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

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Everytime there was a gathering in the meeting room it was always full of some level of stress, and this time was especially bad considering what had happened earlier. The Riese and the crew were almost destroyed, but by some luck they were able to survive. At least physically, a lot of people had their issues like Kim and Alriana. Aliza sat in the back taking things in. She would normally be writing in her notebook, but it wasn't in view today. 'I wish I hadn't lost it...' So instead she sat down with her hands on her knees, listening intently. The first thing that hit her was the fact that Vera was there and intact. She knew she was alive from witnessing Kim rescue her from sinking, but it was still a shock. The lady was made of some stern stuff. 'I really hope those shackles hold.'

The news of the Riese's engines being fixed was a huge relief on Aliza. It was a miracle. The news about Avery however not so much. "...mm..." She was visibly upset, though she kept her emotions down to a head turn and a lip bite. The fact that Louise was there also didn't help, she was a little worried another fight will break out. So she kept her thoughts onto something else. Like the time she spent with Tristan and the others today.

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Tarquin had positioned himself as close to the heart of the meeting room, with all the recent events he had begun to feel that remaining silent only meant he was dragged along for the ride. If it had been a week or so prior, having most of the Heion Riese's most threatening foes lined up in front of them would be an unsettling concept for Tarquin. Admittedly, he wasn't entirely comfortable with both Vera and Louise in the same room, three security androids seemed like a rather small number for the duo. Executing them immediately would have been the safest option, but there was valuable information that was potentially worth the risk. The opportunity had appeared and the captain had taken her chances, a decision that hadn't come back to bite her so far. The line between enemy and ally had been blurred considerably, their crew was currently full of reformed foes... but they'd certainly lost allies too. Avery's act had fooled him completely, Tarquin was reluctant to accept that his entire dynamic with her had been fictitious on her part.

Calina and her group were a welcome addition to their forces, her attitude was a reasonable fit for their motley crew too. She had her own reasons to fight against Apotheosis and the chances were that cooperation would allow the ANF to overlook her previous hostilities.

"If our objectives align I see no issue with Miss Rydell's inclusion. As long as she maintains her promise of cooperation." Tarquin replied, giving his opinion on the matter. He couldn't quite get a read on Calina, but as much as the recruitment drive had worked so far there was no room for being overtly accepting. "If the Captain is willing to trust you then as I am."

Their next guests were more problematic, Louise's story was more insane than he could have imagined. What was Makoto's father doing creating a robotic clone of Louise? Was he really being held against his will? He didn't dare share that thought with Makoto, but pioneering in cutting edge science without being at least partially willing was unlikely. That raised the question of his own creator, was Professor Liebenwalde revelling in the same environment? Was Nina the result of his input, combining the Sacarians' technology with his own? He averted his gaze from Louise, he couldn't help but find her twisted willingness to aid them unsettling. Firmia had already asked for numbers and details, 

"Liebenwalde, is he working for Apotheosis of his own free will?" Tarquin asked, uncertain which answer he'd prefer. The incident at Corona Ten was telling enough, but confirming it would close things for him once and for all.

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Alriana was back in the meeting room. It was sort of strange to think that this would be the place she would be regularly returning to after every engagement; though, it was better than the... previous place. No. Stop that. At least she wasn't the one on display this time, off on one of the sides with Tristan. And what a weird display it was, Louise and Vera up by Jesicka. There were some full(?) humans up there too. She didn't know, or care really, about whatever this Colony 1 issue was, but there was something that had earned her attention. "Were you the one..." She stared straight at Calina. "That fought the, Praxis Alpha?"

Whoever had been the pilot had, at least for a little while, managed to go toe to toe with the Sacarian menace. Whether it was skill or machine, that was worthy of praise. And it was probably the only thing positive to have come out of that battle, proving that the mountain wasn't as unclimbable as she thought it was.

Her question asked she focused her attention on the actual dangers in the room, standing between them and Tristan. Vera, for whatever, didn't seem to have her usual prosthetics. If they were just normal prosthetics then she was capable of disarming, so to speak, Vera. Whether she actually could was up in the air; Vera was still more than dangerous as an opponent, even without her super prosthetics. Then there was Louise. She had calmed down considerably after spending time with Tristan and the others, but the sight of the woman turned android still aggravated her to an unreasonable degree. Whether Louise had wanted it or not, she had still become something, in a sense, beyond Alriana. A new height, unreachable by the angry Stygusian.

She didn't really have any questions for the newest addition to the cheaters; at least nothing that the others wouldn't ask. Rather, she seemed more than ready to just stare at the android. Not quite a glare, but certainly not approving of her presence.

Edited by Ursali

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Abigail was a big mix of emotions, standing up at the head of the table between her girlfriends. Terry was there too, but Sena had opted out. Large crowds of unfamiliar people were not her forte, and to be honest, Abby couldn't blame her. She also badly needed some time to process what had happened, to fucking grieve. Hopefully things would come out all right with a bit of distance. Even without her, though, the situation was odd and uncomfortable: it was like being put back on trial for something most of the crew had already acquitted her for. Would the outcome this time somehow turn out different for her family, now that they've joined her? It shouldn't, but...

...yeah, looks like it wasn't going to. Much like last time, Brant was one of the first to extend the welcome aboard, and with the tension in their recent history, that actually meant a lot to her. Abigail flashed a grateful smile back in the man's direction, along with a thumbs up she wasn't sure he actually saw, as he seemed to turn his attention to the bona fide villains on the other side of Jess--this split in his focus also probably accounting for that bit of missing enthusiasm behind the man's words. Well, whatever.

Tarquin's acceptance was more of a surprise. Abby had kind of gotten the impression the little overachiever thought rather poorly of her, but maybe she hadn't given him an honest chance. Had they ever really even spoken? Still, one less worry about getting her family integrated properly, at least for however long it took to take down Apotheosis. Good good.

Slightly less good, was the somewhat worrying interest that creepy alien was staring at Calina with. Odd parts fear and jealousy mixed within Abigail, because hey, she'd fucking gone up against that Alpha too, you know, but... honestly, could do without a bunch of extraterrestrial attention. There were enough problems and prejudices on her plate already. But... if that was appreciation and not anger--and it had to be, right, that landshark was fighting with them, after all--then that was three marks of approval after Jess's. That only left a few of the big names to weigh in (squad leader, XO, and the lieutenant) as well as some more of the supporting cast. If there were any major objections, she would have expected them to have come up already, so Abby was feeling like she could start to relax... and maybe think about her own take on what to do with everything happening over on the other side of the captain there.

Reaching her arm out a little, she squeezed Calina's shoulder supportively, as if to say, 'nailed it,' then turned to look Apo in the eye. Vera first: she hadn't had much face time with the cyborg, but it was more familiarity than she had with the... newly minted android. And, yeah, sure Alphonse and the ANF were a bunch of dicks; she knew and understood that firsthand. But there was a line, and crossing over that into amoral psycho killer territory just wasn't Abby's cup of tea. No matter what people said about some of her... less well-thought-out decisions.

"Okay, the sob story for this other one is nice and all, but how did the purple butterfly lose her metal wings? These new bioplastic ones don't carry the same impact, ya know? And maybe I'm getting the wrong vibe, but she doesn't look about to sing like the lead canary is, so... Why drag her out here in front of us, instead of letting her get her lounge on in our oh-so-comfortable brig? Is there something I'm missing?" Maybe her curiousity and mistrust were tugging war against each other, keeping her from holding a really consistent position, but, well. It was only natural.

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Time had done wonders, really. Everything was still far more sharp and pronounced than she was used to, this was true, but she would just need to acclimate. Getting away from the heavy emotions had already been a large step towards getting this... escalation under control. She just needed to keep it under control... losing to her own abilities at this stage was an unacceptable outcome.

As far as the meeting itself though? Seung-Min had already spoken to Louise along with Doctor Amparo, and could bring up any points she felt necessary if they weren't addressed... not that their discussion had much to do with anything other than Seung-Min's own internal power struggle anyway. Still, Louise had been given a few questions to field already, there were other things to discuss. Namely...

"Abigail turned out fine, and besides... we're not exactly in a position to turn down the help even if she hadn't. If these are her people, well, they clearly have their own reasons to fight against Apotheosis... even if they didn't before, unfortunately they've gained a fresh one. My apologies for your loss." Kim noted, bowing her head slightly towards Abigail, Calina, and whoever this third bloke was, she had yet to get a name for him. The Captain hadn't addressed the Esther situation either, the teal-haired girl sitting next to Kim, where Christina would have been were she not still bedridden.

"I assume you want me to field this one since you didn't mention her, Captain. You all might remember Esther, well, she's out and about under my supervision for the time being."

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New Best Friend

 

They managed to reach the Heion Riese without any problems, though having Sasha along for the ride made the seating arrangement familiarly awkward. Firmia spent the trip on Hannah's lap, again, not a bad thing per se, but the Alkaev was too proud to not be a little annoyed by it. Sasha's snickering didn't help, either. Once they landed, Firmia had mostly forgotten about their seating arrangement and zeroed in on the Luna, which was still slated to be moved to the Avalon at some point. Perhaps she could have the Reign carry it back and let the drones keep gathering what wreckage they could from the ocean ...

"How long do we have?"

"We're probably going to stay until the end of the debriefing," Firmia said, thinking back on her decision to come here in the first place. It was definitely preferable to be here in person for that portion this time around.

Having Firmia on her lap was only improved with company chuckling about it. Hannah knew that Firmia wanted to be taken seriously, but she was just... So cute, grumbling like that. Alas, it didn't last for long, so Hannah enjoyed what she could, until they landed in the Riese.

And the first person to greet them, was...

"Oh, Captain Alkaev. What are you doing here? I haven't called for a debriefing, yet... And I figured you wouldn't be coming in person." Jess saluted on approach, having come back down to the hangar to come and see the engines. "Anything I can help you with until I do? You can have your drones take the Luna back over whenever you want, by the way. We've taken Vera into custody, luckily with no issues."

"She didn't put up a fight? At all? That's..." Hannah was taken aback, that was so odd...

"No... Well, more like she couldn't. It's complicated, she should be able to give you a more clear picture, if you want to talk to her."

"Maybe in a bit. Definitely after the meeting, at least."

Saluting Jessica back was such a grating task for Firmia that she winced slightly while doing it. She wouldn't have even managed it promptly if she hadn't already built up the reflex. As for her coming in person, Firmia had to make certain there was no retreat ... even if Jessica looked level headed enough not to run away. Fortunately, she had a few other things she ought to deal with in person while she was on this side of the divide. "I'm here for several things," Firmia began, "and one of them is about the rebels that showed up in those stolen Mark IIIs."

The news about Vera was a little ... sad, really. It was one thing to know when you were beaten, but that woman felt like the reason their ships both had androids patrolling the halls and enhanced security in general. There was no winning a close quarters scuffle with that fake samurai otherwise. Jessica did leave them a hint, that it was 'complicated,' but Firmia's only interest in Vera at this point was learning any particulars about the Luna. The ANF could have her after that.

"Wouldn't hurt to see if she knows anything about the suit that we don't," Sasha said, gesturing at the Luna.

Firmia nodded reluctantly. It figured Sasha would already be on that line of reasoning, being the 'hangar boss' and whatnot. "Anyway, I'm also here to see Roxanna and your doctor ... and ... to find out who landed earlier," she said, glancing at the parked Prioxis. That definitely wasn't standard ANF issue, and they didn't have any people inside Apotheosis keeping them appraised ... right? Best not to dwell on that possibility. She was already a little frustrated. "Who was piloting that plane?"

Jess couldn't help but smirk at Firmia's little flinch in saluting. Geez. "Nice to see you too... I'll handle the rebels, through the proper channels, contacting the ANF and speaking with Alphonse. Yes, I'm going to try and get them off the hook. Hate me for it if you want, I'm fine adding another thing onto the list. Not just going to pardon them myself and be done with it, at least." Defensive, sure, but Jess really didn't want to hear Firmia's opinion on Calina and her group.

The rest she could facilitate without getting annoyed, at least. "You're free to ask Vera anything about the Luna, it's going to be your machine, and not knowing all of its features only hinders us going forward. Roxanna should be on the bridge, our doctor... Megumi or Cheryl? Megumi's in the infirmary dealing with Christina. Cheryl is, probably in her office, either trying to ignore the life or death struggle we were just in, or coping with it now that it's over, for the moment. And our visitor..."

Jess sighed, hand on her forehead for a moment. "Would you believe me if I told you an android calling herself Louise showed up, surrendered, and is now willing to sell out all of Apotheosis for little to nothing?"

"Wh... What? What!?" Hannah was the most shocked by this, eyes wide, staring at Jess. "But... But, we killed her. Elaine killed her. How could..."

"Your guess is as good as mine, but she's in the brig alongside Vera, all smiles, same annoying personality... Just... Seems a lot more stable. I haven't asked what her deal is, haven't had the time. Planned to bring her up during the meeting, but here's your primer, I suppose."

What in the actual hell? Firmia was beside herself ... not nearly as dumbstruck as Hannah, but she'd still been blasted hard enough to stop caring about the rebels for a moment. "They made an android copy of Louise. What ... fo--no, we'll just have to go and see for ourselves once everything else is taken care of. She's not going anywhere if she surrendered." That was the Alkaev's hope at least.

"Actually," Sasha raised a hand and smirked, "I'm here to see Cheryl, and she's here for Megumi. On that note, I'll be on my way."

Firmia scowled at Sasha's back as he started off. We just couldn't get the Avalon fast enough for him to find someone over there ... "... and pardoning the rebels? ... not that I didn't expect that, really. It feels like they're already part of the crew," Firmia smiled, though the mild hostility was obvious. "Don't forget to ask Alphonse to pardon Vera and the Louisebot while you're at it. After all, the latter technically didn't do anything wrong, and the former doesn't have time to hook up with anyone on the Riese to weasel out of execution."

"Firmia!" Hannah didn't get why she was already going for jabs when Jessica was being so cordial, but Jess waved a hand and shrugged. 

"It's fine, Hannah. Whatever helps her cope. I don't have time for petty games like that. Megumi is, like I said, in the infirmary, and Vera and Louise both are in the brig. Since Sasha's already off, you two are free to head to either. I'll keep watch, I need to check on the engines, else I'd accompany you. Take care, and Louise and Vera will be spoken about as well." With a hefty shrug and a sigh, Jess left Firmia and Hannah to their devices, heading towards the engine room.

Hannah sighed, arms folded, frowning st Firmia. "That was unnecessary and undeserved."

Firmia doubted Jessica would have actually tagged along if she could busy herself with something or someone friendlier. At least this time, Firmia wasn't inclined to try and stop her. As long as the Riese was vulnerable, so was the Avalon. The Alkaev had no intention of holding Jessica up without a good reason. Still ... it brought back recent memories ...

"And still she retreats," Firmia murmured before facing Hannah. "I'm not going to argue over necessity, but 'deserved' is another matter."


Brant sighed at the exchange between the captains as it ended. The Regalia could only pick up so much in the din of the hangar, but it was obvious Firmia and Jessica still had issues to work out. Then again ... it probably wasn't ever going to happen. Firmia wasn't just bitter about everything, she wanted to punish Jessica somehow for what she'd done before. When they'd last talked, he remembered her deciding that the two could never be friends, among other things, and that would be said punishment. Brant supposed being rude all the time was a part of that since she didn't have the strength of will to reject persistent kindness. Still, it wasn't a pretty sight to see.

He finished sliding into his black t-shirt, wondering whether he and Chris ought to head back out and say hi or leave them be. "What to do ..."

Hannah sighed. "She's not retreating, she needs to get the Riese back into the air. You're way too picky, Firmia. You don't have to be friends, but stop trying to be enemies at every moment." Hannah couldn't see the point in this, and simply shook her head, disappointed. "Let's go and see Megumi before you get the bright idea to throw something at her." Hannah turned towards the elevators, sighing.


"We should probably intervene before they get upset at each other or Firmia starts something with another member of the Riese." Chris finished pulling a shirt over her chest, yawning and sighing. "Besides, we have stuff to tell her, no?"

"Yeah, I guess we should hurry if we're going to catch the elevator, too," Brant agreed. He was a little apprehensive about showing up so soon after Jessica. Firmia was fresh off of that encounter and seeing him could potentially make it worse. That was no reason to completely avoid her while they were on the Riese, though. If anything, they really should get in there and do a little damage control.

"Alright," Brant opened the hatch. Now that they were dressed, they didn't have to worry about modesty. "Agape is a go ..."


"I wouldn't--" Firmia gritted her teeth at the notion. "She's an android." She was going to ask what the point of throwing things at an android would be, but figured Hannah would counter by asking what the point of being so hostile and cutting was ... which was something she admittedly didn't want to get into out in the open. She didn't feel very secure on the Riese and that hadn't changed since seeing a more active Jessica running around. The ship was sitting in the ocean thanks to a trusted mechanic, so she at least had a case there ...

"We got this, Brant. It'll be alright. You've got me and Hannah here to back you up if things go south, you know?" These jeans were... Just a tad tight, had Firmia packed the right size? No use complaining about it now, at least the shirt fit properly. Black is alright... Weird design, though... What's with this symbol? "Agape is a go~ Hey, Firmia!" Chris wasted no time barking across the hangar, trying to get her attention, as they took the line down from the cockpit.


"She's still someone you have to work with. I'm not going to pretend you can be friends right now, but you can stop trying to be enemies, at the least. The war ending isn't going to make Jessica disappear, either... Even if she isn't with the ANF anymore, she'll still be around. I can't imagine her finding a small little home to settle down in..." Hannah sighed, Firmia was difficult about the Riese captain. Somewhat understandably, but the rest of it was just...

"Oh, looks like Brant and Chris finished getting changed. Hey, you two!" Hannah waved back, voice, hair and all. Hopefully it wouldn't be too odd a change for them.

Affirmation from Hannah about Jessica not disappearing ... that was the last thing Firmia wanted to hear, right now. Never having to see the overcompensating fake again was about the only consolation she had. What made Hannah so sure of that? Was Jessica planning on working alongside the ANF like Firmia was? What was the point of that? A thought occurred, that she would be trying to work relatively closely with Firmia's group rather than the ANF; she was Hannah's sister, technically. As unlikely as that seemed, the thought alone made Firmia cringe. She wondered how far she would have to go to scare Jessica away from ever considering an idea like that. She wondered how far she would have to go to completely burn down the bridge on Jessica's side of the divide.

Fortunately, when Bris ... her impressions of them seemed to blend together these days, Firmia noted, trying not to let the momentary confusion show on her face ... fortunately, when Brant and Chris showed up, they were changed out of their SKINsuits. Good. The last thing Firmia wanted was the two of them looking almost nude during the debriefing. Since they were coming this way, it seemed best to wait for them.

"Thank you for listening," Firmia greeted them once they were close, her voice just barely audible.

"Not a big deal ..." Brant smiled through his own mild confusion. Hannah certainly wasn't helping matters all that much. At least the change in her voice made more sense, now. "Hannah, what's ...?" The inspiration for her latest hairstyle was obvious. To him, it felt like she was halfway through a full makeover. He just hoped that whatever she was planning had more to do with her taking the name Abrams and less to do with Firmia.

Best to leave the hornet's nest of Jessica alone, then. Firmia would figure things out, or not, and Hannah would just have to play intermediary if problems arose again. "Trying to make things more comfortable for Firmia, by going as far as I'm comfortable. Not really sure if I need to do more, though... Or if there's even more I can do, but I'll see."

"Doesn't look half bad, at least," Chris commented, hands resting behind her head as she yawned again. Today had been one mess after another, Chris was just glad that Christina was alright, and that she didn't have much to worry over anymore.

"It's pretty good, yeah," Brant nodded, "I'm sure Rex would hate it, though," he chuckled.

Firmia hadn't been sure what to say when Hannah explained the changes, but she outright winced when Rex came up. "Erm, about that, Brant ..." She waited for him to properly brace himself before going on. "I don't think he's going to cooperate after the last mission, but the ship he was assigned to just defected from the EU. They're going to help us assault Apotheosis' main base ... and after that, the ship and as much of the crew as I can hold onto are working for us. Not the ANF," she shook her head to make that point abundantly clear, "Us."

"... this ... just happened?" Brant was naturally awestruck by the sudden turn of events, as well as the prospect of seeing his brother in person again after all this time.

"Not long after I sent the news about Commander Vance."

"Whoa. You just got a whole ship from the EU? How'd you do that?"

"Well... It started with a call from Rex. A blocked call. Then Stan called to actually get through... Things sort of, escalated from there. Now an EU captain named Troy Lanzer is going to be working for Firmia when the war is over. Whether all of his crew come with him or not yet, remains to be seen." Hannah did her best to explain, but Chris was still pretty dumbstruck, especially because Rex was apparently there.

"So... Are we gonna hand Vasiliy over to him when they get here? I don't think I'd feel very good about holding him if his actual dad showed up..."

"That should be the plan... Right, Firmia?" Hannah was hoping they weren't going to stoop that low.

"Of course," Firmia frowned, not meeting eyes with anyone, "As much as I want to look after Vasily myself, it's not my place to deny someone who actually wants to be there for their child ... at least not in this instance." In both respects, Firmia was thinking of her own mother.

Brant smiled pityingly. "Tonya's going to be pretty broken up about this, but it's probably the right thing to do. We need to set him straight first, though. I don't like the idea of handing Vasily over after what he pulled anymore than you do, so let's at least try to talk some sense into him while we have the time."

Firmia stepped into the elevator, looking none too confident. "I'll leave that to you and Chris. If I talk to him, it's going to get very ugly ..."

"When doesn't it get ugly?" Chris scoffed as she stepped into the elevator. Hannah wanted to tell her not to make jokes like that, but it wasn't... Wasn't really much of a joke, sometimes. She simply sighed, heading in after Firmia, hoping things wouldn't escalate too far.

"I'm sure Tonya can manage without him. If she cares that much, maybe she goes with him, eh? Wouldn't mind having her out of my hair for a while." Chris sighed, it was still a bit frustrating to know that Tonya had that ring, but what were they gonna do about it right now? Apotheosis was too much of a problem to sit down and formulate some real 'beat Tonya' strategies. Hopefully it wouldn't take too much longer after this nonsense was settled...

That's just what she needed, Firmia thought bitterly, the people she cared about most flying off to who knows where after the war. She was keeping Tonya right there on the Avalon for as long as she could. That was part of the reason she wanted to speak with Doctor Amparo, in fact.

"Don't worry, we'll beat her," Brant said, trying to reassure Chris. He didn't have a real plan yet, but Tonya's goal of breaking them up wasn't going to work, so it was only a matter of time until they won. Better sooner than later, but it was more of a puzzle than a battle at this point.

"Anyway, you two can deal with Rex. I'm going to be focusing on the rest of the Athena's crew ... but I'm not sure what to do about my father ..."

"What? Oh," Brant slapped his head, "Hannah did mention Stan. The ... kind of ... sort of ... stepfather ..." ... yeah, that was a strange thought.

"Stan, the useless waste of a parent," Hannah grumbled out, feeling little to no kindness for the man. His lack of care aside, he was simply unfit to be anything like a father, even if he faked it.

"Sounds like a real piece of work... We'll take care of Rex. If it comes down to a fight, at least we can defeat him together. If he's on Brant's level, I might be able to take him myself~"

Hannah got her smile back, chuckling just a bit. "That's a lot of confidence, Chris. What do you think, Brant? Are you the bottom here?"

"Hah!"

"Nope," Brant shook his head, "Rex couldn't beat me if his life depended on it, and I can beat Chris pretty consistently ... at least where it counts." He tried not to imply anything too specific by making a face, but with this group, his meaning was probably crystal clear. As for his boasting about Rex, which he doubted all three of them bought into ... it didn't really matter. With that kind of sibling rivalry, it was about will, not who could realistically beat who or how often. If it ever came to a showdown between them, Brant felt the bolstered confidence would do more good than harm. He wouldn't underestimate Rex, but he wouldn't underestimate himself, either.

Opting to focus on the issue of her useless father, Firmia supposed she could just make him stay on the Athena. If Troy could tolerate him, then that was probably for the best, wasn't it? Come to think of it, there was a lot more she could do with two ships under her command, even outside of battle. Roster changes were a real option now. For now, she had the people she knew personally to attend to, so as the lift brought them to the First Deck and the doors opened, Firmia stepped out and set her sights on the infirmary.

"I-I'm just lacking practice. You'll see. Gimme time to get... Acclimated." Chris tried her best to act strong, but 'where it counted', Brant was the winner, one hundred percent of the time. Folding her arms and faking a pout, Hannah couldn't help but laugh.

"At least I know how Brant feels, where it counts. Buuuuut, I also know how Chris feels, everywhere else. Being made of metal is a pretty good cheat sometimes." Chris gave her a bit of a scowl, but sighed and smiled anyway.

"If you can even get anywhere with Firmia being so busy." Chris was hoping for some sort of reply from their Captain, as they made their way towards the infirmary.

"If you think you're lacking practice," Brant eyed Chris knowingly, "you think it's going to be easier for you once I'm back in practice?" That time he went ahead and made the face at her ... He was about to comment on Hannah's situation when he noticed both Firmia flinching as she came to a stop in the hallway, and the irritation that stopped her.

"Would you all hurry up?" Firmia scowled back at them. Not that she needed them to keep up to speak with the doctor ... it was just a spur of the moment reaction, and one she wished she hadn't bothered with. "We're going to see Louise after this, and then Roxanna." ... that seemed to be the most efficient route to see everyone, though Louise only made the list because Firmia needed to see this for herself.

"Brant, that's so not fair... You know you--" And there was the Captain, almost on cue. Chris rolled her eyes, but smiled, walking ahead of Firmia real quickly. "Fine, fine~ You and Hannah can sort your bed issues out by yourselves." Bustling into the infirmary doors, Chris was met with Christina looking confused, but happy.

"Chris? What're you doing back already?"

"Just came along with Firmia. She wanted to talk to the doctor.'

"Wh... Firmia's here?" Christina was a bit shocked that she'd come all the way to the Riese in person.

Hannah offered a pitying smile to Firmia as they walked into the infirmary. "Sorry. Just wanted to play along with them."

"Firmia! Hi!" The blonde wasted no time in waving as miss Alkaev walked into the room, all smiles like nothing had happened. "I'm glad you all seem okay."

The delivery was annoying like usual, but it was basically the response Firmia wanted. Hannah didn't exactly have anything to apologize for ... "It's fine," Firmia said, heading into the infirmary after Chris. Brant wasn't far behind them.

Firmia was shocked to see Christina so happy to see her. The girl's affections felt as unearned as Jessica's cordial behavior was unwelcome, which left Firmia feeling vulnerable. This was the kind of interaction she didn't want from people because she didn't know how to push back against it. Up until Brant, most people were at least wary of her, and even the curious tended to keep things professional as much as possible. She had virtually no experience with ... this ... and it was why her inner circle kept growing, almost completely out of control ...

The Alkaev cleared her throat, giving herself one precious second to hijack the script. "Of course we're all okay. We take every precaution for upcoming fights. Are you alright?" And that was about all she could do to avoid taking a shot at Jessica's captaining with such an easy opening. She could tell Brant was proud of her for stopping just short of that.

"Well... I'm alive. No scarring... Megumi says I'm gonna be alright, with some rest." Christina tried to hold her smile, it was still scary to think about, but it was good to know nothing would remind her, given a few days.

"You gotta have more faith in us, sis. No terrorist, alien or otherwise, is gonna take out one of the round table's knights~" Chris chuckled pretty heavily after that, poking a small bit of fun at Firmia's naming scheme.

"What? Knights? Geez... You didn't make up some silly name for yourself as a pilot, did you Chris?"

"No, I didn't. Just went along with the theme~ Nothing else."

"Well... If you say so... Everything alright on the Avalon, Brant?" Christina felt she might as well poke at the Abrams while he was around. They hadn't gotten much of a chance to talk.

"They're just callsigns," Firmia murmured.

Thinking of the Avalon and the situation there, Brant felt things were probably a lot better overall than they had any right to be. Even Tonya's shenanigans paled in comparison to what he was used to dealing with, and the positives seemed to vastly outweigh the negatives. Brant's biggest concerns for the moment were getting the ring back, and making sure the war and the associated stresses didn't do anymore lasting damage to Firmia. Survival didn't seem like a sure thing, but they were far from doomed or hopelessly outmatched ... especially if they were about to add more firepower to the fleet. Abigail's people, the EU defectors, his brother included, and the two ANF escorts from Central. They were going to win this one way or another.

"Not even sure where to start but things are alright--great, actually," Brant laughed at the initial understatement and then sighed. "I'm not sure how much you've heard from Chris already but we've got two daughters." There was the chance that telling people on the Riese about his girls would see the information getting back to Jessica eventually, but hiding it forever wasn't really the point. Brant was more interested in gauging just how far apart they had grown in such a short time, over something so superficial ...

"Making that sound much different from ... mrgh," Firmia stopped her murmuring short this time, not seeing the point. They called Chris their mother, so the implications Brant was making would be cleared up in about ten seconds.

That was around the time Megumi came over, and Firmia's attention shifted to her instantly. "I'm not used to seeing you here," the doctor looked over Firmia and Hannah briefly. "Is this about Tonya?"

"Oh good, you got it in one," Firmia smiled, "Yes ... it's not an easy thing to bring up like this, but since you're the one replacing Nikolai's legs, you're probably the one to ask about cybernetics in general."

Megumi almost winced. "I've been inundated in cybernetics journals and overpriced training courses for over a week and I still doubt I'm even remotely qualified to be having this discussion." Said with that typical empty expression of hers, Firmia was slightly amused.

"W-- wait, daughters!?" Christina was clearly taken aback, Chris doubletaking between her and Brant before bringing her hands up in a small flail to try and calm Christina down.

"Noooo nonono, they're. Uh. Adopted. Well. No. Haha... They're, Brant's kids, not mine, but... Well they call me mom now, so... I guess they're mine too. Heh. Heheh..." Smooth, Chris...

"Wha... Guess you're lucky you got all you did from me, huh?" Christina made a somewhat cocky grin, still a bit confused and concerned, but Chris seemed happy. "Don't let them turn out too much like you. Too many angry blondes in the world could cause problems."

"Yeah, yeah. Thank you, though. For being so good with kids. I guess all that copied over too... Feels pretty natural."

"You're welcome~ Kids are great. Most of the time. I guess Brant's been a good dad so far?"

"Heh... Feels like he was made for this."

Hannah gave a warm smile to the sisters before Firmia asked Megumi her cybernetics question, positing a curiosity in the android. "Why not ask Buck? If it's not for, _that_, then he might have a better understanding. He's managed to repair me, after all."

Brant almost frowned at Christina's remark. He wanted the girls to turn out as much like Chris as they could; her 'anger issues' were effectively a mental disorder, a byproduct of Apotheosis' attempt to produce obedient, emotionless soldiers. Christina was proof of that, and Chris' outgoing, supportive, tried and true patience, and sexually balanced behavior was just the right model for Liliana and Akilina. Also the girls weren't blondes, but that was another, less important matter, one that at least Lily was strangely conscious of. Maybe they would be blondes someday ... hair dyes still existed.

"There are upsides and downsides, I think," Brant addressed the dad question, feeling a tad guilty about how his priorities tended to come out. Until recently he thought Firmia was overly protective. Now, he could see some of the same attitudes coming out of himself. Well ... Firmia was still overprotective, but at least now he understood why more fully. Like he used to be, she didn't have a true hierarchy of relationships. Her allies, 'friends', were the world to her, just about all equal in importance. Everything and everyone else was a threat or a resource.

"I'm not trying to turn Tonya into a cyborg," Firmia countered, though Hannah's suggestion alone was enough to try to find Buck before they left the ship, anyway. More information, and a reminder that she was still around, couldn't hurt. Poaching him from the ANF was still the plan, especially now that the moles were all accounted for. Two were gone, one was debugged, so Buck was in the clear. "At least ... I wasn't thinking about full prosthetics," Firmia continued, trying to keep the mental images of Tonya and Vera fully separate in her mind.

"So something in between, then," Megumi guessed, though still unsure of what the Alkaev had in mind. She tried narrowing it down. "Implants can be extremely hazardous, especially when they aren't well maintained. At the bare minimum, you would need a specialist to maintain even one basic implant if she chooses to get one."

Firmia hung her head, feeling really uncomfortable bringing this up, especially in front of Brant and Hannah. The former was a bit distracted, but the heads would be turning soon enough. Amusingly, Chris' head might turn for the wrong reason. After all, any sort of 'upgrade' would make their ring fetch quest even tougher. "Tonya is committed to fighting. There isn't anything anyone can do to keep up with androids long term, though ... not without technology involved. My goal here is to get information on how I can help her stay almost or at that level ten or even twenty years from now ... or however long this goes on for."

Megumi winced at the thought, muttering to herself, "No woman should be fighting for that long ..."

"I know, but... Mmm, she was definitely upset about me, at some point. I know it's probably not a step she wants to take, but if she wants to keep up with the new wave of what will make up fist fighting, she might have to give in." Androids were already common place on both the Riese and the Avalon, and between Hannah, Jess and Galatea, it was clear that intelligent AIs could be created, even if they had limits, in Galatea's case. Once the world-- the world's governments found out, they'd definitely be attempting to reproduce such for personal use, whether that use be military or domestic.

"I must agree with Megumi, though. I don't think we can change Tonya's mind, but... If it's at all possible, somehow. Just..." She'd definitely fought enough, in Hannah's opinion. Betwee what the Alkaevs had made the poor woman go through, and the constant fight with Apotheosis, Tonya had certainly seen more than most around here.

"If Chris is this happy, I think there are probably plenty more upsides." Christina was pretty happy to lay it on thick for her sister, who was blushing at this point, between her and Brant, being so happy about this.

"Y-Yeah, I get it, already... Just... Doing my best, here. Also, oi! Hannah! We already have it hard enough, don't turn her into you, now! Not gonna get that ring back if she turns into a robot on it."

"Ring? You two... Are you engaged? Already?"

"Er... Yeah... Surprise?" Chris was redder already.

"Wow! Seriously!? That's amazing!"

"Christina, come on... I mean, thanks, but..."

"But nothing! This is great news~"

Brant supposed the engagement news wouldn't have traveled much farther than the fact that his daughters and nephew were on the Avalon ... that they even existed. He also noticed some of Chris' teasing coming out of Christina, which was thoroughly amusing. They could switch roles so easily if the topic favored one or the other. Thinking about it ... any similarities he noticed were obviously Christina's traits inherited by Chris and not the latter rubbing off on the former. Before bread comes dough. Before butter comes sweat.

Musing aside, Brant was also starting to wonder about the end of this engagement, the wedding. What was that going to be like ... and where? And who was coming? Unless they decided to fly off and elope, there would have to be a ceremony of some kind, wouldn't there? Already it seemed like something to leave up to Chris. He was far better with day to day matters.

As for the ring and Tonya ... "I could always make another one, but we've still got a point to prove. After that ..." he shrugged, figuring things would never quite be 'smooth sailing' in life, but at least they could rely on each other like always.

Firmia sighed at Hannah. "She's already asking about ways to interface with the Avalon. She may not want any prosthetics, and I'm not inclined to do that anyway, but I'm pretty sure she's already giving some ground there. I'm just trying to do what I can to help."

"So she has no plans to retire at all?" Megumi asked, not convinced but not knowing much about Tonya beyond the few conversations they had. From her impression, Tonya was more down to earth than Firmia was implying, but the doctor also knew that she shouldn't expect to have a good read on someone from conversations alone.

"She doesn't," Firmia shook her head, "and I don't just get that from the way she acts. I can feel it. She's not going to die an old woman surrounded by family and friends." As far as Firmia could tell, Tonya's eventual goodbyes, if there were any, would be quick and punctuated by fire. As much as the Alkaev vastly preferred something else, almost anything but a warrior's sendoff, this was what the Alkaev training regimen had forged her into. Ilya was her last chance, her last reason to be anything else, and he was long gone.

"She steal your engagement ring or something?" Christina was pretty confused about that, but it wasn't the weirdest thing around here.

"Something like that... She wants to make sure that I'm not just the next girl in the list, that Brant's, finally found someone worth holding onto, you know? I don't give a shit about what she things, neither does Brant, but... She's been holding onto the ring since the Jess mess, and decided to pull this when Brant asked her for it. So we have to beat her to get it, I guess..." Chris shrugged, it was how it was. They had a point to prove, and it if came to it, Brant could make another one.

"That... Sounds really stupid. Who does she think she is?"

"Right!?"

"If Kim popped a ring on me some day, and someone tried that... Well... I'd probably get my butt handed to me, but I'd beat the crap out of them." A tiny huff and pout, Chris couldn't help laughing at her sister.

"Ha, hahaha! I can't imagine you beating anything!"

"H-Hey! I'm... I'm not that much of a pushover..."

"You so are~!"

Hannah smiled over at the other group, at least they were having fun. "Then, cybernetics. I still think it would be best to ask Buck, even if we aren't going to go the full gambit of prosthetics, it seems like a topic that he'd sink himself into faster... No offense, Megumi. At least until the war is over, I think it would be better if we had you focusing on keeping people alive."

"If you'd like," Megumi glanced over at her desk, "I could forward some data and class notes over to the Avalon." Distributing course material like that would amount to some kind of illegality, but given what she'd paid for the material, Megumi didn't care. At least the information would go to use beyond simply prepping Nikolai for his new legs. She never expected any of this would be relevant to Tonya, though ...

"You may want to have an AI 'learn' the material if you plan to do anything soon. Like I said, I've been at this for some time now and I'm not confident about any of it just yet."

Well, that seemed humble, Firmia mused ... also generous. Hopefully, the information plus Buck's input would be enough. Maybe even after the war, Buck and Monty could work together on some of this. "I would appreciate that. Thank you."

"Tonya only had the ring because I didn't want to be seen with it at the time," Brant admitted. There was no way she would have even thought to steal it otherwise. It obviously wasn't even stealing in her mind. He asked her to look after it and she clearly said she was doing that. It was amusing to think that Hannah in that same position might have just handed the ring over ... but would have had them hopelessly outmatched otherwise.

"I suppose that's solved, then." Hannah was hoping that Megumi wasn't upset by her commentary, but it was what she felt, and probably for the best. It wouldn't serve anyone to keep it quiet.

"Well I think she's being a bitch," Christina pouted out, sticking out her tongue.

"I guess we really do think alike, sis... We'll get her, though. She's too old to continue keeping up with the kids, and we'll just keep getting better~" Chris folded her arms and nodded, smiling wide.

"Heh... It's nice to know you're confident, at least."

She had every reason to be, Brant mused. The only thing working against them in the Tonya situation was Tonya herself. He decided they could make another attempt sometime after they got back to the Avalon, and after Tonya got whatever news Firmia had for her. It wasn't much but said news might throw her off her game just a tiny bit. At this point, he'd taken any advantage.

Before that, though, Brant did have some concerns of his own, more or less identical to Hannah and Megumi's. "Are you sure we should be looking into cybernetics? I know the androids are making her feel kind of 'obsolete' but it's just a feeling, isn't it? None of us should be fighting on foot in the first place, so why not have her focus on piloting mobile suits?"

"Well," Firmia's gaze wandered off to the far end of the infirmary, "The only thing I'm interested in doing this early is seeing if she can helm the Avalon better. That's probably going to branch out into mobile suits at some point. Besides, I'm not interested in having any of you fight on foot, either." Troy seemed a little crazy because of how much more dangerous that line of work was getting.

"Oh, that is a good point. I don't know about Captain Gefalscht, but I can't beat Tonya when it comes to piloting. Human intuition, and your abilities to react without thinking at times, are things I just can't replicate in a mobile suit combat situation." Hannah had certainly improved from her time piloting the Mantle, but there were some things that machines would simply never do better than humans.

"If that's all she needs for now, then, maybe it's not that bad." Chris shrugged. It was nice to see Christina again, and fun to talk to her with Brant, but the rest of the conversation didn't really matter to her much.

The mobile suit part probably seemed fine to the others on paper because the idea of Tonya being plugged directly into one the way Hannah had been toward the end of her time as the Mantle's pilot didn't come to mind. Without doing something akin to that, however, Firmia didn't see how Tonya would improve much. Even with the Avalon, she foresaw some rather intrusive upgrades or 'implants' as the doctor had described them. The Alkaev had no intention of changing the way Tonya looked if she could help it, though. No parts sticking out of her or prosthetics. It should be fine that way ...

"Okay then, that's all I needed, doctor," Firmia said, glancing at the infirmary entrance. "Since the brig is below the bridge, I want to see Louise before we move on to Roxanna. We can find Buck after that."

"So you're going to see Louise and Vera in the brig?" Brant winced. He didn't know what Firmia would want with the former, and going to gloat would be an incredibly stupid idea. Only Chris ever seemed to have any luck throwing Louise off her game. No one else stood a snowball's chance in Hellfire.

"You should come too," Firmia eyed him expectantly, "If she's acting like the original Louise then either she's on Galatea's level or better."

"Sounds like a party... Not one I want any part of. I'm gonna stay here with Christina until you're done, alright? Last thing I need is to get into a shouting match with a robot." Chris sat on the edge of Christina's bed, the other blonde visibly worried.

"Louise lived? Machine? What... I'm confused..."

"I'll fill you in while they're off, 'kay?"

"Alright..."

Hannah was a bit impressed to see Chris making such a mature decision, nodding at it. "After you, Firmia."


The Brig. Not a place on the Riese Firmia was familiar with. What was even less familiar to her and the others was seeing Apotheosis' poster girls locked up tight. It was also strange to see Louise without the wheelchair and eyepatch, as well as seeing her with the telltale aesthetics of an android. Firmia didn't fault Apotheosis for making an android copy of Louise--if they were smart, they would have made dozens, in fact. What she didn't get was why they let this one go. Already the Alkaev was doubting the value of any information obtained from this freebie captive, but that was no reason to waste the trip.

"Why on Earth did they make you if you were just going to turn yourself in like this?" Firmia asked, stopping a comfortable distance from the cells. Apotheosis never seemed sane to her in the first place, so the question felt all but pointless in hindsight. She had a better one, come to think of it. "What kind of android are you?"

Admittedly Brant was curious about both questions, but he kept silent and tried not to draw any attention to himself. Like Chris, he'd prefer not to deal with Louise or any likeness of her anymore, but Firmia wanted him along for AI studies or whatever this nonsense was ...

Louise wasted no time in reacting, pressing her hands up against the glass, all smiles, before cackling once again. "Gosh, I haven't been this popular since high school~ Even the Avalon crew's coming to see me! Hello, Firmia~ Whatever can I help you with?" Louise ignored her questions for a moment, trying to calm her giggles.

Vera stayed quiet, Louise's antics, while a bit better now, were still grating. She did glance over at Hannah... Who she could only assume was Hannah. A lot of changes since the beach. Hannah glanced back, nodding at her. There was some sort of silent respect, Vera couldn't help a smile.

"Right, right... Why indeed? But here I am, and they have no hold on me... If I'm being honest, I think Helena wants to lose. Who would want to keep fighting with their dream overrun by cats, hah!" Louise shrugged, shaking her head. "And... What do you mean? I'm just about the same as your lovely little girlfriend there. All Louise... Minus, some of the crazy, fuhuhuhu~"

The Louise android was definitely acting like Louise, but Firmia reminded herself that the original had been eviscerated back at HQ. However Apotheosis' technology worked, they could probably use it to make more than one of these doppelgangers ... and really, that was the part the Alkaev was interested in.

"She wants to lose," Brant winced, "because the Sacarians are taking over?" He could just imagine a situation where Firmia entered the war with the Avalon, lost it, and then her and her people being forced to work under Jessica, much the way things had started. It was the closest thing he could conjure to what Apotheosis was going through, and even then he knew Firmia wouldn't wish for anything but victory for her side. Of course, for them, victory was life, not the world dominance Apotheosis was ostensibly after. "I guess they really aren't after the same thing."

Firmia sighed at the cell. The idea that Apotheosis, or rather one of its leaders, wanted to lose the war now, was just sad and pathetic. She could at least agree that if the plan had been overrun by the Sacarians, with them now calling the shots, then the situation was understandable. She understood the Sacarian position on this, as well. Why let Apotheosis do anything on their own after that disaster at Central, or their performance against the Riese in general? The Sacarians hadn't done much better, with their forces nearly being wiped out in the last battle, but that was one rout to ... Firmia wasn't actually keeping count of Apotheosis' screwups anymore. Even their moles hadn't done much more than slowed the Riese down in the end.

As for 'Louise minus some of the crazy' ... "I want to know how you were made," Firmia explained, hoping Brant was still paying attention.

"Oh, Firmia... Well, you see, when a man and a woman have sex, because really, when is love ever a part of the--"

"Louise." Vera chided her and sighed, the android chuckling further.

"Fine, fine... The Regina had a direct memory stream of everything I was experiencing being saved back at home base. As soon as I died, the stream cut off... And the good Doctor Watanabe has been spending several days and countless hours trying to take that digitized memory and implant it, functionally, into an android. I'm the successful product, I suppose~" Louise smirked and shrugged her arms up.

"So, to be more clear... Or I suppose, direct... They turned my memory into numbers and put it into a robot. Ta-da~"

"She gets mad if you call her a copy, so... Don't." Vera chimed in, Louise scowling back at her on cue.

"Because I'm not. Honestly..."

Louise's first comment stung, hitting a bit too close to home. Firmia's parents hadn't even needed sex to conceive her. They didn't love each other--and not her either, in her experience. She wouldn't exist at all if her grandfather hadn't instigated the whole thing, bringing medical practitioners and modern technology into the mix.

"How do you digitize memories?" Brant grimaced. That seemed so advanced that it was either well beyond anything he would ever be able to do, or just plain magic. Or likely both.

Time to hit back a little ... even if Louise hadn't intentionally nicked her. Frankly, she was either the original Louise and deserved it, or she was just a copy and shouldn't care. "If your memories were copied--and that's just what digitizing them would allow, then you are a copy," Firmia insisted, "There shouldn't be anything stopping Watanabe from making another android exactly like you. Do you think you have a soul or something?"

So Firmia was going to play like that. Louise turned her attention to Brant, entirely ignoring the Alkaev, save for a scowl. "Our minds are all data... Complex and varied data, but still data. I'm not entirely sure of the exact process, but that's what I was told, and could look up. You'd have to get your hands on the good doctor and ask him yourself~ Or maybe the Sacarians. Maybe..."

"Great," Brant sighed. So now they had to rescue Gaertner and capture Watanabe, at least if they wanted to make whatever Firmia was planning feasible. She wasn't being upfront about it, but Brant could tell the girl was thinking about more than just really smart drones ... "Now if you could just put us through to the doctor, that'd be great," he tried to lighten his own rapidly declining mood.

Firmia crossed her arms and turned to Vera. "Does the Luna record your memories the same way the Regina did? Could they have done the same thing to you if you had gotten killed?"

"If I could, I would. I'm willing to share everything else I know, though... To anyone that isn't Firmia. Yes, I'm being childish. No, I don't care." Louise huffed and folded her arms.

Vera nodded. "Yes, it could, and does... But, not as long as I'm alive. They... I know it sounds really stupid, but making, copies, of this data, doesn't tend to work out. Things go haywire, data gets corrupted, but... That's how it is." Vera shrugged.

"That ... does sound really stupid," Firmia frowned, mostly to Vera, but the thought easily fit as a retort to Louise, "This digital information only takes after the person dies? Why? It's just data." The idea of there being some metaphysical aspect to this was a bit more than the Alkaev could take on board right now, but that was exactly what this reeked of.

Brant was surprised, both by Vera's information and by Louise caring enough to be petty in the first place. She was quite untouchable back at the beach. Only Chris' continued existence seemed to annoy her. Maybe there was something about this strange resurrection that bothered Louise, something she wasn't keen on sharing with her old enemies ... "Minus some of the crazy ..." Brant repeated the earlier quip, trying to piece together what was going on ... "Are you alright with this? Being an android, I mean. You're not just putting on a front for us, are you?"

"I don't know. Part of it is something the cats brought with them, the rest was worked out by Watanabe. It's... I'm a fighter, not a scientist, I don't know how any of it works." Vera leaned back again, she didn't have the slightest.

"Am I alright with this? No! Not at all. I would've preferred to stay dead, really." She shrugged, but that was how she felt... "Then again..." She sighed, folding her arms. "Helena said something about, learning from your lot on how to live a better life. Do I buy into it? No, not really. But a second chance is a second chance, yes? As soon as I'm free from this cage, I'll see what this life you all live is really about. Maybe I could've walked down a much different road... Helps that they removed my grudge against Alphonse and the ANF~ ... Oh, that was important to mention, wasn't it?"

Vera sighed.

That explained the near instant 'betrayal,' but not how Louise existed in the first place. "I'm guessing we won't learn much by prying into the Luna, will we?" Firmia asked Vera, not especially hopeful at this point. Her people would be doing that anyway, but this wasn't just about understanding that machine, anymore.

Brant made a mental note of Louise preferring to stay dead. This second chance thing somewhat made sense, though her being an android now made her situation more complicated than Helena probably realized. "That's kind of vague. I don't know when or how Jessica's going to let you out of here, but what then?"

About as quickly as he'd thought to ask, an amusing thought occurred. His conversation with Firmia before was far too applicable here. At the time, he honestly hadn't considered the possibility of the Alkaev actually being able to choose Louise as a friend over Jessica. Brant wouldn't actually be in favor of that, due to the possibility of his daughters and nephew having to share living space with a serial killer, not to mention how difficult things would start out for Chris, but everything up to that point was still amusing.

"Rather be friends with Louise than Jess?" Brant gently reminded Firmia while trying to keep a straight face.

Firmia's right eyelid twitched. "Shut up, I wasn't being serious."

"What then? Well..." She had to think about that, but it would be sticking to either of these crews... And then, Brant said the magic words. "Ohhhh? Ohohoho? Hmhmhmhm~" Louise lit up, whatever she was bothered by before had dissipated, smiling down at Firmia. "You want to be friends? By all means, Firmia~ I'd love to be your friend. I've always wonder just what makes you tick... And now that I don't want to kill you, now would be the perfect time!"

"Louise, you can't be serious..."

"And why not?"

Hannah, meanwhile, had remained rather quiet after Firmia's comment on souls. It shouldn't have bothered her, but... It did, a bit.

Firmia gave Brant that 'You see what you just did?' look, then, as his straight face gave way to laughter, she said, "Watanabe apparently didn't take all of the crazy out of you. I was making a comparison, nothing more." ... and quoth the Alkaev nevermore, she mused, scowling at Brant, again.

"Sorry," Brant said, shaking his head, "I just didn't think anything like this could actually happen, yet here we are."

"Neither did I," Firmia said with wide-eyed emphasis.

"What, being friends with you makes me crazy? Then sign me up. Let's be friends, Firmia~"

Vera was almost smiling, seeing Firmia so suddenly disarmed. Louise wouldn't let up, either.

"You see ... what you did?" Firmia pinched the bridge of her nose. It felt odd with people worrying about Captain Lanzer but not so much Louise. Then again, Hannah hadn't said anything about it. Firmia instinctively looked over, hoping for some hint on her feelings.

"Honestly, though," Brant's brow fell slightly, "the situation's pretty complicated. If you're really Louise then the ANF's probably going to throw you in jail when the war's over ... or worse. I mean I'm sure they'd appreciate any intel you have, but letting the person who caused all of that damage go, and after she gets a new android body ... that's ... I don't see that happening." He glanced at Vera, thinking much the same thing. "I don't like your odds, either ... so much for second chances ..."

Firmia wanted to ask what Brant was getting at, but she had a very quick mind and was able to quickly map out the situation ... and she didn't like it one bit. The ANF might recruit them if they could keep their public image intact. They could also just execute the two Apotheosis fighters. They might even see fit to experiment on Louise in a lab somewhere. She was a unique case, after all. More importantly, Firmia's commitment to thoroughly outpacing the ANF in technology, in both the short and long term, demanded she seize this opportunity while she still could. If Jessica developed any empathy for these two, like she did for all the other prisoners, she would either make sure they were pardoned ... or worse, the worst possible scenario Firmia could imagine, take them both with her and Abigail ...

Brant not only noticed Firmia's distant expression, but he felt a deep and seething hatred wrestling against what must have been her own willpower. "Firmia?"

"Fiiine ..." Firmia hissed.

"Fine ...?"

"Hah... Hahaha, ahahahahah~!" Louise couldn't help herself, Firmia had actually agreed! What a strange girl~ Louise tried to stifle her chuckling, but it was leaking through everywhere. "Hmhmhm, alright, heehee~ Ahh... On one condition." She waggled her finger, smiling. "I am Louise. Not a copy~ If you want to pull your rhetoric on me, then you can kiss this chance goodbye... Besides, I'm not sure your 'girlfriend' appreciates the thought. If I don't have a soul, she might as well be a glorified dildo."

"Hey!" Hannah scowled at Louise, but she didn't yell to correct her. It did definitely bother her... But not enough to speak out.

She had the gall to throw out some condition and then take a shot at Hannah to try to explain why? If not for how haunting her worst case scenario was, Firmia could have easily snapped. Instead, she riposted. "I have two conditions," she began, crossing her arms at the android, "First, the 'rhetoric' stops both ways. That's how friendship is supposed to work. Second, you need to mind your behavior around my siblings in particular."

Brant's ears perked up. Did she realize just how dubious he was at the prospect of bringing someone so dangerous onto the Avalon? Apparently so ... ... not that it would go two inches toward convincing Chris, but at least she cared.

"If you'll agree to those terms, then fine ... we can be friends." This felt like a pompous business agreement, but that's what happened when terms and conditions came into the mix. She had half a mind to toss in a third condition but felt it was too late and too insulting to boot.

"Fine~ But really, change your mind on this. Even I can tell Hannah isn't appreciating the thought." Louise scoffed, she wasn't some deranged animal. "I'm guessing these siblings are younger...?"

"I-I'm fine. Don't drag me into this." Hannah looked away from it all, she didn't want to play Louise's little game.

"So you say~ Mmm, anyway, that's that, then. I'd shake on it, but there's a bit of a wall in the way." Another chuckle, Louise turned to sit down, crossing her legs once she'd done so. "Anything else?"

Firmia glanced at Hannah again. She definitely hadn't been engaged like she normally was. Was it really the talk about androids and how digital information worked? For Firmia it wasn't really a big deal overall. She didn't know what a soul was, so whether or not Hannah had one, or even Firmia herself, was irrelevant to her. She thought it might concern Louise, since a soul seemed to be the final distinction between a person and a perfect clone of that person, but that was about it.

"Yeah, they're pretty young," Brant nodded, "and we're wary of bad influences. Just going to be upfront about that right here and now."

"If you'll behave, then that's good enough," Firmia sighed, feeling almost exhausted for some reason. "And ... that's probably all for now. I'd rather not go over more than necessary, in a place like this. Maybe after she lets you out." If Jessica was learning to integrate with the ship, then there were probably things she could find out about with just a bit of curiosity. Firmia had that possibility at the forefront of her mind throughout most of this exchange.

Brant's eyes narrowed as he considered Vera's situation. That friendship agreement didn't include the quadruple amputee, and yet they were keeping her mobile suit ...

"Hah~ I'm great with kids. Trust me~"

Vera didn't speak up to correct the former snake, maybe she actually was? What Vera did notice was Brant's mini glare, smiling and shaking her head. "I've done too much to afford such an offer. Even if I was being controlled, I still swung the sword, I still agreed to the enhancements. So... I'll let the ANF judge me as they wish. I've already offered to help Jessica with the Sacarians, but that's where my cooperation ends. I don't agree with either of this world's governments, and working for them, I'd much rather die."

"So serious... She's always like this, you know? Nothing's changed, even getting captured." Louise rolled her eyes, but did smile. Vera was certainly a character.

"Suicide is a useless posture," Firmia shook her head at the thought, "You're not a samurai, so stop trying to act like one."

"About that," Brant raised a finger, "why didn't you put up a fight when they brought you here? I mean, I get helping us against the Sacarians, but if you'd beaten us back there, what then? Keep fighting on their side? Strike out on your own?"

"I'll act according to my own rules, Firmia. Thank you." Vera almost rolled her eyes, the Alkaev sure was... Prickly. "Because they turned off my arms. Buck has them, now, and he constructed regular prosthetic replacements for me." She lifted up the sleeve on her shirt, the telltale line of where the prosthetic started and she ended showing up under the sleeve. "The Sacarians had direct control over my limbs. If I didn't complete an order they wanted, they'd do it for me. If I failed in battle, they had no reason to continue letting me operate... Cutting their losses, I suppose."

"They should have just grabbed the Luna and warped away," Brant thought, not sure why they needed cut any losses when they had that kind of technology. "I doubt we could have stopped them ..." Of course, he was used to working with Firmia. No one pilots or machines left to the mercy of the enemy, etc. A much larger, more cynical organization would naturally work differently. Throw the Sacarians in and ...

"If that's the hill you want to die on," Firmia shook her head again, "suit yourself. Maybe the ANF will go easy on you ..." Though, Firmia had other ideas brewing. She didn't think it was a good idea to share any of them at the moment, though.

"I'm not going to fuss over how you live or who you fight. It's the hill I want to die on, and hopefully one day I will." Vera shrugged, arms folded, eyes closed.

"They're scared," she mentioned, "of Kim. Telekinetics aren't supposed to be able to keep up with Sacarians. Telekinetics aren't supposed to be able to defeat Sacarians. The one she... I know Jessica pulled the trigger on her, but doing that much damage to one of her class? That much damage so quickly... With her so close to me when I was taken down, I'm willing to bet that Soor'Kan was too afraid to risk snagging the Luna. If he'd been killed today, there's no telling how things would shake up for their entire group. Yes, he's that important."

What a mess. Brant understood where Vera was coming from, but ... it still seemed like a waste to him. Knowing Firmia, she wouldn't loan the Luna to Jessica for Vera to pilot for the remainder of the war, which would also be something of a waste ...

Firmia was reminded of how awkward that battle had been. Once Abigail's people showed up, the Alkaev found herself at least partly favoring Soor'Kan. Had he succeeded, they would have had to fight him next, and while Firmia didn't like their chances in a fair fight, she hoped the Mark IIIs would damage him first. They did, but he left before things got serious. Needless to say, Firmia's assessment of the Sacarians was low and falling. The same bull rushing strategies as Apotheosis, and not the faintest idea of when it was time to retreat.

"Fair enough, we definitely would have attacked him if he went after the Luna. I doubt we could have taken him down before he fled, but we definitely would have tried. If that scares him, then so be it. What's so important about him in particular?"

"... You guys really don't know anything about them, huh? Well, I won't tell you anything about Apotheosis, but anything that screws with these aliens." Louise leaned forward as Vera went on, curious to hear what she knew, as well.

"He's one of their zodiac knights. Taurus, if I remember correctly. They have twelve, that serve directly under the king and queen... We've got six here, so I can only assume that the other six are currently crushing the EU sphere." No reason for them to not be here, otherwise. "Which means there are five other Sacarians with machines that are just as strong, or stronger, than Soor'Kan's. I personally believe him to be the weakest of them all, really. All of the Sacarian males that I've run into have this, lion's mane of hair around their head. He doesn't. His position must hold an incredible amount of pride for him, considering his odd situation."

"Pff ..." Soor'Kan didn't have the mane, did he? That sounded like a sore spot for the proud furball. Firmia didn't know if beating him over the head with that piece of intel until he was furious was Chris' job or Louise's, but it was going to someone. Nothing was quite as satisfying as mocking an opponent, driving them crazy, and then defeating them. Easier said than done, but pulling that off against him in particular would be wonderful~

"Wouldn't that make him ..." Brant reached for the right word, "... younger than the others? Not necessarily weaker?"

"I believe her," Firmia said, "He was the only survivor, but he also left. It would have cost us, but I think we could have taken him down eventually."

"Maybe. I haven't asked about ages, or anything, really. I didn't really want to associate with them. I just know what I do from our own intel on them. So... Take it as you will. And yes, it would have cost you... You haven't fought him, but I'll warn you, all of them, including him, are stronger than either me or Louise. They do not mess around. You either come prepared, or you're leaving the battlefield in a body bag." Vera opened her eyes and focused on Firmia. Would the Alkaev take her seriously? If she didn't, it was her funeral.

"We're going to take them all down eventually. The only thing I'm worried about is them realizing that we don't mess around either and focusing on us specifically. My crew, I mean." Firmia wasn't sure what was going to become of the Riese if Jessica left, but it would obviously still be in service. After such a good showing, the next logical step was to make at least a few more of them. Limited production was better than relying on a single prototype ... but the ANF had its own priorities. The Avalon was a different sort of ship, and couldn't wage a battle of this scale all on its own ... at least not yet. They still needed more time and more power before they could go after these interstellar furballs.

"Yeah," Brant sighed, "the problem with success is it makes you a bigger and bigger target. We're probably only going to be able to kill maybe two knights before the rest decide to come down on us all at once ... maybe even just beating Soor'Kan would be enough."

"We'll figure something out, but they're too big of a threat to just leave alone."

"Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer." Vera would comment no further, hoping that Firima knew what she was doing.

"I'm glad that Vera told you all that, because I know next to nothing about the aliens. I didn't want a damn thing to do with any of them... Well, save for the one the Riese now has as a pet, but, that was all~ If I'm fighting with you by that point, I'll do my best. If not, good luck! I'd love to see someone kill one of those silly felines."

"I'm not overconfident," Firmia scowled at Vera, "We're getting stronger a lot faster than our enemies are. That's why you two are in here and not gloating over the wreckage of the Riese. That's why we didn't lose a single pilot--that's actually on our side--when the Sacarians attacked us today. That's why I'm not going to take it easy or waste any time."

Brant sighed again; he caught that bit about pilots dying, and it reminded him that Firmia's ideas of friends and enemies weren't just little thoughts in her head with no consequence. They were real and always in effect. As far as she was concerned, Abigail's people were just more enemies with diplomatic immunity ...

"And yes," Firmia continued, "If I have my way, you'll be piloting during our next mission, too."

"Heh. Sometimes I wonder who the 'good guys' really are." Vera wasn't impressed by Firmia's opinions on their track record, especially having to clarify 'on their side'. As far as things had looked, those Velite models were fighting against Soor'Kan. What made Firmia consider them enemies was beyond Vera, and not something she wanted to poke at.

"Wonderful~ I'm sure Jessica will be quite happy to hear all of this. I'm sure she already has, really... Integration with the Riese, and all~ I wonder which camera she's watching us on..."

"No offense, Vera ..." Firmia began, becoming irritated again, "but hearing that from you of all people is ridiculous. Besides, there aren't any 'good guys' in this war. The ANF is corrupt. The EU is corrupt. Apotheosis is stupid. The Sacarians are probably worse. The only thing that ..." Reining herself in light of Louise's reminder, Firmia rephrased part of what she had to say. "My top priority is always going to be looking after my people and my allies. Anyone who tries to take advantage of that is going to regret it."

Not that Brant thought they were all good guys, either, but ... they at least weren't the villains in this slice of human history. He sure hoped not. Firmia was more or less created by Dima, and so was Brant himself to a much lesser extent ... but still, this was about survival, not leaving a bloody mark on the society and the world.

As far as Vera was concerned, Firmia was just keeping the status quo, one she felt needed changing. Their dream was over at this point, but that didn't change how the ANF dealt with things. "You're right. What makes you better? Nothing about what Apotheosis was supposed to be was stupid. You can say what you want about what it is now, just some boat for the aliens to ride their machines in on, but what it was supposed to be... Whatever. No point in wishing for the impossible. The ANF will win the war, the EU will be destroyed, and the ANF will take over as the world's reigning government. Things will be even worse than before. Ridiculous..."

Louise was partial to agree here, but the thought of it just made her feel sour, biting at her lip and fiddling with her hair some, a rather rare expression for the eccentric woman.

Worse? Granted, the only person she knew that hated one world governments more than Firmia did was Sasha. Firmia didn't know what to say. There were just things she couldn't get into while she was aboard the Riese. She could give Vera some hints, but that was all. "If you're going to let the ANF decide what to do with you then you shouldn't complain about what happens. It's your own damn fault for letting the Sacarians turn you into a puppet and throwing yourself on the ANF's sword once you lost. I'm not going to let this world get any worse because the people I care about have to live here."

Brant easily recalled Firmia's plan to 'secretly police' the ANF in the post-war era. It was incredibly dangerous for them personally, but that was why Firmia wanted to stay ahead of the ANF technologically. Compared to Apotheosis' methods, however, it was vastly preferable. It was only a matter of making it work, somehow.

"Your words are worthless, right now. As far as I'm concerned, working with the Riese, you're just one of the ANF's dogs. If I'm still alive when this is over, and you want me to care? Show me that you're worth what you're talking about. Anyone can bark, Firmia." Her selfish choices with the aliens were her own to suffer, and with how many people, how many civilians she'd killed, she had no right to just run away from that without facing the consequences.

"Should that day come, and should you prove to be more bite than bark, then you know what, Firmia? Let's be friends." Another smirk, a bit of a scoff, hopefully the Alkaev was worth more than her Grandfather, and better than the ANF. She sure liked to believe she was, at least.

Friends. Firmia really didn't like that word sometimes. She also didn't like the idea of having to prove herself to Vera of all people. She'd grant the woman her own string of successful kidnappings, but that was all. The Alkaev had an equally flawless string of her own victories, and not a one of them involved retreating. That wasn't the real issue. The real issue with wasting time 'proving' she was better than Vera thought she was, was as always, Jessica. Any offers of friendship were essentially void if Jessica recruited the woman first ... and Firmia didn't know how to inform Vera of that ... The Alkaev was just going to have to be prepared to take that loss ...

"I'm not doing this to show you anything. I'm doing it for my own people. If you happen to like what you see and decide you want to join me, I'll consider that ... if the ANF doesn't have other ideas for you by then. I can't help someone who wants to die."

"If you're not doing any of this to show me you're worth your words, then don't be so concerned with what I have to say. You're very defensive to someone that shouldn't matter to you." Firmia was still a child, it seemed.

"Are you both done? This is incredibly boring. You're both beautiful, girls, move on." Louise rolled her eyes, hopped up, and kicked Vera in her leg, both of them scowling at each other for a moment.

"Fine, fine. I'm just bored. Forgive me."

Firmia gritted her teeth at Vera. Normally she wouldn't have cared at all. The fake samurai was being evaluated, whether she realized it or not. It put her in that incredibly frustrating place between 'ally' and 'everyone else.' "As long as you're relevant ..." Firmia said, trying not to give too much away. Louise's following comment defused things pretty easily ...

"Should I head back then?" Brant asked, figuring if anyone was going to deliver the news about Louise to Chris, it should be him. He didn't need to head up to the bridge, right?

"I guess we are just about done here ..." Firmia sighed, "... sure."

"Come back when you're ready to pick me up, Firmia~ Besties~" Louise went back to her typical self as soon as the tension got a bit weak, trying to dissolve it entirely.

Vera said nothing else. Only time would tell what would come of things.

Besties ... oh brother. Brant could only brace for whatever was coming down the pike. Taking on some EU defectors, and even the news of his own brother and Stan, suddenly felt like old news. "Alright, see you back in the infirmary ... or in the hangar, I guess." Brant was the first to leave the brig.

Firmia was silent for a moment, pondering something. "... maybe this will work. Alright, bye for now, Louise. Once the mission debriefing is over, I'll talk to Jessica about getting you out of here and over to my ship." She didn't know if Jessica would think it was a good idea or try to bargain for Louise, but the Alkaev had already begun mentally preparing herself for the latter.

"Certainly, bestie~" Louise wasted no time in chuckling at her new friend, humming as she thought about the exact answers to Firmia's questions. "As far as warships are concerned, they have about twenty of the Chaldene model on standy at all times... Mmm, nineteen now, isn't it? One of your alien friends blew one up during our attack on Central~ They aren't quick to produce, so you won't have to worry about it being replaced any time soon. Suits, a good one thousand, mixed between grunt mechs and the more elite versions you might have faced so far... The Sacarians only have about one hundred, though. Likely less so due to your victory today, so good work everyone~!" Louise was far too happy to be betraying Apotheosis' information to the crew, all smiles and giggles.

"Aside from several warships on standby at our base-- coordinates of which I have already provided Jessica, so you don't have to go searching --you'll have to deal with the Chelone itself. It's our main warship, just smaller than the Riese, and perhaps more powerful... So, to recap for Apotheosis: Several of our smaller warships, a few legions of Cressida, Hyperion, Deimos and Saturn, maybe a few Rheas if any aces are still alive... But that's not all, of course. This is the main base, after all... That means the cats are also going to be active~" She chuckled again, smiling right at Firmia.

"Between their Praxis Beta and Gamma models, there are the Alpha variants... Six of them. You fought against one today! One, Soor'Kan? Vera will be sharing the rest on them. Oh! And their battleship, as well, the Haalbathyn. It's even bigger than the Riese~ Wrap your heads around that one." Louise seemed to be done, settling down a bit, aside from a small bit of continued chuckling. Far too giddy.

That all sounded horrifying, Jess was sighing already. The ANF was sending three fully loaded Kraken vessels, and whatever else it could afford, which gave them around one hundred and twenty men... They were starting to roll the Velite Mk.IIIs and the Legionary Mk.IVs into mass production, so they would be far from pushovers, but this was... This was certainly going to be one of those, 'cut the head off of the snake to stop the body' battles, wasn't it? Would things even end if they could spearhead through and stop the Sacarians' main force? Jess could only hope so... This felt pretty daunting. If they were going to engage any more Apotheosis forces on their way to this engagement, they had to take out as many as they could. No survivors to return and bolster things.

Tarquin seemed to have a small question, Louise smiling his way next. "Yes! He is. In fact, he's why Vera had such an easy time getting into Corona Ten! He disabled the security long enough to allow her machine to approach without setting off immediate alarms... And once she was inside, well, it was curtains for the security team, and one quick pickup for the doctor. Really, you'd be impressed by what he's achieving, the army of clones that'll be piloting the force I've outlined, ugh, what a testament to science and achievement~" Feigning being impressed, Louise stuck her tongue out at Tarquin. "My apologies, number four. I'm sure it must feel awful."

"Real nice friends you've got on board here, Jess," Calina scoffed. Louise sure was a piece of work, why was she calling the Alkaev girl her friend, anyway? Whatever. "Thanks, kid... And, Brant, right? Helping me feel like this wasn't a mistake... Anyway..." What was that... Thing, staring at her for, anyway? Was it an alien? Must've been, that tail was, something else... "I did, yeah. Abby helped after she pulled her stupid move to get inside. These guys ain't nothin'! If some backwater self learned pilot like myself can trade blows, what do you military pure breds have to worry about, eh? I bet your ace in the blue suit could take him down, no problem." Seemed miss ace knew about their loss, Calina nodding towards her apology... It didn't feel good to think about, but the acknowledgement was at least appreciated. Is this how this crew always operates? Feels like a friendly gathering, not a war meeting... Kinda nice...

"Yes, thank you Kim. Esther is under Seung-Min's supervision until further notice. I hope everyone is fine with that. As for Vera--"

"Miss Purple Butterfly is here to rat out these aliens to you. I refuse to betray my allies, but the Sacarians are not a part of that." Vera interrupted Jessica and closed her eyes, sighing. "As Louise mentioned, there are six Sacarians on Soor'Kan's level, stationed here in the ANF sphere. The other five's names are, Jiin'Sal, Yaan'Tul, Hel'Kaar, Iln'Teer, and San'Xuur. They form half of the Sacarian's zodiac knights... I know this sounds like a bunch of dumb game information, but they are not to be underestimated in any way. All of them are stronger than I am, and those five as stronger than Soor'Kan. Each sports a unique Praxis Alpha mobile suit, with different functionality and specialties. Not to mention..." She sighed louder, opening her eyes, looking around the room.

"Their King, Trel'Vaar. I have been in his presence but once, and it is not a feeling I wish to remember or experience again. The air got thick, my legs felt weak, and may I reminder you this was while I was entirely outfitted. It felt like I was standing in the presence of a fierce beast that could snap my head off at any moment. I felt real fear... I can only imagine that this is a part of their entire ESP deal. You've probably felt some of it from Soor'Kan. Their King is on an entirely different level, and will not be afraid to make use of his powers while you fight him... Take heed, is all I can say."

So the cherry on their war sundae was an alien that could disable them from outside of their machines, while trying to fight him. What a mess. "Well... Thank you, Vera. I've got two things to address concerning Vera and Louise, all that said." Jess wasn't about to stop just because the odds seemed doomed, that would be tantamount to suicide. Firmia, since you've already made friends with Louise, take her with you onto the Avalon, and do with her what you wish. As far as I'm concerned, Louise Park was killed during the assault on Central. This android has nothing to do with her, and the ANF doesn't need to know about her."

Louise raised an eyebrow at Jessica, choosing not to say anything. That was how she was going to spin it, was it? She had already died, so it wasn't a horrible excuse... "As for Vera," Jessica continued, "she's offered to help us fight against the Sacarians. I'll be outfitting whatever machine we can provide her with a remote stopping mechanism. The moment she attempts to betray us, or turn back to Apotheosis, I'll turn her machine off and leave her defenseless, the rest of you can do as you please."

"I've no complaints," Vera spoke up, at first. Jessica had no reason to trust her, even if she'd tried her best to fight them honorably. She was still an enemy lieutenant, after all.

"Anyone else? More questions, or any complaints about this situation?"

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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So Soor'Kan was one of six among his class, and possibly the weakest of them? And they had a king on top with even more ludicrous psychic powers? Wonderful, just... wonderful. It didn't make much of a difference in the end, it was still win or die at this point, regardless of what the resistance happened to be. If what Louise had mentioned was correct... she might be the only stopgap they had against that level of psychic dominance... all she had to do was break through that mental barrier.

"I can only hope your assessment is correct, Calina. I fully intend on taking that over-sized house cat down." Kim noted... the Praxis Alpha had terrifying output to be certain, but the MK.III models had proven capable of firing back on them, and hers was the premier version. 

"Also... Christina is going to be alright. A few bullet wounds, but they'll heal. Megumi got her through the worst of it.. I know not everyone got the chance to check up on her, so I figured it best to mention." Seung-Min segued, with the ship being back to working order within a day, aside from emotional scars, Avery's betrayal had already been fixed, for the most part. No lasting damage to the crew, aside from...

"Do we... know the situation with Astin? I had assumed that, since this was the mole's big play, that Astin was one of them, and went along with Avery willingly. I suppose there is a chance that wasn't the case, but they most certainly aren't here, anymore." Kim added after a moment, biting her lip. Avery had made a show of leaving, so the focus had been almost entirely on the head mechanic, but Astin was also gone. It was a difficult subject, but had to be addressed.

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It took a lot of willpower for Firmia to let the 'bestie' comment slide in public, but the Alkaev had plenty of it left in stock. Luckily, Louise didn't waste any more time than that getting into Apotheosis' current logistics ... and goodness were their prospects grim all over again. Usually, they would only have to face down the enemy piecemeal. Their winning streak was actually feasible when Apotheosis kept making the same kinds of tactical errors. The next mission was a whole other beast, unfortunately. Between a much larger number of grunts to contend with, five other Soor'Kan level elites ... and one seriously dangerous Sacarian King, they could be in for a ridiculously hard fight. What good would cutting the head off Apotheosis do if the Sacarians could reanimate and control the body, so to speak? Their battle plan could use some revision in light of the new intel ... perhaps some way to inflict massive damage or similar on the garrison just ahead of the final attack.

Firmia was in for a shock when Jessica brought up her intentions for Vera and Louise. The former was going to be given whatever the Riese could spare in terms of mobile suits. Louise was offered up without complaint, supposedly in light of the exchange in the brig. Firmia didn't know what to say to that ... "Thank you." She was indeed thankful that there weren't going to be any annoying negotiations or trades in exchange for Louise. It very well could have gone that way, and being able to skip that part was a relief. In hindsight, instead of just ending that on a thank you, Firmia realized she could have used that as a lead-in to inform the meeting room about the Athena and her crew. She was too caught off guard to notice until after the topic had changed. Alas.

That new topic was definitely a downturn from Vera and Louise joining them. Seung-Min noted Astin's absence. Firmia figured they were the third mole, but the lieutenant had her doubts for whatever reason. Then and there, Firmia thought it extremely important to point out the implications of those doubts. "If Astin was kidnapped," Firmia stood up from her seat, "then there's still one mole left." She had glanced around the room but ultimately set her sights squarely on Jessica. It was her responsibility to deal with it before they had another sabotage and shooting incident if that was the case, and Firmia managed to convey as much with just a simple stare. "I personally think Astin is with Apotheosis, but I can't prove that, so I won't press it ..." she paused, glancing at Vera and Louise ... "Actually ..."

It was kind of interesting to think that back at the beach, Louise had offered to give them the name of one of the moles in exchange for AMS data. Firmia had naturally refused, but that same offer now was seemingly harmless. What a laugh ... Firmia made sure not to actually laugh and barely even gave away her own amusement.

"Oh right," Brant leaned forward, realizing that Louise in particular might be able to confirm this for them one way or another, "The beach." He remembered that tense encounter, too. "Do either of you know? You seemed pretty well informed back then ..." Brant quickly remembered that Vera wouldn't be any help here at all, having just said she wouldn't rat out her allies. That included Avery and potentially Astin.

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Well the situation seemed tense, as expected. Aliza kept her eyes on Alriana as she stepped forward. She was always very honest, in an aggressive sort of way. She was worried, but the situation was most certainly under control now, so she wasn't compelled to jump out of her seat to play ref this time despite Louise's teasing manner. The information Louise gave about Apotheosis was quite surprising. They had quite a numbers advantage, not to mention a size advantage on the Riese of all things. It was enough to make Aliza gulp a bit, and it didn't help that she was giggling throughout her explanation. It couldn't get worse than that though right?

Dumb question, it sure did. The topic of the Zodiac Knights came up, and that their power level happened to be on par with Soor'Kan. From the few moments Aliza met with Soor'Kan she knew he was bad news. Having five other Sacarians on a similar power level was not a good weight on her mind. Not to mention the king even made Vera quake in her boots. Not a good situation. ".....oh boy..." She leaned back in her seat with a whisper, not liking their odds very much.

On the plus side at least they weren't sinking anymore.

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Thorvald was a little surprised in himself, when he found himself feeling Vera was almost more sympathetic than Calina. Must've been the stoic, honor-bound way she faced the facts, rather than the brash attempts at justification. And for Louise? He couldn't help but turn to see what Roxanna's reaction might be, despite the fact that as XO she'd probably been informed and reacted in advance of the public meeting. After all, it had been her family the... previous incarnation had gone rampaging for. While the man didn't have any personal skin in the game, something about her just felt... off, and hard to trust. Again, as crazy as it sounded, Vera was coming off as the more grounded, less likely to stab you in the back option.

Concerns, questions? There were a few, though maybe not all of them best suited to the current time and place. A private visit to the cyborg might be in order later, curious to find out if there was some nougat of good beneath the hard candy shell of murder that surrounded her. For now though, his focus turned towards Abby's crew. "D'you guys have mechanics too? Skilled ones? There's an unfortunate hole in our roster there right now, and no offense intended, but the machines you were using didn't look exactly prepared for the scale of battle you charged into. ...Condolences on your loss," Thorvald inclined his head respectfully.

The gesture wasn't enough to really offset his phrasing however, Abigail had pushed herself up from seated, both hands on the table, almost looking like she was going to jump over it to get to the other side, a fierce glare on her face. But a few seconds and an audible in-drawn breath later, she scrunched her hands, drawing her fingers back from the extended position the widespread palm she'd slapped them with had landed them, a slight skittering sound of her nails sliding across the surface accompanying the rustling fabric from her clothes as she slumped back to seated.

"Whatever you're insinuating, just stop. Or come out and say it plain, but then I'll have to remind you that Hilling wasn't the only person who's..." Abby choked up and had to redirect her phrasing. "It's just the... hhh, shit happens against enemies of this caliber sometimes. Look at what happened to Nikolai. You gonna say the Riese and the ANF are that much better at maintaining and preparing than my people? I'm gonna tell you to shut the fuck up, or come see me later and put the fuck up."

 

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Tarquin had gotten an answer that he hadn't wanted from Louise, but it had been the one he had expected. The technical details and the logistics of the Sacarian forces passed over his head somewhat as he came to terms with his creator's treachery, although he could appreciate the sheer amount of resources their foe possessed. Knowing that the professor had willingly sabotaged his birthplace and left him to die to an ambush did offer some solace - it meant that he didn't even need to consider the possibility of a rescue mission any more. It was somewhat sickening to know the technology used to create him was now being used by their foes, he was having to make an active effort not to consider them as familial.

"My name is Tarquin not number four, the only family I require is aboard the Heion Riese." he replied, determined to show he was his own individual. "Science may have created me, but I create my own life."

Louise was clearly out for getting a reaction from him, he'd only known her as cruel and sadistic. Granting her that gratification would only allow her to crawl deeper under his skin. He said nothing more to her, shooting her a cold unforgiving glare. Jess had some questionable recruitment plans for their new guests, although from a strictly strategic point of view and the presumed power of their foes it would be a risk that could be worth taking. There was the chance they could run rogue but with the current state of things it was better than having them as foes. 

"I take no issue with said arrangements, Captain." Tarquin replied, putting his distaste for Louise to the side for the moment. "However, I will not hesitate to act if any of our new allies prove to be hostile."

It was something he could accept, if it lead him closer to a new world, both for him and Nikolai. 

-

"Shit! You've got to be fucking with me, this is crazy!" Elaine shouted, pointing an accusing finger at Vera and Louise. People were accusing Astin of being a traitor and accepting these two? "Astin ain't no traitor, you're accusing them and letting people who have actually tried to kill us all walk around an' forgive all their shit! What if they decide that Apotheosis are a more temptin' option midbattle? Switching their units off still screws up our plans. "

 How could everyone be OK with it? Elaine had hoped to remain quiet to keep a low profile but she couldn't cope. Vera had been in the position to murder them all several times, what would stop her from going psycho on them all? She'd apparently murdered the plant child's entire base, there was nothing stopping her doing it again. 

The thought of Louise made her physically unwell, nausea and palpitations were ravaging her body. She could feel a cold sweat on the back of her neck. Louise free meant she could out her secret at any moment, there would be no way that Elaine could rest easy at all. Either Louise would blackmail her forever or she was earning a one way ticket back into jail.

"I get these space cats are tough, but I ain't comfortable knowin' I could get stabbed from the back as well as the front." Elaine protested, it was all getting too much. "This ain't some crappy game where your enemies join you to kill the bad guy and all live happily ever after!"

-

One thing Tarquin did take issue with was Abigail's use of Nikolai of an example. The captain's negligence may have contributed to his crippling injuries but it irritated him to see his friend used as ammunition to make a point. He turned to face Abigail, standing up as he made his response. It was hard to be remotely intimidating at five feet tall, but the disapproval on his face was hopefully enough to show his feelings. 

"Follow your own advice and stop speaking. You don't talk about Nikolai as if he were fodder that wasn't given a second thought." Tarquin fumed, more upset about the matter than he initially had expected. "I saw him after he was shot down, you don't get to talk about him like that."

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Same Sides

"Enough!" Jessica's hand collided with the desk hard enough to even cause Vera a moment's flinch. It was difficult to keep reminding herself that the captain was an android, and thus, could do something like that. "This war is almost over. We're all on the same side until its done. Abigail, I understand your frustration, but this is not the place to air it. The same goes for you, Tarquin. Your frustrations are valid, but if you want to sort out bad blood over comments, you do it when the meeting is done. Abby, if you can answer Thorvald's question, it would be incredibly helpful. As for you, Elaine..." Jessica huffed. She had a feeling Louise was going to take the floor, and she did, right on cue.

"Of course you are, Tarquin. Hmhmhm. As for Astin, yes, they were the mole, alongside Marianne-- Oh, but you'd know her as Avery, wouldn't you?" A small chuckle followed, of course. "Astin has been sending me, personally, information on your crew and individuals on it, as well as machine information that wasn't locked down. They were also the one who shot Christina, under my orders~ You an ask her if you don't want to believe me... I am glad that she survived, by the way, which is a very odd feeling, given I gave the order in the first place. This change to my memories has really been throwing me for a loop, it's quite amusing~"

That was that, then... Astin was their other bad guy, if Louise was to be trusted, and given the information she was feeding them, there was no reason not to. "So, then, we take them out too. That's that--"

"You may want to watch out for one more person, Captain... You see, I had some lovely private conversations with Elaine. Ones I feel she never reported to anyone here~ I've missed you so much, Elaine... Getting to see you again, without having us trying to kill each other, it's so wonderful~"

"... I figured as much, from your little hug in the hangar. I'm going to deal with Elaine as best as I see fit. Elaine, it's a bit unsightly for you to be going on about trust when you couldn't so much as tell anyone in charge that you'd been contacted by one of Apotheosis' Lieutenants." Jess sighed, how much more did she not know? If she could do this whole captain gig over with how she was now, things would be so different... "As Tarquin has said, if either Louise or Vera attempt to take any actions you would feel betray this ship and its pilots, you're free to take them out. I have a feeling neither will, give their situations, but it's not a risk I'm going to sit on at this point. I hope you both understand that."

"Crystal, Captain Gefalscht~"

"Of course," Vera stated with a small sigh. "As well... With, Astin... They're... My, sibling."

"Oh!?" Louise was the first shocked. "I figured the purple hair was a coincidence! When did this happen!?"

"They're... A clone. Of me. They just... Don't know that. If possible, I'd like to pull them away from Apotheosis, because they're fighting with memories imposed on them, but... I don't think they're going to go down that easily."

"This is... Quite the bit of news." Jess wasn't really sure if it changed anything, though. If they could safely capture Astin, they would, but if they couldn't, shooting them down was going to be priority number one. Along with 'Avery', or Marianne, as she apparently actually went by. "Then... I don't know if there's anything else to discuss, but if people think there is, go ahead. For now, we have an idea of what we're up against, what we have available to us, and what we're going to be doing about it. The ship will be working within a day, and we'll rendezvous with the ANF forces being sent alongside us. Hopefully we can run into Firmia's new EU friends. My apologies for eavesdropping your conversation with Roxanna, but, this ship is 'me', after all." Firmia could spill the details if she wished, Jess would alert everyone otherwise. "I don't expect anything in exchange for this Louise droid, Firmia, so if you need to discuss anything else with me, let me know. I'll wait until everyone else files out, you seem to prefer your privacy."

Edited by SnakeMomMelissa

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Before either Louise or Vera could answer Brant's--and Firmia's question, things got a little tense over Hilling's death and Nikolai's injury. Firmia reaffirmed her disgust for Abigail in light of her outburst at Thorvald. Really, getting bent out of shape over the facts was nonsensical. Abigail's people barged into this battle completely unprepared and paid a fair price for doing so. If she wanted to fight about it, that was fine, but this wasn't the time or place for her rebel thuggery. Comparing her to Brant always, always, always made the Alkaev's blood boil ... Granted, the woman came very close putting the spotlight on one of the ANF's greatest weaknesses in the middle of her backlash. They actually were pretty bad at preparation. In general, they were probably a bit worse than Abigail's crew and obviously had less at stake. It was a big organization. Bigger organizations had bigger organizational problems. Those were also facts, though no one was disputing them.

Tarquin came to Nikolai's defense in an equally pointless--though far tamer--outburst. His bond with Nikolai was almost alarming to Firmia. From what she knew of the double amputee, he was captured right along with Christina, so he hadn't been here very long. Of course, the war hadn't been going on for very long, either ... and the war itself was probably the catalyst. Firmia resisted the temptation to blame some of her closer connections on the life or death struggle, even though it was an easy and somewhat believable excuse. By the time Elaine began to chime in with her concerns, Jessica had reached the end of her fuse and bashed the meeting room back into order ... that poor table ...

Jessica and Louise got into a brief back and forth about these so-called unreported talks the latter had with Elaine, and Brant felt sick to his stomach over it. Elaine had told him, of course. They were friends. He was trying to help her, even while his own world began spiraling out of control. Whether to bring that up during the meeting or not was difficult to judge, however. Something in Jessica's wording told Brant that he should probably wait until the meeting was over and then address it. She specifically mentioned Elaine not reporting to anyone in charge, and there was no reason to say it that way unless she believed Elaine had at least told someone, namely Brant. Better to just say she didn't report it in that case; that was how Louise had said it, and that was the truth as far as the majority of people in the room knew. Jessica probably knew about Brant's attempts to help her, then ... maybe. Either way, he opted to wait until the topic wasn't jumping around like crazy to bring it up, instead, trying to reassure Elaine from a short distance. It wasn't easy with Louise in the room.

Then some very big and somewhat annoying news came, and from Vera of all people. Astin was a blood relative of hers, a clone. Naturally, Vera wanted to save them if possible. Brant was altogether neutral considering what happened to Christina, and Firmia was indifferent on principle, but carefully mulling the situation over in her head. If Vera had opted in with Louise earlier, saving Astin alive would have been one of the Avalon's top priorities. At present, it was just a side mission the Alkaev had very little stake in: the 'client' was a dead woman walking, and the reward was uncertain. Firmia wasn't going to risk her people's lives for someone who would just as quickly lay down their life on the ANF's whim to pay for her crimes, instead of serving the right cause next time around. Vera was just a straight up gamble in every sense of the word.

Jessica then revealed that she indeed had been eavesdropping on more than just the discussion in the brig. Annoying but expected. That wasn't the lead in Firmia wanted, but at least she had one now. "Finally ..." she muttered, standing up again, "We acquired another ship, the Athena. They're a crew defecting from the EU." That should tell people just how poorly the war was going on that side of the world ... "The captain's name is Troy Lanzer and he'll be reinforcing us in the next mission. After that, I'll be bringing the ship and as much as the crew that's willing into my own company, Artorias. They have two units in particular, a mobile armor and a special anti-ship mobile suit, that we should work into our battle strategy. That's the gist of it. If you want more details, you can ask me before I head back to the Avalon."

So that was the new name she was going with. Brant wondered why she hadn't given any of the crew's names. One of them was his older brother, and another was her own father. Then again, after what Rex pulled, there probably wasn't a good reason to bring him up publically. Same with Stan, though just in general. None of this was news to Brant, so he just spent a moment trying to imagine what the ship itself and the mobile suits might look like. An anti-ship MS had to be a little different looking from a more conventional machine, didn't it? Little did he know it was mostly just green ...

"While we're on the subject of resources," Firmia continued, "My field test of the drones today went off without a hitch. Once the defender types are built I'll be sending them over to the Riese. That should put an end to any shenanigans in the hangar, as well as protect the ship's bridge from direct attacks ... and one more thing. My people are going to be sending in our androids to secure all of the scientists Vera kidnapped. We'll just be waiting for an opening. If you can spare some of yours for the mission too, I would appreciate it. The details ... I would definitely prefer to go over in private, though."

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A lot of news was coming in at once, between Louise confirming that Astin had in fact been the final mole, Elaine being called out for correspondence with the Apotheosis Lieutenant, the flaring tensions between Abigail and a few select crew members, Astin being a clone of Vera of all things, and even Firmia coming along with a new supposed ally in an EU defector... but one thing stuck out in particular to Seung-Min. Had it been a slip-up on Louise's part? Or had something changed along the way that the android hadn't been aware of... perhaps Avery had pulled the trigger because Astin had hesitated, taken too long? Perhaps the robo-Louise's answer might give some sort of clue...

"But Avery... Marianne, was the one who shot Christina. Not Astin."

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She was the one treating people as fodder? What the fuck? "Nikolai and Hilling were both my important--" Abigail began before getting cut off by Jess, flinching and blushing as the sound pierced the room. She squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to listen. Fine, just answer questions, keep emotions locked down. No problem, easy. Gritting her teeth a little, when the chance came, she replied by raising a hand and jerking its thumb back toward her chest, then clapping it on Calina's shoulder afterward. "You wondering about our mechanics? You're looking at them. Me and Cally're responsible for most of the work. Some of the others help out when they can, everybody's got at least a bit of skill for basic maint, but the upgrading and refitting? That's on us."

 


 

After Lieutenant Kim asked her question about 'who shot who, really', the line of thinking involved sparked a curiosity in Jess that had mostly been dormant. The one-eyed sergeant had been listening quietly through the meeting, even after Tarquin began to trade angry words with one of the hotheads. But now...

"Would, would it have been this Soor-kan, near Central about a week ago that shot down a roving ANF patrol, or one of the other Zodiac Knights?" She asked softly, quietly, almost drowned out and lost within the room, directing it at both of Louise and Vera. Either could answer, if they knew. Given that the Riese was in quite a different location here geographically, then where they had been earlier, the machine from then might be entirely different from the one just now, especially if the aliens were divvying up their responsibilities in some manner other than location and territory. And, maybe it really wouldn't matter, but...

Edited by Balcerzak

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It sucks that she didn't have her notebook to hide behind. Between the outbursts from Abby and Elaine as per usual and Jessica putting her foot-err hand down, it became really rough to watch. Then more news about Astin came forward, and it made Aliza uncomfortable again. They had tags on everyone they met, she wondered how far that information really went. It was unsettling, very unsettling. Just when she thought things couldn't get crazier Vera came forward with another bomb shell: They were siblings, or rather, Astin was a clone of Vera. "....Aaahmm..." It was at that point Aliza had to get up. "B...bathroom..." She mumbled and walked out with her hand to her head and a breath. She just stood in the hall for a good minute, trying to file everything.

Drama show writers have literally nothing on this.

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Any confrontation that Tarquin could have had with Abigail had promptly been cut short by Jess, most likely to keep the meeting civil. Despite understanding the logic, he couldn't help but remain displeased with Abigail's comments. "Understood, Captain. I shall address these issues at a more appropriate time." Tarquin replied, sittind himself down on his chair in time for Louise to out both Astin and Elaine. 

It had been a possibility, but Astin had hidden their treachery incredibly well, nobody would have expected them at all. With so many clones present, another one was not particularly shocking albeit Astin's low profile meant Tarquin had not even considered it. However, Elaine had managed to disappoint him even further, it seemed like an impossible task to give her the benefit of the doubt. No matter how many chances she was given, Elaine managed to prove time and time again that she was incapable of being trusted. He had initially considered he had been too judgemental in the beginning, but his judgement had proved to have good basis with the current revelation. 

"Doyle being revealed as an enemy operative is unfortunate... although they are unlikely to have obtained any further information than their other sources could have obtained." Tarquin added, casting his gaze over to Elaine. He had gotten along with Astin for the most part, they had unfortunately become another person on the list of people who had disappeared from his life. "Capture would likely prove a difficult task, with the risks outweighing any potential gains.

-

"Shit... fuck, Astin can't be, it just ain't... Astin was my friend!" Elaine began, her face blanching as Louise outed her in a brutally swift call out. Everyone knew what she'd done, there had been no chance to silence or reason with anyone, there was no way that she'd be able to explain herself, not like this. Jess had always had it out for her, and now Elaine had delivered her a reason to toss her in the brig. If she'd been less selfish or cowardly she could have avoided this entirely. It was her own poor decision making that had landed her in the situation, there was no skirting around that. 

"No, it's... fuck... it ain't like that!" she protested, looking around the room. Who would even help her? Brant? No, he would keep quiet otherwise he'd be an accomplice. Thorvald? Even the team dad couldn't support a mole. Kim? She'd probably just wrestle her to the ground again. Nobody was going to step up and back her up, they were all against her... she didn't have a decent friend on the entire ship. Even Aliza had run away rather than supporting her.

And then there was the plant. He had been out to get her from day one. The sly remarks, his sickening smug face, the fact that he pranced around thinking he was better than her... she bet he was judging her that exact moment. She'd always tried her hardest, it was always a constant struggle to do the right thing, to be the hero... why did nobody see that? Tarquin had already cast his judgement when he first met her, he was never going to give her a chance. None of them were, it had all started from him.

Tarquin's stare had been too much for her, it was the last straw. Her body acting on its own, Elaine clenched her fist, leaping up and swinging at the boy's face in a single fluid motion. Her fist collided directly to Tarquin's face, taking him by surprise and knocking him and his chair backwards. It was only when she heard his body hit the floor that she realised what she'd done. She could see Tarquin looking up at her from the ground, his nose bloodied and his eyes terrified. She lowered her fist slowly, looking around at the rest of the room - there was no coming back from this one. 

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Adjourned

"I'll make sure to get the exact details after this then, Firmia... It all sounds good, though." Another ship, even if they were from the EU, was still another ship. Their models were heftier and slower, but packed more for the punch than an ANF Kraken class. With experimental mobile suits to top things off, their chances were starting to rise just above zero...

Calina had been biting her lip hard since this little altercation started, trying to stay calm. She nodded along with Abigail's assessment, sighing her frustrations out some. "Yeah. We are. Almost everyone knows how to keep maintenance of the suits up on our ship, but Abby and me handle most of the big changes. Haven't had my hands on any real tech until now... We'll keep up." If the Riese needed help as well, it wouldn't be too hard to spare.

"Oh. Well that wasn't a part of the plan." Louise was a bit taken aback by that, she was sure she'd ordered Astin to do it, prove their loyalty and get rid of a nuisance. She ended up shrugging, Christina had survived either way, so it didn't really matter who did it, they'd failed. "As for where Soor'Kan was? How should I know? I don't keep tabs on the cats, honest--"

"He was," Vera cut in, Louise scowling mildly at her. "Which means, you were a part of that squadron that got shot down. My apologies for your allies... But the one who did the deed is already did. His right hand, the upgraded model you shot down today, was the one pulling the trigger on you. If you were looking for revenge, or... Closure, my apologies." Maybe it would work for her. Vera needed to give back to these creatures the same as she'd been given.

They'd already lost one person with Aliza bowing out, and no one looked happy right now, so-- "Elaine!?" She couldn't stop making things worse for herself, could she!? Jess vaulted herself over the table and grabbed the Sergeant's arm, twisting it behind her and forcing her into the wall without hesitation. "You are NOT the person I expected to cause problems during this meeting, and I am incredibly disappointed you did... You're all dismissed! Firmia, you'll have to excuse me. I have someone to put in a cell before we can talk. Liz, Tiff, hold Louise for now. Rachel, bring Vera back to her cell."

"[Understood, Captain.]" While Elaine was held, the 'purple butterfly' of Apotheosis was escorted out of the room, Jess sighing heavily.

"You really should know better, Elaine... Someone check on Tarquin!"

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When Elaine's feelings flared up past fear and into anger as she shared a staredown with Tarquin, Seung-Min could already tell what was about to happen. Attempting to leap into action, by the time the Lieutenant had vaulted over her own end of the table, not only had the younger pilot already been struck, but Jessica of all people had performed a similar maneuver, having made her own vault and already restrained Elaine. Okay, it was taken care of... let the adrenaline fade. Moving over to Tarquin, Kim knelt down beside the fallen pilot, looking him over. He seemed shocked and frightened, but aside from a bloody nose, the damage didn't seem too bad at surface level.

"Hey, Tarquin, you okay? Let's get you to the infirmary to get that nose checked out, alright?"

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"That's fine," Firmia said, trying to tune out the drama, "I'll wait." It was a bit late but inevitable. Even the trend of the drama becoming steadily worse over time hadn't been broken here. The Alkaev was pretty sure this was the first time someone had actually been sucker punched. Probably the first time blood had hit the meeting room floor, too.

You had to be kidding ... Brant felt something coming, but not a physical attack, not until it was too late to stop it. And why Tarquin? Yes, he and Elaine weren't friends, but Louise started this episode, not him. If there was that much bad blood between them, why even let them be that close to each other? Brant held himself back as Jessica and Seung-Min raced to subdue Elaine, the former winning by a wide margin, and the latter settling on checking on Tarquin. "... dammit ..." Brant let his head fall onto his arms and sighed. He wanted to help Elaine, but it was hard enough when she was just mouthing off at people ...

"If the debriefing's over," Megumi took a few steps toward the altercation, "bring Tarquin to the infirmary." ... what a mess. Elaine was clearly panicking under the stress, but that didn't justify attacking anyone, not even Louise.

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Alriana had given Calina, and then Abby, a small nod of approval, but aside from that hadn't really contributed much to the meeting. Most of the news wasn't very concerning to her, mainly the number of enemy units, or was information she could have given Jesicka herself if the captain had asked. She'd known about the knights and Trel'Vaar; she'd actually been sent to kill Jesicka by said Sacarian king. Now she knew why; Soor'kan had been out terrorizing an ANF squadron. Trel'Vaar's presence was definitely much worse than Soor'Kan's though, but she wouldn't put it as exactly as high as Vera had. Soor'Kan being the runt of the litter so to speak didn't bolster her confidence, but she was aiming to treat the other knights the same as Gaal'bathy: dangerous, but beatable.

Aside from a little drama between Tarquin, Abigail, and Thorvald, it was a pretty slow meeting so she hadn't been expecting something like Elaine sucker-punching Tarquin. By the time she was ready to react, Jesicka and Kim had already made it over to Elaine to restrain her and tend to Tarquin respectively. But still her adrenaline had spiked at the sudden violence; her tensed muscles and her stare gave away that she was restraining herself. Before she could cause an incident like Elaine just had, she quickly removed herself from the room. She didn't want to ruin what she'd built up because she couldn't control herself. Resting against a nearby wall she started to try and calm herself down.

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Meeting Adjourned, for Real

The meeting was tense, alright. Roxanna was expecting it, but seeing the meeting room that crowded just felt off, a case of too many cooks, she feared. It was best to leave all the debriefing to Jessica --she seemed confident enough not to stutter every other sentence (or at all) lately--. The most obvious source of stress for the XO was the presence of the two Apotheosis captives. Vera was still a loyal terrorist, and Louise's loose tongue was sure to make snide remarks and get under some pilots' skin. She wasn't wrong on that bet.

First order of business, the Rebels that had decided to side with them after last skirmish. Roxanna couldn't help but think Calina could have done without her excuse on how Apotheosis manipulated them. At this point, learning that they were the same group that attacked the colony didn't help at all, it could have even made some of the crew more reserved about working together. Thankfully, that didn't seem to be the case. If even Tarquin was fine with working together, then everybody else probably was.

Somewhere along the way, though, Abigail got offended at a remark from Thorvald, and ended up in a brief argument with Tarquin that got promptly shut down as Jessica's hand shook the table with a loud slam. Right. Roxanna still needed adjusting to the fact Jessica was an android... that got a jump out of her.

Roxanna didn't know how to feel about Louise being an android either, even with prior warning. This woman wanted her uncle dead, and now she didn't? Was that even possible? Roxanna dreaded to know how far these Apotheosis scientists could go in their godplaying antics.

Roxanna wasn't about to trust Louise on her word, honestly. Some distance from the android would be kept at all times, for her own safety.

It was disappointing, but not surprising, that Astin was a willing mole. It was surprising that Elaine had been in talks with Apotheosis and could be set off so easily from that info being revealed. Roxanna sighed. "...Right, that's all for now, indeed. Rydell, while we are somewhat understaffed at the moment, I'd like for you to report your ship's status whenever possible. It's clear we do have more mechanics on hand, so if we have the time, we could work out some repairs." That's... about as much as she could add. It was a bit bothersome that Jessica eavesdropped on her conversation with Firmia, but what could Roxanna do about it? Sighing, she just averted her gaze as Elaine was apprehended.

Who to Trust

Makoto was honestly still stuck on the part about his father helping to build Louise. Maybe getting rid of her vengeful memories was his idea after all? Maybe this was a way to send them info, yeah... these cats meant trouble, but Makoto was sure they'd overcome it all, somehow.

Whoa, hold the phone. Elaine just punched a child, what the heck? Something about her being a mole... Oh man, this was... this was the pits. "Moles are the worst..." Makoto let out the comment as he looked at Elaine, disapproving of someone for what seemed the first time in his life. He'd thought her a hero of justice. A pal, even. Turns out she was just violent. "Let's get that nose treated, Tarquin! Can you stand?" Makoto would at least help and follow Tarquin to the infirmary. Tarquin was a friend.

Cat-astrophe

Seeing Louise so eager to dispense Apotheosis intel was bloodboiling, but Esther did learn some about the aliens, whether she liked it or not. Let me at them, you guys still got the Metis around... She'd have to talk with Kim about it...

The aliens were the ones behind Vera's demeanor, they were the ones that Vera feared. If Esther could beat them up, then surely, Vera would be free... Vera would respect her, finally. It was too late to go to pre-cat Apotheosis, but surely they could still work out something, for their old friends' sakes.

"Astin... wha..." Astin being a Vera clone was also news for Esther, who looked at Vera incredulously. "So she's... that makes sense, but, wow. We really gotta get them ou-"

Whoa, when did the peanut gallery get this rowdy? Elaine's sudden call to violence put an abrupt end to the meeting, and Esther rolled her eyes at that. What a note to leave everybody on...

"Kim... I want to talk to you later." For now, following the Lieutenant would do. Maybe Esther could be allowed to fight on terms similar to Vera's.

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Elaine had little time to process what she'd done, let alone react to Jess' apprehension of her. Before she knew it, she was firmly against the wall and being displayed as a madwoman once more to the crew. Her eyes continued to dart around the room, not a single soul was coming to her aid. She'd overstepped the line for the last time and she had no way to justify herself. Casting her eyes downwards at the floor, Elaine couldn't bring herself to resist - even she knew how guilty she was. After all this time, she'd managed to burn herself out. Everyone had come aboard the Heion Riese with their own differences but they'd all been able to get along. The only exception had been Elaine herself, she had been the one causing the problems. 

Maybe some time away from the front-line to sort her own head out was what she needed. Whether it were in a jail cell or a padded room, it was almost sickening that she'd punched a teenager because she lost her temper. The worst part was how they were all gathering around Tarquin. As smug and as judgemental as he was, she'd been the one to punch him. Makoto's expression hit her hard, some hero of justice she'd been.

-

The whole experience had been a blur to Tarquin, everything had happened in slow motion yet he had been powerless to respond in time. The room around him slowly came back into focus, the medley of voices becoming more distinct with each passing second. Kim and Makoto towered over Tarquin as he lay on the ground, he could only stare back as the realisation of what occurred sank in. "Ich bin nicht überrascht, aber ich bin enttäuscht." he muttered, moving his reddened hand away from his face. He was doing his best to keep his composure, but his hand was visibly shaking in front of him. 

"The medbay would probably be appropriate. I would appreciate the assistance." Tarquin replied, leaning himself forwards to sit up. It was only then that his face began throbbing, the sheer shock of the matter had numbed the pain temporarily. Of all the enemies that could have wounded him, it was frightening to think a supposed ally was capable of such an attack.

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Opening with a bit of German which Seung-Min couldn't really make heads or tails of, Tarquin soon returned to English, and he seemed to be... dealing. Alright wasn't the proper word, he still seemed somewhat shocked that he had actually gotten slugged and his hand was shaking but he wasn't in hysterics over it, and had managed to sit up on his own power, though he asked for assistance getting to the infirmary.

"Alright then, let's get you looked at." Kim responded, grabbing hold of Tarquin's arm and helping to pull him up to a standing position, ready to brace if he began to wobble... with Makoto on the other side, they shouldn't have any problems. It seemed Esther wanted to talk as well... based on her feelings it likely had to do with Louise and Vera.

"Sure thing, Esther. After we make sure Tarquin's alright."

Nerd Prison

They were still on standby... the time was passing at what was almost an agonizingly slow rate, just waiting for their data to come back from analysis so they could make a proper move against Apotheosis. Seung-Min had taken some time to build rapport, had done plenty of exercises and simulations... what else was there to do? Well... one thing certainly came to mind. That beach episode had been so... peculiar. The Lieutenant herself had missed most of the goings-on, but had managed to catch the tail end of Vera handing her subordinate over as a prisoner...

Why would she do that? There was so much unknown about the whole situation, and if Seung-Min's recollection was any good, the girl they had been given was no rank and file... she felt the same as the telekinetic pilot who had helped Vera pincer the Artemis at Corona Ten... unless it was another clone situation, they were likely one and the same. Perhaps the girl herself could shed some light on the situation... if nothing else, perhaps help her better understand the enigmatic swordswoman. 

Coming up to her cell, Seung-Min looked in at the prisoner. She was definitely the same signature... was she the same person though? A petite thing, laying in her bed playing some sort of video game? Kim was surprised they allowed her access to such a thing, but no harm, no foul, she supposed. Pulling the girl's name out of the database, or at least the one they had been given...

"I'd like to talk with you, Esther."

"...Huh?!" The sudden calling of her name startled Esther, jumping from her bed as if she'd been caught on the spot for something. "Who's--oh, it's you. Kim Seung-Min, huh? To what I owe the visit." Much less on guard now, Esther picked up her 'console', a palmtop computer of sorts, her attention was dividing, but her gaze mostly stayed on Kim. "I can also feel you, but I can't really guess why you'd come to talk to me."

"Because I'm curious, mostly. I can't understand what Vera might have hoped to gain by giving you to us as a prisoner." Seung-Min answered, leaning back against the wall opposite Esther's cell, watching the girl continue playing her game.

"..." Esther's expression soured up, squinting at Kim. "I don't fully understand. She wanted to spare me, but I'm --I was pretty much gearing to fight all this time--. I don't know if you can imagine my frustration, but you can probably feel it." A button press felt louder than the previous ones, Esther redirected her attention to the console. "She wanted me to not get involved with Apotheosis anymore. To cut my ties, I guess." Vera wasn't optimistic about Apotheosis' future.

... And that possibility frustrated Esther as well.

"She didn't tell you either, huh? I don't understand that woman... she seems like such an outlier compared to the rest of Apotheosis. Not like Louise or any of the other commanders that have popped up so far..." Seung-Min pondered... Esther wanted to fight, but she had been denied that chance. Kim could certainly feel the frustration she had mentioned, but with what they knew now, about the aliens? Apotheosis' motives seemed to be thinning more and more, washed away in the tide of something bigger. They couldn't believe that presenting humanity to the Sacarians on a silver platter was a better outcome than it's current state, despite it's faults. But that was a question perhaps best asked later.

"Tell me about her. She's... intriguing."

"I'd say Louise is more of an outlier, really." Though perhaps Esther had an inherently different view of her seniors in Apotheosis. "Still, Vera can be stubborn about some things..." Esther's frustrations were still at the forefront of her mind, the girl sighing. She approached the glass, staring at Kim.

"Vera is an extremely competent pilot. Her augments make her superhuman. You probably figured it out by now, but fighting her in close combat is a bad idea." Esther had to wonder why she was bothering to talk at all, maybe to dissuade Kim that fighting Vera was a good idea. "She's been around since basically the start. Every important mission the commander has is often entrusted to her."

"Well, I had gathered that much already... it's only thanks to modern medicine that I don't have scars to prove it. And that makes logical sense, if Vera is the best... or among them, anyway, then it makes sense to give her the most important duties." Kim replied, it all checked out in her head. Looking Esther over as the prisoner came over to the edge of her cell, it felt like the girl was trying to convince her not to fight Vera.

"I'm surprised you seem to be trying to talk me out of fighting her though... I doubt you'd be concerned for my sake, so I'd have to assume you're worried that she's approaching her limit."

"She is definitely one of the best. Good that you see that." Esther replied shortly to Kim's confirmation, kind of... content? That the pilot had some brush up with Vera.

That last remark, though, that wasn't going to fly.

"I'm telling this for your sake, not hers. The Artemis is pretty strong, but the Luna straight up isn't achievable with today's technology. You're not winning. I give my word." Esther doubled down, on stance and frown, staring at Kim.

"I will win, Esther. It doesn't matter how strong Vera is... I'll surpass her. Losing isn't an option." Seung-Min replied back, her voice filled with conviction. This was bigger than pride or skill, bigger then the Heion Riese, bigger than the ANF. This was for humanity as a whole. She would win, because she had to. 

"I'm not gonna let humanity be enslaved or run to extinction by a pack of haughty aliens. Honestly, we've already uncovered two races they wiped out and enslaved, how could Apotheosis possibly think that anything different will happen to you, even if you win? They'll turn on you, they see humans as no better than insects."

Esther continued a judging squint, frowning in response to how confident Kim seemed, on her end. "Alright then, keep being a hero..."

"The Sacarians number few. They reached out to us asking for a deal of peace. Even if they plan to betray us in the end, we have a lot of their technology we can use against them. My own machine should have been able to compete with theirs..." She spoke a bit longingly, "But failing even Vera, we've got the clones. The issue was ANF ceding. Always has been." To Esther, the aliens were a minor cell involved with Apotheosis, a rather different view than Kim's. "I never heard about those two races, though."

"No offense but... having engaged both your machine and theirs... the Metis wouldn't stand a chance. Whatever benchmarks they gave you to give that impression were fake... likely fabricated to give you a false sense of security." Seung-Min replied rather bluntly... it seemed Esther really believed that Apotheosis could handle the Sacarians alone if it came to it. Whether that was idealism or withheld information was unclear... though the latter was seeming more and more likely if she didn't know about the alien captives.

"The Luqari, and the Stygusians. We've recovered a member of each... who knows how many more they have up their sleeves. If you didn't know, I'll assume most of Apotheosis didn't either... but I'd think long and hard about how willing the Sacarians were to sacrifice your men. They have no intention of treating you as equals, and Apotheosis is the side losing people and machines... even with clones, you can't have infinite resources."

"It would stand a chance. At least with me piloting it." What a rude remark, from this Kim. Could one punch through a wall? Well, not that Esther really had the capability to hurt Kim. She understood the ANF had far more extensive physical training than she'd bother with. Still, she was an exceptional pilot, in her mind.

If only Apotheosis bothered to use her.

"That's probably how the Sacarians bolster their troops... at this point, it doesn't matter, with me at the brig. I don't think it's as one-sided as you think, but I wouldn't put it past Helena to give them too many resources... still, Sacarians can't clone themselves." She was pretty sure they wouldn't, at least. "Go be a hero and beat them, or whatever. Doesn't make sense that you'd be able and not all of us, but I guess you know stuff." Esther was letting a bias against the idol grow rather transparently.

This girl was... brazenly confident. Had she never seen one of those commander-type machines in action? Was she really that good? The former seemed more likely, at least in Seung-Min's mind. They had captured one of the Metis units with Nina inside, and while a capable machine, it was a far cry from what they had seen out of the Praxis Alpha... maybe it could compete with an MP version, if those existed...

"The specifications on the model we managed to secure seemed to pale in comparison to those of the Praxis Alpha... I would be quite impressed if you were capable enough to defeat a Sacarian commander. I'd love to see that level of ability on display." Seung-Min noted, looking Esther over. In all likelihood it was cockiness and bravado, but... there was an ever small chance that Esther wasn't bluffing.

"Hmph. I'd love to show you, but..." She waved in the general direction of the brig she was put in. "Good luck with them yourself, Lieutenant Seung-Min." Esther truly believed she could stand up to them, herself. "It all depends on if you can follow their movements, their armor isn't particularly different to the Luna's. Maybe a bit worse. I'm sure Ms. Genius has figured that out, though."

"It's not as though you're locked in that room for good. With good behavior and an escort, you could go to the simulators without much issue. If you tried to cause a ruckus I would have to subdue you, though." Kim replied, a slight grin growing on her face. If nothing else, Esther's belief in her own words was genuine. Misguided or not, there was no wavering, no deceit in her mind.

"Well, I suppose that's something I'll have to find out. I got blindsided by Soor'Kan last time, so I couldn't properly gauge his effective combat maneuverability or whether I did any lasting damage."

"What counts as good behavior? I've been sitting on my ass playing games all day. I don't see many people coming here to check up on me aside from the doctor, either. Who'd acconpany me?" And that one was mostly busy administering doses... it was a lonely life at the brig as far as Esther could see. Unless 'good behavior' means ratting out... then I can live with staying here.

The name didn't ring a bell, but Esther figured Kim was talking about an alien. "Have the Artemis teabag his mech when you're done." She smirked, at least, that was an amusing picture for her. The brazen confidence was definitely two-fold, from her viewpoint. "If you can beat the aliens and Vera I'll shut up and kiss your ass, but Vera is no joke. I'm serious."

"Good behaviour is not trying anything funny like running when you're outside of your cell. As for who, I wouldn't mind. You've made me curious about your ability... if we work out a time, I can come and pick you up, or you can ask Doctor Amparo to contact me when she comes around to check up on you. If you don't hate my guts too much, I could always try to come around more often." Seung-Min replied, a somber expression coming to her face. No one really came to see this one, did they? In a way it made sense... their other pickups had integrated into the crew so easily because they were ready and willing to turn... Esther still clearly believed in Apotheosis, so she didn't have that angle. Stuck in the brig... well, lack of contact won't make relative strangers too interested in you, unless they have other reasons.

Esther said something afterwards that made her tilt her head in confusion though... tea bag? Her followup didn't surprise Kim, Esther was evidently confident in Vera, and that confidence wasn't misplaced.

"I know Vera is no joke, but I can't let that stop me, so... well, I hope you're a good kisser, Esther. Unfortunately I can't say I know what it means to... tea bag someone though."

"Just stuff like not running? Alright, simple enough." It was awful nice treatment for a prisoner, which for all intents and purpose, was the standard while in the Riese, for some reason --she even had her games and everything--. "I'll show you what I can do in a simulation then, if you can make all that work. It's been a while." Even in Apotheosis she had somewhat constant visits, so it was nice to know somebody could comr around somewhat. Ignoring the natural and super genius part, Kim was tolerable, not hard on the eyes.

"Oh," The failure to understand Esther's slang made the girl snicker, "Just shove the Artemis's crotch down that knocked out goon's face." it was something of a comfort in these trying times, to still be able to talk about really small things like that.

"As long as you don't cause any trouble, that would be the gist of it, yeah. The Captain has taken a rather soft stance towards prisoners so far... not that it hasn't worked out in her favour. I see no reason to retract that as long as you don't give me one. I'd love to see you in action, Esther. I'd be quite impressed if you were as good as you claim, so let me know a time and I'll try to work it in." Seung-Min replied, tilting her head a bit as Esther explained what 'tea-bagging' was... at least, what the action was. The purpose of such a thing escaped her.

"I... is that a common thing in America? I thought I was relatively well caught up on culture, but I can't say I've encountered that behaviour before..."

"Alright. Any time that works for you should be fine. I don't exactly have a tight schedule over at the brig." Quite the opposite. Either way, Esther was fine with showcasing her skills. It certainly wasn't a lack of confidence.

Esther continued to be bemused by Kim's confusion. It was wonderful to meet someone so uninitiated to some old gamer lingo. Considering how many had taken absurd slangs and one liners to fill most of their responses to normal human interaction, it was honestly refreshing to see... a normie.

"Not in most of America, no. It's a gaming expression." Esther continued through her chuckles. "Some guys make a real big deal out of it or feel extra offended if you do that. It's great to humiliate some stuck-up goons." While imprinting bad gamer sterotypes on some random sacarian would not hit many marks, Esther was looking forward to see one of them beyond pissed. "Oh man. Makes me wonder if somebody makes truck nutz but for mechs. Someone, somewhere just has to." One of the worst inventions of modern society? It had to have diehard fans.

"Alright then. I'll clear things with the Captain to be certain, and then come get you at a good time." Seung-Min replied, nodding along at Esther's explanation.

"So it's a taunt used in gaming, then. Taking the time to do something like that in an actual firefight could get you killed, though... and, truck nu- you know what? I don't want to know." Kim began, cutting herself off before finishing the question. Given the context, she had a reasonable idea of what that might be, and frankly it was stupid.

Edited by Ether

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Tarquin reached towards Kim, allowing her to help him to his feet. It took him a few moments to steady himself, the room was somewhat of a blur. He was still struggling to understand what had driven Elaine to attack, was there something that he had done to provoke her? As much as he disliked her, he hadn't expected outright assault. Makoto appeared disappointed, he recalled his friend being on good terms with her. Whatever image he had of her was probably destroyed. The whole meeting had come to an end with a dramatic conclusion, Tarquin made a mental note to go over what had been discussed and process it all later. The battle was far from over, there was plenty to plan for. The Sacarians still had their own aces, even if they had taken Louise, Vera and Esther from their ranks.

"Understood, thank you, Lieutenant Kim." Tarquin replied, his eyes fixing on the exit. All he needed was to get some rest and contemplate everything later. However, there were a few social calls he needed to make at some point - bizarrely there were members of crew he felt the need to speak to. "I was actually hoping to discuss some matters, when it is convenient for you of course."

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