Raphael On The Liberty Bell

[17:38] <Minaplo> [25th of March, 2018. Location: the Southern Atlantic Ocean, 1,100km off the coast of Angola.-
[17:43] <Minaplo> [The USS Liberty Bell would've seemed strange to Raphael Guillory after the endless space and luxury of the Dorian. Barely larger than an aircraft carrier- about a third of the size of the Dorian- the Liberty Bell was economic on space and luxury both. The corridors were narrower, more cramped; the rooms were small cabin dorms, even for officers, who may have had just enough room to fit a desk in- certainly no room for big televisions or glorious frescos. The cafeteria food was much more typical of the military Raphael had known for years- rations and cheap but bland food of varying attractiveness, a far cry from the endless buffet that was the Battleship.-
[17:50] <Minaplo> [Nevertheless, it was with the Battleship that the Bell shared most of its similarities: the positron reactors that sat at the heart of the ship, the dull thrum of their operation occasionally heard and felt; the capital ship cannon that dominated the bow; the hangars containing D-Titans and the facilities to repair and maintain them; and, of course, the engines and modules that permitted it to travel in space, in the air and beneath the sea.-
[17:52] <Minaplo> [Which would be another thing Raphael would not be used to- being submerged for long periods of time. He'd come from the air force, not the submarine corps. They'd spent days beneath the water, without seeing the sky or the sun or feeling the wind. The atmosphere was a little tenser, a little more paranoid- no one wanted to break something underwater.-
[18:03] <Minaplo> [The sights beneath the sea, however, were singular, breathtaking and occasionally terrifying. The Bell had few windows, but the ones it did have -in the cafeteria for example- were made of transparent surovite. Getting a seat next to a window was as bitter a fight as Raphael had ever known when it came to these things, easily three times as brutal as, for example, fighting with one's siblings for the front seat. The rewards were worth it- massive schools of fish would swim by in elaborate flowing patterns, sometimes followed by dolphins or sharks. Occasionally they would espy whales in the distance…-
[18:05] <Minaplo> [Hugues had managed to fight his way into a window seat one night, glowering mightily, his moustache and whiskers bristling at anyone who dared -try- as he made his way to the seat. It had been on that exact night when a one-in-a-million event had occurred- the Bell was accosted by a deep sea Impact Feral from Antarctica.-
[18:07] <Minaplo> [A Mega-Squid, easily large enough to ensnare an Evangelion, had attached itself to the ship, its bulky body and giant beak smashing itself up against the cafeteria window, its tentacles wrapping around the superstructure. Huge, but nowhere near as tough as an Angel, the Mega-Squid had been quickly warded way by several powerful shots from a bolt cannon. It had skulked off moodily into the gloom.-
[18:08] <Minaplo> [Hugues' reaction- jumping to his feet, screaming, and unthinkingly punching the window, forgetting that it was super-hard metal- became the thing of legend on the Bell. Not at all coincidentally, Hugues had become far less willing to fight for the window seat, expressing to Raphael his distate for 'this 20,000 Leagues under the Sea bullshit'.-
[18:11] <Minaplo> [There had been far more serious encounters as well. The Bell was raiding New World shipping in the Southern Atlantic, and so the long days were punctuated with high-intensity moments of combat, sometimes sinking resource convoys- and sometimes engaging with submarines. Anyone who had detected the Bell had to be eliminated.-
[18:13] <Minaplo> [And so it went that Raphael and his team would be summoned to the Bell's briefing room by the captain- Minerva Linden. A new mission had been formulated, one that required the deployment of his D-Titans.]
[18:14] <Minaplo> [The briefing room was small, ampitheatre shaped, with rows of chairs taking up the bulk, all of them facing a conference table, behind which was a massive computer screen covering the wall. A bank of consoles to control it were situated next to said screen, crewed by some technicians.-
[18:18] <Minaplo> [It was in this room that the ship made a concession to decor; the large viewscreen was flanked by two stylised acrylic images, the left showing the emblem of the US Navy, and the right showing a seal depicting a large single church-like bell with a crack up the side. On the top of the seal were the words 'LIBERTY BELL' in gold, and below, an inscription: 'Proclaim Liberty through all the land and to all the inhabitants thereof'.-
[18:19] <Minaplo> [It would be in this room that Linden waited, sitting at the head of the conference table, wearing an immaculate navy blue uniform jacket (buttoned up), medals, white shirt, blue tie, navy blue skirt over black stockings, fitting into functional flat black shoes.]
6[19:48] * Raphael She wouldn't be left waiting for long, of course - Raphael was as punctual as ever, almost down to the minute. One would be forced to wonder whether he had been crouched outside with his hand on the doorknob and his eyes on the clock.-
[19:48] <Raphael> He entered at the front of his squad, clad in the newer UEF-style dress uniform - It was predominantly dark blue, with highlights of red at the hems, cuffs and the hard collar of his coat to mark his role in the Auxillary Pilots. Polished silver buttons lined the front of the jacket with matching the epaulettes on his shoulder, and a peaked dark blue cap sat on his head.-
[19:49] <Raphael> The rest of the team are dressed in the more conservative standard UEF uniforms, keeping the dark blue and red highlights while losing the flashier elements. Hard collars in red were buttoned around their necks, with badges on one side to mark their rank.-
[19:49] <Raphael> "Madame President." Raphael says, standing slightly ahead of the rest of the unit as he offers Minerva a sharp salute.
[19:57] <Minaplo> [Minerva stands, returning the salute. "Captain. I trust your men have been acclimatising well to deep sea situations?"]
[20:06] <Raphael> "Of course, ma'am." He says, suddenly glad Hugues was outside his field of vision.
[20:07] <Minaplo> [Hugues's moustache twitched.-
[20:07] <Minaplo> [Minerva gives them all a sweet, innocent smile. "Excellent. At ease, soldiers- take your seats and we'll begin."]
[20:09] * Raphael nods once, glancing over his shoulder to get the rest of the unit moving before taking his own seat front and centre.
[20:25] <Minaplo> [Minerva did not sit, as she needed all of her precious inches to maintain the right air of authority.-
[20:30] <Minaplo> [The viewscreen activated, resolving into a satellite photo of their current area- the coast of Angola, the Congo and Namibia. Major cities (Luanda-2 for example) were marked in red. The tiny speck known as New St. Helena Island was also marked with a red dot, reading "New St. Helena Spaceport". Marked in blue, square in the middle between St. Helena and Angola, was the Liberty Bell.-
[20:31] <Minaplo> [They'd stayed well clear of St. Helena on their intercept. Made up primarily of artificial construction- bases, so on- the island was given all of the fortification one might expect from an important strategic location in the middle of nowhere.-
[20:34] <Minaplo> ["We've recently received word that a New World convoy is about to leave the Synfront and move towards St. Helena." Said Minerva. "The convoy is heavily guarded by a squad of elite E-Destroyer Customs, piloted by what appear to be genetically enhanced pilots known as Solomon Knights. SOS has been tasked with intercepting the convoy, destroying the escort, and taking the goods."-
[20:37] <Minaplo> ["Smash and grab." Said Blaise, leaning back in his chair, managing a cocky swagger even when sitting down. His legs were as wide as the chair arms would allow, and his hands were secured firmly behind his head.-
[20:37] <Minaplo> ["So to speak." Said Minerva with a smile. "The code name for this operation is Masked Midnight."]
[20:46] <Raphael> "Are we to expect an AT-capability, ma'am?" Raphael asks, examining the map with a critical eye.
[21:06] <Minaplo> ["Negative. The enemy seems to be just a single squad of E-Destroyer Customs without Dys support, so positron weapons are not a necessity."-
[21:07] <Minaplo> ["However, we can't rule out the possibility of the enemy sending warnings back to the Synfront calling for support. Bringing a Dysangelion down on our heads would be a disaster, so this operation is going to be an ambush."]
[21:12] * Raphael nods. "Simple enough. If we have accurate data on their route we should have no difficulty crippling the convoy and forcing them onto the defensive.
[21:12] <Raphael> «ERROR»
[21:13] * Raphael nods. "Simple enough. If we have accurate data on their route we should have no difficulty crippling the convoy and forcing them onto the defensive. Do we have rough estimates on how long it would take to sortie a Dysangelion? Any data to tell us how wide of a window we might have?"
[21:16] <Minaplo> ["If only. It typically takes about ten to thirty minutes to sortie an Evangelion. Assuming the Dysangelions are faster to the punch… My gut says anything longer than five minutes is pushing it."-
[21:20] <Minaplo> ["If the Dysangelions are so fast, why don't they just transport this by themselves?" Asked Mana.-
[21:21] <Minaplo> [Minerva shook her head. "Either the cargo isn't that important, they're busy, or this is a trap."-
[21:21] <Minaplo> ["A trap?"-
[21:23] <Minaplo> ["It's probably not a trap." Said Minerva with a smile. "They don't know what we exist, and I doubt they're expecting Evas to waste their time raiding convoys."-
[21:28] <Minaplo> [The map image cleared, replaced with a 1*1km satellite image of a wooded coastline.-
[21:29] <Minaplo> ["Nevertheless, for this I want to play to our advantage. First and foremost, the SOS units will set up position under the water off the coast of Angola. The water will help hide the heat signatures, and if we set the engines to low power, they won't realise we're there until it's too late."-
[21:29] <Minaplo> ["You'll also be taking a portable jamming device with you to prevent requests for assistance."]
[21:50] <Raphael> "Understood."
[21:53] <Minaplo> ["The Liberty Bell will be stationed just barely within the range of our main weapons. If the situation goes sour, we'll provide support, but I'd rather avoid that. Any further questions? Something that needs clarifying?"]
[22:00] <Raphael> "What exactly are we hoping to recover here, ma'am? Or are we just making an attack of opportunity?"
[22:05] <Minaplo> ["According to our sources, we'll be intercepting all manner of materiel, as well as something called 'prototype RS Hoppers'. They seem to be some sort of remote drone designed for Evas, or so technical says."]
[22:11] * Raphael nods once. "And our info suggests we won't be dealing with anything outside the ordinary when it comes to the Solomons or their E-Destroyers?"
[22:17] <Minaplo> ["They'll be skilled, Captain." Said Minerva. "And their equipment will be of a higher quality, as will their units. There's a possibility they may have some customised parts that we can't anticipate- honestly, we won't know their full capabilities until the battle begins. There's little concrete I can give you, except to advice you that a Solomon Knight's reflexes are probably on par with your typical Ayanami."]
[22:19] <Raphael> "Understood, ma'am. That should be all, at least on my part."
[22:25] <Minaplo> [The rest of the squad, for their part, was silent as well.-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["Very well. We engage in 19 hours at 1100 tomorrow. Your orders are to study our records regarding typical E-Destroyer weaknesses and capabilities- a baseline should at least help- and to ensure your units are in working condition. And please," She paused for a second to flash everyone a bright, warm smile- "Make sure you eat dinner -and- breakfast and get a full eight hours of sleep."]
[22:28] <Minaplo> ["Dismissed."]
[22:36] * Raphael smiles just a little at that as he picks himself up and collects his notes from the briefing, the rest of the squad already beginning to wander down the tiered steps on their way to the door.
[22:44] <Minaplo> ["Captain? Might I have a moment?"]
[22:57] * Raphael 's smile fades a little, looking uncertain. The two of them had rarely been together outside of professional circumstances in the month since the Mafia infiltration, and given the way they parted there it was probably for the best…-
[22:58] <Raphael> But she was still the President. "… of course, ma'am."
[23:01] <Minaplo> [Minerva waits until SOS and the techs are gone, leaving the room quiet and empty. She sits down, now- on the surface of the conference table.-
[23:01] <Minaplo> ["How're you finding the Liberty Bell, Raphael?"]
[23:11] <Raphael> "Cozy." Raphael says after a moment, seeming unsure whether to sit back down. In the end he settles for an awkward-looking lean. "In all honesty, it's something of a relief to be on a warship that looks like one. The Dorian Lachapelle is… extravagant."
[23:12] <Minaplo> [Minerva chuckled. "Makes you feel like you're on holiday, doesn't it?"]
[23:16] <Raphael> "Maybe. It's a little much when you have to spend too much time there, though."
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["And the decor is tacky." Said Minerva, crossing one leg over the other, resting her hands on a stocking-covered knee. "Alphonse is less than impressed at the former owner's creepy fixation on his lady love, as though it weren't obvious."]
[23:22] <Raphael> "I don't exactly care for it either…"
[23:26] <Minaplo> ["Of course not."-
[23:26] <Minaplo> [Nevertheless, a sweet smile was on her face, her eyes lighting up. "Still, it's given me a bit of inspiration. I was figuring we could renovate the cafeteria. A great fresco of Sergeant Hugues, fighting the megasquid, his bare body shining in the light…"]
[23:38] <Raphael> … he's caught off guard, and the tension hanging over the conversation so far only serves to make his sudden burst of laughter sound more honest. "M-maybe, ma'am…" He says, rubbing his cheek with one hand.
[23:54] <Minaplo> ["Think you could get him to pose for it?"]
[23:54] <Raphael> "-Easily-." Raphael says, rolling his eyes.
[00:00] <Minaplo> [Minerva laughs properly now, her shoulders shaking. After a few seconds to calm herself down, she continues.-
[00:00] <Minaplo> ["I'm glad you're feeling at home, then." She says, still grinning. "How about your team? They haven't gone soft?"]
[17:58] * @Raphael shakes his head quickly. "I wouldn't say soft, ma'am. This is Sergeant Duval's first operation after a serious injury, though, and I think he has his fair share of nerves. Luckily we won't need him in the field. This is a good way to ease him back into the work, I think."#
[20:19] <Minaplo> ["I was considering posting him in Ops for the duration of the mission as a tactical liaison."]
[20:21] * Raphael smiles a little. "I was going to request something similar."
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["Hm." She smiled.-
[20:37] <Minaplo> ["By the way, keep an eye on the young man, Blaise. He smells of… Bravado."]
[20:40] <Raphael> "… Yes. I apologize for that. I'll be having words with him for that, you can be sure." He sighs. "The bravado tends to be an issue with him, and now that he's finally been given an opportunity to return to piloting…"
[20:44] <Minaplo> ["Tell me about that. Henri wasn't chosen to pilot, or he declined…?"]
[20:58] <Raphael> "Henri…" Raphael frowns now, taking up a slightly more comfortable position now that some of the tension has eased. "Sergeant Duval was originally brought into our unit when it was NERV's First Superheavy Regiment, primarily as a technical liason with the Thruster teams. He had a lot of experience in the Expeditionary Force's armour division, but lacked Sergeant Herriot's combat experience
[20:58] <Raphael> so it was Blaise who took the fifth Dreadnought."-
[21:00] <Raphael> "That said, we actually had him in the first stages of Superheavy training when he suffered his fall. It took him months to recover - he's only recently been cleared for active duty - and he was… reluctant to resume the training. We lack a sixth D-Titan right now, so I haven't pushed."#
[21:12] <Minaplo> ["I understand." She sighed. "It's been some time since I've had the chance to fly in a Superheavy."]
[21:13] * Raphael raises an eyebrow. "I didn't know it served more than a practical purpose for you, ma'am."
[21:16] <Minaplo> ["It's the sensation of being powerful, strong, huge… I find it exhiliarating. That's not weird, is it?"]
[21:29] <Raphael> "Not at all, Madame President. I just… didn't expect it from you, I suppose. Presumptuous of me."
[21:32] <Minaplo> ["Well now I'm curious. What do you expect from me, hm~?"]#
[21:40] <Raphael> "I…" On the back foot again now - he should know better than to be surprised by how quickly it could happen, but he's never quite prepared for it.-
[21:42] <Raphael> "I couldn't rightly say, ma'am. You make a habit of defying expectations." He says, struggling to make the words as polite - as neutral - as possible. Trying to avoid them being perceived as… more.
[21:50] <Minaplo> [She smiles sweetly, her eyes shining with enthusiasm. Or perhaps 'enthusiasm'. "Speaking of expectations…" She continues, "We took on special cargo before we departed. It's something I'd like you to see."]
[22:10] * Raphael shifts a little and glances towards the door, but he's long since been abandoned. "… Of course."
[22:12] <Minaplo> [She hops off the table, walking over to Raphael's side, patting him on the shoulder. "I have it stored in the captain's cabin. Follow me."-
[22:13] <Minaplo> [She steps out of the room and, before he really has time to respond, continues. "How's Isidor doing recently, by the way?"]
[22:19] <Raphael> "In the-" There's more than a hint of alarm in his voice now, but there was no time to react before he was swept out of the hall and into a new topic of conversation.-
[22:22] <Raphael> "He-… he's fine, ma'am. It took some time for him to recover from the damage that spawn that possessed Gamelin inflicted on him during the Geofront attack, but Euphrasie's had her eye on him."
[22:24] <Minaplo> ["In more ways than one, or so I hear." Said Minerva with a twinkle in her eye. "How are they?"]
[22:28] * Raphael considers the question quietly for a second or two, letting the sound of their footsteps in the hall replace the conversation for a spell. "… Happy." He says finally. "Or close to it."-
[22:30] <Raphael> "Euphrasie's dealt with more than most and it's a struggle for her to open up, but he's been… remarkably patient." He says, his tone betraying genuine respect.
[22:32] <Minaplo> ["Isidor is a patient man. He respects boundaries, even the ones he intends to change."]
[22:34] <Raphael> "And she appreciates that. So do I, for what it's worth - Euphrasie's a good friend, and I wouldn't want to see her hurt."
[22:38] <Minaplo> ["Then they're quite a good fit, I think. Isidor…" She paused for a moment. "Isidor is a strong man, principled- but I think he's been lonely for a long time. Has he ever talked about his days in the Red Army with you?"]
[22:39] <Raphael> "A little. Only the basics, really."
[23:07] <Minaplo> [She nodded. "That's his story to tell, but suffice it to say he's been by himself for a very long time." Minerva smiled a little.-
[23:08] <Minaplo>["You know, I really do hate being behind the times." She said. "Your sense of everything becomes a little skewed when you spend so much time underwater. Is Rei doing ok? Last time I saw her was after the Party."]
[14:53] <Raphael> "She's allowing herself a rare opportunity to decompress now that Alphonse is back safe and sound. The pressures on her have been -enormous-, that business with the court martial showed that much. The two of them have been spending a lot of time trying to work through her emotions, trying to learn some coping skills to deal with the loss of the Seal."
[14:59] <Minaplo> ["Yes, the court martial was… Quite illustrative." Said Minerva quietly. "I'm sorry, Raphael. I know this is a critical time for Rei- I know you would've preferred to be there to help her."]
[23:37] * Raphael manages a very small shrug. "We do what we must." He says, seeming to mean it. "In all honesty, Alphonse is probably the one best suited to help her here."
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["He makes her feel very comfortable in her own skin."]
[23:39] <Raphael> "Mmm."
[23:46] <Minaplo> [She slowed a little to keep pace with him, side-by-arm, arm-by-arm. "I know that it works both ways. Alphonse may not look like it to look at him, but he's always been a bit of a misfit."]
[23:54] * Raphael gives her a curious look. "Really? Even when he was with people his own age?"
[23:57] <Minaplo> ["Oh, he was probably more of a misfit with us than he is now." Said Minerva with a grin. "He knew he was the ace, so he felt more at ease with adults than with children like us. Your report said you encountered 'the Brofessor' during the party, yes?"]
[00:00] <Raphael> "… Oh, you mean Arthur? Briefly, ma'am."
[00:07] <Minaplo> [She grinned. "Arthur, then."-
[00:14] <Minaplo> ["He actually started running betting pools about Alphonse, because he was so aloof. About whether he missed his family, or whether he actually had friends, or preferred girls or not. Juvenile, but Alphonse volunteered very little about himself. Always tried to appear to be older than he was- very much a misfit."]
[13:52] <Raphael> "… Hmm. I can see why that would make it difficult to connect with people his own age, certainly."
[14:07] <Minaplo> ["What do you think? The way he is these days, at least."]
[14:09] <@Raphael> "What do I think…?"
[14:13] <Minaplo> ["You were there for his whole courtship. You think he's still a misfit, or has Rei changed that~?"]
[14:19] * @Raphael looks pensive, "I think… I think you can't be in a relationship like that /without/ changing. Like you said, she makes him more comfortable in his skin. I think it's opened him up a little. Maybe he feels less of a need to put on that constant mark of professionalism and maturity…"
[14:23] <Minaplo> [Minerva nodded slowly. "Yes, I think you're right. Professionalism and maturity…" She glanced at Raphael for a moment before continuing.-
[14:24] <@Raphael> «mask*»
[14:24] <Minaplo> ["Actually, now I'm curious. How is he around -you-? Considering your relationship with Rei…"]
[14:31] <@Raphael> "We got along rather well, honestly. We spoke a lot when the two of them were in Boston and I couldn't be there. Besides, it's like you said: I was there for his whole courtship. I had to… advise." He rolls his eyes a little, smiling despite himself. "So we have an understanding. We both care about Rei, and I respect what he's done for her."
[14:34] <Minaplo> [She nodded in understanding herself, but it was obvious from her smile that she was fighting back some sort of laughter. "Advised him. Oh, I wish I could've seen that… Raphael Guillory himself, holding forth on affairs of the heart…"]
[14:35] * @Raphael groans. "I hardly asked for the role!"
[14:42] <Minaplo> ["Greatness does not wait to be asked; it thrusts itself upon us." She said loftily. "Clearly he recognised the master of the heart when he saw it~"]
[14:44] <@Raphael> "I'm beginning to suspect you're making fun of me, Madame President."
[14:45] <Minaplo> ["Only beginning?" She asked, her eyes twinkling.]
[14:46] <@Raphael> "Mmm."
[17:01] <Minaplo> [She escorted him on, and before long (walks were much shorter on the Bell for obvious reasons) they arrived at the captain's cabin, Minerva holding the door open for Raphael to enter.-
[17:02] <Minaplo> [The cabin was just about what he expected. Not much luxury here either. A wardrobe, a bed, a desk with a computer… A small scale model of the Bell sitting on a shelf built into the wall.]
[17:10] <Raphael> It /was/ luxury, of course, or at least it was when it came to more normal warships. A private space, a private bathroom… all in all it was a far cry from the cramped dormitory environment given over to the more rank and file crew. It was only appropriate for the Captain, of course, and Raphael himself was more than comfortable with his own arrangements.-
[17:11] <Raphael> Still, he shows a brief glimpse of reluctance when it comes to stepping over the threshold. "Uh… thank you, ma
[17:11] <Raphael> «ma'am."*»
[17:16] <Minaplo> [Minerva pulls out her desk chair, sitting herself down on it gracefully. Then, with a bit of niggling, she slips her shoes off by the desk leg, wiggling her toes.-
[17:25] <Minaplo> ["Make yourself comfortable. Take your shoes off if you like- I don't really care for them myself."]
[17:31] <Raphael> "Thank you, ma'am, but I'm fine." Raphael says, lingering by the door for a few more moments before drifting over to the model of the Bell as if for a lack of anything else to do.
[17:35] <Minaplo> [Minerva watches him for a few moments with a smile… But eventually the smile fades. "Raphael?"-
[17:35] <Minaplo> [Her tone is serious.]
[17:37] * Raphael glances back. "Ma'am…?"
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["The United States isn't ready for war." She said.]
[17:39] <Raphael> "…"-
[17:42] <Raphael> She has his full attention now, and he drifts back towards the desk and takes up a position against the wall not too far away. His expression is similarly grim. "Neither is the rest of the UEF in my professional opinion, Madame President."
[17:45] <Minaplo> ["No? No. I don't suppose it is. You would've seen the numbers just as well as I have…"]
[17:46] <Raphael> "That said, what other choice do we have?"
[17:47] <Minaplo> ["Nothing." Said Minerva, not smiling.-
[17:49] <Minaplo> ["Still…" She turned away, facing her wardrobe, her forehead creased into a frown. "How old were you when Impact happened, Raphael? Fifteen or so?"]
[17:51] <Raphael> "A little older. Eighteen."
[17:52] <Minaplo> [She nodded. "So you remember the States when it was at the height of its power, then."]
[17:54] * Raphael nods in turn, rather strongly. "Very much so."
[17:57] <Minaplo> ["What was it like?"]
[18:00] <Raphael> "It was…" He pauses and frowns.-
[18:04] <Raphael> "Keep in mind that I was only 18. I was old enough to watch the world, but lacked real understanding. Still, growing up sometimes the United States seemed like the UN became Post-Impact - and I'm talking about the UN as a mundane entity here, not its role as a tool for Caine. That sense of it being such a monolithic entity that could do what it liked, where it liked…"-
[18:05] <Raphael> "Of course," he adds, "looking back on it now I understand that's not the case. It still dealt with diplomacy problems, social issues and military shortcomings like any other Pre-Impact nation. Still, if you're asking what my memories of it are like… well, there you have it."
[18:07] <Minaplo> [Minerva was silent for a moment, but after a few seconds she nodded. "That sounds about right, compared to what I've heard others say."-
[18:10] <Minaplo> ["I never knew a US like that." She said, looking back at Raphael. "I wasn't even a year old when the Impact happened. The US I grew up with was battered, bruised, stifled… It wasn't the titan it had been. I grew up in a world where France and Germany were the great powers."-
[18:11] <Minaplo> ["I knew we'd go into the inevitable war with the UN weaker than we'd ever been, but I thought we could at least try to contribute on par with China or the Soviets. That we could really make a difference."-
[18:12] <Minaplo> [She looked up, meeting Raphael's eyes. "I met with Congress and we did the numbers, Raphael. To repair our industrial capacity to pre-Michael levels will take us, at best, three years, six months."-
[18:14] <Minaplo> ["At current estimates the US can wage a full-scale war for three weeks at best before our demand outstrips our strategic reserve. Every week after that our military strength drops. Assuming best case scenario, our capacity for war will be exhausted completely after three months."]
[18:24] * Raphael looks back, grim but unsurprised. What was he supposed to say to that? "… What do you plan on doing?"
[18:30] <Minaplo> ["… I have a plan."]
[18:33] * Raphael nods as if he'd expected no less, and takes a moment to move to take a seat by perching on the edge of the bed opposite Minerva's chair (After looking to her for approval, naturally). "I'm not surprised."
[18:34] <Minaplo> [Approval is given, naturally.-
[18:35] <Minaplo> [She gave him a faint smile. "I appreciate that."-
[18:35] <Minaplo> ["… But now I need to ask you a question. Raphael, if this plan required killing someone- someone essentially innocent- would you- condemn me?"]
[18:43] * Raphael doesn't show much in the way of an outward reaction, but something about his expression becomes a fraction more guarded. "… No. Not by default. Anything more than that would depend on the logic behind the action - and the necessity of it."
[18:44] <Minaplo> [She nodded.-
[18:45] <Minaplo> ["Are you alright with me sharing the plan? The logic?"]
[18:46] <Raphael> "It would probably be best."
[18:54] <Minaplo> ["Brazil." She said. "Brazil's economic development over the last decade has been incredible, especially since it's kept out of contributing to the major wars in any real capacity. Its resources could easily give the Federation the boost it would've had if the US hadn't been devastated."-
[18:56] <Minaplo> ["There's also conclusive evidence that suggests that Brazil has a single fully-functioning Evangelion unit and a factory base to maintain it. A perfect ally, only that Brazil has so far been stubbornly neutral in its stance."]
[19:02] <Raphael> "Wait… Brazil could have an -Evangelion- and the base to go with it and we don't know about? Even though it's not aligned with Caine?"
[19:04] <Minaplo> ["NERV nonsense." Said Minerva. "Apparently they started building three or four Evas in various countries- Brazil, Britain, Italy, Finland- and never bothered to finish it. Britain, Italy and Finland based were all destroyed by either Angelspawn or by Big Brother, but the Brazil base was untouched, the Eva within unfinished…"-
[19:04] <Minaplo> ["… Except somehow the Brazilian government found the right talent- probably ex LN- to finish the damn thing, so now they have an Evangelion."]
[19:05] * Raphael gives Minerva a long look. "Do they have a pilot to go with it?"
[19:06] <Minaplo> [Minerva sighed. "Yes."]
[19:09] <Raphael> "Unbelievable…"
[19:09] <Minaplo> ["You're telling me. I remember when I was LN. I remember being under the impression that the Brazilians were subtly on ourside. Turns out the UN thought the same thing."]
[19:14] <Raphael> "Ugh." Raphael mutters, trying to shake off his disgust. "So. You want to upset their position of neutrality."
[19:22] <Minaplo> ["That's right. The UN is holding a summit in Vienna to discuss the Federation. One of Brazil's most beloved and respected statemen, Ricardo Maria Moreno Gaspar, is attending- and he's very anti-Federation. I want to intercept him on the way and present him with convincing evidence that will have to be fabricated that the New World is intending to invade Brazil and seize the Eva."-
[19:22] <Minaplo> ["With any luck, the evidence will convince him to support us in the Brazilian Congress, but if it fails, then the… The plan calls for him to die and make it look like the New World did it to cover up the evidence."]
[19:35] * Raphael is silent for some time, his outward attention focused on his hands. "… That's… shaky. You can't know how the Congress or the Brazilian public will react to the news, or what the New World might have up its sleeve…"
[19:38] <Minaplo> ["It's true. There's more to the plan- a bunch of little details, really- but that's the gist of it. Hoping that he'll be convinced- or if not, the assassination will be convincing enough to at the least make the New World think it has to intervene and seize the Eva before Brazil goes over to us."-
[19:39] <Minaplo> ["But either way." She looked up at him. "You now know what I'm planning. You now know that if he dies in the circumstances I outlined, it will be because of me, not because of the New World or the UN or Mary Caine."-
[19:39] <Minaplo> ["So… If it happens, what will you do? What will you think, Raphael?"]
[19:49] <Raphael> "Are you asking for my approval?"
[19:51] <Minaplo> ["If you approve, great. If you don't, then that's a shame."-
[19:52] <Minaplo> [She stood up, crossing the distance between them, sitting down to his right. "What I'm asking is, if you don't approve, and it happens anyway, can we still talk like this? Can we still have a relationship? Can we still be friends?"]
[20:19] * Raphael is still for a moment, distantly wary of her closeness despite his eyes being focused on hers. After a few seconds he lets out a long, deep sigh. "… Yes. Because I know you wouldn't be doing it if you felt there was another way, and I know what's at stake. I can accept that as being necessary, even if I hate it. Would it change how I saw you? Perhaps. Mostly, though…" He trails
[20:19] * Raphael off, looking suddenly uncertain.
[20:21] <Minaplo> ["What's the matter…?"]
[20:23] <Raphael> "I'd be worried about you. About what that would do."
[20:25] <Minaplo> [Minerva gave him a warm, but sad smile. She reached out and took a hold of his hand, squeezing it firmly. "Thank you. I want to say you won't have to be, but that might be a lie."]
[20:28] * Raphael looks down at the hand for a moment, but doesn't pull away. "And you are certain? That this is the only recourse, that there's nothing we can do with diplomacy or any other method?"
[20:29] <Minaplo> ["If you were Brazil, and your only recourse were to pick the winning side, who would you pick?"]
[20:30] <Raphael> "The UN." No hesitation there.
[20:31] <Minaplo> ["There you go." Said Minerva. "The only way to win this tug of war is to convince Brazil that they're being forced into one camp or the other."]
[20:33] <Raphael> "We did that with other allies without assassination." Raphael says mildly.
[20:35] <Minaplo> ["And I'm hoping the same is true here." Said Minerva. "Consider the company we keep- the only difference is that all their Plan As succeeded. Do you think if I said no to turning coat that they'd have let me live?"]
[20:45] <Raphael> "Unlikely." Raphael said, not even bothering to argue the point. He was personally aware of plans to have her killed during the Battle of Boston, after all.
[20:49] <Minaplo> ["Mmmhm."-
[20:50] <Minaplo> [She fell silent, still holding his hand, seemingly lost in thought…]
[20:53] * Raphael let's the silence extend for a time, feeling the weight of the conversation bearing down oh him. His fingers have unconsciously twined through hers.-
[20:53] <Raphael> "… Are you alright?"
[20:56] <Minaplo> ["I'm not sure. I think so." She said quietly. "I've been doubtful and nervous and preoccupied for weeks now, but I feel more comfortable now with you here."-
[20:57] <Minaplo> ["It's not just Alphonse who's changed, has it?" Said Minerva. "You've changed, too."]
[21:11] * Raphael seems to come back to himself, at least a little. Looking over at her reminds him how close she sits; feeling the warmth around his fingers reminds him his hand is still in hers.-
[21:11] <Raphael> "… Yes. In a lot of ways." Gently, very gently he removes his hand from hers and returns it to his lap.
[21:18] <Minaplo> [Her smile widens a little at that, and she returns her hand to her own lap.-
[21:21] <Minaplo> ["It's been a healthy change." Said Minerva. "Mostly. The challenges you've faced… They've only grown with time, yet you seem stronger and more confident and- happier, in some way, than when we first met."-
[21:25] <Minaplo> ["I think the same is true for your lady love Katsuragi as well." She said, her smile widening a little more. "It's no secret that I'm very fond of you, Raphael." She took a deep breath. "Very fond. But I realise well enough that you're happy as you are, or happy going the way you're going. I don't want to damage that. I just want to support you, so long as I can rely on the same in return. Do you understand?"]
[21:59] * Raphael is openly staring by the end of it, shock entirely evident on his face along with a bit of colour - most of it simply left over from his reaction to her closeness, but not all. A heady-looking mix of emotions - relief, bewilderment and regret (?) just being the easiest ones to spot - seem to be fighting for dominance, judging from his expression, but he makes a valiant grasp for
[21:59] * Raphael some sort of response.-
[21:59] <Raphael> "I-I do." He manages finally. "… and you can. Of course you can."-
[21:59] <Raphael> He takes a deep, slow breath. "… thank you, Minerva."
[22:00] <Minaplo> [Her smile became even wider, strangely. "Thank you, too."-
[22:02] <Minaplo> [She wraps an arm around his own, resting her head against his shoulder, her eyes closing.-
[22:03] <Minaplo> ["I'm still going to tease you, though."]
[22:10] <Raphael> "That's no surprise." He says gently, feeling her leaning against him and this time not pulling away. "Everyone else does."
[22:10] <Minaplo> ["It's because you're so lovably easy to tease."-
[22:10] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[22:11] <Minaplo> ["Oh, shit." She suddenly sits up straight again, smacking a hand against her forehead. "The special cargo! I forgot all about it!"]
[22:12] * Raphael raises an eyebrow. "I… uh, actually thought that was just a pretence…"
[22:13] <Raphael> He shifts a little awkwardly.
[22:13] <Minaplo> ["No, it's real, it was just strategically placed."-
[22:13] <Minaplo> [She stood up. "C'mon, up you get."]
[22:15] <Raphael> "…" Raphael does as ordered, albeit a little more slowly than he strictly needs to.
[22:16] <Minaplo> ["Close your eyes."]
[22:18] <Raphael> A few minutes earlier he might have searched harder for a way out, fearing what might have come next. Right at that moment, though, he's willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.-
[22:18] <Raphael> Although he does aim a quick, searching look her way before he shuts his eyes.
[22:19] <Minaplo> [The evil little giggle that fills the air a second later does not help.-
[22:19] <Minaplo> [Two hands grip his shoulders, and start spinning him around, around, around in a circle, then back the other way, until he is quite disorientated.-
[22:21] <Minaplo> [Finally, he comes to a stop, and he feels Minerva press against his back, clapping a pair of hands over his eyes. "Three steps forward!"]
[22:26] <Raphael> "…"
[22:26] * Raphael does so, if only to get past whatever new horror he's found himself in all the faster.
[22:27] <Minaplo> [The warmth pressing against his back vanishes, as do the hands over his eyes. He hears something open…-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["Ok, open them!"]
[22:28] <Raphael> With a very slight sigh Raphael follows the final directive and lets his eyes open, holding himself at the ready…
[22:36] <Minaplo> [At first, Raphael thought he was looking at some sort of dress uniform, hanging on a mannequin. A bright red jacket that fell to mid-thigh with bright gold embroidery and epaulettes, thick corded gold aiguillettes across the right breast, with long wrist-length sleeves with black and gold cuffs, with a pair of elbow-length white gloves to the side. White, tight trousers were present beneath the jacket, tucked into shiny black boots.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> [But then he realised that the buttons on this thing were superfluous. He saw, well-hidden, a zip up the middle of the jacket. He saw, near the cuff of the sleeves, the rubbery insert that they used for…-
[22:42] <Minaplo> [oh no.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> ["It's your secret identity flight suit!"]
[22:48] <Raphael> "…" Raphael stares. "… Marshal Amatore said it was a joke."
[22:49] <Minaplo> ["She lied. Oh! I forgot the helmet!"-
[22:49] <Minaplo> [Minerva turns around, burying herself in the wardrobe, taking out a box and opening it, withdrawing…-
[22:49] <Minaplo> ["Tada!"-
[22:55] <Minaplo> [The first thing that came to mind was a kabuto- a samurai helmet. The helmet was made of surovite, and was shiny and polished; it had a dome-like top which seamlessly flowed into a wide flaring neckguard that protected the back and sides of his head and neck. The helmet was more than just a single piece, however- under the dome was an electronic visor that reminded Raphael of a domino mask. It would fit over his eyes and nose, shielding the top half of his face from view.-
[22:55] <Minaplo> ["And- whoops, here you go-"-
[22:55] <Minaplo> [She tossed soemthing over the neck of the mannequin- a long black satin cape.-
[22:56] <Minaplo> ["There. All done. Do you like it~? <3 <3 <3"]
[23:07] <Raphael> "-We're at war-." He stresses, as if this was a crucial point Minerva must have missed. "What use is a disguise at this point?"
[23:08] <Minaplo> ["Fear and inspiration." She placed the helmet on the mannequin's head. "Develop your legend, and you can win without fighting!"]
[23:12] <Raphael> "General Liu makes do with a uniform, ma'am."
[23:13] <Minaplo> ["General Liu is never seen without her trademark white coat. Ask Zhang Yanmei if you don't believe me."]
[23:14] * Raphael stares at her.-
[23:14] <Raphael> "I'm not getting out of this regardless of what I say, am I?"
[23:16] <Minaplo> ["Sorry, Raphael. Amatore's orders. It's perfectly practical, though! The little visor works like a Sentinel system, and the fabric here is top-quality barzilite…"]
[23:18] <Raphael> "That's… nice, at least." Raphael mutters, trying to make his peace with it as he looks over the uniform with a more critical eye.
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["You don't need to try it on now." She said soothingly. "We'll see how you look tomorrow, alright~?"]
[23:23] <Raphael> "Of course, ma'am." Raphael says as he lets go of the cape. "We'll see."
[23:25] <Minaplo> ["Good man. We'll make a marshal out of you yet."-
[23:26] <Minaplo> [Minerva clapped him on the shoulder firmly, before reaching up to run a single hand through his hair. "You're dismissed~"]

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