[12:19] <Minaplo> [The sound of laughter was loud and clear on the bridge of the Valletta.-
[12:22] <Minaplo> [The viewscreen showed the planet of Salvation- a lush paradise of deep blues and pristine greens. The space around the world was thick with ships besides the Valletta. There were Shrinepath ships, of course, but most of them were warships belonging to Clan Echidna.-
[12:23] <Minaplo> [Hundreds of vessels sat in orbit around the planet, of designs not found in standard Starfleet vessels. Almost the entire assembled mass of the clan was present here, and the sight was awe-inspiring, even disturbing. Vlui had stared long and hard at the sight, her expression very still, as though some realisation had set in.-
[12:25] <Minaplo> [… But that had been an hour ago, and in that time, someone from that armada had requested and been granted permission to board. Fionn Wellesley-Ayanami half-sat, half-leaned against the navigation console.-
[12:26] <Minaplo> ["And with this function, I finalise the coordinates and send them off to Idris so we can jump." Said Tran, looking up at him.-
[12:26] <Minaplo> ["That's cool. You get to boss around an Eva for your job?"-
[12:26] <Minaplo> ["Something like that." The two of them giggled like co-conspirators, whilst Idris watched with the ghost of a chuckle on his lips.-
[12:30] <Minaplo> [Fionn, Kayoko knew from experience, was a menace. The eldest son of Rei and Alphonse Wellesley-Ayanami, he'd inherited a breathtakingly unfair level of natural beauty, which he accentuated with practiced grace and poise. He was all smiles and warm looks, and within five minutes he had the bridge crew eating out of his hands.-
[12:30] <Minaplo> [The only folks who weren't taken with him were Violet, who thought all Twiceborn were handsome and so wasn't that bothered, and Franco, who had been hiding a scowl the entire time.]
[12:42] * Kayoko rolled her eyes, hidden by a cloud of holographic screens around her captain's chair. Franco's irritation was fun, but not -so- fun that she could survive on it forever.-
[12:42] <Kayoko> "Does your visit serve a purpose, Fionn, or are you just looking to disrupt my crew?" she called.
[12:55] <Minaplo> ["Hm."-
[12:57] <Minaplo> [Fionn looked down at Tran apologetically. "I'm sorry, I'm being disruptive." He said, tucking a few stray hands of fine, silky blue hair behind his ear.-
[12:57] <Kayoko> "Ugh"
[12:57] <Minaplo> ["I don't mind." Said Tran, reflexively mimicking his gesture. "I mean, you're not being disruptive-"-
[12:57] <Minaplo> ["Captain's on my case about it, though. She just growled at me." Fionn gave her a warm smile and stood up.-
[12:59] <Minaplo> ["Captain Hyuga, I've spent four months in the company of half a million Immortals on campaign, who believe that the best door is one you can only open by exerting enough newtons to flip a tank. I've gotten so good at shaping my muscles that I think I qualify for a masters' license in bodyshaping. No offense, Doctor Khalef, but your kin aren't ones to do things moderately."]
[13:04] <Inara> "I can't imagine that you or anyone else would hang out with us believing otherwise." Inara's projection betrayed that she was tinkering with something or another off to the side. Well, either that or she was carefully avoiding direct eye-contact. "Might I ask which Clan you were with?"
[13:05] <Minaplo> [Fionn swept a hand toward the viewscreen, which still showed hundreds of Clan Echidna warships. "Those ones. Echidnas."]
[13:07] <Inara> "I see," she said simply. "Not much experience with them, but you did pretty well to keep up, I'm sure."
[13:12] <Minaplo> ["I'd make a bad Immortal Liaison officer if I didn't, although… I've never seen them go to war before. Pretty intense stuff." Said Fionn. "The Echidnas are a little cold towards outsiders, though… I bet the Platypuses are less prickly."]
[13:13] <Kayoko> "Oh yes. Inara's a bundle of sunshine," Kayoko said idly.
[13:15] <Inara> "How kind of you. I certainly do my best. Ask any of my staff."
[13:16] * Kayoko just grinned.
[13:18] <Minaplo> ["I'll keep that in mind. Oh… You should be aware, you're pretty famous on Salvation. The Shrinepath talk about you a lot, Doctor."]
[13:21] <Inara> "I'm sure I can guess why…" she smirked a little. "Is it because of my medical tricks?"
[13:22] <Minaplo> ["Exactly right, Doctor Khalef."]
[13:24] <Inara> "Well, I can't say I'm not flattered. I've been pretty clever over the past few weeks, wouldn't you agree, Captain?"
[13:25] <Kayoko> "Exceptionally so. Wouldn't have anyone else in your place, Doctor."
[13:26] * Inara beamed.
[13:27] <Minaplo> [Fionn also beamed.-
[13:29] <Minaplo> ["Captain Hyuga doesn't settle for second best, from what I've heard." Said Fionn. "But I might need to steal your fair captain away a moment, friends. Captain, are we alright to speak in your ready room?"]
[13:31] <Kayoko> "Mhmm," she replied, only to appear on the lower deck mid-stride. "This way," she said, indicating one of the side doors.
[13:32] <Minaplo> [Fionn followed.-
[13:33] <Minaplo> [As the doors closed, Vlui leaned over the headrest of Hyuga's now-empty bridge chair. "Is this a Twiceborn seduction thing?"-
[13:33] <Minaplo> ["It better not be." Said Idris and Tran at the same time, albeit for different reasons.-
[13:33] <Minaplo> […-
[13:34] <Minaplo> [As the doors shut behind Kayoko and Fionn, he relaxed his posture a little. He sank his head against her shoulder. "Couuuusin. I'm so tired."]
[13:40] <Kayoko> "Oh please," Kayoko said, dropping into a chair. "Excuse me if I don't weep for the months you've spent having drinking contests with bloodlusting Immortals."
[13:41] <Minaplo> ["So cold today!"]
[13:42] <Kayoko> "I saw you with Tran. A bit of cold water will do you good."
[13:43] <Minaplo> ["Whatever does that mean?" He said, his face the epitome of innocence.]
[13:52] * Kayoko just shook her head.-
[13:52] <Kayoko> "… still good to see you, I suppose," she admitted, a small smile finding it's way past her guard.
[13:56] <Minaplo> [Fionn gave her a look of raw, undisguised, sheer warmth.-
[13:56] <Minaplo> ["I've missed you a lot." He said, settling in to give her a hug around the shoulders, his forehead bopping against her scalp.]
[14:07] <Kayoko> "Yeah, likewise," she muttered, giving him a quick squeeze back. "Nothing to report?"
[14:08] <Minaplo> ["I don't know how much control I have over the Echidnas." He said, his tone serious.]
[14:13] <Kayoko> "Yeah… not sure that that's news," she said. "I know you're good at your job, but the circumstances aren't great."-
[14:13] <Kayoko> "Are you worried they're going to act?"
[14:18] <Minaplo> ["Mm." He said. "They've already sent some to lay siege to a planet. I had to work day and night to convince them to keep it to a simple blockade instead of an all-out invasion."-
[14:19] <Minaplo> ["Do you remember the stories Uncle Raffy and Auntie Misato used to tell us? Of what happens when Immortals engage in assaults on fortified locations?"]
[14:21] <Kayoko> "… yeah," she said, in a much smaller voice.-
[14:21] <Kayoko> "I see your point."
[14:22] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Fionn quietly. "My orders were to assist in the defense of the Shrinepath worlds. We wanted to turn the heat down, not wipe the Freepath out. Fight long enough for them to start thinking diplomatically, but…"-
[14:23] <Minaplo> ["I'm afraid of Commander Carmen." He admitted.]
[14:24] <Kayoko> "Tell me about her."
[14:28] <Minaplo> ["You said it yourself- drinking contests and rowdiness are what people expect from the Clans, but Carmen is something else entirely." Said Fionn. "She's… Cold. Hard. Disciplined, and it spreads to the Immortals she leads. She leads them with a sternness that just barely falls short of brutality, and they have absolute faith in her because of it. Her soldiers act before she even has to give the order, because they're that much in tune with one another."-
[14:30] <Minaplo> ["I tried playing helpful and charming at the beginning, and just… Nothing. Absolutely nothing." Said Fionn. "The first time I had to tell her to tone down an attack, I honestly thought she was going to kill me. She accepted it, but her entire demeanor is a lot like holding the leash on a dog smart enough to play along and strong enough to break it when the chance arises."]
[14:38] <Kayoko> "And this wasn't viewed as a problem we should solve before now?" she asked.
[14:40] <Minaplo> ["That's what's really scary." Said Fionn. "If I'd seen this as a problem before the campaign, I would've said something. A lot of these behaviours are recent. I mean she's always been cold to me, but I haven't felt this degree of threat until now."-
[14:41] <Minaplo> ["The problem is, any sort of corrective action I'd do would require recalling Carmen back to Earth, and I don't know if I can do that without pulling the Clan off the front lines. That's going to piss off the Shrinepath."]
[14:51] <Kayoko> "Hm," she murmured, using one thumbnail to pick idly at the quick of the other. "So we have a tightrope walk to manage. If we can hold everything together until the new Priestess is selected, maybe we can shuffle her off to a safer distance."
[14:57] <Minaplo> ["Agreed. I've done my best to delay her until you arrived, but, er… You seem to have run into problem after problem the moment you left the Home Systems."]
[15:11] <Kayoko> "It's been a challenge," she said happily. "Exactly what I wanted."-
[15:11] <Kayoko> "… I'm allowed to say that because we are, thankfully, all in one piece."
[15:12] <Minaplo> ["Haha. Well, I'm glad." He said, giving her another warm squeeze. "It makes me happy to see you fulfilled."]
[15:23] <Kayoko> "Thanks," she muttered, though this time she gave him a light jab in the shoulder. "It might be busy for a few days, but we'll get this handled."
[15:27] <Minaplo> ["Ow." He eased up a little, although he ran a careless hand through her hair as he did, mussing it up.-
[15:27] <Minaplo> ["What's your read on your Maiden? Russkra?"]
[15:39] <Kayoko> "She's a scrapper. Very conflict-motivated, socially and otherwise," Kayoko said. "But she's smart, and she knows when to fold. She and Vlui are on speaking terms, even if said speech is peppered with verbal sniping. If she's installed as Priestess I don't think the Federation will have any problem working with her."
[15:43] <Minaplo> ["That's good." Said Fionn. "And I'm sure all of your little crises have done a lot to demonstrate just how impressive and reliable the Federation is to our potential allies…~"]
[15:43] <Kayoko> "Side benefit, yes. I may have done a bit of showmanship here and there, just to help things along."
[15:44] <Minaplo> ["Pfft."]
[15:44] <Kayoko> "I get to have my fun~"
[15:47] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh. You're such a peacock."]
[15:50] <Kayoko> "Glass houses, punk."
[15:55] <Minaplo> ["No idea what you mean by that," Said Fionn, running a hand through silky hair so fine that it fluttered in the slight breeze of the air conditioning system.]
[15:57] <Kayoko> "Uh huh. Your selective stupidity doesn't fool me."
[15:58] <Minaplo> ["I'm not being selectively stupid, and you're very rude." He said, his tone jerky. "I'm just not thinking straight because of how awesome and beautiful you are."]
[15:59] * Kayoko gave him a flat stare that would've done her mother proud.
[15:59] <Minaplo> [Fionn gave Kayoko an impossibly fond and affectionate smile that would've done his mother proud.]
[16:09] <Minaplo> [A moment later, the comm beeped. "Captain Hyuga, a small Overseer vessel has just appeared in front of us." Said Gregory.]
[16:15] * Kayoko sighed. "Come along, little Fionn. Business to attend to."
[16:16] <Minaplo> [He stood.-
[16:16] <Minaplo> [… He gave her a little shoulder shove as he went, smirking.-
[16:17] <Minaplo> [And then indeed, Kayoko would emerge onto the bridge to find Planter waiting for her on the viewscreen image.]
[16:18] <Kayoko> "Hello, Planter," she said, not waiting to reach her chair before she began speaking, "What brings you here?"
[16:20] <Minaplo> ["Diplomacy." Said Planter. "The Shrinepath elders invited the Empire to witness the selection of a new Priestess, and I accepted on its behalf. I'm here as an observer and ambassador of goodwill."-
[16:21] <Minaplo> ["However, I have the suspicion that things will go smoother for us both if I attached myself to your entourage for the time being. Does that sound acceptable?"]
[16:29] * Kayoko gave that some thought, chin resting on her folded hands. "… You're here alone?"
[16:35] <Minaplo> ["Yes."]
[16:40] <Kayoko> "… ok. We can make that work."
[16:41] <Minaplo> ["Glad to hear it, Captain. I'll remain on my vessel for now, but I'll keep close to your ship. When you're ready to depart, let me know and I'll arrive."]
[16:44] * Kayoko bobbed her head. "Certainly."
[16:45] <Minaplo> ["Excellent. In that case, I'll see you later, Captain."-
[16:45] <Minaplo> [His image faded.-
[16:47] <Minaplo> ["I don't like the Overseers being here." Said Russkra firmly.]
[16:48] <Kayoko> "Neither do I. But there's a balance to be maintained, and I intend to maintain it."
[16:49] <Minaplo> ["Agreed, Captain." Said Franco.]
[16:58] * Rora continued to stare at the viewscreen, contemplating the planet vast array of ships before them. "…A delicate line to walk, indeed."
[17:02] * Inara was silent, frowning deeply to herself. Eventually she shook her head and glanced away.

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