Cherry Blossom Procession 4 2 4

<Minaplo> [The smell of smoke and blood clung stubbornly to the interior of the Panama Fortress.-
<Minaplo> [It had been four days since the Federation had stormed the fortress, taking it and the canal mostly intact. When Misato had first arrived, the smell of carnage had been overwhelming.-
<Minaplo> [The Iron Guard had not been gentle; stormtrooper corpses had lain strewn in mounds through corridors and rooms, their blood splashed across bulkheads in a testament to the Guards' belief that savage weaponry had a psychological edge as well as a physical one.-
<Minaplo> [There had been few prisoners, much to Misato's dismay. One room had been filled with slain technicians, very clearly unarmed.-
<Minaplo> [Yet here and there had been signs of real resistance, signs that the Guard had not simply rampaged freely. Dead Guard had been found: they weren't common yet they were there, often with a few Phantom bodies nearby. In one corridor, three Guard lay dead; at the end of the hall were the bodies of a stormtrooper fireteam, clustered around a single broken rail autocannon.-
<Minaplo> [As odd as it was, considering that they were her allies, the sight of dead guard gave Misato a sense of hope, one she couldn't quite explain.-
<Minaplo> [Perhaps the most notable sign, however, had been Albus Mortens.-
<Minaplo> [Albus had attacked the fortress's Operations Centre by himself, using his incredible power to break inside. However, once in, they'd lost contact with him.-
<Minaplo> [They eventually found Albus in the lowest levels of the fortress; the eight levels above bore witness to his conflict, most notably the massive holes he and his opponent had left in each on their way down.-
<Minaplo> [Albus had been hunched over on one knee. Driven through his body, from leg to throat, had been twenty short swords of exquisite sharpness.-
<Minaplo> [This hadn't been enough to kill him, simply lock him down as the swords interfered with his healing process.-
<Minaplo> [On being found, Albus grimly assured the UEF that he had given as good as he had got.-
<Minaplo> [Now Misato sat in the commander's office alongside Hikari and Hyuga, the three of them going through reams of digital reports and paperwork dealing with everything from requisition processes to casualty reports.-
<Minaplo> ["All in all, looks like we did okay this time." Said Hyuga. "Knocking the fortress out early was a big help."-
<Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Hikari. "This is the hard part done, right?"-
<Minaplo> ["Somehow I don't think so." Said Misato. "Sure, a fortress is bad news, but the UN was already gonna put a lot of forces our way- battlefleets, that kinda thing. Our next job is gonna be interception, and here's the thing: it's a lot harder to defend two thousand kilometres of Chinese coast than it is to take ten kilometres of Panamanian shoreline."-
<Minaplo> ["Oh." Said Hikari. She frowned. "Do we ever get a clean break…?"-
<Minaplo> ["Not for awhile." Said Misato with a dark chuckle. "Knowing our luck, we'll probably get attacked by Japan or something halfway through the battle."-
<Minaplo> ["Man, don't say that." Muttered Hyuga. "Japan's in a real state right now, who knows what it might do?"-
<Minaplo> ["I can't believe Shin-chan went and did that." Said Hikari, sounding horrified. "He looked like some crazy anime villain. And he called the country frogs."-
<Minaplo> ["Isn't that supposed to be secret information?" Said Misato.-
<Minaplo> ["You don't really keep a lot secret from Keita and Kensuke, Admiral. Sorry." Said Hikari with a shrug.-
<Minaplo> ["Ugh. Well, don't get captured, okay?" Said Misato.-
<Minaplo> ["I… Will definitely try not to be." Said Hikari hesitantly.-
<Minaplo> ["Attagirl." Said Misato. "On the topic, what have your contacts in the Public Security Bureau been saying about it all, Hyuga?"-
<Minaplo> ["Well, a quarter of them are dead." Said Hyuga with a frown. "Two other quarters are considering career changes, and the other quarter are being promoted in the exact sort of way you expect when an organisation loses most of its command personnel."-
<Minaplo> ["Geez." Muttered Misato.-
<Minaplo> ["They're saying Minister Hitoyama's beside himself." Said Hyuga. "Apparently a bunch of Japan's over intel agencies are taking great pains to avoid and exclude the PSB because of how horrible its credibility has become."-
<Minaplo> ["What's he doing about it?" Asked Hikari.-
<Minaplo> ["No idea, but he's recently started taking greater control over the PSB's affairs… He's even going through personnel profiles and stuff. So he's clearly up to something." Said Hyuga.-
<Minaplo> ["Mmm. Let's hope he doesn't try to mess with us, though." Said Misato.-
<Minaplo> [At that moment, the door's alert trilled.-
<Minaplo> ["Who is it?" Said Misato.-
<Minaplo> ["Rustami." Was the reply.-
<Minaplo> [Misato scowled. "What the… Shouldn't he- oh whatever. Enter!"-
<Minaplo> [And so he did. "Admiral Katsuragi, thank you for seeing me."-
<Minaplo> [Hyuga and Hikari shot to their feet, but Misato stayed seated. "What're you doing here?"-
<Minaplo> ["I thought it wise to speak to you about something." Said Rustami. "In private."-
<Minaplo> ["I'm very busy, Rustami, so I don't have time for whatever game you want to play today." Said Misato. She very pointedly looked back down at her computer.-
<Minaplo> [So Rustami simply stood and waited.-
<Minaplo> [After five minutes of Hyuga and Hikari being crushed by the gravitationally significant awkwardness generated by the two of them, Misato sighed heavily and looked up.-
<Minaplo> ["Fine. Hyuga, Horaki, out. Rustami, in."-
<Minaplo> [Hyuga and Hikari quickly left, leaving the two alone.-
<Minaplo> ["May I sit?" Said Rustami.-
<Minaplo> ["Mmmhm." Said Misato.-
<Minaplo> [Once he sat, she leaned back straight in her chair. "So what's this all about?"-
<Minaplo> ["Oh. Well, first I wanted to congratulate you for your victory-"-
<Minaplo> ["You could've done that over a holocall." Said Misato. "Get to the point, Rustami."-
<Minaplo> ["…"-
<Minaplo> [Kourosh bowed his head for a moment. "Fine. It's been an unsettled few weeks, you know, for both of us. I've kinda been a wrench in the cog-"-
<Minaplo> [Misato snorted.-
<Minaplo> ["And I can tell we've, er. Gotten off on the wrong foot." Said Kourosh. "That's fine. Understandable."-
<Minaplo> ["Sure is." Said Misato.-
<Minaplo> ["Right. Um. Do you remember me?" Said Kourosh.-
<Minaplo> ["… What sort of stupid question is that?" Said Misato. "The feeling of dread and irritation I got from hearing your name says yes, so…"-
<Minaplo> ["Sorry, not what I mean." Said Kourosh. "I mean, this isn't the first time we've met-"-
<Minaplo> ["You don't say." Said Misato drily.-
<Minaplo> ["Nnn." Kourosh stopped for a second, closed his eyes, then continued. "We've met each other before I joined the Federation."-
<Minaplo> ["…"-
<Minaplo> [Misato scowled at him. "Don't waste my time. What do you mean?"-
<Minaplo> ["We met as children, once. For a few days." Said Kourosh. "Don't you remember me? A weird little boy appearing at the research base one day?"-
<Minaplo> ["What do-"-
<Minaplo> [Misato's eyes suddenly widened. "Wait…"
[14:28] <Minaplo> [She shot out of her chair. "I remember now. A scrawny little kid wrapped up in layers of fur… You came with Elisha Caine… My father made me look after you…"-
[14:36] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Kourosh slowly. "You do remember."-
[14:37] <Minaplo> [Misato settled back down in her chair, her wide eyes having narrowed into a frown. "Why bring this up now…? There isn't something I'm forgetting like some dumb marriage promise?"-
[14:38] <Minaplo> ["… I was engaged at the time." Said Kourosh, an edge of irritation in his voice. "And Elisha Caine had just gutted my hometown, so no, we didn't make some dumb marriage promise."-
[14:38] <Minaplo> ["Engaged? But you were…"-
[14:42] <Minaplo> ["Shangri-la had laws." Said Kourosh. "It doesn't matter."-
[14:42] <Minaplo> [A silence fell on the room as Misato paused to collect her thoughts.-
[14:43] <Minaplo> ["… Alright." Said Misato. "So you visited the research base in Antarctica once, and I had to mind you… Is that really it?"-
[14:44] <Minaplo> ["No." Muttered Kourosh. "I came here to apologise. For myself, and also on behalf of Elisha Caine, because not all the spentas in Heaven could make him do it himself."-
[14:44] <Minaplo> ["Apologise for what?" Said Misato, her frown deepening.-
[14:46] <Minaplo> ["… It wasn't your fault." Said Kourosh eventually.-
[14:47] <Minaplo> [Misato stared at him, speechless.-
[14:49] <Minaplo> ["Caine modified your unit." Said Kourosh. "He- sabotaged it, so that when the time came and your father attempted to contact Adam, your unit would break down and containment would fail. You never had a chance of doing it properly, no matter what you did. It wasn't your fault- it was Caine's." Said Kourosh; he wasn't looking up at her anymore. "And he did it using information about you he took from me."-
[14:52] <Minaplo> [Misato clapped a hand over her mouth. For a few seconds she did nothing but this; when she finally spoke, her voice was raw. "What… Him?"-
[14:53] <Minaplo> ["Yes. And I helped him. Against my will, but I helped him nonetheless."-
[14:57] <Minaplo> [A dragging silence fell after this.-
[14:57] <Minaplo> [There wasn't even the ticking of a clock.-
[14:57] <Minaplo> ["… For years, I thought…" Began Misato.-
[14:58] <Minaplo> ["For years I thought it was my fault. That if I'd done something differently, I could've stopped it somehow. That it was my responsibility…"-
[15:02] <Minaplo> [Misato picked up a book and threw it half-heartedly at the wall.-
[15:04] <Minaplo> ["Maybe you thought I'd feel relieved, but I don't. I mostly just feel pissed off." She said. "Impact. I've been hating myself over Impact for nearly 20 years, now I know I should've been hating someone else instead."-
[15:07] <Minaplo> ["Why?" She said. "Why would he do that?"-
[15:07] <Minaplo> ["To find Lilith." Said Kourosh. "He needed a disaster that'd bring her to the surface. You and your father were conveniently located."-
[15:08] <Minaplo> ["'Conveniently located'." Said Misato coldly. "That son of a bitch."-
[15:09] <Minaplo> ["I'm very sorry." Said Kourosh quietly. "I never wished to cause you any pain. But I felt that you of all people had a right to know."-
[15:10] <Minaplo> [It took a minute for Misato to respond.-
[15:10] <Minaplo> ["Have you… Told anyone else about this?" She said.-
[15:13] <Minaplo> [Kourosh shook his head. "Only about Elisha causing Impact. You and I are the only people alive who understand your role in the Katsuragi Expedition… So Mary Caine probably knows as well." Said Kourosh. "Your role, I've kept to myself, because it's up to you to explain it… And because there are people we both know that would hate you for it, no matter the situation."-
[15:17] <Minaplo> ["For that matter, the same goes for me." Said Kourosh. "If people knew my role in sabotaging your unit, then I'm sure many of them would think less of me for not killing myself before I could."-
[15:18] <Minaplo> ["What did you do, exactly?" Asked Misato.-
[15:19] <Minaplo> ["I constructed information about you, your unit… Things he'd need to know in order to sabotage it. Fortunately, I only gave him the barest essentials… Anymore, and I'm sure he would've set it up to kill you, too."-
[15:19] <Minaplo> ["Kill me…? Why?"-
[15:21] <Minaplo> ["He felt that you were too dangerous to live." Said Kourosh with a shrug. "Or rather, the ability that made you so central to the Expedition- was too dangerous. Of course, after Impact, your Universality vanished along with everyone else's abilities, so it didn't matter to him either way. And he knew you blamed yourself, so he was… Safe."-
[15:22] <Minaplo> [Misato's expression clouded with anger. "Goddamn him. Goddamn him, goddamn the Caines, damn it all…! My father, my life, the whole world-!"-
[15:23] <Minaplo> [Kourosh remained silent, staring down at his hands.-
[15:24] <Minaplo> [Eventually, Misato's breathing slowed, and she looked up. "I… I'll need some time to- to process all of this."-
[15:24] <Minaplo> [Kourosh stood. "I know. Take your time. Please call me if you need anything."-
[15:24] <Minaplo> [As Kourosh was leaving, Misato spoke up. "… Kourosh. Do you support Elisha Caine's plan?"-
[15:25] <Minaplo> [Kourosh stopped- then he turned just enough to look at Misato. "I do."-
[15:25] <Minaplo> ["Why?" Said Misato. "Why support someone who did such horrible things?"-
[15:28] <Minaplo> ["… I could give excuses." Said Kourosh slowly. "I could talk about Lilith or Destiny or whatever, but I'm not going to. The reason I support Elisha Caine's plan… Well, there's two reasons. The first is that when the day comes and this all ends, and Elisha is transformed into something more, he will be forced to merge with the consciousness of all humanity. On that day, each and every mind will be open to him, and he to them, and he will be forced to be held accountable to everyone."-
[15:32] <Minaplo> ["The second reason is that his plan… Will work. It'll repair the world he and his family broke. And it'll wipe away the pain and trauma that our species has had to wrestle with like a weight for so, so long. And I, personally, am a big believer that people who break things should be made to try and fix it. Why should we bear that burden? We shouldn't let the bastard shirk his responsibility."-
[15:33] <Minaplo> ["But how can we trust him to not make it worse?" Said Misato.-
[15:34] <Minaplo> ["We can't." Said Kourosh. "All we can do is rely on faith. On the idea that what humanity needs is not a perfect god, but one that understands what it means to be human- to be a mistake."-
[15:34] <Minaplo> ["Not a lot to go on." Said Misato.-
[15:35] <Minaplo> [Kourosh chuckled drily. "Are you a religious person, Misato?"-
[15:35] <Minaplo> ["Not really. Why?"-
[15:36] <Minaplo> ["Well. My faith tells me that anything can be purified if it's held in a hot enough fire." He said. "And trust me when I say I intend to make Elisha burn. If that sounds like your sort of thing… Let me know."-
[15:37] <Minaplo> [Misato snorted roughly. "I'll make a note of it, okay?"-
[15:37] <Minaplo> ["… Kourosh?"-
[15:37] <Minaplo> [He turned. "Yes?"-
[15:37] <Minaplo> ["… I appreciate your honesty." She said slowly.-
[15:37] <Minaplo> ["You're welcome."-
[15:37] <Minaplo> [With that, Kourosh left.-
[15:37] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[15:40] <Minaplo> [For twenty minutes, Misato dimmed the lights in the office and dwelt on her thoughts. Thoughts of Elisha Caine, who in her mind vacillated between a whiplashed villain and a deluded martyr; thoughts of a little boy wrapped up in fur, miserably forced to do what he didn't want to do…-
[15:41] <Minaplo> [And of her father, earnest and guileless, his life's work sacrificed on the word of a maniac, or of a sleeping god.-
[15:41] <Minaplo> [… Eventually, the lights lit up again. Misato summoned her staff once more and they returned to work.]

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