Cherry Blossom Procession 4 2 38

[11:39] <Minaplo> [At one of Blue's gambling tables sat four men.-
[11:42] <Minaplo> [Each man had a handful of cards, and in the middle of the table was a motley collection of lucre- French banknotes, a silver watch, a blue silken handkerchief and a pair of gold-rimmed eyeglasses.-
[11:44] <Minaplo> [Sitting facing the door was Mortimer Mazarin, his expression calm and cool. A pile of winnings already lay in his corner of the table- the same could not be said for the two next to him. To Mazarin's left was Libby, the Japanese ambassador, who was staring Mazarin square in the eye, a drip of sweat clinging to his forehead; to Mazarin's right was the Brofessor, who was squinting blearily
[11:44] <Minaplo> at a spot just above Mazarin's head.-
[11:45] <Minaplo> [Sitting opposite Mazarin was the fourth gambler, Raphael Guillory…-
[11:45] <Minaplo> [Mazarin showed his hand.-
[11:46] <Minaplo> ["Goddamn." Swore Libby, throwing his cards over his shoulder.-
[11:46] <Minaplo> ["Did I lose?" Asked Brofessor.-
[11:46] <Minaplo> ["You lost. We all lost. We are nothing but losers." Said Libby.]
[11:53] <Raphael> "Is the Emperor going to be angry that you lost her handkerchief, Mr. Ambassador?" Raphael asked mildly. He seemed rather unruffled by contrast, although he shot Mazarin the occasional suspicious look.
[11:54] <Minaplo> ["No, never." Said Libby. "Because I will, of course, take it back."-
[11:55] <Minaplo> ["Indeed?" Said Mazarin, pulling the motley pot into his pile of winnings. "I was under the impression that if you had money to wager, you wouldn't have wagered the handkerchief in the first place."-
[11:55] <Minaplo> ["Ah. Yes." Libby patted himself down, checked his pockets, then sighed.-
[11:56] <Minaplo> [… But someone seemed to catch his eye. "I will reclaim it at a later time. Excuse me," He said, standing up and leaving the table. "My dear Mr. Gosselin…!"-
[11:56] <Minaplo> ["I'm out too." Said Brofessor with a sigh.-
[11:57] <Minaplo> ["And what about you, General Guillory?" Asked Mazarin. He held Brofessor's glasses up and peered through them. "My goodness, this prescription is absurd. How do you see?"]
[12:00] * Raphael took in the Brofessor's squinting and smiled. "Not all that well from the look of it, hmm Arthur?"-
[12:00] <Minaplo> ["Brofessor."]
[12:01] <Raphael> "I can play another hand, Mr. President," he continued. "You learn to bet conservatively if you play cards with Sergeant Kirishima long enough."
[12:01] <Minaplo> ["Good for you." Said Mazarin approvingly. "You could stand to learn from that, Monsieur Chelmondely."-
[12:01] <Minaplo> [The Brofessor cringed.-
[12:02] <Minaplo> ["… I'm gonna need those back, though." He said.-
[12:03] <Minaplo> ["Indeed? I cannot give them to you, but I can give you a lesson of equivalent value." Said Mazarin. "Do not bet something you need trying to pursue something you want unless you can assure a win in advance."-
[12:04] <Minaplo> [Mazarin pocketed the glasses- and the winnings- and then stood up. "Now, I am going to buy a meal for myself and my wise countryman Guillory, using your glasses. If Mr. Blue is charitable, perhaps he will return them to you after a few hours doing the dishes?"]
[12:07] <Raphael> A few extra banknotes landed in the centre of the table. "If you'll allow me, sir, I'll buy them back on his behalf."
[12:11] <Minaplo> ["Wise and generous." Said Mazarin, who placed the glasses back down on the table. "You owe Sir Guillory a great deal, Monsieur Chelmondely."-
[12:11] <Minaplo> ["Thanks." Mumbled the Brofessor.]
[12:11] <Raphael> "I owe him, sir. I did once tie him up and leave him in a basement for- how long was it, Arthur?"
[12:12] <Minaplo> ["Few hours." Muttered the Brofessor.]
[12:12] * Raphael gave Mazarin a what-can-you-do shrug.
[12:16] <Minaplo> [The Brofessor took the glasses and put them back on. "That's better. I uh… I'll see you two later."-
[12:16] <Minaplo> ["Yes, yes." Said Mazarin. A few seconds later the Brofessor left.]
[12:19] <Raphael> "… I wish he'd use a less absurd codename," Raphael said as he watched him go. "'Blue' is at least tolerable to use in conversation."
[13:02] <Minaplo> ["Agreed." Said Mazarin. "Now, Sir Guillory, I meant what I said about paying for your meal. Come, let's find a more suitable table."]
[13:05] <Raphael> "Very generous, sir," Raphael said, inclining his head in a makeshift bow. He pushed his (middling) hand of cards back towards the centre of the table and stood.
[13:08] <Minaplo> [Mazarin took a seat along the back edge of the room.-
[13:09] <Minaplo> ["It really is quite curious, this place." Said Mazarin. "It was not so long ago that Mr. Blue was considered a threat to national security."]
[13:20] <Raphael> "Officially speaking he still is, but I think his reasons for siding with us are genuine, and he's— hmm. Saying that I trust him is probably not wholly true, but he's reliable, and he's helped people he really has no reason to."
[13:23] <Minaplo> ["Indeed. He recently assisted you in a mission to East Africa, correct?"]
[13:28] <Raphael> "Yessir. As did one of his team, a Ms. Leona," he said. "They were both very helpful."
[13:28] <Minaplo> ["Mmm."-
[13:31] <Minaplo> ["And now he is running a bar and grill that has hosted two- possibly three depending on Liu Lin- Presidents, two Prime Ministers, a Chancellor and the Princess of Wales." Said Mazarin. "It might be one of the most exclusive eateries on Earth."]
[13:36] <Raphael> "… I've never thought of it that way," he muttered. "He'd never let us forget it if he heard you speaking that way, sir."-
[13:36] <Raphael> He cast an unwilling glance back over his shoulder.
[14:08] <Minaplo> ["Wwwwelcome to Blue's exclusive bar and grill." Said Blue, who was- almost predictably- standing right there. "Did you know that we were also the first ever restaurant on Mars?"]
[14:11] * Raphael sighed, but he didn't seem surprised. "I know. I visited. I was nearly killed by a beheaded statue."
[15:23] <Minaplo> ["I remember that statue." Said Mazarin. "It was quite… Baroque."-
[15:24] <Minaplo> ["Now here, we don't go for none of them statues or paintings." Said Blue. "I was thinkin' of getting a plaque put on the wall. 'The First Restaurant on Mars'. I was thinkin' I could get little babby Patrice to do a handprint for it…"]
[15:30] <Raphael> "I'm reasonably confident that Mr. Gosselin hasn't eaten here yet, Blue."
[15:31] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, but he's the first human being born on Mars." Said Blue. "It's, y'know. Special."]
[15:33] <Raphael> "And you would like to capitalize on it."
[15:39] <Minaplo> ["I'd like to commemmorate it." Said Blue. "I thought it was a neat gesture."]
[15:42] <Raphael> "… mm," he muttered. "It is. I'm being rude, excuse me."
[15:42] <Minaplo> ["Very rude." Said Blue loftily.-
[15:43] <Minaplo> ["But I guess I can forgive." He said, clicking his fingers. "Orders?"]
[15:48] <Raphael> "Just a ham and salad sandwich and some water for me, thank you."
[15:49] <Minaplo> ["I'll have the Langley-Soryu pizza." Said Mazarin.-
[15:50] <Minaplo> ["And to drink?"-
[15:50] <Minaplo> ["A glass of red."-
[15:50] <Minaplo> ["No worries. I'll see you both real soon." Said Blue, sauntering away.-
[15:50] <Minaplo> ["'The first restaurant on Mars'." Murmured Mazarin. "Sometimes, this world we're in barely seems real anymore."]
[16:07] <Raphael> "I couldn't agree more," he said. "I used to think the world made sense pre-Impact, but it turns out I just knew less."
[16:08] <Minaplo> [Mazarin laughed quietly. "That's a fair statement. Although at least back then the nonsense was more predictable."]
[16:09] <Raphael> "How so, sir?"
[16:13] <Minaplo> ["Here is one harmless example." Said Mazarin. "When I was elected in 2007, I was aged 42. I was considered to be uncommonly young by pre-Impact standards. In fact, I was the second-youngest French President in history."-
[16:13] <Minaplo> ["Now I seem to be rather old by post-Impact standards."]
[16:24] <Raphael> "It's a funny thing," he agreed. "I wouldn't say it's bad. I suppose in some ways it's natural to give power over the Impact Era to the people who grew up in it."
[16:25] <Minaplo> ["Yes, it has a certain poetic sense to it." Said Mazarin. "And their age does not mean they lack experience, either."-
[16:25] <Minaplo> ["But as far as examples of a changed world go…" Mazarin chuckled. "I wonder how old Henriette will be when she takes power?"]
[16:34] <Raphael> "I don't think you have very long, sir," he said seriously.-
[16:34] <Raphael> "I'm lucky, I suppose. Suzie has no political aspirations, so I just have to worry about her piloting a Superheavy at age thirteen."
[16:34] <Minaplo> ["Goodness. I trust there'll be laws against that sort of thing by then."]
[16:37] <Raphael> "You would hope so, but I think the whole secret identity nonsense I've been forced into has given her Ideas…"
[16:40] <Minaplo> ["Oh, you mean your, er… Red costume?"]
[16:41] <Raphael> "I'm afraid so, sir."
[16:44] <Minaplo> ["Mmm. You're afraid she might… Take up the mantle, so to speak?"]
[16:48] <Raphael> "It seems like the sort of thing she'd do…"
[16:50] <Minaplo> ["I suspect she may enjoy it much more than her father does, hm?"]
[16:56] * Raphael smirked. "No doubt. Perhaps she and Madame Mazarin will make a terrifying team?"
[16:57] <Minaplo> ["Hmmm." Mazarin looked thoughtful. "Yes, I can't imagine that going well for their enemies- whoever that might be. Extraterrestrials, probably."]
[17:01] <Raphael> "Probably."-
[17:01] <Raphael> … and then all at once he started to laugh. "You're right, Mr. President. This world has grown a bit ridiculous."
[17:19] <Minaplo> [Mazarin chuckled.-
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["Heavens, your daughter is already best friends with an Angel- and her whole life's ahead of her." Said Mazarin. "Who knows where they'll go next?"-
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["I admit, it's something I think about often- the next generation."]
[17:40] <Raphael> "As do I, to be honest. We've left a lot to them already, and I doubt it's going to get easier."
[17:43] <Minaplo> ["Agreed."-
[17:44] <Minaplo> ["I do wonder, though." Said Mazarin. "Whether they would be willing to exchange this world for the one before Impact?"]
[17:47] <Raphael> "Plenty would, I'm sure. There are positives to the post-Impact world, but I don't think places like Australia really see them."
[17:49] <Minaplo> ["True, albeit there were positives to the pre-Impact world that millions never saw either." Said Mazarin. "Perhaps the best question is which world offers the best opportunities in the long run?"]
[18:08] <Raphael> "… I think that's a hard question to answer right now," he admitted after a bit of thought.-
[18:08] <Raphael> "We've had to pull so many genies out of so many bottles just to survive that I think it's impossible to know what are the opportunities and what are the risks. I can't help but think of the fallout from introducing nuclear weapons to the world, and just how small that seems on the scale of what we've done."
[18:14] <Minaplo> ["So it seems." Said Mazarin. "Yet looking at what passes my desk on a day to day basis, I have the suspicion that I have a happier future than most of my predecessors."]
[18:17] <Raphael> "May I ask why?"
[18:19] <Minaplo> ["As President, I've had to face many challenges. Many of them are challenges are akin to the sort that my predecessors faced, some are not. But I'll break each challenge down and compare."-
[18:20] <Minaplo> ["First and obvious: war with Germany." Said Mazarin. "As I'm sure as some of your American friends have no doubt informed you, our country has had a checkered history with that particular crucible."]
[18:22] <Raphael> "I've some knowledge of it, sir."
[18:22] <Minaplo> [Mazarin smiled drily.-
[18:27] <Minaplo> ["Poincaré and Clemenceau saw victory in World War One, but afterwards- financial crises, unreliable allies, a bitter Germany, a lost generation and, by the Thirties, a political partisanry so divided and fierce that it made the pre-Impact American disputes look like a salon soiree."-
[18:37] <Minaplo> ["Then we have World War Two, which I hardly need mention. But after the War came- Cold War, nuclear weapons, wars of independence and the loss of empire, de Gaulle's coup d'etat, May '68… And somewhere in there, I suppose, is population growth and an economic boom."-
[18:40] <Minaplo> ["By comparison, this time 'round, we're a few months in, French forces occupy the west bank of the Rhineland and Germany is willing to sit at the peace table." Said Mazarin. "There's even talk of such scandalous outcomes as Germany joining the Federation so we can discipline Menshikov. Many have died, unfortunately, but we were spared the devastation that so set the previous wars apart."]
[19:27] <Raphael> "Mm, granted if you look at it from the perspective of the UEF and UN war that's true, but I tend to view it as the exclamation point on the end of everything that preceeded it. We never had a chance to come to terms with things like the LN War and the war with the Angels," Raphael said.-
[19:27] <Raphael> "The LN War offers more than enough unresolved bitterness, and the dead from Metatron alone dwarfs both World Wars."
[13:22] <Minaplo> ["True." Said Mazarin. "In fact, it is a rather sad matter that many of the nations most strongly aligned to the LN were also the most strongly hit by Metatron's bombardment- not including her plagues and spawn in Finland, Britain and so on."-
[13:24] <Minaplo> ["At the risk of sounding uncaring of their plight- and trust me, I do care about it- such a situation offers opportunities for us. There are a great many people who are deeply in need, people whose needs haven't been met because of the UN war. In a sense, it's a situation similar to Second Impact, where many people needed UN aid but didn't receive it because the UN allocated so many resources to the military- and to the Eva project."-
[13:26] <Minaplo> ["What this gives the Federation is a chance to do now what the UN should have done then, but knowing how to avoid the mistakes made." Said Mazarin. "Much of the LN War's foundation lay in the mistakes of the UN, after all- which means the Federation doing well here can create a much more stable peace in the future, and with a stable peace comes a cementing of Federation authority as well as better lives for those on the ground."]
[13:50] <Raphael> "… I see where you're coming from, sir, but I can't say I'm comfortable thinking of it in terms of opportunities," Raphael said. "Even if helping them earned us nothing but scorn, it would be our duty."
[14:03] <Minaplo> ["I understand, of course. And indeed you're right, it is our duty." Said Mazarin.-
[14:03] <Minaplo> ["Perhaps opportunities is the wrong word." Said Mazarin. "Simply put, I also have a duty to ensure that our efforts actually produce good outcomes for all involved."]
[14:12] <Raphael> "Of course," he nodded. "I don't mean to be touchy, sir. That we're ready to learn from the old mistakes is a good thing."
[14:18] <Minaplo> ["No, I understand." Said Mazarin graciously.-
[14:19] <Minaplo> ["But you put it well, I think. I feel as though part of why I am somewhat… Optimistic… About things is that it seems easier to learn from the old mistakes than it used to be."-
[14:21] <Minaplo> ["Our dear chancellor seems to be growing into her role too, especially in that way." Said Mazarin. "She's stopped letting de Pteres near diplomatic events, for example…"]
[14:35] <Raphael> The corner of Raphael's lip twitched as he restrained a smirk. "It's a real shame for him, sir."
[14:35] <Minaplo> ["Oh yes, a real pity. Did you ever hear the story of how he assaulted an ambassador?"]
[14:36] <Raphael> "… he what?"
[14:37] <Minaplo> ["Oh yes." Said Mazarin. "He-"-
[14:40] <Minaplo> [Mazarin broke off; a waitress had arrived, bearing their food on a tray. "Your orders, sirs." She said, placing a ham and salad sandwich in front of Raphael along with a jug and glass of water; Mazarin was given a glass of dark red wine, a medium-sized pizza cut into eight slices, and a bowl of spicy red soup.-
[14:42] <Minaplo> [Mazarin took a sample of the wine before he continued. "Yes, it's true. It was a long time ago- 2015? Maybe early 2016. It was before de Pteres' inherent, ah, instability was a matter of public knowledge. Back then, everyone thought he was quite harmless, just some shy and nervous child."]
[14:49] <Raphael> Raphael had become a frequent enough visitor to Blue's to thank the waitress by name as she left. He took a gulp of his water as he returned his attention back to Mazarin.-
[14:49] <Raphael> "That was my initial read of him. I still think it's closer to the mark than he lets on, even now," he said. "So what happened?"
[14:54] <Minaplo> ["Some background: I had to host a party at some point- powerful people, that sort of thing. NERV brought the pilots along. Blanc and de Pteres hated the entire thing." Said Mazarin. "The inevitable happened- someone tried to lobby de Pteres. Specifically, Anwar Abd'majid, the Ambassador from Algeria. Specifically, he was trying to persuade de Pteres to use his influence as a pilot to change my decision to install a viceroy in Algeria."]
[15:00] * Raphael nodded. "Mm, not surprising."
[15:00] <Minaplo> ["Of course. De Pteres said he didn't think there was much he could do, but he'd look into it." Said Mazarin. "Needless to say, de Pteres didn't do anything."-
[15:02] <Minaplo> ["Some time later, I took the ambassador to see a concert, and de Pteres was also in attendance with one of his classmates. By that time, Algeria had agreed to receive a viceroy, and so the ambassador was rather disappointed. He blamed de Pteres…"-
[15:03] <Minaplo> ["After the concert, the ambassador harangued de Pteres. I saw the entire thing- I'd hidden myself to have a cigarette, as that was before I gave it up." Said Mazarin. "The Ambassador pleaded and begged, and enraged de Pteres so much that de Pteres grabbed the poor man by the collar, beat him around the head, threw him to the ground and kicked him."]
[15:11] * Raphael stared. "Really? That's extreme, even for him. I've never-… well, I've rarely heard stories of him being a violent fool. What was the fallout?"
[15:14] <Minaplo> ["The ambassador ended up enabling the Covenant of Light attack on St. Louis school."]
[15:26] <Raphael> The look in his eyes grew so cold so suddenly that one imagined he could've frozen the water in his glass.-
[15:26] <Raphael> "It could've happened regardless," he said flatly. "The ambassador was already angry, he clearly had the resources…"
[15:29] <Minaplo> ["Quite true, of course." Said Mazarin. "But de Pteres made it incredibly personal- apart from the assault, he also stated that the suffering of the entire Algerian people was, collectively, less than any one individual Eva pilot, that helping Algeria wasn't going to benefit de Pteres at all and so he wasn't going to do it, and, I believe, that he said he was looking forward to the Angels burning Algeria whilst de Pteres did nothing."]
[15:50] <Raphael> "… why didn't you intervene?" He asked quietly.
[15:53] <Minaplo> ["Because de Pteres seemed genuinely deranged, laughing madly and proclaiming his… Elisha Caine-ness." Said Mazarin with a frown. "And by then we already despised each other. I could have intervened, and he could've attacked me, possibly killed me- after all, he was known for carrying knives at the time."-
[15:54] <Minaplo> ["Of course, my security team might intervene if he tried." Said Mazarin. "And in turn, his security team might have intervened in turn, turning it into a potential gunfight, where the least worst possibility is a dead bodyguard, and the worst is losing both the French President and an Eva pilot at a time when neither could be spared."-
[15:59] <Minaplo> ["So instead, I watched, and later on I contacted Director Ginevre and told her what happened." Said Mazarin. "I made it known to her in the strictest terms that such conduct was unacceptable, and that she should direct Section Two to be more watchful of de Pteres' actions, and much stricter- not only to protect him, but to protect those around him. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have helped."]
[16:08] <Raphael> "No it doesn't." There was undisguised disappointment in his voice. His hands were flat on the table to force them steady.
[16:09] <Minaplo> ["I wish it had. But Ginevre has always had a weakness where he is concerned." Said Mazarin, a slight bitterness to his tone.]
[16:22] <Raphael> "It seems inexplicably common," Raphael muttered.
[16:24] <Minaplo> ["You mean regarding the Chancellor?"]
[16:31] <Raphael> "Among others."
[16:37] <Minaplo> ["Mmm. It was something I've never been able to comprehend. His donor was much the same."]
[16:43] <Raphael> "I've noticed that too. I… can't really find a good excuse for why, though."
[16:45] <Minaplo> ["Hm. Well, Elisha Caine… He was an intriguing man. Arrogant, haughty, rude and dismissive to most." Said Mazarin. "Yet brilliant. Unfortunately, I have to concede that most of the stories about his instant, on-the-spot ability are true. He was faster than everyone else, cleverer…"-
[16:49] <Minaplo> ["That can't be enough to cancel out his sheer unpleasantness, yet with some people…" Mazarin shook his head. "To my distress, it was almost always women. Caine could be carelessly charming, as though he had no idea he was doing it. Like it just came naturally, yet the idea that someone could be so unlikeable yet so naturally charming seems absurd."-
[16:51] <Minaplo> ["And then just like that, he could focus, pay attention to someone, listen to them and all of a sudden, that respect meant everything to them. And once he brought them into his own little world…"-
[16:51] <Minaplo> [Mazarin scowled bitterly for a moment, and took the time to start on his pizza.]
[17:05] <Raphael> "So you knew him, then," Raphael said before he started work on his own lunch.
[17:08] <Minaplo> ["Yes. The three of us all went to the same university- Elisha, myself, and Ginevre." Said Mazarin. "Ginevre and I were friends long before- since school, that is- but Elisha we met at the Sorbonne."]
[17:30] <Raphael> "Hm. I had no idea that you and the Vice Chancellor went back so far, sir."
[17:30] <Minaplo> ["Oh, yes." Said Mazarin. "I'd thought the story of how we met had percolated through NERV's most excellent vineyard, yet apparently not. Shall I?"]
[17:31] <Raphael> "If you're willing, sir."
[17:33] <Minaplo> [Mazarin nodded, took a gulp of wine, and continued.-
[17:34] <Minaplo> ["We went to the same school as children. I was ten years old, she was six. Our houses were in literally opposite directions, so we never really had much of a reason to talk- didn't even know she existed."-
[17:35] <Minaplo> ["One day, our town suffered heavy rainfall- absolute buckets of icy cold water. I didn't bring an umbrella, and so went home atop my bicycle, soaking wet."-
[17:36] <Minaplo> ["Ginevre had seen me leave, and even though she lived in the other direction, chased after me so I could shelter under her umbrella. She caught up with me after I crashed my bicycle into a puddle and fell off."]

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