Cherry Blossom Procession 4 2 39

[14:05] <Raphael> The Peacecraft was scarred, a leg shredded badly at the hip, but that didn't seem to slow it down much. Its thrusters ignited and the open ground between it and the Deva vanished in an instant, the two emitters in its hands igniting as the Deva raised an AT barrier.-
[14:05] <Raphael> In some ways, the positron beam sword was a marvel of design. Unlike the standard positron melee weapons, which 'merely' emitted a thin positron 'sheathe' around the weapon proper, the beam sword was a carefully contained column of the stuff.-
[14:05] <Raphael> By a minute-to-minute comparison, it was nearly as energy hungry as a GPC. Rather than operating from compact fuel cells in the hilt like most positron weapons, the beam sword was powered through special ports on the Peacecraft's hands that gave them access to the Superheavy's full reactor. Even then it was a tremendous drain.-
[14:05] <Raphael> As Surov was quick to point out, it was a woefully inefficient design, likely due to it barely even entering the prototyping stage before the Thruster team had been gutted in Asgard.-
[14:05] <Raphael> If it was not a powerful answer to the tactical problem of the AT field, it was doubtful it'd be tolerated at all.-
[14:05] <Raphael> The Peacecraft sliced through the barrer with one sword and kept moving, the second blade slashing out to strike major muscle groups around the Deva's joints. The Deva designs were riddled with biological redundancies, but even so it was enough to slow it down, letting the Peacecraft evade the counterattack.-
[14:05] <Raphael> The third set of blows found the Deva's neck, severing it with two quick blows.-
[14:05] <Raphael> A moment after that the simulation shut down, leaving Raphael looking pensive as readouts took the place of the VR sim on the Peaceknight's screens. Three wins out of five. He gave them all a dutiful once-over and then opened the hatch, a thin sheen of sweat on his face.
[14:44] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati and Suzie sat in front of the large viewscreens and terminals, which were now replaying the simulated skirmish. There were four large screens atop the wall, showing it from four directions, and then finally a holographic 3d image projected from a holo-table in the middle of the room.-
[14:44] <Minaplo> ["Not bad, Raffy." Said Suzie as Raphael emerged, shooting him a thumbs-up.-
[14:44] <Minaplo> ["Yes, you did very well." Said Sarasvati. "It's time we moved you to the next level of difficulty."]
[14:46] <Raphael> "Ah, there's a difficulty," Raphael said. He looked as though he'd found the answer to some question. "Does that improve the use of the AI's Field usage? I think I would've lost two more of those if it was using AT manipulation more effectively."
[14:48] <Minaplo> ["Increasing the difficulty enables improved combat decision-making, including regarding Field use. It also accurately implements the berserk behaviour that triggers once sufficient damage is dealt to a Deva unit." Said Sarasvati.]
[14:53] * Raphael nodded, stretching his arms. He was dressed in a less… ornate version of his typical Red Shadow flight suit, riddled with ports at each joint. "Mm. I'll ask you to set the difficulty all the way up tomorrow. I'll lose for a while, but it's better if I don't form habits I'll need to break later."
[14:54] <Minaplo> ["The max difficulty is just called 'Sarasvati', though." Said Suzie seriously.]
[14:57] <Raphael> "Two birds with one stone, then. Wolf still has a bounty on your head for training, Colonel."
[14:59] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati stared at him and smiled. "If you like, we can take it the entire way. Next time I can pilot the Deva."]
[15:00] <Raphael> "I would be honored to have my virtual avatar vaporised by you, ma'am."
[15:01] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati beamed.-
[15:03] <Minaplo> ["Does the sim have Zeruel in it?" Asked Suzie. "I wanna see someone beat up a Deva with Zeruel."-
[15:03] <Minaplo> ["It does, but the data is outdated." Said Sarasvati.]
[15:05] * Raphael gave Suzie a smirk. "Outdated? It's evolved?"
[15:10] <Minaplo> ["We've simply learned more about Zeruel since then." Said Sarasvati. "As it stands, we can't exactly just ask Zeruel for full details."]
[15:14] <Raphael> "Ah, I see."-
[15:15] <Raphael> "… oh, the Prometheus mode control scheme seemed to work as intended," he added, tapping one of the suit ports. "The lag on movement felt nonexistent."
[15:17] <Minaplo> ["Excellent news." Said Sarasvati brightly. "The scheme was a challenge to model, but I'm glad it's worked out. Did you have any other points of feedback? How are you finding engaging in close combat?"-
[15:17] <Minaplo> ["Bet it's easier with beam sabres than it is with dumb bare hands." Said Suzie smugly.]
[15:21] * Raphael gave Suzie a dark sidelong look. "It's still not as natural as it needs to be. The Peaceknight AI and the Prometheus control scheme both help, but I need more personal practice. Rei's helping me brush up on some things…"-
[15:21] <Raphael> There were enough bruises hidden beneath his flight suit to prove it.
[15:22] <Minaplo> ["Not as easy as simply shooting things in the head, is it?" Said Sarasvati amusedly.]
[15:24] <Raphael> "I can't believe we've revived swordsmanship as a useful military skill," he muttered.
[15:29] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati chuckled. "It isn't too surprising."]
[15:32] <Raphael> "I know, I know. Angels required close-quarters blocking, which saw a surge in melee weapon R&D at the Evangelion scale, which in turn found its way to the personal scale when bioexotics entered the picture. It's still ridiculous"-
[15:32] <Raphael> "… Sorry, Suzie."
[15:33] <Minaplo> [Suzie gave Raphael a dirty look.-
[15:34] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said Sarasvati. "But it isn't the first time in history that warfare has led to longer-ranged weapons being replaced with shorter-ranged ones."]
[15:36] * Raphael nodded for her to continue as he set to work unbuckling the more rigid layer of the control suit.
[15:46] <Minaplo> ["According to some theorists, killing power, speed, shock factor and defense are major determinants of average combat distance." Said Sarasvati. "Armies gravitate toward whichever can provide the greatest of all of these. They especially try to maximise the gap between their killing power and the enemy's defense. So warfare goes through cycles where society's average killing power outstrips
[15:46] <Minaplo> defense, then defense increases. When defense increases, combat range tends to decrease- for example, your average European bow suffered in effectiveness against armour, until the invention of the crossbow, which had lesser range than bows, and the musket still had lesser range than either…"-
[15:49] <Minaplo> [But Suzie was looking out toward the door- had someone just gone past?-
[15:50] <Minaplo> ["… When killing power exceeds speed and defense to an extreme amount, you tend to have a buildup of static warfare, as can be seen in the First World War." Continued Sarasvati, "Which was largely reduced when defense and speed- in the form of armoured vehicles- made up the shortfall."]
[15:58] <Raphael> "All of that's true. And Iron Guard were designed in part to maximise shock in close quarters, so doctrines shift to counter that," Raphael said.-
[15:58] <Raphael> He looked over to Suzie. "Are you alright, sweetheart?"
[16:04] <Minaplo> ["I just thought I saw Chii go past." Said Suzie. "Or maybe it was the other Chii…?"]
[16:11] <Raphael> "Do you want to go find out?"
[16:16] <Minaplo> ["Sure." Said Suzie.]
[16:21] * Raphael let her go and set back to work on the suit. A few minutes of discussion on military history later, he'd exit the sim room with Sarasvati in tow.
[16:34] <Minaplo> [They'd find Suzie deep in conversation with the Empress, today wearing a long, simple, elegant white dress.]
[16:40] <Raphael> A faint smile as he drew a little closer, not eager to interrupt when both parties seemed to be enjoying the conversation.
[16:42] <Minaplo> [But of course, the Empress saw him; she looked up. "Hello, Raphael. You just finished training?"]
[16:47] <Raphael> "Yes ma'am," he said, with a gesture that was part nod, part bow. "We're testing some new scenarios with the Peacecraft."
[16:57] <Minaplo> [The Empress nodded at him in turn. "Sounds like you won against a Deva, too. That's pretty impressive."]
[17:01] * Raphael tilted his hand, smiling slightly. "Only in best-of-five, and apparently the Deva AI was taking pity on me."-
[17:01] <Raphael> "Thank you, though."
[17:05] <Minaplo> ["Hm, you're welcome." Said the Empress. "Suzanne was just telling me that she intends to beat your record, though."-
[17:05] <Minaplo> [And Suzie gave Raphael the sort of steely look that suggested she was serious.]
[17:08] <Raphael> "Does she now?" he asked seriously, clucking his tongue. "I suppose the Peaceknight prefers her, and since the control scheme needs the pilot to work in tandem with the AI…"-
[17:09] <Raphael> "I'll just have to practice harder."
[17:33] <Minaplo> ["It won't work, 'cuz you're always on about guns and not enough about swords." Said Suzie.-
[17:33] <Minaplo> ["It's true, you've always neglected the finer arts of close combat. Perhaps I should educate you myself?" Said the Empress. She couldn't help but make it sound like a threat.]
[17:45] <Raphael> He couldn't have missed it, but it also didn't seem to stop him. "Hmmmm. That might be helpful, Chiisana. If it's no imposition, of course…"
[17:52] <Minaplo> ["Your dying mid-battle due to close combat foolishness on your part would be more of an imposition."]
[17:56] <Raphael> "It warms my heart to hear you say so, ma'am."
[18:04] <Minaplo> ["Just don't be dumb, and you should be fine." Said Suzie firmly.-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["Which makes me think you'll be fine." Said Sarasvati. "Consider your most recent efforts in Germany…"]
[15:31] <Raphael> "It went well," he nodded. "A shame we couldn't capture Meir or the Prime, but it went well."
[15:35] <Hopeplo> ["Some of the Primes act impulsively and will push a fight past beyond where it has to, but Augustine is not one of them." Said the Empress. "If he reads it as not being worth his effort, he will simply leave…"-
[15:35] <Hopeplo> ["Scholastica is similar, albeit she tends to abandon her allies doing so." Said Sarasvati.]
[15:40] <Raphael> "'Some of the Primes' really only means Joan, realistically."
[15:51] <Hopeplo> ["Essentially." Said Sarasvati.-
[15:52] <Hopeplo> ["Regardless, the real prize was Germany. Have we heard anything about the negotiations so far?" Asked the Empress.]
[15:55] <Raphael> "I've heard fragments. Nothing's been set in stone, but the news is promising and Command's confident."
[16:07] <Hopeplo> ["So does that mean the war's gonna be over soon?" Asked Suzie.]
[16:13] <Raphael> "Maybe not, sweetheart," he said gently. "But it'll make things easier, and hopefully it'll save a lot of lives, so it's still a big win for everyone."
[16:27] <Hopeplo> ["Hmmmm."-
[16:27] <Hopeplo> ["Well, that's good at least." She said.]
[16:34] <Raphael> "It is," he agreed. He laid a hand on her shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze as he looked at the Empress.-
[16:34] <Raphael> "Ms. Chiisana, may I speak to you in private for a moment? There were a few things I was hoping to discuss, if you have the time."
[16:39] <Hopeplo> ["Of course." Said the Empress. "Suzanne, Madame Surova- good evening."-
[16:40] <Hopeplo> ["Bye, Chii." Said Suzie. Sarasvati gave the Empress a smile as well.-
[16:40] <Hopeplo> [The Empress turned and began to walk away from the group, expecting Raphael to follow.]
[16:46] <Raphael> And he did, trusting that she had a destination in mind.
[16:49] <Hopeplo> [And a moment later the two of them were… Standing in the middle of her living room. The Empress was already reclining in her chair.-
[16:50] <Hopeplo> ["Take a seat."]
[17:34] <Raphael> Raphael looked alarmed by the sudden transition, nearly tripping in his surprise, but he made a visible effort to right himself as he found the chair.-
[17:34] <Raphael> "… Well," he cleared his throat as he sat, trying to reassemble his thoughts. "It's… been brought to my attention that there are things I have misunderstood and misjudged, places where I've been wrongheaded. I'm here to apologise."
[18:11] <Hopeplo> ["I'm listening." Said the Empress- and her tone was gentle. She folded her hands in her lap and waited.]
[18:46] <Raphael> "The matter of your Evangelion, and the other Master Models…" he frowned. "I simply didn't understand. I have trouble thinking of things in those terms, which is no excuse. So if I've been insensitive in that respect, I apologise and I'll do my best to incorporate that into my understanding going forward."
[18:51] <Hopeplo> [The Empress watched him silently for a few seconds- then nodded.-
[18:52] <Hopeplo> ["Well said, Raphael." Said the Empress warmly. "Thank you. I can tell that you mean it, too. Your position was… Understandable enough, but I'm glad that you've realised the implications."]
[19:12] * Raphael nodded. "Yes ma'am."-
[19:12] <Raphael> "… I understand that circumstances have put us at odds a few times since your return. I'm not happy with that either, for what it's worth. If we wanted to improve that going forward - both with me and the UEF at large - what would you need us to change?"
[19:29] <Hopeplo> ["More- acknowledgements such as the one you just gave is a good start." Said the Empress.-
[19:30] <Hopeplo> ["… But I also wonder." She said quietly. "When I first returned, I made it clear that I would not tolerate poor leadership."]
[19:34] <Raphael> "You did…" he said slowly, watching her closely now.
[19:35] <Hopeplo> ["… However, Zhang Yanmei seems to be navigating her responsibilities well enough." Said the Empress. "She did, after all, successfully negotiate with Germany- apparently- and that is quite the coup."]
[19:40] <Raphael> "It's natural that she needed time to come to grips with the role, but she's doing well."
[19:47] <Hopeplo> ["Agreed." Said the Empress. "Of course, if things deteriorate, I'll make my views known, but… Yes, she seems to be handling things well."]
[19:56] <Raphael> "Of course. So does that change your relationship with us?"
[19:57] <Hopeplo> ["I think it puts us on a more firm foundation, yes."]

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