Cherry Blossom Procession 4 4 3

[15:27] <Yanmei> The sky was gloomy and overcast today, with the faintest rumbling of thunder in the distance… a fine reflection of the general mood on board the Ikari Gendo. -
[15:31] <Yanmei> Clearing her head on the deck of the battleship, far away from the grim conference room and the even grimmer war room, was Zhang Yanmei. She leaned against one of the railings - a small cooler containing something or other resting by her feet - and sighed, waiting.
[15:37] * Aline would eventually come abovedecks with her now ever-present escort, though said escort seemed to soon find a part of the deck where she could watch in the distance, possibly not really wanting to hear much of whatever Aline had to say. The girl herself, though… "…Well, so he's coming too, right?"
[15:40] <Yanmei> "Probably?" Yanmei turned her head to greet her. "You mean Sera, right?"
[15:42] <Aline> "…Yes."
[15:43] <Yanmei> "Then probably." Yanmei nodded.
[15:45] <Sept> Eventually, Sera would find his way onto the deck as well, wearing the pared-down version of his tasteful formal attire. He waved vaguely to the three already assembled and approached.-
[15:46] <Sept> "Hey?" he confidently greeted them.
[15:50] * Aline waved back, smiling lightly. "Hey there."
[15:51] <Yanmei> "Welcome to our little reunion."
[15:55] <Sept> "Heh, right. Thank you. It's good to have you back, Aline."
[16:06] <Aline> "Ah, thank you, thank you. I uh…" Aline sort of scratched her chin idly. "I'm not sure where to start. I've missed a lot no doubt…"
[16:08] * Yanmei turned to the cooler, opened it, and held it out. Inside were several cans of soda. "Pick your favorites, both of you. And yes, you did. New allies, new equipment, new challenges…"
[16:12] <Sept> "But not just for us, right?" Sera grabbed one of the cans, turned it over in his hand and popped it open.
[16:16] * Aline took a can as well, and turned to Sera. "What do you mean…?"
[16:19] <Sept> "I mean, you know, you kept pretty busy yourself. How much do you remember?"
[16:40] * Yanmei took a can herself, let the cooler rest back on the ground, and glanced between the two of them curiously.
[16:41] * Aline paused, cracking her can open. "…A lot. And that it was somwhat built on lies, too. Like… I mean, I wasn't with you guys, but I remember leading those MP-evas into the weird-zone, I remember helping Joan out with her problems - with some surreptitious help from Ezra - about training my phantoms, making a hurricane… things like that. I also remember how we almost grew up together, or all the angels we fought, or how we
[16:41] * Aline got into fights or fought to protect each other… all of it. I remember everything."
[16:46] <Sept> "…mm. A lot to process?"
[16:48] <Aline> "…Sorta. I… do you know how Mary did what she did?"
[16:51] * Yanmei cringed slightly. "You mentioned before that you died, right? So wasn't it just that combined with soul splitting and… conditioning?"
[16:57] <Aline> "It was, but… the trick is how the conditioning manifested." Aline explained, rolling her shoulders. "It was like… taking memories and recontextualizing them. Making believable stories out of them that served her purposes. I mean, they didn't need nor want to just rewrite my personality? …It was like. Making me think of the things that get me and you into fights, or the things that Sera does that I think are stupid - and
[16:57] <Aline> turning that just from 'oh man, that's annoying' to hatred. To creating a narrative where - aided by the tendency for Adam-Eve draws to one another - I trusted Michael and used him as a context to weaken my feelings for Shinji, to make me more readily accept the fake memory of being a UN sleeper agent all along, all that. It was basically that it was done well."
[17:04] * Sept took another long, thoughtful sip of soda. "Huh. That sounds like a really intricate procedure."
[17:06] <Yanmei> "You can bet von Brandt also had his sticky little paws all over that." Yanmei scowled and squeezed her can slightly. "We should have shot him while we had the chance?"
[17:06] * Aline frowned. "Killing a man doesn't do much when your enemy's a necromancer."
[17:08] <Yanmei> "I suppose not. But I bet it would hurt him a whole lot."
[17:09] <Sept> "Hehe. Most of all, we were still trying to get moral high ground, back then."
[17:14] <Yanmei> "Hmph. While that sort of paid off, we still missed a Golden Opportunity," she grumbled. "We're paying for all sorts of early mistakes even now."
[17:14] <Aline> "Not… that we should just surrender it either. Though Mary's general gameplan was often about 'oh look, you did the morally upright thing! Fuck you, it was a trap, by me! Ahahaha!'. And you did what was, honestly, the best thing you could do. If you sacrifice your self and principles for strategic gain left and right…"
[17:18] <Sept> "That's right. I mean, let's not be stupid, your reappearance fits that bill just as well. But what else are we gonna do?"
[17:20] <Yanmei> "If we were luckier, we'd be able to use this to our advantage? Like… Caine didn't tip you off to any of her secret plans or anything, right?"
[17:28] <Aline> "Nothing more secret than like, the general workings of Solomon Prime operations and the interpersonal dramas of Primes and… stuff like that. She didn't exactly confide in me." Aline said sheepishly.
[17:33] <Yanmei> "Of course not… That would make everything too easy for us…"
[17:34] * Aline sighed. "Evil overlords that aren't morons tend to tightly control information."
[17:36] * Sept quietly took another sip of soda.
[17:43] <Yanmei> "You know who is a moron? Albus. Let's beat the hell out of him in the next couple of days, yeah?"
[17:44] * Aline coughed, intentionally. "Ironic that I owe my freedom to the mistakes of another evil buffoon."
[17:47] <Sept> "Yeah. Sure it was a mistake, though?"
[17:48] <Aline> "Max - you know, the Pope - said things that made it sound like it was, yes. And i made deliberate actions to disrupt his 'ritual' that directly lead to my escape." Aline sighed. "Not everyone is a master of 4-dimensional chess that makes seeming mistakes that are actually genius traps."
[17:50] <Yanmei> "Yeah. Guy has nothing to gain from Blanc being here as opposed to… wherever he actually wanted her."
[17:50] <Aline> "If I was gonna guess, he wanted the Lilith bit, not me."
[17:50] <Sept> "Any chance Tsubaki might've intervened?"
[17:51] <Aline> "Mn, if she did I didn't notice. There didn't seem to be ANY third-party intervention other than 00-Elisha."
[17:52] <Sept> "Mhm." Sera sighed. "Pity."
[17:57] * Yanmei stared sullenly down at her drink.
[15:23] <Aline> "…is there something I don't know here?" Aline asked, to some of that… reaction.
[15:29] <Yanmei> "She's actively cooperating with the rebels on the Dorian. Without her, they wouldn't have gotten anywhere near as successful as they are, and they certainly wouldn't have been able to try to grab you or Lillith."
[15:30] <Sept> "So she's got some explaining to do."
[15:31] * Aline grumbled. "I don't understand why…"
[15:33] <Sept> "No one would expect you to. Unfortunately for her, that's not a prerequisite for her being judged, either."
[15:34] <Yanmei> "I'm sure she'll get a chance to explain it during her inevitable court-martial."
[15:38] * Aline sighed loudly. "…If only we could've stopped her. …Yet if we didn't, I'd still be captive…"
[15:41] <Sept> "No pressure for being worth it, huh?"
[15:50] <Yanmei> "Hah. But seriously, don't go around feeling guilty about it."
[15:51] * Aline nodded her head. "Yeah, I know, I know… That is though why I wish I knew why. Even without it having that outcome for me, it feels… senseless."
[15:57] <Sept> "Yeah, I get that. But even with all this, I think it's private, ultimately. Doesn't seem fair to talk about it here."
[16:01] <Yanmei> "She didn't drop any hints, did she?" Yanmei glanced to Sera. "Out of the three of us, you knew her the best?"
[16:05] <Aline> "…Yeah. Like, she gets icecream with you and those shakes, and… stuff like that. Calls you her nii-san, for crying out loud."
[16:10] <Sept> "Oh, shut up. You have no idea about her. No, no 'hints'. She's just unhappy."
[16:17] <Yanmei> "Uh… huh." Yanmei pursed her lips together and darkly sized him up.
[16:17] * Aline didn't bother mincing words. "If Yanmei won't say it, I will. Hostility means you want this buried. What did you /do/."
[16:23] <Sept> "/You-/" Sera paused, looked away, exhaled sharply and tried again.-
[16:32] <Sept> "I don't appreciate that, and kindly fuck off with your assumption. These are the facts: she didn't give me hints. After what happened, I went over every conversation we've had for the past weeks — not that I hadn't already done that — and she never said anything about running away or turning against anyone. I saw her talking with Albus once. These are also facts: we had a falling out.
[16:32] <Sept> That made both of us unhappy. She's also spent her entire life serving and being thoroughly used by us day in and day out. She's /never/ been able to reconcile her issues with syncing."-
[16:32] <Sept> "Now. Do you want to talk about this?"
[16:35] <Aline> "Yes, but if you didn't tell us to just casually shut up, it would've spared you the trouble." Aline said, sourly. "She's been through things. And honestly, there might have been a secondary factor. Like, some falling out like that might've pushed it over, but it could've been brewing. …I just can't… stand by when you /act suspicious/." Beat. "…And Albus probably talked to her a whole lot if he managed to turn her. It's one
[16:35] <Aline> thing to be lost in despair, it's another thing to have a devil waiting for you to lift you up and turn you to evil by 'saving you'."
[16:40] <Sept> "Right. Correction. You summarized our relationship with milkshakes and ice cream. Maybe it's not what you meant, but part of the problem is people seeing her as just dumb Tsubaki. That's what I meant."-
[16:42] <Sept> "But you asked me about it and now we're clear, so you're already way beyond a lot of people here."
[16:44] <Aline> "…Dumb Tsu…" Aline said, blinking. "Honestly it was like, that she liked you. …I think I either missed something, or it happened so close to me getting abducted that I didn't notice. I admit wondering /why/ she acted that way, but I had always thought it was some kind of, like, genetic alteration fuckup or… something like that. So it was… fixed?" Another sigh. "I literally didn't know."
[16:46] <Sept> "Right. That's fine. Even when you were- this doesn't matter, right? I get what you're saying. It's fine."
[16:50] <Yanmei> "Akagi's, um, thing was resolved, at least temporarily. Not people's perceptions of her, but the actual issue of her being out of the Eva and still retaining her mental clarity. She has a permanent synchronization going now. We literally did that just a few weeks ago, and now…"
[16:53] <Sept> "So before that, she was just running the ship from the entry plug, with full clarity for most of the day for the first time in years."
[16:54] <Aline> "…Oh. Right, and that… Yeah." Aline sighed. "So maybe the perception made her easy for Albus to manipulate? Did he have some excuse to be in contact with her more? I forget most of the things about him to be honest."
[16:57] <Yanmei> "He didn't have an excuse. Anyone could visit her if they pleased. He probably just showed up one day, struck up a conversation, and befriended her."
[16:58] <Sept> "Right."
[16:59] <Aline> "What I do remember, is how needlessly stiff his diction is." A frown. "And I think I heard how utterly stupid his nation name idea sounds."
[17:00] <Sept> "Also true…"
[17:01] <Aline> "Y'know, to sort of drive home how, anyone not recovering from the world's worst years-long headtrip would instinctively know that he's, if not shady, /really weird/."
[17:04] <Sept> "I mean, yes. Welcome aboard."
[17:04] <Yanmei> "You haven't seen his battle records either. He's capable of taking on multiple squads of phantoms and conventional soldiers alike, and of course, is ridiculously good at using his A.T. Field."
[17:05] <Aline> "That must mean he's some super-duper apostle, right? I… obviously never got any briefings in time." Aline admitted. "So for all we know it's just latent 'haha, I'm dead but he acts in my name' Azariah stuff, interpreted by a poncy nutcase with wings."
[17:08] <Yanmei> "Yeah, maybe. He never really made a huge show about Azariah, though."
[17:08] <Aline> "Hence, latent. like. buried in his brain…"
[17:43] <Sept> "And if someone would know how to manipulate Neos, it'd be someone like him. Mm."
[17:56] <Yanmei> "God, with our shitty security setup, something like this was bound to happen eventually. It was our fault for putting the ship entirely in her hands to begin with for as long as we did."
[17:57] <Aline> "It would, and. …It's like it is, but that's both the price we pay for not being… absolute evil in a can, or at least conrolled by it… and by not really grasping the security concerns of an AT Battleship."
[18:01] <Sept> "So, what are we gonna about it? Do we have a strategy meeting scheduled or something?"
[18:03] <Aline> "I guess we probably do?" Aline offered. "…I mean the obvious solution is 'find the Dorian, take it back, try not to murder too many of our own people' but… the devil is in the details."
[18:05] <Yanmei> "Yes, we do have one," Yanmei confirmed, "and yes, the emphasis is going to be on finding and retaking the Dorian. And no, I don't know if Blanc is going to actually be involved in any such mission yet. I would imagine not, unless we're flat out using you and 00 as bait."
[18:06] <Sept> "Right. Agreed."
[18:07] <Aline> "That is a thing, yes. the whole, half of lilith, villain that wants lilith." Beat. "And the trust issues." But she rolled her shoulders. "That said. 00 has been updated with technology you probably only recently salvaged from DEVA-02. I'm still a fucking Solomon Prime. I mean maybe i shouldn't /board/ the thing… But joining the external assault? Could work."
[18:09] <Yanmei> "We'll see," said Yanmei flatly.
[18:11] <Sept> "If we even end up needing it. A lot of unknowns."
[18:13] <Aline> "Overwhelming force, though." Aline said, with the same tone of someone trying to egg someone into pursuing someone sexy.
[18:15] <Yanmei> "We'll see," said Yanmei in a firmer tone.
[18:18] <Aline> "I'm allowed humor…" Aline said with a mild pout.
[18:23] <Sept> "Yeah, I thought I was, too, at some point! You'll get used to it."
[18:24] * Aline gave Sera a… ..a look that honestly might transcend human emotion. It was incredulous, it was a little 'to hear this from YOU', a little 'how can I put up with this' and a bit of faux-despair.
[18:28] * Sept gave her a noncommittal shrug.
[18:37] * Yanmei coughed lightly into her fist, and then moved to shut the cooler she'd brought. "All right, then. This was fun. The next time we get together like this, it should be for, like, a victory celebration."
[18:38] <Aline> "Clearly. Or at least a short-term victory celebration, or…" She paused. "Let's do this again on the Dorian, lemme put it that way."
[18:42] * Sept smiled confidently at that. "Yeah, we'll get it back, no questions there."
[18:50] <Yanmei> "I'll give you both a heads up when it's time for the strategy meeting." Yanmei stretched and peered around, getting ready to move on. "In the meantime, I have to get back to some investigations."
[18:51] * Aline nodded, bowing her head, lightly, and wandering back to her clearly-trying-to-ignore-them escort. "See ya."
[18:53] <Sept> "Mm. Later." Sera turned his back on the two of them to go look at the scenery for a moment.

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