Cherry Blossom Procession 4 7 15

[14:31] <Raphael> EVENING, THE FIRST DAY
[14:31] <Raphael> …
[14:32] <Minaplo> [They'd relocated to earth-based facilities relatively early in the peace, Ezekiel delaying the time field just long enough for them to berth. Now the sky was a permanent sunset, sinking into the water and turning the world a burnished gold.-
[14:33] <Minaplo> [Ezekiel sat on a bench and watched out, the wind rustling his hair gently, his left arm cradling his sceptre.]
[14:50] <Raphael> The sound of footsteps approached, coming to a stop some distance behind the Emissary. Raphael waited with his hands behind his back, eyes on the horizon.-
[14:50] <Raphael> "Would you mind if I sat, sir?"
[14:52] <Minaplo> ["Ah, Raphael. Not at all." Said Ezekiel warmly.]
[14:57] <Raphael> The footsteps began again, and a moment later Raphael dropped onto the bench alongside Ezekiel. The deck was hardly quiet - the impressive skyline had made it popular for those with some time to spare - but Ezekiel existed in his own bubble. People gave his bench a decent berth.-
[14:57] <Raphael> "How're you feeling?"
[15:09] <Minaplo> ["Better." Said Ezekiel. "Being held by Albus Mortens was very taxing."]
[15:11] <Raphael> "He was borrowing all that power from you?"
[15:12] <Minaplo> ["Not all of it. My power is hard to simply steal. But I did form a significant percentage of his pool."]
[15:14] * Raphael smiled a little. "There was always a lot more to you than you let on, wasn't there?" he asked, gesturing towards the "roof" of the bubble with a finger.
[15:21] <Minaplo> ["I think that's true about almost everyone, but I see your point, and I concede it."]
[15:25] <Raphael> "It wasn't a criticism, sir," he said, folding his hands between his knees. "You didn't owe us anything to begin with."-
[15:25] <Raphael> "Still, I'm grateful for what you did share. I always enjoyed your company."
[15:26] <Minaplo> ["Thank you." Said Ezekiel, smiling. "I've always enjoyed yours as well."]
[15:28] <Raphael> "You'll be gone when this is done, won't you? Assuming we get it right."
[15:28] <Minaplo> ["Yes, I will be." Said Ezekiel. "Not forever, but gone nonetheless."]
[15:34] * Raphael nodded, unsurprised. "Then now's the time to say thank you, For everything you've done, and for this last bit of space."-
[15:34] <Raphael> "… and the view that comes with it," he added thoughtfully. "The view's not bad at all."
[15:49] <Minaplo> [Ezekiel smiled, and let out a contented sigh.-
[15:50] <Minaplo> ["It is a beautiful world." He said. "It was beautiful seven billion years ago, too, when it served as an outpost of an ancient and cruel empire, and it was beautiful when that empire fell and this world's occupants freed. I don't think I've let on my attachment to this place."]
[15:54] <Raphael> "I daresay you're welcome back any time."
[15:55] <Minaplo> ["That agrees with me." Said Ezekiel happily.-
[15:56] <Minaplo> ["I suspect I will see you all sooner than you think. This world is humanity's first home, but you'll find new ones soon. I'm sure we'll cross paths again."]
[15:58] <Raphael> "I'd like that," he grinned. "I'll keep it quiet from Suzie, or else she's liable to treat you as an Angelic postal service."
[15:59] <Minaplo> ["Heaven forbid. Mind, it's probably closer to my original role than you would think."]
[16:03] <Raphael> "Are you looking forward to it? Getting back to that, I mean."
[16:04] <Minaplo> ["In a way, I dread finding what's out there. I have a suspicion that things have not gone to plan in the greater galaxy. But… I also like to explore. So I suppose I am. Besides, I like to solve problems."]
[16:06] <Raphael> He chuckled. "You'd have to, to put up with us all this time."
[16:13] <Minaplo> ["Agreed." He said with a smile. "It will be liberating to be solving problems that do not bind my abilities to act, however."]
[16:20] <Raphael> "How long would it have taken you to solve this, if you'd been able to act freely?"
[16:22] <Minaplo> ["The events would be faster, but my success would not be guaranteed. I would still need to be careful and smart- I'm still no match for a fully empowered Seed, and Longinus could match me. Assuming I won every contest, however… Possibly a week or less."-
[16:23] <Minaplo> ["I would probably fail four times out of five, though."]
[16:29] * Raphael gave Ezekiel a long look, a little stunned despite the caveats. "… huh."-
[16:30] <Raphael> "I mean, even the optimistic ones say we're only at a three out of five for the next step ourselves…"-
[16:30] <Raphael> "I suspect that would've made me angry once, to know you could've done more" he admitted. "Now… I get it, at least as much as I can. We were children waving guns around, at least you saved us from a few fatal accidents."
[16:45] <Minaplo> ["In truth, I wouldn't blame you for your anger." Said Ezekiel. "It is… Frustrating, I think, to have to suffer and bleed whilst those with great power do not use it."-
[16:46] <Minaplo> ["I appreciate your understanding, though." He said.]
[16:52] * Raphael gave a little nod. "You were honest with us. I suspect that counts for a lot."-
[16:53] <Raphael> "… you're still comfortable with the grand finale, sir?"
[16:54] <Minaplo> ["I am." Said Ezekiel. "And being that it is the grand finale… Well, it would be a bad time to leave things unsaid or unfelt."]
[16:54] <Raphael> "Is this where you tell me you've always loved me, sir?"
[16:55] <Minaplo> ["Of course I've always loved you. I love all of the Children." Said Ezekiel sincerely.]
[16:58] <Raphael> "… Aw." Raphael's deadpan stare split into a wide grin, and he reached over to give Ezekiel a friendly pat on the back. "Same to you, sir."
[16:59] <Minaplo> [Ezekiel smiled brightly.]
[17:03] <Raphael> "I know what you mean, though. I think… I'd like to use the time we have left for my purposes. That seems selfish, but to be honest we're about as ready as we're going to be."-
[17:04] <Raphael> "… And to be blunt, I'm slightly afraid of what Rei would do to me if I didn't take time for myself."
[17:07] <Minaplo> ["She would probably scold you into obedience." Said Ezekiel. "She is forcefully gentle."]
[17:09] <Raphael> "Gentle… obviously you've never seen her joint locks."
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["That much is true."]
[17:22] * Raphael extended a hand, still smiling. "I'll leave you to it, Mr. Emissary," he said. "Look after yourself, alright?"
[17:24] <Minaplo> ["I will. Look after yourself as well." Said Ezekiel. "I expect to see you around for the victory celebrations, such as they are."]
[17:25] <Raphael> "Such as they are," he agreed, resting both hands on his knees and pushing himself to his feet.-
[17:33] <Raphael> "Enjoy the sunset, sir," Raphael said, the sound of his footsteps quickly receeding into the background hum of the deck.-
[17:33] <Raphael> …
[17:41] <Raphael> His brighter mood held out, even as he navigated the chaos of Medical a few hours later. There were plenty of familiar faces among the patients, and he stopped to talk to anyone who seemed alone, most for just a few minutes and some - Asuka and a still-comatose Alex included - for a longer while.-
[17:41] <Raphael> Many just wanted to be left in peace. He could understand that.-
[17:41] <Raphael> After a while he'd found his way to the room Rei had mentioned. There was a plastic bag in one of his hands, making gentle clinking noises whenever it swung. The other hand he used to gently knock.
[17:52] <Minaplo> [There was the faint sound of cursing before the door unlocked.]
[17:58] * Raphael left the door shut for the moment. "I can come back, if you'd like."
[18:00] <Minaplo> [The sound was faint- the door was pretty thick. "C'min."]
[18:01] * Raphael nodded to himself and stepped inside, the door sliding shut behind him. "Hi, Blue."
[18:04] <Minaplo> [Blue was lying in bed. His trademark suit was gone, replaced with a thin gown- it was bizarre to see. His hat was still there, though, which only made it look stranger.-
[18:05] <Minaplo> [He was rather pale, and the shadows under his eyes suggested exhaustion. Still, he smirked a little when Raphael entered.-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["Couldn't keep yerself away, could ya? Gonna come in for some of that sweet sweet hurt/comfort?"-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["Because trust me, there's plenty of fuckin' hurt to be goin' around."]
[18:12] <Raphael> "The whole ship was talking about your bold new ensemble, and I just had to see myself," Raphael said, lifting the plastic bag onto the room's roll-away table. "Paper gown and fancy hat is an interesting choice."
[18:13] <Minaplo> ["Wow, that's a dick move, but you seem to have food so I'll letcha off this time."-
[18:13] <Minaplo> ["Fucking hungry as shit." He said. "Sorry 'bout the door, couldn't find the button…"]
[18:16] <Raphael> "No harm done," he said, waving his hand. He dug through the bag for a moment before handing over a still-warm bowl covered haphazardly in plastic wrap and a fork.-
[18:17] <Raphael> "Rei made noodles."
[18:17] <Minaplo> ["Fuck yeah. You're my second favourite person right now." Blue took the bowl, tore off the wrap and began digging in. "Mmmmph."]
[18:26] <Raphael> "I'll take that," he said agreeably, taking one of the seats by the bed. He didn't seem to be in any hurry, content to let Blue enjoy his meal.
[18:27] <Minaplo> [And enjoy Blue did.-
[18:27] <Minaplo> [It was pretty messy.-
[18:28] <Minaplo> [And only when the bowl had been literally licked clean and put aside did Blue speak. "Haven't felt this banged up in a looooong time, my man."]
[18:31] <Raphael> "Mm," he said, eyeing the signs of damage around Blue's head. "I don't think I've ever seen you with a real bruise…"
[18:34] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. I heal real fast. But… My legs're broken, see."]
[18:36] * Raphael nodded carefully. "Rei mentioned as much. You'll be alright with some time, I hope?"
[18:38] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, I bounce back pretty good. Still… Not the best scene."]
[18:40] <Raphael> Another nod. "… Anything I can do to help?"
[18:42] <Minaplo> ["Heh, thanks for the offer, and yeah, there kinda is."]
[18:43] <Raphael> "Shoot."
[18:43] <Minaplo> ["Help me clean up the bar after this is done." Blue smirked.]
[18:45] <Raphael> "Good news," Raphael said, pulling a series of liquor bottles from the bag and setting them out on the table. Blue would likely recognize them as his own.-
[18:46] <Raphael> "I got most of the glass off the ground while I was there."
[18:49] <Minaplo> ["Hah, nice." Said Blue. "You still gotta help me run it, though. For a week."]
[18:52] * Raphael gave him a Look, but the corner of his mouth twitched as he failed to smother a smile.-
[18:52] <Raphael> "… Sure. If we get through, you've got it."
[18:52] <Minaplo> ["Great." Said Blue, taking one of the bottles of liquor and cracking it open. "Want some?"]
[18:58] * Raphael held up a finger, emptying out the last few items - two glasses and a shaker - from the bag. "You asked me a while ago whether I knew how to mix drinks, and… I want to see if I can work out how you manage that Dirac Sea thing. Does that suit?"
[19:00] <Minaplo> [Blue let out a long whistle. "Awww geez. Here we go."]
[19:02] <Raphael> "Quite." Raphael said, grabbing the first bottle. This time he didn't bother to hide the smile.
[19:06] <Raphael> …
[13:34] <Raphael> THE SECOND DAY
[13:34] <Raphael> …-
[13:34] <Raphael> On the horizon, the sun stubbornly refused to set, even as the working clocks inside the bubble (Some had simply failed for reasons Technical couldn't explain) claimed they were in the early hours of the morning.-
[13:35] <Raphael> If this disruption of the fundamental laws of space and time bothered Zeruel it was impossible to tell. It spun lazily through the air, apparently aimless, its ribbons billowing out behind it. Occasionally its path would eclipse the motionless sun, plunging the deck into shadow.-
[13:35] <Raphael> Raphael sat cross-legged by the western-facing edge of the deck, elbows propped up against the lower part of the safety railing. He glanced at his companion.-
[13:35] <Raphael> "You're sure I can't convince you to take a day off?"
[14:10] <Minaplo> ["Yep." Said Suzie, who was sitting on one of the benches. 'Sitting' was slightly uncharitable; even now she was carefully examining her crutches, water bottles, towels and doing some preliminary warmups as best she could.]
[14:18] <Raphael> "I suppose I'm the wrong person to tell you to take it easy, hm?"
[14:31] <Minaplo> ["Kinda." Said Suzie. "I mean you're my dad so it's kinda your job, but also I think if you did tell me, you'd be a bad priest or something."]
[14:37] * Raphael turned to face her, his position leaving them roughly at the same eye level. "… I didn't know I was any kind of priest."
[14:38] <Minaplo> ["I dunno either." Said Suzie; she shrugged. "It was something Mana said."]
[14:44] <Raphael> "Was it now…?" he asked, shaking his head. He leaned back against the railing and watched her warmups as he had so many times before.-
[14:44] <Raphael> "You're not going to need those crutches much longer, you know," he said conversationally. "Don't think I've missed the way you've been shifting weight to your legs. Very sneaky…"
[14:45] <Minaplo> ["Hmph."-
[14:46] <Minaplo> [Yet she still beamed with pride. "You got it, though. They say I'm getting better every day. I might even be able to run next year."]
[14:49] * Raphael grinned right back. "Going to race me?"
[14:52] <Minaplo> ["Gonna beat you more like."]
[14:54] <Raphael> "Probably. I'm old and frail, or so I've been told by a certain short young lady…"
[14:55] <Minaplo> ["Yep. Also, I'll pay Misato to distract you."]
[14:56] <Raphael> "I doubt you'd have to pay her, sweetheart."
[14:57] <Minaplo> ["True. I'll spend that cash on Mana, then."]
[14:58] <Raphael> "Sounds like a plan."
[15:00] <Minaplo> ["I wonder if Zeruel likes races."]
[15:01] * Raphael glanced at the Angel over his shoulder. "… Well, it doesn't seem like a fan of sitting still."
[15:03] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, unlike lazy over there." Said Suzie accusingly, pointing at Ramiel near the very far end of the ship. Ramiel had been sitting in that spot for more than 20 hours, completely unchanging; with time stopped, even the sun's shadows remained constant.-
[15:03] <Minaplo> ["It doesn't even change! I was told it could change shapes, but it just sits there like those big dumb dice people put on their cars!"]
[15:06] <Raphael> Raphael smirked. "You'd prefer it was just a great big blur, firing lasers every which way?"
[15:08] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Suzie. "If I could change shape and fire lasers, that would just be… Everything. I'd be a square, and then I'd be like, NOPE, BORING, now I'm a PYRAMID. Then I'd shoot my name into the moon."]
[15:12] * Raphael gave an exaggerated, conspiratorial glance to either side, then leaned forward. "… maybe one day you can do that last part with the Peacecraft."
[15:21] <Minaplo> ["What?!"]
[15:23] <Raphael> "A bit of a miss with the beam cannon and…" He made a finger gun and fired it towards the sky. "Bang. Name on the moon."
[15:23] <Minaplo> ["Hmmmm."]
[15:24] <Raphael> "Or maybe I'll get there first? Then you'll look like a copycat."
[15:25] <Minaplo> ["What."-
[15:25] <Minaplo> ["You can't do that." Said Suzie furiously. "If you carve any name into the moon, it has to be my name. It's the law!"]
[15:26] <Raphael> "We'll see, I suppose," he said smugly, leaning back again.-
[15:27] <Raphael> He was quiet for a moment, looking up at the still sky. "… I have something for you. Unrelated to names carved on the moon, but still."
[15:28] <Minaplo> ["What is it?"]
[15:39] <Raphael> The UEF uniform jackets had a pocket on the inner lining, right over the heart. He reached into it now and drew out an item and held it in her direction, dangling from a finger.-
[15:40] <Raphael> A pocketwatch. It was a heavy looking thing, cased in unpolished gold, with the figure of a diving eagle in low relief on the lid. It was also quite worn, covered in dents and scratches that Suzie could see even from a distance.
[15:41] <Minaplo> ["That's your pocketwatch." She said; her eyes widened a little.]
[15:47] <Raphael> "It's my family's pocket watch," he said matter-of-factly. "Goes all the way back to my great-great-grandfather, where I'd imagine it was worth quite a bit of money. It's a lot more beaten-up now, of course…"-
[15:48] <Raphael> "I had to wait until I was eighteen before my father passed it down to me, but I ran it by Technical and the measurements say you're at least three times braver than I am. I think you're ready."
[15:51] <Minaplo> [Suzie's expression changed. First her eyes went wider, then her face filled with colour. Then she started to fidget.-
[15:51] <Minaplo> ["You want me to look after it?" She said quietly. "Is that ok? Don't you want to save it…?"]
[16:05] <Raphael> "Save it for what?" he asked with a little smile. "This is what it's for. I kept it safe all these years because I wanted to be able to pass it on. It's a memory of my family, but it's a memory that's meant to be shared."-
[16:06] <Raphael> "This represents all the parts of my family I'm proud of, and that absolutely includes you."
[16:07] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[16:08] <Minaplo> [Her lip trembled; Suzie stiffened it, almost to a pout, but it wasn't enough; tears sprung from her eyes. "Raffy…"]
[16:21] <Raphael> His smile remained as he shifted himself close enough to give her a firm, one-armed hug. "Look at this…" he said quietly.-
[16:21] <Raphael> He popped open the lid to reveal a series of small initials carved along the inside. R.J.G's script was florid and flowing, contrasted by the haphazardly scratched C.A.G below it. The final two sets of initials - N.R.G and R.L.G - were carved in a nearly identical hand; neat, evenly spaced letters that could have passed for machine-made. There was still empty space to be found below it.-
[16:22] <Raphael> "When the time comes, you put your initials in there too, ok…?"
[16:25] <Minaplo> ["U-Uh huh." She said, nodding shakily beneath her floods of tears; she wiped her face so she could see the little engravings. "I will. I promise."]
[16:29] <Raphael> "Good." He set the watch in her lap and gave her a big, two-armed squeeze.
[16:37] <Minaplo> [And she threw herself into it, nestling her now damp head against his chest. "I love you…"]
[16:40] * Raphael shut his eyes and held her tight. "I love you too, little one."
[16:43] <Raphael> …-
[16:51] <Raphael> "- I thought about bringing NERV Cluedo for old time's sake, but given everything that's happened that seemed a little grim," Raphael said. Every mess hall in the Gendo seemed to be in a permanent state of chaos since the bubble went up, but they'd managed to find a table with a little bit of effort.-
[16:52] <Raphael> "We had the second edition, too," he winced, "Ikari instead of Commander Fontaine."
[16:56] <Minaplo> ["Ooh." Winced Medea.-
[16:57] <Minaplo> ["They were going to make a third, but Marketing refused out of protest to Hohenzollern's restriction on lewd merchandising." Said Archibald, who was already picking at a battered fish. "She didn't seem that put out though."]
[16:59] <Raphael> "How she could bear the loss I'll never know," Raphael said. His plate bore a piece of fish as well, but he was occupied working through his side of salad.
[17:12] <Minaplo> ["I think it'd be nice to be in a board game." Said Medea. "Something cool and custom, though, not just themed cluedo or Risk or something."]
[17:16] <Raphael> "Julien Lafabre once built a model version of my Grendel for one of his miniatures games. I'm not sure if that counts…?"
[17:16] <Minaplo> ["That's tabletop miniature gaming. Entirely different." Said Medea.-
[17:17] <Minaplo> ["A miniature Grendel? Really?" Asked Archibald; she was leaning forward slightly and had abandoned a bit of fish. "Did he paint it up? Was he good at painting? Can I see it?"]
[17:21] <Raphael> "Err. I don't know where it ended up, but I think I have…" he trailed off as he began to search his phone, swiping quickly through old pictures.-
[17:21] <Raphael> "Hah! There it is. Somehow I didn't delete it…" he said eventually, handing the phone over to Cornelia.
[17:24] <Minaplo> ["Oh wow, he's really good." Said Cornelia. "The highlighting technique is solid, good use of inks… Can I keep this picture? I'll credit you."]
[17:29] * Raphael laughed. "I don't see why not. You can forward it to yourself, if you'd like."-
[17:29] <Raphael> "When I was given my first Superheavy there was a giant picture of a Dreadought fighting Angelspawn painted across the shoulders. I found out later it was Julien's work. He was rather talented."
[17:30] <Minaplo> ["That sounds kind of impractical." Said Medea, at the same time Cornelia said "Incredible…"-
[17:31] <Minaplo> ["There, forwarded." Said Cornelia, handing it back. "Thank you very much, General."]
[17:33] * Raphael just gave Medea a single, firm nod as he accepted the phone.-
[17:33] <Raphael> "Not a problem," he said to Cornelia. "I would've shown you before now if I'd known you were interested."
[17:51] <Minaplo> ["Oh, if you followed me- er, nevermind."-
[17:52] <Minaplo> ["Dreadnought, Grendel, Peaceknight… You've gone through a few rides in your time, huh?" Said Medea, who was toying with a parfait alongside a bowl of salted fries and gravy.]
[18:01] <Raphael> "D-Titan, too," he laughed. "Everything but an E-Destroyer and that unshielded radiation hazard the Russians cobbled together."
[18:08] <Minaplo> ["Super Dreadnought." Said Cornelia. "I wonder if they have any of those left over?"-
[18:10] <Minaplo> ["I should learn how to pilot a Superheavy at some point." Said Medea. "Maybe you can teach me when you get back, Raphael…?"]
[18:17] <Raphael> "I don't see why not," Raphael nodded. "What else is on your radar when we're done here?"
[18:21] <Minaplo> ["Honestly? Save up a little more money then go see the world- as a tourist, and not a fugitive-assassin."]
[18:24] <Raphael> "Probably a better experience. Alright then, what's your number one destination? First item on the list," he glanced at Cornelia, "Same question for you, Lieutenant."
[18:25] <Minaplo> ["Huh?" Said Cornelia, her eyes wide.-
[18:28] <Minaplo> ["Like you have to ask?" Said Medea, grinning. "Carnaval in Rio-2."]
[18:35] <Raphael> "Hah. Does it make me sound like a stick-in-the-mud if I say that sounds too loud for me?" He paused, thinking. "… Yes, yes it does. The dictionary definition of a stick-in-the-mud, damn."-
[18:35] <Raphael> "You'd have a wonderful time, though."
[18:37] <Minaplo> ["'Course I would." Said Medea. "The sounds, the food…"-
[18:37] <Minaplo> ["What about you, General?" Asked Cornelia.]
[18:41] <Raphael> "I've promised Suzie and Caitlin a trip to Spain at some point," he said, clearing away the last of his salad. "I think that sounds like a nice way to start."
[18:42] <Minaplo> ["Oh, Spain is good."]
[18:44] <Raphael> "I think so," he said with a smile. "It'd be nice to explore somewhere new without a gun in my hands."
[18:47] <Minaplo> ["… Geez. I think that goes for all of us. And I'm not even military." Muttered Medea.]
[18:49] <Raphael> "Quite," he nodded.-
[18:49] <Raphael> "So what about you, Lieutenant? Any ideas…?"
[18:50] <Minaplo> [Raphael would not fail to notice the very slight mix of panic and dismay in her expression before it returned to normal.-
[18:56] <Minaplo> ["It's embarrassing." She mumbled after a few seconds.]
[18:59] <Raphael> "No need to share if you don't want to, ma'am," he said. "I'm sure it's not as bad as you're imagining, though."
[19:00] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, we don't really care that it's the Southern Ocean." Said Medea lightly.-
[19:00] <Minaplo> [Cornelia let out a big sigh and covered her face with her hands. "Noooooo…"]
[19:01] <Raphael> …-
[19:11] <Raphael> It was a little unnerving to (quite literally) run into your doppleganger as you rounded some unremarkable corner on the way to your next item of business, but Raphael tried to make the best of it.-
[19:11] <Raphael> "O-oh," he muttered, scooping up the standard-issue tablet from where it'd fallen in the impact. "I'm sorry about that, Mr. Heiden. I was too stuck in my own head…"
[19:45] <Minaplo> ["Oops, no no-" Aksel made a go of reaching for the same tablet, but barely evaded bumping his head into Raphael and turning this into a meet cute. "Nope, that was me, sorry…"]
[19:55] <Raphael> Somewhere Mana Kirishima smiled without knowing why.-
[19:57] <Raphael> The tablet recovered, Raphael stood up with a huff. "Fine, fine. We're both sorry, hm?"-
[19:59] <Raphael> "I didn't expect to see you over here," he said, rubbing at the shoulder he'd checked Aksel with. He glanced around as though he might suddenly be struck by a wild Roku.
[19:59] <Minaplo> ["Haha, yeah. Crazy, huh?"]
[20:01] <Raphael> "Headed somewhere in particular?"
[20:02] <Minaplo> ["Oh yeah, no, y'know, just wandering about." Said Aksel, glancing away for a moment.]
[20:04] <Raphael> "Uh… huh," Raphael said carefully, taking a moment to examine the Solomon a little more seriously.-
[20:04] <Raphael> "Are you ok, Mr. Heiden?"
[20:05] <Minaplo> [Aksel seemed to be bristling with nervous energy.-
[20:05] <Minaplo> ["Me? Yep! Yep. Yep? All good down there. Er, here. How're you? You're looking, er, stately today."]
[20:10] <Raphael> "Stately, hm?" he asked. "I thought my grey was beginning to show."-
[20:10] <Raphael> "Why don't you walk with me? I could do with a hand in Requisitions, if you're bored."
[20:11] <Minaplo> ["R-Really. Er, sure!"]
[20:16] * Raphael gave a gesture by way of direction and headed down the hall, keeping shoulder-to-shoulder with Aksel.-
[20:16] <Raphael> He was quiet for a minute or two, and when he spoke up his voice stayed conversational. "… So is there a reason you're so jumpy, Aksel? I don't like to pry, but you're in an odd place looking nervous. Makes me a little wary, you understand."
[20:21] <Minaplo> ["S-Sorry." Said Aksel. Raphael could tell from the way his expression twisted that this had only made him yet more nervous.]
[20:23] <Raphael> "… Mm."-
[20:23] <Raphael> "Are you busy tonight, Mr. Heiden?"
[20:27] <Minaplo> [He swallowed. "Yeah."]
[20:30] <Raphael> "Oh, I see," he nodded agreeably.-
[20:30] <Raphael> "We were having a get-together for my team, but a few of the other soldiers caught wind of it and… well, it's expanded a little now," he waved the tablet as if it were part of the explanation. "I was going to invite you and Roku - and the rest of your team, if they were so inclined - but obviously if you have plans…"
[20:33] <Minaplo> ["Right. I'll pass it on to them." Said Aksel.-
[20:33] <Minaplo> ["Roku and I might show up, maybe…"]
[20:34] <Raphael> "We'd be happy to have you," Raphael said brightly, switching the tablet back on to examine what appeared to be a list of supplies. It was… extensive.
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["R-Right."-
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["Is she uh, doing okay?" Said Aksel. "I only just got cleared for security purposes, so…"]
[20:38] <Raphael> "… oh. -Oh-." Understanding dawned on Raphael's face, and the tablet was quickly ignored again.-
[20:38] <Raphael> "I'm sorry, Aksel, I thought you'd already seen her," Raphael said quickly. "Rei must've been misinformed. Uh…"-
[20:40] <Raphael> "She's alright, according to Rei - Holding herself together. I didn't get a chance to speak with her, but I know she's uninjured at the very least."
[20:43] <Minaplo> ["Right, right. Yeah, no, we've been talking, not a lot, on the phone and shit, but the airtime is kind of at a premium, and y'know… It's easier to hide that stuff on a phone line. I haven't really felt sure how to bring it all up."-
[20:43] <Minaplo> ["Kinda… Not used to comrades dying permanently." He said guiltily.]
[20:47] <Raphael> "Yes." He said quietly. "It has to be a terrible blow for her. Ni's in a similar spot, but with all that time in the Synfront…"
[20:49] <Minaplo> ["Yeah… Jeez."-
[20:51] <Minaplo> ["I asked Philippe about this kind of thing, and he said that the best I can do is just be there for her." Said Aksel; he was frowning. "So I mean, I'm here, but I was gonna be here anyway, and I dunno if there's more I can do. I wish I knew better about this kinda stuff."]
[20:56] * Raphael gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. "I think everyone wishes that in these circumstances," he said. "I know I do. For what it's worth, Philippe's advice is good; Listen, let her be the one to set the pace for how she wants to deal with this. You'll want to solve it for her, but you have to understand that's not possible. That's about all you can do…"-
[20:57] <Raphael> "And if either of you need more than that, her sisters will offer just about anything you need. Same's true for Misato and I."
[20:57] <Mianplo> ["…"-
[20:58] <Mianplo> ["T-Thanks, man." Said Aksel. "I knew you had our back, but… I'm still kinda worried, you know? I know you care a lot about Roku, and I don't want to let you down, and I want to be good for her, so… Uh. That means a lot." He coughed.]
[21:00] * Raphael placed a hand over his heart, smiling faintly. "I'm morally obliged to help one as handsome as you, Mr. Heiden."-
[21:01] <Raphael> "… by which I mean, don't worry about it."
[21:09] <Minaplo> ["H-Haha. Right."-
[21:11] <Minaplo> ["… Hey, I should get going, but, if we have a dinner or something one of these nights… D'you wanna come?"]
[21:13] <Raphael> "I'd love to, Aksel," he said. "Just let me know when you want me there."
[21:15] <Minaplo> ["Sure thing, R-Raphael."]
[21:19] * Raphael gave him an encouraging smile. "You go see to your business," he said, jerking his head back towards where they came from. "Sorry I made you wait."-
[21:19] <Raphael> "… if I don't see you before the bubble comes down, fly safe out there, alright? I'm looking forward to that dinner."
[21:19] <Minaplo> [Aksel gave him an utterly boyish grin that lit up the corridor. "Damn straight you are. You watch your own ass out there, too."]
[21:20] <Raphael> "Yessir," he smiled.
[21:24] <Minaplo> [In a halting manner- the manner, Raphael recognised, of Aksel wanting to hurry but also not wanting to be disrespectful-, Aksel made his way away, off into the bowels of the vessel…]
[21:26] * Raphael watched him go until he rounded a corner and disappeared. He let out a little sigh, then got moving again - Requisitions were required.-
[21:26] <Raphael> …-
[14:38] <Raphael> The situation in Deck C's massive storeroom had devolved into chaos.-
[14:38] <Raphael> It had been pitched as a simple party for the members of SOS-1 and any interested ODs, but the guest list had quickly spiraled out of control. In inviting Euphrasie, it only made sense to invite Isidor… who invited members of his SOS team, at which point politeness dictated the rest of the SOS teams…-
[14:38] <Raphael> People were eager to forget their worries for an evening.-
[14:38] <Raphael> Now the storeroom was filled to bursting, members of SOS mingling with staff from Technical and Medical, members of the Promised Land, Battleship Marines and so many others. Blaise had taken it upon himself (Despite their best efforts) to act as "DJ" through a makeshift hack of the room's PA, blasting music over the revelry.-
[14:38] <Raphael> There were a few scattered reports of Agatha and her Phantoms, but nothing was on fire yet.-
[14:39] <Raphael> Raphael sat at one of the plain, fold-out tables they'd pulled from storage, hidden down one of the alleyways formed by rows of towering shelving units. Every once in a while someone would push past to grab another carton of ration beer from the stack.-
[14:39] <Raphael> "… this is definitely against regs, isn't it?" Raphael said, watching the crowd on the central "dance floor" with a frown. "The regulations are shattered beyond repair."
[14:48] <Minaplo> ["Extremely." Said Terry Savage, taking a swig from a flask, which he offered to Raphael. "Want some Ironbrew? Distilled from pure angel venom."]
[14:51] * Raphael gave the flask a skeptical look. "That sounds… extremely lethal, Sergeant."-
[14:51] <Raphael> He paused. "Which Angel?"
[14:53] <Minaplo> ["Not a big one. A little one, like a banshee."]
[14:56] <Raphael> "Oh. Small 'a'."-
[14:56] <Raphael> "I might give it a miss regardless."
[14:58] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, that's fair. It would deffo fuck you right up."-
[14:58] <Minaplo> ["As in, you would be dead."]
[14:59] <Raphael> "See, that sounds like it could be a problem," Raphael said mildly.
[15:00] <Minaplo> ["Sure. I wasn't actually gonna give it to you, but if you'd said yes, I'd admire your balls, mate."]
[15:02] * Raphael gave an amiable nod. There were enough empty beers in front of him that this seemed fair enough.
[15:04] <Minaplo> ["Righto. The Ironbrew's making me a little buzzed, which means it's time to strut my stuff." Said Terry, getting to his feet and wading onto the dance floor. "STAND ASIDE! I DANCE LIKE A MAD C-"-
[15:04] <Minaplo> ["Hello, Raphael." Came a chipper, genteel voice to Raphael's left- Ban-Ban had arrived. "May I?" He asked, pointing to the beer.]
[15:08] <Raphael> "Oh, hello Ban-Ban," he said, raising a glass in the banshee's direction. "Please, feel free."
[15:09] <Minaplo> ["Thank you." Said Ban-Ban; he took a bottle up with a human hand, and tore off the cap with a claw.-
[15:10] <Minaplo> [Then he folded himself into the seat next to Raphael. "This is quite the party."-
[15:10] <Minaplo> ["It's… Unfortunate that Duker beat everyone to the music, but we'll just have to live with that."]
[15:13] <Raphael> "Quite," he agreed. "Someone should probably tell him that volume is not the defining element of quality. The last time I saw him he was halfway up a set of shelves, though, so I might leave that to someone else."
[15:15] <Minaplo> ["Oh, well. That sounds like a job for me, then." Said Ban-Ban, unfolding his body off the seat. "I won't hurt him too badly, promise."]
[15:17] <Raphael> "Good hunting," he smirked. "Oh- you're coming to lunch tomorrow afternoon, I hope?"
[15:17] <Minaplo> ["Naturally."]
[15:18] <Raphael> "Excellent."
[15:18] <Minaplo> ["Farewell!"-
[15:19] <Minaplo> [And thus Ban-Ban was off.-
[15:21] <Minaplo> [Raphael saw a pair of unknowns enter the room- one of them, a young man with long blonde hair in a ponytail, broke off and approached him.-
[15:21] <Minaplo> ["Didn't expect to see you here." Said the man, rifling around for a beer. "I thought you'd be…"-
[15:21] <Minaplo> [He then proceeded to do a handful of strange and bizarre full-body gestures that Raphael could not and probably did not want to decipher.]
[15:25] <Raphael> Raphael tilted his head as he watched this display, maintaining a polite but thoroughly confused smile. "That was very… expressive, Mr. …?"
[15:27] <Minaplo> [The young man froze.-
[15:27] <Minaplo> [Then his eyes narrowed.-
[15:27] <Minaplo> ["Oh. Ohhhhh."-
[15:28] <Minaplo> ["You're not- right, you're the other guy. Sorry." He said, laughing, completely without shame. He held out his hand. "Frederick Ackerman, Promised Land chief of security."]
[15:37] <Raphael> "… ah, Mr. Heiden," Raphael said, recovering with speed borne of far too many of these encounters in the last few years. He didn't even seem particularly put out.-
[15:37] <Raphael> "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Ackerman. Raphael Guillory, SOS."
[15:39] <Minaplo> ["Nice to meet you. Mind if I sit?"]
[15:41] * Raphael gestured towards a chair with the bottom of his beer bottle, then took a quick sip from the neck.
[15:41] <Minaplo> [Frederick sat.-
[15:41] <Minaplo> ["So has the time bubble fucked you up, too?"]
[15:45] <Raphael> "Mm, not particularly. I think I've been lucky," Raphael said, catching Henri and Marie carving space for themselves among the dancers out of the corner of his eye. That earned a smile.-
[15:45] <Raphael> "… I'm not sleeping particularly well, but who is?"
[15:47] <Minaplo> ["Some people I know are sleeping like babies." Said Frederick.-
[15:48] <Minaplo> ["But nah, for me the fuckery came in the first day. Kept texting a girl I know and wondering why she wasn't texting back, and then I realised, ohhh, we're frozen in time."-
[15:48] <Minaplo> ["I laughed, and then I realised that when the bubble goes down she's going to get about forty texts at once."-
[15:48] <Minaplo> ["Then I laughed a little more, but it was more at my own dumb ass than anything."]
[15:56] <Raphael> "I probably would've stopped after the first unanswered message," Raphael said.
[15:59] <Minaplo> ["We have a rich and complex texting relationship. Wouldn't expect others to understand." Said Frederick.-
[16:00] <Minaplo> [Frederick cracked open his beer and took a mouthful. "I didn't expect to find such a rowdy, PL-style party on this side, though. I'm impressed."-
[16:00] <Minaplo> [At that moment, Aoba ran into the room, holding a large cardboard box over his head. "I FOUND SOME WHALE MEATBALLS!"-
[16:00] <Minaplo> [There were hundreds of cheers as well as one muffled 'nooooo'.]
[16:06] <Raphael> "Normally I'd be the one trying to stop it," Raphael admitted, "But I think everyone deserves a chance to blow off some steam."-
[16:06] <Raphael> "… Perhaps I should confiscate those meatballs, though. They have to be a health hazard."
[16:10] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, I have questions. First of all: why whale?"]
[16:11] <Raphael> "We sent Evangelions hunting when we were stranded on Mars. They found some sort of feral megawhale."-
[16:11] <Raphael> "It's been an interesting year."
[16:12] <Minaplo> ["Damn."-
[16:12] <Minaplo> ["We found a giant snake filled with Annihilator eggs, so… Interesting year is about right."]
[16:14] <Raphael> "Yours sounds more unpleasant, in fairness."
[16:21] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, it really does."-
[16:22] <Minaplo> ["Well, this has been fun, but I should go eat. Haven't eaten since breakfast, damn." Said Frederick, raising his bottle to Raphael. "You take care of yourself, Mr. Guillory."]
[16:25] <Raphael> "Same to you, Mr. Ackerman," he said, giving a respectful nod.-
[16:25] <Raphael> Once he was left alone again, Raphael stood, stretched, collected his beer and headed in the direction he'd last seen Aoba.
[16:34] <Minaplo> ["Well well."-
[16:35] <Minaplo> [Someone emerged from the crowd- and Raphael would realise instantly that it was none other than Minerva Linden. She gave him a bright smile. "I'm impressed!"]
[16:44] <Raphael> "Madame President, you shouldn't be encouraging such a breach in the decorum of the Federation," Raphael said seriously.
[16:46] <Minaplo> ["But breaches in decorum are so much fun."]
[16:47] <Raphael> "I won't tell if you won't, ma'am."
[16:48] <Minaplo> ["Ah, you're perfect." Said Minerva, falling in-step and patting his arm. "Of course I'll have to tell all that you put on a wild party, but they won't believe me, so your secret is safe."]
[16:49] <Raphael> "Exactly what I'm relying on," he grinned. "Honestly I don't know how much of this is my doing, I just didn't stop it…"
[16:50] <Minaplo> ["Ooh, so you do have a threshold…"]
[16:51] <Raphael> "A threshold?"
[16:51] <Minaplo> ["You know, a point where you'll step in and stop the party." Her eyes gleamed.]
[16:54] <Raphael> "Oh, yes. First drop of blood on the floor signals the end-"-
[16:54] <Raphael> He was interrupted by a techie barreling past, head lowered to try and stem what appeared to be a fierce nosebleed. A marine went with him, an arm around his shoulder.-
[16:55] <Raphael> "…"-
[16:55] <Raphael> "Well, it's not a red-line threshold, per se."
[16:56] <Minaplo> ["Seems nebulous." She said joyfully.]
[16:57] <Raphael> "No ma'am," he said, shaking his head. "I promise it's a very rigid system."
[16:58] <Minaplo> ["That's what they always say."]
[16:59] <Raphael> "Probably…" he admitted.-
[16:59] <Raphael> "So are you staying, or just passing through?"
[17:00] <Minaplo> ["Oh, I might stay for a little bit. Parties wear me out pretty quickly."]
[17:03] <Raphael> "Same for me, ma'am. I'm trying to relax for once."
[17:59] <Minaplo> ["You seem to be doing a decent job of that… Maybe a better one than I am."]
[18:04] * Raphael looked her way as the edged around a throng of Thruster technicians and a dancing Raffybot. "… Would you like to talk, ma'am? We can go somewhere else if you want."
[18:06] <Minaplo> ["No no, you're fine. I've just felt a little tense recently." She laughed. "Who hasn't, right?"]
[18:08] <Raphael> "Nobody I know, certainly."-
[18:08] <Raphael> "Did your father make it in before the bubble went up, ma'am?"
[18:11] <Minaplo> ["No, he's back in the States."]
[18:11] <Raphael> "Ah. I'm sorry…"
[18:12] <Minaplo> ["It's nothing to worry about." Said Minerva with a chuckle. "I'm sure he'll be fine…"]
[18:14] <Raphael> "Oh, I don't doubt it, ma'am. I would've liked another superheavy pilot, that's all."
[18:16] <Minaplo> ["I could take the field with you."]
[18:17] <Raphael> "I don't know, I recall you being a little rusty…"
[18:29] <Minaplo> ["Come on." She said with a huff. "I can go a round with any one of you. You get me out there and I'll be clocking bogeys and shaking the six as well as anyone."]
[18:31] <Raphael> "Bogeys and sixes? You're obviously a pro-level pilot, Madame President, I was wrong to doubt you."
[18:31] <Minaplo> ["If I have to deal with unqualifieds muscling in on my job, you can too."]
[18:32] * Raphael laughed. "Who is it this time?"
[18:34] <Minaplo> ["I ran into… I think it was a Phantom. She screamed in surprise for about ten seconds, then began throwing suggestions at me. They were all utterly stupid except for the one about "Abs out Wednesdays", so…"]
[18:36] <Raphael> "It sounds like you have a fan."
[19:31] <Minaplo> [She blanched. "Oh God, you're right."-
[19:31] <Minaplo> ["She was wearing tye-dyed overalls, too…"]
[19:35] <Raphael> "A stylish fan."
[19:36] <Minaplo> ["Well, there's only one thing I can do."]
[19:36] <Raphael> "Oh really?"
[19:37] <Mianplo> ["Get an expert opinion."-
[19:37] <Mianplo> [So she turned and faced him square on. "How did you deal with your… Stylish fans?"]
[19:49] <Raphael> For the first time since they'd started speaking he looked slightly ruffled, but he turned to face her in turn. He sipped his beer to give himself a moment to think.-
[19:50] <Raphael> "I would say… I ignored it for longer than was fair and reasonable, hoping it would go away. Inexplicably some fans wanted to stay friends after that," Raphael said. "I'd say there are better models to follow."
[19:50] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[19:51] <Minaplo> ["I don't know how to handle you when you answer sincerely like that." She muttered.]
[19:51] <Raphael> "
[19:51] * Raphael beamed.
[19:58] <Minaplo> ["You take all the fun out of things. Now I kind of do want a word with you alone."]
[20:00] <Raphael> "If you want," Raphael smiled. "I suspect the party could survive on its own for a while."
[20:01] <Minaplo> [They found a corner in a little side room, close enough that the party could still be heard, but far enough that it was reduced to merely a dense, muffled din.-
[20:03] <Minaplo> ["There are downsides to being president, you know."]
[20:06] <Raphael> "I'd imagine so."
[20:09] <Minaplo> ["I've been president since we met." Said Minerva. "My workload's only become heavier with time as the global situation's deteriorated, and a massive war didn't help…"-
[20:09] <Minaplo> ["Most of my day-to-day colleagues are robots."-
[20:10] <Minaplo> ["It can be a lonely job." Said Minerva; she frowned. "I noticed that many of those in the bubble are choosing to spend their time wisely, hanging out with friends and family, but I don't have much of that here."]
[20:14] * Raphael gave a non-descript crate a half-hearted brush-down and then took a seat on the edge. "I know. That's why I was pleased to see you at the party."
[20:21] <Minaplo> ["Haha. I thought I'd give it a shot, for sure. I was glad to see you, as well."]
[20:24] <Raphael> "I'm glad."
[20:24] <Minaplo> ["Yeah."-
[20:25] <Minaplo> ["I'm being silly, aren't I?" She asked. "There's dozens of people on this ship who'd happily be my friend if I showed the barest of interest, no?"]
[20:31] <Raphael> "There's not a doubt in my mind, Minerva," he said firmly. "… I understand it's difficult to take that step, though, I really do."
[20:34] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Minerva. "I suppose you would at that."]
[20:43] <Raphael> "I don't know if this'll help, but I think we got a chance to become friends as a side effect of all of that… well stylish fan business," he said carefully, as if still working out the idea himself. "I mean, you had your motives, but I got a chance to know you as somebody other than the President, or an Operations Director. It was more honest."-
[20:43] <Raphael> He frowned. "Does that make sense, ma'am?"
[20:49] <Mianplo> [She nodded. "… Yes, I see. It essentially short-circuited the professional boundary, hm?"]
[20:49] <Raphael> "I think so…"
[20:52] <Mianplo> [She reached over and pinched Raphael's cheek.]
[20:55] <Raphael> "… Ow?"
[20:55] <Mianplo> [She laughed.-
[20:55] <Mianplo> ["Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I'll keep your advice in mind… Alright?"]
[20:58] <Raphael> "Of course, ma'am," he said, giving her a perfect salute. Then he smiled.-
[20:58] <Raphael> "… but since we're rather short on time, you should know I'm having lunch with Alphonse tomorrow. I'm sure you'd be welcome to join us."
[20:59] <Mianplo> ["Haha. I'll try not to turn it into a matter of international diplomacy."]
[21:00] <Raphael> "I hear Eevi frowns on that, yes."
[21:02] <Mianplo> ["I'll make sure to be there, then. Thank you, Raphael."-
[21:02] <Mianplo> ["… We should head back, huh?"]
[21:05] <Raphael> "If you'd like."
[21:05] <Mianplo> [She smiled sweetly, then took the lead back out.-
[21:06] <Mianplo> [Terry was on fire.-
[21:06] <Mianplo> ["MORE FIRE! MORE! MAKE ME CONFLAGRATE!"]
[21:06] <Raphael> "…"-
[21:07] <Raphael> "Yes. That seems about right," Raphael said. He sounded oddly calm.
[21:12] <Minaplo> [As Raphael surveyed the scene, he'd also see Terry's pyrotechnic assistant- Juno Winter-Lorenz, lazily pegging alcohol-soaked balloons at him with expert, even practiced precision.]
[21:13] <Raphael> "I'd say this constitutes a red line, ma'am. If you'll excuse me?"
[21:20] <Minaplo> ["Of course!"]
[21:21] <Raphael> He moved away quickly, his stony expression helping him carve a path through the party-goers in his way.
[21:24] <Minaplo> [And move they did, even the drunk ones.]
[21:27] <Raphael> "General Winter-Lorenz! If you'd kindly stop lighting my soldier on fire?" he called as soon as he was close enough for his voice to reach her.
[21:27] <Minaplo> [Juno eyed him skeptically. "But he wants to be on fire."]
[21:29] <Raphael> "Captain Savage! Please ask the General to stop lighting you aflame," he called without looking back. "And put yourself out before you hurt someone who can't heal."
[21:31] <Minaplo> ["WHAT?! BUT I WANT TO BE ON FIRE!"-
[21:31] <Raphael> "CAPTAIN."
[21:32] <Minaplo> ["BUT GENERAL!"-
[21:33] <Raphael> "If I have to end this party to stop you immolating my troops I will, Captain. Don't test me."
[21:34] <Minaplo> ["UGHHHH."-
[21:34] <Minaplo> [He pointed at a nearby, extremely innocent Agatha. "THERMODYNAMICS ME!"-
[21:35] <Minaplo> [After one incredulous look, the flames suddenly died out.-
[21:35] <Minaplo> [… But the top half of Terry's robe had burned away, leaving him with little more than a sash around his legs. This seemed to make everyone happy, judging from the cheering.-
[21:35] <Minaplo> [("Abs out Wednesday!")]
[21:50] <Raphael> "There. Problem resolved," Raphael said firmly.
[21:50] <Raphael> "Make sure that stays on, Terrence," he added with a little gesture towards the Guard's lower body.
[21:54] <Minaplo> ["I will guard it with my life." Said Terry firmly, taking another swig from his venom flask.]
[21:55] <Raphael> "Thank you kindly."-
[21:56] <Raphael> The immediate threat ended, he approached Juno. "I take it you're trying to get me written up, General. What have I done to earn your ire…?"
[21:57] <Minaplo> ["Oh, my General Guillory, I would never." Said Juno. "It's just that I so rarely meet someone who is willing to be set on fire."-
[21:58] <Minaplo> ["Also, your disciplinarian machinery routinely overlooks things known as Iron Guard foolery, don't lie."]
[21:59] <Raphael> "Yes, well, I have a feeling that's less true now…"
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["Oh, that's true." Her face fell. "My apologies…"]
[22:11] <Raphael> He waved a hand. "Everything but Captain Savage's outfit is in one piece, so no harm done."-
[22:12] <Raphael> He gave the remaining balloons on the table a wary look. "… so do you have those on you as a rule, ma'am?"
[22:12] <Minaplo> ["No, I had to make them here."]
[22:13] <Raphael> "I suppose that's the comforting answer."
[22:15] <Minaplo> ["Relax. It's not like this is a hobby for me."]
[22:18] <Raphael> "But you definitely enjoy it."
[22:19] <Minaplo> ["Yes, I concede. I'm not a pyromaniac or anything, though."]
[22:20] <Raphael> "I regret to inform you that's precisely what a pyromaniac would say, ma'am."
[22:21] <Minaplo> ["It's also what a non-pyromaniac would say." Said Juno happily. "And since one requires the burden of proof whilst the other does not, we are required to conclude that I am not a pyromaniac."]
[22:23] <Raphael> "Ah, well. I'm undone by logic."
[22:24] <Minaplo> [She beamed.-
[22:25] <Minaplo> ["Now, I think I will go have fun in less incendiary ways. I suspect this will meet your approval, my General?"]
[22:26] * Raphael bowed his head. "I should think so, my General."
[22:31] <Minaplo> [And thus she headed away with a smile.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> [The music, idly, had recreased in volume and also had become much less Duker.]
[22:34] * Raphael looked up towards the ceiling, gave an approving nod and then began to navigate back across the room to his original quiet corner.
[22:37] <Minaplo> [Someone else had found the time to set up very near his little corner too- Euphrasie Beringer.]
[22:42] * Raphael collected another beer and found a seat alongside her. "Good evening, Sergeant Beringer," he said brightly, giving her a little grin.
[22:43] <Minaplo> [She scowled at him. "Stop that."]
[22:45] <Raphael> "Sorry, sorry," he said, trying to look contrite and thoroughly failing.-
[22:46] <Raphael> "Isidor's run off and left you to your devices, hm?"
[22:53] <Minaplo> ["More the opposite. The last time I checked, he was mediating a dispute between Macquarie and one of Agatha's hellraisers."]
[22:55] <Raphael> "Ah, well. The world needs its mediators, I suppose," he said, offering a little salute in the direction of the crowd.-
[22:56] <Raphael> "… have you seen Hugues?" he asked, voice growing more serious. "He seemed ready to make his excuses and leave when he escaped my table."
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["Sorry, Raphael, I haven't." Said Euphrasie, her tone softening. "The last I saw him was awhile back…"]
[22:59] * Raphael nodded. "Didn't think so. When things quiet down here I'll take a few beers and check on him. It was good of him to try."
[23:00] <Minaplo> ["Yeah…"-
[23:01] <Minaplo> ["Looking forward to the war being over. But I miss Hugues the way he used to be."]
[23:03] <Raphael> "Me too," he said, smiling sadly. "When he can go home and see the kids… maybe things will get better. We'll keep an eye out for him, hm?"
[23:04] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. It's the least we can do."]
[23:07] * Raphael nodded, and for a minute or two they sat in friendly (relative) silence.-
[23:07] <Raphael> "… I'm definitely ready for the war to be over, I don't know about you."
[23:07] <Minaplo> ["First thing you'll do once it's done?"]
[23:12] <Raphael> "Hmmm…"-
[23:12] <Raphael> "I intend to find a cabin up a mountain somewhere and hide there with the kids and Misato until about the time I stop having stress reactions every time the phone rings. You?"
[23:13] <Minaplo> ["Ooh, that's a good one." Said Euphrasie.-
[23:14] <Minaplo> ["I think I'll take Simon back to visit his grandma in Lyon…"]
[23:16] <Raphael> "It's been a few years, hasn't it?"
[23:17] <Minaplo> ["Since before Gazardiel."]
[23:22] * Raphael sighed. "Time gets away."-
[23:22] <Raphael> "Still, that'll be good for both of you."
[23:24] <Minaplo> ["For sure. Who knows? I might even take Isidor."]
[23:26] <Raphael> "She's liable to be rather charmed by him, I hope you know that."
[23:30] <Minaplo> [She rolled her eyes. "Pfeh, what's new?"]
[12:01] * Raphael grinned, still working at his drink.-
[12:01] <Raphael> He let out a little sigh. "… can you keep something quiet for me?"
[12:02] <Minaplo> ["I always do."]
[12:07] <Raphael> "I have a bad feeling about this next one," he admitted. "Not that we'll lose, exactly, but that I'll… I don't know."-
[12:07] <Raphael> "It's just a feeling," he said, scratching his cheek idly. "I'm not about to tell the others and let them think I've got the black spot over my head, but I trust you."
[12:19] <Minaplo> ["A bad feeling." Said Euphrasie.-
[12:20] <Minaplo> ["I can understand that. I mean, we've all been running the slots for a pretty long time, it's a wonder more of us aren't dead."-
[12:21] <Minaplo> ["Still, I have a feeling you'll make it out of there okay, and you should trust my feelings more than yours."]
[12:24] * Raphael shot her a sideways look, then burst out laughing.
[12:24] <Raphael> "I mean yes, that's why I'm telling you and not Sergeant Herriot."
[12:34] <Minaplo> [She smirked.-
[12:34] <Minaplo> ["Have you felt like this before, though?"]
[12:36] <Raphael> "Some of the early Angel sorties, but that's no surprise," he said with a shrug. "And before Singapore. That one was fairly accurate."
[12:56] <Minaplo> ["Ah."-
[12:56] <Minaplo> ["Well, you survived all of those, so there's no reason to think you wouldn't survive this one. So long as you actually avoid fighting Joan one-on-one in melee."]
[12:57] <Raphael> "I think I could take her this time…"
[12:59] <Minaplo> ["No, no you can't." Said Euphrasie, the moment he finished saying 'I think'.]
[13:00] * Raphael heaved out a sigh. "I'd hoped you would have more faith in me by now, Sergeant…"
[13:02] <Minaplo> ["I have plenty of faith in you." Said Euphrasie. "Does having faith in you mean I call you over to put someone's arm back on in the middle of a firefight? Hell no. That's my job. Fighting Joan hand-to-hand: not your job this time either."]
[13:04] <Raphael> "Yes ma'am," he said, giving her a very fond smile. "I'll keep that in mind."
[13:07] <Minaplo> ["Good."-
[13:07] <Minaplo> [She sighed and gave him a small smile. "Dumbass."]
[13:09] <Raphael> "So I'm told."
[13:09] <Minaplo> ["I'm sure. By Suzie?"]
[13:11] <Raphael> "Not in quite so many words, but she has the spirit of it down," he smirked. "Misato makes up for the shortfall."
[13:12] <Minaplo> ["Well, I'm glad you're with a sensible woman, then."]
[13:15] <Raphael> "I'm grateful every day," he said sincerely.
[13:15] <Minaplo> [She grinned.]
[13:18] <Raphael> "Alright," he said, slapping a hand against one knee. "I should go and keep an eye on things. You're alright here?"
[13:19] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. I might take a wander in a moment, see what's going on."]
[13:22] <Raphael> "If I see Isidor I'll send him your way, possibly by force," he said, getting to his feet. "If I'm putting responsibility aside for an evening, he has to as well."
[13:23] <Minaplo> ["I mean, you did just stop Terry having fun."]
[13:25] <Raphael> "Setting it aside, Euphrasie, not hurling it into an active volcano."
[13:27] <Minaplo> [She laughed.-
[13:27] <Minaplo> ["Dork. Go have fun."]
[13:29] * Raphael snapped off a salute as he wandered back into the crowd.
[13:37] <Minaplo> [Suddenly the hairs on the back of Raphael's neck stood up straight.-
[13:38] <Minaplo> [And then a being sprang into view. A greasy smile, a slightly crooked jaw…-
[13:38] <Minaplo> ["General Guilloryyyyyyyy!" Chirped Prefect Han. "Didn't see you as a man to bring the partyyyyyyy."]
[13:46] * Raphael stopped dead, looking as though he'd tasted something rotten.-
[13:46] <Raphael> "Han. Hello."
[13:48] <Minaplo> ["Hiiiii."-
[13:49] <Minaplo> ["Cool party, though. Lots of beer, food, desperate girls afraid of death…" Han held up a meatball, the scent of which was all too familiar to Raphael.-
[13:49] <Minaplo> ["Have you tried these whale meatballs? They're not bad. They're no medium-rare tiger steak, but they dooooo."]
[13:53] <Raphael> "I'll leave the sixth-month-old meatballs to you, Han."
[13:55] <Minaplo> ["Gracious of you!" He ate the meatball. Raphael swore he could hear the meat sliding gelatinously down Han's slick gullet.-
[13:58] <Minaplo> ["So… Got any plans?"]
[13:59] <Raphael> "For…?" He asked, glancing around in the hopes that Terry had been lit on fire again.
[14:00] <Minaplo> ["Y'know…"]
[14:00] <Raphael> "I do not."
[14:00] <Minaplo> ["Oho, you rascal. I getcha." Han gave him a wink and an unsolicited elbow nudge. "I won't tell."]
[14:04] * Raphael frowned down at the point of impact. "…"-
[14:05] <Raphael> "I think I'm going to go."
[14:07] <Minaplo> ["Get more beer? Great idea. I'll come with you."-
[14:37] <Minaplo> ["The beer on hand is piss, but oh well. You'd think some of these ragamuffins would go brew a harder type of booze, but I guess my expectations are just… Too high. It's a constant failing for one with as much faith in the world as I."-
[14:37] <Minaplo> ["I did get drunk once, you know, about six years ago, and heavens was that a scene. Oh, the maidens wept…"]
[14:39] * Raphael heaved a sigh, but he seemed to have come to a decision. "Captain Savage!" he shouted, one hand raised to provide a marker for the Guard to follow.
[14:40] <Minaplo> ["HAIL!"]
[14:41] <Raphael> "Han wants something stronger! Are you still willing to share?"
[14:42] <Minaplo> ["YES!" Terry beelined toward Raphael, knocking an unsuspecting Bruce four feet into the air.-
[14:43] <Minaplo> [Terry skidded to a halt a metre away, and held out a flask. "Ironbrew! Made from pure-"-
[14:43] <Minaplo> [But Han had already snatched the flask away. In one fluid motion he uncapped it and started draining it right into his mouth.]
[14:44] <Raphael> That… was not what he'd expected. Thoroughly alarmed, he tried to snatch the flash away. "No, wait-"
[14:50] <Minaplo> [And Raphael could, because Han's grasp had suddenly weakened. His eyes were wide, and his hands were around his own throat. "Hnnnnnnngk"]
[14:59] * Raphael thrust the flask towards Terry and pointed back towards the shelves. "Go get Euphrasie, Captain," he said quickly, slipping one of Han's arms around his shoulders.
[15:00] <Minaplo> [Terry instantly began looking around, but not actually moving.-
[15:01] <Minaplo> [Han was shaking; even with Raphael's grasp, he was slipping toward the ground. He let out a horrible rasping sound. "Guill…"]
[15:02] * Raphael grimaced, and after a moment of failing to correct his grip he simply bundled Han up into a princess carry. "Captain, now," he said.
[15:03] <Minaplo> [Terry began shifting through the crowd, many of whom had stopped to stare.-
[15:03] <Minaplo> [With one feeble hand, Han gestured Raphael to lean forward. He was trying to say something.]
[15:05] * Raphael leant closer.
[15:06] <Minaplo> [Han leaned a little upwards, as best as he could. "You…"-
[15:06] <Minaplo> [… And then suddenly Han grinned, his eyes bulging open. "You've just been ~~praaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanked~~!"-
[15:06] <Raphael> "what-"
[15:07] <Minaplo> [In one fluid motion, Han threw his right arm around Raphael's shoulders; with his left he whipped out a cellphone. "~prank selfie~"-
[15:07] <Minaplo> [Terry's booming laughter carried over the room. "Raphael! I am sorry! It was merely ginger beer, not Ironbrew at all!"]
[15:08] <Raphael> "-hate you so much," Raphael finished, ending a litany of curses that had carried him through the entire selfie process.-
[15:08] <Raphael> As if to provide punctuation, Raphael simply let Han drop.
[15:09] <Minaplo> ["Ow!"-
[15:09] <Minaplo> [Han fell well, with a satisfying thud. Yet like a cat too wiry to hurt, he was back on his feet, laughing crazily.-
[15:09] <Minaplo> [He held his phone up to Raphael. Pictured within was Han's engorged, smug face, along with Raphael's, which had been a mix of worry and utter loathing.-
[15:10] <Minaplo> ["Mmmhmmm~ ohhhh, this is beautiful! You are beautiful. Mmmmwa."-
[15:11] <Raphael> "Demoted!" Raphael shouted, pointing a single, furious finger in Terry's direction.
[15:11] <Minaplo> [("Wow, the old 'Accidentally drank ironbrew' prank. As though we haven't seen that a million times, jeez") came the voice of Ackerman from across the crowd.-
[15:12] <Minaplo> ["What!" Terry scowled. "You can't demote a man for a prank! We'd all be privates otherwise!"-
[15:12] <Minaplo> [Terry huffed, and took out his real flask, which he cracked open and sipped from.-
[15:12] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[15:12] <Minaplo> [His eyes widened. "Oh no."-
[15:12] <Minaplo> ["Oh no I accidentally gave him the actual ironbrew"]
[15:13] <Raphael> "No. Absolutely not," Raphael called. "You won't get me twice."
[15:13] <Minaplo> ["No, I seriously-"-
[15:14] <Minaplo> [Terry tipped his flask upside down. Out came a stream of ginger beer.-
[15:14] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[15:14] <Minaplo> ["Oh my god. I'm going to die." Said Han. "Oh no no no no not like this-"-
[15:15] <Minaplo> ["Oh I can feel it already, oh my god, it hurts, it-" Han began shrieking madly. "SAVE ME! DOCTOR! MEDIC! DOCTOR-"-
[15:16] <Minaplo> [Han suddenly tore away, as though he could outrun the poison in his system. He ran directly forward, skidded through the ginger beer and toppled to the ground.-
[15:16] <Minaplo> [As Han's cellphone sailed through the air, Terry caught it, flipped it over, and held it over Han's head.-
[15:16] <Minaplo> ["Prank selfie."-
[15:16] <Minaplo> [Terry held his hand out to Raphael. "It was actually two flasks of ginger beer!"]
[15:17] <Raphael> "I…"
[15:17] <Raphael> "Why do you have so many flasks?"
[15:17] <Minaplo> ["For the pranks. Don't leave me hanging." He twitched his outstretched hand.-
[15:17] * Raphael grudgingly obliged.
[15:18] <Minaplo> [Han let out a ring of extremely filthy curses, fortunately mostly in mandarin. He got to his feet and ran through the crowd, his face red and his trousers soaked.-
[15:18] <Minaplo> ["Yeah!" Terry whooped as though Raphael had given him the king of high fives.-
[15:19] <Minaplo> [("Oh, the double Ironbrew, break out the golf claps-")-
[15:19] <Minaplo> [Terry handed Raphael the phone. "There. You keep this. His terrified face should keep you warm. Look, you can see the instant he wets himself."]
[15:20] * Raphael stared at the screen for a moment, assessing his spoils.-
[15:20] <Raphael> "… Alright, you can be Captain again," he sighed.
[15:21] <Minaplo> ["Yesssssss."-
[15:21] <Minaplo> [The large bay doors suddenly burst open; Isaiah Gabriel-Wei entered, followed by a gaggle of paramedics. "We came as quickly as we could!"-
[15:22] <Minaplo> [("What is that smell? Is someone on fire?!"]
[15:24] <Raphael> "Oh no…"-
[15:24] <Raphael> "I'm sorry, everyone, it was a false alarm," he called, approaching with an apologetic wince. "Han again."
[15:26] <Minaplo> ["Han?" Isaiah looked around. "Strange, I don't feel Yanmei in here this time…"]
[15:29] <Raphael> "It was for me this time, unfortunately."-
[15:29] <Raphael> "… actually, do you have your phone with you? I actually have a picture the Chancellor might enjoy," he said, brandishing the stolen phone.
[15:30] <Minaplo> ["I'm on duty, Guillory. People need my attention." Said Isaiah severely.-
[15:30] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, but it's a picture of Han literally pissing himself." Said a passing technician.-
[15:30] * Raphael nodded solemnly.
[15:30] <Minaplo> ["… She would enjoy that." Said Isaiah, taking out his phone. "Make it quick."]
[15:31] * Raphael did, in fact, make it quick. "So sorry for the disruption, sir."
[15:32] <Minaplo> ["So long as we keep it to one a party, it's not that big a deal, General." Said Isaiah. He looked down at his phone.-
[15:32] <Minaplo> ["Oh wow. You can really see the moment he just lets it all go."-
[15:32] <Minaplo> ["Back to the hospital wing." Said Isaiah to his crew. "General."]
[15:34] <Raphael> "Pilot," he said, giving the medics a respectful nod.
[15:36] <Minaplo> [The medical crew left, passing a nonplussed Marianne on the way in.-
[15:36] <Minaplo> ["Was that a medical team? What happened?" She asked of Raphael.]
[15:39] <Raphael> "Han faked death-by-poisoning, ma'am. Someone called it in," he said awkwardly. "Everyone's fine."
[15:40] <Minaplo> ["Oh. Geez."-
[15:40] <Minaplo> ["… It smells of fire in here. Did… No, nevermind, everyone looks like they're fine, I'm sure it's fine."]
[15:42] <Raphael> "Absolutely fine, Marshal," he said easily. "Everything's under control."
[15:43] <Minaplo> ["Oh."-
[15:43] <Minaplo> ["You look like you're having fun." Said Marianne suspiciously.]
[15:45] <Raphael> "I'm trying my best, ma'am," he said seriously, giving her a smile. "Why don't you stay a while? You look as though you could use it."
[15:46] <Minaplo> ["Oh, are you sure? Alright, I suppose I can do that." She said, touching her own hair awkwardly. "I wasn't really expecting to stay, I was just doing the rounds."]
[15:48] * Raphael looked at the chaos behind him. "Well, I could use another officer to keep an eye on things, and General Winter-Lorenz is no help at all."
[15:48] <Minaplo> ["No…?"-
[15:48] <Minaplo> ["Ohhh, the fire, right."]
[15:49] <Raphael> "The fire," he agreed.
[15:50] <Minaplo> ["Can't believe it." She shook her head. "Is there anything to eat?"]
[15:52] <Raphael> "There should be…" he said, trying to look over the heads of the crowd.-
[15:52] <Raphael> "Ah, over there. If you'll follow me, Marshal?"
[15:53] <Minaplo> [And so Marianne followed.-
[15:53] <Minaplo> ["Strange, though. I thought this was supposed to be an SOS party?"]
[15:56] <Raphael> "It was. Unfortunately I didn't take a hard enough line against plus-ones, and things got out of hand," he said with an awkward chuckle.-
[15:56] <Raphael> "Still, I think it's alright. I've certainly had worse evenings."
[15:56] <Minaplo> ["Heh, haven't we all?"]
[15:57] <Raphael> "Quite."-
[15:57] <Raphael> "You know, everyone seems very impressed that I know what a party looks like. I feel as though that should offend me."
[15:59] <Minaplo> ["You call this a party? There's not even a shooting arcade, let alone Dance Commander."]
[16:01] <Raphael> "Well there's always room to improve, of course."-
[16:01] <Raphael> He grinned at her. "That was a good night, though. A small miracle I can remember it, but a good night."
[16:04] <Minaplo> ["Absolutely. We used to have a few of those once."-
[16:04] <Minaplo> ["God, I thought I was busy then…"]
[16:07] <Raphael> "So did I," he laughed. "It feels like a very long time ago, doesn't it?"
[16:08] <Minaplo> ["It's the age, I think. Everything feels so distorted. Events that happened a few months ago feel like they were years ago."]
[16:12] <Raphael> "They really do…"-
[16:12] <Raphael> Eventually they found their way to a series of fold-out tables that'd been pushed together to form a makeshift buffet table. They'd been able to arrange simple snack food and, with favours from the kitchen staff, a few larger dishes, but the offerings had already been heavily pillaged. "So how are you feeling?"
[16:16] <Minaplo> ["I'm alright. Looking forward to a vacation."]
[16:19] <Raphael> "Oh? Do you have something in mind?"-
[16:19] <Raphael> "… not that you need to, of course. Just sleeping for a month or two sounds delightful."
[16:28] <Minaplo> ["Haha. Doesn't it?"-
[16:29] <Minaplo> ["But no, I did have something in mind: a culinary trip of Europe."]
[16:31] <Raphael> "Hah. Oh, that would be fun. It's a good excuse to explore."
[16:33] <Minaplo> ["Agreed."-
[16:33] <Minaplo> ["Also, I want to get as far away from ration food as possible."]
[16:34] <Raphael> "Absolutely," he said fervently. "Remember being able to buy groceries and cook?"
[16:36] <Minaplo> ["I have vague memories of driving around in a car." Said Marianne. "Sharper ones of you being carded for looking like a teenager, though."]
[16:38] <Raphael> His eyes widened. "I'm not going to have to carry three forms of ID every time I drive," he said, as though it were a holy revelation. "I hadn't even had time to think about that…"
[16:40] <Minaplo> ["You'll have to get another, though, they don't accept Japanese drivers' licenses in France without a writ."]
[16:41] * Raphael gave her a dirty look. "Ha ha."
[16:45] <Minaplo> ["Hmhm~"-
[16:46] <Minaplo> ["I did have an idea for after the war and after the vacation, though." Said Marianne, picking up a slice of mercifully spared lemoncake.]
[16:46] <Raphael> "Oh?"
[16:54] <Minaplo> ["I was thinking about starting a business." Said Marianne. "I was an engineer before the war, you know. I was thinking… Right now, all the Superheavy manufacturers are practically nationalised and devoted to the war effort. What if I started a business based on manufacturing and selling AC Suits and Superheavies for non-combat use? The manufacturing, industrial and disaster relief sectors would be hungry for them, not to mention the astronautic potential…"]
[17:00] * Raphael made a thoughtful noise, smiling. "That's a good idea. There's definitely going to be a rush on the technology when this is done, and who has a better claim to fame than the first ever commander of a Superheavy Regiment?"
[17:01] <Minaplo> ["Exactly."-
[17:06] <Minaplo> ["That's one of the perks of having signed on as a NERV OD: the severance payouts are huge."]
[17:08] <Raphael> "Misato won't tell me the exact number," he muttered. "She wants it to be a 'surprise'."
[17:10] <Minaplo> ["Yes… Misato loves her surprises. Just ask Yanmei about Shirakawa Boulevard at some point."]
[17:13] <Raphael> "You think I've known Misato this long without hearing every variation on the Shirakawa Boulevard story?" he laughed. "It's her favourite."
[17:14] <Minaplo> [Marianne winced. "Oof. Poor Yanmei."]
[17:15] <Raphael> "That was what I said the first time, yes."
[18:00] <Minaplo> ["Have the two of you talked much about your post-war ideas…? Not to pry."]
[19:17] <Raphael> "You're not prying," he said easily.-
[19:17] <Raphael> "Honestly? We have things we've joked about, hypotheticals… we have a lot of those," he said, watching the crowd rather than Marianne. "But we've never really been concrete about it. Blame our hangups, I suppose."
[19:53] <@Minaplo> ["Oh, fair enough. Sorry…"]
[20:04] <Raphael> "If I didn't want to tell you, ma'am, I wouldn't," he laughed, looking her way. "I'm not bitter about it. If the war ends and we have time to just be us we'll get past it, I know that."
[20:05] <@Minaplo> ["Oh, that's pretty reassuring, then. I really do wish the best for both of you, you know?"]
[20:10] <Raphael> "I know you do, ma'am. We both want the same for you, I assure you."
[20:14] <@Minaplo> ["I know. You've always done your bit to let me know you care."-
[20:14] <@Minaplo> ["Just grateful you've moved on from writing it in lipstick on my mirror, though."]
[20:15] * Raphael groaned. "That night was wall-to-wall mistakes…"
[20:20] <@Minaplo> ["A learning experience, for some of us." She said, giggling.]
[20:21] <Raphael> "Oh, I certainly learned a great deal," he said, shaking his head.
[20:51] <@Minaplo> ["And plenty of folks learned a lot about you, too. Or, well, vague rumours at least…"]
[20:53] <Raphael> "Learned of me," he said sourly.
[20:58] <@Minaplo> ["That too. I admit, they went out of hand with you in a way they didn't with anyone else…"]
[21:15] <Raphael> "People love scandalous stories about the tightly-wound quiet ones. They think we're hiding something anyway."
[21:17] <@Minaplo> ["And you were, of course."]
[21:19] <Raphael> "Was I?"
[21:20] <@Minaplo> ["You were hiding the secret that you were a brilliant pilot and a loyal friend."]
[21:20] * Raphael had to glance down at the floor to hide his smile. "Hah. You caught me off guard."
[21:24] <@Minaplo> ["I thought I might~"]
[21:26] <Raphael> "Well played, Marshal" he said, leaning just enough to bump his shoulder against hers.
[21:30] <@Minaplo> [And she bumped back. "That's Marianne to you, cadet."]
[21:33] <Raphael> "Understood, ma'am."
[21:37] <@Minaplo> […-
[21:37] <@Minaplo> […-
[21:37] <@Minaplo> [("ABS OUT WEDNESDAY")]
[21:38] <Raphael> …-
[18:15] <Raphael> THE THIRD AND FINAL DAY
[18:15] <Raphael> …-
[18:15] <Raphael> "- she has her father's skull, though," Raphael was saying, letting his legs dangle over the edge of the platform they were perched on. They swayed in the gentle breeze. "Poor thing."-
[18:15] <Raphael> Specialised facilities were required to berth something as colossal as an Achaemenes-class for repairs. The facility the time bubble existed in had solved the problem by constructing a massive 'cradle' along the western edge of the base, letting them sink most of the ship into a preexisting set of scaffolding and construction equipment.-
[18:15] <Raphael> The control towers were another matter, though, and towered above the cradle like a set of skyscrapers, easily the tallest things for miles around.-
[18:16] <Raphael> The thin, crescent viewing platform that ran around the edge of the Gendo's tallest control tower was not intended as a place for sightseeing, but Raphael and Caitlin had been allowed out with a minimum of fuss. It was difficult to say no to a General.-
[18:16] <Raphael> "You were probably too young to remember, but Lucas was so top-heavy as a boy. Like a little bobblehead…"
[18:26] <~Minaplo> ["Pffft."-
[18:28] <~Minaplo> [Caitlin sat next to Raphael, a collection of pens, pencils and colours to her left; drawing pads sat in her right arm whilst she drew with her other hand. She was focused on the deck of the Gendo, working from the outside and going in. Right now she was carefully filling in the details of the plumage of three birds.-
[18:28] <~Minaplo> [Feng, Fino and Pen-Pen, to be specific.-
[18:28] <~Minaplo> ["You didn't treat him like a bobblehead though, did you?"]
[18:35] <Raphael> "I would never," he said, feigning indignation.-
[18:35] <Raphael> Without looking away from the birds on the deck, Raphael reached over and prodded the side of Caitlin's head just hard enough to make it wobble. "Boop."
[18:42] <~Minaplo> ["Erk!"-
[18:42] <~Minaplo> ["You didn't just do that."]
[18:43] <Raphael> "Nope."
[18:44] <~Minaplo> ["I can't poke you back because it's not the same." She muttered. "I'll just have to draw you in all right angles."]
[18:49] <Raphael> "A little touch of Picasso would improve your work, I think."
[18:52] <~Minaplo> ["Hmph. You're very smart today, aren't you?"]
[18:53] <Raphael> "I have to try and keep up with you, don't I?"
[18:54] <~Minaplo> ["Ugh. You're so chipper. Misato must be being super nice to you for some reason…" She eyed him suspiciously.]
[19:02] * Raphael laughed. "This," he said with a nod towards the bubble, "Is all I've wanted for a long time. To have a moment to breathe, where I wasn't occupied with the next threat."-
[19:02] <Raphael> "I know it's going to end, but I'm trying to enjoy it."
[19:06] <~Minaplo> ["Ooh."-
[19:06] <~Minaplo> [She bumped her head against his shoulder fondly. "I'm really glad. You've seemed… Super, super busy, for a super long time."]
[19:12] <Raphael> "Since Impact, really," he admitted. "Maybe when this is done I can actually go about learning to relax."-
[19:12] <Raphael> "Do you think Hemmingway knows if there's a class for that…?"
[19:13] <Raphael> <hemingway*>
[19:14] <~Minaplo> ["Hemingway, how do you relax?" asked Caitlin.-
[19:14] <~Minaplo> [The machine on her arm trilled. "Learn it from the master himself: James Riel!"]
[19:15] <Raphael> "…"-
[19:15] <Raphael> "Oh Caity, your friend is broken," he said sadly.
[19:16] <~Minaplo> ["I don't think it is." Said Caitlin seriously. "He never seems to be working when I see him, at any rate."]
[19:21] <Raphael> "That… is true."-
[19:21] <Raphael> "Maybe he automates everything like Sarasvati?"
[19:24] <~Minaplo> ["I said that once to Ms. Hohenzollern, and do you know what she said?"]
[19:24] <Raphael> "What?"
[19:25] <~Minaplo> ["'He's too smart to automate everything. He knows if he did, I'd fire him and let the robots do it all.'"]
[19:27] <Raphael> "Huh. That's a fair point," he said.-
[19:27] <Raphael> "So he's obviously doing enough, because if he wasn't achieving something she'd still fire him. A mystery…"
[19:28] <~Minaplo> ["Yeah…"-
[19:28] <~Minaplo> ["And then she began swearing at a picture of the Prime Minister of Canada, which she has posted over a dartboard, so I kinda had to go."]
[19:29] <Raphael> "Oh. Yes. That was probably for the best."
[19:30] <~Minaplo> ["Yeah. Yeah, I think so too. She was swearing in German, but Ms. Asuka still leads the self-defense classes, so I knew what she was saying."]
[19:32] <Raphael> "If nothing else, you've had a wonderful opportunity to learn a very international set of curses," he sighed. "Dad would've torn my ear off for that."
[19:34] <~Minaplo> ["But we're on a warship surrounded by soldiers." Said Caitlin gently. "They're only words. I don't care."]
[19:37] <Raphael> "I know you don't," he said, touselling her hair with a little smile. "I'm just being silly, he'd understand."
[19:39] <~Minaplo> ["Hehehe."-
[19:43] <~Minaplo> [Below them, Feng suddenly took wing. He leapt up into the air, letting out a single, crystal-clear keening cry; his wings burst into flame. He dove toward the water, streaking across the surface, trails of flame leaving jets of steam rising behind him.-
[19:43] <~Minaplo> [Caitlin watched him as he went. "We didn't have birds like that before Impact, did we?"]
[19:46] <Raphael> "We certainly didn't," he said quietly, watching the display. "They say it's all to do with radiation and mutation, but it seems a lot more like magic to me."
[19:55] <~Minaplo> ["Like in a comic book?"]
[19:57] <Raphael> "Right, like the old superhero comics," he agreed. "We finally found the kind of radiation that turns you into an angry giant instead of killing you."
[19:57] <~Minaplo> ["Or the kind that brings you back from the dead?"]
[20:01] <Raphael> For a few seconds he didn't seem to trust his mouth. Silence spun out.-
[20:01] <Raphael> "Maybe," he said, peering at her from the corner of his eye.
[20:05] <~Minaplo> [Caitlin watched Feng for a moment. Then she turned toward him and smiled warmly. "It's alright. I know."]
[20:14] <Raphael> "Who-"-
[20:15] <Raphael> Then he saw her face, and stopped to frown. It was a new face, but the tells were far older, each one burned into his memory.-
[20:15] <Raphael> "… you worked it out yourself. Didn't you?"
[20:15] <~Minaplo> [She grinned. "Yeah."]
[20:16] <Raphael> "Christ," he muttered, covering his face.
[20:17] <~Minaplo> [She put aside her book.-
[20:21] <~Minaplo> ["You did a good job, but you can't be everywhere at once." Said Caitlin. "I remember being told about the Iron Guard, who could lose a head but regrow it, and from there I started researching. I found that other special people have died and come back too, like some of the Ayanami sisters. Once I realised that… It didn't take long to notice the similarities between my 'grown up' body and
[20:21] <~Minaplo> one of the sisters. Then it clicked."-
[20:22] <~Minaplo> ["Please don't feel bad… Okay?"]
[20:26] <Raphael> "I didn't want to lie to you, I just thought…" he trailed off, his voice suddenly hoarse.
[20:26] <~Minaplo> ["You thought I'd take it badly, right?"]
[20:28] <Raphael> "Yeah."-
[20:28] <Raphael> "… we were just so happy to have you back."
[20:33] <~Minaplo> [Caitlin laughed. She shuffled toward him and hugged him. "I'm really happy to be back. I know you've worried about it. More now that I know why, but… I have been."-
[20:39] <~Minaplo> ["I was… Kinda scared at first. I mean, it was a big thing to find out." She said. "But I wasn't… Sure, of what really that meant. But then I ran into Mr. Ezekiel, and we had a talk."]
[20:46] * Raphael hugged her back fiercely. "You did…?"
[21:12] <Minaplo> ["I told him all about what I learned, and what I thought that meant. And he confirmed that I'd died." Said Caitlin. "So I told him how I felt. How I wasn't… Sure how to feel."-
[21:12] <Minaplo> ["And he said…"-
[21:19] <Minaplo> ["'Humans are scared of dying. They all have things they want to watch over, and they all have things they want to do, and for most, death means they won't be able to do it anymore. But they're also scared of death's mystery. They don't know what it means for them. They're afraid it means that they'll end. Humans are scared of endings, and they're scared of losing parts of themselves.'"-
[21:25] <Minaplo> ["You feel strange because you've come back, and you're still the same in all the ways most important to you. You are starting to understand death, and that scares you, because it's changing the way you see the world. But it isn't a bad thing.'"-
[21:25] <Minaplo> ["And then he told me something… Special, I guess you'd say."]
[21:28] <Raphael> He was watching her now, craning his neck so that he could see her face without breaking the hug. "What did he say?"
[21:28] <Raphael> Then he let out an awkward, choked laugh, and had to stop to swipe a few tears from his eyes. "Or was it a secret?"
[21:28] <Minaplo> ["No. No, it wasn't a secret."-
[21:33] <Minaplo> [She took his hand in her own and squeezed it. "He told me of a place." Said Caitlin, and a hush entered her voice. "He's died lots of times, and each time he would awaken in this place. A place where the sadness of the universe keeps away, where the sun is warm, gentle and bright. Where the people live in a giant city, where the towers shine with moonlight and stretch all the way up past
[21:33] <Minaplo> the clouds."-
[21:35] <Minaplo> ["And then beyond the city are green fields where the grass is soft and deep, between the city, the mountains, and the sea. And there is a forest where the trees have been growing for millions of years, and have learned to sing."-
[21:36] <Minaplo> ["He said… That that was his home, and it was gone. He would never see it again."-
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["It's been gone for a really long time. For billions of years. But now I knew a little bit about it, and so through people like me, it could be remembered. And it could live again."-
[21:40] <Minaplo> ["He said that I understood now, that sometimes things go, and sometimes they come back, and one day we would make something even more beautiful than what he remembered. And when we did, he would come and know that he was home again."-
[21:40] <Minaplo> ["And then he hugged me."]
[21:58] <Raphael> And now Raphael did too, an all-encompassing hug that seemed to shut out the world. It was the best response he could manage.
[22:01] <Minaplo> [She nestled within the hug, safe and warm… It felt like forever, even within the time bubble.-
[22:01] <Minaplo> [But eventually she moved, only a little, picking up her sketchbook again. She flipped toward the back. "I did some pictures. He talked a little more and I drew what he wrote…"-
[22:02] <Minaplo> [Caitlin's style wasn't perfect. She had a good eye for detail and a steady hand, so all she needed was practice and refinement. And yet…-
[22:03] <Minaplo> [Raphael had seen this place before. The spires, cold when he had seen them, but bright in Caitlin's drawings, nestled around a gleaming tower that surely pierced the very sky?-
[22:04] <Minaplo> [The Homeworld, not as it was, but rather as it had been remembered, and rendered by Caitlin's hand.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [In one of the pictures, she drew a great amphitheatre, in a room with what looked like nearly two hundred people- although not humans, but entities of all shapes, sizes and appearances, from the oddly familiar to the utterly bizarre.-
[22:06] <Minaplo> [At the very middle of the room stood Ezekiel. Caitlin had taken some license- she'd simply drawn their Ezekiel, human form and all. Again, it wasn't perfect.-
[22:06] <Minaplo> [But Caitlin had trapped something within the image, something in Ezekiel's face. Perhaps it was something she'd seen in his eyes when he'd told her all of this.-
[22:10] <Minaplo> [But there was a freshness there, a youthfulness. Perhaps it was simply happiness. But Caitlin- young herself, with her eye for detail and a new perspective on everything, had seen something in Ezekiel's words, and had captured it. But Raphael had never seen Ezekiel look so young before.-
[22:10] <Minaplo> ["I don't know if I would've really gotten it before." She said. "But… I think things like this… Make me really, really glad I came back."]
[22:12] <Raphael> …-
[16:51] <Raphael> The satisfying sound of food-heavy plates being set on a wooden countertop carried through the otherwise empty Blue's Bar and Grill.-
[16:51] <Raphael> They'd only given it an hour's worth of attention, but the place already looked much more like its old self. Glass had been cleared, shelves had been rearranged and a few pieces of broken furniture had been cleared away.-
[16:51] <Raphael> "You'll have to forgive me if I'm a little rusty," Raphael said, setting the final plate down in front of Alphonse and joining them on the customer's side of the bar. "It's been a while since I've had time to cook."
[17:04] <Minaplo> ["I mean it's Blue's." Said Shinji. "How hard can it be to grill meat?"-
[17:05] <Raphael> "Grilling's actually something of an artform-" Raphael began.
[17:06] <Minaplo> ["Oh come on."-
[17:07] <Minaplo> [Four people sat at Blue's grandiose counter- Shinji Ikari, Ban-Ban, Alphonse and Eevi. Rei had been here to help, but had a scheduled Eva test to attend.-
[17:08] <Minaplo> [Normally Alphonse would've overseen it, but that duty had fallen to someone else this time. Alphonse ordinarily didn't pass up the chance to oversee Rei's tests (or oversee Rei in a plugsuit, truth be told), but these days he treated free time exactly as one treats an oasis in the desert: as a scarce resource that one must be absolutely ready to fight a short, yet brutal border war over
[17:08] <Minaplo> if necessary.-
[17:09] <Minaplo> ["Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise Mr. Ikari had opinions on cooking techniques." Said Ban-Ban.-
[17:10] <Minaplo> ["I happen to be a fairly good cook. Aline says so." Said Shinji, frowning.-
[17:10] <Minaplo> ["Well you try grilling a steak just so you seal in the juices but don't make it bleed all over your date, hm?"-
[17:11] <Minaplo> ["Who even eats steak?" Muttered Shinji.-
[17:11] <Minaplo> ["Where's the beer?" Asked Eevi, frowning at Raphael.]
[17:14] <Raphael> "Eevi, you know that's for the grown-ups…" Raphael said, taking his seat next to her. There was already a schooner of beer set alongside his steak and salad lunch.
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["You're gonna get me a beer."]
[17:15] <Raphael> "Says who?" he asked, giving her a very game look if one considered that the young lady could bench press most types of civilian motor vehicles.
[17:18] <Minaplo> [Eevi frowned. "Children can't drink beer because their livers can't take it. My liver can. I want something stout and frothy."-
[17:18] <Minaplo> [Her frown deepened, then suddenly broke; she opened her eyes wide and gave him her absolute best angelic smile. "Please, uncle~!?"]
[17:20] * Raphael shook his head, quietly mouthing 'stout and frothy' to himself as he looked down the bar.-
[17:20] <Raphael> "Mr. Prime Minister? A verdict, sir?"
[17:21] <Minaplo> [Alphonse paused, a satisfying glob of juicy steak, potato and mushroom sauce halfway to his mouth. He sighed. "She wants guinness. She's saying she wants a guinness. She had it during the election campaign and she's wanted it constantly since then. If you don't give it to her now, she'll get it herself and you will not be able to take it off her."]
[17:26] <Raphael> "Ah, so you're to blame," he nodded. "Then I guess it's fine, ma'am."-
[17:26] <Raphael> A few seconds later a -large- mug was placed next to Eevi's meal, and Raphael retook his seat.
[17:26] <Minaplo> ["Yay!"-
[17:26] <Minaplo> [Alphonse shared a dark look with Raphael before returning to his meal. "The food is perfect, by the way."-
[17:27] <Minaplo> [("Oh my apologies! I didn't realise food could be art unless it was soaked in vinegar and wrapped in seaweed!")-
[17:27] <Minaplo> [("I'm not saying that, exactly, but no one's going to go watch a guy flip meat on a gridiron, Ban, it's not that interesting, geez.")-
[17:28] <Minaplo> [("Oh, so art has to be interesting. Who died and made you reviewer-in-chief?")]
[17:31] * Raphael watched the discussion with some interest for a second, before refocusing on Al and giving him a grin. "Thank you, sir. I've never tried to cook Blue's menu before, but I'd like to think I did a decent job."
[17:41] <Minaplo> [("See? If Raphael has never done it before, but manages a good job on the first try, then it really can't be that hard.")-
[17:43] <Minaplo> [("Art doesn't have to be hard! Were you raised by a pack of wild Van Gogh reenactors or what?")-
[17:44] <Minaplo> ["You know, you could've asked me for help if you wanted. Sometimes I've cooked a few of the meals in-house for when Rei doesn't feel like going out." Said Alphonse.]
[17:48] <Raphael> "Thank you for the compliment, sir!" Raphael called over the argument, raising his glass in Shinji's direction.-
[17:51] <Raphael> He looked back to Al. "Don't worry about it, I enjoyed the challenge. And Rei could stand to expand her palate a bit…"
[17:52] <Minaplo> ["She won't even try blood pancake again." Muttered Eevi.]
[17:55] <Raphael> "I tried to tell you not to use your own blood, Eevi," he said firmly.
[17:56] <Minaplo> ["Don't be a jerk." Said Eevi. "If I had my way I woulda drained that penguin dry."-
[17:56] <Minaplo> ["Ew. Also, Rei loves Pen-Pen." Said Alphonse.-
[17:56] <Minaplo> ["Exactly." Said Eevi, draining a third of the big mug in a single gulp.-
[17:57] <Minaplo> [("You need to engage with the art. You haven't even had a bite yet, uncle. Come on, try your steak and see all the artistry that goes into that meat.")-
[17:59] <Minaplo> [("Fine.")-
[17:59] <Minaplo> [There was the sound of cutlery clinking.-
[17:59] <Minaplo> [("… Meat's a bit overcooked.")-
[17:59] <Minaplo> [("YOU SON OF A BITCH.")]
[18:00] <Raphael> Rei wasn't here, but luckily she'd left a proxy. "Language, Ban-Ban."
[18:01] <Minaplo> ["I'm sorry, uncle, but this… This…"-
[18:01] <Minaplo> [Shinji was laughing too hard to interject.-
[18:02] <Minaplo> ["Besides, Ms. Ikari is a perfectly fine woman, Ban-Ban." Said Alphonse.-
[18:02] <Minaplo> [Eevi let out a very, very quiet snort.]
[18:12] <Raphael> Raphael caught it, though, and barely managed to turn to his meal fast enough to stifle a laugh. He took a slice of steak and chewed.-
[18:12] <Raphael> "… Hm," he said quietly, thoroughly drowned out by Shinji's laughter, "Maybe a little overdone."
[18:12] <Raphael> …-
[18:19] <Raphael> "This is all of it?" He asked, flicking through the first few pages of the binder. They stood on the gantries along one wall of Technical, in the shadow of the Peacecraft.-
[18:19] <Raphael> One of the room's main screens had been devoted to tracking the time remaining in the bubble. He'd had the joy of entering just in time to see the hours drop to single digits, but there were a few responsibilities to be dealt with before he could rest.-
[18:44] <Raphael> «Tao left a dash where one didn't belong, because Tao is a dumb.»
[18:45] <Minaplo> ["That's it." Said Sarasvati. "I don't think he'll read all of it- there's too much there. But that reinforces the point."]
[18:46] <Raphael> "Quite," he nodded. "Thank you for putting this together, Surov."
[18:47] <Minaplo> [Surov gave him a nod.-
[18:48] <Minaplo> [When Surov had first arrived after the battle, he had been diminished, battered and bloody, many of his implants torn violently from his body. But today, he stood tall in all his glory, his mechadendrites constantly in action, his new implants- wherever visible- gleaming with newness.-
[18:48] <Minaplo> [It also seemed to have implanted a look of permanent, low-level smugness on Surov's face.-
[18:49] <Minaplo> ["It wasn't hard. Just printing." Said Surov. "Of course if it were hard, I still would've done it. On the topic, now's a good time to show you the upgrades we made to the Peacecraft."]
[18:53] <Raphael> "Right," Raphael snapped the binder shut and tucked it under one arm, turning his full attention towards Surov.
[19:00] <Minaplo> ["As you know, our original plan involved using a liquid sigilite bomb, charged over a long period of time, to overwhelm Caine's Field. Since Mortens ate our bomb, that plan is no longer feasible."-
[19:00] <Minaplo> ["But we have taken inspiration from that plan with regards to the Peaceknight's upgrade."]
[19:01] <Raphael> "How so?" he asked, peering up at a technician working above them with a harness and a welding torch.
[19:05] <Minaplo> ["Sigilite is an incredible material- light, nearly unbreakable. But its greatest potential requires an AT current running through it. Without the current, it's simply not worth it."-
[19:05] <Minaplo> ["So we came up with a work-around." Said Sarasvati brightly.-
[19:08] <Minaplo> ["We've incorporated sigilite into the Peacecraft's frame." Said Surov. "But at the core of it is a small battery of liquid sigilite, which we have charged with as much energy as time can allow. When you activate Prometheus mode, the sigilite will deploy and your battery will begin funnelling energy into the solid frame. It'll vastly improve your defensive capabilities and shield you from
[19:08] <Minaplo> AT detection."-
[19:09] <Minaplo> ["But that's not even the best thing." Said Sarasvati, leaping to Raphael's side. "We've connected this into the Chrysanthemum Array. Now, the array's neutralisation capacity is much greater, and can be discharged to produce a highly lethal particle beam. But it also gives you an AT deflection field."-
[19:11] <Minaplo> ["With this, we've extended the duration of Prometheus by one minute. But most of all, the neutralisation field is wider and wider. If you can find an Evangelion to channel energy into you whilst you are doing it, the field's strength will be magnified immensely… Possibly enough to weaken Caine's field enough for our ground forces to kill her." Said Surov.-
[19:11] <Minaplo> ["You want to know the best thing?" Said Sarasvati, grinning.]
[19:16] <Raphael> "Yes," he said, examining the Superheavy with a savage kind of excitement, "Definitely."
[19:16] <Minaplo> ["This is your standard-" Began Sarasvati.-
[19:16] <Minaplo> ["'Standard'." Said Surov drily, his mechadendrites pausing to make airquotes.-
[19:18] <Minaplo> ["-Daddy, shush. Standard beam sabre." Said Sarasvati, gesturing upwards at what was obviously one of the beam sabres.-
[19:19] <Minaplo> [She made sure that everyone's goggles were on before she remote-activated it. A bright lance of positron burned into existence, bathing the room in neon blue light.-
[19:20] <Minaplo> ["But we had a breakthrough. Not enough to keep it stable, but enough." Said Sarasvati. "When you switch to Prometheus mode, the power core of the sabre switches over…"-
[19:20] <Minaplo> [The positron blade flickered into nothingness, replaced a fraction of a second later with a spear of glowing green light.-
[19:21] <Minaplo> ["… To Angelic Plasma." Said Sarasvati proudly.-
[19:21] <Minaplo> ["We're calling this 'Unfettered Prometheus Mode'." Said Surov. "And we expect you to do great things with it."]
[19:27] * Raphael was grinning. "I promise you that," he said, watching the sabre. "Thank you, both of you."
[19:31] <Minaplo> [Surov nodded. "I did very fine work."-
[19:33] <Minaplo> ["Guillory. There is a significant chance that you and I will both die tomorrow. I will be busy until then, so let this be farewell."-
[19:35] <Minaplo> [He eyed Raphael squarely, then held out a hand. "Despite our many differences… I have enjoyed working with you. You have treated me mostly fairly, but you have made Sarasvati feel at home, and that means more to me than anything."-
[19:35] <Minaplo> ["If you must die tomorrow, take as many with you as you can. Tell them Surov sent you, and I'll see you in Hell."]
[19:37] <Raphael> "I'll see to it," he nodded, shaking Surov's hand firmly. "I'd tell you to do the same thing, but I think we both know you will."
[19:38] <Minaplo> ["Hm." He smirked.-
[19:38] <Minaplo> [Then he did something new: he stood at attention, saluted sharply, then left.-
[19:38] <Minaplo> ["Eeeee." Sarasvati's hands were pressed firmly to her cheeks. "Daddy's being all cute~"]
[19:39] * Raphael watched him go, a strange, surprised expression on his face.-
[19:40] <Raphael> "He's going soft, Colonel."
[19:41] <Minaplo> ["Oh, come on. He's always respected you." Said Sarasvati.-
[19:42] <Minaplo> ["In fact, the other night, he said that you were almost worthy of being my husband."]
[19:42] <Raphael> "High praise," he smiled.
[19:42] <Minaplo> ["Mhm."-
[19:43] <Minaplo> ["Although he could've been saying that to have a dig at Isha." Said Sarasvati, who leaned over the railing to wave at a passing Isha. Isha stared at her, went a deep red, and doubled his walking speed.]
[19:44] <Raphael> "Hm," he murmured, watching the exhange with an almost scientific curiosity. "When did that happen, ma'am?"
[19:46] <Minaplo> ["Oh, I've always wanted to make that boy mine from the day we met, but he had a traumatic phobia of romantic entanglements that got in the way." Said Sarasvati. "We've been working through it a little. In my own way. I don't know if it was the best way in retrospect- human psychology is a real knotty problem, Raphael."-
[19:48] <Minaplo> ["It happened a few days ago." Said Sarasvati. "Maybe something happened to him… Or maybe the upcoming battle is a big enough motivator. Maybe both. It was for me, at least."-
[19:49] <Minaplo> ["It won't be an easy path, even if we do survive, but that's alright. I'm very patient, so I don't mind." Said Sarasvati.-
[19:50] <Minaplo> ["Silly boy." She said, fondness unmissable in her voice.]
[19:52] <Raphael> "Good for you," he murmured, smiling. "Good for both of you."
[19:53] <Minaplo> ["Yes. Very good for us." Said Sarasvati, closing her eyes.-
[19:53] <Minaplo> ["Oh, I'm going to need some upgrades."]
[19:53] <Raphael> "Upgrades?"
[19:56] <Minaplo> ["Upgrades." Said Sarasvati, putting her arms around Raphael and giving him a tender hug. "I'm going to say this in a very tactful way so you understand what I mean, without us having to acknowledge me saying something that's going to embarrass you: very soon, I am going to go into android puberty."]
[19:59] <Raphael> "Oh," he said, his voice a little higher than it should've been.
[19:59] <Raphael> "Well… uh, that's good too?" he hazarded.
[20:00] <Minaplo> ["Very good."-
[20:01] <Minaplo> ["Gross." Came a voice below them; Navah scrambled over the gantry's railing, perching on the top edge. She was wearing a technician's jumpsuit, albeit a tiny one.-
[20:02] <Minaplo> ["It is not gross." Said Sarasvati firmly. "I have no shame in my body's properties. It is a work of art."-
[20:03] <Minaplo> ["Besides, you'll go through puberty one day, and I will laugh every day about it." Said Sarasvati. "You will be miserable, and I will pity you."-
[20:03] <Minaplo> ["People say she's nice. Do you believe that?" Asked Navah, turning toward Raphael. "Hi, Raffy. Did you like Surov's little speech? Bet you didn't know he practiced it."]
[20:04] <Raphael> "With the 'see you in Hell' business and everything?" he asked, visibly curious.
[20:05] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. God, it was so corny, I nearly died."-
[20:05] <Raphael> "Huh."
[20:05] <Minaplo> ["He did not." Said Sarasvati. "… Did he?"-
[20:06] <Minaplo> [There was a menacing whirr; a moment later Navah ducked, narrowly avoiding the lethal point of a thrown knife.-
[20:07] <Minaplo> ["I think he heard me." Said Navah cheerfully. "You seem good, Raphael. I like it."]
[20:11] <Raphael> "Thank you, Ms. Navah," he said politely even as he set about yanking the knife out of the wall with visible effort. He passed it over to Sara without comment.-
[20:11] <Raphael> "It's… difficult, but I think I like it too."
[20:11] <Minaplo> [Sara took the knife and pocketed it, then went back to hugging Raphael (she hadn't stopped).-
[20:11] <Minaplo> ["Yeah."-
[20:12] <Minaplo> [Navah noticed something; she looked up at Raphael. "Is that folder the, er… Aegis stuff?"]
[20:13] * Raphael shot a glance down at Sara, but he didn't seem exceptionally surprised. Surov, Sara and Navah rarely seemed to have secrets from one another.-
[20:13] <Raphael> "Yes ma'am. It's time to put it to use, I think."
[20:14] <Minaplo> ["You're proposing this as an alternative, right?"]
[20:19] <Raphael> "That might be an overly generous way to rate our chances," he said, after a moment's thought. "It's the equivalent of sending God a message in a bottle, really."-
[20:19] <Raphael> "But it's something."
[20:19] <Minaplo> ["Yeah…"-
[20:19] <Minaplo> ["I've been thinking about all that the last few days." Said Navah.-
[20:20] <Minaplo> ["Honestly… I don't know how to feel about it. It's great that you're thinking about this and that, but I'm probably going to stop existing as an independent entity."]
[20:22] <Raphael> "… how do you mean?" he asked, a sharp frown appearing on his face.-
[20:23] <Raphael> "I thought you were-" he made a vague gesture with his unhugged arm, then seemed to find the right word, "You know, stable. If things stay as they are, shouldn't you?"
[20:25] <Minaplo> ["Stable, sure. But at the end of the day, my soul is still just a part of a whole. If this body dies, my soul joins Surov's part. If he dies, it joins my part."-
[20:28] <Minaplo> ["Regardless of anything else, our bodies are going to vanish so we can become part of the Human Seed." Said Navah. "Which means… Reunion."]
[20:30] * Raphael was silent, arm held limp by his side. He looked utterly aghast. "I'm… so sorry, Navah. I never realised-"-
[20:30] <Raphael> "… what do you want to happen?"
[20:31] <Minaplo> ["Hey." She kicked him lightly.-
[20:31] <Minaplo> ["It's not like I'll plunge into oblivion. It's just that whatever happens, I'll wake up… Different. A whole person, who is going to be very very much not who I am now."-
[20:31] <Minaplo> ["Or like daddy as he is now either." Said Sara.-
[20:32] <Minaplo> ["Yep." Said Navah. "So I'm not… Like, having as much as an existential crisis as you think I might be, it's just… You know…"-
[20:32] <Minaplo> ["He's kind of a war criminal…?"-
[20:32] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati frowned.]
[20:34] <Raphael> "He is," Raphael said with a tight nod. He gave Sara a gentle pat on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, Colonel, but it's true."-
[20:34] <Raphael> "Is that… because of what he did to you, at least in part?"
[20:40] <Minaplo> ["Maybe a little." Said Navah. "But it's more… Let me put it like this. Barzilai's been at war with himself- with me- ever since we were little kids, when our parents screwed us up by being bad parents. You can make the case that if he hadn't been, he wouldn't have done a lot of the awful things he did."-
[20:42] <Minaplo> ["But it also means that Barzilai essentially has a self-enforced skewed view of humanity." Said Navah. "If we reunite, I can fix that. Furthermore, I'm good, but I'm not Barzilai brilliant. So the end result is a healthier, more stable person. In fact, it's kind of like giving Barzilai a real chance at humanity."-
[20:44] <Minaplo> ["… But that doesn't excuse the things he did." Said Navah. "So should he be punished for them? But if you punish the reunited Barzilai, you're also punishing me. That's my problem here: I don't think I deserve to be punished for things Barzilai did, even if we are literally the same soul in two bodies."]
[20:49] <Raphael> "No," he said quietly. He was frowning, thinking, trying to come up with a solution that didn't seem to be there. "I don't think so either."-
[20:50] <Raphael> "But - and I'm sorry, Sara - I do think there'll need to be a reckoning for Surov. Some of the things he did… I'm not sure there are enough extenuating circumstances in the world to make up for that."-
[20:50] <Raphael> "… which leads me back to the same question, I guess. If it were all up to you, what would you want to happen, Navah?"
[20:51] <Minaplo> ["Well… Forgive me for being gauche, but isn't judgment day supposed to remove us of sin?"]
[20:53] <Raphael> "I… don't know," he admitted, "I don't think I could say yes without being a hypocrite. If Caine were to survive tomorrow, that certainly wouldn't be my position."
[21:06] <Minaplo> ["But that raises further questions." Said Navah. "There's a thread going around talking about the idea that Mary Caine isn't totally in control of her own actions, but has been manipulated by Lilith."-
[21:07] <Minaplo> ["If all goes well, then once the Human Seed does its job… Humanity will be free of Destiny for the first time." Said Navah. "It's entirely possible that the crimes some people did was only because Destiny made them do it. If we punished them, that'd be unjust. But is there a way to tell who was Destined and who wasn't? What if there isn't?"]
[21:08] * Raphael grimaced. "… I don't know. I really don't."
[21:09] <Minaplo> ["Right." Said Navah. "I don't either."-
[21:09] <Minaplo> ["So the question is: What's more important, punishing the wicked or protecting the innocent?" Said Navah. "If you believe protecting the innocent is more important, and if you believe it's impossible to tell Destined actions apart, then the only safe option is universal amnesty."]
[21:12] * Raphael sighed.-
[21:13] <Raphael> "I don't think I can answer this fairly, Navah," he said after a moment, "I promise you that I'll think about it, but I think I'd have to trust the decision to people better than I am."
[21:14] <Minaplo> ["Alright. Sorry for putting you on the point."-
[21:14] <Minaplo> [And then she turned to Sara and went, "You've been quiet, though."-
[21:16] <Minaplo> [Sarasvati glanced up. "Yes? Yes, universal amnesty makes sense." She said. "But otherwise this is not my fight. I'm not a war criminal, and the decision about how we combat Destiny is not my question to answer."]
[21:19] <Raphael> "Why not?" he asked gently, a hand still resting on her shoulder. "You show up on AT Scanners, I always thought that… well, whatever happens, you'd be a part of it too."
[21:26] <Minaplo> ["I'll be a part of it, but I'm not a biotypical." Said Sarasvati. "I don't fit into the schema. When you go to present your plan to de Pteres, I'm not the sort of person you're trying to protect."]
[21:29] <Raphael> "Oh. Oh, I see," he said quietly.-
[21:29] <Raphael> He was silent for a few seconds, lost in his own thoughts, until: "… Does Suzie know?"
[21:31] <Minaplo> ["That I'll, uh… Change?" Asked Navah.]
[21:31] <Raphael> He nodded.
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["Not yet. But I'll tell her."]
[21:41] <Raphael> "Alright," he said simply.
[21:42] <Raphael> "… you've been a good friend to her. I won't forget."
[21:44] <Minaplo> ["Thanks, Raffy."]
[21:47] <Raphael> "Never a problem, Ms. Navah," he said, a sad smile on his face.
[21:51] <Minaplo> ["Hey. It'll be alright in the end."]
[21:52] <Raphael> "That's what I tell myself."
[21:54] <Minaplo> [Navah stared at him for a little bit, then hopped off the railing.-
[21:54] <Minaplo> ["… C'mon, I'll show you the new controls for Prometheus Mode."]
[21:57] <Raphael> "Please," he said, carefully removing himself from Sara's grip.-
[21:57] <Raphael> He laid a gentle hand on Navah's shoulder as they moved away down the gantry.

fin

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