ..."

"Right... Still, this is good news. A good direction to work in... If their base is emitting any sort of frequencies, it would be rather simple to triangulate a position if we were nearby... The arctic is vast, though. Perhaps Galatea can find more, or maybe the ANF, once they're thoroughly analyzed the data. And... Oh, she's already done with something else. Personnel data on Louise. Age... Twenty six, specialties, sch... Th-This machine has schematics for her... Uhm... A-Aparatus." That was all Hannah could call this, mechanical monstrosity she was laying her eyes on. Was this connected to Louise? A massive tail... It almost looked like her robot. "How far gone was she...?"

Hannah forwarded the data either way, sighing. "I can't imagine how much of her was still human, if she was attached to something like this. I just... It reminds me of Vera. Ugh, I know I'm not human, but, mutilating your body like this, for these sorts of things..." Hannah couldn't understand it.

... had killing Louise been a kindness as well, or just justice by itself? Firmia wasn't really sure, but thinking on these cybernetics, and how far Apotheosis was willing to go, it certainly felt like a mercy killing of sorts. She supposed if they were willing to do things like this to themselves, then treating their underlings like expendable pawns was a matter of course. "These maniacs have no business running the world. They'll ruin it faster than any country that's in power right now ..."

"Hey, Captain." Tonya's voice came in over an open channel ... open to the Avalon group, at least, "Galahad here. I just got the Rhea inside. Heading down the elevator, now."

"W-wait, it's not powered, is it? If it self destructs in here, even with its barrier up, it could-" "Whoa whoa relax, the generator's sound asleep, and she's barely holding together as it is. If you want this thing to explode, you're going to have to bring your own. Anyway, did you want me to head back out and have a look around or am I done?"

"Did the Regalia come in too?"

"No, I handled this on my own. Brant seemed ... kind of busy."

"Mrgh ..."

"The ANF and EU aren't exactly doing things entirely properly, but..." There was no place for Maniacs like this running the country, letting people do these sorts of things to themselves for... For reasons beyond Hannah's reasoning... On second glance at the schematics, there appeared to be space for someone's legs... Maybe Louise hadn't chopped her limbs off. But worrying beyond that was the part that connected to her spine to give her control over it... So she certainly was mangled in some distraught form or another.

Galatea popped back in a moment later, shrugging. "No virus that could stop me, but there's things in here encrypted harder than Dima's storage... Things I can't open up on my own. We'll have to attack it with the four of us if we're to find out the dealings, so I've brought it along with me, but that's all I find at first glance. And a schematic of the Regina itself, of course."

"You-- Firmia! Galatea found plans for the entire machine! Sending your way!"

"The whole thing?!" The Regalia may have still been on the Riese but THIS was good news of the highest order!

"Sounds like Hannah one upped me just now," Tonya noted in amusement, "What's going on, exactly?"

"With these schematics and the raw materials we can incorporate so much of that monster into our own units," Firmia explained, partly to Tonya and partly to herself. "Plus we already have the arm so we have something functional to test with, too."

"... what are you going to do, attach it to the ship and smack people with it?"

"And... There were several encrypted files that Galatea was unable to pry open herself. She's made copies of everything, and... I'll collect the arm and head back. Good work, sis!" Hannah was all smiles, surprised this had worked out so well.

"It was nothing~ Really, Apotheosis security was no match for robo-Galat... N-Never mind."

"... Robo-Galatea?"

"I said never mind!"

"Naturally ..." Firmia mused aloud, but it was fine. They had an intact arm from the Regina, the machine's files, the general location of Apotheosis' HQ, the Rhea, and Carlos. Things were certainly looking up. "The sooner we decrypt those files the better, so yes, get back here with everything you've got. We'll get started after I talk with Carlos. Hopefully I can get him to tell us the exact location of that base." And hopefully before the ANF started thinking along the same lines, and asked her to hand him over to them.

"So am I heading back out?" Tonya asked, "I'm still just about topped off on fuel, so that's not an issue."

"I do want someone out there in case something comes up, so go ahead, Tonya."

"Right. Back on the launch lift I go ... and back on my tunes go~" Tonya's transmission cut about half a second after some song started blaring in the cockpit. Firmia didn't recognize it and simply flinched at the sudden noise. At least it wasn't literal noise, like some genres these days.

"Anyway, great job, Hannah. Galatea. I wasn't feeling too great because of ... well ... something else, but this is amazing. We're going to make huge strides soon thanks to you two."

"You're welcome, Firmia. I'll stay once I get back, I know you were worried about the Mantle's repairs." And me... But no need to fluster you, right now. Unhooking the machine from the Regina and waving to the crew on the ground, Hannah gently took off and pulled out the Mantle's beam saber. The armor on the Regina was hefty, even on the joints... It was a good thing most of them had ignored close combat, they would've failed spectacularly. Astin's swords had done well, but they seemed to be specialized for that.

A few moments of cutting later, and the Regina's arm was detached. The Mantle issued Hannah a weight warning as she tried to take off with the arm, but she continued on anyway. The trip wasn't going to be a long one... Barely a minute, touching down onto the Avalon's launch platform, and heading inside with the monstrous appendage. It was nearly the size of the Mantle's cockpit, clawed, bulky, almost alien in design... Almost. It was clear the material wasn't one found on earth, but the design was certainly earthling inspired. The aliens hadn't participated too heavily in this one.

"I'm back... Just going to park the Mantle in its dock and set this down in front of it, for now." Doing so, she let out a sigh of relief. The Mantle had been blaring a warning the entire time, and finally stopped.

"I'll meet you out there then, Hannah~" Galatea disappeared, likely to head back into her newly created body. Hannah nodded and stepped herself out of the Mantle, falling from the cockpit to the hangar floor with a full thud. There was something weirdly exhilarating about the jump, much as it scared some of the mechanics.

"Where are you right now, Firmia?" Hannah radioed in. "I'm back with the part. Saw Tonya take off... Was there something else I could've retrieved?"

"I'm still in the hall just outside the infirmary," Firmia replied, though she was starting off toward the hangar, now. "There isn't anything specific. I suppose bringing back another sample from the Chaldene would have been a good idea, but I do want the Mantle to get repaired as soon as possible. We've actually got more than I was expecting ..."

"Oh... Alright. I'll wait here, then... I hope this is worthwhile for you, beyond just parts."

"It's definitely worthwhile," Firmia smiled as she neared the hangar's rear entrance, "Just about everything is going smoothly here. No casualties, no major damage, and everyone's doing their part~" A big part of that was owed to the Riese and the ANF garrison, of course. Having to fight such a force alone would have spelled disaster for the Avalon. Still, the blessings of sound tactics were numerous, and the fruits of war were sweet~

Firmia entered the MS hangar and made her way over to the Mantle from the ground floor. Neither the Mantle, Hannah, nor the Regina's severed arm were difficult to locate. "Hey!"

"That's good to hear... Hey~" Hannah wasted no time in heading towards Firmia, collecting the girl in her arms quickly, and pulling her into a hug... One that ended up pulling Firmia off of the floor, into a little bit of a spin, held carefully up against the Android. "It's nice to see you so happy~ And I'm fine, before you ask... The Mantle can take more of a beating than you think it can, silly." Hannah really didn't want to let her down so quickly, but... Well, Firmia would ask her to, if she didn't. Letting the little Alkaev down, Hannah smiled wide. "I suppose you want to inspect what was brought in, then?" Hannah could change out of her pilot suit later, she was going to enjoy her time talking to Firmia for now.

"Hrg-!" The Alkaev hadn't been expecting to be hugged and hoisted, but hindsight was twenty-twenty, and it made sense. Things were going beautifully, and Hannah wasn't one to let a good opportunity like that get past her. Firmia didn't really have time to protest in the end, being let down in the time she could have slapped together a coherent response. And Hannah had quickly moved on, more or less inviting the Alkaev to have a look at their big haul. A clean getaway for the sneaky android.

"Oh r-right," Firmia stammered, "The Regina's arm. Let's have a look ..."

Hannah could only smile, stealing Firmia's hand into her own. "If that's how much you freeze up at simply being hugged, even in such a fashion, I can't imagine how you're going to react to a coherent kiss. You're far too cute, Firmia..." The arm, the arm, Hannah could indulge later~ It had been set down rather unceremoniously in front of the Mantle, Hannah unsure what else to say other than a weak gesture towards it. "And there's your first trophy, I suppose... I'm not sure what to make of it other than... It's a powerful appendage from a powerful machine."

"I c-can't imagine, either ..." Firmia barely managed in response. Hannah was so upbeat when it came to Firmia herself that the Alkaev felt incredibly self conscious. That and her exchange with Brant earlier had also come to mind, again. She really didn't want to wind up hurting Hannah over something she couldn't change, but even now she was too caught up in what was going on to give the matter the attention it needed. Nothing would likely come of it today, so Firmia decided not to worry about it, right now. Right now they should all be happy, or at least grateful to have survived.

The salvaged arm was indeed powerful, but hadn't seen much use ... likely part of the reason everyone from both crews had gotten out alive. What to do with it, though ...? "Tonya's idea of attaching it to the ship is so crazy, but I can't get the idea out of my head, now," Firmia admitted, unable to chase away the ridiculous refit, "What we should really be doing with it is reverse engineering as much as we can from it and testing its functionality against anything we build ... anything with joints, at least."

... Firmia also supposed they could treat it like an actual trophy, and place it higher up in the hangar somewhere, kind of like an item on display. Rude, silly, comical, but Apotheosis deserved all three.

"The armor plating is stronger than anything we have on hand. It took me a good minute to slice through with the Mantle's beam saber, and I know that isn't the strongest output, but considering it cuts through titanium like butter with a well aimed strike... Whatever this alloy is, it's beyond what Apotheosis has been putting out so far. If you put it onto the Mantle, I could fight more confidently in close combat without worrying you so much... Wouldn't want your precious Hannah model getting trashed." She was joking, admittedly, maybe not in a way Firmia would enjoy, but Hannah was enjoying herself right now.

"Other than that, I'm sure Sasha can find a use for the mechanics behind how it works."

"You love birds enjoying yourselves?"

There was Galatea, in her mechanical wonder... A body that looked similar to her avatar, though in standard attire, jeans and a t-shirt, and... She'd need a fresh sheet of synthetic skin to pass off as a person. She looked like Hannah used to, though the hair was nice. "Honestly, give this girl an inch, and she'll drag you a mile. Can't you see how uncomfortable you're making her? Ugh~"

"Oh, don't be like that, Galatea... If it was bothering her, she'd tell me. Right, Firmia?"

Armoring up the Mantle's vital areas with the Regina's special alloy seemed like a good idea. As long as the material wasn't too heavy or could at least be compensated for. The Mantle already had the heaviest of all AMS loadouts, even with some of its weapons and equipment removed. Firmia highly doubted they would be able to figure out how to produce the alloy themselves before the war's end, but if someone started pulling the stuff out of their hat, it would be good to try and incorporate it into the drones, as well. Waiting until the ANF figured it out to try and get a steady supply wouldn't help her stay ahead ...

Being able to armor up Hannah would be nice too, but that was excessive, and the android's little joke reminded Firmia as much. That was when Galatea strolled up. She didn't look quite the same as her avatar, not with the usual android skin and casual outfit, but only a blind, deaf person wouldn't recognize her in this form. She didn't even waste any time poking and prodding the two of them. It was Galatea, alright.

"This is a big occasion," Firmia tried to sidestep the uncomfortable question with a forced, proud smile, "Only a disaster could bother me, right now." ... so not true, but that didn't mean Firmia wasn't in a fairly good mood, right now. She might have felt on top of the world if not for the Regalia's unexpected detour and the distinct lack of alcohol on hand. Thanks to the former, she had to consider what to do about the Regalia's copilot once it was time to strike at Apotheosis directly. Before that, the Avalon's captain had some concerns that needed to be addressed ...

"You don't have to lie," Galatea sighed, shaking her head. "If you think I can't tell your smile is forced, you're kidding yourself. Reading a human's face is easier than walking, you know?"

"O-Oh... My apologies then, Firmia. You should've just said something." Hannah smiled gently, letting Firmia's hand go, and taking half a step away to give her a bit of space. "Well, if the Mantle isn't going back out immediately, I should get changed out of this. Keep her company for a few minutes, would you, sis?" Hannah didn't give Firmia a moment to stop her, heading off to the changing rooms just outside.

"... You shouldn't lie to her," Galatea started, frowning slightly. "She's not going to break in half if you ask her for a bit of space. And if you can't tell her that much, are you going to be able to tell her to stop if she starts getting adventurous?" A bit of a squint in the Alkaev's direction, Galatea folded her arms and shrugged. "I'm sure you're doing what you think is best, but be, open. I shouldn't have to tell you that..."

"Maybe if someone," Firmia glared at Galatea as her arms settled on her hips, "didn't dig up private issues and throw them out in the open on a whim, I wouldn't have to."

Thinking fast on her feet was always hit or miss for Firmia, so she really hated having to do it. Maybe it would be better to be open and honest all of the time, but that invited other dangers, ones she wasn't prepared to deal with. Try explaining that to this sassy AI, though ...

"She's my sister, I'm going to care about her. You're going to have to deal with that... And caring about her, means caring about you. Give me a moment." Galatea froze, like a statue, resuming natural movements a moment later. "Right, I've turned off my sass-- did you know it comes with a toggle? It resets daily though, what kind of design is that? Hah. Anyway..."

Where to begin with this? She had a few minutes, Hannah might've been fast, but she still had to change... And depending on how human her mannerisms had progressed, she'd spend another minute or so checking her hair. Galatea strode on over to Firmia's side, arms still folded, staring down at the Alkaev. "What exactly are you two playing at, here? Last I read, you were straight. And not in the 'oh I just don't know yet', sort of way. Hannah might be a machine, but she's a female machine, at this point... And if her hugging you and getting close is ruining your comfort already, this is going to blow up in your face." And Firmia wanted to run a well oiled ship... This gear was going to break if left unchecked.

Firmia was grateful Galatea had decided to take this seriously, but she still wished the topic hadn't come up in the first place. Firmia knew better than most how badly things could turn out, but she felt she was already out of appealing options.

"I don't remember if you were there when Hannah came back from that mall, but it was bad." Firmia's hands fell to her sides as she thought back to the incident. Her gaze fell too, and with that, all of the frustration and anxiety had been briefly smothered by the sheer weight of what had happened. "I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't been there to help her ... but that's how all of this started. She realized that Brant wanted to win Jessica back too much to be with her and didn't know how to handle it. She even suggested getting rid of her memories ... and I couldn't let something like that happen."

"Oh dear." That was... Certainly a reaction. Well, Hannah was acclimating to these emotions and situations at an exponential rate, simply because of her ability to process things, and look into anything she needed for answers. It would make sense for her to be that upset, get over it, and move on to the next situation that quickly... Whether or not she could handle this one was another matter.

"And so you're playing at being her partner because you care about her and you don't want to have her destroy a part of herself to escape a pain... Am I caught up?"

Firmia supposed that was part of it. She nodded at Galatea. "For the most part. She shouldn't have to go through something like that again ..."

"Okay... You're an idiot." Galatea frowned, scowling weakly at Firmia. "You want the Avalon to run smoothly, and for everyone to play their part without issue... And yet, you set up the biggest time bomb right in front of you, and you're just... What are you even doing, playing it by ear? What are you going to do when she starts trying to kiss you regularly? In front of other people? More than just hugs and kisses?" Did she have a plan in mind at all?

"Have you even spoke to her about your comfort levels, or are you just going to grin and pretend to bear this?"

If not for the matter at hand, and how focused Firmia was on trying to find a solution she would be 'okay' with, she would have snapped at Galatea for calling her an idiot. She'd given the situation some thought, but time hadn't been on her side, lately. She only received the Avalon, and the innumerable responsibilities that came with it after stepping on the mine. Now she had to keep her foot down while she helped the ANF in the war in a much greater capacity. It was by no means easy, but Firmia wasn't going to let either situation go downhill if she could help it.

"Hmph, as far as what we can do, I haven't talked with her about that ... but I wouldn't know what to say, anyway. I don't know what my limits are ... I just decided that since I was involved in something over a thousand times more uncomfortable a year ago I could handle this ... for her sake. For now I just want to focus on Apotheosis. Once they're gone, I'll have time to figure everything out ..."

"Firmia, that's... No that's so dumb. Look, I'm sure the last thing you want is to be called a fool for these decisions, but you're going to hurt yourself, her, and anyone else around the two of you if this reaches a head before the war ends. I..." Galatea let her arms drop, a hand making its way to her face, resting against her cheek. There was some form of sincere worry, likely something she had been programmed for. 

"You need to sit down and speak with her, Firmia. Find a boundary and set it, get her opinion, let her know, that you aren't as on board as she believes you are. Hannah isn't about to fall apart because you want to reword your situation, or... Whatever you two decided to call this. You trust her, don't you? Because she trusts you." This was probably coming across as rather heavy handed...

"Look... I..." Galatea wasn't sure if she should try for any physical comfort, a hand almost touching Firmia's shoulder, but relenting before making it there. "I know how hard it is for you to do this. I've been through the files. I understand that your situation with Hannah is certainly more difficult for you to engage with than it is to engage, being a captain. But... You, you do care for her. I can tell that much, whenever she's hurt, or out there, piloting, the concern in your voice is real. So... You have to try. For her. And for yourself."

Firmia held herself back as Galatea criticized her yet again, her fingers curling into fists that could do little more than quiver at her sides. Even if smacking Galatea wouldn't hurt her own fingers, Firmia preferred not to escalate things. As long as Galatea would just get back to her points quickly ...

"Fine! I'll talk to her ... but I still don't know what to say. When I decided to do this, I didn't have boundaries in mind. I can handle anything, so this should be easy. Besides ..."

Firmia's fists unfolded as some of the tension and energy left her. She sighed, wondering why she was even considering telling Galatea this ... "It has to be me, doesn't it? If she was involved with someone else, then they could just take her with them if they ever left. At least with Brant it wouldn't have been as big of a danger ... but now that ship has taken off. I need her ... so the least I can do is be there for her if she needs me ... call me stupid, but it's better than something more one sided."

On second thought ... "Actually, don't call me stupid again," Firmia scowled, getting some of that energy back, "or any of the other things."

"Stupid," she immediately chided, "and calm your fists. You'll break something if you punch too hard. I'm still steel." It has to be her, though... "You really do love her, don't you? Just not in a romantic sense... But you can probably work with that. Much as I'm sure her forwardness hits an uncomfortable zone for you, you enjoy the attention, otherwise you'd have asked her to stop. You've no problem asking me to stop calling you stupid, after all~" A stretch, but that was mostly Galatea poking fun at her.

"Anyway... Thank you for listening, Firmia. And for your patience, and understanding. And for loving my sister... She acts mature, but she's incredibly young, still. Help her learn, and let her help you become... I won't say, a better person. But more of a whole one, if you can make sense of that."

Firmia gritted her teeth at the annoying echo. "I said stop!" Why did people not take her seriously? The only one worse than Galatea was Chris. Firmia tried to give some leeway since Galatea was essentially designed to annoy people for some reason, and did more than her fair share once it was time for work. Brant's new copilot didn't have an excuse, at least not one Firmia had heard.

Talking with Galatea required a lot of sifting, through the insults and distracting jabs, but Firmia could admit that the little AI's advice was sound. The fresh captain's lopsided experience with other people was the real problem. It was so much easier to manage others professionally or impersonally ... but as soon as Firmia started trying to help in someone's personal life, it felt like playing with explosives. It was difficult, dangerous, and nerve wracking. "Ugh ... you're welcome ... I guess. With everything on my plate, I'm not sure I'm the right person to help her learn ... but I am trying to at least be there ... that has to count for something."

"She's learning by being with you. That's all she needs, for now. In that regard, at least. So you just need to open up, and let her help you. If things explode, and you want them to work out, you will. You're smart..." Galatea trailed off as if she had something to add, but smiled instead. Firmia could pick up the pieces for that one.

"Speak of the devil~"

"Hey!" Hannah was running back, casual clothes in order now... It was still summer, so she was still shorts and a t-shirt, smiling as she settled her jog to a walk and ended up standing in front of the girls. "Had fun while I was gone?"

"Plenty! Now that you're both all squared away, though, I should find the others. We have files to decrypt, after all. Ta-ta~" Galatea waved at them both, radioing in to find Jessica and Stephanie.

"Well... Bye. Er, anything else you need me to do right now, Firmia? Anything you want."

Opening up to others, even close friends, was much easier said than done. For now Firmia was still trying to stay in captain mode, and take care of anything planned or pressing. She had to compose herself as Hannah returned, but she managed just in time. That was when Galatea decided to head out and take care of the decryption process with the other androids, leaving Firmia and Hannah to themselves.

"Right now ...?" Firmia was too distracted by her talk with Galatea to think of an answer to Hannah's question. Though that could easily change, they weren't weren't in private for the talk Galatea had recommended. Firmia also didn't want to focus on that right now. This was supposed to be a happy occasion, even in spite of the chaos surrounding Gefalscht.

Firmia sighed, her mind coming up with nothing but blanks. She had a billion things Hannah could be doing, but not a one would reveal itself, now. "I need to think, first ... and go over my notes. Maybe then I can think of something ... erm ... unless you'd rather take a break. That's fine, too."

"Well... That's fine. I'll just hang around until something comes into mind. You could probably use some proper company." Hannah gave her a chuckle, sighing somewhat... "It sort of doesn't feel real... But underneath the trouble that's sprouted up, and everything on the Riese... We won, today. We defeated Apotheosis, and we have a real direction to go in, with how to fight this war. With how to win! It's... It's amazing, isn't it?" Hannah was all smiles now, shaking her head.

"And I have this family to go back to when it's all over. Things are... Looking great. Really."

Hannah was right, things were looking great. Taking in the whole situation and not just what was happening on the Avalon, the war was turning completely in the ANF's favor. Apotheosis, barring some other insanely powerful machines, was on its last legs. ... it almost felt like they were overdue for another major city being attacked while everyone was distracted.

"... family ..." That part of Hannah's overview stood out in particular for Firmia. "Well, if you're coming with me then I need to check in with Sasha, again. Now that the battle's over, I need to put as much energy as I can spare on the drone program. Even if it's not ready for the next battle, after the war, it's going to be the company's big opening bid."

"Hmm? Yes, family. All of you on the Avalon." Hopefully that didn't need further explaining. "I figured you'd be onto drones, you've been going over them for a while now. Hopefully something concrete happens with them soon, I wouldn't mind the Avalon having a few for better protection as we go forward. Have to keep my favorite girl safe, after all~" A wink, and Hannah nodded.

"Hopefully Sasha isn't too busy for his second and third favorite girls."

The introduction of so many ANF personnel had muddied things aboard the Avalon, at least for Firmia, but once the war was over and the permanent crew was settled on, maybe then the Alkaev might consider playing with the term family, again. Right now it felt premature.

The drone program on the other hand was technically a couple of days behind. One day saw almost no progress due to Vance's beach shenanigans and the following battle preparations, and today would hence forth be known as the Great Salvage Rush ... or something like that. They needed to get back to it and soon. Even Brant had a major role to play in this and Firmia planned to remind him of that soon. But first, Sasha.

"Favorites ... heh," It was funny, but Hannah's first quip hit a little close to home. Would Firmia really be her favorite after this important talk they apparently needed to have? Maybe ...? "Well, whether he's busy or not this is priority number one. He can always have someone else coordinate the salvage team. Either way, I want that drive system finished yesterday. Let's go."

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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As seemed to be the theme of the day, far too much was going on at once to process everything in a timely manner. There was still the whole business with Jessica to consider, who seemed oddly... not upset? Had things actually gone well with Abigail? Surprising, at least to the Lieutenant, but if that was the case, then good. She was certain that the rowdy ex-rebel who could do no wrong would lord it over her at some point in the not too distant future, but there were worse outcomes. On top of that, those aliens were here, and this was Seung-Min's first time getting a good look at either of them... the incident that had caused Jessica to realize she was an android had, in fact, not been a normal boarding attempt, but had involved an entirely separate alien to the one that had betrayed Apotheosis, one that also appeared to now be docile? It certainly had a rather frightening look about it... somewhat similar to... what had that movie been called? Kim couldn't recall what those aliens had been called, but it seemed they hadn't been... monumentally off base, in their depiction. It was hard to say much else about them until, or rather if, they decided to speak for themselves. That wasn't the end of it either, there was their newest blonde, and Kim wasn't sure what Chris and Christina had managed to glean from the clone, or whether her oddly mechanical state had changed at all from interaction with the sisters. All of that and there was still her newest... personal issue to think about. This definitely wasn't the time to bring it up, and Kim wasn't even certain if Vance would know anything... or have anything to say on the matter. With the looming battle and the direct adrenaline of the aftermath both over and done, her head was now turned into a spin trying to rationalize it... to little avail. What implications were to come of knowing how... different her path here had been, to what she had thought?

Enough of that. This wasn't the time... the time may never come, at least not until Apotheosis was dealt with. It was frustration, but that's just how things went. Regardless, she was here now, the how and why were less important than the fact she was needed... right? Stop thinking about it, Seung-Min. What could she say, to try and get a discussion started... anything to take her mind off of the momentary silence.

"So then... how deep does this go? We still... don't know much about the Sacarians. What they want, their methods, how they made contact... can either of you... shed any light on that? Anything at all is... probably more than we know at this point."

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The meeting room was more crowded than usual, Brant noticed, but that wasn't the biggest thing on his mind, right now. He had to have a very minor argument with Firmia for the Alkaev to let him come over here with Hannah and Sasha. She seemed convinced that the only thing waiting for him over here was pain, especially if he had to share a room with Jessica and Abigail at the same time. Firmia was at least partially correct; Brant did not want to be in the room when both were present. One or the other was enough. Still, having so many other people here went a long way toward drowning out that pestering voice in his head. Sitting next to Chris also gave him a sort of beacon to focus on if anything regarding those two came out.

Oh, right. These aliens probably knew their language, at least to some degree, if they were sitting in on this meeting. If not, Brant expected someone nearby to do a quick translating job for him. Either way, being part of the Avalon's crew wasn't going to ruin customs. "One thing if no one minds," Brant perked up, "Welcome to the team, you two." He hadn't caught their names unfortunately, but gave both Alriana and Vvi a friendly wave. He wasn't quite as upbeat as usual, but Brant wasn't the only one that looked a little tired from today. The nap certainly helped, but he wasn't just fatigued.

Sasha was glad he came, but refused to take a seat at the meeting table, again. Same as before, he was just a guest, and unlike last time, they could use the spare seats. Instead, he stuck close to Cheryl while trying not to laugh at her antics with Alriana. At this point she might as well adopt the stygusian for how attached she was getting. As for the meeting itself, Jessica turning out to be an android was still amusing, and Sasha felt it was safe to start joking about it back on the Avalon, since the Riese's captain seemed to be acclimating fairly well. No 'too soon's after this exceptionally smooth debriefing. After all, last time he was in this meeting room, she'd been stuttering and arguing with her subordinates, and that was before Rosa called. Now nearly double the number of participants, include the ANF's military commander, and toss in a few aliens for good measure, and Jessica was just rolling with it. If this wasn't improvement, nothing was.

Megumi was tired, but she sat in on the meeting too, instead of streaming audio to the infirmary. It had been a long day, and it wasn't quite over, yet. She still had tests to run, but thankfully she hadn't needed a tissue sample directly from Alriana's freshly healed body. It turned out that the stygusian's fight with Tiffany and the Riese's automated defenses had produced adequate samples out in the first deck's hallway. Convenient ...! The doctor decided to just focus on Alriana today and let Vvi rest before running tests on her. Given her morphology, she ought to be just fine on the Riese until Megumi learned more about her. Without the lumbering tail to deal with, she might be better adapted than Alriana. It was difficult to say for certain this early into things. For now, all she needed to worry about was whatever Commander Vance had for them.

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Elaine had tried to prepare herself for the meeting, but nothing could dampen the effect of their surreal panel. Clones, aliens, mindreaders, robots... was anyone even a normal human being? She began to sweat, trying to contain herself as Jess showcased the freaks that they'd somehow acquired. It was too much, something was going to go wrong at this rate. They'd been winning battles but when would their luck run out? Nikolai's legs had already been blown off and they'd a collection of minor injuries too. Apotheosis needed to be defeated, but when they were dealing with aliens, Elaine wasn't sure where one side ended and the other began. If this was the collection of freaks the ANF had, she could only imagine what Apotheosis had in stock.

"Captain, I'm gonna be honest. This is fu-... complete chaos, I ain't really makin' sense of this any more. What you're sayin' is that we're gonna be takin' orders from a robot, who could be hacked or reprogrammed or somethin'... and we'll have aliens hanging around, one of which made what sounded like a good attempt to get into the ship and kill on sight?" Elaine complained, standing herself up from her seat. She couldn't just sit down and accept things as they were, things could only go badly unless they sorted something. She looked at Vance, he probably knew more than anyone else. "Things have worked out for us so far, but we need to know what's goin' on. How long have you known about these aliens? What about all these clones and the captain bein' a robot... you don't just figure these things out at the last minute."

She wiped her brow, she'd never felt so powerless before. She'd signed up to the ANF to fight against the EU... in retrospect it seemed less of a heroic calling than she'd thought, but it was a simple goal. How were they supposed to fight against an alien invasion when half the world was their enemy?

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Vvi, for all intents and purposes, couldn't help the yawn that left her lips as she rubbed her face to try and stay awake.  Of course, seeing as this was an important meeting of sorts Vvi also tried hard to pay attention to what the captain of the ship was saying, giving her a curious look as she tilted her head to the side.  The fact that the captain was an android was a surprise, since she can actually feel her emotions at the moment.  Was she a special case?  This definitely woke the little alien up a bit, before looking around at the rest of the crew.

One of them, the one called Vance, was looking their way, and she couldn't help the little wink and smile towards him before looking at the next person that was actually speaking to them.

"Thank you," was her polite response, a bit unnerved to the fact that she couldn't feel anything from him.  Either he was an android as well or he was the same as those blasted Sacarians.  Speaking of which, several others were also the same, and she doubted that all of them were androids.  This just made her a bit frustrated, but didn't voice it as she took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

Cue the twitch as she heard a certain lady talk about them as if they weren't there.  "Do not lump me with her," she said while pointing at Alriana, huffing as she crossed her arms.  "Unlike her I am capable of a more advanced thought process," she corrected, before narrowing all four of her eyes.  

"As to answer your questions dear, the Sacarians are a mostly dead race that are looking for a new planet to live on.  To them Earth is a good new planet for them, a prime target for what they are looking for," she replied with a sigh, tilting her head down as she frowned.  "I wish I knew more but...."

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Alriana returned Cheyrl's wave with her own smaller, unsure wave. She hadn't really wanted to be here, in front of all these humans she didn't know if she could trust, but it couldn't be helped. She was glad for the distraction; standing next to Jesicka, a constant reminder of her failure --no matter how beneficial that failure was-- wasn't the most pleasant thing for the stygusian. To say she still felt like killing the captain to rectify that would be incorrect, but there was some resentment there. She focused on whoever spoke, and her following responses, to better ignore her proximity to Jesicka.

"Thank... you," she replied after Vvi, using the other alien's response as a template for her own. She wasn't the most comfortable with the English language, but being in front of such a crowd wasn't doing her already fractured speech any favors. This human seemed fine enough for a first impression, but it was only that.

"Sacarians... want, humans... dead. Or take... humans," she answered the next question. She didn't have any insight on any of their long-term goals, but based on what she'd been doing these past few years that was clearly something they wanted and did. The woman's imperfect English relieved some of Alriana's worries about her own grasp of the language, but she still wasn't completely comfortable with this whole situation.

At Vvi's comment about her, she turned to glare at the luqari. Every other person in the room was quickly forgotten and her previous unease was replaced by anger. She held back a growl as she spoke in her own language. "Y' ah nafl nilgh'rinah lloignah uh'enyth. Ah nafl ahlloig ymg' vulgtmnahor Iiahe ymg' ahor f' ai aimgr'luhh." She restrained herself from immediately lashing out, but it was only for her own sake.

Edited by Ursali
spacing reee

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A Few Answers

"I'll field those, Sergeant," Vance began, stepping forward after the aliens spoke. "Now--"

"One moment!" Cheryl interrupted him, catching his glance immediately. "Uh, yes, Vvi was it? I just want to clarify, Alriana is far from unintelligent, she's probably smarter than the humans in this room. She just doesn't have a good grasp on English. Just felt I should clarify that, before a fight breaks out for silly reasons."

"... Right..." Vance was, caught off guard, not expecting the sudden clarification from the doc. The wink already had him worried, and now the aliens were at each other. At least they had some information on the Sacarians, but... "To the both of our new guests, I extend a welcome. What happened today has already happened, and if you're both willing to work with us going forward, then none of us are going to look a gift horse in the mouth. No matter how well you speak English." If Kim could manage, so could this alien.

"As I was saying," he cleared his throat, "we didn't know about any sort of alien contact until Lieutenant Kim's run-in on your way to Central. And these other races... Not a clue. I'm not quite, uh... Not quite sure what they even are. This isn't my element."

"Then I'll take over," Jess began, standing up. "The Sacarians have been working with Apotheosis since this war started... And I've been a camera for them since I got on the ship." Vance put a hand over his mouth, sighing heavily. The crew wouldn't take that well, no doubt.

"I've since removed the program, and there hasn't been any resurgence from what I've been able to observe... I'm going to have Central run a few more in-depth scans on me before any more battles, but I believe it's safe to say that, the threat of me being used as a tool for Apotheosis has since passed. As for me, being a machine... I didn't know until today. Vance?"

"... We've known for a few months now," he admitted, gruffly, not really wanting to get into it, but Jess was owed this much. "Sent in from a doctor Tabitha Gaertner... We designed the Riese to interface with your programming, but... Alphonse thought it important that you learn to be a human, instead of just be a machine for war. I agreed, and... Well, you already had a personality upon arrival. And some setup memories... We didn't have to do much to integrate you into the crew."

"Even though you knew there was the chance I was bugged?"

"It was a risk worth taking, and considering the success of the Riese so far, I'm glad we did. I won't attribute the entirety of its success to you alone, that would be foolish... But your battle data speaks for itself. Now that you have a, seemingly more calm head on your shoulders, and you can tap into your programming proper--"

"I should be exactly what the ANF needs to crush Apotheosis once and for all."

"... Yes. But... You aren't property, I want to make that incredibly clear. Some of the big wigs wanted to try and pass that through the meeting, but I wasn't having it. Machine or not, you're clearly a person... So when this all comes to an end, if you wish to separate yourself from the ANF--"

"I understand... I have to think hard about it. But, thank you." It was nice to know Vance was in her court... He seemed like a rather capable leader. "As for the clones... We didn't know, until we picked up Chris. It seems that they're using Christina as a template because she's an effective TK... That's the only logical explanation for more of her showing up. Any... Other questions?" Hopefully, considering the bomb she'd just lobbed out there. A camera the whole time... Hopefully not the entire time... If they were watching what I was doing with Abby... Jess felt her fist clench, this was just...

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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Elaine wasn't really satisfied with Jess handwaving the situation. She was sure that she was safe, unhackable, the program removed? It all sounded far too casual for something that could result in their untimely demise. What if Jess were lying about having removed everything? It wasn't like that they had any way of checking for sure. Elaine clenched her fist, until it could be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, Jess was a ticking time bomb. Not only that, but the aliens looked ready to go at each other, a few wrong words could end up with them ruining a mission.

"Not that I don't want to trust ya', but I'd feel a lot better once all these checks and scans have been done. The sooner it all gets done, the sooner we can all breathe easier. If you suddenly go psycho on us an' kill us all there ain't much we can do about it." Elaine replied, sitting back down on her chair and crossing her arms. "There's too many secrets goin' on around here, we have a right to know what we're dealing with from the beginning. You set us up with a robot captain and a suicidal squirt grown in a petri dish... and now aliens? This ain't some cartoon where everyone teams up and makes friends. We could have died at any moment, we're lucky Apotheosis didn't make better use of their twenty four seven live stream."

She couldn't believe how little Vance had cared, how many risks had he taken? If everyone had died horribly, he'd have probably just put together another crew without batting an eyelid. It didn't seem right for him to make calls like that, maybe Louise was right in wanting to kill off the ANF's higher ups.

-

Hearing everyone argue about their arrangements and the lack of probity bored Tarquin. Vance and Jess were bragging about how they'd be able to take down Apotheosis, but it wasn't going to be a simple matter even with their varied crew. They were behind in both technology and, now, manpower. If Apotheosis could produce clone armies, they'd only be limited by the resources that were required to make them. Coordination would be vital with their medley of aliens, clones and robots. Even if Apotheosis had been monitoring Jess, it hadn't provided enough for them to succeed. No doubt some of the others would share Elaine's concerns, and probably word them better, but Tarquin took little issue with most of it.

There was one exception, Vance had expressed that the goal had been to make Jess feel as human as possible and promised her freedom afterwards. It was petty, but the words stung, Tarquin had been raised and treated as a tool for his entire life. Maybe the ANF treated their newer toys better, he certainly hadn't been offered any sort of freedom or independence. As much as he wanted to protest, there were more important things at stake. He continued to watch Vance carefully, continuing his judgement of the man's character.
 

Edited by Shin

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So the Sacarian's goal in all of this was to claim Earth itself, was it? That made Apotheosis' attempts to work with them even more suspect... Seung-Min had experience first hand the contempt that the Sacarians had for humans, and based on the examples in front of them, it wasn't unique to them either. There was also clearly tension between the two different aliens as well... a nice layered cake of xenophobia, the Sacarians stamping a brazen 'We are the best Aliens' in bold font atop the cake, whilst the other species below scrambled for what they could get of the frosting at the others expense. Odd and likely nonsensical metaphors aside, there was also the issue of Jessica having been bugged with a camera feed to Apotheosis. That was... disheartening, hopefully those scans would confirm the Captain's belief that she had been cleaned of such things. Elaine voiced her concerns as well, whilst mostly leaning to a bout of paranoia expected from the fiery pilot, a particular line struck a cord with Seung-Min.

Too many secrets. That much was certainly true, the pit in her stomach growing momentarily. Still, Elaine's other worries were... a bit overblown.

"If Apotheosis had that level of control over Jessica... don't you think they would have made use of it? This was supposed to be their power play, but... none of this makes sense. If they knew that she was an android. and she was a point of data for them, why send an assassin to... uncover that fact for us? What could they be playing at, here?"

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Well Aliza had quite a bit to take in. One of the big topics being Jess, the nice captain she briefly met (and kinda wished she had more chances to bird watch) actually happened to be an android. She recalled the robot she met when she first boarded the Riese. What was the name? It was...Hannah! She wondered how similar they were in that case. Either way, if she hadn't been told that news she would have never guessed. The captain seemed incredibly close to the real deal, though knowing that doesn't change what Aliza thought about her considering she just made friends with a spider girl from outer space.

Still a 9 in her book in other words.

Speaking of which. After Elaine's outburst, which Aliza glossed over as an Elaine moment, the topic came toward the alien race assisting Apotheosis: Sacarians. It was more or less a situation where they wanted earth for survival, at least that was easy to grasp.  Her gaze turned toward Vvi, her new alien friend. It was interesting seeing her on the floor very serious after Aliza's very nice chat with the spider. She was concerned Vvi might have been overwhelmed by the room's eyes, but it was just the opposite. She seemed stable and forward enough to keep the pilot's worries at bay.

That being said, they weren't at bay for very long. In fact they came out at full force. Specifically right after Vvi more or less insulted the other alien in the room: Alriana. She had seen her in the infirmary briefly, didn't quite have a chance to interact however. It only took that very blunt line to send her into a rage, one that might've started a fight if things were left the way they were. Cheryl did interject, but the Italian still felt nervous. She gripped her notebook, not to mention her teeth, and stared intently at Vvi. She showed off her pearly gates and quickly flicked her fingers across her own neck, as if she were trying to send a message to the spider. What was the message? 'Cut it out, cut it out, cut it out! You might get hurt...' Shame it was stuck in her head.

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"Question," Sasha chimed in, his curiosity getting the better of him, "Alriana here worked for the Sacarians specifically, right? Not Apotheosis?" He was pretty sure it was the Sacarians. There was no point in the surly servals killing Apotheosis' most important mole, though ... not unless this really was the end game and it was time to put the pieces away. That, or the two groups were running at cross purposes. Given Apotheosis' opening speech a while back, and the Sacarians making a land grab at Earth, that certainly seemed likely. "If they didn't tell her what she was getting into before they sent her here, then they either didn't know or they had something else in mind."

Brant was leaning toward the former thinking about it. It seemed strange at first, but there was no reason Apotheosis and the Sacarians couldn't be bogged down by the same kinds of communication problems the Riese crew had. It had just cost them dearly, this time. As for Elaine's concerns, he trusted that Jessica had things under control, now. It was strange that Vance was offering to let her go after the war. Maybe Brant wouldn't have wound up stuck in this organization if things had played out like he originally thought they would.

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"I see....in any case-" she started, before being rudely interrupted by said alien as she started spouting what sounded like insults towards her in the other's language.  She wrinkled her nose and gave a small "hmph" before turning towards the humans.  Aliza had caught her attention first, the other making sudden slicing motions at their neck, making Vvi confused before simply smiling and waving back.

At the mention of the organization though, she had to take a step back at all of it and shook her head.  "Wait wait, Apotheosis?  What or Who is that?" she asked, now even more confused as she tried to connect everything.  "We were under Sacarian control, not this Apotheosis organization.  This is the reason why it was so easy to defect; the feline fools got too haughty and left us in the hand of incompetent humans, thus putting us out of their mental reach," she explained, before falling silent as she listened to the others.  

It seemed that there was conflict between the humans, but this didn't concern Vvi.  Or...maybe it did now since she was a part of the team now.  Either way she just waited now to see if there were more questions towards them.

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Astin had been silent up until that moment, displeased by all the revelations but not having any issues that hadn't been raised. They did have some thoughts on what Kim was saying though and so broke their silence for her. "They probably didn't know." Sasha chimed in with his thoughts, echoing Astin's own at basically the same time and so Astin paused a few seconds to let the man finish.

When he had, Astin spoke back up. "Think about everything we've seen so far. The stuff at the beach alone makes me think there's not a lot of information being shared between human Apotheosis members much less between them and the aliens. Plus what happened when you fought the cats. They just up and left when they could have probably changed the tide of that battle easily. I think that even though they're working together in name, they aren't really doing much to actually work together."

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Busiest Meeting

Roxanna had been sitting there... midly silent, even after Jess was once again open about her robotic nature. Truth be told, it still baffled the XO. Sure, it did explain things such as the time Roxanna got slapped, but now it brought the matter of why to the forefront. Why did her uncle decide to keep this from her? Was she truly that unreliable. "I think... I'll agree that it's best to get those scans done soon. The sooner we can remove our doubt, the better for the ship's morale." If they still took missions while under Apotheosis' watch, they'd be at great risk. Especially after the events of that day --no way was Apotheosis letting it happen twice--.

It was a shame Alphonse hadn't been present for the meeting, but, knowing the man, he'd already gotten what he wanted anyways. Does he even care about these aliens? It's like he isn't even surprised... "Now... Commander Vance, I can't say I know your full intentions with Jess or the ship, but I hope that now that she knows her nature we can get started on improving her control of the ship." It made sense, right? If Jessica was made to integrate with the Riese, but held herself back simply by virtue of not knowing, then it was time to fix that now. "Right now, I think it's imperative to finish what we started. What Lieutenant Doyle suggests makes sense, Apotheosis and the Sacarians musn't be trading information all that well. This is the best time to move out to finish Apotheosis while they're recovering... I think." It seemed the most sensible option for the XO.

And for the aliens... "The Sacarians are definitely a problem, too, but I just think we have a better chance if we remove the human faction out of the equation." As long as they could use the lack of communication from their enemies as an advantage...

Too much to worry about indeed. Could they trust the Stygusian to pull her own weight? Could she pilot a human machine at all?

---

Fighting for Evil

Spoiler

Kazue had enjoyed her time in the gym, speaking with the ensign and the lieutenant had been difficult, but enjoyable... Though there was still something nagging at her. Apparently the Riese had picked up one of Apotheosis' soldiers, recently. It had become the source of some rumors, the ship that turned its enemies to allies, and seeing both Private Troy and... Private Troy, fighting alongside them, why was this one still locked up? Even that alien had become docile when the crew turned its attentions to her. So this one felt... In the circumstances, odd. Maybe they just hadn't had time to speak with them? Maybe Kazue could do something, she was a sergeant! No mere grunt, an ally of justice... But... T-Talking to someone, normally...

She had to try anyway, didn't she? Maybe a bit... Peeking her head around the corner to the holding cells, she could spot the girl sitting in her cell, not doing much. "Huh..." She'd hidden her face behind her hair, a defense mechanism as always. Not really considering that it might scare the girl, an eye staring at her, hidden by black hair... I've gotta prepare myself to get closer, people are just... So hard to read.

---

Boring. Ever so boring, there was nothing to do until it was time for Megumi to check up on her again. She almost regretted coming back, but interacting with the Riese crew felt far more offensive to Esther's morals. What was unacceptable, however, was that they didn't even provide last-gen handhelds for her entertainment! How fucked up is that? Take my games and don't even provide some offline classics for me to waste time with. Esther could really go for some Poyo of the Stars right now.

It's not like she didn't notice the presence entering the brig, but it felt irrelevant. It was that same presence she confused for Vera before, but that couldn't be it. There was some underlying anxiety she never felt from Vera, so that discarded them as someone Esther knew... and there it was, a completely unknown woman... nice hair, though.

"Come to watch the captive lose their mind?" Esther sat at the edge of her bed, staring blankly back at the woman. Playing the sociopath was almost fun... if she could at least entertain herself on the off time nobody was around. Which was most of the time.

---

"Ah!" Kazue slipped back behind the wall a moment, not ready yet, ugh, why did this have to be so hard? And she'd already set aside her little justice persona, she couldn't just start doing that... It would fall apart immediately. "O-Okay... You, can do this... Deep breaths." She poked her head back out, taking timid steps towards the cell. Face still hidden by her hair, she held her arm, and avoided making eye contact. "H... H-Hello... I'm uh... S... Sergeant... K, Kazue... Kazue Fujiwara! Uhm..." Hard part done, hard part done, you can do it...!

"You... Are?"

---

"...?" Esther arched an eyebrow, completely puzzled by how shy this woman seemed. And Esther thought her social skills were bad... "I don't really need your full name, but alright." She was far more different than Esther had imagined, far more bottled up than she picked up. "I'm your only prisoner here, for whatever reason. Esther." It was kind of odd that nobody else got stuck here for one reason or another. Esther expected some Apotheosis captives would keep her company... guess she was the only loyal one. 

Now what did this woman want...? "I'm not really interested in fighting for you like the Chris echo fighters, if that's what you're wondering..."

---

"Esther..." Such a normal name for someone that aided such evils. Kazue figured, it took all sorts... "I didn't... Come to ask about that. N, Not directly. I just... How... Why do you, fight for Apotheosis?" Her face finally poked it way out from behind her hair, staring at Esther with confusion. "I do not agree, entirely, with the ANF's world goals. They do some things that, even I find appalling. But... But, Apotheosis does so much worse. So... Why?"

---

...So it was that kind of talk? "I did join because I believed it. Once you're stuck in the same frustrating life with your parents always in some bullshit debt or other it's pretty easy to see the system doesn't really care for you. 'Down with the system' and all that." She shrugged, "I guess it did start getting weird once Helena gave the okay to clone people, but Apotheosis was already a home to me by then... I liked my friends, I like Helena. Don't really fancy the cat-people when they showed up. Always sticking their nose on things... but for the most part I felt like I was doing stuff. Unlike the ANF." It wasn't until they were being threatened that the ANF did something useful. Talk about useless government. "So I wanted to free the colonies and help out with all this mess... of course, my Lieutenant was a stubborn ass, always thinking I shouldn't be out there. I've been handed to your crew on a silver platter. Yay."

---

"... Doing something without conviction behind it, don't you think that's wrong?" A part of the persona she'd constructed for herself was bleeding through, this topic was close to heart. "If your lieutenant gave you to us, I can see why. You cannot fight a war on happy feelings and comfortable livings. Your wishes to the save the colonies were respectable, but an afterthought, from the sounds of things."

---

"Hmm... what's it to you?" The same thing Vera kept hammering on her. Seriously? Esther didn't want to deal with that right now. "You can't expect me to be a master of politics at my age. I was just helping people. And I felt like I could do something. I even let then poke around my brain." The grip on the edge of her bed tightened, palms turning that pale kind of white. Having to explain why she was ready to fight was for Vera, and even them, it hit a sore spot now. "I had high scores, I bet I could even beat Kim one-on-one, but they never let me pilot on a serious mission... what else do I need to prove to get out there? I tried so hard..." It had turned into a personal ramble before Esther could catch herself. She stopped, sighing and shaking her head.

---

"It isn't about politics. It's about fighting for something you truly believe in. Do you truly believe that what Apotheosis is doing is right?" Kazue was staring right at her now, the rest of what she was saying was interesting, and worrisome, but this girl, so young, did she really think she could just want to fight a war and manage it? "Tell me. Please."

---

"...You don't just join a rebel organization because you feel like being evil." Why was she still pressing? Ugh, she was stubborn too, just like Vera... "I though I was on the side of kicking ANF's butt, which is the good side. It turned out it was targetting more than ANF, and then they got working on cloning naturals, and..." She huffed, feeling like Kazue deserved the frown coming at her. "I wish they hadn't. All these clones that shouldn't exist... the organization goy really weird when it hit it off with those catfolk."

"But everybody there was my friend. It's a better family than I had all these years before... I don't want them to be taken from me, I hate it. I want to go back." Ugh...

---

"A family that makes you participate in such atrocities is no family at all. You are too young for something like this... I cannot claim the Riese crew any better, today was my first assignment, but the people here are kind, and caring. I will not ask you to change who you fight for, but I will ask you to consider... Consider if following along with what they're doing is right. Please." Justice was often forgotten during war... But intentions or not, there was nothing just in Apotheosis' methods. The ANF had made threats that made Kazue's skin crawl, but they hadn't followed through, and their actions were currently holding up with what she cared about.

---

"I'm too young for that, but not young enough to fight for 'justice'? To be a tool for the ANF because some people think it's the right thing to do?" Esther threw the woman's question back at her, starting to feel a bit peeved. "I had people I could call friends there. I'm sticking to that. They didn't want me to fight you guys to the end, so I'm honoring that. For them. Much as I wanted to be out there proving that I'm not some kid." That was as far as she was about to go with this, Vera was stubborn, but she was the only person Esther had really held in that high a regard. "That doesn't mean I'm sticking to the EU or ANF, they can go choke on their nukes."

---

"I do not wish for you to fight for us, either. You are too young... There are others here that are younger as well, and I wish that they were able to live normal lives, instead of being brought into this mess of a war. None of you should have to suffer the curse of foolish adults." Perhaps Esther hadn't understood her, but, that was fine. Clarification was a part of learning.

"Maybe you will find friends here, as well. If you are not going to fight, then, perhaps the captain will see fit to allow you to explore. Having you locked up here will do you now good... I shall see if I can talk to her. Esther, please think carefully about your future." Kazue bowed slightly, pausing before leaving. She didn't want to cut the girl off if she had something else to say.

---

"Can't really do much about the normal life part when I already signed up for TK surgery." Esther continued snarking, though there was a part of her that felt more defeated. What was this woman intent on pressing on her mind? All that time she'd just been worrying about Esther's well-being, which was... odd. A bit patronizing, but was the girl ever used to that...

"I don't... know if I want to explore, honestly. I already had the chance to move to the infirmary, but even that place is very busy. I mean, the brig would be fine, if I had anything to do at all." It was almost amusing, if it weren't mind-crushing, that she was the only one in the brig and probably would stay that way voluntarily. "...Why do you care so much about me, anyways? You're weird...."

---

"Why? Er... Uhm..." Kazue felt her gaze dropping, looking down at the floor. "I've never been able to speak with an enemy. Not like this... I wanted to know what could motivate, a-anyone to participate in what Apotheosis does. And having spoken to you... I, I worry that there are so many others, half engaged in something they do not truly believe in. Maybe for someone else, maybe for the fun of it, but... Without, a real purpose behind them. This is life or death... No one should be rushing into it half-baked. The good guys, the bad guys, anyone in between. No matter which side you fight for..." Kazue could only hope that made enough sense. "If you do not wish the leave the brig, is there anything I can bring to help you?"

---

"Half-baked... can you stop that?" This woman was just like Vera, but Esther had a limit to how much she could deal with that right then. Even if it was a bad thing, she didn't want her decisions to be downplayed. "Maybe it was half-baked by the end, but I still made a conscious decision at the start. Things got weird, they started working on clones, and pushed my project aside. If it weren't for that, maybe I'd still be going strong, with more attention on me..." Maybe that was why Vera was pushing so much for her to leave, with that chance appearing...

And there was an offer, Kazue still wanting to hang around enough to help Esther. What a weirdo. "I can't really do much from here aside from feeling you guys having outrages and fits, so... if I could get a game to play, I guess it'd be bearable. A handheld console, if you can." At least she could gain something out of this... depending on how many. "Still don't know why you're trying to help me... but I'll take it."

---

"My apologies. I'll do my best to stop mentioning that... It, is just what it sounds like. If I'm wrong then, again, my apologies..." As for why she wanted to help? "You are not a bad person... So, I don't mind doing something to help, e-even if it's small. I'll be back in a bit, if you'll excuse me." A small bow, Kazue turned and headed off in search of a, 'handheld console'. She wasn't quite sure what that would amount to... Maybe the doctor knew? The captain was likely busy, so...

---

"I'd rather you stopped, yes." As long as this woman got that through, that was fine... "I don't know why you think I'm not a bad person when you've just met me... but I'd appreciate that help. Thank you, Sergeant Fujiwara." What an oddball, but she really did remind Esther of Vera, somewhat. Even the presence Esther picked up. How truly weird...

"...Wait, she does know it's just a video game, right?" Esther didn't stop to think of it until Kazue made her way out, bobbing her head up. Sometimes people just weren't savvy about gaming terminology...

Ah well, Esther was sure the Sergeant would figure it out sooner than later, just like Vera did.

---

Kazue came back about twenty minutes later, and then proceeded to slip a... smartphone, into the transfer box. "I could not find a, uhm, console. But I was given a phone, when I joined up. I have never used it... I do not think it even has an ID on it, but, m-my coworkers have told me that, uhm, I could play games and things on it. I do not know if the gacha games my country is known for are popular here, but you should be able to download and access those?" She didn't really know, Kazue had never tried to play anything. Even growing up, video games had never really been an interest for her.

---

"Wait, you're giving me your phone?" Really? Well... that was nice, and weird. "I could... use it, yeah. I'm sure I could set up last gen emulators on this too, that's a good fix..." She would not be able to submit it to any boards, but she could put some good practice in! "That's... that's more than I expected, really. Thank you." How... surprisingly nice. Esther didn't really know what else to say about this.

"You're not... bad, yourself." Esther would probably do well with being less snarky, after all of that.
---

"Er, there is no ID attached, and we cannot, give you one, since... You are a prisoner, but, uhm... You should, be able to attach an existing email. For games, or, whatever. If you have one. I do not know if you will be able to access email, though? That is all I can do, so... Well, if you get the chance to leave the prison, please think deeply about your future. You have no enemies here, that is all I can really say. Thank you for your time... Esther." Kazue bowed properly, turning to leave. Hopefully the girl would be okay.

---

"Oh, email, sure. I'll just use one of my old ones... if I can remember the password." It dawned to Esther that she'd left her password document back at Apotheosis. Hoisted by keeping all her information in digital medium left an awkward taste in her mouth, but at least she could keep herself entertained just hunting old passwords through her brain's memory. At least for the first hour.

"I'll... consider it. I don't see you as an enemy, Sergeant. And, really, I should be the one thanking you." How... oddly nice, this girl.

---

First Report

Spoiler

With Jess currently facing her own trials, Roxanna took it upon herself to handle their two newest additions, fresh off their first mission. Honestly... she didn't know what to expect from the two picks, but they were effective. Caroline managed to perform according to expectations, and Kazue surpassed them nicely, scoring a few kills to herself. She really does live up to her scores... even with, that whole act. What a curious woman, this one...

Roxanna had finished giving her remarks to Caroline, the poor girl, and had given Sergeant Fujiwara a message through the communicator. Soon she'd be visiting the woman on her dorm room. Since she'd already encountered Caroline on the bottom deck, it'd just spare her the trouble. Hardly a 10 minute walk. Out of courtesy, Roxanna knocked on the door.

---

"Ah!" was the first noise to come back to Roxanna after her knocking, some shuffling and a scramble heard after, as the door finally opened. Kazue, hidden behind her hair, as usual, wearing her gym gear: a tank top, some shorts, and sneakers... And staring timidly at the XO, almost shrinking back into her room. "H-Hello... XO Martinson. You, n-needed, me?"

---

"Hello there, Kazue." Roxanna nearly forgot how shy this one could be, when she was not prepared for her act. Kazue really was an odd one to tackle... "I've come here to check on you after this mission. It was your first under the Riese. I must say... you performed very well. Above our expectations, though you do have a reputation as a competent mech pilot." Even if it weren't for that, the fact she adapted to the Riese crew so fast was commendable.

"I want to know if there were any issues you've had with the team during today. Something we can improve on next time, perhaps." It was good to let any grieving out now, before it got too bottled up. "You certainly do have more experience than even some of our longest active pilots." Poor Tarquin.

---

"N-No, I just, did what was expected of me. Nothing more..." It was nice to hear praise, but Kazue had done what her machine had allowed her to do, nothing more. That was what a pilot had to do! At least, that's what she thought. Perform as well as their machine would allow them to perform. "As for, working with the crew... No, no issues. I even got, to meet with Lieutenant Kim earlier. She is a rather nice person... Ensign Calvin, as well. No one got in my way, and I do not believe I got in the way of anyone else... We worked as a very effective team." Kazue smiled a bit, thinking about piloting was always nice.

---

"I see..." It was really interesting, how she could be a completely different person in battle, and a wallflower everywhere else. Roxanna was expecting much worse from what she'd seen in the interview, but this was a far saner scenario.

"So... if it's not intruding too much, what's with the act?" Curiosity got the better of the XO, and she couldn't help but inquire. Why is it that Kazue needed to push herself to be so... bombastic? Listening to her in the comms, it was almost like the lofty dreams of a lame kid that if they repeated cool words enough they'd get somewhere, but this was a fully-grown, very self-conscious woman, at least from fi--... second impressions. "You act very bold in battle, I can't help but wonder what drives you to do that." In retrospect, now was a good time for Sergeant Fujiwara to join. Any earlier, when Roxanna's patience was shorter, and she'd just write the pilot off as a weirdo.

---

"... W... Well..." Oh, how embarrassing... "I have... N, Never been able to talk to people, very well. I thought... Training my body, and, putting on that act, would help. Increase my s-self esteem... And, I did. But." She smiled, almost helplessly. "It made me feel better about myself... But it didn't help make talking to people any easier. So I, started..." A small cough, to clear her throat. "Doing that. Act. For... To... I-It makes me feel brave, please do not laugh."

---

"Mmhmm...." A silent, judging humming as Roxanna nodded at the Sergeant's brief story. "Trying to fake it until you make it, or something like that?" It made sense, and it wasn't like Kazue harmed anyone with that act. Is it childish? ...yes, it still is. Roxanna could still emphasize, however, even if she couldn't understand why Kazue thought that particular choice was a winner.

"I think you should just... try to talk to others more often. There's no shortcuts to it." Some people were also just naturally inclined to not socialize at all, so there was an element of 'to each their own' as far as Roxanna understood it. "But that's not ridiculous... well, trying to get brave." Perhaps a bit blunt, but Roxanna tried to soften it with a mellow, veeeery slight smile.

"I used to be a lot worse at conversation before I tried to run for a deputy position back in canada. It certainly sucks when you think the world is out to judge you." Old times... not necessarily better times, at all.

---

"I do try. I will continue to do so... I-It's easier than it was before." It seemed the XO was turning to casual conversation now... "Erm, is there anything else you need from me, XO? I do not mind small talk... Though I am... Fairly bad at it."

---

"Hmm?" Well, Roxanna figured Kazue was less shy than that... how curious. "If you keep trying to avoid it, how do you think you're going to get better, Sergeant?" What an odd fellow. "I'm not holding you up here... Unless you want to do my work for me." Roxanna smirked, "Of course, I don't think I'm anybody's favorite person, so if you want to go, then by all means."

---

"I-I'm not trying to avoid it! I just... Don't have anything to talk about. I'm not very, good at bringing up topics... And I fear you aren't interested in martial arts." She certainly didn't look it. "I wouldn't know the first thing of what goes into, being an XO. Learning to pilot was an already difficult hurdle." And not anybody's favorite person?

"But... You're a Martinson. Your uncle is known all over the base... You must be cared for greatly here."

---

Oh, Roxanna had nearly forgot. People who weren't familiar with her would probably assume a lot just from her family name. In retrospect, that was a given... "I don't see my uncle eye-to-eye. He only cares about the captain of this ship, honestly... and I think... no, nevermind him. Even back when I was a captain, I never really excelled. I ended up losing my pilots once, in space... it wasn't a good mission, but I could've done better, I guess." And that was... a far less comfortable topic to delve into, but at this point, everybody that she didn't want knowing it already knew, anyways, better if Kazue got it from her own mouth.

"Cared... is not what I'd say about myself." Thinking about it again, it was only getting more depressing. Maybe it was a good time to stop, and Roxanna did so with a slightly less forced smile, avoiding looking Kazue in the eye. "And my father... if you've read up on recent events, you know the Canadian ministers were shot on the way to Australia. He was one of them."

Hah, guess that was not a good topic to follow through with.

---

Oh... This, seemed like quite the topic. Hearing about the XO's failures so openly, it was a bit shocking. Were all Martinsons not excellent leaders? Maybe Roxanna was the black sheep of the bunch... Still... "I'm sure, that you have been put in situations that anyone would have trouble with. You shouldn't beat yourself up over them. Bad things... They happen to the most accomplished people." Even Captain Gefalscht had to make a lot of mistakes, she was such a young captain.

"I am sorry for the loss of your father, I... Do not, have any family left, so, I... I suppose you must, feel very alone, right now." What was there to say here? The loss of one's father, Kazue understood it, it was never an easy feeling.

---

"Well..." It seems like this was going to be the topic that stayed, but Roxanna could at least give it the thought she tried to avoid? "I... well, I think, a better..." Hmm, no, she still had enough pride to refuse wording it that way, "...A more resourceful captain could have avoided losses in that mission, but I was caught unsuspecting, I underestimated their forces, and the mobile suits." She had to try a lot to not wince right there. What a nasty memory, and a sour confession.

"I've... never been that close to my father, I've always had the mansion mostly to myself while he worked. It was always kind of lonely, in retrospect..." She'd never given it much thought back then, but Roxanna had always been a bit of a loner wherever she was. Not for lack of trying, but due to her attitude in general. "But it certainly hits that I can't depend on him anymore. It's a bit... a lot worse, in that regard. Like I might lose my footing tomorrow... but hey, fake it until you make it, right? Or something like that..." It was at least nice to have somebody to vent this to, even if it was the socially awkward Sergeant. At least she wouldn't go off spreading this to everyone else. "You lost your father too? Er, if it's not a touchy subject, of course..."

---

Roxanna sounded... Like she needed some friends, but was also too prideful to let people close enough if they weren't there to respect her. The name Martinson was likely very large to fill... "Fake it until you make it," she repeated, with a bit of a smile. "And... Well, I was, young. A terrorist attack killed my family, I was... Away, with my teacher, learning the basics of karate. I would have been with them if not for that, so in a way, my interests saved my life. Still... I... It does not make it any easier to think about." A small amount of tears had started to well up, Kazue quickly wiping her eyes on her top.

"So I've always wanted to do what I can to protect people. It's why I'm here."

---

"I see..." That was far more altruistic than the route Roxanna took, for certain. The XO was in for herself at all times. Even now, it was to make sure she could sort out her life. That didn't mean she couldn't appreciate that kind of perspective. "At least... you've had your interests. Being orphaned at a young age sounds terrifying, I couldn't imagine it. You are very strong, Sergeant." Roxanna always had the thought that she could rely on her family's fortune, she couldn't imagine what the life of an orphan like Kazue would entail.

"I'm sure you'll do great here. You've already proven yourself on the battlefield... and we could always use somebody like you as a pilot." With the departure of Brant and Hannah, they had big shoes to fill, but the future looked ever so slightly more hopeful now.

It wasn't as hard to start conversation with Kazue as Roxanna had thought a moment back, and she was very grateful for having somebody to talk to like that, now. "You know, with your hair and complexion, I'm sure you'll be popular here. You really don't have to worry. For some reason a lot of women on the crew have the hots for each other, though. Watch out, in case it's contagious." She joked.

---

"It was difficult. But, the ANF took me in, when I was young. Even if I do not agree with all of its decisions, it has been a home for me, for a while now. The least I can do is help when the world needs it most." A warrior of justice... Maybe. Sometimes Kazue wondered if she'd given in to the despair she'd felt when she was younger, but... The past couldn't be changed. Only the future could. She'd keep going with where she was headed...

And then Roxanna, complimented her? So very randomly, she'd expected comments on her piloting, not on herself. "I-- What? My complex, I... Uhm, I, I, no, I'm not very... I appreciate it, but... I'm... Er..." She'd not put thoughts towards being with anyone, let alone talking to people. A lot of the women, I... Really? What? But why? We're at war? I don't understand. Uhm...

---

The ANF took her in, and she tried to make the most of it. That was a nice story, at least. She'd made the most of it, which is more than Roxanna could say about herself...

That reaction however, was quite amusing, not quite what Roxanna expected, though in hindsight she should have guessed that shyness wasn't going to be worked on equally in all aspects. "Hah, at east, Sergeant. I just meant you'll make friends. You're not hideous or scary, and are pleasant to talk to..." She tried to make amends, very slightly. "Unless the thought of some of the crew having the hots for you is what you appreciate. I don't judge." It was nice to be able to talk with someone like that. How different.

---

"I-- The hots!?" Kazue was shrinking further behind her hair, her face burning up somewhat. "No, I... I don't... N-No one would... That's, XO d-don't, joke like that..." What was Roxanna's deal? She'd just come here to pilot... Help people, not... N-N-Not, anything like... とっても恥ずかしいだよ...

---

Well, that was new. Roxanna never had dealt with someone so shy that they'd clam up like this when joked about. "Well, what's wrong with it? You're at a good age to give it some thought, Sergeant. Do you plan to be single for the rest of your life? Well, not that that's not an option..." It was kind of adorable to see someone squirm for the simplest of things... hopefully that wasn't uncomfortable in a bad way for Kazue. "Or... don't tell me, you've never had someone you fancied? Mm, have you ever figured out your type? Maybe that's part of why you're so shy." Well, it was probably her government-dependent upbringing, actually, but details... 

---

"Wh-Why are you asking me all of this? All of a sudden? It's... These are, v-v-v-very personal, questions... I..." Kazue was like a deer in the headlights, there was no easy answer for this from her.

---

Goodness, she really sounded like she could break at any moment, the poor woman. "Well, first to help you come out of your shell. Second, just to keep the small talk going... hmm, what do you want the third reason to be? I could word it many ways." This felt nice. Roxanna never had such a conversation before. It was almost as if she had a subordinate that listened to her. "I guess I could go straight to the point and say it's because you trying to avoid that question is very cute. I don't get to see that a lot here. I hope you don't hold a grudge on me for that." Despite everything... Roxanna was genuinely smiling.

---

"I... I don't... I d-don't, know what... T-T-To say to all of, this. I..." What sort of small talk was to be had here??? Now the XO was calling her cute? This was so confusing, why was this happening, had she said something or, maybe this was some sort of hazing? It was odd, and she had no out, so...

---

Wow, she completely shut down. Well, almost. How did things even get that bad? Roxanna didn't fancy herself a master at tease, but apparently she was a casanova and didn't realize it. Or maybe that was just how shy Kazue was. "Mmhmm, I can see that... but that's a lot of potential gone to waste, you've got to see these things as a battle of their own, see..." Roxanna gave a few steps, closing the distance between her and the target. "...If you can't take control, you're letting someone else instead. Someone wanting to take advantage of poor cute Sergeant Fujiwara, and before you know it you were smooth-talked onto their bed, having sweet nothings whispered into your ear." Roxanna leaned, ever closer, she was simulating it on purpose, and Kazue could probably tell. The breathy last sentence should have tickled the Sergeant's ear.

But then, Roxanna pulled her face away, still close to the Sergeant, smirking. "That's kind of how my first date, and first relationship went. But it had the misfortune of being all an act. You know, family names sucks. It wouldn't do well for a lady to be swept away... mm, well, unless you're into that, of course. Then it's wonderful."

---

Kazue was most certainly overloading, unable to handle Roxanna's teases. As the XO got close, Kazue's instincts finally kicked in, grabbing her arm and forcing it behind her back while spinning her... It took her a moment to come back, immediately releasing Roxanna and yelping like she'd done something horrible. "I-I'm s, so sorry! Are you okay? XO? I, ahh..."

---

"Uhh--?!" Ouch. Suddenly Roxanna had her whole body spun, arm in pain, and face now staring at a wall.

Right, Kazue was a martial artist. A damn good one at that. "Augh..." Thankfully, Roxanna was freed from the Sergeant's grasp soon enough that it wasn't going to be a problem. She probably overstepped some boundaries. Oh well. "I'm... I'm fine, don't worry about it, Sergeant." Well, her pride was pegged down a notch, but that wasn't new. "I probably went a bit too hard. My apologies." It was fun while it lasted, at least, but she wasn't going to continue prodding Kazue if the woman was already at her wit's end. "I won't pull rank and call you out on this. Don't worry about that." This was... probably one of the good things about her recent deflated ego, too. Kazue owing favors because she 'harmed' a superior would be too cruel. "Still... next time you should tell me with words that I'm crossing the line. Alright?"

---

"I-I'm so sorry... I'm... No one's... This is..." Her face was bright red. Use her words? She couldn't even figure out what to say now. "I shouldn't... I, just... I got scared, I'm so sorry..." But it wasn't like Roxanna was frightening, just... "Not, scared... Just... J-Just, I, I have to go." Kazue shut her door, collapsing against it, before slipping down to the floor. My heart is pounding... What, what just... Hahhh... I've never had someone do that to me. What a mess. But my body... I have to calm down, this is insane.

---

Kazue still couldn't make a cohesive sentence after that stunt. Did Roxanna go too far? "Uh, okay." Maybe she shouldn't have said the things she did? That ending act had gotten Roxanna to think about it... well, it was a bit too late now. Next time Roxanna had to make sure she was more acquainted with the Sergeant before breaching that topic.

"Poor girl, she needs friends." Handwaving her own situation, as usual, Roxanna decided not to pursue things at the moment. She'd gotten all she needed from Kazue at the start of their conversation, really. Now, for those other assignments...

 

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Alriana blinked, taken aback by Vvi's attitude. So that's how it's going to be? She thought she might have found a kindred spirit in the other alien, but that clearly wasn't the case. At least Cheryl was speaking for her on her behalf. She took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself down. As much as the luqari's attitude aggravated her, she couldn't "deal with" the problem in the same way she had in the past. She hadn't been given any orders to restrain herself, but it was still clear that she should. With an annoyed sigh, she turned away from Vvi and back towards the humans.

"What, A-poth-e-o-sis?" she asked, taking the time to sound out the name of the terrorist organization. Her curiosity had overtaken her annoyance of mirroring Vvi. "Not... work, for humans. Only, Sacarians." Had she ever been placed in the care of humans she would have been free much sooner. She saw them as a mostly weak race, mobile suit piloting aside, with next to no exceptions; she would not have been ordered around by them.

Although it seemed like the humans had mostly figured out that the Sacarians likely didn't know her target was an android, Alriana decided to weigh in. She was directly involved and wanted to feel like she was contributing. "Not, know Jesicka... android. Sacarians, like... not know, too. I, sent to... kill. Sacarians, never want... failure."

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Split Up

"I would be surprised if you all still trusted me as much as you did before today. I'll have Central perform whatever scans they want on me. I don't want to leave anything to chance either." The comments about petri dish... She really must've hated Tarquin. What was her issue? Calling her out here would do the meeting no good, but ever since Jessica had managed to access the Riese's everything, there was a lingering issue that she was going to have to address regarding Elaine. Someone else didn't think so.

"Sergeant Hedrick, I'd like it if you didn't refer to Specialist Herrington as a suicidal squirt from a petri dish. He's a person, and your squad mate. Don't want to play at being your mother, but I figure we're in too shit a situation to not be trying to play nicely with each other." Vance wasn't having that.

Whew. Nice. And before she could try to address why she thought things had gone so wrong for Apotheosis today, the aliens, Sasha, and Astin made the connection for them.

"This is a good thing," she immediately commented. "That means their leadership is split, and it gives us the perfect opportunity to attack them head on, with full force. If they won't work together, they will fall one by one." Especially if there was turmoil within the ranks... Helena had mentioned this not being the right time, what did that mean? Whatever it meant, things had gone wrong, a massive miscommunication between leaders.

"That's what I'm here to address... You're quite right, Roxanna. Jessica was meant to interface with the ship, and I'll leave her to get acquainted with her ride. As for Apotheosis... The data we've gathered from that monster of a machine points us to Canada. Above Canada, actually." Vance stepped just enough aside for the image that popped up behind him to be viewed. It was a small map of the Arctic, with a red circle just around the north pole... "We don't have an exact location yet, but Apotheosis base is within that area. Now, were this a more practical climate, we'd organize search parties, but... Even the most advanced ANF machine will succumb to such frigid temperatures if stuck in it too long. The Riese will manage because of its E-Field, but its... A unique case. So we're going to ask all of you to take it easy for the next several days. Stay on base, on standby, until we can find where they are, with what we have, and what we can track by satellite."

"So we can't do anything, yet?" Jess was surprised, she figured they'd have something to take care of, but...

"Nothing that wouldn't put Central in jeopardy... While we were fighting today, our branch in Australia was totaled. The Luna, again."

"What?" So that's why Vera hadn't been here... Dammit. "What were we working on there?"

"Another line of mobile suits... Aquatic... Perfect for," he sighed, "colder climates... They were covering their tracks on that one, unfortunately... So you're all we have left, if we're going to get to this before they can recuperate. While I doubt we'll be able to send much with you to charge this front, we might be able to outfit a few Kraken models, and miss Alkaev's Avalon, with E-Fields, to resist the climate better. It'll be a small battalion... Not something up to the task, but..." He sighed harder, there was no one else to ask. "If any of you want to step away now, you're free to. This is going to be the most dangerous thing any of you have encountered yet, and you may not come back from it. I realize we can't exactly afford you that freedom right now, but... Consider it a special privilege from high command. You've been saving our lives at every turn. If you want to save your own, now... No one will hold it against you."

"Commander..." Jess was rather shocked. Surely the rest of Central hadn't agreed to anything like that... If Vance was just going to let people cut and run, he was going to get in a lot of trouble for it. Maybe even removed from his post. Still... At least he cared, if the rest of the suits didn't. What a man. "I'm staying. I have to see this through to the end. Apotheosis has to be stopped."

"I... I am too," Christina's timid voice piped up, shaking her head. "I don't want them to keep using me as a tool for their ambitions. I can't stand it... And what they're doing to every other version they make." Nina spoke volumes of how awful Apotheosis was willing to be to win this.

"Didn't even have to ask," Chris said after.

Cheryl, though, she was quite worried. As a noncombatant, could she afford to risk her life on everyone else? They'd done well so far, but... Oh, but... Having Sasha and Alriana and Tarquin run off like this... Ugh, what a mess. She stayed quiet, but she was going to go. Too many people she'd grown to care about were at stake to be a coward.

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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All things considered, Apotheosis and the Sacarians formed the most fragile of alliances. The real question Sasha felt needed asking was why ally with Apotheosis in the first place? The answer seemed rather obvious: The Sacarians couldn't take out the ANF and the EU by themselves ... not without spoiling their prize, at least. And with that simple bit of reasoning, it seemed clear to this Russian that not only were the Sacarians beatable, but wouldn't last a few months longer than Apotheosis without a major shift in diplomacy. He'd been about to bring some of this up when the subject shifted from Apoloco and the Precarians to preparations and separations for the final battle.

Apotheosis was a little crazy but they weren't plain stupid. Apparently Australia had just the tech to take the fight to their doorstep, and Vera skipped the fight at Central to personally nip that problem in the bud. It was impossible to tell at this point whether that had been the right move on her part. The Luna showing up in the battle at ANF HQ could have spelled disaster for the Riese and Avalon crews, or simply been another mark. It was all circumstance.

Next came the topic of who was staying and who was going. As for Sasha, he was an Alkaev pilot. He hadn't trained to fight a war specifically, but he'd been trained to shrug at the prospect of his own death ... and he often did. Risking life and limb was just how he made ends meet. Add to it that he actually liked his employer and colleagues, and it was no question. Then add onto that Cheryl, that sweet curvaceous lady, and the only thing stopping Sasha from laughing at this oddly kind gesture was common courtesy. Instead, he grinned knowingly to Doctor Hart.

Vance wasn't just giving Jessica the option of leaving after the war, he was giving the rest of them the option to leave right now. Brant was surprised to say the least. Even if he didn't have people here he wanted to protect, he still wanted to do what he could to stop Apotheosis. One machine, and one good pilot could often make all the difference. "Going to finish what we started," Brant put in, making sure it was clear he was staying, even though it was obvious to anyone that knew anything about him.

Doctor Amparo wasn't even sure if Vance's little 'opt out' applied to her. She was quite literally the only medical doctor the ship had, and was likely to ever have in the course of this war. Granted, she could be replaced with a doctor from the base if she did suddenly disappear, but it was still a bad idea to suddenly drop everything. Megumi had expected that if she did raise her hand and try to opt out, Vance or someone else would either make her an offer, or just stare her down. It honestly sounded like an option geared toward the pilots. Just the same, she wasn't thrilled with the idea of going down with the ship in the event of the unforeseen ... and yet ... that was the risk she was taking. It wasn't too difficult to justify. The crew of the Riese, as well as its captain, were getting stronger, not weaker, smarter, not dumber. That was something to trust in and try to foster as much as humanly possible. "I like my job for the most part," Megumi said, indicating her willingness--necessary or otherwise--to stay on for the final mission.

... and also she wanted to see what it was like for Jessica to be plugged into the ship. It sounded like an interesting concept.

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With her main query worked out by several of the others, and then pretty much confirmed by the reaction of the aliens, that seemed to be that. Despite working together, the Sacarians and Apotheosis weren't fully sharing information, and as could have been surmised pretty simply from her encounter with that Sacarian... they saw humans as beneath them, unworthy of consideration... from the sounds of it, despite being allies in a sense, these new aliens didn't seem to find that sentiment overly foreign.

Perhaps more surprising than any of that, was that Vance was offering them... a chance to leave? A pang of guilt clutched Seung-Min's chest, as for a moment she considered raising her hand. To do so at this junction would be foolish, however. There was still too much she didn't know, and despite how it had happened, this was... it was her life, now. Perhaps in the future, when... if, she were to learn more, and the stakes weren't quite so dire. Still, she couldn't bring herself to give verbal commitment, her face settling into a frown.

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