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

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Well, that she hadn't been the only one to visibly linger on the offer was certainly a load off of Seung-Min's mind. Several others had been quick to offer their support, and that exchange had made her rather conscious of her own failure to do so. That aside, Abigail's swift exit of the room became the next thing to catch attention... yes, that did make sense. If Jessica had been working as a camera for Apotheosis, well... the Captain had a rather intimate knowledge of Abigail's... intimates, if their actions and words towards eachother could be extrapolated. That was the simplest conclusion to come to, with the pair's feelings in the mix.

Abigail... Seung-Min had doubted her heavily, yet Jessica seemed... well, departure to chase after her lover aside, content, happy... with how they had resolved the issue at hand. Kim didn't think she had been wrong, to doubt Abigail... everything she had seen, and knew about the firecracker had made it seem rather likely that she would shun Jessica after all of this, but she didn't. Had she been wrong about her? It seemed almost impossible to say she hadn't been, at least to some degree.

Homecalling

The time for battle was drawing near. The sun had come up, everyone was on standby... and yet for whatever reason, now of all times. Seung-Min simply couldn't get that moment out of her head. Olivia had told her that she should call her parents. Maybe if was the foreboding atmosphere before this attack specifically, the sense of dread and truly not knowing if they'd see tomorrow, but... dialing the old family phone number into her communicator, Kim waited on bated breath for someone to pick up the line. Of course, if they had moved or changed phones in the last few years, this would be a fruitless endeavour, but...

After a few moments of silence on what seemed like a likely failed call, a brief jingle warned that it'd been picked up. A short bout of static later, and Kim could hear a familiar voice. "Hello?" A feminine voice, Kim's mother. "Who is it?" It seemed she'd be waiting on an answer before speaking more. That was probably natural --she didn't seem to recognize the ID that was calling--.

As she waited for the call to pick up, Kim's nerves certainly weren't getting any better. It had been so long since she'd spoken to them, would they even want to? Those moments felt like an eternity, if she didn't know any better, she might have thought it had taken two months for the familiar voice of her mother to pick up the phone. But there it was... pausing for a moment, Seung-Min finally managed to respond, voice quivering somewhat.

"H-hey mom... it's me, Seung-Min..."

"Seung... Seung-Min? Is that really you?" There was shock in the mother's tone, unsurprisingly. At a time of tension like this, and with their previous lack of communication, it was safe to assume she was never expecting a call from her daughter. "Oh, please... what's happening? Are you okay?" And, perhaps naturally, her tone shifted to concern, left to figure out the reason behind this call. "Did something happen to you?"

"Yeah... it's me. I'm alright... nothing has happened, well... not yet. I'm at Central, in America... we're expecting an attack later today. I guess it just... seemed like the right time." Kim replied, a small smile forming on her face at her mother's reply. It wasn't disappointment, so good start.

"Oh... I'm... <Seung-Min, I had no idea what was happening to you. It's good that you're doing well.>" The mother's tone mellowed, a breath of relief picked up by her phone. "<We've only known that you've graduated from the academy, but, since they wanted you to remain there, me and your father couldn't reach you... is this your ID?>" There had been some walls blocking their access to their own daughter, by the look of it. "<Do you fight that... the terrorists on the front lines?>" And again, that common concern.

"<Err... yes, this is it. Did the ANF not... give it to you?>" Kim replied, time seeming to slow to a crawl, at least in her mind. They... had to have it, didn't they? There was no reason for them not to be given it, they just hadn't called because... because she hadn't done anything to warrant it. Right? R-right...?

"<...No, we did not.>" Her mother reaffirmed Kim's suspicion, "<Since, you were with the agency before. They are the ones who received your information. In case you were to be released early or decided to give up and come back, I think. We didn't know where you were since you took the plane.>" 

But... how could? How could that be... why would the ANF not give them her contact information? It made no sense, her parents had been supportive of her joining the military, so why-

No, it wasn't possible, was it? There was... it couldn't...

"<Hey mom... what did... do you, think of me joining the military?>"

"<Ah...>" And then there was a lengthy pause. Intonation had been a giveaway that Kim had hit a delicate topic. "<What did they tell you... I don't... I don't know how much I should say.>" Well, if that wasn't foreboding already...

"<They came to us saying you were to enroll in a special program, that the agency agreed to part with you for that purpose, and that you already had a place to stay there. We never... had a say in it.>" Another pause, Kim's mother sounded very conflicted. "<Even the plane ticket... we never bought it. We were just asked to comply. They said you would come back, if you were to choose to serve back at home.>"

"<This isn't... it isn't about what they said. I... someone else on this ship, they seemed... disturbed, when I told them about my circumstances. She was the one who suggested I get in touch with you, put the idea in my head. I wondered what might have caused her to feel that way but, I think I understand now. You were coerced into encouraging me to enlist, right mom?>" Kim confirmed, a hefty sigh escaping her lips. So much to process, and yet... if she allowed it to cloud her head, she night not even survive the day. What a mess...

"<I had always thought... the reason you never called me was because... you were disappointed, that I hadn't managed to make a name for myself, like back home... I suppose that not being the case is... a load off my mind, even if there are new things to replace it.>"

"<...I'm sorry, Seung-Min.>" While the mother seemed torn in agreeing with her own child, no doubt a reaction of fear, she'd ultimately confirmed what was left to. "<It also had to do with your situation. Your contract was sold and we were encouraged not to pursue the matter. Your company had the last say, pretty much... and the ANF said a training TK was not to be disturbed.>"

An audible sigh, it didn't take extrasensory powers to understand the grief that was settling down. "<You already had your life as an idol, Seung-Min. Why would I want you to do well on the military? You could live your life here, do what you always did best, and I wouldn't worry if you're alive the next day or not.>" Her voice was tremulous, sudden stop as she gasped, like fans to a flame Kim's mother had her repressed concerns at the forefront of her emotions. "<I t-think... this is the one thing I wished you failed. TK school... that maybe it was a fluke... haha...>"

"<It's not your fault, mom. There must have been... a lot of pressure on you. I'm glad to know that I wasn't a disappointment...>" Kim began, pausing a bit at her mother's slight break. It wasn't like her, which went to show just how much she had uncovered here.

"<I... I don't have much time left, right now. We have to be ready to deploy at short notice, so... I just want you to know. You don't need to worry about whether I'll survive or not. Despite everything Apotheosis has done... this ship, the Heion Riese... it's beaten them back every time. And we're going to keep doing it... I know we will. So I'll survive... and I'll make you proud of me again, even if this wasn't the path you wanted.>" Kim affirmed, waiting for her mother to respond. The words were more bold than she felt, at the moment, but it was a rare reversal of position. There were already enough people counting on her... what was one more? As dire as this was, she couldn't allow it to shake her. Not yet.

"<Seung-Min... I've always wished the best for you, but now, all I wish is that you make it out of there alive. You're not a disappointment...>" Her mother's voice, tremulous as it were, stressed the point past a rough breath. "<Even as a soldier, it's like you're all they talk about here.>" It still pained her to know Seung-Min was still going to fight Apotheosis, and head on with the Heion Riese, at that. "<Just... take care. I believe you, you've come so far already, just... I worry. I'll always worry about you, Seung-Min, especially over there.>" Her parents truly missed her, aftermath of the game of companies and the federation. In the end, Seung-Min's success had taken their daughter away from them, and now the chance of losing that daughter forever was very real.

"<Mom loves you, alright?>"

"<I will mom, I have no intention of dying. Too many people are counting on me... and besides, you've gotta be kidding. There was always way too much going on back home, no one would have time to talk about a soldier fighting in America.>" Kim replied, somewhat shakily.

"<I'm sure that the ANF will... put out footage of the battle. It'll raise morale after we send Apotheosis packing with their tails between their legs. I'll be flying the Artemis... it's gotten a name for itself so I bet they'll point it out. Make sure to watch me, mom. I love you too.>"

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It looked like everyone was intent on staying for the time being, Tarquin didn't particularly expect anyone to leave even when they were given their last chance to. Everyone had their own motivations for staying, some more personal than others. The dynamic between Abby and Jess wasn't one that Tarquin had much insight into, nor very much interest for that matter, but there was probably something going on that he didn't understand. Everyone was forming their own bonds aboard the Heion Riese, even Tarquin himself hadn't existed entirely friendless. Would he have met any of these people if the world were not at war? It was unlikely he would, mostly because his own creation had required war to become a necessary act.

Tarquin stepped forwards, there was another matter that he needed to address. His own choice was in his hands, but there was someone else that he needed to think of. 

"Admiral Vance, my continued cooperation is guaranteed on the provision that Nikolai Zelenko receives the necessary ongoing medical interventions." Tarquin affirmed, determined in his decision. Part of him resented the ANF for giving him such an isolated existence whilst Jess had been given the illusion of humanity, but bitterness wasn't going to grant him the childhood he'd been denied. "I do not wish to present this request as an ultimatum, but it is an incentive for me to continue entering combat."

Tarquin neither liked nor disliked armoured warfare, it was something that had been part of his life since he was but a decade old. His training had been rapid and he was far more adept than someone of his age or training duration, but it was more of an assignment than something he derived pleasure from. Part of him wondered what would have filled his time instead in another timeline. School work? Studying? Friends? It was a distant world, but one that he hoped to come closer to one day.

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The fact that Brant didn't feel much when Abigail stormed out of the meeting started to bother him once Jessica got up and gave chase. He got the implication behind Jessica being monitored, and though he knew it was a serious problem in her personal relationships, Brant just couldn't bring himself to care like he should. He'd faced this issue himself, always being monitored. There was at least audio in most places. It was the norm, and he and Rosa were almost never truly alone. These two, this pairing ... they didn't have his sympathies on this one. And this was a problem they could have avoided completely with even one iota of patience, so Brant couldn't find the care and concern he was searching for. He did find that bitter fire inside, though. For once, he had the strength to keep it fully suppressed, but it was still there. So was that nagging little voice.

The doctor thought on her patient as the topic took a slight turn. Without Nikolai constantly stirring things up, it was getting more and more difficult not to like him, or at least the idea of him, which was constantly changing shape into something more and more sympathetic. It hadn't even occurred to Megumi--recently--that the ANF might move Nikolai off of the Riese instead of treating him here. Tarquin, when he spoke up about the wounded gremlin, seemed more concerned with ensuring he was treated at the very least. For Megumi, that was never in doubt. If the Federation suits were thinking of just dumping him into a wheelchair and parking him on a sidewalk somewhere, the Riese's captain could give them an ultimatum the whole war might hinge on. Megumi would have insisted on continued treatment even if Tarquin hadn't, though not as a condition for staying on. All in all, she was sure she and the ANF had the Nikolai situation well in hand. The real question was whether he was accompanying them to the Arctic. Whether to mention that before Vance spoke up, though ...

Brant meanwhile tried to focus on Chris as Tarquin voiced his concerns for Nikolai. It was that or argue with the little voice in his head trying to raze all the bridges and lose track of the signals he was sending out for his fellow TKs. Thinking on his beloved copilot immediately brought Brant back to some peculiar events that took place earlier in the day. The meeting with Firmia after the salvage operation hadn't been the nuclear event either of them were expecting. And what followed that brief meeting hadn't been expected, either. It was definitely worth it, though, chipping away at his conditioning and reassuring Chris at the same time.

FALL IN!

Spoiler

Everything was a mixed bag, today. Yes, they had beaten the stuffing out of Apotheosis, with minimal damage to the Riese and Avalon crews, but at the same time the cracks in their armor were now exposed. Firmia wanted to deal with one of the smaller ones before it became something bigger, but she knew that even with Brant here, Chris wasn't going to be all that receptive at first ... if at all. That was part of the problem. As the captain of the Avalon, Firmia expected there would be times when she had to give orders that some of the crew wouldn't like ... and if she couldn't give rational orders because the crew wouldn't follow them ... then she didn't have a crew ... maybe not even a ship. Everyone would just be playing along like it some kind of game.

"You alright?" Brant frowned at Firmia. He felt her unease standing there at the head of the meeting room table, but her expression said it all. She didn't really want to be here right now, and in all likelihood, neither would anyone else once she got down to business. Wait. Was this about the talk they'd had earlier? Was this about Chris? "Ohhh, this is about what happened earlier ..."

"Yes," Firmia nodded, taking one more moment to strengthen her resolve. Things had to be like this, sometimes. She remembered how many times her mother had harshly addressed people in the company for making mistakes or ignoring their directions from higher up. Whether they were major or minor only set the tone, what mattered was that problems were addressed and they were addressed quickly. "Chris, I'm not sure if I can trust you to be Brant's copilot, right now." Having pulled the pin on that grenade, Firmia braced herself.

Hoo boy, it was time to deal with Firmia, wasn't it? Chris sighed, sitting down at the other end of the meeting table, staring at Firmia, waiting for... Yeah, that was it. She stared the girl down, wondering exactly what she was thinking... And then shrugged. "Yeah. I get it... Nina's just-- That's what we're calling her, by the way... She's family. I couldn't help myself... I'm sure if Hannah was in trouble, or Brant, and you had the chance to see them to make sure they were okay... You would. Maybe it's not the same to you, but that's what it's like for me. And despite having some pretty awful notions stuffed into her head, yeah. She's alright. So if you're worried, then that's fine. Tell me why, and I'll try to work on it. If it's because of this... I just hope we don't run into anymore of 'me'." If that wasn't enough for Firmia, then Brant could fly solo... She wasn't going to put this job ahead of family in trouble.

"But ..." Firmia winced, almost pleasantly surprised by Chris' levelheadedness, but having thought a lot about the final battle beforehand, "but what if we do run into more of them? We're going to be attacking Apotheosis' main base, soon. I don't know how many more clones there are but there's no way we can save them all with just the pilots we have with us."

Brant feared as much. That's why he tried not to think about it. It was all circumstance at this point. It could just as easily have been Nina or even Chris waiting for them in the next battle. Instead, they were both here ...

Firmia straightened up, leaning forward slightly to ask the real question she needed to get off her chest. "I really doubt the ANF is going to be around to soak up fire for us next time. So, if I give you two the order to destroy the other clones ... if it comes to that, will you do it? Even though they're your family?"

She was asking them both, Brant realized ... great.

"Yes," Chris replied, without missing a beat. "They're only going to get better and better the more Apoth makes... And if they run out of material for the process, they might as well just be dolls programmed to fight. That's why I was so worried this time. Nina is still... There's still 'Christina', in her. She's not a husk, we can help her. Any others, from now on... If it comes to shooting them down, or risking someone else here, I won't hesitate." Brant felt worried... Admittedly, she understood that, but... "What about you, Brant?"

Brant sighed a miserable sigh. "I'll do it, but ... I'm already not my biggest fan, right now."

"... alright," Firmia said, relaxing in her chair. She could go further but didn't really want to. Chris was usually a loose cannon, but the issue that sparked Firmia's need for this meeting had been addressed. Whether the clone would change her mind in the heat of battle was another thing, but that wasn't an angle the fledgling captain could ever hope to pursue successfully. Also Brant likely wouldn't have to pull the trigger himself, so Firmia wasn't worried about him hating himself for the deaths of the other clones. For now, they had a basic understanding, and no bloodshed. I'll take it ... "I think that's enough for one day. You can stay on the Regalia ... as long as I can trust you."

"You gonna be okay, Brant?" He was already getting chewed out by Tarquin over things the kid didn't understand, and with having to face Jess today, this stacking on that was probably ruining his day even further. "You don't have to pull the trigger. I won't be happy about it, but I can handle it better than you can. I know that much."

Wait, trust? Really? "What's not to trust? Firmia, I'm putting my life on the line for you by sitting in his back seat. And I've done nothing but try to help since I got here. One time I step out of line over something as important to me as Brant, and this is what I get? Come on. I'm not a machine..." What did she want from pilots if family was enough to inspire mistrust?

Brant only managed a nod in response.

Firmia on the other hand was visibly cringing at Chris' question and followup. Anyone that wanted to fight Apotheosis had to risk life and limb to do so. There was no other way. Firmia also hadn't gotten the impression that Chris was helping for anything other than her own revenge and to be close to Brant. Those were technically valid reasons, but they didn't sit well with the Alkaev personally. "I'm trying to handle this before it becomes a problem. If this seems premature, I'm sorry ... but I can't risk one of my mobile suits behaving erratically during a mission."

"You're too worried... Which, I guess, I get, because of all the nonsense that's going on around here, but, just... I dunno, kinda hurts, figured I was doing pretty good over here. Not gonna make a fuss but... Yeesh." She sighed, standing up and stretching some. The SKIN suit had been replaced with a sweater, the Avalon's AC was decently chilly... And some shorts that were... Well, the sweater was long.

"Izzat all right now? Sorry for making you worry, Captain."

Firmia scowled and stood up at Chris' question, too suspicious not to try and figure out what was happening, right now. "Okay, what's gotten into you? You're acting like-" "... Tonya," Brant cut in, thoughtfully.

"Erm ..." There was a thought, and Firmia wasn't sure what to do with it.

"Wh-- Really? What, just because I'm not yelling at you? Look, aside from having to watch Brant tear himself apart for people that aren't worth it, I had a pretty good day. We kicked ass, I have another sister, and she's not too far gone to help. You're having a moment, but I get why, and there's no reason for me to freak out about it. Do you want me to? Grr grr, I'm so mad, Firmia's being a captain, how horrible. Come on." Chris groaned, holding her hands behind her head.

"If you have to frame it that way," Firmia groaned, "fine. I'll try to enjoy the peace while it lasts."

"You know," Brant chimed in, again, "as long as we don't just keep things bottled up until something crazy happens, the peace doesn't necessarily have to stop."

Wishful thinking in Firmia's book, though they could theoretically nip bigger problems, much like what she was trying to do here. Somehow it felt like she'd already had a big argument with Chris and the clone had gone back in time for a second go at it, memories intact. Whatever the case, Firmia was glad to be past it.

"Good. Glad you're happy about things. Brant, can we talk? Wwwwwwithout Firmia? No offense, but... You mentioning not leaving things bottled up until something crazy happens, well, y'know. Something on my chest I kinda have to get off." As long as he was okay with that...

"Have at it," Firmia said, making for the exit ahead of her Regalia Team.

Brant stood up, wondering what was on Chris' mind. He hoped it didn't have anything to do with Jessica. She was topic of the week, and so he was expecting something at least tangentially related, if not right on point. "Yeah that's fine. Did you want to talk here or somewhere else?"

"Bye bye Firms... Here's fine." Chris wasted no time in rushing over to Brant and planting a hug on him, nice and tight, and not letting go. "I'm sorry." For a few things, but mostly for how the fight had gone.

Brant hadn't gotten enough advanced warning to decide how to react to the incoming hug. He wound up returning the embrace as mild confusion set in. "Sorry ... for what, exactly?" It couldn't be about today's battle, could it? Things had gone well for the most part.

Right ... for the 'most part.' There was still the issue of Jessica. Despite every rationalization he could come up with, it didn't change how Brant felt about her and this situation, not in the slightest. He just wished he could deal with it without subjecting Chris to the outpour. Their time spent together really should be much happier and positive than this.

"For today, I guess. Not Jess... There's nothing I can do there, all I can do about that is be here for you. Just... Wish i could've done more, or do what I did better. Gotten less angry about Louise when I yelled at her, managed to take over better when you were talking, been more of... More of a beacon to help you be alright. Because you were tearing yourself apart, and I'm just... I'm here, but am I here enough? There has to be more I can do for you." Worried eyes peaked up at him from their hug, eyebrows furrowed in a confused sort of look. "Anything?"

Was Chris here enough ...? For him? She had to be, didn't she? After all, if Chris wasn't here with him, Brant could only imagine how poorly the fight could have gone for the Regalia, and that was just one situation. He might not have been in any condition to pilot at all with how closely Firmia was keeping an eye on him. If nothing else, Chris was keeping Brant just functional enough to do his job and do it well. But she wanted to know if she could do anything more, and that honestly had the Alkaev pilot stumped.

"You remember who you're talking to, right?" Brant teased her, thinking of his admittedly low standards, "What more could I ask for?" His grin faded rather suddenly, "Really. I honestly don't know. You're not pulling too tight or pushing me away, or chasing everyone else away. My sixteen year old self would swap places with me in a heartbeat and punt the wormhole behind him. That's how much I've changed. I know I'm in Heaven-err ... Avalon ... but I brought so much crap here with me I can barely move. I should be able to deal with all of it ..."

"You are dealing with all of it... Just... Slowly. And I won't ask if I can speed you up, but, there has to be anything I can do to make the issues more bearable. Put a smile on your face, make you laugh, make you happy. Anything like that. Without just, throwing myself at you... Not that I don't want to, but... But I-I wanted to wait for you, to be ready to... Do anything like that. A, And besides, I should be able to help you without that. I should. I just... If you don't know, where am I supposed to find out? Heh... This probably isn't part of helping. I shouldn't get down on myself. I shouldn't..."

"Funny you should bring that up, actually," Brant chuckled weakly. If there was one thing he knew about himself it was that he had changed a great deal, and not over a long period of time. Most of that change occurred within a brief couple of years. At sixteen and a year or two before that, he was gushing over his instructor, a long blonde haired goddess of war and occasional fidgeting. By eighteen, he could care less about where he ended up, or with whom. He was just a pilot, exactly like Dima wanted. So that meant much of what he was feeling ... or rather, much of what he wasn't feeling ... it wasn't even real in a sense.

"Gonna stroke both our egos a bit here ... bear with me. You are exactly what I wanted, growing up. Whatever you decide to put on looks so much better for it. You actually take care of yourself and aren't just waiting around for the fat to start rolling up. You're so far from a helpless damsel it's not even funny. If Dima's so called doctors hadn't worn me down, I would have taken that offer a while ago. ... I would have used every single weapon in my arsenal, everything I ever learned, and had you tangled up in the sheets drooling and babbling about unicorns. I wouldn't have bothered asking you to stay ... since I would have had enough confidence in myself and what I can offer. So yeah ... I'm not my biggest fan right now. If it's not Jess and being strong enough to handle that, it's having to put you through all of this. You've done more than enough and put up with so much I can't really ask for more than that." If he was just whole, Brant reasoned, the effects of what Chris was already doing would be increased dramatically. "Instead ... let me get back to trying to help you. That's still my biggest priority after keeping everyone here safe."

"... U-Unicorns, huh...?" He had to make it sound that appealing, didn't he? Now she just wanted it more. Ugh, what she wouldn't give for a 'fix Brant' button. Smash that so hard... "I'm up to two working emotions now. And even if I'm not feeling the rest, from how I've been acting around you, it's really evident that they're working. I'm sure that, given enough time and exposure, they'll pop back in enough to feel them directly. So you are helping, Brant. You haven't stopped. You're just... Trying to help everyone. And that's takings its tolls." She wanted to keep pressing up against him, it was so warm and comfy... But, there were better places for that.

Letting go enough that her hands were on his sides and she wasn't buried against him, she sighed, smiling up at that troubled face. "Fine, fine... I'm still gonna worry, but you seem better than earlier. Got a few things you can stroke aside from my ego, if we don't have anything to do... Innuendo aside, I wouldn't mind a massage, if you're willing. Shoulder's been a bit stiff, and I can't exactly rub my own back, y'know?" Unless Firmia had more immediate demands, but...

A massage? That was a little direct, but Brant was definitely up for it. He just hoped he could pick things up again quickly. This wasn't quite his area of expertise. ... yet. "You'll have to bear with me some more, but alright. If nothing else I'll figure out what works for you."

"Sure... That's fine. I can't say I know how to give a massage either, and... I'll, try to hold off on making it awkward. Let's go, yeah? ... Firmia doesn't have anything she's going to surprise us with, does she?" Chris took him by the hand and started to head out, hoping nothing would interrupt this. She wanted a lot more moments together. They had a lot of time to make up for, having moved along this quickly.

Brant shrugged at the Firmia question as he was led out of the meeting room. He had no idea, and with her, ideas--sometimes important ones--came seemingly at random. "If she needs us for something we'll just hurry and take care of it ..." Fortunately, Brant couldn't think of much the fresh captain would need either of them for besides operating the Regalia. He'd helped with dinner last night, but Firmia wasn't about to hand him a white uniform. If anyone, that would be Sasha.

"Well... Good, then. More time to ourselves." Chris didn't speak up again during the walk, spending most of her time trying to figure out what to bring up. The fight... Probably not. Where they were going from here? Maybe. What he wanted to do later? Definitely. Maybe his thoughts on Jess as an android? Then again, talking about her was probably a bad idea entirely... I'll figure something out. Maybe he has his own ideas. There was the door, open it went, and there Chris went into the bed, sighing as she flopped onto her stomach.

"So sore... Riese sure is lucky they have a pool section, and a hot tub? Just, man... A full body bubbly soak like that, that would do much soooo much good..."

"You're sore, too?" That upped the stakes ever so slightly. Brant shut the door behind them as Chris made for the bed and then took his shoes off. "Alright, I'll see what I can do ..." The part man part demon wizard Merlin ought to be able to pull off something, right?

Brant made his way over and took his place on Chris' left side. Seeing her like this was a little too amusing in one sense. She had enough hair to double as a cavalry cape. Lifting up her sweater clearly wouldn't be enough to get started. He'd have to part her hair to either side while he was at it. "Do me a favor and never cut this off," Brant chuckled, handling a handful of Chris' locks for emphasis.

"Not in a painful way, but just enough to be irritating... Been keeping myself in shape, as you said, and stretching is great, but it still builds up after a while. And all the Gs from piloting, eesh... I could use a spa..." Oh, right, hair... "Heh... Nah, gonna take a razor to it all tomorrow, go bald, help the helmet fit better. Do you know how annoying it is to get all of this in there? I'm so glad buns are a thing." She let him have his moment of fascination, gathering it up and slinging it over her right shoulder, resting her face on her hands after. "You need this off, too?"

"Finally figured out what to ask for, at least humor me," Brant pleaded jokingly. As for the sweater, it didn't need to come off but Brant figured they both would prefer if it did. "Yeah, bare back's better for this, I think." At least ...

Brant took a moment to check his palms, looking for any dry or rough spots that might irritate Chris' skin. He didn't find anything too bad, but he still felt this would be better with some oil or moisturizer. ... something. "One sec," Brant said, hopping up and making a quick trip to the bathroom. He hurried back with some body lotion that would hopefully do the trick.

"Woooooow you won't even take it off for me," she whined, fidgeting out of the sweater and throwing it onto the floor as he went to get... What? Oh, lotion. Yeah, probably. He had pretty soft hands, though... She shrugged, and then snickered. "You're gonna have to unhook my bra~ How scandalous." The obvious sarcasm at the end of the sentence made her chuckle, shutting her eyes and doing her best to relax.

So much for trying to be a gentleman about this, Brant thought. If Chris was going to have him undo the bra then it was a lost cause. He might as well go all in and try to get the thing loose with his teeth. "Heh, you want scandalous, just-" "Brant?"

Firmia ...

"Is Chris there with you?"

Boy was she ... "Yep," Brant nodded exaggeratedly a few times.

"Oh, kill the mood, why don't you? Wha'cha want, boss?" Scandalous would have to wait.

"Mrgh," Firmia sounded conflicted as ever, "There are a couple of things I forgot to mention while I had you in the meeting room."

So she had come up with a thing or two to drop on them ... or at least Brant, himself.

"Now that we have a little time, I need your help with the drone program. It's kind of urgent, but if you need to rest first, that's fine. The other thing is slightly more long term."

Brant grimaced slightly, not feeling confident enough to write the full program for the combat drones. He was hoping examining Galatea's code would help him along toward more practical advanced AI, rather than taking the harder, scenic route, filled with all its trial and error ... but they just didn't have the time, did they? Apotheosis could hit them again tomorrow, though Brant highly doubted the maddening pacing between their battles would keep up after today. Still, under normal circumstances, Brant needed at least a week to iron out a regular AI. Something that could actually be useful in combat, beyond training purposes, that ought to take months.

"I know it's a little premature, but I also need to get the next AMS unit fully designed. If it doesn't wind up being too specialized, I could pitch it to the ANF as a mass production unit. My designs aren't ... coming out the way I'd like, though. I want you to give it a try ..."

Design a new AMS unit? This time it wasn't just a confidence issue discouraging Brant. He actually knew how to design mobile suits and had even tailored some parts to be more aesthetically pleasing and aerodynamic, all without any loss in performance. The trouble was trying to design something that wasn't highly specialized ...

"Are you sure about this? Both, I mean," Brant winced, "I'm still just a novice programmer in the big scheme of things. I'm also not sure you want me designing something the ANF would actually want to buy the schematics for. You're just going to wind up with a supped up space plane that cosplays as a robot from time to time."

"A supped up space plane is exactly what I want," Firmia countered, a bit sternly, but there was more understanding in her tone than usual, "The next AMS unit isn't some front line bludgeon. I need a recon unit. I'll ... explain the details once you're ready to get started, but you don't need to focus on all out warfare while working on the CAD. As for your programming skills ... it's not like you have to do it alone. Maybe Hannah could help ... or your father."

"Er-!" His father ... why'd she bring him up?

Well, more work for Brant, more work Chris couldn't exactly help him with... Maybe she could get Firmia off of his back for a minute, at least. "Can this wait? He's trying to take my bra off, we're a bit preoccupied." Context was everything, and Firmia didn't need more. "Unless you wanna listen in. Didn't take you for that kinda perv."

"P-perver-WHAT?! What the hell are you two doing, right now?!"

Brant could tell Chris was trying to scare Firmia off with that one, and didn't want to ruin it outright, so he decided to just wait ... and try to figure out that father comment. All in all, it was probably just a subtle way for Firmia to tell him to try and get in touch with his parents again. She had gone through some effort to make that possible, so it was definitely understandable.

"I'm half naked on the bed, Brant's got his hands all over me... You like to call at reeeeeeeeally bad times, Firmia. Stay on the line if you want, I don't mind being loud for you." That reaction had been absolutely perfect. What a silly little girl she was...

"What is wrong with you?! This is the ship's main channel, not a private line! Why are you so brazen about this?!"

Listening to Firmia get worked up made Brant sigh. Chris was just going to keep pushing the Alkaev's button's as long as the the comms were still on.

"Because your reactions are funny. Anyway, he's just giving me a massage, my shoulder's been bugging me. Surprise, it wasn't what you thought it was, there goes the joke... Can we get back to that, now?"

Or not, Brant blinked.

"I ..." Firmia went silent, apparently at a loss.

"Weird," Brant smirked, "I thought this was just foreplay ..." May as well have some fun himself ... while he still could, at least.

"Don't threaten me with a good time, Brant. You can do what, ever, you, want, to me~" If Firmia wasn't going to hang up, and Brant was going to join in, she was going to milk this for all it was worth.

"Are you serious ...?" Firmia finally managed.

I'd sure like to be, Brant mentally jabbed himself. "Don't worry, Firmia. We'll be ready if anything comes up ... and I'll try to get in touch with my parents later on. It'll give me something to do while I'm trying to figure out this new design ..."

"Geez, you can't take a joke. If anything comes up, we'll come running, alright? Even if it's interrupting something. Hannah's got her work cut out for her..."

"Tch ... Urgh, fine. I need to see how Carlos is doing."

It sounded like that overdue interrogation was finally about to start. Brant figured Firmia wanted to get it out of the way so she could pass along any relevant information to the post mission debriefing ... whenever that came up.

"Good luck," Brant said.

"You ... t-too."

That obviously wasn't the response she meant to put out on the airwaves, Brant noted. It was actually kind of funny. Now what? Well ... back to the massage. With Chris laughing and Brant feeling silly about his part in all of this, he was seriously considering making this 'awkward.' You know what? It's what younger me would do, so it's only a little stupid. Let's get this bra off. Brant leaned in close enough to use his teeth as well as his hands ... because that's what younger Brant might do.

 

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August 12th, 1200 Hours, Bridge of the Heion Riese, Afloat Above ANF HQ

It had taken Central a week's time to settle on the area for Apotheosis' base, and to outfit several cruisers with the proper equipment for the arctic climate. They would be still be late following the Riese, getting them outfitted and fully manned had proven itself to be quite the challenge, but it would only be a day's delay on them meeting up before entering the Arctic circle... Hopefully without issue.

Jessica had taken this time to get used to her knowledge and body. Being an android had plenty of perks that she hadn't been able to fathom, but now that she'd had the time to concern herself with them, they felt rather natural. Never getting tired, having near superhuman strength, improved senses, an ability to near instantly recall all information she'd seen in her life... It was frightening and interesting, but she was getting comfortable with herself in a way she'd never know before. Gone was the indecisive mess, no more stutters, no more issues like that... While it might have come at the cost of some of her humanity, she was still Jessica, and she was happy about that. Abby hadn't fled, and despite the Riese losing some general crew when her status became known, they were still at full fighting capacity. People had faith in her and this ship, the crew that was stationed on it, the pilots that had fought. It was heartwarming.

"Going to put an end to this... XO, chart our courses. Central has given the go ahead for us to leave, we need to decide on what's better: a straight shot through Canada, or taking the west coast up and around. We're likely to face less resistance that way, but there's time to consider... Set those, and compare how long it will take, alright?" Jess had done some provisional testing in her head and the coast traveling wasn't decidedly inferior, but it would do to get it done in the Riese's systems. She was still getting used to... Being a part of the ship. She'd attempted to interface, but it was a useless endeavor outside of combat, it seemed. Otherwise, she had complete access to the Riese's networks and securities, but that was just cutting out a step in what she had access to before. When Apotheosis comes to meet us, I'll have to test it out immediately. I can't leave these systems until the last minute.

Downstairs

"Alright, Nina, and this is the hangar," Christina began, taking the clone in for a proper walk about. She'd been stuck in her room, or talking to Tarquin, it would do to get her acquainted with the rest of the ship. Whether or not she'd end up in any of these machines waited to be seen, but it was better than having her sit and wait. She really wasn't much for doing anything...

"The hangar... The Apotheosis base had one of these. Is there anything special about this one?"

"Uhh... Well, the robots are special. I'd like to think... Did you wanna see any of them?"

Nina paused, scanning the place. The machines here were all different sizes colors and shapes, was this lack of uniformity standard in the ANF? All of Apotheosis' mainline machines were the same model... Maybe that was their downfall. She didn't quite know, but seeing any of them? "Can you, show me the one you pilot?"

"Sure! But, I don't pilot... I'm Kim's copilot, for the Artemis. That one, come on." Christina pulled the girl along, heading up towards the blue and pink machine.

While she entertained her sister, Buck popped himself out of the cockpit for the newly refitted Crescent Moon. Kazue had attached some kanji to the machine's interface, but he didn't know a lick of Japanese, so he was just gonna keep calling it the Crescent. The Sergeant in question was waiting at the foot of the machine, waving gently at the hard worker.

"She's all done, Sergeant! Come on in and see if stuff's to your liking!" Buck tossed down the entry cable, the woman getting her footing before riding it up.

"Thank you, for, working so fast... I'm surprised you managed to get it fitted, so quickly." Demure as always, Kazue stepped past Buck and sat herself down in the cockpit's seat, checking over the specifications of the machine. Its thrusters and general mobility had been vastly improved, along with a bit of bulk and the main sword being reinforced. It wasn't near the level of the other pilots machines, but for Kazue's fighting purposes, it would manage wonderfully. "This... Looks wonderful! Thank you, really! I... I will do my best to aid the Riese as much as I can."

"Hey, as long as she plays alright! That's what makes me happy. Feel free to do any tests you need, I've gotta check on a few more bots before we leave!"

"I will... Thank you truly, Buck."

Rub it in

"See you later, captain... Hah... Hahahaha~ You, t-too~ Hahaha!" Chris was laughing hard enough to shake her whole body, Firmia was adorable without even trying to be. You too! What a hoot! The poor girl probably didn't even know the first thing about any of that, God her reactions were wonderful. "Ahh, geez... Hahahaha... Mmm, my stomach hurts now... Ahh..." A wonderful little captain they had...

Fortunately Brant wasn't trying to be stealthy with his technique, because his hair coming down on Chris' back, as well as his breath, would have given the game away fairly early on. With the bottom hook, Brant's lip even wound up brushing gently against Chris' skin. The same thing happened with his upper lip when he reached the third and final hook.

"Got it." And he did it without much time lost, either.

"Isn't Firmia great? Well, most of the time, anyway-- B-Brant?" She could feel his hair, and-- "Hyah..." ... He'd, just been joking about the foreplay, right? "Uhm... You, s-sure did..." It was a good thing her face was hidden against the bed, right now...

Every weapon in my arsenal, Brant reminded himself. Launching that payload wasn't the plan for today, but it was something to keep in mind. He did not want Chris to ever get the impression Jessica must have gotten from him, that he wasn't interested in her for whatever reason.

"Alright, let's get started," Brant said, moving over Chris to get centered. Then he dabbed some lotion into his palm and rubbed it into both hands to make them just a bit softer. He remembered that Chris' shoulder had been giving her trouble, but just dropping down right there didn't feel like a good way to start. Maybe working his way there would work better. As long as he didn't ignore it for too long. Brant had a lot of ground to cover if he was going to work out all of that tension and subtly remind Chris that she was more to him than just his copilot or ... anchor to sanity.

"Geez... Made my heart skip a beat, there. First you're telling Firmia it's foreplay, then you do that? Don't get my hopes up too high." He was just joking along, right? Right? She'd have to do a lot more mental preparations if he wasn't... So very unfair.

"Go ahead... Hoof, let me in on the joke next time. Unless you're getting back at me for poking fun at Firmia... Heh, I wouldn't blame you, but she was too funny to stop immediately." If only she was that fun all the time...

Keeping everything balanced; not a bad idea now that she mentioned it. If Firmia wasn't going to take a friendly swipe at Chris once in a while, who would?

"Just trying to help lighten the mood," Brant said, carefully starting on her back. His hands landed just slightly above where Chris' bra hooked in place. Gently, he felt out the situation, looking for areas where Chris' muscles weren't yet relaxed. He tried to persuade them to do so as he worked his way up to her shoulders.

"Good thing you did, it's about to get heavy again... Ah..." Always cold, at first touch, these things were. That took a second to get over... "Firmia was talking about your dad? Do I have parents to impress, now?"

"I'm not sure, actually," Brant glanced off at nothing, thinking of how his parents might react. His father was better with AI than he was, so he'd be disappointed to know his son was down in the dumps over an android. How realistic she was wouldn't make a difference in his view. As for Brant's mother, she might be too invested in things in one area and not enough in all the others.

"My mother probably wouldn't even join the conversation until after she got to look at your genetic data. My father though ... he's a wildcard. He might be thrilled about you or pissed. Just can't be sure ..." Not that what either of them thought would change his mind. They had been out of contact for so long, Brant couldn't let either of them influence what was going on here too much.

"What do my genes matter? She that worried about kids? And thrilled or pissed, is it... I guess that's about average around here, when it comes to people reacting to me. I'll take it~ Though, I'd rather you parents be happy with me than not... So I'll play at being on my best behaviour, should it come to a meeting." With where Brant was sitting, there was just enough room to idly kick her legs against the bed. So she did~

Brant was glad she would be on her best behavior if he decided to show her off to his parents, but he was reluctant. "She's a geneticist, and a hardcore one," Brant answered the genes question as briefly as he could, "She wants each generation to improve over the last one and anything less is a 'waste of potential.'"

Brant glanced back at the source of the subtle jostling he was feeling and saw Chris kicking her legs. That was cute. Too bad he couldn't find some good ground to cover with regard to his parents. He hadn't seen or spoken to them in a decade but it wasn't as if things were sunshine and rainbows before that. Maybe that was why he and Rex had fallen for this ruse so easily ...

"I'll call them once I figure out what I want to say. You can say hi too if you want, but keep in mind they're not the most romantic people. I don't think either of them are going to care that you're helping me through another rough patch."

"Mmm, that's fine... They don't have to care, as long as it's actually helping, that's good enough for me." Well, she cared if Rosa cared, but sticking anything to that awful woman was worthwhile. "I'll say hi, get called a waste of potential, laugh, and wave. Not going to be bothered, unless you've got another tale to tell me in the same vein as Rosa... But... Considering they're your parents, I can only hope not." That would be a rather horrifying thought.

"Nothing that serious," Brant winced as he finally reached Chris' shoulders. He was especially careful here, but also working hard to undo the tension from riding backseat in the Regalia. "I just know they're not going to be happy about much that's happened with me since I last spoke with them." Disappointment may be an understatement depending on how Brant presented everything. He wasn't even sure if he would tell them everything, yet ...

"Mmmmnnnnnn... Yeah, r-right there, ahh..." Oof, that was one strained muscle. This was definitely worth it, Chris letting out a relaxed sigh. "Probably not with all the Alkaev horseshit, but... Mnnn, you've done plenty otherwise, an'... I'm sure Galatea or Hannah don't mind opening up to help with your, AI woes. Hahhhh~" Another sigh, the bed was swiftly forming a Chris shaped imprint.

"That's not a literal open up, I'm sure if you plugged them in you could get a digital, map, or somethin'..."

"Might not be able to figure out what I'm looking at," Brant admitted, "but I won't know until I actually look, so I'll ask them. Was going to ask Galatea anyway but ... yeah ..." So much as glancing at Hannah's coding, or whatever was going on in there, could probably only show just how much of a novice he really was. Brant wasn't exactly looking forward to it, right now.

"You sure sound excited..." Did he really hate the thought of getting help that much? "Isn't that what learning is about? Looking at something above your level and then working to get there? It's not like you're just gonna copy Galateas into the drones... Much as Firmia might be happy that you'd be done that fast, but... She seems real stubborn on making copies of these AIs and erasing personalities."

"I don't like the idea of making hollowed out copies of them, either. Let's leave that kind of thing to Apotheosis." And then shoot them. "Anyway, it's not like I don't mind learning, but ... I don't know, if the gap between where you are and where you want to be is big enough, it's not inspiring, it's just depressing. If I can at least comprehend what I'm looking at it won't be so bad, I guess ..."

"Oh... Whoops. I guess I didn't really... I guess I get it." That whole thing had passed right over her because they were talking about AIs, not people... Quick way to upset Brant, she'd take her mistake on the chin and not make it again. "Maybe just Galatea, then. Hannah's probably a step up. The little AI keeps saying she was programmed for sass, right? So maybe her whole deal is less a learning AI, and more one, preprogrammed to pick certain things up, up to a point. That sounds like something you could manage... right?"

"That's what I'm hoping," Brant nodded. Chris' shoulder seemed to be relaxing more now. A bit more and he could probably start working his way back down and finding any other problem areas. "A2 'learns' in his own way, but unless I find more ways to upgrade him, he's never going to do anything more involved than find the best witty comment for the situation." Speaking of A2, Elaine still had him with her. The mole situation wasn't resolved yet, so it was still too soon to ask for his alpha tool and the little AI within.

"As long as you shut her down first... Hahh, your hands are great. Else she's gonna sass at you the whole time you're in awe of her data." A2... A2, A2... Oh. "That tiny little robot thing you built?" There was an AI in there? Huh. Interesting... So Brant already had a pretty good hold, then.

"Unfortunately I may need her running at the time," Brant sighed, "Might need a bit of a walkthrough. Though I guess if we go that route, the same would work with Hannah, wouldn't it ...?" Maybe. At least the massage was working. "O-oh A2's in my alpha tool ... loaned that out to Elaine to help her prove she's not one of the moles on the Riese. A1's in that Throne model I built."

"Brant's already making kids, and I'm not even involved~" she joked, sighing back into relaxation. "Why's she worried about that? She wasn't one of them... I don't think. Louise got drunk a few times and whined about this Elaine girl not listening to her calls... I guess, maybe, but it sounded more like Elaine was a plaything, rather than a spy." Chris shrugged as much as she could, no point in trying to understand a dead woman.

"Sure you wanna poke around Hannah? She might make you feel inadequate if you can't figure out how her brain works."

"I loaned her A2 before we knew much about Louise," Brant clarified, trying not to go too far back into the recent past. He was pretty sure Elaine wasn't one of the moles, otherwise he might have handled that situation slightly differently. For now, it was fine for her to keep the impromptu monitoring device.

As for looking into Hannah's brain ... "I'm already inadequate. I know that. I might be able to get some competent AIs written up for Firmia's drones, but I doubt they'll be useful compared to just having Galatea or a copy of her controlling them from the processor room." That Firmia would want these AIs much sooner than the AMS design, went without saying. "Honestly, I think she's overestimating me on this one. I've got time and some experience, but that's about it."

"You can handle it, Brant," Chris threw out, unsure of the actual intricacies of it, but she was confident he could manage something good. "You're stubborn to a fault, you know? You're gonna put your mind to it and you aren't gonna stop until you manage. And I'm gonna be up at two AM with you, making coffee for your crazy work, and... Maybe I should get one of those phone game apps onto my communicator, good way to pass the time... And we are getting paid, right?" The Avalon was a home, as far as she was concerned, so throwing disposable income at something could be fun.

"Either way, you've got more than just yourself. Even if you aren't going to use Hannah to make an AI base, she can probably help."

Firmia wasn't likely to bar him from getting help on either of these projects, so Chris was probably right. Brant chuckled at the mental image of her powering through the late hours with him as he worked on this. It definitely beat working on everything by himself like he usually did.

"Yeah, you're right. I'm not feeling invincible in the programming world right now, but throwing in the towel isn't something I can do, not in a situation like this." Firmia had a lot to prove to the ANF and to the world. She clearly wanted him to be a part of that, so it was time to step up and stop being a mere hobbyist.

"You've got your favorite girls as backup, you can handle it. And if you get bored, or stuck, well... You've got me and a bed, use your imagination~"

"Now you're making me feel bad,"  Brant feigned a wince, "I never get bored fiddling with code ... going to have to figure out a way to multitask ..."

"Not even once? Impressive. I guess I'm just gonna have to figure out how best to ride while you work. You don't need both hands to code, right?" At least the knot in her shoulder was gone, she could afford to laugh a bit and not have it twinge in discomfort.

"Thanks, by the way."

"One'll do," Brant smirked. He wasn't sure what kind of mental image Chris had of this multitasking, but from the sound of things, it was fairly close to his own. ... and now he had some new and more practical versions coming to mind ... oh boy ... Best to just focus on the massage for now. If he couldn't do this right then he had no business bragging about anything else he could do for her. "You're welcome. And let me know if you want this to be a regular thing. I'll try to get better at it."

"You keep talking yourself up and I'm gonna roll over." He couldn't tease her that much, she was still a young adult with limits on imagination. Curiosity would win out eventually... She just hoped Brant was ready by then. "Wait, regular massages? Really? Geez... Get even better, why don't you?" She wasn't going to fathom saying no to something like that.

"So... How do you feel about all these androids being people?" She didn't mention Jess, but that pretty much gave away why she was thinking about the topic. "I mean... Hannah's gotta be pretty complicated to be as advanced as she is, right?"

Doing what he had the time and energy for, even if it was just investing in giving better massages, seemed only natural to Brant. What seemed less natural, even to him, was taking this whole androids thing on board with almost no effort.

Chris seemed to pivot straight to Hannah, in spite of the more relevant android debacle. Maybe she was just trying to be subtle. Points for trying, at least. "Definitely complicated," Brant smiled bitterly. It was another reason he truly felt like a novice programmer. He could design simple, functional AIs. But when it came to working alongside the more advanced ones, he was having worse luck than most. His interactions with them over the last couple of days could be boiled down to just two pathetic little words: damage control.

"Kind of makes me feel like I should stick with the simpler AIs."

"Really?" Alright, maybe a bad topic. "You can make it there, you know? Anyone can. It's like exercise... If you put your mind to it, and work your body, it gets there. Even Christina could end up like me, if she cared to... So whoever made Hannah, and these AIs, you can figure it out too. You're pretty quick to beat yourself up, y'know? I thought an Alkaev dies or wins? And it's not like coding is going to kill you, so the only option is to win..." Chris was sure he could do this, especially when they were getting their hands on more and more apoth tech. Surely there was something there he could use?

An Alkaev pilot dies or he wins ... it made Brant wonder how much time he had left thinking about Jessica. Then again, this was the 'Avalon.' And he got whisked away to this island fairly quickly. Maybe he would survive this war ... "'Le Morte D'Brant' ... but yeah, making new AIs isn't going to kill me. I'm just hoping that once those AIs are running around trying to make sense of the world, I'm not making it worse for them. ... that's all."

"You'll be a great dad. And I'll be a shitty mom, for a while. You've at least got parents... Christina's isn't really mine, so..." She weakly shrugged again, wondering how smart he really wanted to make these AIs... More Hannahs wouldn't really be a bad thing. "Having fun, by the way? Sorry I'm not quite as soft as you might've been hoping for... I bet massaging Christina would feel like rolling dough, hah."

Brant grimaced. "You're sisters aren't you? It's alright if you have the same parents. Plus you've got the memories so you obviously know them well enough. Being out of contact shouldn't be an issue ..." At least it wasn't in Brant's view, having been out of contact with his own parents for so long. Chris had never technically met hers ... but she was also less than a year old ... which meant she was actually close to where she should be ... if compared to an infant ... which Brant did out of pure amusement~

Imagining Christina beneath him right that moment fell somewhere between amusing and downright terrifying, though. "Doubt I'd manage," Brant quipped, trying to put together a plausible scenario in his head, "She'd just be thinking about Kim the whole time and I'd be wondering how the hell we even got here. Sweaty dough, sweatier hands ..."

"I didn't mean as things are right now, but sure, that works. Funny mental image. She'd be happy, though. She's a lot weaker to this massage stuff than I am, if these memories are anything to go by. Sweaty dough... Hehehe, haha, gonna tell her that one. I can already see the look on her face." She sighed, shaking her head just a bit. "And, not really. I guess, because we have the same genetic make up, we're... Technically twins, but memories are just memories. And they aren't even mine... It's like watching someone so different from you do things you wouldn't consider doing. So it doesn't count, to me."

Hopefully Chris would leave out the context on that one. As for these dissociated memories ... "Just," Brant tried to find the right words to express his thoughts on the matter, but without an exact target to hit, it was proving difficult, "... just ... don't avoid being their daughter if you don't have to. Trust me, you don't want to latch onto mine instead." Tossing in a joke instead would just have to suffice. "If my mother likes what she sees we'll probably wind up on the run."

"Her, daughter," Chris corrected. "Christina's father is dead... Heart attack. Always had bad blood pressure, guess he didn't get it under control. And... Her mom seems alright. She got me to talk to her, and... She didn't seem against the idea of, 'surprise, new daughter'. So... Sure. I'll try, when I have the time. It'll make three people happy, so that's worth it." A small yawn, the thought of Brant's mom chasing them down for kids was amusing, but... Being on this ship, she was sure that nothing of issue would spring up.

"I'm gettin' pretty comfy here... If I fall asleep, wake m up."

Well, Brant thought to himself, Chris could be a dead man's daughter, if only in spirit. It wasn't really worth pointing out though, not when he didn't know anything about Christina's relationship with the man. It would just remain a brief thought. And her not closing the door on her biological mother was more or less what Brant had in mind anyway.

It looked like the massage was approaching the tail end; Brant's 'client' was fading slightly and he was halfway down her back. "Alright, I'll wake you up," Brant promised, trying to think of some fun ways to do just that. Tapping her on the shoulder just wouldn't cut it.

"Just, spank me good or, somethin'... Know you can't resist, that ass... Mmm..." Bed soft, Brant warm, massage comfy... Maybe I should doze off just so he does... He wouldn't... Or, would... Ahhh, whatever, sleep beckons...

Brant tried his hardest not to laugh, but all he managed was that silent diaphragm action, which shook them both a little. She certainly had a way with words, didn't she? However he woke her up it'd be ... considerate, Brant decided, for his sake as much as hers.

"Mnnhhmmm..." The tell tale sounds of slowly falling to sleep were ever present, as Chris' breath slowed ever so faintly. She'd be off, and soon.

Was she really going to just doze off with her bra undone like this and her upper body exposed? Part of Brant wanted to go ahead and wake her up. Another part knew they had no pressing business and rather liked the idea of staying here for a while ... maybe even resting up before that debriefing ...

Brant felt himself coming to a decision almost involuntarily. He decided to go with it, even if it might be a bit cruel in Chris' state. Quietly slipping out of his own shirt, Brant took a deep breath and prepared for the most awkward nap of his life. "Better idea," Brant said, the only warning before he carefully got his arms beneath her and started to pull upward. It didn't much matter to him where the bra ended up, as long as Chris wound up as the little spoon.

"Alright, let's just rest like this for a while~" Brant grinned, having pulled Chris into his arms and moved further up onto the bed. It wasn't what sixteen year old Brant would do ... that kid had limits of his own. Brant at least had him beat there.

"Mmnn... What's, hhhmm..." Groggy and being shuffled around, Chris woke up enough to tilt her head back and stare at Brant for a second, before flopping it back down and curling up against him. "Told you to wake me up... But this is, fine too..." Weakly grabbing around, she realized he'd left her bra off... Eh, she shrugged and tossed it off the bed, slowly tugging the blanket up around herself. Brant could take care of the rest if he wanted it. "Comfy..."

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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The Right Idea, the Wrong Time

 

When they received word that the mission debriefing was finally about to get underway, Firmia was more than a little annoyed. They had spent nearly the whole day waiting, and her crew had even had time to finish dinner before things finally got started. The Alkaev felt that she was probably the only one that took issue with it though, so she kept that to herself. Firmia didn't want to go to the Riese just to attend a meeting, not when there were more efficient options. As far as she was concerned, it would be enough to set up a live conference between both ships' meeting rooms. The Riese crew would be in the Riese's meeting room, and the Avalon crew would be in the Avalon's meeting room. Things wouldn't get crowded that way, and any tension could be easily kept to a minimum. It made perfect sense to her, but no ... Somehow, she wound up letting Hannah and Sasha head over along with what the fledgling captain managed to learn from her prisoner, Carlos. Brant wanted to go too, and that hadn't been a fun exchange, but Firmia reminded him of exactly what would happen if he got stuck in a room with Jessica and Abigail together ... and she left it at that. Whether he left with Hannah and Sasha, she didn't know.

Hannah would be back soon, hopefully with the highlights from the meeting. Firmia had spent her spare time taking another crack at the new AMS design. She gave up five minutes in, scrapping not only her original file, but her latest one as well. The problems were insurmountable without a different perspective coming at this. She couldn't fit the primary sensor into the head of an AMS type unit, and she couldn't improve the flight characteristics of the series in general without compromising the entire frame. Reducing the weight left any AMS prototype as  vulnerable as the Reign, but without the benefits of that particular unit's raw acceleration. What a pain in the butt ...

So, after five minutes of abject failure and another fifteen of brainstorming workarounds that just didn't exist, Firmia decided to indulge her curiosity and access the Alkaev Journal from her tablet, again. She picked up where she left off last time, with her mother's files. If there was anyone Firmia wanted to understand without having to interact with, it was her mother. There was plenty of reading, on Rosa, her children, both alive and dead, and there were indications everywhere that Dima and Karla had somehow known from the beginning that Rosa wouldn't be their successor. That was a little weird in Firmia's view. If even little children born from a perverse science experiment were potential successors, then why not Rosa? Maybe that decision had been reached in better times, back when Karla was still alive and the two felt they had plenty of time and flexibility. Maybe Dima was getting desperate. Either way, Firmia was slightly miffed by what she had read. There wasn't just reading, though. There were hundreds of audio recordings related to Rosa stretching back more than thirty years. Firmia had only listened to one up to this point. From what she had gathered, Rosa had found a monitoring device in her room ... and instead of destroying it, decided to pester the hell out of whoever was on the other side. It was incredibly embarrassing for Firmia to hear a sixteen year old Rosa gush over things the way her older sister Juliya did. They had more in common than the younger sibling ever realized. Rosa sounded so bright eyed in those days, Firmia was almost afraid to listen to anything that might bridge the gap between that disturbingly happy girl and the woman she knew. ... so she didn't. Perhaps the next time her curiosity got the better of her.

"So weird ..." Firmia murmured, getting up from her bed. She hadn't changed into any sort of sleepwear, but she would have been fine without her shoes. She promptly stepped back into them, planning to head to the cafeteria while listening to another audio recording through her headset. She started the next recording, and switched to another window with her notes as she made for the bedroom door. "Get a snack and then get back to work. It's too early for bed, but too late for coffee, so I'll just have to tough it out a while longer ..."

And just as Firmia's door opened on her late evening snack run, there was Hannah, about to knock, pulling up a smile and waving. "Hey. The meeting's over... And, it wasn't that informative, but, we know what we're doing going forward. How are you feeling...?" Short, but sweet, Firmia looked tired and annoyed... A standard look for the girl, but, hopefully with Hannah back, she could remedy some of it.

"It wasn't?" Firmia frowned. Honestly, why didn't they just do a video conference if there wasn't at least some new information coming in? It couldn't be helped now, though.

"Fine ..." Firmia sighed, deciding to put the meeting out of mind for now. At least she'd done her part, her people included. "I was heading to the cafeteria to get something to eat. I ... may have skipped dinner." A tough admission but ... there it was.

"Firmia... You have to take care of yourself. I can't be your girlfriend and your mom." Hannah sighed, ready to go with her, anyway. "It was mostly just Jess discussing her recent self discovery with the crew... Some people were upset, as expected, but, most seemed okay with it... Since they were already okay with me. Then Vance took over. We're all on standby until... Well, they're analyzing that data we found in the Regina. Trying to find out where Apotheosis' base is. Until they do, we're to play defense, and once they have it, we're all sent off towards it. Sounds like the final battle..."

Really, it was a bit surprising the meeting was so brief, but considering Jess' new robotic nature, it couldn't have been avoided...

"Pick one," Firmia murmured at Hannah's conundrum. What she was hearing about the meeting on the way to the cafeteria wasn't surprising, not until Vance came up, that is. Maybe Firmia was getting ahead of herself, but it sounded like they had some wiggle room, now ... perhaps enough to perform a couple of missions of their own ... within reason, of course. Firmia doubted she could even bring herself to move the ship without making sure Vance didn't have any objections. Her mobile suits were another matter, though.

"It does sound like we're getting close to beating them," Firmia agreed, "How long do you think it will take them to zero in on the base?" How much time did they have to finish their preparations and squeeze in their upgrades, she meant.

"Maybe a week? Galatea, Jessica, and Stephanie, couldn't crack the encrypted data that I brought back... So, I doubt the ANF is going to have an easier time. That gives us plenty of time to do anything necessary for a climactic battle... And I'll choose girlfriend, thank you. Wouldn't ever want to give someone as wonderful as you up." If heart emojis could be shown in real life...

"As for that free time, I had... A suggestion." Hannah stopped walking for a moment, looking behind herself to make sure there was no surprised Brant or Chris coming down the halls. "What do you think about flying to Russia and taking Brant's kids back?"

Firmia had to immediately latch onto Hannah's suggestion in order to keep calm. People just didn't talk about her this way and she couldn't think straight while she was being subjected to it. The actual suggestion sounded crazy on delivery; flying out there and grabbing Brant's two daughters? Then bring them back here? For one thing did they even have time? As soon as the question came, Firmia's mind caught up with her, turning up a resounding yes. If it would take a week to crack the encryption then they had time to pull about four stunts like these before they had to start thinking about being ready for the next joint mission with the ANF. Still ...

"Are you s- ..." Hannah had obviously put some thought into this. Firmia decided to take a moment to do the same, crossing her arms as they neared the cafeteria and indicating with her expression alone that she was no longer fighting the idea, but turning it over in her mind. There was time, unless the ANF had some more effective way of cracking the encryption, they definitely had time. What was the next problem? Getting to Russia, more specifically Siberia. They could take the ship or just a mobile suit. Firmia had to default to the latter until she'd had a word with Vance. Besides, this wasn't a typical mission. It would have been a flight to pick up some children ... which led neatly into the next problem: space. Even with one of the two seaters, it wouldn't be the most comfortable flight back.

That could be addressed more easily than the next problem, though: Brant. He still didn't know he was ... a father, despite Firmia's near slip ups. If they brought these children back to the Avalon ... something was going to happen. Firmia wasn't exactly sure what, but this would be one of those times where big things were set irrevocably in motion. The thought of actually following through on this started to make her a little nervous. "... there are some ... details to figure out, but I'm not against the idea on principle. Why do you want to bring them here?"

"Why?" It seemed Firmia had mulled the idea over rather quickly, but the why was rather confusing. To Hannah, it made perfect sense, there was no question about it. "Because leaving them in the hands of Dima will do them no good. There is no situation where them growing up in such a place ends up a good thing... No father, no mother, no parents, no anything. Just, held in a mansion, waiting for you to screw up-- which, will never happen, so they're wasting away being his successor backups." Hannah sat her hands on her hips, tilting her head some.

"They should be here, with their dad... And Chris. I don't think Rosa would be a good influence on them, either, and as much as the clone might grind your gears... She cares deeply for Brant. It would be good to see if that care extends past him, and to his progeny, or if it's just as single focused as I'm slightly worried it might be. It's not exactly a fair test to throw someone under, so immediately, but she dove into this relationship headfirst with no time wasted." And, besides...

"Brant, would probably be happy. All that time wasted by Rosa, all that trauma... To know it at least brought something good, it would more than likely help him. And considering what he's recovering from right now, he can use all the help he can get."

Firmia wasn't quite convinced, not that Hannah hadn't made some valid points. The Alkaev's major hangups were only partially addressed, however. To be fair, she hadn't mentioned one of them, yet. "That makes sense ... honestly my grandfather probably won't leave them sitting in that place forever. It's better if we at least move them someplace safe. That said though I'm not sure keeping them here while we're still fighting Apotheosis is a good thing ..."

Firmia had actually considered snatching up the children at one point, even Rex's son, Vasiliy, but it was a fleeting thought she hadn't been able to do much with, and she was half asleep to boot. In that version, the children were sent to the Abrams couple, Brant's parents. Firmia lost the idea to fatigue right around the time she started trying to figure out how that would all play out when Brant hadn't even spoken to them yet or filled them in on what had happened with Rosa ... where those children actually came from.

As they arrived in the cafeteria, Firmia did a quick scan of the area, trying to make sure neither Brant nor Chris were around to catch their own names. The coast was clear, at least until the kitchen. "Honestly, I think it's not only a fair test but the best one we could possibly have. I am worried about Brant, though. What if he takes it as a sign he should go back to my mother? Even if he decides not to, it might stick with him as badly as Jessica is ... I just don't want this to backfire ..."

"I'm... Fairly sure he's committed to Chris. Or at least, if you're super worried about it, you should speak with them. Maybe we tell them, before we do this? Oh, what do you want to eat, by the way?" Hannah made for the fridge, scoping out a few options, especially considering Firmia hadn't eaten yet. Soup and sandwich would do her good until she decided to sleep.

"If you think it's a good test, then that's even more reason to do it. As for going back to Rosa... Do you really think he'd do something like that? In the middle of this war, just toss Chris aside, round up the kids, and head to Russia? Even after the war, do you think he'd head back to her? I can't imagine... Maybe I'm not understanding him, but after what Rosa did to him... Going back to that without a second thought, just... I can't see it."

And, that just left... That was certainly dangerous, but... "I'm firm on them needing at least one of their real parents in their life. All I've read has told me that parental influence is very important in a child's growth, and they're not too old that Brant wouldn't be able to help. Chris isn't their biological mother, but she'll be a better one than Rosa. No offense..."

Firmia wasn't sure one way or another whether Rosa would be a better or worse mother than Chris. One had plenty of experience but no desire for the children she did have. The other was an emotionally crippled clone of a teenage girl. The Alkaev's imagination wasn't giving her anything but fleeting images of both women focusing time and attention on Brant. When that was all one saw or heard about, it was difficult to imagine either doing anything else, even with children involved. Firmia still felt Rosa's contempt for Stan played the biggest part in the treatment of her older daughters. The woman never wanted children with him, and so she treated her daughters more like siblings she had the job of looking after. She'd slept with her husband twice to have a child according to the journal, and after Juliya, she wouldn't touch the man, again; Firmia was a result of artificial insemination, ordered by Dima, of course. She'd read as much, but she already known that. And so being hugged and told I love you was a foreign concept, which made everything happening these days a little overwhelming ...

"None taken .... ... I should listen to the rest of these someday," she muttered, staring at the audio file that was currently queued. She'd paused it since she got to talking with Hannah. It was too bad there were hundreds of these things. Rosa had turned the bug in her room into a diary, hadn't she?

"Brant won't just break things off with her," Firmia shook her head at the notion, "I'm worried he'll start feeling the same way he does about Jessica ... like he made a mistake he wants to fix but can't. I can already see the Jessica problem affecting their relationship after things finally calm down. Throw in those kids ... my siblings ... and ... I don't know what will happen. There might be something there, some regret he hasn't been able to resolve."

Talking with him might put Firmia's fears to rest, but was there a way to do it without him finding out about his daughters? Maybe, but even then, was it better that he didn't know? He was going to find out sooner or later once the girls were aboard the Avalon. What was the right way to handle this ...?

"... I still think we should just do it, and use the rest of this time off to help soften things out. We won't have a better window of opportunity until after the dust of this war settles, and now that Dima knows we have full knowledge of all his behind the scenes machinations, it could only be a few days time until he decides to do... Something, with those kids. I just... I realize what he said, and it wouldn't make any sense for him to suddenly decide to do anything, considering what he'd said they were for, but..."

Hannah sighed, "and you didn't tell me what you wanted to eat, " she quickly added. "I want Brant to have his children. I know they're from Rosa, but... Finding out later, getting them later, this is too crucial a time at their age.. Waiting around on ifs and buts and trying to hard to think on the best way to handle this... It could just hurt things further." Firmia's worry was certainly realistic, at least. There was a chance of that happening... In Hannah's mind, that mostly stood with Chris' reaction to this situation. If she could prove herself a competent mother, maybe Brant would feel right at home with the situation. If...

"Just... Tell me what you want, and think on it while you eat. It would take us just under twelve hours to fly to Russia in the Reign. We could get this done tonight, and sleep it off on the way back. Give them a nice before bed surprise..."

No doubt Dima would do something besides let the children sit around, but what? The answers, or the beginnings of one, might be in the journal, but better to just take the children and make that mystery moot, Firmia thought. Food ... right. Maybe she was thinking too hard, right now ... "... something soft, and salty," she sighed longingly, wondering which she preferred less, the hunger, or these mood altering worries about Brant. "On second thought ... it's probably better if I skip the snacks. That way you won't have to let me out to vomit when all of this finally starts sinking in," Firmia forced a smile. It was definitely the worries, she decided.

It would be a long flight, but at least they wouldn't have to stop for anything along the way if Firmia did a minor fast. She certainly knew how, at least. If not for the slim chance that she still had some useful credentials to take advantage of, Firmia wouldn't have much business tagging along. Hannah would be much more effective with just Galatea to worry about, and the Reign could be piloted more effectively in an emergency.

"All I want is to make things better, not worse ... maybe we should get a third opinion. I've only known Brant for a few months. Tonya's known him for years." They could also use the opportunity to let Tonya know that they would likely be borrowing the Reign for a while. She would definitely appreciate the heads up.

"Nothing to eat? Really...?" That was certainly worrisome... Firmia was far too worried about this. Asking for a third opinion, though... "Alright. I'm fine with that. Let's see what Tonya has to say... I'm still making something to bring along for the ride, you can't just ignore your body. Especially if something happens when we finally get there. I don't want you to pass out on me..." She could make the food in a moment, at least. First, Tonya... Get some more of this sorted out.

"I'm sure there's food at the estate," Firmia joked, though she sounded more serious than not. There was no fuss, so whatever snack Hannah wanted to prepare might actually get eaten at some point. They seemed to be in agreement in getting Tonya's opinion, so Firmia lifted her tablet up and isolated the woman's personal communicator. There was no risking any sort of open channel chat in this situation ...

"Tonya, are you there?"

"Yeees. What's up?"

Firmia immediately yanked out her earphones to let Hannah better hear, as well. "I have a question. It's about Brant." Suddenly Firmia realized that asking Tonya for her opinion wouldn't be as simple as she thought it would be. She'd have to inform her helmsman of what was going on too if she was going to get any kind of useful feedback ... well, as long as she could keep a secret for a little while ... "You see ... Brant has ... t-two daughters. They're my-"

"Lily and Aki?"

The names were short for Liliana and Akilina, which meant Tonya knew their names, already. She knew about Brant's daughters ... what the hell? "H-how do you know their names?! How do you know about ANY of this?!"

"For some reason your journal's set up just like the security tiers, so I had access to pretty much everything that was already decrypted. I was poking around during the salvage op and trying everything I could to get this stupid song out of my head. That's when I found out about it."

Firmia's face went pale. She felt so stupid ... so incredibly stupid! If not for sheer dumb luck--Brant being distracted by at least one woman at all times--he could have stumbled onto this information all by himself, at any moment in time. Firmia couldn't remember how she'd set up the journal access permissions, but modeling it after the security tiers the Avalon was using sounded like something she might do ... if she was too preoccupied to take the nature of the journal into fuller consideration. Apparently she was. The Alkaev could only bury her face in her palm with her free hand.

"That's..." That was a very Firmia move, if there was ever to be one. It was sheer dumb luck that Brant had been so preoccupied, with Chris, Jess, his feelings, and fighting, that he hadn't thought to let curiosity get the better of himself, like Tonya. Hannah gently pet the poor Alkaev's hair as she came over, smiling softly. "Then, let's cut to the chase. We... I, right now, Firmia's still on the fence-- I'd like to borrow the Reign and go pick them up. Bring them back to the Avalon before Dima can do anything ridiculous to or with them..."

That was her plan, at least. "Firmia's just worried about the sort of impact this will have on Brant. 'Hi, surprise, you've got two daughters, here they are', isn't something you get faced with every day, so... She suggested we ask you for an opinion. Do you think he'll be able to handle something like this? Good, bad, what's the verdict? You've known him the longest out of anyone here, after all..." Surely she had some insight.

"Why didn't I just use a passkey," Firmia groaned, "This could have been so much worse ..."

Tonya seemed to be seriously thinking on the big question. The comms were quiet on her end for a moment. "... heee ... can handle it, but ... I have a question for you two. Are you planning on keeping this under wraps? Confined to the ship, I mean. Just asking because ... Brant's not going to, not even if you ask him. He's trying to be Rosa's friend, so he's not going to keep something like this hidden from her."

Firmia grimaced. 'Friends.' That sounded about right. As far as Brant was concerned, something like this didn't even need hiding, not after everything had been exposed in the Riese's meeting room like it had. Trying to talk with her again and be more than just an untouchable victim ... Brant was probably past being embarrassed or feeling the need to hide things. All in all, Tonya's warning seemed spot on, even though Firmia hadn't thought of it, herself.

"... If that's what he feels is best, then I have no issues with him doing so. They aren't my children... I have no idea how to be a mother, or a parent in the slightest, so if he wishes to tell people... Even Rosa, then that's his decision. He has Chris to weigh things around with. We're not his keepers... I just wanted to make sure this wasn't going to be something that breaks him down further, considering how poorly off he is." If Tonya was sure, then Hannah would accept that. She'd trained with him, been around him and with him for the longest... She'd have a good read, if anyone.

"That just leaves us taking the Reign... We figured you should know."

"Guess I'll hop out, now ..." Tonya said, her tone a little disappointed, "Are you sure you want to use the Reign for this? You've only got one seat to work with."

"I'll take out the survival kit and put something for the children back there," Firmia replied, trying to think on her feet. It was actually quite dangerous to have them in that mobile suit without some kind of proper seating, but they had some time. They could put something together ...

"Oh one more thing," Tonya came back, her tone more even, "Don't forget to grab Vasiliy, too."

Firmia grinned faintly. "We won't forget. I'm not leaving any of them for my grandfather to use." She wondered how Rex would feel about all of this. He certainly wouldn't be happy with Firmia keeping his only child on board her ship. He was going to have a hard enough time getting to her with Brant and Hannah in the way. Alas, the boy wasn't just his son, but Firmia's little brother. Maybe having to deal with the fact that his own son was an Alkaev by name and by blood would help him rethink this whole 'kill all Alkaevs' thing.

"Rex has a child as well? ... Well, they don't share the sins of the father. We'll make sure to pick them up." No matter what Rex had tried to do to Firmia, his child had no part in it. When it came time to face him again, he could weigh things. And if he wanted to have them... Then, he could. Better with him than with Dima, much as Hannah hated him.

"I suppose I should get that seat situation fixed first... We're leaving tonight, right?" Food could wait, most of the mechanics were probably turning in to sleep around now... Hannah could be their heavy lifting.

"Yes," Firmia nodded. She was ready to do this. Things would change irrevocably after this mission, but they would enjoy the good, and manage the bad, whatever came next. "We're not giving my grandfather one more day to figure out what to do with them or where to send them. We're going to swoop in and take them all."

"Thanks," Tonya said, sounding almost elated, "Oh and Hannah, I should give you a quick rundown for the Reign when you get here. I'm sure you'll learn quickly on your own but it's better if you don't go in blind with a passenger."

"Sure thing, Tonya... I'll take care of the seating situation, and you can fill me in on the extra details." They had a plan, then... This was going to be one hell of a surprise present.

Fly From the Inside

Firmia didn't expect Tonya to walk Hannah through so many of the Reign's little quirks, but the Alkaev was grateful for it in hindsight. It would ensure Hannah wouldn't make any moves that shook Firmia up unnecessarily. If they entered combat, there wouldn't be much choice but to push the Reign hard to avoid enemy fire. But otherwise, it was better to pilot this particular machine as gently as possible. There was still the seating for the children to take care of, but Firmia was at least partially on top of that, having pinned down a couple of straggling mechanics and sent them Hannah's way before taking a moment to try and reach Commander Vance. As justified as she felt, Firmia knew it wouldn't be good form to have the Reign take off late in the night with no warning ...

"Yes, it's Captain Firmia Alkaev. I need to speak with Commander Vance if he's available." ... "Yes, I'll wait." It shouldn't take too long now that she was earning a reputation within the ANF. Maybe she could get the man's personal frequency after this. It was always better to have a direct line to the top of the tower.

It took a few moments to get a proper response, but Vance was there, despite it being around ten at night. "Alright, little lady, mind tellin' me what the late night call's for? Not that I might, but it's a bit odd t'get a call from a captain with no little notice... Must be real important."

"I apologize," Firmia sighed, "Something very important just came up and I need to take one of my mobile suits off of the base temporarily. I didn't want to sound any alarms, so I called to make sure you knew that I was heading out. The Avalon is still on standby in case anything happens, and the Regalia and Mantle are available." The Mantle's crew would be going with her, but they had pilots to spare now. There would be the issue of who was in command, but Firmia knew full well Sasha would step up if the need arose. Everything should be fine ...

"... Alright. Not gonna pry... Sounds real important, an' it's not like you're ANF personnel, so I can't exactly extend a leash... But..." Vance sighed, pacing around, slightly heavy foot steps around his room. "You'll be back in time to captain your ship, right?" Hopefully she got what meant, but just in case... "Much as you aren't my soldiers, you are definitely needed in this mission. So long as you can make it back, I've no issues."

Firmia had been worried she would have to give Vance some details before he would sign off on this, but he seemed to get the hint with what little she'd offered so far. She was starting to feel a little better about all this, not simply resolved to do it no matter what.

"If you're having as much trouble with decrypting Apotheosis' data as I heard, then we'll definitely be back in time. Either way, I'll contact you again once we make it back to ANF territory. ... would it be alright if I contacted you directly?" Not the worst time to try and get that taken care of, Firmia thought.

"I'll take your word for it. And that's fine, that's fine... You be able t'see my number on your communicator right now, just hit it and then put in five, seven, eight, three, it'll patch you through to my office. You... Take care, Captain. Whatever it is you're dealing with."

"Thank you, Commander Vance," Firmia smiled, glad to have the man's support, "It's ... a family matter, but it will be good for my crew, too." Just another small hint as thanks. She couldn't bear to tell him she was fetching three children to plop down in her warship just prior to an attack on Apotheosis HQ ... at least not until the deed was done and there was no use arguing ...

"Then you'd best be off. Family matters in the middle of a war like this, definitely need addressing." He ended up smiling, not that she could tell. It was good to have reliable allies like this. "Alright, then. Best of luck to you, Captain Alkaev. God speed."


With everything settled, and Firmia's mood vastly improved, she returned to the Reign's dock to check in on Hannah and Tonya. It sounded like Tonya was wrapping up her rundown of the Reign.

"Honestly, if you had better evasion skills," Tonya smiled apologetically at Hannah, "the Reign would definitely suit you better than it does me. Just remember, the system responds faster than humans can react, so fly it like it's your own body and don't try to compensate like with the Mantle. This is a showboating machine first, and a combat vehicle second."

"Right... If it responds faster than humans can react, I can probably make better use of that in specific situations. I'll make sure it's at the forefront of my combat strategies if we need to fight. Thank you, Tonya." Hannah smiled, before noticing Firmia coming in, smile widening. "Firmia! Are we all clear? Tonya's finished telling me all the extra bits I need to know, and there's space in the back now... Are you ready?"

Firmia nodded, with a smile of her own as she approached. "Thankfully I didn't have to get into the details. As long as we're back in time, Vance is fine with this."

"Yeah that would have been a little awkward," Tonya winced briefly, "Well, good luck out there. The Reign's weapons are all green, and I had some external fuel tanks added so you can manage a couple of fights without running dry on the way back. Wouldn't want you to splash down in the ocean and have to send out an S.O.S."

Firmia supposed they were stretching the Reign's range. When they escaped the main testing facility's destruction, Tonya had been involved in two separate fights, and finally ran out of fuel by the time they rendezvoused with the Riese in America. The fuel tanks would definitely help here.

"If that's everything, then we should get going," Firmia said, making sure she had her headphones. She planned to listen to more of the audio recordings during the flight, either as research or to lull herself to sleep during the eventual ocean crossing, and she didn't want to bother Hannah with her mother's voice. "Oh ... do you have the food?" She still wasn't sure about eating on this trip, but ...

Fuel, check. Seats, check. Food? "I made something for you to eat. Just a turkey sandwich. Leftovers from your big welcoming dinner party... Should still be nice, come 'morning',  after you get some rest. Packed some water, too. Though, I would recommend having that near the end of the trip... Can't quite land to deal with anything." Hannah had even downloaded a game to play if Firmia fell asleep and there was nothing to talk about. Some old thing called Fire Emblem... Eh, probably worth a few hours of fun, at least. "Whenever you're ready, Captain."

A turkey sandwich sounded good, and not too heavy either. Firmia would definitely be holding off on the water for a time, though she wondered if the children would be able to manage the twelve hour flight back. They might have to take care of a few things beforehand ...

"Ready," Firmia said, "See you tomorrow, Tonya."

"Later," Tonya gave a small wave as Firmia headed for the Reign's cockpit.

Hannah followed suit, letting Firmia get a hand on the lift before stepping on behind her. "You sure you're ready for this? I know I didn't suggest this, but I can go it alone, if you think it would be safer."

Firmia shook her head reassuringly, "It's better this way. I know I'll be dead weight for the trip, but there might be something I can do to help once we get there. Otherwise you'll have to fight everyone between you and the children ... and I'm not sending you there to hurt a bunch of people."

"... Alright." That was an acceptable answer for Hannah, she didn't want to have to kill people to get through things, or scare the children. Up went the lift, Hannah went in first, patting her lap with a smile. "Better get comfy. Decided to wear a sweater since it might get cold up there... And I will be heated to your preferred comfortable temperature. It's gonna be a long one." Sweater, sweatpants, it was a mildly Christina look for the android, but she wanted to make sure Firmia wasn't going to be aching two hours in.

Twelve hours ... Firmia remembered the last time she'd been on a long plane ride. It hadn't been that long ago. Thankfully this would be more comfortable in some ways. Hannah was seeing to that. It also seemed like they had a good chance of arriving in the same plane they left in this time. Wonderful~

Making her way in after Hannah, Firmia carefully sat on the android's lap. Now she had to consider what to do with her limbs. She had to keep her feet away from the foot pedals and her hands from disturbing flight sticks. In the Mantle's cockpit, bumping into the pilot's hand could throw the machine off course. In the Reign, it could flip the suit around completely. Fortunately Firmia already had something to do with her hands, hold onto her bulky tablet.

"I hope this isn't going to make it harder for you to fly," Firmia smiled an apology as the hatch closed. Fortunately she was short enough to not obstruct Hannah's view too much, and went a step further by keeping somewhat to Hannah's left. This would lessen the chances of her accidentally hitting the stick, and give Firmia room to rest her head against the top of Hannah's shoulder. She was less worried about bumping into the throttle, since that wouldn't alter their course, only their speed.

As the hatch closed, Hannah started take off sequences, letting Firmia settle herself in as comfortably as she could. "You aren't in the way at all. And don't worry about getting in the way of flying. Once we're above water, Galatea's going to take over. Better than autopilot, and it'll give you a moment to stretch, if necessary. I don't need to since... Well, yeah. Just make sure you're ready for a long trip." Their stop at the destination wouldn't last very long, either. Hopefully not, at least. The Avalon's hangar opened up to the desert night, the stars shining brightly down on ANF Headquarters.

"Hannah, Reign, taking off. Take care, Avalon... We'll be back tomorrow. Oh, Brant's probably going to ask why the Reign took off... We didn't think of that." Hannah made a small shrug and chuckled, as she took off, getting some space between her and the ship before switching to plane mode. "Alright... Not going to be long before we're over open water. Hopefully the night sky is a good view, until then."

Firmia took a moment to consider the questions that would come up in their absence. By the time they were airborne and off the ship, she'd all but stopped caring. Brant and Chris were going to figure out what they were doing eventually, either in the morning, or once they returned with the children. Firmia decided to leave it to Tonya's discretion. If she wanted to tell them, she could tell them.

"If Galatea's taking over once we reach the ocean then that would lock out the controls. I guess I wouldn't have to worry about getting in the way, then," she grinned in mild amusement, "Alright, good. As for Brant, I'll let Tonya deal with any questions that come up. If she wants to explain the situation before we get back ... he's going to find out anyway, so it's fine. As long as we do our part."

"That works for me... Mmmnn, honestly, I'm itching to do a few rolls in this, just to see how well it handles, but with you here, I suppose that wouldn't be the best decision. So I'll keep that tucked away for later." And they were already in California... The ocean would show up in the next few minutes, and then it was the long fly. Maybe they could pass over Hawaii, for a small glance at society, before the pacific overtook the space under neath them.

"If I end up hugging you, and it becomes a bother, let me know. I won't have anything to do with my hands once Galatea takes over."

"You can always pilot the Reign in your free time once we get back," Firmia offered. There was definitely no issue with that, especially since the Reign was at most a salvage unit, right now. Firmia wondered if they would ever find a way to get the machine truly combat grade without sacrificing what made it unique. With a new AMS design pending, it didn't seem likely.

"Nothing to do ..." Firmia was a little saddened to hear that. Still, she didn't want to play Rosa's audio files out loud. This was her family history to sift through, and not a pleasant way to address the inevitable boredom. "We have access to the ANF's satellites, so you can always explore the internet," the Alkaev suggested with a small shrug. She wasn't one for surfing the net herself, but maybe Hannah could find something interesting: news, books, games, etc.

"If just hugging me will keep you from getting bored then by all means," Firmia smiled, figuring the veiled 'go'head' would keep Hannah's spirits up.

"I brought a game with me. I'll see if it holds my interests... And of course. Hugging you brightens my day... You could say, you are the stars in my night sky~" Hannah giggled some, sighing quietly. "I'll see if I can tune into some satellite station if I need another source of entertainment. Maybe just end up playing with your hair... I can think, if need be, for anything else. I have a lot to think about, after all."

"My hair isn't thick enough to be played with," Firmia pouted. It was long enough, but she'd been picturing the top of her head receiving the brunt of Hannah's shenanigans ... Hannanigans.

As for this game of hers, if Hannah brought one with her, then she definitely wouldn't need to grab anything off the internet. With her android brain though ... Firmia could see her either getting bored with the simple mechanics, or beating it fairly quickly. After that there were indeed the satellites to tune into. Regardless of how the two addressed their boredom, for now they were both ready for the first stretch of the Pacific.


There was nothing but dark blue waters everywhere Firmia looked. Thanks to the wall displays in the Reign's cockpit, it looked like she and Hannah were flying over the Pacific on a rocket propelled chair. She'd almost fallen asleep a couple of times while listening to her mother's audio files. There was definitely a trend here, one that made Firmia feel ... almost pathetic at times. At her age, Rosa was a relentless, upbeat young woman. Too optimistic to let her situation bring her down. There was a subtle, eerie shift in the recordings from when Rosa was eighteen, however. Slowly but surely, her situation was beginning to wear her down ...

"I ... love ... you ... ... I wonder ... how often mother gets to hear that from Hammurabi on high? I know I know, I never stop talking about it, but ... look at it from my perspective. Those two ... they're ... well they're obviously still in love. They never fight or try to pull one over on each other. They understand each other completely. Partners in crime couldn't be more apt a descriptor~ It's so inspiring to see them together ... a-at least when they don't know I'm watching ... ... I don't understand what's wrong with wanting the same thing. Do you think it's wrong? I guess it doesn't matter ... but of course every boy I get close to suddenly has a change of heart ..."

Firmia winced as this particular recording neared its end. Until now the young Alkaev had been fantasizing about meeting this younger version of her mother. The two of them would have actually gotten along once Firmia got used to her ... but that wasn't possible. The mother she knew, the one that didn't want anything to do with her most of the time, was coming. Firmia didn't know exactly when or how the transition would occur, but she knew it was coming ... and she could sense reality slowly crushing in on her mother in these recordings. She was being denied one of life's most precious gifts, and she didn't know how to handle it.

"It's alright. I understand. Love isn't worth this much trouble."

There was a lengthy pause. Firmia wondered what Rosa had been thinking just then.

"... then again ... no, it's not something I should be thinking about ... or boring you to death with. Maybe I should just try talking to them, again. What do you think? I'm not trying to drag down the family name or distract myself from my work. If I could just get them to understand that I'm just trying to be what they are ... have that kind of bond with another person ... maybe they'll finally listen. I'm not giving up."

"Not giving up ..." Firmia mouthed the words to herself as the recording ended. The words held a double meaning for Firmia. On the one hand, they reflected her own resolve, showing just how much they had in common. On the other hand, it foreshadowed the Abrams brothers like nothing else in these recordings could. Firmia began listening to another one some years up the list. Subconsciously the Alkaev was trying to skip past whatever moment epitomized Rosa's change of mindset, that critical realization that sent her over the edge.


"... I'm sorry about that, I just had to ... get it all out."

Firmia hadn't fared well listening to her mother cry for several straight minutes at the outset of the recording. Whatever was bothering her was overpowering that usual bright eyed confidence.

"I don't know if you heard the news yet, Mr. Spy ... but ... I'm engaged!"

The feigned excitement was physically painful.

"It's exactly who you're thinking ... Stan. My father informed me that we're an exceptional match, genetically, and he told me that my mother was in agreement that I should marry him. So this whole time they were just running everyone's DNA against mine and anyone who wasn't perfect was told not to get involved with me if we so much as made eye contact. Heh ... this sucks ... but it's not over, yet."

It definitely sounded over to Firmia, considering what actually happened ...

"Part of me is saying, 'you two can make this marriage work,' but that part's .. getting really desperate. The rest of me is scared. I don't know how to get out of this mess. Stan is ... he's just not right. He's really smart but ... selfish, a serious pervert, and he's not interested in this marriage, either. He's only doing it because my father promised him the world working for the company. My parents aren't even taking away the guy's pornography. I've been dreaming of someone wonderful all this time, and now the byproduct of that level of purity and perfection is being thrown in my face ..."

Firmia knew her parentage had been bad, but hearing Rosa's take on it reminded her why she and her father didn't talk much. He was selfish, and Firmia had her suspicions about a number of other things, as well.

"I'm going to keep trying to talk to them ... and find some other way. Even if I have to give up a few dozen eggs, that's better than spending the best years of my life with someone like him." She sighed after a moment. "... just once, I wish whoever is on the other end would say something, or send a message. Actually ... I wish you would ... just ... switch sides ... stop listening in and ... come and save me from this."

There it was. Firmia's eyes slowly opened up wide as tears formed. This was the beginning of the end. She knew this train of thought. She knew it all too well and where it would lead a girl like this young Rosa. When no one came ... she was going to snap, and turn completely inward. There was no stopping it now ...

"Hahah! I can't believe that even crossed my lips. My prince charming over there could be a chubby alcoholic in his early fifties, and ... ... and I'd still prefer that to being with Stan ... just because you've always been listening. I guess that's it then, isn't it? I'm not stupid. I know I wouldn't be thinking like this if I thought I had any real chance. If no one else comes along, someone my parents and I can agree on, then ... it's over ..."

It was like watching the mother she wanted die with each passing moment. Firmia reached up and wiped away a tear coming down her cheek. She didn't let any others escape, continuing to wipe her eyes as a younger, fearful Rosa pleaded with her listener.

"If ... you can't help me, then ... could you please send someone who can? ... please? ... p-please ...? I w-was ... meant for someone else ... I-I know I was ..."

Firmia endured the second and final fit of crying the recording had for her, and wiped away a few more tears of her own before they could fully make their way out. Then finally, the broken mask was put back on.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't ask you to go behind your boss' back like that. I just really don't want to live with him and have children with him. They should have two parents that actually love each other, like I have. Well ... two parents that love each other and their children, heh ... heh, yeah. Okay, I'm ... I'm done for today. I'll try not to cry so much. Instead ... I'll start doing my own research. I can find someone who's better than Stan inside and out before this ridiculous wedding. Even if you can't do it openly ... please ... wish me luck~"


"D-damn you, Grandfather ..." Firmia hissed as the recording ended. She was done for now. Everything that came after this would be pure hell for the weary Alkaev. After all, Rosa had married Stan, and she had two daughters with him. Those fears had come true just like Dima and Karla wanted.

"Consider me more motivated than ever," Firmia said, taking out her earphones, "Anything that hurts him but doesn't hurt us is a wise time investment," she bit out. Then she rested her head back on Hannah's shoulder, trying to cool herself down, again. It wasn't easy. The mother she could have had, someone who would have hugged her, said 'I love you,' and guided her through life ... she was dead. Practically murdered by her own parents, the same cursed parents she was trying so hard to emulate.

"I'm sure with the right conditioner your hair would become lovingly smooth, and right for my fingers~" If that was the case now, though, Hannah would leave them alone. It was time to try this archaic emulator and game... Fire Emblem, huh? The music was cheery, at least.

 


Hannah was doing her best not to pry over Firmia's recordings. She could hear them well enough, but acting like she couldn't was probably for the best, right now. Firmia seemed intent on listening, and she didn't want to interrupt that; if she did, Firmia might stop, and that would just make Hannah feel awkward.

That's why she'd been focusing on playing this game... What a confusing game. Why would you use anyone other than Marcus to clear content? From the looks of things, and what she could glean from the game's data, Marcus had lower growths than the rest of the units, but far, far higher bases, and a larger weapon rank, meaning he could further bolster his damage by using stronger weapons that other units couldn't... So... Using him and only a few of the strongest units made the most sense, tactically. Then again, there was all of this dialogue to consider.

Hannah supposed it was meant to make you like characters, more or less, so that you would pick favorites and play with them instead... Maybe, a sort of challenge? You could get dialogue out of most characters by keeping them near the start of the map and having them stand next to each other, while your strong ones did all the work. What an odd little game. It was over two hundred years old though, maybe things were different back then in the world of gaming. Hannah had used Marcus, the main characters, Sain and now had picked up Isadora, and they were doing most of the work for her. That Florina girl was useful until her sister showed up, and she was quickly replaced. Flying units seemed frail, until Heath, when Hannah realized it was just pegasi. Who would use the weak horses over the lizards?

Oh, it seemed Firmia was done for now... Well, it would give things away, but... Hannah moved in to hug her, resting her face against the girl's. "It's okay. We'll get back at him. I promise... No one gets to do all of these things, even to Rosa, and get away with it. Alright?"

"Right." Firmia felt self conscious thinking back on what she'd said. She meant it, but she didn't like losing her composure. It was a shame she was so bad at keeping it in the first place ...

"Wait," suddenly it hit her, "how much of that did you hear? The audio wasn't coming out of the speakers ..." She looked the tablet over quickly to make sure, and started looking at her audio options onscreen. The volume couldn't have been that loud, could it?

"There's nothing else making noise in the cockpit, and my hearing is a lot better than you might've thought. My apologies... I didn't want you to stop listening, because you seemed so intent, but there was no way for you to listen without my hearing... So... Sorry. All of it..." Hannah hugged her a bit tighter, almost sighing. Hopefully Firmia wasn't upset...

"I'm the one who's sorry," Firmia shrunk in Hannah's embrace, "It's hard enough for me to listen. I didn't want you to have to hear, too." Hannah's hearing was definitely beyond any human's if she caught everything. "Well, as long as we're both motivated to get those kids out of my grandfather's reach for good ..."

If Hannah was listening the whole time, even passively, then was that all she'd been doing? Firmia hoped not. "What about your game? I wasn't stopping you from doing that, was I?"

"No, I was still playing. I think I'm almost done... I brought the sequels with me so I can run through them and see if they're much different. I just didn't want to bother you, really. If you could tell someone was listening, you might've stopped, and you seemed very intent on seeing them through to this end. It... If Rosa hadn't gone on to do the things she did, maybe we could even get along, right now. While I feel sorry for her, it definitely doesn't excuse anything. It's just... Sad." That was a way to put it.

"Of course it doesn't excuse what she did," Firmia grimaced, recalling that day in the Riese's meeting room. She still wasn't happy about Rosa's initial denial, or their subsequent talks, but now that she knew who her mother really was, who she was by nature, Firmia wanted to kick Dima's shins until she felt the bones break. "My grandparents turned her into them ..."

"... I probably would have turned out more like she was if he hadn't had me raised this way," Firmia mused aloud. They really would have gotten along, then ... both gushing over their potential prince charmings ... prince charming ...? Firmia supposed she wasn't going to wind up with one either, all things considered. Even the most basic attempt would require her to end the romantic aspect of her relationship with Hannah first, and Firmia simply didn't want to. Even after talking with Galatea, she wasn't sure what to do. She only knew that sooner or later she had to discuss the situation with Hannah. There was plenty of time during this long flight, at least ...

"I can break all of the major bones in his body while still keeping him alive... Just order me to do it. I realize that sounds gruesome, but maybe it would give back at least a fraction of the pain he's caused people. He deserves nothing less..." What Hannah wouldn't do to get her hands on Dima, and have free reign. Hearing more and more about him, the reason they were flying to Russia right now, even what he'd dared to say to her over the phone. Her love wasn't real... Hannah had to stop her grip from tightening, she didn't want to hurt Firmia, but just thinking about that made her processors burn.

"... He'll get what he deserves, some time or another. No one gets away with things like this forever." It was weak solace, but it was solace.

Indeed, no one got off completely scott free. Karla Alkaev was dead. That obviously wasn't what Hannah meant, but Dima was old, too. There was always the possibility he would keel over before any sort of justice came down and crushed him flat.

"I still have reservations about physically harming him, but ... only small ones. It's definitely not off the table, though. In fact, if he ever tries to do anything to my ship or my crew, go right ahead and turn him into a pretzel. Just twist him up, salt him, and throw him into a lake."

"Acknowledged," Hannah complied, probably the most robotic thing she'd ever said, since realizing her personality. Dima deserved no mercy. "Are you going to be okay for this flight, though? You seemed pretty beat up by what you'd heard... Not that I blame you. Shall I increase my heat? I brought blankets just in case..."

"I'll be fine," Firmia said, though not all that convincingly. She had a lot on her mind, right now ... including Galatea. The little hyperhacker was tapping her foot at Firmia from the corner of the main monitor. There was no way Hannah would miss it, which meant this was probably the only time for that talk the Alkaev was dreading. She just didn't know what to say ... much less do.

"Mrgh, I'll be fine, really ... but there is something I need to talk with you about. I was going to wait until before bed, but considering what we're doing, right now ..." It also helped that the Reign's cockpit had only minimal EM bouncing around inside it. A human pilot could think more clearly under these conditions, though their normal inhibitions could still cause trouble, as Firmia knew all too well.

"Hmm? Galatea?" Hannah was about to respond to Firima, but Galatea was acting impatient about something. She disappeared as soon as Hannah noticed her, what was that about?

"Huh? Something else? Sure, go ahead... And you say you're fine, but I'm gonna make myself just a tiiiiny bit cozier." The smallest increase in her temperature would hopefully make Firmia extra comfortable.

"... Was Galatea pestering you about that?" That would make sense as to why she was posturing like that on the screen. "And... Well, I figured that was something you were worried about. Is there anything I can do to help your situation? You know that all you have to do is talk, or ask, and I'll do whatever I can. And, considering the level of android I am, I can do a lot, eheh." A small brag, but it was also true.

"More space? Less space? Compliments, touching, hugs, less hugs, kissing, even more space... Anything you want or need, I'm here. I know you might be worried about..." Despite her confidence, even this was hard to say. "About being a replacement for Brant. But you're both equally important to me. I love you because I love you, Firmia... There are a lot more reasons, but, whatever might've happened, right now, I'm here because I want to make you happy."

Firmia opted to skip the Galatea question. It was fairly obvious that the little AI was more than willing to poke her nose into people's physical lives as often as cyberspace. Instead, she tried to take in everything Hannah was telling her. The rapidly evolving android was just as solution oriented as Firmia was, it seemed. That prompted a slightly fuller grin.

"I'm not uncomfortable or anything," Firmia assured her, trying to move past immediate concerns, toward the more long term issues looming over the horizon, "It's just ... I know I'm not doing this for the right reasons and that really worries me. I had a plan before this war started: No boyfriends or pregnancies until I'm well established ... in my mid-twenties by my original estimate. After that I would need to take advantage of my fertility and try to start some kind of family to pass on the family name and genes, and then take care of the company if that responsibility was mine by then. My children would eventually take over for me and I'd advise them from the background and eventually retire."

"It's not exactly an amazing life, but it was the one I laid out all on my own. And now I'm so far off target I'm not sure where I'm going anymore." A captain with her ship and crew ... and no destination. Not even a map or compass. Fantastic, Firmia bitterly mused. "This whole situation has me facing in a bunch of different directions at once. I ... need to start planning things out again. Thoroughly. Especially when it comes to us. So ..."

... what now? Well, this was what she had been trying to explain to Galatea. Firmia didn't know what to say. She hadn't changed her mind about this or sufficiently explored other options. She was just sitting here, trying to pull down another veil or two. "... so ... I don't know. I don't know just yet. For now I just want you to know that I'm grateful for everything you're doing, and I feel terrible for doing this for the reasons I am."

Firmia laid out her life goals... They were fairly standard life goals, it was kind of amusing, with her family background being what it was. Still, they were hers, and she was proud of that. Seemed to be proud of that. A life that she'd chosen, not been railroaded into... Like her mother. Facing so many directions at once. "If I'm not helping your situation be any easier... Or I'm not, what fits into the life you want, you can tell me. I did a lot of introspective thinking, ever since I broke down over Brant. Life... Isn't all about romance."

She smiled, trying to elaborate. "It was such an appealing facet of human life. That another person can make you feel happy... Just by being there. And as soon as I'd found that, I latched on; I wanted to explore it and see what came of it. But Brant... Was another facet. That, it wasn't that easy. Even now, it isn't easy... For all intents and purposes, I am a woman, and that... You can't simply rewire your brain chemistry, like I can. But I did a lot of thinking."

Hannah sighed, sitting up just a bit more. "As long as I'm around here, making people happy, making you, Brant, everyone happy... If I end up without that romantic aspect of human life, I'll be okay. Because what matters is that everyone is happy. And making you all happy, makes me happy. Is that a good answer? I don't know... But if I don't fit into the future you want, Firmia, then that's okay."

"I-it's not true," Firmia said, shrunk as Hannah's words echoed in her head. She turned as best she could to grab hold of her with her left arm. "It's not okay ..." How could she have possibly accounted for someone like Hannah ...? "Sometimes ... plans have to change. Especially since I had no idea you even existed."

She was somewhat amused by what she'd just said. It was so obvious that even mentioning it was questionable, but her amusement was severely downplayed by her tears. With one arm keeping a firm grasp on Hannah, and the other her tablet, these new tears ran down Firmia's cheeks unabated. "This time ... I'll include you," she promised.

Hannah couldn't help but smile, slowly reaching up to pet Firmia's hair. "That's a very bold claim, Firmia. Can I really change your life plans around, that much? I'm just one person. I can't give you children-- not, biological, anyway. I can't be a man for you without worrying you... Are you sure you have what it takes, to put someone like me in those plans?" Hannah's eyes were nothing but serious, even on top of her smile. Anyone could make claims like that... Much as she wanted to believe Firmia on her words, it would take time, and effort, to really have them sink in.

Firmia's grip weakened slightly, but she held on to Hannah just the same. "If you're willing to do all of this, then the least I can do is try ... r-right?" It wasn't exactly planning, more like pleading, she knew that, but what Hannah had said, about possibly not fitting into her future. That struck Firmia to her core.

When Hannah's words echoed in her head again, Firmia found her strength, and grip around Hannah's waist grew even tighter than before. "... I need to do some thinking too, not just ... reacting, like I normally do. Once I figure out how I want to move everything forward ... I'll put that new plan into action."

That was vague, Firmia realized. Her grip loosened again, and she took a moment to try and relax. This flight wasn't meant to be a tense one. "Erm ... listen ... I'm sure I'll have things figured out by the end of the war, but at least until then, our current arrangement is still in effect. If you'll be okay in the end either way, then I'll be okay indulging you while I think up a new life for myself." Firmia felt somewhat like she was presenting Hannah with a game of chance. The android could risk erring on the side of romance or friendship, but not know Firmia's final decision until at the latest, the end of the war. That wasn't her intention ...

"You're really brave, Firmia. And a bit foolish... But, all these things, the way you act, the way you try so hard, and even now, for someone you could've written off as a just a robot, you're going so far. It's so charming... It's like getting to fall in love with you all over again. I'll indulge myself, then." Without missing a beat, the hand petting FIrmia's hair rested against the back of her head, pushing her forward into a kiss... One that Hannah was going to savor for a moment, before letting her go.

Hannah's own tears had started to well up, it was difficult to be serious in the face of all these positive emotions... But she felt like they were almost done. Letting Firmia have a bit of space again, she soldiered on. "No matter what you decide, I'll still love you. Even if I won't be in your life like this, I'll be your friend until you're old and grey. You, Brant; all our little family. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life." That was her limit, as a small tear rolled down her cheek, having to smile a bit wider to stop the rest of them.

Hannah had given Firmia enough of a warning that the Alkaev managed to direct her thoughts entirely toward the kiss itself. The situation didn't matter. The location didn't matter. And to a large extent, the fact that she was locking lips with another woman didn't matter. Pushing all of that aside headed off Firmia's normal gut reactions. Having not ruined the kiss from the outset for Hannah, a wave of relief fell over Firmia, and the rest of her tension was washed away.

Good ... right now, there's nothing else. Nothing to think about. Nothing to worry about.

Firmia was almost sad when the kiss ended, though the timing seemed right. For just a moment that wasn't sleep, she was happy to tune out everything else and simply enjoy this rare contact. The normal thoughts were returning in short order, and Firmia had to beat them back to avoid getting frustrated. This was a happy moment, the reassurance Firmia needed that she wouldn't simply ruin everything by taking the reins of her life, again. "... thank you," she countered, reaching up to catch some of Hannah's tears, "Thank you for listening, and for helping me deal with this fear and guilt, and get them out of the picture. Like you said, romance is one of human life's appeals ... and those are terrible reasons to do it."

"Geez... Firmia. It's going to be hard to ignore you for the rest of this trip... Stuck in such a tight space with the woman I love for ten more hours. Going to take all of my processing just to keep these hands in check." A half joke, Firmia being so... This, was enticing in a whole new way. Gently placing her hand on top of the one Firmia had held out for her tears, Hannah asked, "what should I do?"

Ten hours was a long time. At least on the way back, the children would be quietly putting a damper on Hannah's urges. For now, though ... "Erm ... what do you want to do?" Firmia asked, mostly on reflex.

Hannah paused, likely deciding if this was right to say or not, but they'd been being so honest so far, so... She bit her lip for a moment. "... Go further..."

"O-oh ..." Of course she did. Firmia felt stupid for asking in hindsight. "It's probably better if we don't, right now. We have to bring my siblings back in here and that just feels wrong."

Firmia's eye twitched when she remembered that Sasha and Cheryl ... "Urgh, yes let's not follow that example. We have a room, so anything you want to do, we can do there," she said through clinched teeth, though the frustration was flying straight past Hannah and all the way back to the mainland. As for the next ten hours, Firmia didn't know, but the first idea was out, however honest it had been.

Anything she wanted to do? "Wait, so... When we get back... Anything?" Not immediately she figured, but... That was a good, very good promise. "If that's the case, I can survive the trip, no problem." All smiles again, Hannah sat back in her seat properly. "I'll figure something else out in the mean time."

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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After Christina had checked out from their new gym routine to get on with her day, which would include spending some time getting Nina further aclimated, if what she had been talking about was any indication, Seung-Min had opted to remain in the gym for a bit longer. In a bid to try and keep the blonde's spirits up, Kim had been going for less intensive workouts, doing more reps to make up for the decrease in intensity. It had left her in mostly the same place, while allowing Christina to feel better about her own progress, so it was a win-win. After finishing her workout routine, Seung-Min had taken a brief stop in her room to shower and otherwise freshen up, and come noon, the Lieutenant had found herself in the cafeteria roughly in time for a proper lunch. Going for a less home-inspired meal this time around, Kim had decided to use some of the less-standard ingredients that the ship had acquired at central to try a distinctly North American dish. Specifically, one from up North in Canada... something called a Montreal smoked meat sandwich, famous from it's place of origin. It was in the name, after all. 

Sitting down with the completed sandwich, Seung-Min took a bite. It was certainly a distinctive taste, and one she was glad to have tried. The make of the thing was a bit nonsensical, but the instructions had said that to be authentic, the meat needed to be piled up in this absurd way. If you don't make a mess, it's not the real deal... what an odd rule of thumb. 

What's the date today?

 

It had been a hectic few days since Apotheosis attack on Central, and Seung-Min had ended up with a lot to mull over. Honestly, she just needed a break from it all... a day without those stresses and other such shenanigans. Luckily enough, they were still on base, the team sent out to scope out the Arctic circle yet to come back with coordinates for them to deploy. With that in mind, and still having the facilities around to do so, Kim found herself standing outside of Christina's door, dressed in a particularly showy ensemble for what would hopefully be a fun outing. If her spontaneity in the matter ended up biting her, well... hopefully they'd still be at base tomorrow if the blonde couldn't go out with her today. Knock knock knock.

"Chrissy~ Can I come in~?"

"Hmmm? Yeah, sure. Ah, lemme just..." Christina got the door for her, taking a moment to take in her outfit... A jean skirt, a rather short zipper up top, with a small overcoat on top, and some laced up boots... "You... Getting ready to shoot another music video?" Christina's sense of fashion was still really plain, wearing that same, sweater and leggings combo she seemed to like so much. At least she was alternating colors, this one was a light pink, but...

"Just kidding, you look nice... What's up?"

"Heehee... not exactly~" Kim replied, stepping inside and quickly snaking an arm around her waist, pressing the blonde's back gingerly against the door frame with a mischievous smile, lingering for a moment before darting in to capture her lips in a soft kiss. Remaining locked for a few seconds, though not going any further than beckoning her with a few nibbles at her lower lip, Kim soon pulled away, giving Christina a wide grin, flashing her pearly whites.

"I figured that we've had... a lot on our plates recently, and thought today would be the perfect day to go for a date~"

"Not exactly... Then... Wh, Kim? H-Hey..." The door was still open, if she was going to do something like this, she should at least close it... Thankfully she was just teasing, though it was still rather flustering. Christina would be wearing that blush for the next few minutes. "A date, huh? Ah, sure... Just, out onto the base's living quarters? What did you want to do?" Better to save face and focus on the question.

"Wellll~ I was thinking we could have dinner... you could pick a movie for us to see together, since I know you're a fan. Then we could... go shopping for a bit, and finish the night off... back here. Sound fun~?" Kim replied, drumming her fingers gingerly against the small of Christina's back as she moved to rest her chin on the blonde's shoulder.

The hardest part of talking to Kim was keeping a straight face in front of all her forwardness. Christina tried her hardest. "That sounds like, a lot of fun... Should we leave the movie for last, then? Watch it and come back to sleep...?" That was typically how things went, right? Probably? She hadn't exactly gone on a proper date, that she was having one with a Korean idol in the middle of war time, was... I could probably turn my life into a novel, honestly. 'My Korean Army Girlfriend is Secretly an Idol'. The best kind of trash title.

"That sounds good to me, if that's what you want~" Kim replied, letting her hand wander a moment, giving the blonde's thigh an affectionate squeeze before settling back in place, giving her a tender kiss on the neck at the same time, teasing her with her lips and a gentle application of her teeth. Movie last would just give Christina more time to stew over their purchases at any rate, which suited her perfectly.

"Do you want to go as you are, or change into something... lighter?"

"K-Kim..." Well, she didn't hate it... Honestly, if the door was closed, this would be fine, but... "Okay!" She pushed Kim to arm's length, smiling, far too red, and nodded. "That all sounds great. And this should be fine, we can put the hood up on the car. Get me out of the sun, enjoy the breeze... Probably have to tie my hair up, but, I'll be fine." Hoof...

"Shall we, then?"

"Heehee~ Mmm, Chrissy is super cute when embarrassed~" Seung-Min teased, reaching over to gently boop the blonde's nose, accompanying sound effect obviously included. Turning out the doorway and stopping, holding her hand out towards Christina, Kim gave her a warm smile.

"Let's~"

Christina flinched, not expecting the playful little notion... Kim wasn't normally like this, it was disarming. Not in a bat way at all, but... "You're way too much," she finally sighed out, shaking her head and taking her hand.

____________________________________________________________

The drive had been surprisingly uneventful, but Kim was driving, so it would've been surprising if she'd tried anything... And also probably dangerous. Her guess on the breeze being enough had been right for a bit... But eventually the heat had gotten the better of her, the windows had gone up, and the AC had turned on.

Car parked, Christina out, stretching ensued. "Alriiiiiight. Long drive over, you choose what's first, between some clothes or some food." The date had been Kim's idea, after all.

That drive never did get any shorter... perhaps if she had gotten Christina to take the driver's seat, she might have had a bit more room to play around with the blonde, but Seung-Min had instinctively sat on the driver's side as soon as they had gotten the car. Oh well, she could give it a try on the way back if her patience had left by that point, and the blonde should have more fuel to work with by that point as well. Either way, they were at the mall, and mirroring Christina's stretching for a moment, Seung-Min pondered the question before answering.

"Well, I don't know about you, but... after being in the car that long, I could use something to drink. So how about we... start with dinner?" Kim answered, taking her girlfriend's hand before she could answer, and leading the way into the mall proper.

"Dinner it is, then. Take me away, brave leader. We're going where you want, since this was your idea, and I'm picking the movie." She did at least stay in pace with Kim until they were in the mall proper, but once inside the air conditioned box (the sweater had been a good idea), Christina stopped to let Kim have a go at dragging her about.

"Okay Chrissy~ That sounds fine to me... mmm, I know usually when I cook we have Korean... and while I'm sure that you... love eating Korean~" Seung-Min began, sticking her tongue out at Christina playfully as she lead the blonde along, rather than take her to any of the asian-inspired chains inside of the food court, she instead turned towards one of the restaurants that had rented out it's own space, separate from the food court itself.

"I was thinking we could try something different. How does Italian sound?" Kim eventually asked, stopping in front of a storefront decorated with a rustic brick look, the sign above reading 'West-Side Luigi's', sandwiched on either end by cartoonish renditions of what looked to be a pair of portly Italian brothers.

"I don't get any breaks," she joked back to avoid flustering herself again. Kim was relentless. "Oh, they had one of those back home... Sure. It's been a while. We still get free bread, right?" The best part about eating there was getting the unlimited bread... You probably wouldn't finish your meal because of it, but, it was unlimited fluffy, crispy crusted, garlic buttered white loaf. A stomach ache in the making, but boy did your taste buds appreciate.

"Take my too my seat, your princess demands delicious spaghetti~"

"I'm sure you'll manage~" Kim replied, and with Christina's approval of her choice of eatery, all that was left was to wait to be shown to a seat. In the meanwhile...

"I am pretty sure they do, yes. My Princess will get her bread and spaghetti~" Kim replied, as their waitress came by to seat them. A nice, comfortable booth for two in the corner, some citrus-infused water, and a loaf of fresh bread were soon to follow, along with a pair of menus.

"So, Chrissy. I must admit, I am not... overly familiar with italian food. Is there anything you would... recommend?"

Christina was already into a piece of bread when Kim started asking about food... It was just Italian, it wasn't complicated. "You jmst... Mmm." Probably better to not be eating, white bread didn't leave room to talk. "Mmgh... It's just pasta and pizza, if you're looking for more Italian things. Could get a chicken parm if you want a sandwich instead... I'm just gonna get some alfredo spaghetti, I haven't had... Well, it's American Italian, but I haven't had good restaurant pasta for a while." The thought made her smile, this had been a good choice.

"Or you can get something not Italian, they cover most things now, since they aren't strictly pasta and pizza. Whatever you want~ Aaaaand you can tell me what you've been up to for the past few days while we wait for food. You've seemed pretty busy... Not that I can really talk, seeing as I've been trying to help Nina get used to... Being, but, still."

The food recommendation was rather simple, though Christina asking what she had been up to was... less so. Part of why she had wanted to go on this date had been to put that stuff out of her mind, but Christina was perceptive enough to notice, so it wasn't much of a surprise she would bring it up. Luckily enough for Kim, as she was trying to put things into words, a welcome distraction arrived-

"Sorry for the wait, ladies~ What can I get for you, today?" Chimed in the waitress... Kim could let Christina order first, and give herself a bit more time to work this out in her head.

"Oh, hi... Just the spaghetti alfredo. Skip the bacon, just the chicken is fine." Hmmm... "And get her the shrimp carbonara~ I'm sure she'll love it." If Kim wanted something else, they could spring for it to go, and heat it up back on the ship... Ohh, that sounded like a good idea, actually. Christina made a mental note to put in for a pizza they could take back with them.

"Perfect, perfect~ And will you be having anything to drink today?" The waitress asked, scrawling the order down whilst glancing at the silent brunette, both to see if she showed any disapproval of the food ordered for her, and also to check on drink orders for either. Speaking of said brunette...

"Ah, just a... citrus seltzer should be fine. And the shrimp carbonara... sounds good."

"Kim, you should have something... Oh, right. Heh. Just water is fine for me. I'll be driving back, don't want to get anything into me," even if it was going to be later. Christina had almost forgotten Kim was only seventeen... She had to bite her lip not to chuckle in front of the waitress, she could save that for a moment later.

"Okay~ Spaghetti alfredo, no bacon, a shrimp carbonara, a citrus seltzer and more water... just call for me if you need your glass filled up, or need more bread~" The waitress confirmed, before wandering off towards the kitchen a few moments later.

Meanwhile, Seung-Min gave Christina a sly grin, her slip having been... rather obvious. 

"Trying to get me drunk, Chrissy?"

"Thank you..." Off they went... And Christina let out her chortle, snickering heavily. "I forgot you were seventeen, hahaha~ You're always so mature and in charge of things, but you can't drink yet. And I figured I should drive back, since you drove us here, so nothing for me... Sorry, heh."

"Why are you apologizing?" Kim replied, taking a bite of bread before continuing.

"It's not like I need alcohol to get you in bed." The ex-idol continued, entirely deadpan for a few moments afterwards. 

Oof, tough crowd... "Because even if you don't, it might've made things just a bit more fun... But I guess I'll have to wait another year." Christina was trying to play it cool, but, ugh, Kim was way too strong with how poker faced she could play these lines.

"If you want, you can buy some to take back to the ship~" Kim replied, clearly that particular approach hadn't been too hot... it didn't seem to have put Christina off so much as left her unsure how to proceed. At any rate, it was probably time to come clean...

"As for... what you asked about, earlier..." Seung-Min paused, bit her lip for a moment before letting out a sigh.

"I just... found out that things weren't exactly as I thought they were... I got a hold of my mother, for the first time in... about four years now." Kim added, pushing the straw about in her water, slowly stirring the clear liquid.

"Maybe... But none for you, miss active officer." Honestly... Oh, serious time. "Isn't that a good thing? Is she doing alright?" Kim didn't feel very happy about it, more conflicted and worried, but, talking to your parents after so long, if they were good parents, had to be a good thing, no?

"I thought you wanted to get me drunk?" Kim replied, sticking her tongue out. It was a welcome distraction, before continuing.

"It was... talking to her, wasn't the bad part. i had always thought that, the reason she never called was because of me. High expectations and all that, I didn't have any real accomplishments since I came to America." Kim began, trailing off for a moment.

"The ANF... didn't give her any way to contact me. If I hadn't had the idea put in my head, or worse... if their number had changed and I hadn't been told... who knows how long that might have kept going."

"Oh... I..." That... Sounded pretty awful. "I... I see. I'm so sorry." Why would they do that? Was it because she was a TK? Christina had no idea... "Are you okay now?"

"I... have a lot to think about, now that I've spoken to her. About my future... that's all. Just a lot on my mind... what we're doing... it's too important, to everyone, to falter now." Kim replied, giving her head a small shake before returning to a more normal, cheery state.

"But I came here with you to have fun, not to worry about stuff like that~ So, what made you decide on that dish, for me to try?"

"... Well... If you say so." It would ruin the point of coming here if they got depressed over things out of their hands, but it was still terrible to hear. Christina sighed a bit, sitting back in her seat. "Oh, it's, just something I really like... And I figured, if this is a date, we can share dishes a bit. Plus, it would be nice if we liked the same things... Would make cooking and eating together a lot easier." Maybe a bit of a selfish pick, but Christina was sure Kim would enjoy it.

"Besides, Shrimp are great! Some of the best proteins in a meal. Wasn't feeling a full plate of them today, but you're gonna love it and want more, I promise."

"Heehee... I do think, it was a good choice. I was just wondering what your reasoning was, that's all~" Kim replied, sticking her tongue out at the blonde for a moment.

"And what about you? No bacon? ... I thought bacon was America's favourite... food group."

"I'm already having all this bread, pasta, and a thick sauce. I don't need to make it even worse. I can try to look over a small bit of my meal..." She'd only just started trying to work out, too. Couldn't go ruining that with a fully stacked plate of spaghetti.

"You're allowed to take leftovers home for later, you know." Seung-Min replied with a chuckle, reaching across the table to gently stroke Christina's cheek, tucking a lock of blonde hair behind her ear.

"I-I know that... I... W-Was gonna get a pizza to go for, later and, breakfast... But... I-I'm just trying, I'm already... Squishy enough. The more I look at Chris, the more I realize how little I've been doing to take care of myself..."

"Squishy in all the right places~ I don't think you have... any reason to be self-conscious, Chrissy. You look wonderful." Kim retorted, cupping the blonde's cheek a tad more aggressively, leaning over the table to kiss her gingerly, allowing her lips to linger for only a few moments, a short peck more than anything.

"I understand... trying to get in better shape, but it's not like you're unhealthy, and from what I've seen...your diet doesn't seem like a problem."

They were in public... Kim probably didn't care. Christina sighed, leaning away from the hand, and bit her lip. "I get, why you think that... Just... She's... Even if she was given that body, she's taking care of it. I should do more..."

"Well, if you want, you can come with me to the gym in the morning. I try to do so when I can... and it could help you get into a fitness and strength training routine." Kim replied, pulling her hand away and letting it rest on the table. As if on cue for a break from the slight awkwardness of Christina pulling away, here came their waiter.

"Aaaaand here we go, one spaghetti alfredo with no bacon, and a shrimp carbonara~ Can I get anything else for you?"

"Whoa, that was fast... Uhm, no, I'm good for now. Thank you." Go to the gym, huh...

"Okay~ Enjoy, and let me know if you need anything~" And off she went again...

"Mmm, that was pretty quick, wasn't it?" Seung-Min commented in kind, grabbing a fork and grabbing some of the pasta on her plate, skewering what appeared to be a particularly plump shrimp, and swirling the bite enough to coat it in sauce, before pulling it up and presenting the loaded fork to Christina.

"Say ahh~"

"It was... I haven't eaten out for a while, so I guess I just forget, that... K-Kim, right away?" She was going to milk this... Geez... "Ahhh..." Christina let the girl hand her the one bite, blushing profusely. "Ish delicious..." No respite, none at all. "A-As for the gym," she started, swallowing the hefty shrimp, "I guess I could... But, how early? And I don't think I'd be able to keep up with you."

Snickering at Christina's blushing visage, Kim pulled her fork away after Christina had taken the bite of carbonara, getting one for herself as well. Taking it into her mouth, it was quite good, just as the blonde had indicated.

"Mmm, it is~ As for that... well, I usually go right after waking up... right around the crack of dawn... thanks military training... but if that's too early, we could go together later in the day. And it's not about keeping up, Chrissy... it's about having someone else doing it with you, to keep you motivated."

"Crack of dawn if probably too early... I'd fall asleep on a treadmill and slip off. That'd be funny, but... Not great." In went the pasta, and a wonderful piece of chicken. So entirely worth. "An'... I know that. Jus'... Might be embarrassin', seein' you do so well, an' I'm strugglin' to keep up." And struggling to talk with spaghetti in her mouth.

"There's no need to... be embarrassed." Seung-Min replied, taking more care than Christina when it came to eating and talking, and keeping those two things separate. Her English was suspect enough already, after all.

"We're going at it from... entirely different places. Honestly, if you could keep up with my routine, I should be the one... embarrassed, since I'm continuing from military regiments." She reasoned, before a sly grin crossed her face.

"And besides, you won't just be... getting fit~ You get to see me work up... a sweat in gym shorts and a sports bra. Lucky Chrissy~"

"As appealing as the thought is, if I wanted that, I'd be better off sitting on the sidelines with a water bottle and a towel. If I have to work out with you, I'll just be focused on managing. I barely made it through basic training... And that was months ago."

"Not into the... sexy personal trainer angle?" Seung-Min replied with a chuckle, before leaning forwards on her elbows, and opening her mouth. It was only fair Christina return the favour, after all.

"Ahh~"

"The only sexy after a workout is a nap." At least feeding her back was less embarrassing... She loaded up her fork with the works off her plate and plunged the utensil into Kim's mouth. "Hope it's as good as yours."

"Not into-" Kim began, before her mouth was stuffed full of pasta. Pausing her retort in order to properly chew and swallow the mouthful, she gave Christina a smile.

"-that sort of thing, huh? It is very tasty, yes~"

"Look, it's just... I won't be in a mood for anything after spending an hour or more pushing this sad sack. That's all I'm trying to say... And good."

"Heehee~ Okay... I think that once you get into a routine... that will change. Exercise really feels good... once you get over the hump." Seung-Min replied, but allowed that point to lie for the time being, taking a sip of her seltzer.

"Guess I can tell what you're into, then." Christina rolled her eyes and poked more at her pasta...

"I wouldn't have gotten where I am... if I didn't enjoy it." Kim replied with a giggle, pausing for a moment.

"How have things been going... with Nina?"

"That's not at all what I meant, and you know it, missy." A fork punctuated Christina's point, aiming itself at Kim for a moment, before diving back into spaghetti land.

"Nina's... Opening up. Whatever Apotheosis has done, they've manage to make soldiers that follow every order... But at least in her case, they didn't wipe everything out. She still smiles, and seems interested in things. It's all just, very subdued... Very, very subdued... I can only hope that continuing to talk to her and open up her horizons will help in making her less... This."

"Well then why don't you... enlighten me~?" Kim replied, sticking her tongue out to riposte the blonde's fork point, pausing to take another bite of her meal.

"Well it's good that... she's coming along. If you want my help with any of it, let me know. All of this business is... hard to come to grips with. How did they... manage to end up like this?"

Not touching that bit of enlightenment. "I don't know... I wasn't with them for long before they threw me into a plane and flew me towards your group. I can just assume they're... Trying to wipe emotions from these clones to make them entirely obedient. Nothing to get in the way of orders... But I can't say. I just hope we don't run into any more..."

"Yeah... it must take a toll on you... seeing more and more of them. And not just you, either... it was Brant that pointed her out, to me. He seems to be really invested... probably because of Chris. I just worry that... eventually, we won't be able to save some. And when that happens... what is it going to do to you... to him, to her?" Kim replied, rather slowly, letting out a sigh.

"But that's... pretty heavy. No need to... continue down that road, right now."

"I'll be okay. Nina is... She's barely there. If they keep improving this tech, there won't be anything of a personality left... I'm sure Chris feels similar. Brant, I... I can't say for him. He might be okay, or it might tear at him, but... Either way, I can't put them over anyone on the Riese. I'll just have to hope Apotheosis finds something better to do with my DNA..." It was fine for her, the topic didn't really ruin anything. She'd already thought this over some, once Nina had been brought on board.

"I'll be alright, Kim. I'm a lot tougher than you might think.'

"Okay... I just didn't... want to make you uncomfortable." Kim replied, if nothing else, Christina was resilient. She had come to take this whole situation rather well, all things considered.

"You'll have to try a lot harder than that..." Not much else was discussed for the rest of their meal, though Kim did in fact try much harder than that. Christina made a mental note to come back for take out once their movie was over, if things were still open, and now it was time for clothes, apparently... What clothes she didn't really know, Kim seemed rather giddy about it. She had to have something in mind, so heading towards the general shopping section of this mall, Christina stopped and waited for directions.

"What's first, then?"

The remainder of dinner had gone fairly well, the meal was good, and obviously the company was simply excellent. Leaving West-Side Luigi's behind for the time being, it had come time for some shopping. Seung-Min already knew what she was in the market for, but springing straight for that without giving the blonde her own options seemed hasty.

"Well, I know what I want, but we can save that for last. Did you want to get anything for you, Chrissy?"

"You know me... I'll probably just end up buying more sweaters." She didn't really mind that, but Kim was probably tired of seeing her wearing them all the time... That must've been what this was about, huh? Get her some different, cute clothes to wear. Hmm... "Whatever you want to go for is fine."

"Like I said, we can get to that at the end... so sweaters, huh? Anything in particular catch your... fancy?" Seung-MIn replied, looking over a few of the stores clustered around them.

"Er, not really... Uhm..." Christina sighed, playing with a bit of her hair some. "I... Got into wearing these because they hide a lot of my body, so I just... Picked whatever colors I liked on whichever ones were comfortable. I don't really know about different ones or whatever else would look great, so... It, would be better if you choose stuff for me." Kim seemed to have a decent eye for fashion, even if a bit extravagant...

Kim frowned slightly at Christina's response... it wasn't unexpected, but it was still not particularly pleasant to hear at any rate.

"I won't push it... if it makes you uncomfortable, but... I think you should try to branch out. If you keep trying to hide yourself, then you're just... giving in to the past. For now, we can take a look and see what they have... I'd rather not push my fashion sensibilities onto you though, so try and see if anything stands out to you~"

"I... If I see something, sure, but, for now I'll just follow along with what you wanted to go and see."

"Well... I don't know if you'll want to buy much, after that." Kim replied with a snicker, taking Christina's hand before stepping into one of the nearby outlets and beginning to browse, moving towards sweaters, along with other assorted tops, first off.

"I might..." Christina pouted just a tad, she almost had the drive to prove Kim wrong... Almost. Of course, when the Korean showed her towards the sweaters first, she was already looking some of them over... At least this one had a bit of a v-neck? Maybe that would be a decent step forward? It was a nice pink too... With an embarrassed look over at Kim, she picked it off the rack. It was a step forward!

"A-Anything you want?"

Watching what Christina had chosen, Kim smiled a bit. It was certainly a bit more out of her comfort zone than normal, being that it was liable to show a bit of cleavage, something the blonde had been vehemently avoiding to this point. Giving her an encouraging thumbs up, Brant style, Kim continued to browse for a few moments.

"Let's see... oh, I think you might like this one." Seung-Min noted with a silly grin. She knew these places liked to carry a few... out-there options, as a callback to some fad from a long time ago, but pulling the almost entirely backless sweater off of the back of the rack, and posing with it for Christina... certainly not something one would wear in public this one, she gave the blonde a sly grin.

"What do you think, Chrissy?"

"Hmm? What do I think of... Ah... K-Kim..." That entirely defeated the point of a sweater. Christina pouted a bit, shaking her head. "What's the point of something silly like that? Geez..."

"Well I think the point is to be sexy." Kim replied with a grin, about to put the piece back on the rack before flipping it around and posing with it again. Wearing it that way would expose the front rather than the back, little more than the ties around the new front of the sweater covering where her chest would have been.

"What about... like this? Interested?"

"Are you going to be serious about this or am I just going to grab some more sweaters and wait for you to be done?" It was certainly making her blush, but after all that talk of her trying to expand her wardrobe, just to get teased like this, well it didn't feel that great.

"Sorry, sorry. I just can't believe how... silly this is." Kim replied, finally placing the open sweater back onto the rack. That... didn't bode well, oh dear...

"The one you picked... looks good, though. Do you want to look for more, or check other parts of the store?" Kim asked, more seriously pulling down a black, zip-up hoodie with pink highlights and some sort of cat theming, with little ears pointing from the hood, and a small tail hanging from the lower back.

"As for me... how about this? I think it's cute." The ex-idol added, putting the hoodie on over her outfit and giving Christina a three-sixty turn.

"It's very silly... You... C-Can get it if you want, but..." Only for the bedroom, she mused, looking over some more things before checking back to see Kim in... Was she planning on looking at anything normal, today? At lease this was more practical, if not still silly. A smile happened despite things.

"It looks cute on you... A bit silly, but, not in a bad way. Why, you thinking about becoming a pretty kitty?" Christina chuckled and shook her head, venturing away from sweaters a moment... T-shirts... The dreaded nemesis.

"Hey now, cats are... excellent hunters~ Nyah, got ya~" Kim teased, playfully lunging at Christina, wrapping her arms around the blonde from behind as she moved towards another section, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Caught up in the moment, it didn't take long for her to feel something wasn't quite right with Christina's mood... t-shirts?

"Do these things really... make you that upset? It's just a shirt, Chrissy."

"Ah... H-Hey..." A part of this was relieving, that Kim hadn't forgotten how to be, just a teenager... The soldier part of her was certainly scary at times, so this was nice. But... "I... Just, can't hide these in a shirt," she sighed, looking down a moment. "And I know I can't hide them wearing anything, but at least a sweater isn't so completely form fitting. Just don't want to get stared at or ogled, or... Anything. Being with you, things in private, that's different, but... The rest of the ship... The SKIN suits are already bad enough."

"Not all shirts like this are... form fitting, Chrissy. Honestly, after wearing the SKIN, you should be brave enough for anything." Kim replied, pulling off of Christina before taking off the cat-themed sweater and folding it under her arm for the time being.

"Another thing you could try is... a mini vest, sort of like this. It's an extra layer on your chest, without... being as warm as a sweater overall. It'd also give you some... variety."

"I wear that because I have to. Not because I want to, or because I'm brave enough to... I'll just..." She sighed and grabbed something that said it was in her size, in a sky blue... No time to start getting over issues than the present. "Not going to try it on here. I'll get to it back on the ship, but... I'll, try. Is that okay?"

"I know, but you still manage it. I know it's tough, but you keep telling me that I should trust your strength more. So I will, and so... should you. And sure, that's fine... try grabbing one a size up, as well. It might be more loose on you." Kim replied, giving Christina an encouraging smile.

"That's a good idea... I'll do that. Er, what did you want to get here? Certainly not just a silly little hoodie... And... Sorry. This probably sounds like a silly problem, doesn't it?" She smiled, shook her head, and took that other shirt... It was just a shirt, what was she so scared of? That Therese was going to just, show up, and try to ruin her life again? Kim wasn't her. Far from it... So far that she could be this comfortable with the girl just, randomly hugging her, without a second thought.

"I'll be okay." That was for herself, more than Kim... She'd manage.

"It's not silly, Chrissy. I don't... know exactly what you went through, but I can feel that this is... real. I just want to help you through it, however I can." Kim replied, pausing for a moment.

"As for what I came for... nothing much. Just some... personal effects."

"Personal effects, huh? Show me these personal effects." Knowing Kim, it probably wasn't just some clothes... She wouldn't be referring to it so oddly if it was.

"If you insist~ It's something for me, but... well, also a present for you, Chrissy." KIm replied, taking the blonde by the hand and leading her to another section... past the shirts, past the pants... hello lacy unmentionables. Standing next to one of the mannequins, Seung-Min gave Christina a playful grin, taking up a similar pose to the display.

"Youuuuu get to choose what... I'm going to be wearing for you, later tonight~"

"Huh?" What could... They were going past the clothes... Oh. Oh, Kim... "Ah... Y-Yeah, you can... Choose. I don't think I, uhm... uh... Right!" Far too flustered to try dealing with that, Christina took her items and escaped towards the cashier.

"Chrissyyyyyyy." Kim pouted, grabbing hold of the blonde's wrist before she had gotten too far away. She knew that she was timid, but usually that seemed to manifest the most when it came to her own body, not to Kim's.

"Are you really... not interested?"

"Ahwauh, uh... J-Just too much, to... Think about. Uhm. In the middle of a store. Haha... Ahah... I-I'm, uhm. Red. Th-There. I, gonna, go pay." As long as Kim would let her.

"Red, huh? At least give me... a style, to go with it." Kim replied, pushing a bit further. Well, she wouldn't get the full teasing experience it would seem, but Christina's reaction had been more than sufficient for this to be worthwhile.

"Nope!" Too many styles, mental images, too much Kim, brain overload. Maybe she needed a drink after all... Pushing herself this far and then Kim wants her to think about her in-- "C-Cashier!" She slipped her wrist free and made a quick escape, flushed a bright red. "Uh, ID, here, to... P-Pay, for things... I-I'll be outside, Kim!" A deft escape, before the girl could wrench her back in.

Sigh... oh well. It had been worth trying... red, huh? If she was embarrassed now... Seung-Min would make sure that she would regret chickening out at such an early stage. Taking a moment to grab her weapon of choice, Kim followed after Christina a few minutes behind, spotting the blonde outside after having made her own purchases. Holding up her new hoodie whilst making sure her other purchase remained hidden, Seung-Min pointed at the ears for a moment as she approached.

"Scaredy cat~"

"I'm not scared! I'm just... Geez, I'm really, stepping out of my zone, and then you're making me think... No I'm, not going back there, I'm already frazzled enough. You're driving us back, I really need a drink..." Christina was almost pouting, Kim sure was laying it into her pretty hard. She was... The attention was nice, it was just joking around, but still.

"Okay... Sorry Chrissy, I just... thought it would be fun, to have you pick something you liked, for me. I only hope... you like what I chose~" Seung-Min replied, leaning in to give Christina a light peck on the lips, before pulling back ever so slightly, hands held behind her back.

"Do you want to make any other stops, or go to... pick a movie?"

"I..." Don't make me feel bad. "You... D-Don't need extra clothes... To look... G, Good... Let's go see that movie now! Movie... Yes." I'm such a mess, oh my God... Managed to get enough courage to get things for myself, and then Kim pushes the ship over by making me think about her, too. Ugh, I can't even handle my girlfriend, how am I going to deal with helping her fight terrorists?

Christina slapped her cheeks suddenly, shaking her head. "Okay! Let's go see a movie... And then get ready for another long drive back."

Well, that storm cloud was certainly ominous. Best to deal with that before it got any worse... how to do this? Pausing for a moment, Seung-Min took Christina's hands as she finished clapping them against her cheeks, gently squeezing the both of them as she went in to kiss the blonde, this one not as brief as those prior. Rather, it was soft, tender, and held for a few moments, before Kim pulled away, eyelashes fluttering slightly as she opened her eyes again. Giving Christina an apologetic look.

"It's okay, Chrissy. I'm not... upset. I just wanted to have a fun time with you... and I am."

And there her worries went... A sigh, as long as Kim was still fine, then this was worthwhile. "Sorry... I'm having fun too. Even if I'm a bit overwhelmed. Let's go see a movie, okay? Get some popcorn, have a good time... Thanks." She could handle things like this, at least.

Edited by Ether

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Cool.
It almost hurts.
Almost.

The air felt cool on Nikolai's skin as he shivered slightly, his skin still tender and soft. The sensation seemed foreign to him as he inhaled, as though he'd been born anew in a strange alien world despite the fact that this was still, for all intents and purposes, his own. Goosepimples prickled as he rubbed his arm, the feeling of skin and downy hair contrasting with the raised keloid scarring of his burns, almost healed by his tenure in the fishtank. As unpleasant as the artificial womb had been, he was vaguely thankful for the advance in medicine, knowing fully well that without it he would probably be dead. 

He took an inventory of the situation. His body felt heavier now, burdened by gravity in this brave new world where everything seemed too loud and vivid, where there was too much light and noise. The antiseptic pod had muted everything, softened the corners and blurred everything to a comfortable numbness which was now unpresent, replaced by stunning reality. He squinted into the light, the filter of blurry eyelashes almost making the tableau of sterile white light and reflective chrome tolerable. His lungs filled with the pungent scent of disinfectants as he breathed, unassisted, for the first time in what seemed like forever.

He made as if to try to stand before his mind caught up to him, reminding him exactly why that would be a bad idea.

He caught himself before he pathetically flopped onto the cold hard floor of the medical bay.

Oh right, no legs.
No legs means no standing.
That would've been funny. Like stupid little fish taken out of fishtank, I flop too.

He settled into the wheelchair, an expression that was almost a wry smile twisted onto his face as he let himself sink into the padded seat. This would be troublesome to get used to. He allowed his eyes to open fully once more, slowly and hestiantly facing the light.

"If any fucker is here," he said, speaking as loudly as he could considering how clumsy and ill-equipped his lungs and vocal chords were outside his little amniotic sac of curative slime, "I am unfortunately awake. Tell me what the fuck is happening right now or else I scream and maybe vomit on floor again for sake of old time."

Edited by Sandalphon

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The week had passed quickly, perhaps too much so, for Tarquin. Between checking on Nikolai, keeping an eye on Nina and training for their upcoming mission there had been little time for much else. When was the last time he'd sat down to read? It was hard to remember, maybe he had shown Nina one of his books at some point, but that probably didn't count. In fact, when was the last time he had spent a prolonged period of time alone? Life certainly had gotten busier from him recently, he was almost a little fatigued from all the commotion - but he needed to continue onwards. He'd spent the last few days making his own adjustments to the Aria's 

He looked down from the Aria's cockpit, the crew on the ground seemed so small from where he was. He wrapped Nikolai's poncho around himself, making a note that he'd return it to his friend... eventually. Even their insane janitor's attempts to clean it had been unsuccessful, there was still a hint of Nikolai's... smell to it. Letting Nikolai join him in the Aria was out of the question, and the Umbra had been totalled, this was the closest that he would get. 

"Wir sind sehr klein, aber sehr fähig für große Dinge." Tarquin remarked, watching as Kazue hurried towards the Crescent. "Hawking, wenn ich richtig glaube."

It wasn't long before he spotted Nina, he couldn't help but feel slightly uncomfortable with her in the hangar. She was just there to look, right? Admittedly she had been designed for combat, but he was rather against the idea of her partaking in it any time soon.

-

Electricity ran down Bill's spine, causing him to pause suddenly in the hallway. He had already completed his morning round with exactly twenty minutes to spare, but a new threat was looming. His instincts were set on sending him to the medical bay, his legs had already started to move. Was there a mess that he had missed? Unless it had occurred within the last half hour it was unlikely, but the war against grime was a never-ending battle. His mop in hand, Bill marched through the medical bay, halting in front of the freshly opened healing tank... and the fluid trailed along the floor.

He wasn't alone, slightly less horrifying than the wet floor was the legless child sitting in the chair next to it. It took Bill a few moments to recognise the boy, but his identity was certain. The Prince of Grime, the Master of Mess... it was him. However, Bill couldn't manage the task at hand without addressing the elephant in the room. The boy had likely just emerged from the tank, like a slightly pungent butterfly from its cocoon. He recalled seeing him in the tank earlier in the week, had he really healed that quickly?

"Can't have you chundering over the floor, you little rascal." Bill laughed, somewhat certain that Nikolai was willing to follow through with the threat. "It'd be making a blue if I ever saw one, but can't blame you... you've been in that pod like a swagman on his Matilda. Can't really say that much, an ocker like me doesn't get to hear the yabber from up top. All I know is we're heading up north. Mind you, probably a lot more going on than that, but I can wheel you to someone with a little more noggin if you like."

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Nikolai's eyes narrowed as he heard a new voice enter the med bay. He immediately felt his stomach sink, possibly ready to make good on his half-baked promise as he was met with the terrifying cleanliness dispersal man. This time, however, it was clear he had no means of escape, helpless as he desperately tried to decode the mysterious dialect the man was using. He was certain it was... English.

If English had been thrown into a blender, mixed with two parts vodka and one part mint, given to a nervous possum and vomited back up into another blender.

"What is... swagman? Matilda?" He groaned, almost croaking like a strange new species of particularly repugnant toad, "I do not... understand. Please speak... English? Deutsch? Human language? " He found himself shrinking into the chair, as if subconsciously trying to make himself smaller to the incomprehensible soap-scented predator that had found him hiding in his little hole. His eyes darted around the room, seeking anyone at all to help him make an escape. 

Oh god... where is Tarquin? He would know what to make of Ockers and Yabbers.
If I have to fight one of those, I am surely fucked.

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Was it noon, already? Megumi had risen up and fallen right back into bed multiple times, already. Lying on either side of her were her body doubles. The one she was facing had its eyes closed, and was breathing softly, almost in time with her. It wasn't truly 'breathing,' only mimicking the act. For the past couple of days the depressed doctor had only been able to see Michelle in these doubles, rather than herself or even her sisters. It was only natural. Her life had turned into pure chaos overnight, all thanks to that woman ... and Nicholas.

Finally forcing herself out of bed, Megumi grabbed her phone and checked her inbox, expecting at least one message from Ellen. Sure enough, it was another update. The investigation into the sudden death of Doctor Michelle Amparo wasn't really going anywhere. They seemed like they were ready to write it off as an attack by Apotheosis. It wouldn't be the first time they took out someone in transit ... Of course, Megumi already knew what happened. She knew that Nicholas of all people had been the one to take out her plane. She knew because the insufferable bastard had called her and wasn't very subtle about what had happened. He hadn't directly incriminated himself in apologizing for the incident, but it was obvious ... and she went off on him right there in the infirmary. Ever since, Bennet and Tambre had their work cut out for them, tending to everything in the infirmary while Megumi continued her studies on cybernetics in the privacy of her own room.

With Michelle dead, Megumi's whole reason for becoming a doctor was effectively gone. There was nothing to prove to the dead, and nothing to prove to herself. There was just ... nothing. This was only a job, a means to an end, and a brief one at that. So many other doctors seemed to find a great deal of personal fulfillment in this kind of work, being able to save lives more often than not, and contribute something real and tangible to the world. To Megumi, it wasn't nearly that profound or motivating, though she often wished it was. This must have been how Sarah felt all the time; she wrote as a means to an end, not because she enjoyed it or found any fulfillment in it. That was why her stories tended to be so ... tragic, needlessly, and sometimes even spitefully so. Megumi's only purpose now was to keep her sisters alive and healthy, and perform all the duties she was contractually obligated to do for the Federation. And that ... was just barely enough to get her out of bed in the morning, especially with her sisters safe in California. She'd proven that much since learning about Michelle's death.

Since Megumi hadn't allowed herself any visitors while she was in her room, which was most of the time these last couple of days, she'd cut off most opportunities to be poked and prodded in an attempt to cheer her up. The wounds were still relatively fresh, and so the doctor's gaze was void of any kind of purpose and completely unfocused. She felt nothing but emptiness where imminent vindication and undeniable truth should have been. If Michelle could have just stayed alive for a little longer ... or if Megumi herself hadn't gotten so distracted by the war and trying to get Nikolai walking, again ...

The sudden pain that caught Megumi was borderline physical. This was the last place she wanted to be drifting off to. She couldn't possibly regret trying to help Nikolai. Yes, technically she could start harboring regrets. Morally, she absolutely couldn't allow that kind of thinking. Megumi had no logical reason to believe she could have cracked the code and finished her research with an extra week of crunch time. Maybe she could have, but given her intentions ... her admittedly impure intentions, helping Nikolai was more important in the short term. At least she'd invested her time into something that would ultimately pan out, even if it had nothing to do with her personally ...

It was time to freshen up and get dressed. Then the doctor would try not to stand out too much to the normal people on the ship. There was no hiding her dread from nearby TKs, unfortunately. She doubted she would fare well with the normals either, though. Even if not for the look on her face, she was behaving erratically, avoiding people and delegating to her assistants far more than usual. Even so, Megumi had to get to work, now. She was close to being able to get Nikolai standing, again. Very close.


It was time. Finally. They had actually used up that whole week, too. Firmia was already a little peeved before getting the news. In a week, her people had gotten quite a lot down, and so there was no telling what kind of preparations Apotheosis had managed, especially if they were getting desperate. Worse still, if they thought they were about to lose the war, then they might have some desertions. It may seem mean spirited, but they needed to wipe Apotheosis out, not just beat the crap out of them. In the aftermath of this war, Firmia had no doubt that there would be plenty of stragglers, or those that managed to slip away back into the ANF and EU populations. There might even be cells out there that would regroup and begin operating independently. Hell, the Sacarians might scoop up the survivors and rearm them.

The ANF was stretched thin, Firmia reminded herself. Even if they wanted to crush Apotheosis completely, about all they could afford right now was a technical victory. So be it, then. The Alkaev had decided a while back that she was going to use the Apotheosis stragglers to test her own weapons once the war was over. An indeterminate number of birds with one punt gun. She only wished there was a more effective way of ensuring this group was put down decisively and permanently. No surviving lieutenants poking their heads out with their followers once the dust settled and making a mess, again.

Speaking of messes, there was more to clean up after this war than just Apotheosis. In addition to finding a way to deal with the Sacarians, Firmia also wanted to figure out what to do about the older members of her family. Dima was losing power, but he was still dangerous. Rosa ... less so. In fact she was completely broken at this point. A brief chat with Brant and Chris revealed that the woman nearly shot Dima and ended all of this after learning about the children. Such an act would have obviously resulted in her getting brought down by security in a hail of gunfire. That would have been ... disturbing. Not at all surprising, though. Firmia felt just as homicidal at times.

The young captain had spoken with Rosa a few times while waiting for the ANF to give the go ahead. It hadn't been pretty, and Firmia shouldered some of the responsibility for that. There were brief moments where she wanted to forgive her mother for everything that had happened ... but they were just so brief. It was complicated and painful, but the more she thought back on everything that had happened, and what was happening now ... she just couldn't. The more she saw Brant and Chris together, the more she wanted to fly off the handle. It really wasn't that hard, being a decent person, and yet those two whores nearly destroyed Brant completely over their impatience and lust. Firmia told her mother she wouldn't forgive her, though the woman wasn't explicitly asking for forgiveness. She clearly thought it impossible. It was all just an errand Brant had sent her on, a peacemaking exercise. Rosa was effectively suicidal at this point, and the only reason she was reaching out to her daughter was because Brant insisted. What good was that? And why did it matter at this point? Blood still meant something to Firmia, a great deal in fact, so for her siblings' sake, she didn't try to completely cut ties with their mother. She just didn't have any personal attachment left and wanted that to be clearly understood. Dima killed off the Rosa that Firmia wanted to bond with, and if not for her younger siblings, she might even put this hollowed out woman out of her misery.

It was strange. Those three preteens were the latest arrivals, and now so much was beginning to revolve around them. Their safety, their happiness, their well being, they were almost being waited on at times. Firmia was almost envious, but as a captain, she got special treatment of sorts, too. Still, the effect Vasilly, Liliana, and Akilina had on the crew in general was amazing. Prior to her and Hannah's little stunt in the Reign, things had been feeling a little too tense around here.

THE CHILD RESCUE MISSION

Spoiler

After a long flight, some strong emotions, and several more games, they were finally coming up on their destination... Firmia had gotten a decent sleep, or so it seemed, and Hannah was checking signals to make sure nothing had started chasing them... Nothing yet, but this was Alkaev territory. "If we encounter anything, I'm pushing the Reign past its limits, so please try to hold on as best as you can, Firmia." Tonya's advice had been taken to heart, Hannah was ready to make this machine move like no one had ever seen. And the closer they got... "We've got incoming." A green MS, flying towards them. "Orders, Firmia?"

Flying? Probably an AMS unit placed to protect the mansion. They likely came up on the estate's radars a while ago, but they still had the advantage of mobility, no matter what kind of enemy they were facing. "One second," Firmia said, quickly examining the data that was coming in. It was a Throne variant she'd never seen before. Fortunately, she could deduce plenty from here.

"It's got extra sensors and ... something. I have no idea what those are but they look like blades. Solid blades with integrated cannons." An interesting choice ... unless it had something to do with the environment. Oh, of course it did! "We have to take it down, but don't hit the reactor. If it explodes there's way too much around here that could go up in flames. That's why it's set up this way."

The approaching Throne got as low to the treetops as it possibly could before it began firing all of its ranged weapons up toward the Reign. It seemed that the pilot was indeed trying to avoid starting any fires, and was happy to use its beam weapons if a miss wouldn't spell disaster for the surrounding wilderness.

Firmia could only brace for the extreme acceleration she was about to endure. "Get in close and take him out!"

"Get in close? You didn't even have to ask~" Hopefully Firmia could handle it. Hannah transformed the Reign and fell towards their assailant, dodging incoming fire. "Does the Reign have any physical weaponry? A beam saber seems like a dangerous idea in this environment." Hannah had checked through the setup during their flight, of course, and it didn't seem like it, but maybe Firmia knew something she didn't.

"If not, I'll just punch it. This thing reacts really well~"

"I wish I knew we'd be fighting above the forest ahead of time," Firmia growled. No, the Reign's only other physical option besides its limbs were its vulcans, and those couldn't reliably damage another MS. They were worth mentioning, at least. "If you can, try to-"

Before Firmia could finish her instruction, the incoming Throne transformed into MS mode. If it hadn't pulled up to try and meet the Reign shortly ahead of the shift, the big blue fireballs that emerged beneath it might have scorched the trees. The Throne was giving its all to come up to meet them in MS mode, and those two gun blades were now firmly gripped in each of its hands. That wasn't all that stood out about this variant, though. Not only were the extra sensors on its chest facing forward in MS mode, but the head unit had a full combat visor. It wasn't a long range type like the Mantle's, but looked much more like the analyzer suites the company used in training. They were used to trigger automatic responses in the training AIs, which would help compensate for their inherent weaknesses. Still, this Throne was not being piloted by an AI ...

"Hannah those sensors are for high speed data analysis! Keep us out of their line of sight! There's an AI helping the pilot!"

"And there's an AI helping us, there's nothing this pilot can do to beat me." Hannah wouldn't mind one of those swords, though. Hmmm, staying out of its line of sight, though... That depended on how well the pilot could keep up with its AI. Hannah was assuming not very. Shifting the now falling Reign into its plane form, Hannah took off around the incoming Throne, looking for a good angle of approach. "I want one of those swords. Do you have any suggestions, Firmia? I'd rather avoid having the Reign damaged, so if there's anything you know that I should..." Otherwise, she was just going to fly circles around this guy until he got brave enough to miss a swing.

This wasn't the time to be thinking about stealing equipment ... though, Firmia supposed the fewer weapons that could be used against them, the better. There were also other considerations: this wasn't standard equipment. For now ...

"Let's see ..." Think ... think ...! "Right! Pick a side! Left or right! Use the vulcans to take out all the sensors on that side of the chest and head. That should make it easier to take the sword on that arm." Then they could just cut the thing down without setting off the reactor. Firmia was fairly certain this pilot had been training specifically for this type of battlefield and the equipment he was using. He probably wasn't ready to start losing his cameras and data overlays, though.

"You got it. Galatea, help me correct the aim for this speed."

"Such a slave driver..." Transforming back into MS mode and using the machine's half-built V-Drive, Hannah kept her heading, circling the Throne... As it turned to fire at them again, Hannah pulled the trigger. A small hail of bullets collided with its head, another headed for the chest.

"That's a few cameras down... Should I take out both sides, just in case? I don't think we're on a time limit." She was surprisingly calm, this was live combat...

Firmia was relieved to see the results so far. It had taken some peppering, but the vulcans managed to punch through the reinforced glass into the sensors. The Throne looked a good deal less intimidating now, but had decided to compensate for that by closing in on them again, both swords ready for a different type of attack.

"We shouldn't waste time out here," Firmia shook her head, still reeling a bit from the Reign's maneuvers, "If another AMS unit shows up, we'll be in trouble. Just go for the sword."

"Alright, alright... Might've been enjoying this freedom a bit too much. Hokay, how to handle this..." The Throne was coming after them, so the best way in was to let him take a swing. Faster than human reaction speed, was it? Hmm. Hannah kept strafing, letting him get closer and closer, until... "Gotcha."

The Reign spun swiftly around its incoming slash, the beam saber popping out of its shield. With one hand grabbing the arm that had taken aim, Hannah jammed the hilt against this Throne's wrist section, lighting it up for just a moment. The flare of plasma and energy sliced right through, letting Hannah hold on, as a leg was brought up to kick the machine away from her.

"I could really get used to this maneuverability." Discarding the hand to the trees below, and storing the beam saber back where it belonged, the Reign was more than equipped to deal with the rest of this machine. Hannah tried hailing him over comms, a smile on her face. "Ready to give up yet? Because we can settle this on the ground, if you don't think you can handle me."

The Throne pilot seemed almost stunned after being kicked away with a mangled limb. The unit entered an unstable hover a short distance from the Reign, its head glancing at its burned and mangled stump that once housed the suit's hand.

Firmia was ... for the lack of a better word ... dizzy. "Urgh ... wait, you're calling him?" Why didn't she think of that, actually? Why hadn't the enemy pilot? AMS units shouldn't be fighting each other under normal circumstances, so there had to be something going on at the mansion. Maybe Dima had left orders anticipating their arrival ...

"Surrender your machine at once," the Throne's pilot replied, holding out its remaining hand and blade at the Reign. That voice was too ... well, that obviously wasn't the pilot speaking. It was the AI assisting him. Firmia was sure of it. The pilot likely already knew how slim his chances were, but the AIs the company used didn't have that level of situational awareness ... or awareness in general.

"Неправильный ответ." Hopefully the little AI understood that better than surrender. The blade was a bit weighty, but nothing the Reign couldn't handle. "Alright. Hmmm..." Hannah shrugged, engaging full boosters and charging the thing. It fired, of course, but a swift sway to the right dodged that. Should she just go for the kill? Fine, fine... Charging towards it, the Throne made to swing again, but the Reign's shield was more than adequate in parrying the incoming blow. Vulcans rained down on the other cameras, as the sword, now firmly in hand, slid between them and through the Throne's other arm, effectively rendering it unable to fight.

"Are you done now?" Hannah hailed once more, kicking it away again before returning to a hover. Hopefully the pilot know the situation he was in. If he tried to run, Hannah would just chase him before he could get far and take out his thrusters.

"капитуляция-" The next kick cut off the AI, which seemed to be switching languages automatically. The Throne apparently wasn't done, yet. It's thrust was weakening as its fuel began burning up at an alarming rate, but it still had its vulcans and hip cannons, which it began firing at the Reign almost as soon as Hannah had asked the question.

"He's going to die," Firmia winced as the bullets and plasma flew past them, "why is he being so stubborn?" He was even letting the AI do all the talking ... for all the good that would do. Firmia didn't come out here to kill anyone, but ... She took a moment to glance at the mansion in the distance. There were no other AMS units or mobile suits coming up on the sensors, yet. They really needed to get over there, and quickly. "Tch ... take him out! We can't waste anymore time here out here!"

"Alright." Hannah hadn't wanted to leave this guy for dead, but he was making this more difficult than necessary, and letting some halfbaked AI do all the talking. His loss. Hannah sped forward again, dipping and weaving through the incoming random fire. It was like he wasn't even aiming, anymore... She flew past him and chucked the sword into the Throne's thrusters, watching one of them explode from the sudden leak of fuel and the machine plummet towards the ground. "Oh! Can't have that!" Burning the Throne's thrusters again, Hannah snatched the falling machine, before it could land among the trees.

"Hoof... Heavy." Dragging it clear of the tree line, Hannah tossed it onto the ground where it could smolder without worry... Hopefully. "Вы закончили?" She'd crush the cockpit if she had to... For now, the Reign landed on top of what was left, ready to dodge if those hip cannons swirled around.

"Is it ...?" Firmia was worried that without a clean kill, this persistent bastard would just keep on struggling. It might not matter at this point. The leg thruster had blown up, which meant the leg wasn't capable of normal movement any longer. The best this pilot might manage without those hip cannons was to hobble after them with the vulcans ...

Suddenly all of the sensors turned off, and the Reign registered an incredible energy spike from inside the chest. "Wait a minute ..." Firmia's face went pale. It wasn't going to self destruct, was it? That wouldn't even damage the Reign. AMS units didn't have traditional self destruct devices; instead, they essentially melted the unit's components, fusing everything together beneath the armor, forming a slightly deformed statue that was barely even useful as salvage. It was a way to protect Alkaev technology without making a mess ... but why self destruct after being defeated by another AMS unit ... and while still trapped inside, no less?!

Now the remaining sensors lost their crimson glow and shut down all at once. The temperature of the suit ought to be rising uniformly as it self destructed, but it was starting to resemble the norm, with most of the heat concentrated in the reactor itself ... ... crap. "G-get us out of here! It's going to explode!"

... so much for preventing a forest fire.

"Oh, you can't be serious..." Hannah grabbed the thing's leg and took off, dropping it a good bit away from the mansion, and then getting some distance from it. "What kind of people work for your grandfather? That was ridiculous." At least they could land and deal with things now, but they were certainly on a time limit...

"We have all kinds," Firmia sighed as the Throne exploded behind them. The whole area was bathed in orange and yellow light as the flames rose into the sky. "I'm not sure why he killed himself, though ..." There were probably people on Dima's payroll with special jobs even she didn't know about, but maniacs like that guy?

"Well ... nothing else is showing up ... nothing dangerous, anyway. Galatea, can you look after the Reign while we're inside?"

"I can try, but I can't fly an entire machine by myself. Not as well as Hannah... I can fire at incoming things and let you know if anything comes, at least."

"That should be enough... This hopefully won't take long." Hannah shook her head once more, talk about sore loser. Setting the Reign down next to the mansion, Hannah wasted no time hopping out and rushing for the door, checking to see if it was... "Locked, of course." Well... They had no time to waste, so... "Alright. One, two, three!" Two steps back, one hefty kick forward. It stood no chance against her. "Alright! Anyone want to tell me where the kids are?"

Firmia had come in and out of that door only on very rare occasions, so she didn't know it inside and out. Just the same, she never thought she'd see that door lying flat inside the main hall, its hinges mangled by a single kick. Hopefully they wouldn't have to tear up the place ...

Oh right, the explosion. Unless something put out the fires, they were likely to reach the property eventually.

Firmia sighed as she stepped in after Hannah, making sure to keep behind the android in case they just immediately opened fire. She wasn't expecting the kind of resistance they'd faced outside, though. She was more worried that they would be left with a token force, and only as a distraction.

"Stop right there! Who are you ...?" A maid aimed a pistol at Hannah while crouching around a corner leading to another hall. There were footsteps behind her. Lots of them. They were coming from other directions too, echoing through the main hall as they drew closer and closer. Could have been ten to twenty individuals depending on their pace. They hadn't been expecting the rescue party to get this far, clearly.

"Firmia Alkaev and Hannah Abrams," Firmia called out, hoping to delay the firefight now that it seemed feasible.

"T-that's impossible ..."

"Well, we're here, and we're here for the kids, so you either cough them up, or I'm going to uuuuuuuse... That'll do." Hannah stared the maid down, before heading towards a nearby touch panel. "Stay behind me, Firmia." A small cable produced itself from Hannah's wrist, plugging herself into the house's systems. "You think you can talk them down, or...?" They really didn't have time to waste with a fire starting in the woods so close nearby.

"I'm certainly going to try," Firmia nodded. Ideally they could get the kids and then the staff could either focus on putting out the fires or take a few transport choppers out of the area. Or they could call for help from the second facility further south. That seemed like the most likely outcome, that annoying third option they had, so Firmia decided to try and not just talk them down, but also steer things in their favor.

"Master Alkaev was quite clear that the children are not to leave the estate unless summoned," the maid said, her grip tightening on the pistol. "S-step away from there!"

Several butlers and a pair of maids rounded the corner behind her. All had their guns drawn, and within a couple of seconds, they were lined up like a firing squad. Firmia could still hear more on the way, and a pair of butlers were rushing down the central staircase to join the fray. This was going to be risky, but Firmia needed them to realize that YES, it really was her, that aloof girl half of them had known the 'pleasure' of trying to socialize. And if they thought Dima would be upset about the children getting some fresh air, he'd really be frothing if his current heir died to friendly fire.

"Put your guns down, dammit," Firmia said, carefully revealing her face, but nothing else, lest she present too large a target too soon. Thankfully, the older staff members recognized her instantly. That was when the whispers started. "Listen ..." she began, inching a bit further into the open to confirm their suspicions, "That idiot outside self destructed and now there's an inferno on its way here. Either way the children need to leave, so let me take them. They're my siblings, after all, and I do have a safe place for them." The Avalon was safe ... most of the time. It didn't have any Apotheosis spies on board, at least!

"B-but Master Dima's orders are ..." ... the maid was good and stuck, now.

"Young Ms," the oldest looking among the butlers took a couple of steps closer, breaking the firing line, "Surely you're aware that Master Alkaev wouldn't approve of you acting on your own like this. Why did you come here in a mobile suit?"

Better question. "Why were we attacked? That's the real question, here," Firmia fired back, "You didn't even try to contact us, first. Even without some secret handshake, we came here in the AMS prototype." She wasn't going to bother calling it the Reign, since that would only confuse them even more at this point. "You know ... the one that Throne was based off of?" ... sometimes you just can't beat the original ...

"My apologies, Young Ms. ..."

Firmia stared at him for a moment. "It's Captain now, by the way. Captain Alkaev." More guns started lowering, but the tension was actually increasing as Hannah worked the interface. They knew Firmia was stalling for time, but couldn't risk shooting her by mistake. She was too close to Hannah, and that was no accident~

"Dima, Dima, Dima... Old fart can kiss my ass," Hannah grumbled, unable to get through most of the security there. She'd need Galatea for that... At least she'd found someone. "Got a map of the estate," she started, unplugging herself and stepping in front of Firmia once again. "Now. My name is Hannah Abrams. If anyone wants to be stupid, get it out of their system, and take a shot? By all means. Just know that if any of you so much as graze Firmia, you die. Understood?" If they wanted to be brave and take a shot at her, they'd realize why her threat was so serious, immediately.

"So either take your chance, or tell us where the kids are. I'll push my way through you lot to find them if I have to..."

A map was good, but this place had a lot of locked doors, some of them made of tougher stuff than Hannah's foot. Firmia supposed there were only two places they would move the children in an emergency like this, underground or out to the nearby helipad. If she had to place a bet on one of them, Captain Alkaev was leaning sharply toward the basement. It could pass for a bomb shelter, but wasn't stocked as such for one reason or another.

Before she could pass her thoughts onto Hannah she heard a gunshot and metal stopping metal! She couldn't help but flinch. The sharp pang had been less than a couple of feet from her ears and she almost felt like she was the one under fire. Only one gun went off, though ... after that ...

"Ah ... hah ... ahhhhHHHHHHHHHH!!!" The maid they encountered first completely lost her nerve when Hannah shrugged off a bullet to the forehead, a bullet fired by some crackshot near the top of the central staircase. The maid dropped her gun and ran away. The man who'd taken the shot stood his ground, but lowered his gun. He looked a little embarrassed.

"A-Abrams, you said ...?" The older man seemed to know the name from somewhere.

"Right. And now that we've established that I'm an android," she continued, rolling her eyes, "the kids. Now-- Okay, you know what, this stand off is silly, Firmia, how about you go to the kitchen and fix yourself something, and I'll look around, alright? If they had any guns I'd be worried about, they'd have brought them out already. So... Get a stiff one, I don't think this'll be as quick as you thought it would." Hannah sighed, shook her head, and pulled up the map in her brain...

"Alright, let's check the obvious place first. Bunker it is... Anyone else feel like wasting ammo?" With another eye roll, Hannah headed for the hall on the right. It seemed there were some stairs that would lead down, at the end of it.

A drink? Ooo~ "Okay," Firmia nodded with a smile. This was definitely a good idea. She just hoped the next time she saw Hannah, she wasn't riddled with spent ammo. That was a nice outfit. Also, the battle damaged look would just scare the tar out of the children. "I'll catch up in a couple of minutes."

"Erm ..." The older man held out his hand, several concerns fighting for a word with the two intruders, "Captain, Ms. Abrams ... please understand that this is all ... extremely unusual."

Some of the staff were putting away their weapons and a few of them even took off running in seemingly random directions. Firmia suspected at least a couple of them were going to try and find a window to confirm how bad the fire was. Another good idea. Two for two. Wait, there was that one shot. Two for three.

As for how unusual this was, Firmia couldn't care less. "Welcome to my world, Petya. Just show Hannah where the children are so we can get going. After that, you people should consider working for me and not my grandfather." It had just been a little playful thought, but it had some merit. They weren't taking all these people back to the Avalon even if they accepted somehow, but having people on her side that weren't on the ship would definitely work to her advantage later. With that said though, it was time to get that drink, while she still could.

Petya could only sigh as Firmia started off for the kitchen. Next his eyes turned to Hannah. He couldn't help but focus on the shallow bullet wound. A metal plate wouldn't explain this on its own, not with how she stood her ground against that shot, not so much as flinching or bleeding afterward. She was definitely an android. "May I at least know where you plan on taking the young Alkaevs, Ms. Abrams?"

Cooperation felt nice. Finally. "Make sure you don't go too hard on the liquor, hun! We're going to be in a tight space with three kids for around twelve hours. The last thing you need is a drink induced headache." Hopefully Firmia would show a little bit of restraint.

"Petya, was it? To their father. Brant Abrams... And Rex, once we can make contact with him. They will not be used as tools for Dima's future ambitions. They will live out as normal a life a we can afford them, with parents that care about them... And not Rosa. She's done enough harm in this situation. Now, are you going to help me, or am I going to tear this place apart?" Hannah sighed, feeling her forehead for a moment... Just an indent, she could smooth that out while she walked. The last thing these kids needed was a small hole in the skin on her forehead.

Firmia waved back in some sort of acknowledgement but kept pace to the kitchen. She still knew where everything was in this place ... at least everything she had access to.

"Rex Abrams ... and Brant," Petya seemed to be making a connection, "I knew it. But ... you don't seem related to them, and from the sound of things you and the young captain ... well it's none of my business. If you're an android and not a human then I suppose you wouldn't be related to either of those two."


It wasn't far to the kitchen, but Firmia made it well out of earshot of the main hall by the time she arrived. The only thing that would make it this far was a good shout in this relative silence, or another gunshot. She wasn't going to stay long, either way. Firmia needed to get something to go and then catch up with Hannah and Petya.

The slightly parched captain had to slow down as nostalgia overcame her. Things hadn't changed much, she realized. So many servants, and yet Firmia always wound up getting her own drinks ... mainly because she wasn't allowed to have any and had to be stealthy. The people she recognized hadn't aged much from the look of things, though they certainly looked more stressed than usual, for obvious reasons. Firmia was actually feeling glad to have paid this place one last visit ... either before it burned to the ground or she left for good. Either way she wouldn't be coming back this way without a very good reason.

"Let's see ..." Firmia refocused on her task. Alcohol ... alcohol ... "Huh?" She felt someone getting closer. It was probably just a staff member ... but if it was one of the ones that didn't recognize her, she might get held up, again. She also didn't want to shoot anyone over so little ...

The person that rounded the corner didn't look anything like a staff member. He looked like a certified dork, dressed from head to toe in some sort of armored getup. It reminded Firmia of some kind of anime cosplay. She couldn't even see above his mouth with the helmet he was wearing. It ... sort of resembled an old VR headset, but less likely to come off unexpectedly. In fact ...

"Oh, uh ..." The man lifted up the front of his helmet, revealing a young, blue eyed face, "Who are you, exactly?"

"... Firmia Alkaev." She just stared at him as he approached, watching for any signs of hostility.

"Ah, boss lady. I gotcha," the boy nodded, "I'm Casey. Last name Madigan." With introductions out of the way, he made his way past Firmia and to the refrigerator. He was more than a little relieved to see a fresh gallon of orange juice on the top shelf. "Just what I was looking for."

Firmia turned to face him and scowled. "They just let you raid the fridge like that?"

Casey brought a finger up to his lips and gave the stupidest grin. "Oh by the way, which room are you in? I haven't seen you, before. You'reee not a shut-in, are you? That'd be a real shame." He almost frowned just saying that.

Firmia kept on scowling. "Not anymore. What are you? What do you do around here? You can't keep the house looking tidy dressed like that."

"I'm a pilot," Casey shrugged as he poured himself a glass of orange juice, "Never thought I'd find work halfway across the world, but here I am. Want some?"

"A pi-!" Firmia's eye twitched. That ridiculous getup wasn't a costume or anything close. "You're the Throne pilot!" Firmia pointed her finger at him accusingly. That helmet of his was a heads up display ... and all of that crap on his arms and legs had to be part of some sort of remote control system.

"Yeah sorry about that," Casey smiled apologetically, "I tried to chase off those intruders for you but that knockoff suit is WAY too fast. The usual input delay didn't help, either. I'm pretty sure Zeus took it out, though. Poor guy went down with the suit, though ..." Casey saluted his fallen AI comrade.

"... I ..."

"By the way, did you hear a gunshot earlier? Or was that something else?"

"... d-dammit ..." Firmia buried her face in both palms. She seriously needed that drink, now ...


Petya led Hannah down toward the basement level, still wary of all this, but hoping he could at least learn more about what was going on along the way. "Would you mind telling me who built you, Ms. Abrams? As well as why?"

"I am related," she shot back, starting towards the basement. "I'm just as much, if not more of a person than half the people here. It doesn't have to be by blood to be real." Whether or not the butler agreed was of no concern to her. What was of concern, and what she cared about, was her relationship with Firmia. "And yes... I'm her girlfriend. If you'd like to challenge that as well, I can leave you here, permanently." No nonsense today, she'd already been shot at, and that had put her in a glum mood.

"As for who built me, Tabitha Gaertner. Why? I don't know. I don't even know where she is, right now... I can only assume her having disappeared off the grid has to do with Apotheosis, but until I get answers properly, I have no idea why I am... Just that I am." These words of questions weren't bad, at least.

Petya grimaced as they made their way further down. The further they got from the main hall and the other areas people would normally visit, the more fortified things started to look. The entrance to the shelter wasn't far off, now. "I see. Please accept my apologies, Ms. Abrams. Human or not, I have no intention of offending you. It's also not my place to challenge the Alkaevs or their decisions ... not once they've come of age. As I said before, however ... this is all extremely ... unusual."

The area they entered next was somewhat like a garage in appearance, with no attempt whatsoever to pretty up place or apply any sort of appealing aesthetic. There were support beams placed at regular intervals, due to the sheer size of the room. At the center of the room was the entrance to the shelter. The enclosed structure went from ceiling to floor, likely meaning it could be accessed from somewhere on the second or third floors, as well, at the cost of a longer descent. Most people preferred walking. The enclosure also had a large door facing them, heavily reinforced. The whole thing looked like an elevator shaft, but it would likely be a manual descent to the shelter. An elevator system just wouldn't survive a real bombing.

"We're not leaving these kids to be Dima's tools. Fairly sure I just mentioned that... I don't know how long you've been working for him, but you're either uncaring of what horrible things he's done, or not in the know. These kids need their father, and a proper life. Not to be reusable pawns should be decree it..." Hannah clenched a fist, thinking about Dima riled her up in the worst way.

"And the door's locked... Open it?"

"Let's see, I ..." Petya thought back as they approached the door, "... yes, I began working for his parents." The old butler was clearly amused thinking back on just how long he'd been taking care of these people and coordinating his junior colleagues. "I'll simply say this, Ms. Abrams ... there are things some of us are privy to that make it difficult to keep silent. Having reached old age alongside Master Alkaev and his late wife ... I do harbor a strong desire to see him bring all of these tragedies to an end. Perhaps that is for the young captain's generation ... these children you're taking with you ..."

The door was it? If it was locked, then the children had made it down safely and everyone else was just hanging back until it became absolutely necessary to retreat to the shelter. There would only be a few staff members with the children at most. Petya typed in his password on a nearby touchpad, ignoring the physical lock, since both were linked and the power was still on. "... there." Petya gestured at the door, letting Hannah know she could easily open it, now.

"I know everything he's done. Firmia and I, with the help of my sisters, cracked into his journal... We have everything. Everything he's recorded. That's why I can't sit around and let him do as he pleases anymore... Not while he's hurting people I care about." It was selfish, but it was what it was. This was for Firmia's sake as well... "She'll put an end to this nonsense, and make the Alkaev name one that isn't plastered with these horrible deeds. That's what I hope, anyway... I'll be back with the kids." Hannah opened the door to a... Rather impressive looking setup. Stairs, a ladder, going up and down... The ladder was faster, so she grabbed onto one of the sides, and slid down, a dull thud resounding up the shaft as she touched the bottom.

"Another door... Doesn't look like it's locked. If the kids are inside..." Hannah stepped up to it and knocked, instead of busting it open. "Hello? Can you open this door, please?"

Was everything alright, now? Vasiliy didn't recognize the voice outside, but it wasn't the kind of voice that made him think of danger and violence. He also didn't have a face or name for every voice at the estate. Some of the maids never said anything around him. Liliana and Akilina were safe over by the widescreen. Unfortunately there were exactly two maids and one butler down here with them, and Vasiliy had one of the maids sticking close to him. She followed him to the door, and now she was eyeing the thing like it was on fire.

"Don't," she shook her head at him. She approached the door, herself. "Who is it?"

"You can just open the door and see-" "Shh," the maid cut Vasiliy off.

"Hannah Abrams," she replied, hoping this door wouldn't need to be kicked down as well... "I'm here to pick up the children. Petya sent me." Hopefully name dropping him would work, she really didn't want to scare anyone.

"If Petya sent her it should be fine," Liliana spoke up, Akilina looking around at the maid, Vasiliy, and her sister.

"Are you sure? There was all that rush, and... We were sent down here, so..."

"It should be fine... Probably."

"Mrgh ..." The maid clearly wasn't sure about this, and wasn't happy about the children siding with whoever was on the other side of that door. Vasiliy could only wince as she brought out her pistol in one hand, and reached for the door handle with the other.

"Vasiliy, get over here," the butler called over.

"... you don't have to use that," Vasiliy muttered, stepping out of the way, but not heading over to the butler just yet.

Meanwhile the maid gently turned the door handle. "No sudden movements, now ..."

The door slowly opened... And there Hannah stood, in her sweatpants and sweater, blonde hair swaying gently as she did, slowly bringing a hand up to wave. "Hi. I would suggest against that... I'd rather not get shot," again.

"Huh... You kinda look like Rosa," Liliana pointed out.

"Maybe Rosa with a tan..."

"... what?" The maid was too taken aback by the sudden comparison to even aim her pistol, now.

Vasiliy smiled. "She kind of does, but happier. And you see? I told you you don't have to use that." With that, Vasiliy approached Hannah and extended his hand in greeting. "I'm Vasiliy Alkaev. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"W-we don't even know what she's doing here! I've never heard that name before," the maid protested.

"It doesn't involve a gun, at least," Vasiliy scowled at her.

So this one was Rex's son... "What a charming young gentleman. A pleasure to meet you, Vasiliy." Hannah gently shook his hand, smiling brightly. They were all unharmed then. That was good. "Your sister's waiting upstairs to see you."

"Rosa's here?" Akilina asked, Liliana giving a curious eyebrow raise towards Hannah.

That almost caught Hannah off guard. What lies had they been fed?

"Firmia, actually. She's waiting in the kitchen."

"Have we met her?" Liliana looked at her brother and sister, then shrugged.

"I dont think so," Akilina shrugged as well.

"Um ..." Vasiliy took a moment to really ponder that one. He knew the name, but didn't have a face to go with it. That always annoyed him the most ... "Firmia Alkaev ... maybe Rosa's daughter ... but you called her our sister," Vasiliy winced. Was that right? He'd gotten fed up with tag-ons like 'half' and 'quarter' fairly quickly growing up, and preferred to keep things simple ... but this was just downright confusing. Maybe some nuance was good, sometimes ...

"J-just one minute," the maid tried to step between Hannah and Vasiliy, "What are you trying to tell them, exactly? What do you want with these children?"

Well, cat was moderately out of the bag on that one. So they thought that they were Karla's children, well. Time to burst bubbles. "I'd like them to come meet their sister, Firmia Alkaev... And for them to know the truth, that Rosa is their mother."

"Huh?" the girls both said in unison.

"If you'd like to meet her, she's right upstairs... We can fill you in on everything you might be curious about."

"... Vasiliy?" Liliana looked to him to decide, Akilina remaining quiet and confused. "What do you think? I will admit, with our ages compared to Rosa... It seems a bit... Odd."

When his sisters looked to him, Vasiliy eyed the maid carefully. He wasn't convinced of anything just yet, but the reactions of adults were usually good hints as to what was really going on, if you knew what you were looking for. Fortunately for Vasiliy, the maid was focusing on Hannah, not him.

"That is not the truth," the maid fired back. The confidence that came with 'knowing' just wasn't there, Vasiliy noted. Next?

"Are you insane?!" The butler joined the unfolding argument. "You can't just come in here spouting things like that?! What on earth is Ms. Firmia even doing here? Master Alkaev didn't tell us she was coming!" Was this a kidnapping? Vasiliy wondered. It was an awfully friendly one if so ...

"Just go," the maid demanded, "get out of here right now or I'll ..." She looked at the kids and caught Vasiliy's gaze. He was scowling at her hard, and seemed to have reached a conclusion.

"Rosa probably is our mother ..." he said with some hesitation. "We need proof, though. Can you give us that?" he asked Hannah, his eyes somewhat pleading. He wanted to believe her on some level, but he couldn't get into the habit of just swallowing up whatever information he was given.

"T-there's no proof because it's not true!" The maid was still at it ...

The servants were breaking down rather quickly. "Well, Vasiliy, I am an android, so I can provide you with Dima's detailed plans for why you exist... Your father's real name is Rex Abrams. And for Liliana and Akilina, your father's name is Brant Abrams... Firmia and I came here because we wanted to bring you back to your fathers. And so that you wouldn't have to rot in this mansion until Dima had plans for you."

"Wh-Wh... This is a lot, what..." She didn't look like she was lying, but...

"Liliana?" Akilina was super confused, not really sure what was going on.

"I've got a copy of the data inside me if you need visual proof... But, there's a fire outside, that will likely reach the mansion if we take too long, so... It would be better if we left sooner than later."

"A fire? The woods!?"

"Th-This is, uh... V-Vasiliy...!"

Vasiliy nodded to himself. That was enough to act. "We're going with her," he told his sister. He said the exact same thing to the maid, the fact that she was armed seeming almost irrelevant. "We're going with her." He said with as much authority as his developing voice could carry.

"N-no you're not, Vasiliy ... we have orders to keep you here."

"Are you going to shoot us if we refuse?" Vasiliy stared daggers at her.

"... that's ..."

"Well, you can shoot me if you want, but," Hannah began, quickly stepping forward and snatching the pistol out of the maid's hands. "It won't work very well." She then proceeded to crush the gun in between her fingers like it was paper, before stepping back out of the room and standing aside for the kids to walk out. "Shall we?"

"... I-If Vasiliy says so, then... Come on, Akilina." Liliana hopped forward and marched out of the room with reckless abandon.

"A-Are you sure?" she asked, still in awe of Hannah's little moment, following after her sister.

"T-this can't be happening," the maid said, watching in horror as Hannah crushed her pistol like it was some flimsy origami. The other servants stayed where they were, not sure what to do that wouldn't result in them getting similar treatment to that gun.

Vasiliy looked pleased. "Thank you for taking care of us," he said, giving a polite bow before stepping out of the room. "Lead the way. I'll make sure we don't get separated from you ... erm ... could we call you Hannah?" Vasiliy was proper most of the time, but when he could get away with it, he preferred first names.

"Hannah, big sis, either works. I'm Firmia's girlfriend, so... We'll technically be step-siblings if things ever get that serious." Hannah smiled, Vasiliy was so polite... Hopefully Rex didn't ruin that.

Liliana and Akilina were now both in awe of Hannah, following after her and Vasiliy while staring at her.

"Can I be as strong as you when I grow up?" the more timid of the sisters asked.

"Heh. Whatever you put your mind to, I'm sure you could accomplish." And considering the state of technology right now, a human becoming as strong as Hannah wasn't exactly out of the question.

Vasiliy tried to take on board these new versions of 'sibling.' Frankly there were too many types. Half-sibling, step-sibling, sibling in law. Again though, he considered that maybe some nuance was necessary here and there ... especially if what Hannah was saying about their origins was true. For now he was just going to call her Hannah.

"Thank you, Hannah," Vasiliy smiled. "Keep close, both of you," he added, taking his job very seriously. He'd be lying if he said Hannah's strength didn't impress him, but they had more pressing concerns, right now ... like that blaze in the forest. It was apparently dangerous enough to warrant mentioning, so ... "How big is the fire, Hannah? Will everyone be able to get away?"

"The Throne model stationed here self destructed when I defeated it, so... The woods are catching rather quickly. I assume the house hands have a proper evacuation set up. I'm confident they'll be fine."

"What about Casey?"

"Yeah, he was here too..."

"Casey?" Hannah asked the sisters.

"He's the pilot... Well... His AI is. Remote control stuff..." Liliana seemed to know about it, perhaps looking a bit worried, but... Considering Hannah had said the robot exploded...

"If he wasn't in the machine, he should be alright, and the house hands will take him with them when they leave. So that's why the pilot didn't surrender..."

"So that's why..."

Apparently a mobile suit wasn't enough to protect this place after all ... so just how powerful was Hannah? "You took down the Throne, yourself? How?" Vasiliy was thinking--hoping really, that some kind of portable weapon system was involved here. The idea of her jumping up onto it and punching the machine until it self destructed was just too surreal, even if she was an android.

"... Oh, ahah. No, Firmia and I flew here in a prototype AMS unit. She calls it the Reign... I'm just too much of a pilot for a simple AI to handle."

"So that means Zeus is dead..." Liliana seemed upset by that, sighing.

"I-It's okay. I'm sure Casey will get another one... Be, besides! Hannah's an android, so... So that means she's an AI too. Right?"

"I am, yes."

"Wait, really?" Liliana had suddenly forgotten about Zeus, staring at Hannah with a quickly renewed appraisal. "That's amazing!"

"Thank you~"

Vasiliy felt silly. Of course you would take on a mobile suit with one of your own. Somehow the idea of an android piloting one had escaped him, even with Zeus helping Casey out. Of course, Zeus was almost pure software. His hardware consisted of a box no larger than your average book. ... and now he was gone. Oh well. He wasn't the type of AI that needed pity. They probably had an up to date copy of him somewhere. He just needed a new container unit.

The mobile suit Hannah used was a far bigger concern for Vasiliy. Hannah called it an AMS prototype. There were a few of those, but he couldn't be sure which. The name she gave it, 'Reign,' didn't register with him. Again Vasiliy was struggling to put things together and came up short. He had one way to potentially solve this. "Does the Reign fly?" If it did, then Vasiliy knew exactly which prototype it was, because only one of the company's recent prototype machines flew. He had a model of the thing in his room, after all.

"It can transform into a plane and fly... And, thanks to some help from an ANF engineer, it can fly on its own in MS form. Not for long extended periods, though. It's a Throne prototype, I think... I'm not quite sure, all I know is that it's incredibly fast, and I appreciate that." The stairs were definitely a longer way to get up than the ladder...

Vasiliy couldn't help but smile. Hannah and Firmia had rode in on the same mobile suit he spent so much time building and perfecting. That was just ... well, Liliana said it best. It was amazing! "I'm actually going to get to see the real thing ... the Reign, I mean."

"I hope you also don't mind sitting in it. The flight back to the US is going to take just under twelve hours..."

"... We can go to the bathroom first, right?" Akilina asked.

"I'd appreciate it if you all did, yes. There are no stops flying over the pacific."

"Okay!"

Mixed feelings. That just about summed it up. Vasiliy couldn't not be excited about flying in the Reign, but there was also no denying that he had other things in mind when he used to fantasize about it. The Pacific Ocean sure knew how to make something incredible ... incredibly boring. What were they even going to do for twelve hours besides try not to get full bladders?

"You were ready for this, right?" Vasiliy asked, somewhat pleading, "The AMS ... the Reign would only have two seats in the cockpit, so one would be for you and the other one for Firmia ... sitting on the display panels at the bottom isn't safe ..."

"We've already installed a backseat for you three... Firmia's going to be sitting on my lap up front. I brought games, as well, so you'll have something to do." Re-purposing the FE games onto the back monitors in the Reign would make for good distractions. "And you can sleep, if you need to. It's a long flight, after all..."

"You said you were Firmia's girlfriend, right? How does that work if you're an AI?" Liliana was trying to wrap her head about this, but Hannah just smiled.

"I'm a learning AI... Enough to have my own personality and views on the world around me. So, I'm... Mostly just a metal person."

"So cool..."

"Hmm, okay," Vasiliy nodded. That was good enough. There was no escaping the trip itself if they wanted to get out of here, but at least they had options. He did want to see if he had time to go grab his model and some clothes, though. If he had more time he'd get more things, but as things stood, those were his most important possessions in the real tangible world.

"Our AIs aren't very smart compared to you," he noted as they ascended the shaft, "You could fool anyone if you hide how strong you are."

"I do, sometimes. But I'm... Becoming comfortable, being an android. It's something I should be proud of, much as it's troublesome at times." Her respect for herself mostly came from Firmia... She was pretty good at getting Hannah to not hate herself.

"Well, I don't mind metal people," Vasiliy offered, "Akilina doesn't mind either ... and Liliana actually likes them. AIs ... So if someone tries to bully you for it, you don't have to use your super strength. We'd be happy to help. There's strength in numbers."


The screwdriver Firmia fixed herself certainly helped. Apparently Casey had never heard of a screwdriver, and thought the idea of mixing alcohol with orange juice weird. Fortunately, this uncultured imbecile was willing to experiment a little, so Firmia fixed him one, too ... extra strong to mourn his dead AI friend. She also had other reasons but was keeping those to herself~

"You know I ... never got to tell Zeus how much I appreciated him ..." Casey shook his head at his empty glass, "Now I'll never get the chance. ... crud."

"You have my condolences," Firmia said, finishing her first glass. She mixed herself one more but didn't start on it right away. That was for the walk out ...

"I mean ... I know he's just ones and zeroes but he had heart," Casey nodded at his own words while Firmia did nothing to disguise her boredom. She was just waiting. "You ever have any AI friends, Firmia?"

"... yes."

Casey nodded again. "They're good people ... they're good people."

"Yes ... oh, I have a question for you." Better to try now than waste another five minutes. She wanted to go catch up with Hannah, but this was important ... at least important enough to look into really quick. "Do you have a backup of Zeus?"

"Data, sure ... but ... it's just not the same," Casey sighed, "Gonna call him Zeus Jr. ... or Heracles."

"I guess you'll have to make a new Throne, too," Firmia feigned sympathy, "A new AI and a new mobile suit."

"... yeah."

"How would you even start, though?" Firmia raised her voice, trying to sound overwhelmed by the prospect. "You need Zeus' data, the Throne's data ... I don't even know where all of that's kept, these days..."

"Oh, it's all on the server," Casey said, reaching for the vodka to make himself another drink. "Just need the password."

Another server, huh? There was a chance the journal contained all of this information, but only if it wasn't terribly recent. That was something Firmia was very much interested in checking, and Casey was making this way too easy. "... it's not one of those stupid passwords like 'password,' is it? Tell me it's something you couldn't just guess in three tries."

"No it's ... it's uh ... urgh, you can't even say it, just ... here." Casey stepped back from the counter and pulled up his wrist, which had a small touchscreen attached. "See? It's like ... letters and numbers and some other things I don't remember. I always had Zeus log in for me but now I'm going to have to actually type this crap ... and there's no remember me option ... whyyy is there no remember me?"

"You poor thing ..." Firmia patted him on the back a couple of times. Time to grab her tablet and her drink, and go data diving.


"I see you found the children well enough," Petya greeted Hannah. He clearly still had his reservations, but there was no stopping this, only flailing, and he wasn't one to fight fate. "I hope it's alright, but I took the liberty of having someone pack them some spare clothes for the this trip. So long as they're here, it is still our duty to look after them."

The more Hannah spoke to these kids, the more she was confident in this decision. They were all bright eyed and had so far been spared Dima's corruptions, they could live out happy lives. Even Rex's son could. This had been the right choice... So far, at least.

"Thank you all," she offered with a smile, as they came up on Petya. "That's very kind of you. I'll go through them to make sure you haven't stashed a tracker or worse in them... You still work for Dima, after all." Perhaps cruel, but necessary.

That just left walking back to the entrance, at which point Hannah opened her communicator. "Firmia, they're here. Come say hi."

Firmia wasn't happy about Casey following her, but considering he was already tossed due to the double screwdrivers, he was at best a useful source of information, and at worst, an incoherent mouthpiece. She was prepared to deal with either. What she wasn't prepared for was the reality she ran into back in the main hall.

"H-... hello," was the best greeting Firmia could come up with in that moment. Casey stumbling around behind her wasn't helping her remain composed.

"Hello, Firmia," Vasiliy greeted her, "... Casey." He could only wince at the guy, right now. He'd clearly had one too many, which was odd since Firmia was holding a glass and aside from looking taken aback, was fine. Did she have a high tolerance, or did she just have a lot less than Casey did?

"Hey, kiddos," Casey lazily waved at the group, "Don't mind me, just ... mournin' Zeus. Died fighting for freedom ..."

"Who cares about Zeus?" Liliana scoffed, "Hannah here is way more impressive."

Zeus... Then, the machine wasn't being piloted by anyone? And... Died fighting for freedom... Hannah shook her head. "Casey, your AI died fighting me. I was the pilot of the machine that just entered the airspace... And Firmia was on board." There wasn't a real risk, there was no way that he would've won that fight, but, it had to be made clear, that would've been one egregious mistake.

"Hi, Firmia," Akilina waved, stepping forward just a bit.

"We're all ready to go, Firmia. I've just got to check their luggage to make sure nothing was planted... The Reign has excess space for something like clothes, right? I think the Regalia had a small space near the forearm..."

"Whaaaat ...?" Casey was wounded, but with him, Firmia didn't know if she should care or not. Sad drunks were prone to overreact to just about anything ...

Vasiliy suddenly looked angry. "You tried to shoot down the Reign? Are you crazy?"

"Huh? The knock off? Good name ... we got 'reigned' on, alright ..."

"It is NOT a knockoff! That is the suit all of the others are based on! Why would you shoot at it?!"

Interesting kids ... Firmia stepped closer to the sisters and let Vasiliy make his point to Casey. "I'm glad to finally meet you all. Once Hannah checks your things though we're leaving. Please save any questions until we're airborne. Believe me, there'll be lots of time for them ..."

"A knock off?" This Casey guy didn't know much, did he? Vasiliy's outrage was cute, but truthful, at least. "The Reign is the prototype for all the current throne models. I suppose you've been keeping quiet while you drank, Firmia?" That was like her, at least... Hannah went about heading towards the luggage that was waiting, opening things up and rifling through them, while trying to make as little of a mess as possible.

"Uhm!" Akilina stepped further forward, Firmia had said to wait for all questions, but... "Are you... Really our sister?"

"Ah man ... I'm sorry ..." Casey cringed. It was finally sinking in from the look of things. "And they say the prototypes are supposed to be weaker than the mass production models. The Reign would like to have a word with them ..."

Firmia sighed, wishing Akilina hadn't been so curious about their blood relations. "Yes, I am. I'm serious, though. The rest can wait." To Hannah she said, "The Reign has the same kind of storage compartments, yes. There's no cable in there though so all of this should fit, easily."

"I have a request," Vasiliy glanced back at Firmia, looking guilty for asking. He'd clearly changed up the wording to imply something besides a question ... "I want to go to my room and get my A- ... Reign model. It's important to me ..."

That ... explained why he snapped at Casey. Now Firmia had a question of her own. "Do either of you need anything else besides your clothes? I don't know if this mansion is still going to be here after we leave ..."

"O-Okay..." She quieted down, there were so many questions, but... If Firmia thought it was best to wait...

"I, I have something in my room, but..." Did she really need it? It was just some code fiddlings, not even a full AI, but... Liliana nodded. "If I can go grab it, it would be appreciated."

"I have a few cases to go through, so... No rush, unless the fire's literally at our doorstep."

Firmia glanced at the main entrance. She doubted the fire had gotten close enough to be a danger. Once it was close enough to start heating up the Reign, Galatea would likely tell them to hurry up and move it. "Alright, hurry and get anything else you need. If you can't carry them by yourselves though, it's best to leave it behind."

Vasiliy nodded, then looked at Casey. "You should get anything you want, too." With that, he started off for the central staircase.

"O-oh ... am I coming with ...?" Casey asked, pointing at his face.

"No," Firmia shook her head.

"Yes! Er... R-Right," Liliana rushed off up the stairs, trying not to trip over her dress. It wouldn't take her more than a moment to head to her room and snag her tablet.

Akilina decided to wait near Hannah, she didn't have anything that needed getting. "Too many questions..."

"Don't worry, Akilina," Hannah replied, "we'll tell you all everything you need to know once we're flying."

"Okay. It's just a lot..."

"Now then ..." Firmia stepped over to the same interface Hannah had used earlier and input Casey's password. As soon as she got through the login, she took a sip of her drink. It didn't take long to find what she was looking for, the specifications on the Throne unit Hannah had pummeled. She took a step back and lifted up her own tablet to contact the Reign. "Galatea could you do me a favor? We're almost done inside, but I need you to cross reference something for me."

If they already had this data in the Alkaev Journal, then Firmia didn't need to bother grabbing the server, but if there was anything new ... well, the more you knew~

"Hmmm? What is it? I was getting bored watching the growing bonfire."

"I'm back!" Liliana had dashed rather quickly, coming back huffing and puffing, a small tablet in hand. "I got what I needed... R-Ready to go whenever."

"And the luggage looks clean. I can get Galatea to perform a scan on them before we store them, just in case."

"I'm ready, too," Vasiliy said, making his way back a bit more carefully with his cargo. The Reign model he'd been working so hard on was one sixtieth the scale of the real thing. He had to carry it under his arm to keep its secure on his way down the stairs.

From the sound of things, the fire was indeed spreading, but it wasn't close enough to force them outside just yet. Good, though this might only take a few seconds. "I'm setting up a link between the Reign and the estate's server system. I want you to see if there's anything like this you remember from the journal. If anything looks new, please grab it. We'll be outside in a moment so I'm leaving the connection open." Galatea could just cut it once she was done, and unlike the journal or the Regina, there shouldn't be any traps on this isolated server.

"Hey that looks a lot like the Reign," Casey smiled, "Pretty good job, man."

"Only ... a lot?" Vasiliy winced. Did the real Reign look different from his model? He'd studied the CADs and photos for over a month to build this. Was Casey positive it wasn't identical to the one he fought? "L-look closer, it should be exactly the same."

"Mmm ..."

A Galatea popped up onto the console Firmia was using, waving at her. "Sure, give me a moment."

"Hey, if you could do that this whole time, why didn't you help me find where they were holding the children?" Hannah had thought she'd needed a direct connection...

"You didn't ask."

"Oh, my God..." That... That was definitely like Galatea.

"Hmmmmmmmm... Swords. Like the ones that Throne model was using. That's about it, from what I can tell. Copying them, then?"

"Yes. Hannah liked them, so we might as well take the data and improve them. Oh! And ... wipe the server when you're done." Firmia meant what she told Hannah before ... if it hurt Dima and not them, they were going to do it. There was always a chance the mansion wouldn't burn to the ground, so best to do what reasonable damage they could before leaving.

"Another AI ..." Vasiliy was distracted temporarily by the little avatar on the screen. Where'd she come from, and how did she get into the system?

"Mmm ... yeah it's close but a few things are off," Casey concluded, still impressed with Vasiliy's model.

Vasiliy gritted his teeth as he looked back at Casey. "You're just drunk ..."

"I'm so happy you're thinking about me, even now," Hannah joked, before thinking of how best to address Vasiliy's frustration. "The Reign has been upgraded since it joined up with the Heion Riese... That's the ANF's latest ship, to clarify. And, don't mind Galatea. She's... Well, she's my sister. And a bit--"

"I'm the best sass master, accept no substitutes. Anyway, copied and wiped. Anything else? It's nice and toasty out here, but the mansion isn't on fire yet."

Hannah's explanation provided Vasiliy with some relief, but also let him know that he had a lot more work to do to perfect his model. A sobering thought crossed his mind. What if they kept upgrading the Reign? Would he be able to keep up? He supposed he could ask for help. Before, he wouldn't have risked hurting his pride, but this pseudo-completed version was based on the Reign as it was during its airshows, so it felt justified, now ...

"It's nice to meet you, Galatea," Vasiliy waved with his free hand. He was glad Hannah had let him stick with her first name. Hopefully her sister had the same preference; Sass Master was a strange title.

"Thank you. And yes, we've got some cargo, clothes mostly," Firmia said, glancing at the luggage, "so open the containers in the arms. We're going to load everything up and then we're out of here."

"Did you hear that, Casey?" Vasiliy scowled at the pilot, "You should get ready to leave, too."

"You really don't want me around," Casey smiled.

"I don't want you to die," Vasiliy corrected him.

"Alright; see you in a few moments." The Galatea waved at everyone and blinked off of the screen, Hannah sighing just a bit.

"She's so weird, sometimes... Alright, let's go kids." Hannah hoisted up their luggage, feeling a bit silly, but if they were going to go, it was now... Wait, what was...

There was a bit of a rumbling outside, Hannah heading to the door and checking to-- "Gah! Galatea?"

"What?" the Riegn's speakers echoed, the machine having moved over to the door, cockpit hanging in front of the entrance. "I'm just making this easier."

"You..."

"Whoa..." Liliana strolled over, Akilina in hot pursuit, hiding behind her once again. "Cool robot."

Cool robot was an understatement. Vasiliy was completely dumbstruck. Casey had been right, there were some noticeable differences one would notice at just a glance. The shoulders armor had been expanded, and there was more armor in general from the look of things. They were a bit too close for him to make out any other differences between his model and the suit overall, but he could tell by looking inside the cockpit that some renovations had been made. There was also the interesting fact that the Reign wasn't being piloted at the moment. Galatea had apparently moved the machine, herself. She must be located inside its computer ...

"Er- ... let's hurry and go," Vasiliy said, heading out the door, "Bye, Casey. Don't die."

"I'll try my best," Casey waved.

Firmia decided to finish her drink before heading out. Bringing the glass with her was pointless without being able to fill it again. She might have considered grabbing a bottle if not for Casey hovering so much ... "Okay ..." Drink finished, and with nowhere else to put the glass, she set it on a nearby pedestal next to a vase, and started out with everyone else.

"Alright, kids, hop in. I'm going to store your luggage in the arm after, I'll hop in once I'm done." Hannah waited near the door, Liliana braving the impressive suit first.

"Alright... Here... Here goes, nothing. Right?" Stepping into the cockpit, she was... Surprised, at the lack of space. They were all going to fit in here-- Oh. "There's room in the back, thank God..." Being cramped in that bunker had been bad enough...

"C-Coming...!" Akilina was next, plopping down next to her sister in the back.

"Hop in, Firmia. I need Galatea to straighten it out to get onto the arm, anyway."

Minding her tablet, Firmia went in after Vasiliy got settled and sat down in the pilot's seat. "Twelve hours," Firmia warned, before checking the Reign's files for the sword data Galatea had just taken.

Vasiliy winced slightly before saying, "We'll be fine ... right?" He glanced at his sisters. He was less worried about boredom since that had pretty much been their entire day. The most exciting thing that happened so far was ... well ... this. Though, Vasiliy could almost make out Firmia poking away at the screen in front of her, and wondered if he could use the one in the back to have a look through the systems. The closest he got to this with his model was the fake monitors it had ... those had been so hard to put in ...

"And up we go," Galatea's voice sounded in the cockpit, the Reign hoisting itself up.

"Take care of yourself, Casey. If you get a new AI, I'll gladly take it on again. Better to have an AI learn by fighting another one, right?" Hannah smiled, waved, and them jumped up onto the Reign's arm to quickly store the luggage away. One extra leap from the arm to the cockpit, and she was quickly shuffling herself under Firmia.

"Alright, kids, this ride's going to be long, but that just means there's plenty of time to talk about whatever questions you might have... And I did bring games, though they are a bit old, so we'll see as we go along." The cockpit closed, and Hannah took over, starting up flight sequences again.

"We're gonna be okay, right?" Akilina's concerns were already raised, the sight of the fire outside was mildly concerning.

"Of course. I'm a great pilot." To punctuate that, the Reign took off, swiftly transforming and heading away from the mansion. The girls braced themselves, the sudden shift in speed had been unexpected, but it quickly evened out as the Reign headed towards the Pacific once more.

"Alright... Mission success, Firmia." Hannah let out a sigh, that had been tense, for a bit. Those servants were rather stickler for following orders...

Casey sighed as the Reign took off into the sky. It was just him, the mansion behind him ... and a somewhat intimidating blaze creeping forward in front of him. "Don't die, don't die ... right ... what to do ...? Maids! Gotta find the maids! Mary's cute, she can tell me what we've gotta do, next!" And off he went back into the building ...

"Well ..." Firmia wanted to agree more fully with Hannah, but as long as they were in Alkaev territory ... "We should be fine, but just in case, let's fly below radar until we're near the coast, again." She barely managed to endure the Reign's maneuvers while Hannah was fighting, and she was trained to pilot AMS units. She doubted the children would make it out of a fight unscathed. "... in fact, we have more than enough fuel for this trip, so if someone tries to pick a fight with us, just leave them in the dust." Ignoring the Crowns and Apotheosis' teleportation shenanigans, the Reign was still the fastest mobile suit there was.

"May I look in the system?" Vasiliy asked, hoping he wouldn't just be staring longingly at the screen for the next twelve hours.

"Sure," Firmia shrugged. "Any other questions?"

"Is Rosa our real mother?" Liliana spoke up immediately, as soon as the floor for questions was opened. "I mean... If you're supposed to be our sister, that's all that makes sense... Is she with the man who's supposed to be our father?"

Hannah winced, the girl was digging into something rather painful, and she didn't even know it. How to even answer that one? Maybe Firmia could...

"And, uhm... Where are we going? You mentioned flying to the US, but... Wh-Where, exactly?" At least Akilina's question was easy and simple...

Oh good grief. Firmia leaned to her right to glance back at the three children. Even Vasiliy was waiting for answers, despite getting her go'head to go data diving. "Rosa is your mother," Firmia started, figuring she would try to tackle both questions at once, "We're taking you to meet your father ... yours, Liliana and Akilina. His name is Brant, and he's staying on my ship. That's ... where we're headed ... as for why they're not together ..."

Vasiliy squinted. According to Hannah, his father was Rex Abrams, not Brant. Where was he, exactly?

"Brant and our mother weren't supposed to be together to begin with," Firmia tried to state it for the record, "A lot of things happened that I'm not sure how to get into just yet, but ... the most important thing to know right now is that your life confined out here is over. You're going to be staying with us from now on." Hopefully things would work themselves out. If Tonya was right about Brant, then at the very least he would do his part in all of this.

"Why weren't they supposed to be together?" She was going to press this, wasn't she? Hannah gulped.

"Rosa... Wanted to be with Brant. And Rex. But it... Wasn't... Mutual," was the best way Hannah could put it. "Brant works with Firmia, now. And Rex is working in the EU. Vasiliy, once we can contact him, we'll let him come and pick you up, alright?"

"You mean we aren't gonna live with Vasiliy anymore?" Akilina was the worried voice attached to that, looking at him then back at the front seat.

"... Probably not."

"Oh..."

Firmia admittedly had some reservations about letting Rex come and take Vasiliy. Even if he didn't try to put a bullet in her on his way out, he wasn't stacking up well against her idea of a good father. Neither was Brant, but at least he knew how to commit. Maybe a little too well ...

"What if my father stays with us?" Vasiliy asked, "He can work for you, too."

Firmia tried not to laugh. She was pretty sure he'd rather shoot himself than submit to a teenager that reminded him of Rosa. "You can ask him when we get a hold of him," she offered.

"... I will," Vasiliy decided, glancing at his sisters in turn, "Liliana and Akilina need me."

"There has to be a reason he's working elsewhere... B-Besides, I can handle myself. Especially now that we're out of that hands of those darn maids... It was stifling in there. And boring."

"I-I like having him around... He's always standing up for us when it matters. Like today."

"I... I know, but..." Liliana had been rather swiftly defeated by her sister, shrinking in her seat.

This is going to be difficult. Hannah smiled, at least they all got along. For now, at least...

"Uhm, Hannah?" Liliana again, Hannah turning her head back a bit. "How advanced are you, really? Do you... Think anyone, could make something as advanced as you again?"

That was a much nicer question. "Advanced enough for intelligent thought, and to discern things for myself. And... Probably. Your dad's really interested in AIs, and he's working towards making other constructs like me."

"He is!? I... I, er, I mean... Th-That's really, cool... Eheh..."

"She likes working AI," Akilina poked in. "That's what's on her tablet."

"Sh-Shut up, Aki... It's just, a, a hobby."

These kids were so cute. Firmia felt bad she didn't have more good news for them right this minute. Maybe the idea of living on a spaceship would excite them once they actually saw it. Then again ... they might be fed up with enclosed spaces altogether. Worse still, if they laid eyes on the Riese and started making comparisons ... ugh ....

"I want to be a pilot," Vasiliy chimed in, "but they won't let us use the simulators. So I build models instead ..." It was really just the one, but to be fair it was a more recent hobby. Before that it was sneaking into the simulators when he knew he wouldn't get caught. He couldn't get in enough practice to actually become a proficient pilot, though.

"Well, you can use our simulators as much as you want," Firmia shrugged, "and working on AIs sounds like a great way to bond with your father, Liliana." She wasn't sure about Akilina yet, but ... there was bound to be something. "Is there anything you like to do, Akilina? I'm just curious."

"Uhm... W-Well..."

"She didn't get to do a lot. The maids were pretty constricting, and she's a really big pushover."

"Th-That's not fair, Liliana... I just... Don't like saying no to people..." As for something she liked... "Well... I like animals. They let me keep a bird... F-For a while, but... It, kept tweeting too much so they took it away."

"Do you like cats?" Hannah asked.

"I like cats! Y-Yeah... I do. They're all soft and fluffy, and..."

"We can get a cat, can't we, Firmia?"

"Really!?"

So much for hobbies. "... sure," Firmia said, reluctant but willing to at least go as far as the maids had in giving the animal a chance, "As long as you clean up after it. There are also places it shouldn't be going, like the hangar." Oh the trouble a small animal like a cat could get up to inside the hangar. It'd be even worse with a child trying to track it down, and more work for Hannah and her sisters ...

"I will. I promise." The opportunity to have a pet seemed to cheer her up some, staring out at the night sky. It sure was pretty...

"Mmmm... I've got a lot of questions," Liliana started, "but it's late, isn't it? And we're gonna be in here for a while... Should we try to sleep some of this trip off?"

"Well... I wouldn't mind trying..." Now that they were flying, things were really smooth. It was like sitting in a tight, but comfy car, without any of the bumps in the road.

"If you'd like to, go ahead. It will be a long ride, so any naps will likely help pass the time." Hannah wouldn't be sleeping, but that wasn't going to stop anyone else.

"I wish I could sleep," Vasiliy smiled guiltily, "Maybe after I see what the Reign's system is like ..."

Firmia grinned and went back to her own monitor for a moment. It seemed like the hard questions and perhaps the questions in general were out of the way for now. That was a relief. Once the children were awake again, Firmia expected more in the way of environmental questions, things about the Avalon, and what they could and could do there. Eventually the war with Apotheosis might even come up. Not having to deal with that right this minute was good, though.

"I might try to rest, too," Firmia said, the alcohol she'd had before they left making a good case for taking a little catnap, "Just as soon as I look at these gun blades Casey was using." With that, Firmia made herself comfortable and began perusing the new data.

"Well... I'm gonna try to sleep. Aki?"

"Sure... That was all, really tiring." Getting rushed around, the new info, the new faces, it was hard not to be tired after that. Enough to sleep on, for now.

"Enjoy your rest, girls." Hannah watched as Firmia started to go over the new data, gently leaning her head against the Alkaev's. "Vasiliy, if you have any questions about the Reign, just forward them to me over the console. I can answer without waking up your sisters, this way."

Vasiliy nodded. "I will," he said, keeping his voice low, "Thank you, Hannah." AIs sure were convenient, even more so than usual at such an advanced level. It was almost scary to think his uncle was trying to make more like Hannah. If he could do that, the world might become a much better place ...

Picking them up had probably been one of Hannah's best ideas. Even with all of her doubts and concerns, things were really starting to come together. Firmia had even found a good job for Akilina, one the ship honestly needed if they were going to avoid the kind of pointless drama the Riese was prone to.

Well, it was just about time to make the announcement to the rest of the crew and get prepared for their tour of the ANF's battered territories. First, though ... a quick check of their progress in R&D was in order. Rather than pestering people directly, Firmia just had everyone forward reports that she could peruse at her leisure. Some things she still picked up directly, though. For example, she learned from Sasha himself that his special drive was completed and he had half a dozen prototypes ready to go, which meant drone construction was well underway.

Brant had also come through for Firmia in designing both the combat drone AIs, and the new AMS unit, but construction of the latter and implementation of the former weren't his purview. The AMS 20 'Faye' was a new type of mobile suit that would make everyone's lives easier when it came to hunting down Apotheosis and people like them. Firmia also had the mechanics trying to construct another MS using Carlos' Rhea as the base. If they took her suggestions a bit too literally, this thing would be a genuine monster once it was finished, and either Gordon or Edson could really chip in going forward. There seemed to be just enough time to actually complete some of these projects, too. As long as they had time, Firmia was going to take advantage and try to get as many units combat ready as humanly possible ... and beyond.

Edited by Phoenix

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Using the time granted to them to her advantage, Vvi explored what was going to be her home for the rest of her time here.  She was a curious soul, asking questions to people she bumped into, not at all annoyed when they would do a double take or give her a shocked expression.  She knew she was different, an alien to them, just as they were aliens to her.  Still, it didn't deter her from learn everything and everyone in the Riese.

Of course, this had been the first few days she'd been here.  Now that she's more or less settled Vvi had decided to hole herself up in her room.  If someone entered they'd find not her, but a makeshift nest of sheets and pillows.  She'd be nestled on them, with one of those fancy tablets she "borrowed" from someone.  Not only that but there'd be food, snacks specifically, with the little alien eating some every once in a while as she watched a show on the tablet.

Least to say Vvi has been taking advantage of her newfound freedom.

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Astin sighed as they exited the simulator, shaking their head. Another round of practice and still they couldn't quite settle things down. Their accuracy was better, sure, but it still wasn't natural. The others on board, Kim or Tarquin for example, were just so... at ease with guns. Why couldn't they get things figured out like that? Rubbing a hand across their eyes, they headed off. Another night of little sleep due to nightmares meant that even though it was barely noon, they were already tired. Some coffee could help fix that though. Headed towards the cafeteria, they realized it couldn't hurt to get some food now too. It shouldn't be too long until they got some news on their next step. And as they moved further north, the risk of getting attacked rose. Better to be ready for anything and that included being well fed.

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Aliza was seen walking down the hallway, listening to some tracks on her music player. She had quite a time mediating between the two aliens, but today she decided to have some time to herself. Vvi needed to get to know the rest of the ship anyway. She thought a bit on Alriana, and wondered what she was up to. Probably with the doctors at this point, probably best give them time to whatever she needs. After some more pondering Aliza decided to have a meal, even a late start to the day needs food. So she made her way to the cafeteria. She got there quick and noticed Kim on her own, eating a nice looking sandwich. Well she knew what she wanted for lunch at least. "Heya." She waved to Kim with a smile, still a bit skittish after their first encounter. As a fan, and as someone who easily crushes on forward types. But she kept that to herself and walked by to make her own sandwich.

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Taking a swig of her accompanying drink... it had to be a cherry cola, according to what she had read... the combination did seem to go rather well together. Which all made sense, no one would have heard of the meal outside of it's place of origin, were it not pleasant to eat. Turning her head at the sound of footsteps, as well as a somewhat sheepish greeting, Seung-Min placed her sandwich down on the plate, returning Aliza's wave.

"Hello Aliza. I see you're also here to grab a bite, then?"

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"Yeah, totally!" She spoke from the kitchen, making her own sandwich. A spicy italian...no not her. It's salami, with some tomato and pickles as well, and mustard lightly spread. It was simple but effective. With that and a glass of water in her hand, Aliza turned out of the kitchen. "I was gonna chow down real quick. After that I'll probably head to do more simulation work." She continued as she stepped out into view and sat across Kim. "I did ok in the last fight, but there's always room for improvement. First time fighting in such a big robot...I'm still surprised they let me pilot it." She let out a slightly nervous laugh after she took a bite.

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Alriana stretched as she exited Cheryl's office, the doctor just behind her. She'd come to round out her English lessons, but, with her already able to speak relatively well, the topic ended up shifting to what she had done with her first week of freedom; before they knew it was already noon and they decided to get lunch together. She'd learned a lot from the humans aboard the Riese, and some of that was readily apparent in her choice of clothing, but cooking beyond microwave operation was not one of those things. For that reason, and others, she was glad that Cheryl had opted to tag along. "Thank you, for coming with me, Cheryl," she started as she began walking, "I still do not know, how to make food well. I will try to learn, some day."

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Bill could tell from Nikolai's expression that he was somewhat puzzled. It was understandable considering what he had been through - he had been blown to pieces and then pickled like a gherkin in a jar. There were going to be questions that he needed answered, and Bill wasn't certain that he was the one who could provide the answers. He stood there, letting Nikolai gather his bearings as he asked his questions. Bill nodded sympathetically, it made enough sense. The poor boy's ears were so full of vinegar that his hearing had gone - Bill wasn't quite able to convey the message he wanted to across.

"Chin up, tyke. I know what will sort you out, you'll feel better than a dero with a belly full of amber." he replied, stepping behind the chair and taking hold of the handles. He'd seen this boy associate with one of the other children. As bizarre as it seemed, there was some sort of kinship between the filthy gnome child and the clinically pristine Tarquin. It was a mystery how their dynamic worked, nearly as much so as a parent was allowed to call their child Tarquin in this day and age. "Think I saw your friend near the hangar, mind if I wheel you over to him so he can give you the low down?"

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"Well, you were pretty good when you were fighting against us."

A small voice called out as Vvi headed towards the girls, yawning against her hand before settling down next to Aliza.  She crossed her legs on her seat, still holding the tablet as she merely acknowledged them both with a nod.  "You were impressive if I do say so myself, as well as you too," she says, directing the last part towards Kim as she focused her lazy expression at the other.  Blinking, she looked her up and down before tilting her head to the side.

"Sorry to prod, but you're one of the...what they call, TKs?"

Not meaning to, she had felt the other's emotions and yet...she couldn't manipulate them.  It was odd, yet it still said alot about the other as she focused on Kim.  While wary of those that could block her ability, Vvi was trying her best to be as calm as possible when confronted with a predicament like this.

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"That's a good outlook to have. There is... always room to get better. Complacency is just asking for trouble." Kim replied to Aliza as the Italian voiced her thoughts on her performance... she couldn't speak with any real authority on Vance's reasoning, but if she had to guess, the reason Aliza had been gifted the Saggitae was because she was on the Heion Riese. A single prototype suit on another ship wouldn't turn it into a fighting force on it's own, but further bolstering their trump card might have more of an effect. Before they could really delve further into that though... one of the aliens, Vvi, had arrived, with a few comments on their performance of her own.

"I'll take that as rather heavy praise, considering the firepower that you've got going... I don't think I've ever seen a suit take out a battleship in a single attack." Seung-Min replied, pausing after a moment as Vvi gave her an inquisitive look, before asking if she was telekinetic. It made sense that she might notice... Seung-Min didn't know the depth of the alien's abilities, and if she was anything like the Sacarians, they might have eclipsed human telekinetics, but... she could feel that Vvi was different, just as she could around another telekinetic. It stood to reason the alien could feel her in kind.

"That's right. You must have similar abilities, right? It's... honestly quite amazing, to think about. How many different species developed this sort of ability, independent of one another?"

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Nikolai shrunk back further into the soft seat of the chair as the man stepped forward, looming slightly over his even more diminutive frame. In between the lack of quick means of escape and the loss of those precious feet-and-few-inches of height, he cursed the uselessness of the pathetic nubs of flesh that connected to his hips. Instead, he bared down momentarily, ready to strike if the need for it came.

however, rather than that, the man simply made his way around the contraption, grabbing at the handles with a motion that made the confused feral child jerk forward slightly. Nikolai tilted his head back, preparing a loogie to hawk at the intruder but electing against that decision when he heard the other's proposition.

Here? He's here, isn't he...
That's good, I think. I hope he won't be too disappointed by all this...

"Please...bring me." He finally said, his voice slightly uncertain at the prospect of trusting this intimidating force of nature to take control of his one means of locomotion, "but... gentle-like, ja? Please do not keelhaul into depths of space or my ghost will haunt shit out of you."

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Heading over to the Heion Riese on foot hadn't been a bad idea in the end. It'd given Brant a little more time to gather his thoughts. Things were picking up, so he knew that this wasn't going to play out the way he'd been planning it in his head. He certainly didn't plan on going to see Jessica with a bandaged up hand, plus accessories, but this morning's 'Attack on Tonya' had gotten a little out of hand. Having run into Megumi while the doctor was on her way to the infirmary just out of the elevator, Brant touched on that briefly when she asked about the injuries. That probably wasn't painting a good picture of life aboard the Avalon, but ... Alkaev ship, Alkaev pilots, Alkaev shenanigans.

For once though, Brant was on the receiving end of this thing called pure misery. As tempted as he was to leave well enough alone, he had to ask her about it as they reached the infirmary entrance. Even the lesson he'd picked up about time and how immensely valuable it was wouldn't stop him from at least making an attempt. "I don't mean to pry, but TK senses or no I can tell you're depressed. Is it family?"

Megumi nodded once, staring at the infirmary door. She looked like she wanted to straighten up more before heading inside to look normal, but Brant knew that just wasn't happening. "My 'mother,' the late Doctor Michelle Amparo," Megumi said after a moment's thought.

Brant winced hard. Had she been killed while they were gearing up to attack Apotheosis' base? He also detected some anger, both in her aura and her tone. "That's ... a lot more than just sadness now, Doctor."

"Megumi is fine ... and yes. I hated her." Megumi took a spot on the wall beside the infirmary door and stared at the ground. "At the end of the day, the only reason my sisters exist is to perfect the growth acceleration procedure that would allow Michelle to get a timely replacement body. And the only reason I exist was to be that replacement body."

Brant froze, not sure exactly what Megumi was telling him. He only knew that it was probably the most illegal thing this side of murder. A replacement body? Was she referring to a brain transplant, then? Brant tried not to speculate too much, figuring he'd be lost for hours without more details. "Why would-"

Megumi looked up and locked eyes with him, and despite the serious look on her face, there was some newfound relief radiating off of her. "Immortality. It always comes down to immortality. If not your body, then your mind. If not your mind, then your will. If not your will, then your legacy. Something, anything that was uniquely a part of you. That's what she wanted. All I wanted was to show her the truth ..."

"The truth?"

Megumi nodded somberly. "The truth that my sisters and I aren't just compatible bodies. We're not just resources to be used and thrown away. We could have accomplished everything she did in life if we'd been given the chance. We could have accomplished more working together. We could have realized that stupid dream of hers while she was still alive if she hadn't cloned us for the sole purpose of buying herself more time. There were just too many secrets to hide, too much trauma to deal with ... too many distractions that tugged at us while we tried to figure out who we were ..."

Clones, Brant realized. Megumi was a clone, just like Chris and Nina?

"My whole life has been leading up to this failure," Megumi said, sending her fist back into the wall, "all because I had to prove it to her. All so I could shove the solution in her face and tell her off once and for all for not believing in us. I just ... couldn't let that woman leave this world thinking she was right to use us like she did. Now she's dead, and I'm no closer to completing her research, thanks to this damn war."

Brant decided then and there that even though Michelle wasn't someone he'd want to try and prove anything to, that obviously didn't apply to Megumi; no point in even bringing it up. He also couldn't help but think about his own daughters, and the reasons they were ultimately brought into this world. They were potential heirs of Dima's, which probably wasn't much different from what Michelle wanted, given how prone to manipulation and conditioning the old man was. Megumi and sisters certainly could have used a father figure, too.

"I wasn't making any progress before," Megumi continued, "and now I doubt I ever will. Project Phoenix is officially a failure."

"Is that what she called this body snatcher plot?" Brant winced.

Megumi nodded again. "But I borrowed it for my own use ... so I could say it was a success in the end. When I showed her the very thing she's been after all these years, she'd know we're not science projects. We're not replacement bodies. We're not tools. We're her daughters. We were the future she should have been striving for." Megumi forced a smile. "I should have just held family game nights and won her over that way, huh?"

"Yeah," Brant chuckled, placing a hand on the doctor's shoulder. "Look, Megumi ... this isn't a participation trophy; just the fact that you stepped up should have moved any reasonable parent, and just because Michelle didn't live to see the end result doesn't mean you're doing all of this for nothing. What if you handed her that dream of hers and she still just thought of you all as tools? It's not about what she thinks. It's about what you think ... especially now that she's gone."

"I know," Megumi hung her head, "but trying to change her ... it underpins ... everything ... everything I do. I can't even get any work done unless I pretend she's watching me, now ..."

"Yeah, it takes time," Brant nodded. He paused and then gently squeezed Megumi's shoulder, getting her attention again. "It takes time." It was hard not to think of his own situation and how blessed he was. It wasn't just one generation, either. He was blessed over several generations: his parents, his own generation, his daughters and nephew. Things could have been so much worse at any link along the chain, like in Megumi's case. Brant sincerely hoped that she would be able to grow past everything happening now and wind up in a better place, one with more support than she currently had. Abrams knew it was doing wonders for him. It was the reason he could think about Jessica without his mood suddenly taking a nose dive.

They were the reason, and considering the things that had come to light, Megumi was definitely right about one thing. The children were the future they should be striving for. Brant felt that way from the moment he met them.

The Kids Are Alright (Part 1/2)

Spoiler

The hours the children spent sleeping were the easiest for their rescuers. After all, while they were awake, there were uncomfortable questions. Eventually Firmia made an attempt at summarizing everything that had led up to their rescue. It was especially irritating to have to explain so much about her grandfather, but his whims were the brushes their lives were painted with. Explaining the situation made that painfully clear. The man was looking for someone, a successor among his blood relatives. Why this was such an all consuming goal, Firmia wasn't sure, but his daughter Rosa hadn't met his mysterious standards. Neither had Juliya. It wasn't clear when or how Dima and his late wife decided someone wasn't good enough, but what was clear was that he always had backup candidates. Firmia was essentially born for that reason, and these children, her siblings, had likely been spared termination for that purpose, among some potential others. Firmia tried to explain that to them as gently as she could. Not having a purpose in life could be fear inducing, but knowing exactly what your purpose was, and how narrow and ego serving it was could be traumatizing.

Vasiliy didn't seem to think the successor issue was inherently bad, and quickly concluded that Firmia was the best candidate. Firmia didn't agree at first, but Vasiliy immediately pointed out her swift actions, securing the loyalty of so many people around her, and the military hardware to fight alongside world powers like the ANF. These children ...

Firmia continued, treading lightly as she glossed over Rosa's obsession with the Abrams brothers and finally explained exactly how they had come to be ... the Alkaev artificial womb. It was unlike anything Firmia had imagined, and greatly reminded her of an android. The artificial womb mimicked the conditions a developing child would be exposed to while in the womb, from the contracting of heart muscles above the uterus, to the energy radiating throughout and from the body, itself. The results, Vasiliy, Liliana, and Akilina, could quite literally speak for themselves. The children knew much of the story from there; they were raised by Karla, isolated from the rest of the family as a whole. Once she died, they were brought to the old estate by Dima and kept there.

Firmia focused next on the Abrams brothers. Fortunately there wasn't much that needed explaining, merely a timeline of events leading up to the present. Both of them had only escaped Rosa once Dima was done using them all for his TK experiment. Then, he sent them to be conditioned into even better pilots, as well as to erase the scars of what Rosa had done. Rosa stopped all of it, but not before Dima's people had gotten in a week's worth of progress. The partially 'treated' brothers escaped yet another hell, and went on to try and rebuild their lives. Firmia had to exert a good deal of effort to keep her tone even as she followed the events in order, closer and closer to the present. Telling them this story was helping Firmia to see the 'why' in her time working with the ANF. Even what Rex was doing, while ridiculous, neatly fit him.

The now mentally and physically exhausted Alkaev brought the children up to date, informing them of Rex's stint in the EU military, and Brant's transfer into the ANF armed forces, both events orchestrated by ... you guessed it, Dima. To stick the two brothers on opposing sides and expect everything to turn out well was incredibly arrogant. And if Dima didn't expect things to turn out well, then it was pure evil. Either way, Brant wound up joining the ANF all of five minutes before Apotheosis began their war on the world. Firmia relayed how she tried to have the Regalia delivered to him, but was at the same time forced out of the Alkaev testing facility due to an attack by Apotheosis. From there they flew to America with the Reign, Mantle, and Regalia on their transport plane, only to be shot down by an Apotheosis sniper. Firmia had been unsure whether or not to mention Rex's involvement in that attack, and ultimately decided against it for the time being. Instead she focused on the ensuing fight and joining the Riese crew. Those weren't Firmia's proudest days, hiding out in the hangar most of the time, sleeping inside MS cockpits, and generally trying to isolate herself and her people, but in hindsight, it may have been for the best. She could have made a 'friend' that was on Apotheosis' payroll, or let slip AMS data that had to be carefully guarded.

They were getting close, now. This was the same desert the Reign flew over yesterday. The base would be coming up shortly. "They probably already tagged us, so unless someone radios, just take us in," she told Hannah and Galatea. "Now ... erm ... Commander Vance was impressed and wanted to make sure I stayed and helped defeat Apotheosis. My suits, at the very least. And that's how I got my ship. Now my mobile suits and the people working for me all have a place to stay." Best to skip Jessica entirely, Firmia decided. Someone else could address that fiasco if and when it became relevant.

"What are our jobs?" Vasiliy asked without missing a beat.

Firmia didn't believe in that 'too young to work' myth, and sighed in appreciation. At least her grandmother figured out how to raise children eventually. "We'll figure that out, soon."

"I wanna help father with his AI projects. I don't know how much help I'll be, but that's what I'd like to do." Liliana still wasn't convinced on all Firmia had explained about her mom, but it seemed like she was skipping things on purpose. Maybe it was a good thing? It wasn't like they'd known Rosa at all. Karla had been their mom for all they'd known...

Hannah had a sudden thought, a suddenly worrying one, now that Firmia had skipped everything involving her. "Er... No one's radioing, but... Should, we mention Chris?"

"Who's Chris?" Liliana immediately piped up, Akilina, still way tired and rubbing at her eyes. This had been a long flight.

"Uh..." Hannah looked down at Firmia, wondering if she wanted to field this one.

Firmia frowned. She hadn't told Hannah to keep quiet about Chris in advance, so she couldn't be too upset, now. Still, the Alkaev hadn't decided on when or even how to cover that topic. If Brant really was serious about her, then Liliana and Akilina were going to have to familiarize themselves with her. She'd be in their lives for the foreseeable future. Vasiliy's too, most likely.

"She's Brant's copilot. They're ... also dating." It'd been what, four or five days? Firmia could still pretend it wasn't serious yet, even if Brant's only two speeds were, 'I love you,' and 'Til death do us part.'

"Huh... I was wondering if we'd have a mom stand in... How old is she?" Liliana didn't really seem phased.

"Uh, n-nineteen." Hannah wasn't sure if this was the right topic, the base coming into view. Not like there'd be much time between landing and meeting.

"Wow that's kinda young... How old is Brant?"

"Twenty six... Right?" Hannah actually wasn't sure about that.

"Hmmm... Well, at least she's legal."

That was... Such a weird thing to be worried about.

She's only legal if you ignore the fact she's a clone, Firmia mused irritably. She nodded to Hannah, letting her know that she had Brant's age correct. She sighed after that, thinking again of the 'young' comment. Everyone involved right now was a bit too young. Brant was sixteen when he sired his daughters, Chris was a clone probably less than a year old, these children were too young to even have to think about this level of insanity ...

"Is my father dating someone?" Vasiliy asked. It was hard to tell how invested in the question he was. He seemed a bit less curious than Liliana, at least.

"I don't know," Firmia sighed, again. Probably some EU pilot that was just as messed up in the head as he was, she figured.

"Well, you can direct all of those extra questions directly to them... I'm not really privy to much of Brant's current relationship life." Not that she hadn't tried, but... Well, it wasn't a lie.

"Okay... We're almost there, right?" Liliana seemed like she wanted to get out of this already, Akilina had flopped back against her sister.

"Nope. We're already here." The Reign transformed, slowing down considerably, and landing right on top of the Avalon. Unfortunately, this gave the entire cockpit full sight of the Riese... More questions, probably.

"What is that!?" Liliana was full of interest once again.

And right on cue... "That's the Heion Riese... The ANF's latest battleship. Leviathan class... The first of its kind."

"It's so big! How does it even fly!? That's ridiculous!"

"V-drive system," Vasiliy murmured, recalling the details from his research into the Reign. The Reign didn't have a V-drive, but its own repulsion system was heavily based on one. The term 'Pseudo V-Drive' was also starting to make the rounds in online circles.

Firmia knew this would happen when they made it back to the base. She'd been trying to focus on other things, like relaying recent events. Alas ... "This is the Reign to the Avalon. Open the launch bay. We're coming in." She wasn't requesting permission to board her own ship. Heavens no. And with very little delay, the port side catapult was jostled by the opening launch doors. Their path inside was open.

"And in we go... Welcome home, everyone." Hannah brought the Reign in, and-- "Well..." Immediately they were greeted by a blonde waving them down, then folding her arms. "That's Chris."

"... She's pretty," Akilina commented.

"I wonder if she's nice..." Liliana followed up with.

"... Mmm... Sometimes," Hannah finished. The cockpit opened, and she was in no rush to usher everyone out. They could take their time, this time. "Help the kids down, okay, Firmia? I'm gonna get their bags." Hannah shimmied herself out of the pilot's seat and stepped onto the cockpit, hopping to the arm she'd opened to grab their bags. Those in hand, she went from the arm to the floor, Chris heading over to her.

"So, what, did you two just fly off for a honeymoon or something?"

"Ahaha! That's actually really funny. No. Just... There's a lot, you and Brant both have to know."

"Oh, great."

Firmia got out after Hannah, no longer interested in concealing her mood. What was coming up next was going to be extremely important, she knew. Chris' reaction to Liliana and Akilina would shape her relationship with Brant going forward, for better or for worse. The somewhat irritable Alkaev took a moment to summon the walkway, which unfurled into place, blocking the Reign into its MS dock. After that, she carefully got out of the Reign and waited just outside to help the children down.

"Five more spots to potentially fill," Firmia noted to herself, glancing around at the Avalon's hangar. She doubted she would actually acquire that many mobile suits. If she did it would be long after this war was over. One thing she knew for certain, though ... at least two of the externally mounted MS containers were going to be reserved as drone storage bays. That would let them launch from the ship without having to use the same service elevators the AMS units used, and save a great deal of time.

One by one she helped her siblings out of the Reign. Vasiliy was the last one out, and carefully approached the walkway rail to see Hannah and Chris below.

"Don't lean," Firmia warned, preemptively.

"I wonder if my father is dating someone like her, too."

"... plenty to go around," Firmia muttered under her breath.

"Wait, are those kids? The heck? Who'd you cradle rob from?" Chris was pretty confused, Hannah sighing.

"No one... You, should call Brant down here. These... A-Are his and Rex's children."

"Look, just because I'm good at jokes, doesn't mean everyone is. Can't you at least figure out a better lie than--"

"Chris." Hannah was serious, there was no joke here. Chris stared back at the android, doing a double take from her, to the kids, back to her, and her eyes went wide.

"Jesus Christ you're not fucking around, oh my God... Uh, B-Brant! Hangar, now!" Hopefully he wasn't dealing with anything overly important...

"Firmia... Did you tell this Chris, and Brant, that you were coming to get us...?" Liliana was a bit worried by the sudden frantic tone coming from the hangar floor.

"No I didn't," Firmia said, figuratively standing her ground, perhaps a bit more defiantly than she really needed to. "Bringing you back here took an entire day. That's a whole day he would have spent worrying about something he couldn't change."

Admittedly it was harsh in some other ways. Without having said anything, Chris was being put on the spot, and wouldn't have time to talk with Brant about the children before having to deal with them in person. Firmia still thought that was a good test of their relationship, but in hindsight she supposed the potential drama she was inviting wasn't exactly warranted ...

"... besides, in case something happened while we were gone, we could only afford to send the Reign. Hannah's the only other person that can pilot it and I had to go with her to make sure she didn't have to fight everyone." There was barely room in the Reign for the two of them, so bringing Brant or anyone else along was simply out of the question.

Meanwhile below, Chris' communicator spoke back to her ... "On my way ..." Brant's tone was filled with concern, but he was ready to assist with whatever was happening in the hangar.

"Yeah, make it fast... Hey, kids!" Chris waved up at them, still bewildered, but recovering. "And you and Firmia didn't think to tell either of us?" she turned to Hannah and mentioned with a bit of a snap.

"It wouldn't have done Brant any good worrying about something he couldn't help or change for a whole day."

"Mrrghh... You're right, but damn, this is... I have no idea how he's going to react."

"She's waving... How do we get down from here, anyway?" Liliana was poking her head about, it looked like the far stairs were the only way.

Chris seemed ... excited, now? She either didn't know whose children these were or she actually ... No, not jumping to conclusions, Firmia decided. She focused on Liliana's question instead. By the time Firmia had indicated the fore lift and staircases, Vasiliy was already quickly making his way in that direction. He motioned for his sisters to follow after him.

Brant was nearly to his destination, it being a relatively short sprint from his room to the fore entrance to the MS hangar. He felt someone moving closer, though. More than one, but this person was fairly close. As soon as the doors opened, Brant saw a young boy frozen a few steps below the top of the staircase. It looked like he'd been on his way down to the hangar floor. The Reign was back in its dock, and Firmia and two girls were nearby. On the hangar floor was Chris, standing beside Hannah. This ... wasn't the emergency Brant had been expecting ... not by a long shot.

"... hi there," Brant waved.

Vasiliy backpedaled to the top of the staircase and waited for his sisters. "Hello, Brant." Vasiliy winced, wishing he'd been just a bit more formal on that greeting. Uncle Brant would have been better, wouldn't it?

"H... Hello... Father." Liliana gulped and froze in place, there was an extremely odd sense of familiarity that washed over her, just... From the way he looked. Her hair had ended up curling the same way...

"... Daddy!" Akilina was overwhelmed by all of this, rushing ahead of the other two and wrapping herself around Brant's waist in a hug, starting to quietly cry.

"Oh, goodness, Aki... You don't have to... G-Geez..." It was infectious, it seemed, as Liliana had to wipe the start of forming tears away from her eyes.

Chris and Hannah had started to make their way over, but they still had stairs to go.

Did she call him father? Brant noticed the resemblance immediately but ... how? He didn't have time to even begin to piece things together before the other girl rushed in and hugged him. 'Daddy,' she said ... and the two girls were clearly sisters. Where on earth did they come from?

"I ..." Brant glanced at Liliana while carefully placing a hand around Akilina's back, "... your father, you said?"

Vasiliy stayed where he was, watching carefully to see what kind of person his uncle was. Surely having two daughters and a nephew materialize out of thin air would reveal ... something. Anything.

Firmia started toward the front of the hangar, walking instead of jogging or running, her mind racing, trying to figure out the most likely of a slew of outcomes. Tonya was sure Brant would be alright with this, but she wasn't omniscient. Firmia was also pondering Chris' likely responses, or trying to at any rate. She admittedly couldn't predict that one, anymore ...

Poor Aki just hugged him harder.

"Yes... We're... Uhm... R-Rosa's, children... Your, children." Liliana had managed to compose herself enough. "Er, I am, and Akilina is... Vasiliy is Rex's. Apparently."

Luckily for Chris, she'd made it up in time to catch names. "Cute names. And you are?"

"I-I'm Liliana... You're Chris, right?"

"I am. It's really nice to meet all of you... All your clothes are in those suitcases, right? Come on, we should find a room for you three, at least to get you settled. That was probably along ride, and, well we don't know what Firmia and Hannah have told you. You've probably got a lot more questions, anyway."

"We... I... I do. Uhm..." She seemed really nice... What had that sometimes been about?

Firmia hadn't quite caught up when she felt Brant's realization come her way. The only way she could conceptualize it was as an explosion of intense light, nonlethal, nonviolent, but intense all the same. She tried to peer through and see what he was really feeling beneath the pure shock. She could just barely perceive anything else, and the only thing that truly stood out was something she would chalk up to relief. It was a little confusing ...

The look on Brant's face was pure shock at first. Akilina, Liliana, and Vasiliy. They couldn't be much more than ten years old. But how? Brant knew they were telling the truth, but Rosa had never even come to within planning distance of bringing any children to term. They were always aborted early on. So how did these two girls and this boy survive to make it here, now? Until Firmia or someone gave him the details, Brant supposed he would just have to chalk it up as a miracle. Three of them.

Brant remembered how frustrated Rosa had been. He remembered how she promised him that things would work out in the end, how someday, once Dima was completely out of the picture, the children wouldn't be killed off for not having any signs of TK abilities in their genes. Brant didn't expect that day to ever come, and he knew Rosa had another setting in mind ... but still ... this was good. Despite everything that had happened, something good had emerged from that wretched situation.

Brant held Akilina out in front of him, kneeling in front of her with his hands on her shoulders. She was real, and he was helpless to hold back his tears. "... you're alive." He hugged her this time and kissed her cheek. Thank you ...

Vasiliy blushed. He hadn't been expecting Brant to be so ... grateful? His brotherly instincts had been telling him to be on guard, but ... maybe he didn't have anything to worry about.

"H-Hey, no fair! I wanna hug him too!" Liliana was already on the brink, stepping into the hug and joining in, a crying pile of Abrams.

"Ah, geez... Gonna make everyone tear up around here." They had to be Rosa's children if they were anyone's... She didn't know how, but, that didn't really matter. Brant was radiating the most relief he'd ever let out in her presence, if that wasn't a good thing, she didn't know what was. And now that the girls were getting reacquainted, she didn't want to leave the boy alone.

"Hey. Vasiliy, right? We'll contact your dad as soon as we can. He's in Europe, somewhere, so it might take some time, but I don't want you feeling like you're not going to get any family out of this. Until then... I hope an uncle is enough to hold you over."

Hannah had made it up the stairs with all the luggage, smiling and heading around them all. "I'll go put these in an empty room." Brant needed his moment.

Spotted ... Vasiliy tried not to look overly interested. "I'm fine," he said, glancing over at Firmia as she caught up. She didn't seem to have anything to add, so he turned back toward Chris. "It's nice to meet you," he nodded at her. Fine or not, he did feel slightly out of place, right now. What to do ...?

Firmia couldn't say anything just yet. She just ... didn't want to intrude on Brant, here. Her main part in this was over, anyway. Now it was back to being the Avalon's captain. She was curious about Vasiliy not joining in, though Firmia supposed she was just standing around watching, too. She was a little too spent for much else.

"Thank you both ... Hannah ... Firmia ..." Brant said as he held both his daughters.

"Y-you're welcome," Firmia forced out, straightening up a little.

"V-Vasiliy, what are you waiting for!? Get over here! Geez..." Liliana had demanded his presence, Chris snickering quietly.

"Not as fine as you think." Cute... Wow, this was real. Chris had thoughts about kids, just... Not so soon. Could they handle this and fight a war? No idea... Time to try and learn.

"Thanks, Firmia," Chris shot her way, no sarcasm. If anything, hopefully, it would raise Brant's spirits.

Chris, too? Firmia supposed that meant she'd passed the test. The Alkaev really couldn't predict this one ... "You're welcome." This felt truly surreal, now. She almost couldn't wait until morning. By then, surely reality would have to come back to the ship and reveal how much of this had just been a happy fantasy and how much was genuine.

Vasiliy flinched when Liliana called over to him. He wasn't used to getting demands from his sisters, but he also didn't know what else to do. Vasiliy certainly didn't want to just stand around, though. Maybe he didn't belong in this particular family get together, but it was better than where he was right this second. "... alright," Vasiliy conceded, approaching carefully. He was shocked to see Brant look up at him from between Liliana and Akilina with tears of joy in his eyes, and a smile so genuine it almost hurt to be standing so far away ...

"I'm just your nephew," Vasiliy said, reaching for an obvious excuse, but only slowing his pace toward his sisters and uncle slightly.

Brant's smile didn't relent even slightly. "Rex and I are dads, now. No more time for crazy personal agendas."

Chris let the Abrams family sort themselves out, heading over to Firmia, before weakly jabbing her with an elbow. "Couldn't tell us in advance, huh? Well... Me at least. Hannah mentioned Brant worrying about things he couldn't change, so that makes sense. Guess I'm a mom now... Geez, they're really..." Chris sniffled, smiling a bit. "I haven't felt him this relieved. Guess it's only been about a week, but... His stress has been palpable from across the ship, and now this? You two did something amazing, I hope you know that."

"I know ... but I wasn't sure it would turn out like this," Firmia admitted with a grimace, rubbing the spot where she'd been elbowed briefly. Looking at an outcome like this was what had the Alkaev doubting reality. Sure, long term there would be problems and more things to work through, but Firmia hadn't seen or felt this much joy in more or less her entire life. The closest thing she could remember were the company's pilots celebrating. It was nothing so heartfelt and pure.

Firmia took a moment to cross her arms as she watched Vasiliy finally make his way into the hug, with Brant pulling him the rest of the way. He had all three children in his warm embrace, now. Firmia was glad she was at a comfortable distance, herself; if she were caught in that swirl of happiness, it would easily overwhelm her. "We had several reasons for doing this, and I was just hoping it wouldn't backfire. He's been through enough and the last thing I wanted was to present another problem ..."

"I'm glad it did. Whatever those reasons were, thanks for having them..." Chris didn't want to intrude on the hug, stepping forward and petting the girls' hair instead. "Thanks for being alive, you three... You have no idea how happy he is right now. I can barely handle it." She finally let herself cry a bit, wiping the tear away on her sleeve. "I'm gonna go help Hannah take out their clothes. Brant, room next to Tonya's, okay?" That one was empty, as far as she knew. With another little ruffle of their hair, Chris walked off, nursing a smile and a lot of Brant's feelings.

"... so strange," Firmia eventually said.

"Nothing strange about it," Brant said, causing Firmia to flinch. She barely registered having said that out loud. "Not after you think about it a little ... 'Avalon,' remember?"

Avalon ... isle of fruit trees and mysticism ... and here Firmia was just trying to stay on theme ...

With that, Brant slowly ended the big group hug. "I wish it wasn't getting so late," Brant wiped his eyes, his smile unwavering, "I can't keep the three of you up all night catching up ... or at least I shouldn't if I'm going to start being a good dad and uncle. Still ... I've got so many questions."

With their timezone, Firmia feared the children had a lot of adjusting to do anyway. As for her, she hadn't been gone long enough to be on Russian time, again ... and was slowly burning out as a result ...

"W-We can't sleep after all of this! There's too many questions that need asked... Too many... I won't be able to sleep if I can't at least ask some of them." Liliana was wiping at her eyes, Aki was stuck crying, fruitlessly wiping her eyes dry. Eventually she coughed a tiny little cough, trying to find the right things to say.

"I'm glad, y-you, feel so happy... No one's ever, b... Been this happy, about us..."

"You... You're just going to make me c-cry again..."

"Oh man ..." Brant felt like he was off to an awkward start here, but if it couldn't be helped, then he would just have to indulge them for tonight. One could say they earned it enduring a flight all the way from Russia. Brant knew they hadn't taken the shortest possible route given how dangerous the arctic was. "Okay, we'll talk as much as you want. Always happy to answer any and all questions you have."

Oh how Firmia doubted that very much. "It's going to take some time for them to adjust, anyway," she chimed in, subtly signing off on what was looking to be a long night of catching up. Her sister's quip about how happy someone was about them struck a cord with her. There were two daughters that Rosa raised prior to this. She wasn't necessarily happy to have them because of who their father was. Firmia was one of those daughters, so she knew as much. She felt it clear as day. She was glad Liliana and Akilina weren't going to have to deal with anything like that, not with parents like these ...

While her siblings may have had the energy to stay up after that terribly long flight, Firmia didn't. She was ready to retire for the evening. "You should take the day off tomorrow. You and Chris both," she said, making her way past them and toward the hangar's forward entrance. "And yes, it's totally fine."

"Alright then. Thanks, Firmia. ... thank you so much."

"Mm," she nodded, embarrassed as she left, "Good night, all of you." One final wave and she was gone.

"Good night, Firmia," Vasiliy waved goodbye to her as she left the hangar. She must have been exhausted ...

"G'night, Firmia... Uhm, V-Vasiliy, do you wanna come with us? You can ask about Rex! Or, whatever else is on your mind... Probably a lot..." There was a lot on her mind, to be fair, and not enough time to ask it all before she'd collapse. Despite managing to sleep some in the Reign, it hadn't been good sleep.

Aki stayed quiet after her comment, but she was smiling, at least, clinging onto Brant's arm.

Vasiliy had been about to ask if that was alright, but Brant had beaten to it before Firmia had even left. The boy did have questions of his own, a growing list, in fact. Some were about his father, Rex. Others were about Rosa. Then there were the more pertinent questions, those about the Avalon itself, and what its job was in the war. If his uncle was going to indulge him too then he supposed by morning he would have his bearings.

Vasiliy nodded. "I'll go, too." He paused to glance back at the Reign. In the hangar's lights, it was clear just how much catching up he had to do ... but it wasn't as dreadful a prospect as he first imagined. It might even be fun to try and keep pace with the mechanics here. And if he got bored, Firmia was willing to let him use the simulators.

With Akilina holding him by the arm, Brant had to take a moment to figure out how he was going to get to his feet. It didn't take long for him to decide to just haul her up with him. Hopefully she liked this kind of attention. "Ready to go check out your room?" he asked them.

"You don't have to carry me too if Liliana wants to be carried," Vasiliy put out there quickly.

"Heh, alright, have it your way."

"Ah!" A small squeak of surprise, but no fight, this was even better than just holding onto his arm. Liliana almost looked like she wanted up next, but Vasiliy's comment made her cross her arms.

"I-I can walk just fine! Geez..." If he didn't want special treatment then she would be just fine. What a silly boy... She followed after where Firmia, Chris and Hannah had went, arms still folded and head turned up. "Where's the room, anyway?"

"Geez, Lili..." Even Akilina couldn't help a giggle.

Brant could handle the extra weight, but just one was fine for now, too. However these kids wanted to travel ... "Let's see," he thought back to just moments earlier, "... next to Tonya's room." It was a longer trip back walking when compared to sprinting, but Brant wasn't in any kind of rush, now.

"I have a question," Vasiliy said, staring up ahead toward the far end of the hallway.

"Shoot."

Vasiliy squinted and then asked, "Who is she?" He stretched out his arm and indicated a woman heading their way.

A squint of his own and a grin later, Brant said, "Tonya." He waved at her. Normally he might be a little sore about not being told what was going on. She'd clearly known what Firmia and Hannah were up to when he and Chris asked her about the Reign ... but the surprise more than made up for the bit of secrecy involved. Better than pacing around the ship for hours, not getting anything done. "She's the ship's pilot ... though before that she was piloting the Reign."

Being unaware of Vasiliy's interest in that particular mobile suit, Brant was a little surprised to feel his nephew's sudden mood shift. He'd gone from what Brant could only describe as cautious optimism to awestruck. He kept pace with Liliana as Vasiliy took off running toward Tonya.

"Uhm. Why are all the women here so... Blonde?" It was a bit strange. Hannah, Firmia, Chris, now this Tonya... Did the Avalon just, attract blonde women? So weird... Not only that but none of them were out of shape... I suppose that comes with being pilots. Liliana twirled a finger through her locks, just brown enough to not be blonde. "Hmm..."

"...It's nice to see him so excited about stuff... Feels nice." He'd always been the serious voice surround the both of them, so all this excitement coming out into the open... This place already felt so much better than that mansion. Akilina cozied up against Brant, relaxing in his arm. "You feel really happy, dad... Is this, really that nice?"

"Just a coincidence," Brant said, not really sure but willing to bank on it. A blonde conspiracy theory didn't even begin to make sense, not even if Dima was somehow behind it. Brant noticed Liliana fiddling with her own hair while that question was still fresh on everyone's mind. He hoped she didn't mind standing out ... or just not fitting in. He wondered what he could say in regard to that, or if he should even say anything.

That was when Akilina said something, and it was ... odd. Brant only partly registered it at first as something began to nag at him from the back of his mind. "Of course it is, Akilina. Today's going down as one of the happiest days of my life." I feel happy? Yeah, but ... hmm.

"If you say so... But there's been four so far. And Rosa's blonde too... So was Karla, kind of... Just saying. A very impressive coincidence, if so." Maybe Brant just had a thing for blondes... And was naturally pulled towards them? Maybe... At least Brant didn't seem disappointed with her hair, so Liliana wasn't really bothered.

"Okay... Then, that's good. We're not a burden... It's a good feeling. The maids were always so... Bored, with us... It was just a job for them." Or it felt that way, anyway... Akilina closed her eyes and tried to relax a bit more, it was nice to be reassured on this.

"If you think that's weird," Brant smirked, "I'll have to take you to Sweden, sometime." To Akilina he quickly said, "Of course not. I ... heh, I can't even begin to tell you girls how glad I am you're here. Those maids were just doing their jobs. This ... is my life."

Honestly thinking about it, Brant wasn't sure exactly why he was so happy. It all made sense to him of course, but it was a positive energy that seemed to spring up out of him endlessly. He wasn't sure where it was coming from, or how it could even exist without him knowing about it. It felt like he'd hopped into another reality, again, one where two of his children had survived, been born, and grown up in relative safety. It was amazing ... and there was something about Akilina, like she could read the situation almost as well as he could. That nagging in the back of his mind was at it, again.

"I know about countries like that. But this isn't Sweden. This is just weird. Well, whatever... I'm sure it's fine." Brant seemed to be continuing his coincidence route, so it wasn't just some blonde conspiracy... Liliana stopped playing with her hair, bounding off after Vasiliy.

"I'm glad. I'm really glad... I'm so happy I might start crying again. It's silly..." Or at least it felt silly to her. "Firmia felt really happy too. She's been really grumpy the whole ride. It's a nice change."

"She felt happy ..." Brant could definitely agree with that. Still, the thought nagged him even harder as Liliana went on ahead. Now he knew what it was. It was a new sense that he'd overlooked in all the excitement. "Hey, Aki ... can you actually ... 'feel' things? From other people, I mean ..."

Thinking back on it, Brant wondered how Akilina would have approached Megumi on this, and whether or not the doctor would have even opened up to a nine year old ...

"... right. Well I'm late, but thank you for listening, Brant. I'm not sure why it's so much easier to open up to people I'm not used to, but it's certainly convenient ..." She stepped away from the wall and then paused, an idea visibly hitting her. "By the way ... I don't know why you're here, but would you mind if I took a tissue sample ... in exchange for the embarrassing and somewhat incriminating story I just shared?"

Brant grinned nervously. "You don't need to clone a pair of ears from me, Megumi. Other people will hear you out, trust me."

Whatever rebuttal the doctor had for that got trapped behind her fist along with any potential laughter as she quickly covered her mouth.

"But yeah, I'm just here to talk with the captain while I've still got the chance. May say hi to a few people on the way out, too. We'll see." ... and yes, Megumi was actually standing there in front of him now with a sampler in hand, eyes pleading behind her expensive glasses. "... what, seriously?"

"I promise not to clone you or let this sample or anything derived from it be used for that purpose."

... formal. Brant sighed. "Oh, alri-agh!" Megumi took the sample from Brant's neck even before he could finish. It didn't hurt much, but the surprise certainly got him.

"Thank you," Megumi said, the faintest smile appearing as she confirmed the cylinder had done its work.

"As long as you're feeling better," Brant rubbed at his neck.

Megumi slipped the cylinder into her inner coat pocket and turned to face the infirmary door. "No. I'm still dead inside ... but ... maybe there's a new spark."

"Great," Brant grinned and started off down the hall, "hopefully a new you can spring up from that, then. Keep that spark going."

Spark or no, there still wasn't much Megumi could do about the depressing look on her face, much less the dark cloud surrounding her, but she had more energy than she'd started out with. That was a pleasant surprise only dwarfed by the DNA she'd taken. Now she could figure out exactly what Brant's ancestry was without all the hearsay and guesswork that came with just talking about it. First, she had to head inside and let Nikolai know that he'd be able to get fitted for some prosthetic legs, soon.


Brant looked over his hands as he reached the front of the first deck hallway. His left hand was bandaged up, even a ways up his wrist. His right hand only had a couple of sprained fingers to deal with, but was also holding a jacket, one of the same ones he and Chris had gotten 'Alkaev+' logos labeled onto. Carefully, he reached up to his face, where two fresh cuts weren't even partially hidden by the steri-strips. The smaller of the two cuts was on his jaw, running vertically below the jawline. The larger one was just a couple of millimeters away from his right eyebrow. Both cuts needed two strips each. Brant didn't think much of the wounds themselves; he was simply caught up on the idea that this might be the last time he and Jessica spoke in person--assuming she was willing, and the wounded warrior look was almost comical to him. Whether anyone else found it funny, Brant was glad that this would be the last time he'd ever have to fly up to the woman's window and make a bunch of noise to get her attention ... because it was.

"Abrams to the bridge, is the captain in?" Brant knew she was, but tried to keep to his mental script until the situation changed. With Jessica learning to integrate with the ship, he couldn't help but wonder how many different ways he could have approached this. For one, a private chat wasn't out of the question no matter how busy Jessica was if she was pretty far along, though it would just be him and a disembodied voice or something. Considering the other reason he was here though ... it needed to be in person. This way was probably for the best given the way she usually responded to his requests ... "Is it alright if I come up for a few minutes?"

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Good Eats

"No problem, Aly... And that's fine. Even I can't cook everything, and the things I can cook aren't perfect. Buuuuuut~" Cheryl chuckled, stuffing her hands onto her coat pockets, "Can i ask why you're getting into cooking? Trying to make something for someone?" The alien had been asking her a few things, things she didn't want to answer for her, so Cheryl could only assume she'd either gone to other people or gone to the source of her confusion for a direct response... What had the ensign told her? What he she done with him, anyway? "Could just be getting something ready for yourself, but..."

Captain Off The Bridge

"Brant?" Jess was surprised to see him here, but if he was coming up to the bridge, it was to talk to her. She almost sighed, but it probably wasn't an issue, Roxanna could handle things. "XO, the bridge is yours for a moment. Try to get those calculations done, I'll be right back." Probably. Jess got herself up and headed into the elevator, checking the cameras for a moment. He was right outside, it seemed. Good, that would make tracking him down simple. One minute long elevator ride later, and Jess was out of there with a smile, waving at Brant.

"Sorry for not letting you up, the bridge is working on calculations for our traveling. Our fastest route and out quickest route, before we weigh the risks of either... Though we're leaning towards taking the coast, simply because it will avoid unnecessary conflict. That's the hope, anyway... What can I help you with then, Brant?" Hopefully he wasn't bothered by the straightforward way of addressing his request.

Hey Sister

Finally a moment to herself... Which meant she was going to use it to do some digging. She'd already looked through her databanks and everything she could access and, a few answers had come up. Tabitha Gaertner, that was the name that kept coming back around, it was looking like she was the mastermind behind Jessica's creation. Anything else about that, though, was shrouded in access denials... At least from what she could tell, nothing Apotheosis had installed in her had lead to those hidden closets, so whatever was in them was for Tabitha's eyes only, as the master admin. "What to do from here... I mean... Well, maybe." Jess didn't really know how this would go, but...

"Hailing... The Avalon? Can anyone pick up?"

"And who might this be-- Oh... Captain Gefalscht?" Galatea had picked up, confusion ringing in her voice, wondering just what was going on that Jess would call.

"Ah, Galatea. Is Hannah there? I wanted to talk to her, if I can."

Galatea paused a moment. "Firmia would be quite upset if she found out you were making these calls without her knowledge. Hannah is here, yes... But..."

"Please?" Jess was just grasping, but with how sentient Hannah was... "Does the name Tabitha Gaertner mean anything to--"

"Yes. Yes, it does... And by your asking, I'm going to assume you ran into her name somewhere?"

Jessica sighed. "Yes. I did... In my programming. Apparently she made me."

Galatea sighed, groaned, and almost hung up... Almost. "Fine. Talk to her. I'm not taking the blame for this." The line cut, but was picked up quickly.

"Hello?" That was Hannah...

"Hi, Hannah... It's Jessica."

"Oh. Hello! How are you?" The android was seemingly unphased by the captain, maybe it was only Firmia over there with the hard grudge?

"I'm fine... I'm going to get down to why I'm calling, its about Tabitha Gaertner. And before you say anything, I'm going to get out everything I've found... Most celebrated mind in regards to AI this side of Earth, retired from the community to the colonies without a public reason, suddenly went missing?" That's all the public knowledge, or even knowledge she could find in the ANF's database about the woman. "And... She's in, my data. As my creator..."

"Me too."

"R-Really?" That's what Jess had been hoping for, but to get it so immediately was surprising.

"Yes... So I suppose that makes us sisters. Heh... Firmia won't be very happy about that, but I am. Everything you've said it true, at least from what I've been able to find, and I have her registered in my database as my creator as well... Though I prefer to refer to her as my mother. Though, I will say, considering you, and how you were used as a spy for Apotheosis, I can only imagine that they have her, right now."

"That..." Would make sense, as Jessica took a moment to ponder the fact that she now had family, mechanical or not. It would make sense, in reality, she was planted here by them, how would they have gotten her working on their own? Would they not be fielding more androids if they had the technology to produce her by themselves? It didn't have any backing, but it would fit... "I suppose so... Then we've got another person on the list of people to save from Apotheosis, if they do have her... ... ... A sister, huh? Heh."

"And we will. I don't want to let my mother die without being able to speak with her, at least once. And yes, a sister... I'm sorry for all of what's transpired between our crews. I do hope that one day, you and Firmia can get along, but--"

"It's alright, Hannah. It was my fault... And I understand that. But, thank you, really. I had to confirm some suspicions, and they were confirmed with a bonus. Do you... Mind if we talk more, in the future?"

Hannah smiled, not that Jess could see. "I'd love to. Thank you for telling me about this, sis."

"Th-That's going to take some getting used to, but... You're welcome. Talk to you later, then."

"Talk to you later~"

Down went the line, Jess sighing and flopping back against her bed. What a mess... So she was Hannah's sister model, or vice versa, and Apotheosis probably had their hands on the woman who'd made them. Just one more thing on the pile... I'm going to ruin Helena.

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Aliza heard Vvi speak and turned to her with a smile. "Oh, there you are. Eat up, we'll be busy soon I'm sure." She added before letting them speak. TKs...oh telekinetics, of course. Though Aliza was a bit surprised to learn Kim was one. Did...that mean she could read minds? That was a bit of a scary thought. Maybe that's why she insisted on seeing her notebook. Still it got her an autograph out of it so she was good with it. "Similar abilities...?"

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Astin paused near the entrance of the cafeteria. Looking in at the group, they hesitated, before quietly slipping in. Nodding at the group, but not interfering, they made their way to the kitchen. Nothing fancy. Just something easy to eat and make... Grilled cheese it was. And maybe a quick bowl of tomato soup. The soup would cook quickly enough in the microwave, so they left that to last, buttering up the bread and dropping it onto the quickly warmed up skillet. While they cooked, they couldn't help themself from trying to overhear what the two girls and the alien were chatting about. TKs from the sound of it, but also something to do with what the alien could do? Interesting. And worrying. How different was it from a TK's ability, they couldn't help but wonder. Time to listen and hopefully find out.

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It was a long wait in the hall, but the reason why became obvious when Jessica stepped out of the central elevator. Her greeting wasn't reserved or outwardly unusual, which Brant felt was both good and bad. He'd almost been looking forward to taking a look at the Riese's bridge from the inside before parting this last time, but it was probably for the best that it remained a little mystery, for the sake of a more private chat. Brant still didn't plan on saying very much compared to usual, though. His return wave to Jessica was even carefully measured, and not just because of how much his wrist and joints hurt, either.

"Heh, with our luck we've got five ambushes between us and Apotheosis' main base going the short way and ten going the long way," Brant joked, though in doing so, he began to wonder how Jessica and company were planning on dealing with the remaining two moles. They were potentially worse than an ambush. Maybe they'd already been caught during this breather week? With most communication between the ships being between the mechanics, whatever was happening on the Riese wasn't reaching his ears. It wasn't why he came but Brant considered asking while he was here.

"Anyway, I'm mainly paying a visit before we get underway," Brant explained, "Once the ANF officially calls the war, Firmia's going to want to break off from this impromptu fleet for good. I figured I should do something like this while we're in high spirits and ... not expecting anything."

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