Cherry Blossom Procession 4 2 31

[14:59] <Raphael> The Dorian's medical centre was positioned at the very core of the ship with easy access from every direction, so that no one area was too far from help in the event of an emergency. With that in mind, it didn't take Raphael too long to make the journey to the offices for command personnel when he received his latest summons.-
[14:59] <Raphael> Still. If it hadn't sounded like a serious request he might've delayed longer. Ritsuko had seemed happy for the company, with Tsubaki still non-responsive…-
[14:59] <Raphael> And then there was the matter of the person who'd made the request. With a sigh he stepped up to the door and thumbed the buzzer.
[15:00] <Minaplo> [("Enter.") Came the voice from the door intercom.]
[15:01] <Raphael> And so he did, his expression carefully neutral.
[15:05] <Minaplo> [The Office of the Prime Minister was a relatively spartan affair. It was a large room, with the desk sitting just off the far wall; behind the desk was a large holographic window displaying a sunny day. There was a bookcase along the leftmost wall, whilst the rightmost had a large official viewscreen as well as a digital table displaying a holographic map of the earth.-
[15:06] <Minaplo> [The desk itself had atop it a slim holo-computer as well as some stacks of papers. There was also a slim, wooden box that Raphael recognised as being a fold-out chinese chess box.-
[15:06] <Minaplo> [The bookcases on the other hand contained nothing but reference books, on topics such as law, politics, strategy, science…-
[15:07] <Minaplo> [Kourosh Rustami stood up from behind the desk and bowed slightly. He looked slightly more presentable today than Raphael remembered him looking- his hair had been washed recently, although it was still an unbrushed, unkempt mess. His clothes consisted of a clean green robe beneath a blue shawl.-
[15:08] <Minaplo> ["Thank you for coming, General." Said Rustami; he gestured with an open hand toward one of the soft cushioned chairs that sat in front of the desk.]
[15:16] * Raphael offered a salute, as was only proper, and then took his chair without wasting any time. His posture was straight, and the only thing his attention on Kou obviously suggested was polite expectation.-
[15:16] <Raphael> "You wanted a word, sir?"
[15:17] <Minaplo> [Kourosh sat as well. "Yes, I did."-
[15:22] <Minaplo> ["First and foremost, I wanted to show my gratitude for your recent service, which has been exemplary." Said Kourosh solemnly. "Your recent mission regarding the Phantom underground railroad was masterclass."]
[15:30] * Raphael inclined his head slightly. "Thank you, Prime Minister. The whole team worked well together."
[15:33] <Minaplo> ["Quite right." Said Rustami. "In any case…"-
[15:33] <Minaplo> [He bent down- there was the sound of a refrigerator door opening, and a moment later he reappeared, placing a pack of beer on the desk. "I'd like you to accept this."-
[15:34] <Minaplo> [It was pretty good beer, too. In fact… It was the same type Pen-Pen had once given him for christmas."]
[15:38] <Raphael> And Raphael seemed about as surprised to receive it here as he had when it'd been sprung on him by a penguin.-
[15:38] <Raphael> "Oh. Uh. Thank you, sir…?" he hedged, warily reaching out to take it. "That's very kind."
[15:42] <Minaplo> ["You're welcome. Just about everyone at our echelon is working overtime, so being able to have our little luxuries is important."]
[15:43] <Raphael> "That much is true…"
[15:45] <Minaplo> ["Yes. Have you had time to attend one of the Citizens' Fairs yet?"]
[15:48] <Raphael> "I can't say I have, sir. My family seems to think fairly well of them, though."
[15:55] <Minaplo> ["That's good, that's good." Said Rustami.-
[15:58] <Minaplo> ["… But on that note, more serious matters. The fair's other purpose- creating a double-cross system- is starting to bear fruit." He said, folding his hands together across his chest. "We're starting to see real proof that our false information is being followed by UN commanders in the field, and furthermore it's improving our own intelligence-gathering capabilities too…"-
[15:59] <Minaplo> ["You're aware that you and the G-Defiant have been assigned to participate in the upcoming defense of China, of course?"]
[16:04] <Raphael> 'Double-cross system'. He couldn't hide the way his eyes narrowed at that, but he was left no time to pursue it.-
[16:04] <Raphael> "… of course."
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["You'll receive the relevant intelligence on enemy deployments soon, but before you do I would like to draw your attention to one of those points- apparently, there is a custom Superheavy known as the Entelechy Logos being fielded alongside the enemy Evangelions."-
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["The pilot has been identified as Dariush Rustami- and no, it's not a coincidence. He's my elder brother." Said Rustami.]
[16:09] <Raphael> There were a few moments of silence as Raphael considered that.-
[16:09] <Raphael> "… I see," he said eventually. "Is this a surprise?"
[16:16] <Minaplo> [For a moment, the calm expression in Kourosh's eyes faltered, but only for a moment.-
[16:16] <Minaplo> ["… More a disappointment than a surprise." Said Rustami quietly. "I had strong suspicions, but I hoped he would sit it out. Unfortunately, I hoped in vain."-
[16:17] <Minaplo> ["I expect you and the others to act in accordance with your military values regardless."]
[16:24] <Raphael> "We'll aim to capture if we can afford it, sir," he said. Was that a hint of sympathy in his voice?
[16:25] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Rustami. "And besides, I've been hoping to acquire one of their Entelechy units for some time…"-
[16:28] <Minaplo> ["Be careful, General. Dariush has extensive combat experience. For various reasons, I would not hesitate to describe him as one of the most dangerous fighters alive."]
[16:29] * Raphael nodded slowly. "Care to elaborate?"
[16:31] <Minaplo> [Rustami nodded. "I'm unsure how much of what I know is relevant to the engagement, considering the Logos' capabilities are largely a mystery. But on foot…"-
[16:31] <Minaplo> ["Are you aware of my origin, General? The hidden haven of Shangri-la?"]
[16:36] * Raphael studied him for a while, silent and focused.-
[16:36] <Raphael> "I am," he said calmly. "Although I seem to be one of the few. Misato thought you must have shared it with everyone, but I know that's not the case."
[16:37] <Minaplo> ["I've shared it with a few people. Some people already knew of Shangri-la." Said Rustami. "In any case, good. Saves me having to explain it twice."-
[16:39] <Minaplo> ["Only A-Types and E-Types were permitted in Shangri-la." Said Rustami. "Either invited there from wherever, or born there. My brother and I were born in Shangri-la, which is rather uncommon. In any case, Dariush was widely considered the greatest fighter amongst us, and so he was chosen to be in charge of our defenses."-
[16:41] <Minaplo> ["It was an important position." Said Rustami grimly. "The Russian military knew of us, even if they didn't know where- so they constantly sought us out, in force. And when your town is made up of people with weird and unusual powers… 1990s Russia was not the sort of power you wanted to know you existed."]
[16:46] <Raphael> "Quite," he agreed, still listening intently.
[16:54] <Minaplo> ["We had many defenses- illusions, traps, a militia, and of course good ties with locals who had a vested interest in keeping the curious away. But when we felt that these were not up for the task, Dariush would go out for a few days and return, having just wiped out a company of Russian soldiers." Said Rustami.-
[17:00] <Minaplo> ["He's intelligent, quick, skilful and strong, but more than that he had what I called the 'Artificer': the ability to create items that, at the time of creation, could be attuned to an A-Type. When the item was complete, it would allow Dariush- if he wore or used it- to use that same ability, although in a weaker form. Nonetheless, he created many such items, and although each effect was
[17:00] <Minaplo> weaker than the true wielder's, the variety made him especially dangerous. His power would've been useless if he'd been born anywhere but Shangri-la, but having been born there, it made him nearly unstoppable."-
[17:00] <Minaplo> ["The trouble to us is that whilst he cannot create any more of them, the items still function… And over the years he had the time to collect more from previous lives."]
[17:11] <Raphael> "Hm."-
[17:11] <Raphael> "… to hear Admiral Katsuragi tell it, your entire ability is to predict people," he said casually.
[17:15] <Minaplo> ["She really told you quite a lot, didn't she?" Said Kourosh, cracking his first smile of the meeting. "That must've been quite the conversation. Did she tell you about Yanmei's…?"]
[17:16] <Raphael> "That she speaks to Napoleon's ghost? I'm afraid so."
[17:18] <Minaplo> ["Yes. That." Said Kourosh, scratching his chin. "Lady Yanmei really is quite the whirlwind on world history whenever she appears. I don't quite think we'll be able to call this era the 'Yanmeian Era' though…"-
[17:23] <Minaplo> ["But yes, prediction is my power." Said Rustami. "I'll expand for you. I was given the ability to construct a mental copy of an individual or an event or so on within my head. I could then run it through scenarios and predict what the response would be, what would happen… The more accurate my copy was to the thing in question, the more accurate the prediction. The ability changed the
[17:23] <Minaplo> structure of my brain, which is why I still have it now, but in the years since Impact my brain is slowly reverting to a biotypical form… And so each year my power grows weaker."-
[17:24] <Minaplo> ["At my height, I was… Very powerful. Maybe too powerful- I had terrible headaches and I had such trouble keeping food down that it actually impacted my growth." Said Rustami ruefully.-
[17:26] <Minaplo> ["But nonetheless, I was capable of… Very grand predictions. Some years in advance. You see, I could create a mental copy of things, run them through simulations, but the simulations themselves would be so accurate that I could base more mental copies off them- I was capable of some very elaborate leaps of logic. It meant I could predict where a soul would be born, and so the
[17:26] <Minaplo> elders of Shangri-la used my ability- and of my previous reincarnations over the centuries- to track down fellow A-Types and invite them home."-
[17:28] <Minaplo> ["… These days, I require much more effort to create accurate mental copies, and I struggle to predict a few weeks in advance." Said Rustami. "And doing so requires so much effort on my part that it nearly kills me each time. I usually use my power to predict within a day, or a few hours… And supplement the rest through having trained my other abilities."]
[17:32] <Raphael> Raphael's neutral expression finally cracked into a deep frown, but he nodded. "… I see. That could answer the question I was working towards, then."
[17:32] <Minaplo> ["May I ask what the question was, General?"]
[17:32] <Raphael> "Why you'd leave your brother in a position to turn to the UN without taking measures."
[17:33] <Minaplo> ["Ah." Rustami leaned back in his chair.-
[17:35] <Minaplo> ["Yes, as you can see it would've been difficult to be certain of his choice. And…" Rustami sighed. "Dariush is no one's fool. It would be difficult to be sure of his intent, and if I acted on it there was no guarantee that he wouldn't do the same to me- and he would be difficult to overcome."-
[17:40] <Minaplo> ["As it stands, Lady Yanmei came to our house along with Asuka, Go, Isaiah and Hachi. At that point my decision to align myself with the Federation was no secret. Dariush would have had ample opportunity to stop me or, if he wished, capture Lady Yanmei. He didn't take it. I think at some point we came to the unspoken agreement to let the other do as their heart told them, free of harm."]
[17:53] * Raphael leaned his right elbow against the arm of the chair, pressing his fingertips hard into the bridge of his nose. All at once he looked deeply tired indeed.-
[17:53] <Raphael> "Alright."-
[17:53] <Raphael> "I suppose it goes without saying that he has a copy of your own powers, coupled with access to the Drive?"
[17:56] <Minaplo> ["Hah, no." Said Rustami with a dark laugh. "That would be, uh, terrifying, but fortunately, no. Certain powers were very difficult or impossible for him to copy- usually those that require permanent changes to the body. So he never managed to copy mine."-
[17:56] <Minaplo> ["If he had, I would've destroyed the artefact anyway." Said Rustami. "One of me is enough, I think."]
[17:58] * Raphael stopped and opened one eye again to peer critically at Kourosh.-
[17:58] <Raphael> "Huh. Well I suppose that's something.
[17:59] <Minaplo> [Rustami smiled.-
[18:00] <Minaplo> ["Realistically, the major threat he poses to us now is not much greater than any other custom Superheavy piloted by an elite pilot. So by that metric he's probably as dangerous as you are in the grand scheme of things."]
[18:05] <Raphael> "Ah. No real concern, then."
[18:06] <Minaplo> ["I… Wouldn't quite say that." Said Rustami. "95th percentile of danger, perhaps."-
[18:08] <Minaplo> [His tone was wry as he said it.-
[18:08] <Minaplo> ["Nonetheless, I wish that was all I had to say about China, but I'm afraid there's another, entirely different issue that requires our attention."]
[18:08] <Raphael> Of course there was. "Sir?"
[18:10] <Minaplo> ["The Chancellor has strong reason to believe that, in the event of a victory in China and our publishing of the incriminating evidence regarding the corrupt government, Liu Lin will launch a coup d'etat on Beijing-2."-
[18:11] <Minaplo> ["By itself that isn't quite a problem. She's a natural choice, she'll have public support and we trust her to do the right thing with her power." Said Rustami. "… Unfortunately, we also believe she's likely to begin executing many of the guilty government members she'll capture in the coup."]
[18:16] * Raphael sighed through gritted teeth and sat up a little straighter. He didn't look surprised so much as disappointed.-
[18:16] <Raphael> "That's not a signal we want to send," he muttered. "Even if they are… well, scum."
[18:18] <Minaplo> ["That was the Chancellor's opinion, yes." Said Rustami. "I think the fallout is something we could manage easily, but displaying that we can respect the rule of law in time of a coup d'etat is a good signal to send."-
[18:22] <Minaplo> ["We probably can't protect all of them- plenty will die at the hands of the angry mob, let alone Lin's guardsmen." Said Rustami. "And she probably won't execute just anyone."-
[18:23] <Minaplo> ["She's likely to reserve those who ordered hitmen, let villages be destroyed or abetted the sex trade." Said Rustami. "Unfortunately, these traits tend to coalesce most commonly in the most visible, powerful officials."-
[18:28] <Minaplo> ["I… resent having to ask this, but would you be willing to devote some SOS members to securing these individuals before Lin can kill them?" Said Rustami. "It's not just about the signal we send. I'm hoping that some of these officials will be willing to sell out some of their underworld friends, and with any hope they might even lead us to the slave and sex trades."]
[18:37] <Raphael> "I'll arrange it. SOS-1 will be occupied, but I have the resources to manage that," He said, cupping his chin and tapping his thumb against his jaw.-
[18:37] <Raphael> "There's no option to just talk the General down?"
[18:39] <Minaplo> ["Thank you."-
[18:44] <Minaplo> ["And…" Rustami frowned. "I've already decided to try. I don't rate my chances as favourable, however. Lin is a reasonable person, but her tolerance for these sorts of crimes during her warlord reign was very low- she has extremely strong opinions on them."-
[18:45] <Minaplo> ["More than that, I suspect she feels that the current crop of leaders is her fault." Said Rustami. "And so she's decided to clean up her own mess, with a bolter if necessary."]
[18:48] <Raphael> "Yes," he sighed. "I assumed that was the case. I can't say that I blame her."-
[18:48] <Raphael> "For me to be the one responsible for keeping them out of her hands isn't ideal, but I suppose we work with what we have."
[18:51] <Minaplo> [Rustami nodded. "I'm grateful. Ideally, I would be in China for the defense and so able to handle this myself, taking on the responsibility, but as you know, Command agreed to assign me to protect the home front."]
[18:54] * Raphael nodded. "Yessir."
[18:59] <Minaplo> [Rustami looked away toward the holo-map, although it didn't seem as though he was really looking at it. He stroked his goatee thoughtfully for a few seconds before looking back at Raphael. "We can expect China to be rather sensitive for awhile. Apart from what we've already discussed, the act to strip the subordinate states of Chinese occupation forces will have its own effects, and our
[18:59] <Minaplo> decision to deploy Ramiel to the front will… Be controversial. We're already receiving some pretty firmly worded questions regarding Ramiel already."-
[19:00] <Minaplo> ["It'd be nice if the UN were to breach the treaties in a major way soon, but alas."-
[19:00] <Minaplo> ["And with Freya revealed to be a Pillar of the Drive, and the Soviets…" Rustami sighed. "Perhaps being assigned to the home front is no bad thing. At least it gives me time to catch up on all the work."]
[19:16] <Raphael> "If diplomacy works in Germany things might become easier," he said, "At least as far as the actual war is concerned. Caine is another matter entirely."
[11:48] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Rustami. "It's something I'm working on, as you know. I've been intending to use my simulation abilities to extrapolate details about the Eternity Drive… It hasn't been going well so far, but I'm hoping that with the information provided by Gilles and Freya, I'll be able to determine who the other Pillars are."]
[11:55] <Raphael> "Ah, I remember you suggesting something like that during the briefing," he nodded. "Although I had assumed we intended to keep Ms. Solheim in the dark."
[11:57] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Rustami. "And I personally am in no rush to let her know. On the other hand, if she did know and was willing to co-operate, it could provide us with great information about the workings of the Drive…"-
[11:57] <Minaplo> ["That would be up to Lady Yanmei to determine, however."]
[12:02] <Raphael> "I suppose it is. Hopefully she gives it very careful thought…"
[12:05] <Minaplo> ["We can only hope." Said Rustami. "And give her counsel as she asks."]
[12:16] <Raphael> "I don't like that she's free to roam the ship without Pilot Akagi being awake to ensure she stays put. The same goes for de Orleans," he said. "We're leaving too much to chance."
[12:19] <Minaplo> ["Agreed." Said Rustami. "I am fairly confident that Gilles does intend to die at our hands, but Freya is another matter. I'll put it to Lady Yanmei. In the meantime, so long as Tsubaki is recouperating from her ordeal, I've asked San and Go to watch the two of them, and I've informed the Simonides twins that they must be ready to sortie at a moments' notice should Freya intend to
[12:19] <Minaplo> escape- with help."]
[12:22] <Raphael> "Help?" he asked, expression darkening. "Raskova?"
[12:23] <Minaplo> ["Sera."]
[12:25] * Raphael went very still. "He wouldn't," he said firmly, "Even de Pteres isn't that much of an i-…"-
[12:25] <Raphael> Silence. A long, deep silence.
[12:28] <Minaplo> ["I don't think it's certain. I suspect he's deeply conflicted over the matter. However… It's a possibility, so I'm accounting for it." Said Rustami.-
[12:29] <Minaplo> ["Perhaps he will, perhaps he won't. What we must do is remember not to underestimate Sera, or underestimate what Freya means to him. She is, in a very real sense, the only family he has- she was there for his beginning, and he will want her there at his end." Said Rustami. "He is not the only one on this ship to feel that way toward another."]
[12:41] <Raphael> "Of course not, and he has my sympathies. Too bad," he said coldly. "If there's even a possibility of him taking our last real chance - and triggering a Fallen Angel incident to boot - we should remove her from the ship. President Linden would have suitable blacksites, I'm sure."
[12:43] <Minaplo> ["Perhaps you're right." Said Rustami neutrally. "I'll forward the proposal to Lady Yanmei."]
[12:45] * Raphael looked ready to say more, but instead elected to bite his tongue and stew. He looked at the holomap rather than Rustami.
[12:47] <Minaplo> ["If you prefer, you could forward the proposal yourself." Said Rustami.]
[12:54] <Raphael> "With all due respect to her, the Chancellor has an extensive blind spot where de Pteres is involved. Maybe you'll have more luck."-
[12:54] <Raphael> "When I last spoke to Blue, he told me that Caine plans tend to follow a pattern: Introducing a good, tainting that good, and then delivering a knockout blow. Now I'm left wondering if the knockout blow with the Pillars was trusting us to be too damned self-involved to be pragmatic," he said bitterly.
[13:04] <Minaplo> ["Possibly." Said Rustami. "It's obvious that we can't afford much margin of error when it comes to defeating Mary. We may be winning the war on the ground, and the UN may be close to collapse, but she's still a very formidable enemy, and only growing moreso by the day."]
[16:23] <Raphael> "When the war ends, a great many things fall into the hands of people like Sera and Yanmei. If they can't be trusted to have some spine here…"
[16:24] <Minaplo> ["… Mmm."-
[16:25] <Minaplo> ["Nonetheless, I have faith that Lady Yanmei will act correctly." Said Rustami. "She rarely lets me down."]
[16:26] <Raphael> "It would be terribly unfortunate if one of those rare instances ended the world, sir," he said mildly.
[16:27] <Raphael> He paused with a sudden frown. "… well, ended it in the way we didn't intend."
[16:28] <Minaplo> [Rustami smiled.-
[16:33] <Minaplo> ["How true." He said. "Still, I think the numbers are on her side for this one. She's had plenty of opportunities to fail us and end the world: she battled the Angels time after time, defeated Adam at Niagara and overcame Metatron on the Moon. Each occasion had only two outcomes: her success or our extermination. The fact that we're here to discuss it is all the proof we need."-
[16:33] <Minaplo> ["We've been one minute to midnight for nearly three years, and she's even stronger now than she used to be. I trust her to keep that minute hand steady one more time."]
[16:53] * Raphael gave him a shrewd look. "I have extraordinary respect for Chancellor Zhang's accomplishments, sir, but I trust you're smart enough to see the common factors in them."
[17:01] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Rustami. "Which is why she requires our good counsel just as much as our trust."]
[17:06] <Raphael> "Yes…"-
[17:07] <Raphael> "Protecting those close to her. Personal risk. Personal sacrifice," Raphael said quietly, ticking them off on his fingers. "She doesn't do well when the risk is to others, not for as long as I've known her."-
[17:07] <Raphael> "If I know, Mary knows. The path to Caine will be littered with more bodies than just Freya's, and if Yanmei falters here everything becomes another step harder."
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["What would you recommend, then?" Asked Rustami.]
[17:13] <Raphael> "No idea, sir," he shrugged. "I wish I had an answer. We could take this decision out of her hands at a stretch, but it won't be the last."-
[17:13] <Raphael> "As you said, counsel and trust."
[17:14] <Minaplo> [Rustami inclined his head.-
[17:16] <Minaplo> ["And on the subject of counsel, it seems that I'm in need of some from you, General."]
[17:18] <Raphael> "Sir?"
[17:29] <Minaplo> ["I discussed this with Lady Yanmei, but I feel it would be wise to hear your thoughts on the matter." Said Rustami. "As you're well aware, my turbulent introduction was not entirely well-received by the chiefs of staff, and a sense of mistrust and disregard still seems to hang in the air between myself and the rest of the chiefs. I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter, and what
[17:29] <Minaplo> I might do to rectify the situation."]
[17:42] * Raphael tilted his head, giving him a hard to read look. "The obvious answer would be to be honest about your origin and skillset," he said frankly. "From our perspective you appeared from nowhere, were put in an extremely important position, and had Yanmei's ear in a way some of us have never managed. We're not fools, we knew something was being kept from us, we just didn't know what. Hence mistrust."-
[17:42] <Raphael> "With respect, you two should've been honest from the outset."
[17:48] <Minaplo> ["I believe you're right." Said Rustami, leaning back in his chair and frowning thoughtfully.-
[17:49] <Minaplo> ["May I explain why I didn't explain those things from the outset?"]
[17:49] <Raphael> "Certainly."
[17:53] <Minaplo> ["Regarding my origins." Said Rustami. "There were two stories I could've told. The first was that I was a hermit hiding in an isolated village in western China, which Lady Yanmei found after being guided by clues I left behind in various places- which the Lady found after being directed to do so by Dorian. This is a truth, but it isn't a satisfying answer, I suspect."-
[17:55] <Minaplo> ["The second story I could have told was to tell everyone of Shangri-la and the nature of its inhabitants." Said Rustami. "Although I had a great deal of information regarding the officers of the Corps and the Federation, I was not quite sure of who knew of Shangri-la and who did not. Exposing its nature could give rise to awkward situations. Firstly, I would have had to explain the nature
[17:55] <Minaplo> of A-Types before Impact, which might raise questions of those A-Types who were adults before Impact- questions they might find awkward, confusing or even hurtful."-
[17:57] <Minaplo> ["Secondly, one of the truths of my origins was that I grew up around people such as Ephraim Siskin von Brandt and Serafina Raskova, both of whom were, at the time, identified enemies of the Federation. Considering that both worked for Mary, it would undoubtedly raise suspicions as to my nature and the nature of my relationship with Mary."-
[17:59] <Minaplo> ["Which leads to the third point: Mary was considered the last migrant Shangri-la ever had before it was destroyed. I knew her personally. I will say honestly that I had a good relationship with Mary. It is no longer a factor in my life, but nonetheless it is the truth, and that truth could cause potential harm in and of itself."-
[18:03] <Minaplo> ["As for my abilities, I dislike sharing their existence," Said Rustami, "if for no other reason than it seems to unsettle people and incurs their distrust. They begin second-guessing themselves around me and wonder if I am using that power on them right now."-
[18:07] <Minaplo> ["So I dress it up in more palatable forms. In Sweet Valley Village, where I lived before Lady Yanmei found me, I was known as a highly accurate astrologer and fortune teller. To the Alves, I was an inveterate card counter. To the triads, I was simply someone with scarily good connections… So on and so forth."]
[18:20] * Raphael listened to Kou without comment, arms folded across his chest. Only when Kou was finished did he nod. "It's unsettling," he agreed. "It's also not your fault, by my best understanding. If we learned to live under Pilot Akagi's all-seeing eye I'm sure we'll find a way to adjust to you, Prime Minister."-
[18:20] <Raphael> "As to the rest… I understand your reasons, but surely you knew you'd have to share the truth eventually? Or just as likely, that the truth would be shared for you?"
[18:23] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Rustami. "But I had hoped to do so on my own terms, when I felt more comfortable with the people here."]
[18:24] <Raphael> "Understandable."-
[18:27] * Raphael was quiet for a while. "Command's not so unprofessional as to object to working with you if you leave things as they are. Things will shift with time, especially if you're capable of maintaining this persona," he said, and offered a vague gesture in Kourosh's direction.
[18:28] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Rustami. "Thank you for the feedback."-
[18:35] <Minaplo> ["… On a similar note, I also apologise for the stunt I pulled within your quarters." Said Rustami, looking rather shamefaced.]
[18:40] * Raphael nodded once. "Thank you, sir. There were better ways of introducing yourself."
[18:42] <Minaplo> ["Absolutely."-
[18:48] <Minaplo> ["Regardless, coming to terms with Command is one thing." Said Rustami. "But I also want to try to make actual friends here. As it stands, the closest things I have to friends here are Feng; Lady Yanmei, who is sort of obligated to at least like me a little; and Go, whose main interaction with me is aggressively bathing me."]
[18:51] <Raphael> "I see, sir."
[19:00] <Minaplo> ["So I have a plan." Said Rustami with a smile. "There is another citizen's fair planned for this sunday. I intend to, on the same day, host an outdoor banquet."-
[19:04] <Minaplo> ["Roku will be catering, drawing from the best ingredients available from the fair stores. There will be plenty to eat and to drink, and there will be entertainment! I'll have musicians play until the small hours, and there will be dancers putting on a show- I've already asked Julie to be our opening event- and I will also be telling stories both dramatic and comedic- and invite others to
[19:04] <Minaplo> do the same."-
[19:05] <Minaplo> ["You and Misato are both invited, as is the rest of Command, and a few other people." Rustami smiled hopefully.]
[19:12] <Raphael> "Oh," he said, left blinking and wrongfooted.-
[19:12] <Raphael> "… Is there time for that, sir?"
[19:15] <Minaplo> ["Oh yes, there will be time." Said Rustami. "I've cleared all of the prospective guests' schedules of work for the weekend. Between now and then, I will be doing their administrative and logistical work myself."]
[19:17] <Raphael> "W… Well."-
[19:19] <Raphael> "… that's a very kind invitation, sir," he said very slowly. "We'll aim to attend, I'm sure."
[19:21] <Minaplo> ["Thank you. I would appreciate it if you could put a good word in for it with the other prospective guests as well." Said Rustami. "Not only for my sake- everyone has been working very hard recently. As Prime Minister, one of my duties is to see to the wellbeing of our chiefs of staff, and this seems like a good way to bolster spirits."-
[19:21] <Minaplo> ["And because I am dedicating the banquet to Lady Yanmei, it will also encourage her as well."]
[19:24] <Raphael> "I'll speak to them. I don't think anyone will need much encouragement to take a night off, sir."
[19:26] <Minaplo> ["Thank you." Said Rustami. "I've also appointed a babysitter- with paid overtime- to create a 'little banquet' elsewhere for any children as well, if that helps."]
[19:28] <Raphael> "It does," he said. For a fleeting moment he even smiled.
[19:29] <Minaplo> [Rustami smiled as well.-
[19:30] <Minaplo> ["Now then, General. If you have any questions of me, any at all, now's your chance to ask."]
[21:28] <Raphael> "Hm."-
[21:29] <Raphael> "… you said you lived alongside Mary Caine and von Brandt. Would you be willing to talk about what that was like?"
[21:32] <Minaplo> ["I can do my best. I… Don't know how relevant it'll be to our current situation. The Mary and Ephraim of today are so different to the ones I knew that my simulations of them began to decline nearly seventeen years ago… I've had to make new ones from scratch, which is proving difficult."-
[21:33] <Minaplo> ["It's also worth noting that Mary wasn't there for very long." Said Rustami. "But nonetheless I'll give it a shot. Let me think."-
[21:33] <Minaplo> [Rustami took a deep breath.-
[21:34] <Minaplo> ["Ephraim was there for as long as I can remember. He was one of our most important defenses- he had the ability to see thoughts, and also to an extent manipulate them. He projected a bubble of illusion around the valley that misled Newtypes and kept them away from us."-
[21:37] <Minaplo> ["He was… A rather shy man." Said Rustami quietly. "Bashful around women. He was always friendly, and he also hated conflict and was rather easy to bully. He was rather hard on himself too- he held his powers to a very high moral standard. Usually he tuned his senses to only detect massive spikes of hostility, despair or other negative things- he only deliberately scanned deep into a
[21:37] <Minaplo> person's mind when an elder requested he do so- usually as part of a legal dispute."-
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["But he was a perceptive man, and sensitive to some of the problems Shangri-la had that others preferred to ignore. He wanted what was best for us… He was also one of the school teachers. He taught geography."-
[21:40] <Minaplo> ["I think he felt at home with us, but in some way he missed Germany dearly. I suppose your homeland always has a part of your heart." Said Rustami, his voice cracking slightly near the end.]
[21:48] * Raphael listened intently, watchful - like he was taking notes - but as Kourosh finished up he frowned very slightly. "… it does."
[21:50] <Minaplo> [He met Raphael's eyes for a moment, then looked back down at the table.-
[21:54] <Minaplo> ["Mary was… Bold. She was self-assured and confident, but she wasn't arrogant about it. She could be firm, incredibly firm, and she never backed down from a fight, but she preferred to talk things out if possible. She was playful, even- she treated the move to Shangri-la like a type of vacation, I think, a break from her family's plotting and her father's overbearing attitude."-
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["One of the things she adored was the history of the place." Said Rustami. "She delighted in it. I didn't live in the town proper, but rather in part of an ancient underground city built into some caverns. Much of the city was buried, but Mary must've spent hundreds of hours in there, exploring it, charting it."-
[21:59] <Minaplo> ["She befriended me, but moreso my fiancee, Holly." Said Rustami. "The two of them became incredibly close, like mother and daughter. When Mary left, Holly went with her, and- that was the last time I saw Holly."]
[22:07] <Raphael> A beat as Raphael reflexively tried to work out just how old that made Kourosh, before coming to the conclusion that it didn't matter. "I'm very sorry, sir," he said, and everything about his tone suggested he meant it.
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["Thank you." Said Rustami gently.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["Mary… Got into an argument over Holly and me, actually." Said Rustami. "She argued over us with the elder, Tengri Khan."]
[22:08] <Raphael> "Oh?"
[22:10] <Minaplo> ["I was betrothed to Holly when I was six years old." Said Rustami. "By the time Mary arrived, in 1999, I was nine… And Holly was fifteen. The betrothal was sanctioned by the Khan for the good of the settlement, but Mary felt it was," he smiled, "Archaic and patriarchal."]
[22:11] <Minaplo> <I was eight*>
[22:15] * Raphael let out a huff of breath that may have passed for a chuckle under an exceedingly generous light.-
[22:15] <Raphael> "The good of the settlement… You were keeping relationships within Shangri-La?" he guessed. "For security, or something else?"
[22:16] <Minaplo> ["Security… It was complicated." Said Rustami. "First and foremost, let's talk numbers. There are only 4,000 or so A-Types and E-Types combined."-
[22:20] <Minaplo> ["Shangri-la was envisioned as a place for us, to protect ourselves and protect the world from us." Said Rustami. "But we also felt that the population then had to be entirely A-Types and E-Types, or the closest possible to entirely. We didn't want to create a situation where Newtypes were born into Shangri-la and treated as second-class citizens, but remember- only 4,000 or so of us. That
[22:20] <Minaplo> meant that the population of Shangri-la would only ever be, maximum, around 4,000… Realistically our numbers ranged from a 1,000 through to 3,000. So if Newtypes remained in the settlement and created families, then quite quickly- within a few generations- they might outnumber the A-Types, and Shangri-la might end up looking like the world outside."-
[22:22] <Minaplo> ["At least, that was the theory." Said Rustami with a sigh. "Realistically our stance caused endless problems. Potential migrants to Shangri-la were encouraged to leave behind Newtype spouses and children. If they insisted, then we permitted it- but any Newtype children of the pairings had to leave the settlement if they wanted to start families of their own. It caused many migrants a great
[22:22] <Minaplo> deal of grief, and also meant that many simply refused to come."]
[22:25] * Raphael nodded, brow furrowed. "What did you do with Newtype children born to local families?"
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["That… Was a problem in itself." Said Rustami with a frown. "You see, part of my role was to be a matchmaker. A-Type pairings tend to attract A-Type children, but sometimes the timing can be wrong or who knows. So I not only played matchmaker, I also had to advise couples on the right time to have children. So you see, my power was integral to the proper running of Shangri-la."-
[22:28] <Minaplo> ["But accidents still happened, surprise surprise. And there were stretches where I reincarnated in places that weren't Shangri-la, and so they were without my ability at all." Said Rustami. "So…"-
[22:29] <Minaplo> ["If the local couple had family elsewhere, it was encouraged that those families take them in. Otherwise, the child might be sent for adoption somewhere… Needless to say, the children weren't permitted to stay."-
[22:30] <Minaplo> ["Like I said, the stance caused massive problems." Said Rustami with a sigh. "It was cruel in its own way, but no parent would be happy with us sending their children away, would they?"]
[22:34] <Raphael> Another slow nod. "Doubtful, sir."-
[22:34] <Raphael> "Obviously you'd have cause, given the drastic steps, but I have to ask: Was the outside world really so dangerous for you? I'm new to the entire concept of those powers, but it doesn't sound like they were strictly obvious from the outside."
[22:36] <Minaplo> ["It rarely was." Said Rustami. "I knew a man who could control fire, could create it all over his body and not burn, but he had to do it willingly."-
[22:37] <Minaplo> ["The problem there is that I can hide my power, but there's only so much you can do with fire manipulation before it becomes obvious. Similarly you have Serafina, who had the gift of a herculean body- immense strength, immense toughness…"-
[22:38] <Minaplo> ["I think for many of us it was an identity issue. A place where we could be ourselves, openly. Owning that piece of us…"-
[22:39] <Minaplo> ["There's also the other side of the coin: we were dangerous." Said Rustami. "True, a lot of us needed practice to really obtain our powers. I wasn't one of them. There's a few others like that."-
[22:40] <Minaplo> ["And sometimes people just awake to it." He said with a shrug. "We realised that we could be misused, by other people- and by Lilith even. So we hid ourselves away. If you want an example of what might happen if we didn't…"-
[22:40] <Minaplo> [Rustami gestured toward a book in his bookcase, where Raphael could clearly see the title in gold print: "NAPOLEONIC WARS, 1-5".-
[22:40] <Minaplo> ["Whether you think it's a good thing or a bad thing, it wasn't a tiny thing."]
[22:48] <Raphael> "… Of course," he said dully. "Because Yanmei was Napoleon and you were… who, Jean Lannes?"-
[22:49] <Raphael> "History made sense once."
[22:49] <Minaplo> ["Hey, you got it." Said Rustami, looking delighted. "You can usually tell if it's me because I tend to die before she does."-
[22:51] <Minaplo> ["Nonetheless." He said, his smile fading. "By the end of it… As much as I loved Shangri-la, I realised that it wasn't going to remain viable for much longer. Something changed. Something to take the already-volatile situation and enflame it, and there was nothing we could do."]
[22:53] * Raphael gave him a curious look, but nodded for him to continue.
[22:53] <Minaplo> ["We had an isolated town with strict rules on who could marry whom, and what might happen if their children weren't right, so on and so forth… Which already made people unhappy."-
[22:56] <Minaplo> ["… In 1999, of the just-under 3,500 A-Types that were alive… three quarters were men." Said Rustami. "And that was reflected in Shangri-la. Much of our population was made up of men who weren't allowed to find partners outside of the settlement, but couldn't find partners within it either."]
[22:58] <Raphael> "… ah," he said quietly. "Unfortunate."
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["Less a matter of luck and more a matter of Lilith. She seems to have decided that we'd tried to remain isolated for too long… And so."]
[23:01] <Raphael> "And so," he echoed, frowning.
[23:02] <Minaplo> [Rustami leaned back and sighed.-
[23:04] <Minaplo> ["And in all of that mess, I was the one in charge of matchmaking." Said Rustami. "And he told me that first and foremost, we needed to prioritise a pairing that would eventually lead to my being born within the settlement again."-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["It… Was incredibly strange, I'm sure it sounds as much as well, but that's how I divined my own match." Said Rustami. "Unfortunately, it was with Holly… Who was clever and charming and very pretty. Some of the younger men took it very poorly."-
[23:06] <Minaplo> ["And in all of that, Mary blamed the Khan and his policies for not only creating my messy situation but also perpetuating the situation that led to such discontent in the first place. She felt it had done everyone a grave injustice. She… May have thrown the word 'eugenic' around a few times. It was a heated debate."]
[23:16] * Raphael offered a short, humourless laugh. "How times change."-
[23:16] <Raphael> Even so, he seemed to remember himself well enough to avoid dwelling on the point. "Not to agree with Caine, I'm a little surprised that dynamics like that needed Lilith's intervention to pull themselves apart."
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["Agreed. It… Took a heroic effort, I suppose, over centuries, millennia- my time wasn't the first time Shangri-la was faced with being destroyed, either. Yet somehow it always managed to pull through…"-
[23:19] <Minaplo> [Rustami sighed. "But in the end, Impact happened, our powers vanished, and finally the Russians came and slaughtered most of the population, then carted the rest off to their camps for experiments. Thus ends the legacy of Zarathustra's hidden city in the mountains." He said flatly.]
[23:31] <Raphael> "I'm sorry," he said again. Silence spooled out between them.-
[23:31] <Raphael> "… Perhaps I shouldn't have asked, sir, but I appreciate you sharing."
[23:32] <Minaplo> [Rustami nodded. "You're welcome. It's not a good tale to tell, but I've found that I don't mind sharing it… Even if it hurts."-
[23:36] <Minaplo> ["…" He looked away. "Mary and Ephraim have done… Terrible, terrible things. Things I never expected them to do. Things that we do not have the right to forgive."-
[23:36] <Minaplo> ["But in a sense, telling this story is a way of… Mourning, I suppose, the people that they used to be. Decent people. Kind people. People that I held close in my heart."-
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["As far as I can tell, they died in Impact as well."-
[23:38] <Minaplo> [Rustami looked up at Raphael. "One thing that's worth remembering is that Impact changed pretty much everyone in some way, but the survivors of Shangri-la…" He shook his head. "Strange things happened to them."]
[23:41] <Raphael> "I'm getting that impression, yes…"
[23:43] <Minaplo> [Rustami nodded. "A common reaction I think you'll find is, after having something so integral to their identity and life ripped away, they tried to replace it. Serafina allowed herself to become a guinea pig for combat drugs, whilst Ephraim studied psychological techniques designed to bend the mind."-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["The thing that troubles me most, though, is Ephraim's actions with the NeoSpartans." Said Rustami. "The thing to remember about the NeoSpartans was that they were, by definition, all A-Types or E-Types. Thousands of them. Most of them."-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["That is to say, reincarnations of people Ephraim and I knew."]
[23:47] <Raphael> That caught him off-guard, and he didn't move fast enough to mask a shudder of revulsion. "That's…"
[23:49] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Ephraim with a frown. "I don't know what it means, but it means something. I wish I could talk to him. See what makes him tick… Mmm. It's frustrating."]
[23:49] <Minaplo> <OH SHIT OOPS>
[23:49] <Minaplo> <Rustami*>
[23:49] <Raphael> <AAA>
[23:56] * Raphael seemed to weigh his options very seriously before he responded. "… We should have security footage. Several of us spoke to him while he was 'imprisoned' here."
[23:57] <Minaplo> ["Hrm. That might work. I suspect none of you were able to get past his defenses, though- although that's nothing to be ashamed about."]
[00:12] <Raphael> "Mm."-
[00:12] <Raphael> "… A personal request though, sir?"
[00:13] <Minaplo> [Rustami nodded invitingly.]
[00:14] <Raphael> "If you can get what you need without watching Ms. Chiisana's, I'd appreciate it."
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["I'll do my best." Said Rustami. "I have no interest in playing voyeur to his hurting innocent people."]
[00:24] * Raphael gave Rustami a tight nod, one hand toying with the ring-pull for one of the beer cans by his side.
[00:26] <Minaplo> ["Now then, General. Was there anything else you wished to ask?"]
[00:28] <Raphael> "Not that I can think of right now, sir," he said. "I'm fairly sure that more questions will come up as I consider things, but I don't want to pepper you with them if I can help it."
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["I appreciate it." Said Rustami. He got to his feet and held his hand out to Raphael. "Thank you for coming."]
[00:31] * Raphael stood and shook it. "Of course, sir," he said with a faint smile. "I'm pleased to leave things on better terms this time."
[00:33] <Minaplo> ["As am I." Said Rustami, smiling in return.-
[00:33] <Minaplo> ["Now then. I suppose I should finish setting the details for my banquet before I return to work…" Said Rustami, sitting back down. "You have a good day, General."]
[00:40] <Raphael> "Same to you, Prime Ministe-"-
[00:40] <Raphael> He paused. "… I hate to be rude, sir, but is the offer to help with our logistics work already open? Because if I could forward on a few bits of mine so that I could make sure Doctor Akagi isn't left alone in Medical I'd appreciate it."
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Rustami cheerfully.]
[00:42] <Raphael> "Thank you very much, sir," he said, looking relieved. "I'll make sure to send the word around about the banquet while I'm free."-
[00:45] <Raphael> "Have a good day, Prime Minister Rustami," he said. He saluted, then collected his gift beer and hurried out the door with a bit more energy in his step.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License