This Too Shall Pass 3 1 10

[17:01] <Minaplo> [The sky was clear, not a cloud to be seen. The sun was high in the air.-
[17:04] <Minaplo> [Nairobi-2 was a gutted city. Built to replace Nairobi, the city had never been used; instead much of its intended population had, over the years, fled the country or moved to Mombasa-2.-
[17:05] <Minaplo> [The city's status as the Synfront's 'top cover' had ensured its status as a constant warzone over the past few years.-
[17:05] <Minaplo> [This wasn't Paris. There were no civilians, no one to demand the government rebuild.-
[17:06] <Minaplo> [Instead, destroyed buildings were ignored. Ruins covered most of the city; in some areas, one one or two untouched buildings rose like thin short fingers out of a field of fragments and wrecks.-
[17:07] <Minaplo> [The city, and the wide, flat, endless plains around it, were now littered with a new type of debris.-
[17:08] <Minaplo> [E-Destroyer hulks in the dozens dotted the plains and the urban morass. Some were almost in one piece, albeit with arms nearly gone or huge gashes in their hull. Others were little more than scraps of metal dispersed over square kilometres.-
[17:11] <Minaplo> [Casting a shadow over this devastation was a massive craft: an AT Battleship. Nearly two kilometres from stern to bow, its hull a dull copper red with wide black wings giving it a three kilometre wingspan.-
[17:13] <Minaplo> ["That'll be the Sword of Damocles, I suppose." Said Ezra Caine.-
[17:14] <Minaplo> [Ezra was himself several kilometres away, at the controls of his own (far smaller) craft, the White Dove, flying on approach to Nairobi-2.-
[17:18] <Minaplo> [Ezra was a tall, fit-looking man with neck-length blonde hair and dark blue eyes, with a high brow, a straight-bridged nose and a well-proportioned jaw. He was wearing a jacketed Promised Land uniform- desert-sand colour trousers and jacket over a white shirt and black boots.-
[17:18] <Minaplo> ["Look at it." He said. "Big dumb object. Bet it plays merry hell with reception. Poor bastards have to lean out the window to phone home, I suppose."]
[17:28] <Eli> "Don't act as though you don't want one." His co-pilot replied.-
[17:28] <Eli> She sat a couple of seats to his left, her feet propped up on the edge of the console, just clear of any buttons. She was roughly Ezra's age, with high cheekbones and thin lips that gave her a slightly aloof look. Her dark brown hair was cut short and boyish.-
[17:28] <Eli> Eli had a handheld games console in her lap, but anyone looking closely enough would be able to spot the attention she was paying to the Damocles out of the corner of her eye.
[17:31] <Minaplo> ["Be a damned sight more convenient, I suppose." Said Ezra, a small smirk on his face. "We could probably find beds for everyone in Promised Land and still have room for a casino."-
[17:32] <Minaplo> ["It'd definitely make more of an impact than the White Dove, that's for certain…"-
[17:36] <Minaplo> [The White Dove itself was a Triton-class VTOL Gunship, a long, rugged, reliable beast. About 40 metres long- or as long as an Eva was tall, albeit much less expensive- it was an infantry air transport and combat ship, designed to accommodate up to 60 soldiers or several vehicles. The idea was the Triton would ferry troops to their zones, then support them with heavy fire. It had three anti-tank cannon turrets, a single heavy artillery gun, and several smaller hardpoints for anti-infantry weaponry.-
[17:38] <Minaplo> [ White Dove had been remodeled from this basic template. Quarters, supply rooms and rudimentary food stations had cut its complement down to about 15 soldiers- but in exchange it could function as a home away from home, or as a forward command post. It was perfect for the sort of work Promised Land did.]
[17:43] <Eli> "Eh, this one suits us just fine." Eli shrugged. Stifling a yawn she set aside her console and stretched. "I don't care for the whole theatrics bit, y'know."
[17:47] <Minaplo> ["You know, sometimes-"-
[17:47] <Minaplo> [There was a hum in the air, quickly building to a vibrating crescendo, their teeth chattering.-
[17:48] <Minaplo> [A second later, the main guns of the Damocles opened fire. Huge gouts of flame burst from muzzles as shells the size of city blocks whistled through the air, accompanied by unstoppable beams of bright blue eye-blinding light.-
[17:49] <Minaplo> ["The hell-"-
[17:50] <Minaplo> [The munitions sailed into the horizon, striking a target barely within visual distance. A gigantic cloud of smoke, dust, fire and dirt was propelled into the air, obscuring whatever it was the weapons had hit.]
[17:59] * Eli 's whole demeanour seemed to shift in a heartbeat. Her feet were off the console, the bored, amused air she had been giving off seemed to drop away to reveal something else beneath.-
[17:59] <Eli> She sat up straight, fiddling with the controls with practiced ease. "Line to the Damocles is prepped and ready, sir. Orders?"
[18:03] <Minaplo> [Ezra was already reacting. The Dove began to accelerate, its profile dropping lower to the ground. "Request confirmation of combat stations and general orders. Get me a magnification on that target."]
[18:20] <Eli> The screens arrayed in front of Ezra were already adjusting as he gave the order, sensors laying out thermal readings and adjusted weapon ranges and a hundred other pieces of information. The most important, though, was the screen in the center: The basic camera adjusted to give a clear, magnified view of their apparent target.-
[18:20] <Eli> A black blob amidst a storm of ribbon-thin tentacles, that was the initial vision. Taking a longer look one could pick out details - the bone-white skull mask that seemed to define its "face", the faint red glow that signified a core. Even as they watched, one of the "tentacles" snapped out to intercept another cannon strike, swatting it away before it came anywhere close to the beast
[18:20] <Eli> itself.
[18:21] <Minaplo> [Ezra let out a short, humourless laugh. "Oh, it's Nel."-
[18:22] <Minaplo> [Even as they watched, the gaping black sockets of the skull mask began to glow white.-
[18:25] <Minaplo> [Ezra reacted on reflex, taking the Dove into a stomach-churning dive directly towards the ground, where it could seek cover in the ruins of E-Destroyers. The dive was sharp, the sort of dive that most pilots would be hesitant to make even in a fighter jet.-
[18:26] <Minaplo> [A scant two dozen metres before they scattered themselves across the plains of Nairobi, the lower jets of the Dove cycled forward, directly slowing their momentum for just long enough to even the craft out.-
[18:27] <Minaplo> [Not that they needed to bother. The energy beam from Nel's eyes ripped across the sky, emitting a rainbow corona as it did so, towards the Damocles. A bright sparking AT Field burst into existence across the battleship's bow, bringing the beam to a dead stop.]
[18:33] * Eli shut down the line to the Damocles' operators. Her conversation had been momentarily interrupted by the surprise of the dive, but she seemed to have what she needed.-
[18:35] <Eli> "Orders are to head for the H-2 Dock in District Six. They don't want us to engage, and they seem to think it won't pay any attention to us." Eli said, but her tone betrayed just how doubtful she was of this.
[18:51] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, they seem to believe that so much they didn't even bother informing us they were under siege by an Angel." Said Ezra.-
[18:52] <Minaplo> [The door to the cockpit slid open, revealing a lanky young man with light brown hair. His uniform had a large brown stain on the front, which he was dabbing at with a napkin. "Trouble?"-
[18:53] <Minaplo> ["Just an Angel, Lachlan." Said Ezra, not looking over.-
[18:53] <Minaplo> ["Oh. I'll tell the boys to go stand down then, shall I?" Said Lachlan, scratching his chin.-
[18:54] <Minaplo> [Ezra glanced at Eli for a second.-
[18:54] <Minaplo> ["That's probably for the best, yes."-
[18:54] <Minaplo> [Lachlan left, the door sliding shut a second later.-
[18:55] <Minaplo> ["You know, this is all very shady." Said Ezra.]
[19:05] <Eli> "Yep." Eli replied. She had pulled the camera feed onto her own console and was examining the angel critically. She frowned and turned to eye Ezra. "You had a name for it?"
[19:10] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. Apparently this Angel wasn't 'supposed' to show up, and it took everyone off-guard. So someone in UN Command named it 'Nel'. Short for 'New Angel'."-
[19:10] <Minaplo> ["From what's been outlined to me in our offer, it seems as though Nelly over there is actually in cahoots with the Federation somehow… However that works."]
[19:15] <Eli> "… However that works." She echoed dully, not bothering to hide her shock. "They communicate? They've Angels don't communicate, that's why Africa's a smoking wasteland!"-
[19:15] <Eli> "… unless you count their mental attacks, and I don't."
[19:18] <Minaplo> ["I admit, Nel attacking whilst the Synfront's Eva corps is out on deployment is the exact sort of cunning tactical acumen we've come to expect to be lacking in Angels." Said Ezra. "Which seems to lend credence to the whole Angel ally thing at least. Again, don't ask me how. I'm unhappy enough as is pondering an enemy who can control Angels without wanting to get into the guts of the problem just yet."-
[19:25] <Minaplo> ["Sarah knows more about Angels than I do. We'll see what she thinks."]
[19:27] <Eli> "… Yeah, ok." She said finally, letting out a deep breath. She shut the monitor feed. "Sorry, Ezra."
[19:27] <Minaplo> ["What for?"]
[19:29] <Eli> "Just caught me off guard, that's all." She said, laughing a little. "Finding out now that we can work with Angels is a little much, don't you think?"
[19:33] <Minaplo> ["I don't know, I don't find it too hard to believe that mankind and Angel alike could agree to face a common enemy, so long as that enemy's a Caine." Said Ezra with a wry smirk.]
[19:37] * Eli grinned in turn, some of the worry on her face fading. "That's true, I guess. You're an unlikeable lot."
[19:42] <Minaplo> ["You have a true knack for understatement."-
[19:46] <Minaplo> [They reached Dock H-2 without any further problems. The exchange of fire between the Angel Nel and the Damocles kept them all on edge, nonetheless.-
[19:47] <Minaplo> [Dock H-2, as it turned out, was a soccer pitch. As they approached, the turfed surface split down the middle and slide aside, revealing a concrete landing pad.-
[19:47] <Minaplo> [They landed.-
[19:48] <Minaplo> [The dock platform withdrew into the ground, the sky receding into a tiny rectangle of sunlight above them- until the 'pitch' closed once more.-
[19:48] <Minaplo> [Darkness.-
[19:50] <Minaplo> ["Ooh." Said Ezra, rubbing his hands. "It's like that moment when you're climbing to the top of a water slide tunnel, don't you think?"]
[19:58] <Eli> She grinned again, and this one lit up her whole face. Without really intending it, she stole a quick look at Ezra out of the corner of her eye. "Yeah, now that you mentioned it."
[19:58] <Minaplo> ["You know, Sarah and I went to this really excellent one in Lausanne a few years-"-
[19:59] <Minaplo> [The platform breached the armoured shell.-
[19:59] <Minaplo> [Their viewscreen was filled with stark, white, artificial light. Below them stretched the Synfront.-
[20:02] <Minaplo> [The overwhelming theme, if such a word could be applied here, was grey. Huge grey brutalist cube buildings, many of them with large grey metal machines protruding out of their rooves, were connected to each other by dark grey belts and tubes criss-crossing black and grey concrete and bitumen roads, organising the entire base into a grid system. Huge pistons, with drill heads and claws, withdrew into great gouges of the earth around which round shells of buildings had been built. With mechanical uniformness they pumped and drilled endlessly.-
[20:02] <Minaplo> [In the very middle of the monstrous field was a pyramid shape, jutting out of the earth, towering over the other structures. Synfront HQ.-
[20:03] <Minaplo> [The smile fell from Ezra's face.-
[20:04] <Minaplo> ["Heaven above." He muttered.]
[20:16] <Eli> "… Jesus." Eli muttered. Her eyes were narrowed as she scoured the scene, trying to take in as many details as she could. "They weren't kidding about the scale of this place."
[20:21] <Minaplo> ["No, they weren't." Said Ezra grimly. "It even extends into the earth for kilometres in every direction, like a big rotten tree, trying to seek out new minerals so it can expand and produce more weapons."]
[20:25] <Eli> "I've picked up reports of those drills starting to break down the ruins of the local cities Metatron bombed."
[20:27] <Minaplo> ["Your reports are right." Said Ezra darkly.]
[20:28] * Eli didn't comment further, simply taking in the scene as they descended.
[20:40] <Mianplo> [The platform eventually stopped after 100 metres- it hung from the roof. The Dove was then guided (under its own power) to a landing bay disguised in a nondescript (weren't they all?) building within the inner 'ring' surrounding HQ.-
[20:40] <Mianplo> [Their platform recessed into the building…-
[20:40] <Mianplo> [And finally, came to rest.-
[20:40] <Mianplo> ["Well, it was a mostly boring trip punctuated, as always, with moments of pure terror." Said Ezra dryly, undoing his harness. "But we're now here. Hooray."-
[20:41] <Mianplo> [He got to his feet. "I'm told we'll be escorted to some accomodation, so let's get the Kids together and head on out to meet the welcoming committee."]
[20:55] <Eli> "Woohoo." She pulled herself to her feet, looking like she'd rather be just about anywhere else.-
[20:56] <Eli> After a moment's thought she grabbed the games console (A Dreamweaver Portable) and shoved it into her back pocket.
[21:00] <Mianplo> [Waiting in the Dove's hold were the Lost Children- a dozen or so Neospartans, the oldest and most experienced Promised Land had to offer- clad in power armour with bolters and chainswords magnetised to their hip. At their lead was Lachlan- not wearing armour- looking dismayed at the spoilage of his clean shirt.-
[21:00] <Mianplo> ["Alright, Kids. Let's go say hello to our lovely hosts." Said Ezra.-
[21:01] <Mianplo> [The front hatch of the Dove- large enough to accomodate a heavy battletank- opened. They exited, Ezra at the front with the Lost Children taking the rear, Eli and Lachlan behind Ezra.-
[21:02] <Mianplo> [They left the gunmetal hangar behind, walking into the Synfront proper…-
[21:02] <Mianplo> [Here the walls became smoother, made of some inoffensive non-metal substance, plastic concrete perhaps. It had a clean, sterile and artificial look. Neat coloured lines ran across the walls, each one bearing the name of some department.-
[21:03] <Mianplo> [Waiting for them were two people.-
[21:04] <Mianplo> [One Eli would recognise (if only through research) as Narendra Gadhavi. A tall, handsome, cool-eyed Indian man wearing a razor-neat military uniform.-
[21:05] <Mianplo> [Standing next to him was a very beautiful young man, about Eli's height, with grey-white straight hair, pale skin, glittering red eyes and a confident, fey smile.-
[21:06] <Mianplo> ["Mr. Caine." Said Gadhavi, offering his hand. "Welcome to the Synthetic Geofront."-
[21:06] <Mianplo> [Ezra took the hand and shook it firmly. "Commander Gadhavi. Thank you for your welcome."-
[21:07] <Mianplo> [Gadhavi withdrew his hand. "Allow me to introduce my- well, this is Augustine, one of our pilots." Said Gadhavi politely.-
[21:07] <Mianplo> ["How do you do." Said Augustine, bowing gracefully.-
[21:08] <Mianplo> ["Very well, thank you." Said Ezra- before stepping aside. "These are my aides-des-camp, Eli Reid and Lachlan Voruta."]
[21:13] <Eli> "Sirs." Eli said, giving the pair of them a short nod. She looked… tense.
[21:18] <Mianplo> [Narendra gave her his own curt nod, whilst Augustine gave her a proper bow.-
[21:18] <Mianplo> ["Augustine here will lead you to your accomodation." Said Gadhavi. "I trust you'll find the Synfront's facilities to be quite suitable."-
[21:19] <Mianplo> ["I'm sure they will be." Said Ezra warmly. "I mean, you know better than anyone that it's no Geofront, but I know I won't be disappointed."-
[21:19] <Mianplo> [The coolness in Gadhavi's eyes turned to ice.-
[21:19] <Mianplo> ["Quite. In any case, I must return to my post. Mr. Caine. Augustine."-
[21:19] <Mianplo> [With a final nod, he turned and stalked away.]
[21:22] <Eli> Eli kept her visible reaction to shooting Lachlan a quick, amused look.
[21:23] <Mianplo> [Lachlan raised his eyebrows quickly for a second, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips.-
[21:24] <Mianplo> ["Let's proceed." Said Augustine smoothly.-
[21:24] <Mianplo> [He led them into the bowels of the Synfront.-
[21:25] <Mianplo> [They passed a wide display of interesting… Displays. Companies of Stormtroopers in full armour marching to their stations. Cargo Suits, four metres tall, stomped down hallways, carrying incredibly heavy equipment. Scientists and technicians flowed through the area, many of them looking ever so slightly out of place.-
[21:28] <Mianplo> [All the while, Eli would have trouble shaking the sensation that she was being…-
[21:28] <Mianplo> [Watched. Watched in some intrusive way.-
[21:29] <Mianplo> [Eventually, they arrived at the 'Guest residential area', a cluster of suites built in a wide horseshoe shape arranged across multiple levels.-
[21:30] <Mianplo> ["As appropriate, we've arranged four suites for you, three to a room. They're all adjacent, as is fitting." Said Augustine. "We'll leave it up to you to decide allocations, of course."-
[21:30] <Mianplo> [With that, Augustine gave them a tour of one of the apartments.-
[21:32] <Mianplo> [It was… Comfortable was the word. It wasn't luxurious, but it was well-furnished, with comfortable sofas, large televisions, modern appliances and a fast internet connection. It was the sort of clean, attractive place that you'd expect would belong to a moneyed professional.-
[21:32] <Mianplo> ["Any inquiries?" Asked Augustine.-
[21:32] <Mianplo> [Ezra shook his head, as did Lachlan.]
[21:34] * Eli shook her head as well.
[21:37] <Mianplo> ["Very well. If there is anything you require, please refer to the telephone and its instructions." He said. "Good day."-
[21:37] <Mianplo> [And with that, he headed out.-
[21:37] <Mianplo> ["Well. This is rather cozy, isn't it?" Asked Lachlan.]
[21:47] <Eli> "Guess so." Eli said. She found one of the visible cameras in the corner and gave it a bright smile.
[21:49] <Mianplo> [Several of the Lost Children had started searching through the (well-stocked) kitchen.-
[21:50] <Mianplo> ["Whoa." Said Thackeray, one of the more pimplier ones. "This place is yolo swag!"-
[21:50] <Mianplo> ["If you lot are hungry, then you best go eat in your own damned suites." Said Lachlan firmly.-
[21:51] <Mianplo> [Ezra meanwhile went and sat down in one of the sofa chairs, one leg folded over the other, staring at the (turned off) television with the sort of look that suggested he wasn't really seeing anything.]
[22:28] <Eli> The look Eli gave Thackeray was one of utmost pity, but she was more focused on Ezra. "You alright, boss?"
[22:34] <Mianplo> ["Hm?" He looked up, shaking his head slowly. "Oh, I'm alright. Just wondering what Sarah's doing right now. Probably having a lot more fun than we are."-
[22:34] <Mianplo> ["I'm afraid all I really have to do here is wait for Mary Caine's summons…"]
[22:36] <Eli> "… Yeah." She muttered, flopping onto a couch. "Are you gonna be alright?"
[22:37] <Mianplo> ["Yeah, I'll be fine. Don't suppose they have any wine in that fridge, do they?"]
[22:39] <Eli> "Oh yeah, you're fine alright." She rolled her eyes and pointed towards the kitchen. "Oi, Thackeray! Any wine in there? Red, preferably."
[22:41] <Mianplo> ["Huh? Yeah, we got some red here, uh… Looks German."-
[22:42] <Mianplo> ["Perfect. Bring me a bottle and a glass." Said Ezra. "If there's one thing I've learned from previous meetings, it's to go into these things ever so slightly drunk."]
[22:48] <Eli> "You're -sure- you don't want one of us with you?" Eli said dubiously.
[23:02] <Mianplo> [Thackeray arrived with the aforementioned diplomatic aid.-
[23:03] <Mianplo> [Ezra took it, popped the cork, poured himself a glass and drank it all in the space of ten seconds. "Pour it and down it and let's have another."-
[23:05] <Mianplo> ["No, no, it's fine." Said Ezra with a smile. "Chances are good she'll have some unsavory company there… She'll probably bring Nightmare." He said grimly, already pouring himself another.]
[23:08] * Eli stared down at her hands, her already thin lips going a little thinner. "Still…"
[23:10] <Mianplo> ["Don't worry so much." He said. "It'll be fine. Sort these louts out for me in the meantime. Get the lay of the land. I'll be counting on you, Ellisabet."]
[23:14] <Eli> She makes a disgusted noise, fixing him with a death glare. "And I was being nice to you."
[23:15] <Mianplo> ["Yeah, see? That's the wine. I'll be fine."]
[23:17] <Eli> "Right, right. I'll do what I can." She waves a hand and brightens a little. "Lachlan can mind the louts, right Lachlan?"
[23:18] <Mianplo> ["That does seem to be the great destiny for which God almighty placed me 'pon his green Earth, yes." Said Lachlan, who was trying to stop the Lost Children from making plans to cook up sixty pork and beef sausages.]
[23:21] <Eli> "Fantastic." She grins.
[23:23] <Mianplo> ["Quite so." Said Ezra, downing his glass.-
[01:43] <Mianplo> […-
[01:43] <Mianplo> [Mary Caine sat in her office.-
[01:43] <Mianplo> [To her left was Eve; to her right, von Brandt.-
[01:52] <Mianplo> ["He should be here any second now." Said Eve.-
[01:53] <Mianplo> [As if on cue, the door to Mary's office opened.-
[01:53] <Mianplo> [Ezra Caine walked in, his gait casual and easy. He crested the ramp leading up to Mary's level.-
[01:53] <Mianplo> ["Ezra Caine, here to see the esteemed Bitch Queen of the UN." He said, falling into an easy bow.-
[01:54] <Mianplo> [Eve scoffed.-
[01:54] <Mianplo> [von Brandt shook his head. "Your insolence does you no credit, Ezra."-
[01:58] <Mianplo> ["You have no idea how much that wounds me, Doctor von Brandt." Said Ezra, making a frowny face. "I mean, we're all family here, yes? Here's… Whatever cousin Mary, here's her boy toy-" He gestured at von Brandt. "And you," He said, turning to Eve, "… Yeah, you're a Caine."-
[01:58] <Mianplo> ["We're definitely related, that's for sure." Said Eve, now smirking a little.-
[01:58] <Mianplo> ["Look, she even has the Caine smirk of smug supremacy…"-
[01:59] <Mianplo> ["Sit down, Ezra." Said Mary, her voice cutting through the air like a sword.-
[02:03] <Mianplo> [Ezra stilled.-
[02:03] <Mianplo> [A second later, he slowly pulled out the chair on his side of Mary's desk, and sat.-
[02:04] <Mianplo> ["Your presence here indicates you intend to accept the proffered contract." Said Mary.-
[02:10] <Mianplo> ["No, I think my presence here indicates that I am interested in reviewing the contract in detail." Said Ezra.-
[02:11] <Mianplo> ["You could have reviewed it remotely." Said Mary.-
[02:11] <Mianplo> ["I'm on a bad internet plan." Said Ezra.-
[02:11] <Mianplo> [von Brandt rolled his eyes. Eve snorted.-
[02:12] <Mianplo> [Mary stared at him, her gaze unblinking.-
[02:19] <Mianplo> [Ezra stared back, blinking deliberately every few seconds.-
[02:19] <Mianplo> ["Let us review, then." Said Mary. "You understand all the terms."-
[02:20] <Mianplo> ["Yes." Said Ezra. "I understand, for example, that a good deal of the terms are reliant on you actually explaining what they mean… And of course one of the terms is that you explain to me everything that's going on in here- out there- anywhere- before I sign the dotted line."-
[02:22] <Mianplo> ["Yes." Said Mary.-
[02:22] <Mianplo> ["So you're willing to do that, then?" Asked Ezra.-
[02:22] <Mianplo> ["Yes." Said Mary.-
[02:22] <Mianplo> ["Like, really really?"-
[02:22] <Mianplo> [Mary stared at him.-
[02:23] <Mianplo> ["It's just, you know, that old proverb." Said Ezra. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, then it's my own damn fault for not offering my contract to the teenage world leader playing at Bismarck."-
[02:26] <Mianplo> ["Ezra, I understand that if I intend to put your talents to their most efficient use, then it behooves me to ensure you can access all the information you need." Said Mary.-
[02:27] <Mianplo> ["Yeah, that seems reasonable." Said Ezra. "So how do we do this? Do you just volunteer information or do I need to ask questions."-
[02:28] <Mianplo> ["We'll volunteer it." Said Eve. "And if you find blanks, you can ask and we'll fill them in."-
[02:29] <Mianplo> ["Sounds good to me." Ezra folded his right leg over his left, took a hip flask off his belt and took a swig.-
[02:30] <Mianplo> ["Firstly, allow me to introduce myself." Said Eve. "The people here call me Dr. Eve, head of Technical, but my true identity is that of Jeremiah Caine."-
[02:30] <Mianplo> [Ezra did not spittake. He swallowed, carefully screwed the cap back on, and placed his flask on his hip.-
[02:30] <Mianplo> ["You're Jeremiah Caine."-
[02:31] <Mianplo> ["Quite right." Said Eve.-
[02:31] <Mianplo> ["Jeremiah Caine, the father of Mary, Elisha and Azariah Caine… That Jeremiah?" Asked Ezra.-
[02:31] <Mianplo> ["Yes." Said Eve with a small smirk.-
[02:32] <Mianplo> ["So they found your soul and reincarnated you into the body of a pretty young woman." Said Ezra dubiously. "That's nonsense…"-
[02:32] <Mianplo> [He looked at von Brandt and Mary. They weren't smiling.-
[02:33] <Mianplo> ["… That's awful." Said Ezra, looking disgusted. "How-?"-
[02:33] <Mianplo> ["My soul was placed into EVA-22." Said Jeremiah.-
[02:34] <Mianplo> ["The Eva that got tossed into the sun by 00, right… What happened there?"-
[02:35] <Mianplo> ["22's body survived barely long enough to be recovered. My soul was shifted into a more secure state, during which I used my force of will to rebody 22's pilot- with some changes- into whom my soul was placed."-
[02:36] <Mianplo> ["You're joking." Said Ezra. He wasn't smiling. "You're possessing Elena Clement?"-
[02:36] <Mianplo> ["Possession is a poor choice of words. It's not Elena's body anymore." Said Eve.-
[02:40] <Mianplo> ["That's not any better." Said Ezra. "Elena Clement never did anything to anyone. I…"-
[02:40] <Mianplo> ["This is literally the first thing you've told me and already I want to stand up and leave." Said Ezra. "Do you all understand that? Do you all understand how utterly far you have all fallen?"-
[02:44] <Mianplo> ["Ezra, I'm not intending to hire you for your morality." Said Mary. "I intend to hire you for your ability. If you truly must, then leave. If you believe the Federation has more to offer you and Promised Land, then leave. I will not prevent your egress."-
[02:44] <Mianplo> ["I have no time for bruised sensibilities." Said Mary. "Make your choice now."-
[02:45] <Mianplo> [Ezra was silent. He was silent for a few long, awkward, still minutes, during which he shifted in his chair, took swigs from his flask, and stared up at the roof.-
[02:48] <Mianplo> ["You know what, I'll stay. Because whilst I'm sure the Federation has more to offer me, I know damn well I have more to offer you- or rather, the people under your command."-
[02:48] <Mianplo> ["I'm sure." Said Mary.-
[02:49] <Mianplo> ["So what's next?" Asked Ezra.-
[02:53] <Mianplo> ["Have you heard of the Phantoms?" Asked Eve. "Probably not-"-
[02:53] <Mianplo> ["Yeah." Cut in Ezra. "I've contacts in the UEF, they've passed it on. Clone soldiers, right? Born and bred for war?"-
[02:54] <Mianplo> ["That's correct." Said Mary.-
[02:54] <Mianplo> ["Geez. Bet you feel annoyed, eh, Nightmare?" Asked Ezra, turning to von Brandt. "All those years training up us little tykes when you could've just waited and had batch-grown armies of perfect little soldiers on demand."-
[02:55] <Mianplo> ["No moment I spent with you and your fellows was wasted, Ezra." Said von Brandt patiently. "I value that time greatly."-
[02:55] <Mianplo> ["Spare me." Said Ezra, turning back to Eve. "So what's their deal?"-
[02:57] <Mianplo> ["They're clones based off the Ayanami template." Said Eve. "They're formed into families of twenty, based around a single Adept from the Solomons. Do you know about the Solomons?"-
[02:57] <Mianplo> ["Only vaguely. Go on."-
[02:59] <Mianplo> ["You'll be able to access their full details later, but the gist of it is that they're a group of elite clone soldiers, although they're based off a much broader variety of templates, each with their own strengths. They're much more varied as a result, and have a greater degree of personality." Said Eve.-
[02:59] <Mianplo> ["They're divided into the Adepts, who can manipulate AT Fields and handle the Phantoms." Said Eve. "Then you have the Knights, who do not have AT Field control, but are superior warriors and very skilled at commanding Superheavy units. Then you have the Solomon Primes, who make up our Dysangelion corps."-
[03:08] <Mianplo> ["Oh, I see." Said Ezra. "Do the Primes have AT Fields, or…?"-
[03:09] <Mianplo> ["Yes." Said Eve. "Their AT Fields are actually very powerful- the Primes are equal or superior to an Iron Paladin."-
[03:09] <Mianplo> [Ezra whistled. "Not bad. Are you intending to make more?"-
[03:09] <Mianplo> ["More?" Said Eve.-
[03:10] <Mianplo> ["Well you have… I estimate four Dysangelions active right now. Three were at Paris-2, two were destroyed. One powering your battleship… Four seems a little numerically mismatched."-
[03:10] <Mianplo> ["The process to making a Prime is extremely difficult, and we have very few candidate souls." Said Eve.-
[03:11] <Mianplo> ["Candidate souls…?"-
[03:11] <Mianplo> ["Yes. The Primes are made of Angel souls placed into superhuman bodies." Said Eve.-
[03:11] <Mianplo> ["…"-
[03:11] <Mianplo> ["Angels. You put Angels into human bodies and made them pilot Dysangelions." Said Ezra flatly.-
[03:11] <Mianplo> ["The process makes them safe. Don't worry." Said Eve.-
[03:12] <Mianplo> ["Oh, well, I'm so very glad- wait! I was escorted here by one of your Dys pilots! Augustine…? Does that mean you sent an Angel to welcome me?!"-
[03:12] <Mianplo> ["Technically, yes." Said Eve delicately.-
[03:12] <Mianplo> [Ezra stared at them all in pure confusion.-
[03:13] <Mianplo> ["Your bullshit all starts at the doorstep." He said. "I… I don't know. That sounds like the worst idea. I don't understand soul mechanics, but…"-
[03:18] <Mianplo> ["It's fine." Said Eve. "The dominant element of their souls is subsumed into something called the Eternity Drive…"-
[03:18] <Mianplo> […-
[03:19] <Mianplo> ["So you have, somewhere, the entire mass of the last fifteen years of dead humanity sealed within a psychoreactive container tied to your will, and you use this to dominate lesser beings and to probe the weaknesses of your enemies." Said Ezra dully.-
[03:19] <Mianplo> ["Correct." Said Mary.-
[03:19] <Mianplo> ["And because of what you've done, anyone ever who dies will end up in there barring unusual circumstances." He said.-
[03:19] <Mianplo> ["Correct."-
[03:21] <Mianplo> [Ezra drained his flask.-
[03:23] <Mianplo> ["I'm sorry, this is a lot to take in." Said Ezra quietly. "The idea that good, noble people have died and been subsumed into your control beyond death is so utterly appalling that it makes me feel sick with anger, yet the idea is so utterly you that I'm not sure why I didn't expect it earlier."-
[03:33] <Mianplo> ["Nonetheless, you will have access to its knowledge." Said Mary. "Make of it what you will."-
[03:33] <Mianplo> ["You're literally a necromancer." Spat Ezra.-
[03:34] <Mianplo> ["What else do we need to cover?" Said Mary, turning to Eve.-
[03:36] <Mianplo> ["Regarding our Primes." Said Eve. "We have five of them, not four. One Dys to power the battleship and four for the field."-
[03:37] <Mianplo> [Ezra was still trying to recover from being told about the Eternity Drive.-
[03:38] <Mianplo> ["… Alright. So you have four for the field. So why only three at Paris? Why didn't you send all you had?"-
[03:38] <Mianplo> ["Don't forget we also had to protect the Synfront from Nel." Said Eve.-
[03:39] <Mianplo> ["Right, yes. So that's two battles… So you kept one of the Dysses and the Battleship to shield the Synfront." Said Ezra.-
[03:39] <Mianplo> ["Actually, no. We shielded the Synfront using DEVA-01. It's a Divine Eva, you may have heard reports of it fighting in France this week." Said Eve.-
[03:39] <Mianplo> ["I have, yeah. Designed like EVA-22."-
[03:41] <Mianplo> ["That's correct." Said Eve.-
[03:41] <Mianplo> ["Alright, so where was the fifth Dysangelion…?" Asked Ezra.-
[03:43] <Mianplo> ["Being repaired. When we ambushed the Federation AEC after the destruction of Metatron, they escaped using a highly reckless method of Dirac teleportation. This method partly shreds the target and sends fragments to hundreds of locations. We record every single location using our Dirac sensors, but we can't be sure which location is the right one, so we have to test them one by one." Said
[03:43] <Mianplo> Eve.-
[03:46] <Mianplo> ["So it was an ambush. Tricky." Said Ezra.-
[03:46] <Mianplo> ["No, not am ambush." Said Eve.-
[03:46] <Mianplo> ["Then what?"-
[03:53] <Mianplo> ["The Dysangelion in question, Joan, encountered…" Eve paused. There was a hint of awkwardness in the way she sat. "A non-human, non-Angelic species whilst investigating a signature in the Wolf 424 star system."-
[03:53] <Mianplo> [There was a long, judgemental silence.-
[03:53] <Mianplo> ["So you couldn't deploy your full squad of Dysangelions because one of them got fucked up by aliens." Said Ezra.-
[03:53] <Mianplo> ["That's the long and short of it."-
[03:53] <Mianplo> ["Oh, I am having some heavy regrets about this job." Said Ezra heavily.-
[03:55] <Mianplo> ["It wasn't a foreseeable outcome." Said Mary coolly. "The chance of one of the signals overlapping with the presence of another descendant of the Ancestors is astronomically low."-
[03:57] <Mianplo> ["Well, I'm very glad you're reminding me of just how terrible our luck truly is." Said Ezra. "So that's where we are now, eh? Three wrecked Dysangelions, Federation has the momentum, and we're currently under siege by Nel."-
[03:57] <Mianplo> ["If you don't feel you're equal to the responsibility of bringing us victory, Ezra, then you are free to leave." Said Mary icily.-
[03:58] <Mianplo> ["Oh, no. Make no mistake. You came to exactly the right person. I might be the only one who can win this war for you." Said Ezra.-
[03:58] <Mianplo> ["Buuuuuut it's gonna cost you extra."-
[03:58] <Mianplo> ["You son of a bitch." Said Eve curtly.-
[03:59] <Mianplo> ["Well, if you're not willing to pay the price…" Said Ezra, smirking a little.-
[03:59] <Mianplo> ["We're not Azariah. We do not have 'dealbreaker' costs." Said Mary. "Name your price."-
[03:59] <Mianplo> ["Well, part of the contract was that you'd transfer the Entelechy Thanatos to Promised Land control." Said Ezra. "Right?"-
[04:00] <Mianplo> ["Correct." Said Mary.-
[04:00] <Mianplo> ["Yeah, I'm thinking I'm going to need like… More of those." Said Ezra. "Like maybe all of the Entelechies."-
[04:00] <Mianplo> [Eve nearly shot out of her chair.-
[04:00] <Mianplo> ["Deal." Said Mary. "What else?"-
[04:00] <Mianplo> ["What?!" Snapped Eve.-
[04:01] <Mianplo> ["Deal." Said Ezra smugly. "You heard the Bitch Queen."-
[04:06] <Mianplo> [von Brandt let out a sigh of irritation.-
[04:07] <Mianplo> ["What else?" Repeated Mary.-
[04:08] <Mianplo> [Ezra rubbed his hands. "Uhm… Complete command of the UN military?"-
[04:09] <Mianplo> ["Surely not-" began Eve.-
[04:09] <Mianplo> ["Deal." Said Mary. "Continue."-
[04:15] <Mianplo> ["I want free reign in the Synfront. With access to the Solomons and all that." Said Ezra. "Whatever I say goes."-
[04:15] <Mianplo> ["If you think it will help, Ezra, then deal." Said Mary.-
[04:15] <Mianplo> ["Wow, really? Has the treasured art of haggling been lost amongst my Hamburg cousins?" Said Ezra.-
[04:16] <Mianplo> ["You know full well that I will agree to any price so long as it is not one that is necessary for my intentions." Said Mary. "And I know full well you won't request those out loud."-
[04:17] <Mianplo> ["Alright, I'll grant you that one." Said Ezra.-
[04:17] <Mianplo> ["…"-
[04:17] <Mianplo> ["The Sword of Damocles." He said.-
[04:18] <Mianplo> [Eve let out a low piteous groan.-
[04:18] <Mianplo> ["Agreed." Said Mary.-
[04:18] <Mianplo> ["Fantastic. Lovely-"-
[04:18] <Mianplo> ["On a condition."-
[04:18] <Mianplo> ["… Hm?" Said Ezra.-
[04:19] <Mianplo> ["This contract may involve nonessential elements, but I do not consider them to be worthless. If you want these additional resources, then you must prove yourself worthy of them." Said Mary.-
[04:20] <Mianplo> ["A trial by fire? What'll it be?" Asked Ezra.-
[04:21] <Mianplo> ["Solomon Joan was captured during the invasion of the Geofront. We want you to retrieve Joan. Furthermore, we want you to demonstrate that you have the ability to reverse the momentum in Europe." Said Mary.-
[04:21] <Mianplo> ["… Fair deal." Said Ezra. "Did you want me to rescue Joan in a specific way?"-
[04:21] <Mianplo> ["No, we leave it in your hands." Said Mary.-
[04:22] <Mianplo> ["Alright, good. Because the Non-Aligned League have invited all parties to negotiations in Istanbul." Said Ezra. "I know you probably just intend to send Gadhavi along to make a mockery of it, but I think we can use it to our advantage."-
[04:22] <Mianplo> ["Diplomacy?" Said von Brandt, rubbing his chin. "Interesting…"-
[04:23] <Mianplo> ["And I do expect full negotiative powers." Said Ezra. "With any treaty I sign to be binding on the UN."-
[04:23] <Mianplo> [Silence.-
[04:24] <Mianplo> [Eventually, Mary nodded. "If you think it gives you an advantage."-
[04:24] <Mianplo> ["Fantastic." Said Ezra.-
[04:24] <Mianplo> ["…"-
[04:24] <Mianplo> ["So is that everything?" Asked Ezra.-
[04:24] <Mianplo> ["I believe we've reached an acceptable arrangement thus far." Said Mary. "Thank you for your time."-
[04:25] <Mianplo> [She held out a well-manicured hand.-
[04:25] <Mianplo> […-
[04:25] <Mianplo> [Ezra shook it firmly.-
[04:25] <Mianplo> [After that, he turned around and headed for the door…-
[04:26] <Mianplo> [Only to stop at the top lip of the ramp. He turned to look back at them.-
[04:27] <Mianplo> [The light from the doorway cast up at an angle, catching him and casting a huge shadow across the back wall, across Mary's desk, where it blanked out their smaller, hunched forms.-
[04:27] <Mianplo> ["…"-
[04:27] <Mianplo> [He turned back towards the door and left.-

[16:23] <Minaplo> [The Great Rift Valley ran through the heart of Kenya. It was hilly land, culminating in hills, mountains and volcanoes and, to the other extremes, great lakes and rivers. Blessed with a mild climate and regular, predictable rainfall, the region was a critical element of Kenya's economy, particularly in the form of agriculture.-
[16:24] <Minaplo> [Or at least, this had been true.-
[16:25] <Minaplo> [For all intents and purposes, the Great Rift's agricultural production in 2016 had failed.-
[16:27] <Minaplo> [Admittedly the location was inevitably the sight of many battles between the UN and the LN, but even in communities that hadn't been levelled by the feet of a Thruster Solace or cratered by depleted uranium shells, many of the fields wilted and animals died. Total production in 2016? 26% of what it should've been.-
[16:29] <Minaplo> [2017 brought new challenges as the location of the Synfront caused constant consternation for everything around it. Angel attacks, Eva attacks, Angel and Eva attacks- and of course Metatron's bombardment of the entire continent and seas around it. However, no battles took place in the Valley itself, and only a few of Metatron's bombs fell on Rift Valley settlements and areas…-
[16:29] <Minaplo> [Yet production was 9% of what it should've been.-
[16:37] <Minaplo> [The town of Kinamba sat nestled in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, home to 8,000 people. The plains around the town were, as far as the eye could see, nothing but agricultural fields. From the sky, Kinamba seemed to be the heart of a massive concentric field of circles. The fields radiated out up to some 40km to the east, and some 10km to the west, right up to the foothills of the mountains. To the north was the Ol Ari Nyiro conservancy- protected land. Nonetheless the farms ran right up to the boundary.-
[16:38] <Minaplo> [Much of the fields were staple crops- grains, such as wheat or maize, with some sweet potatoes.-
[16:39] <Minaplo> [But the fields were barren. The seeds planted last year had not failed so much as simply not grown.-
[16:40] <Minaplo> [But it wasn't just the fields that were failing. The conservancy, once full of trees and home to countless birds, was dying.-
[16:40] <Minaplo> […-
[16:45] <Minaplo> [John Karume walked through the empty streets of Kinamba. He didn't live here- but his father, a potato farmer, did.-
[16:46] <Minaplo> [John's father was one of the few locals who'd stayed. Of the 8,000 official residents of Kinamba, only a thousand or so remained, trying desperately to make their land bountiful again.-
[16:47] <Minaplo> [It only took him a few minutes to reach his destination- a pod-like aircraft, maybe about five metres in diameter, planted on the boundary between town and field.-
[16:48] <Minaplo> [The pod's surface was non-reflective, like a sort of hard concrete, without actually being concrete.-
[16:49] <Minaplo> [Sitting outside the pod on a foldout chair was a young man, maybe about 19 years of age, with white, fair skin and long blonde hair tied up in a ponytail. He was wearing a sandy barzilite uniform, with a prog sword hanging off his waist. The young man was currently busy on his phone, messaging someone, presumably.-
[16:51] <Minaplo> ["Good morning, Mr. Ackerman." Said John, taking off his cap in greeting.-
[16:51] <Minaplo> [The young man- Ackerman- looked up. "Hey, Mr. Karume. Here for science?"-
[16:52] <Minaplo> ["That's what my office wall says I'm good for. Is Ms. Holt in?"-
[16:52] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, she's all ready. Told me to tell you to go right in." Said Ackerman.-
[16:53] <Minaplo> [And so John did, walking up to the side of the pod and pressing a button. A flight of stairs folded out, and a door slid open.-
[16:53] <Minaplo> [The air inside the pod was cool. The light was white, stark and artificial, giving the small room a sterile feel. Which was the point.-
[16:54] <Minaplo> [The pod wasn't a living space. It was a portable laboratory, with as much analytical equipment as possible packed into a five metre space.-
[16:56] <Minaplo> [There were two people already inside. One was a pale, thin young man with luminous blue eyes and long black hair, wearing a barzilite uniform similar to Ackerman's, a bolt pistol hung on his hip. He swivelled around to stare at John, looking nervous.-
[17:06] <Minaplo> [The other, a woman, was sitting down at a bench, holding a machine that John didn't recognise. She was petite, of average height with neck-length light brown hair and matching eyes. She had an honest, heart-shaped face, albeit one currently frowning on concentration as she manipulated the machine. She wore a labcoat, worn unconvincingly over a white tank top and a pair of jeans with black hiking boots.-
[17:06] <Minaplo> ["Good morning, Sarah." Said John.-
[17:07] <Minaplo> [Sarah Holt turned around on her swivel chair, the machine still in her hands. She smiled, a little dimple appearing in her right cheek. "Hey, John. How're you?"-
[17:07] <Minaplo> ["I'm fine." He said.-
[17:07] <Minaplo> ["… But I have a suspicion your news will change that." He added cautiously.-
[17:08] <Minaplo> [Sarah's smile faded, and she gave a downcast look over at her whiteboard. "Perceptive." She said. "I've got some bad news, John."-
[17:08] <Minaplo> ["Ah. I was right, wasn't I?" Said John.-
[17:08] <Minaplo> ["You were. I'm sorry."-
[17:09] <Minaplo> [John let out a long resigned sigh. "I wouldn't mind being more wrong about these things."-
[17:09] <Minaplo> ["I know how you feel." Said Sarah gently. She placed her machine aside carefully, and reached out to grab John's hands with both her own. He started, then smiled slightly.-
[17:10] <Minaplo> ["Thank you… What're your projections on restoration time?" He asked.-
[17:10] <Minaplo> ["Assuming they stopped today… Not in our lifetime. At least 75 years at my most conservative." Said Sarah gently.-
[17:11] <Minaplo> ["I had 80." Said John. "So… Right again, it seems."-
[17:11] <Minaplo> ["So it seems." Said Sarah.-
[17:12] <Minaplo> [John hung his head. "My father…"-
[17:13] <Minaplo> ["…" Sarah looked away again, then over to the nervous, pale young man.-
[17:13] <Minaplo> [The young man eyed her back, then leapt into action, awkwardly patting John on the shoulder. "There there…"-
[17:14] <Minaplo> [Sarah sighed. No hope there. She turned back to John. "I really am sorry, John. If there's some way Promised Land can help the Kinambans, let me know, alright?"-
[17:14] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[17:15] <Minaplo> [John pulled his hands gently out of her grasp. "I'll remember that, Sarah." He said. "Until then, though, you know what has to be done."-
[17:15] <Minaplo> ["I do."-
[17:16] <Minaplo> [John coughed, straightened up, and gave them both a curt nod. "Goodbye for now."-
[17:16] <Minaplo> ["Goodbye, John."-
[17:17] <Minaplo> [After John left and the pod door closed behind him, Sarah let her shoulders slump. She swivelled back around to the table, her head propped up by the heel of her hands.-
[17:17] <Minaplo> ["You alright, Ms. Holt?" Asked the pale young man.-
[17:18] <Minaplo> ["I'm ok, Eli." Said Sarah. "Wishing I could do more to help."-
[17:19] <Minaplo> ["Mmm." Said Eli. "You know, I'm a little surprised. Didn't think John was that attached to this place."-
[17:19] <Minaplo> ["He's not." Said Sarah. "But he's attached to his father. And this place is his father's whole life…"-
[17:20] <Minaplo> ["Well now he'll have to find a new one, huh?" Said Eli quietly.-
[17:20] <Minaplo> [Sarah shot Eli a glowering look.-
[17:20] <Minaplo> [A stricken expression crossed his pale face, and he threw up his hands. "S-Sorry, I didn't mean- just stating facts."-
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["C'mon, Eli."-
[17:21] <Minaplo> ["I'm sorry, I really am!" He said desperately.-
[17:22] <Minaplo> [Sarah shook her head, smiling a little, before turning back to her machine. "Is Fred still outside?"-
[17:23] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Eli. "Probably still messaging that charlatan clairvoyant he's so sweet on." He added, scoffing.-
[17:23] <Minaplo> ["Mmm. Can you go ask him to get my field stuff ready?" Asked Sarah.-
[17:24] <Minaplo> ["Field stuff…? Is this about more… Uh, scientific research?" He asked, his tone unmistakeably suspicious.-
[17:34] <Minaplo> ["Well, sweetie, I've done all the research I can here." She said. "So you know what that means…?"-
[17:34] <Minaplo> ["… We go home?" Asked Eli hopefully.-
[17:34] <Minaplo> [Sarah smiled and shook her head.-
[17:35] <Minaplo> ["I'm drawing a blank, Ms. Holt."-
[17:35] <Minaplo> ["Oh! You didn't hear?" Said Sarah, looking surprised.-
[17:35] <Minaplo> ["Didn't hear what?" Asked Eli suspiciously.-
[17:36] <Minaplo> ["Some of the locals told me there's a great big dirty thirty-metre long metal-skinned serpent mutant living on top of the mountain." Said Sarah brightly.-
[17:36] <Minaplo> ["… Alright…" Said Eli slowly. His eyes darted toward the door. "What's that got to do with us?"-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["C'mon, Eli." Said Sarah, clapping her hands together. "Only fair we go take a look, snap some pictures…"-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["Oh no…"-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["That sounds fun, am I right?"-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["Ms. Holt, please." Said Eli desperately. He clasped his hands together in a vague begging motion. "Please say you're joking."-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["Why would I be joking?" She asked, her eyes wide.-
[17:38] <Minaplo> ["Because you want to get a rise out of me?"-
[17:38] <Minaplo> ["… What, you don't want to see the giant metal snake?" She asked, frowning a little.-
[17:38] <Minaplo> ["I do not." He said firmly.-
[17:38] <Minaplo> ["Why not…?"-
[17:39] <Minaplo> ["Because I would like to live to see 20." Said Eli. "I've spent my life trying to reach that one precious milestone, Ms. Holt, please…"-
[17:39] <Minaplo> ["What's the worst that could happen?"-
[17:40] <Minaplo> ["A 30 metre tall snake is big enough to tackle an E-Destroyer." Said Eli grimly. "So the 'worst' that could happen is that we get eaten."-
[17:40] <Minaplo> ["Well yeah, the risk's what makes it fun."-
[17:41] <Minaplo> ["The risk's what makes us dead!" Snapped Eli.-
[17:41] <Minaplo> ["Not all the time…"-
[17:41] <Minaplo> ["It doesn't have to be all the time!" Said Eli. "We can beat the odds a hundred times, but the odds only have to beat us once!"-
[17:42] <Minaplo> ["Hm. You do make a fair point." Said Sarah.-
[17:42] <Minaplo> ["I-I do? I mean, I do, so that means you won't be going?" He asked, daring to hope.-
[17:42] <Minaplo> ["Oh, no, I have to go, I promised Remy-"-
[17:42] <Minaplo> [He groaned-
[17:42] <Minaplo> ["But I give you permission to stay behind." Finished Sarah with a sweet smile.-
[17:44] <Minaplo> [He buried his face in his hands. "Ms. Holt, please! You know that where you go, I go. It's my job. What happens if Mr. Caine comes back to find you've been eaten by a giant snake, and I'm all here being alive?"-
[17:51] <Minaplo> ["C'mon, Eli. We've done plenty of risky stuff before and walked out totally fine." Said Sarah gently. "It's not like I'm not going to be super careful. I'll make sure to do recon and risk assessment and all that, ok? It's not like I want to hang its skin from the White Dove's tailwing, I just want to snap a picture."-
[17:58] <Minaplo> ["Fine." He said, hissing it out from between his teeth. "But why can't you just send Fred and me in to take pictures instead, and you stay behind? What if you suffer some sort of accident and something happens to the-"-
[17:58] <Minaplo> [He stopped dead.-
[17:58] <Minaplo> ["What were you gonna say?" Asked Sarah.-
[17:58] <Minaplo> ["… Camera? What if something happens to the, um, camera. S'pretty expensive." He said, letting out a nervous little laugh.-
[18:04] <Minaplo> [Sarah sighed a little. "C'mon, Eli. I'm not gonna do anything that might put the baby at risk. Just trust me, you know me better than that."-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["Ugggh. You all make this job so complicated." He whined. "I'm gonna die of heart attack…"-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["I thought you were going to be eaten by a snake?" She asked brightly.-
[18:05] <Minaplo> ["S-shut up!"-
[18:05] <Minaplo> […-
[18:06] <Minaplo> [The pod door opened. Eli walked out. "Fred!"-
[18:12] <Minaplo> [Fred looked up after a few seconds. "Yo."-
[18:12] <Minaplo> ["You still talking to that charlatan?"-
[18:12] <Minaplo> ["Don't call her that. She pulled the ten of swords a week before the Bombardment-"-
[18:13] <Minaplo> ["Yes, yes." Said Eli, flapping a hand dismissively in Fred's face. "Go get Ms. Holt's field stuff."-
[18:13] <Minaplo> ["Oh yeah? Why?"-
[18:14] <Minaplo> [Sarah stepped out of the pod, still holding onto that strange machine. "There's supposed to be a giant Impact Feral snake in the mountains. I wanna look at it."-
[18:14] <Minaplo> ["Oh. Neat." Said Fred. "Yeah, one sec."-
[18:14] <Minaplo> ["It is not neat." Said Eli darkly.-
[18:26] <Minaplo> [Sarah's field 'stuff', as it turned out, consisted of a well-padded barzilite vest, barzilite trousers and a thick barzilite coat, all in the sandy colours of Promised Land. Along with it went a Maspistol, an AT Scanner, a medikit, three radios (one for each), a portable SENTINEL helmet, and a backpack full of survival gear.-
[18:30] <Minaplo> [In the meantime, Fred and Eli kitted themselves in expanded gear as well. They placed suits of dull olive carapace armour on over their barzilite uniforms, along with their own headsets. Fred also took a bolt pistol of his own, whilst Eli grabbed a heavily customised bolter capable of both rapid fire and precision shooting- along with several anti-armor grenades, smoke grenades and flashbangs.-
[18:34] <Minaplo> […-
[18:34] <Minaplo> [The walk to the mountain was an easy one- the land was very flat. Even the mountain itself had a less than punishing incline.-
[18:36] <Minaplo> [Curiously, the mountain's trees had fared rather better than the ones in the conservancy. The trees along the foothills were blackened, dead and dying, rotting from within, but this became a much less common sight the higher one went. About 200 metres up, the trees were as healthy as could be hoped.-
[22:28] <Minaplo> [This strange protection is probably what gave the mountain its current life- the trees were thick with birds. Drab honeybirds, tiny nectar-sucking sunbirds, flycatchers and robins and all sorts of other feathered creatures, many of them singing their own songs. There were birds they could hear- loud babblers and the like- that were nestling deeper in the woodlands.-
[22:29] <Minaplo> ["Hey." Fred nudged Eli, who started. "See that bird?" He asked, pointing at a tiny bird with a yellow breast and white dots over the eye.-
[22:29] <Minaplo> ["What about it?"-
[22:30] <Minaplo> ["That's the white-starred robin." Said Fred, proudly. "And from the way it's singing it's probably not a local one. Strange, isn't it?"-
[22:30] <Minaplo> ["Very." Said Sarah. "Where do you think it's from?"-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["I'd probably guess South Africa or thereabouts. It might be an impact refugee." Said Fred.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["How do you know that?" Asked Eli.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["Oh, well, its sound sort of varies depending on where it's from-"-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["No, how do you know so much about the white robin or whatever…?"-
[22:32] <Minaplo> ["Oh!" Fred beamed. "I knew a girl who was really into birds."-
[22:32] <Minaplo> ["Of course you did." Said Eli, shaking his head.-
[22:36] <Minaplo> [As they went higher up the mountain, however, the woodlife started to thin out. The few birds that did remain were often much quieter than their noisy chattery brothers down low.-
[22:36] <Minaplo> [Unconsciously, Sarah, Fred and Eli walked a little closer to each other.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> [After about an hour and a half of hiking, Sarah called for a break.-
[22:45] <Minaplo> [Eli and Fred rested against a tree, Eli sitting whilst Fred stood. Eli took a sip of his canteen before passing it over to Fred.-
[22:46] <Minaplo> [Sarah, meanwhile, was standing in the middle of their 'path', taking photographs of the vista below- which mostly consisted of the lively trees standing amidst a backdrop of endless kilometres of dying earth.-
[22:53] <Minaplo> ["I don't like this." Said Eli.-
[22:53] <Minaplo> ["Hm?" Fred took a big mouthful from the canteen. "You don't like the hike, you don't like the idea of seeing a giant snake, or you don't like this place in particular?"-
[22:54] <Minaplo> ["I don't like any of those, no, but this place gives me gooseflesh." He said nervously. "It's so quiet. I mean, you can hear the birds, but they're all down below. There's no sound up here."-
[22:54] <Minaplo> ["Except us." Said Fred quietly.-
[22:54] <Minaplo> ["… Yeah, that would be part of why I- yes." Said Eli.-
[22:57] <Minaplo> ["Well, if there really is a big ol' snake at the top of the mountain, Eli, then would you really want to live anywhere near it?" Asked Fred.-
[22:57] <Minaplo> [Eli gave him a flat look.-
[22:57] <Minaplo> ["What?"-
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["I'm just- like- what if it's not the snake?" Muttered Eli. "I mean, how many little birds is a snake supposed to eat anyway?"-
[23:00] <Minaplo> ["True, but what else would there be?" Asked Fred, looking up at the sky.-
[23:00] <Minaplo> ["Maybe there's some Angelspawn around." Said Eli. "Banshees or Reapers. Or maybe it's just a bunch of bandits and they've been hunting like crazy."-
[23:01] <Minaplo> ["I mean, who knows? All sorts of creatures are said to live up mountains… Sasquatches and yetis, maybe some guy came up here drunk and thought he saw a giant snake. Maybe there's nothing up here. May-"-
[23:01] <Minaplo> [Someone clapped a hand over Eli's mouth. He nearly leapt out of his skin.-
[23:01] <Minaplo> ["Mfffmf?!"-
[23:02] <Minaplo> [It was Fred, a finger over his own mouth. Slowly he pulled his hand away.-
[23:03] <Minaplo> ["What?" Whispered Eli.-
[23:03] <Minaplo> [Fred pointed up.-
[23:04] <Minaplo> [Eli looked, placing his SENTINEL headset back on.-
[23:05] <Minaplo> [There was a small dot circling in the distance. Eli zoomed in…-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["It's an eagle." Said Eli, his tone baffled.-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["An eagle." Said Fred. "It's not a fucking eagle."-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["Wha- yes it is!"-
[23:07] <Minaplo> ["Hut up." Said Fred. He slowly moved away from the shelter of the tree, out towards Sarah.-
[23:08] <Minaplo> [Sarah hadn't noticed their exchange- she was still taking pictures.-
[23:08] <Minaplo> ["Holt." Whispered Fred, hoping she'd hear. She didn't.-
[23:09] <Minaplo> [Fred shook his head, stepped a little closer. "Holt."-
[23:11] <Minaplo> [No response. Fred took a deep breath- then basically leapt next to her, clapping a hand over her mouth.-
[23:12] <Minaplo> ["Mf-!"-
[23:13] <Minaplo> ["Quiet!" Said Fred. "Follow." He said, pulling the hand away. Slowly, he walked back to Eli- a confused Sarah in tow.-
[23:13] <Minaplo> ["What's wrong?" Whispered Sarah.-
[23:14] <Minaplo> [Fred pointed up.-
[23:14] <Minaplo> [Sarah frowned. "An eagle?"-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["It's not an eagle." Said Fred. "Not a natural one. It's wingspan's too wide. That's a Manslayer."-
[23:20] <Minaplo> [There was a pause.-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["Right." Said Eli, picking his bolter up and holding it to his shouler, adjusting the scope.-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["Don't you fucking dare." Said Fred.-
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["Sorry, Eli, but he's right." Said Sarah. "A bolter won't be enough to bring down a Manslayer, not even with your eye."-
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["Oh." Said Eli. He paused, then sheepishly lowered his gun.-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["So what's their deal?" Said Eli.-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["Very fast, very strong." Said Fred. "Excellent eyesight and better hearing. Capable of taking down a fighter jet in the right circumstances."-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["Oh." Said Eli. "… Awesome. Swell."-
[23:23] <Minaplo> ["Not as fast, of course." Said Fred. "So they're more likely to take down smaller VTOLs and starve the occupants out-"-
[23:23] <Minaplo> [Sarah jabbed Fred hard in the ribs.-
[23:23] <Minaplo> ["Ow- sorry." Muttered Fred.-
[23:24] <Minaplo> [Eli, having gone even paler than usual, pulled himself to his feet. "So what do we do now?"-
[23:25] <Minaplo> ["We could wait for it to head off." Said Fred. "But chances are we're in its hunting grounds. That's why the birds have left this part of the mountain."-
[23:25] <Minaplo> ["I'm not sure their new home is much safer." Said Sarah grimly.-
[23:31] <Minaplo> ["Agreed." Said Fred. "The other thing we can do is sneak higher up the mountain and hope the Manslayer's too afraid of our snake to hunt us there."-
[23:32] <Minaplo> ["I like that plan." Said Sarah.-
[23:32] <Minaplo> ["What's wrong with waiting it out?" Hissed Eli.-
[23:33] <Minaplo> ["Remember what Fred said? This bird's smart enough to starve crashed VTOL passengers out. If it's already seen us, then it's clearly smart enough to keep circling us until we're too tired or hungry to stop it."-
[23:33] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:33] <Minaplo> ["Ah." Said Eli, his voice high. "Great. I feel so very nostalgic right now."-
[23:34] <Minaplo> [Sarah put an arm around his shoulders and kissed him on the top of his head. "You'll be ok, sweetie."-
[23:46] <Minaplo> [Some colour seemed to return to Eli's cheeks. He nodded several times, took a deep breath, and secured his bolter strap.-
[23:47] <Minaplo> [After that, they continued to make their way up the mountain. Their progress was much slower now- they moved through the most heavily wooded or uneven parts of the mountain, seeking cover from the Manslayer. There were no more jokes and any conversations were said in whispers.-
[00:01] <Minaplo> [The closer they got to the top, the more the trees, much to Eli's alarm, started to thin out.-
[00:01] <Minaplo> [The ground, too, started to even out…-
[00:03] <Minaplo> […-
[00:03] <Minaplo> [Sarah, Eli and Fred crouched behind a lucky series of large, craggy rocks sticking up out of the land.-
[00:04] <Minaplo> ["I don't see how we're gonna see it before it sees us." Muttered Eli. "Assuming it exists."-
[00:04] <Minaplo> ["Assuming it even needs to see." Said Fred. "It might feel the tremors of our footsteps. Or smell us. Or see the electrical pulses-"-
[00:04] <Minaplo> ["Shut up, shut up…" Muttered Eli.-
[00:05] <Minaplo> ["In a better situation, I'd walk down and climb the tallest tree I could find to have a look." Said Sarah. "But…"-
[00:05] <Minaplo> [They all looked up at the still-present shadow of the Manslayer.-
[00:06] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, no." Said Eli.-
[00:07] <Minaplo> [There was a pause.-
[00:08] <Minaplo> [There were no birds up here, either- except of course for the Manslayer, but whilst it was still circling, it seemed a little reluctant to move directly over the mountaintop. Fred had taken that as proof that there really was something proper nasty here.-
[00:12] <Minaplo> [On the other hand…-
[00:18] <Minaplo> [They heard no movement. No breathing. Nothing to actually indicate that the rumoured giant snake was actually there.-
[00:19] <Minaplo> ["Maybe one of us should sneak out." Said Fred. "Just take the smallest look around we can, then come right back-"-
[00:19] <Minaplo> ["It could be facing the opposite direction." Said Eli. "If we're lucky. That'd give us the chance-"-
[00:20] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, yeah." Said Fred. "Do you wanna do it? You're better at this than I am…"-
[00:20] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, I don't wanna, but if it has to be done it may as well be me who does it." Said Eli grimly. "What do you think, Sarah?"-
[00:21] <Minaplo> [Sarah was leaning slightly towards the side of the rockwall, holding her camera out portrait-style. She took a picture and pulled it back.-
[00:21] <Minaplo> ["Sorry?" She asked, turning around.-
[00:21] <Minaplo> ["Oh. Yeah, that works." Said Fred dryly. "No, we were discussing stealth tactics, don't mind us."-
[00:22] <Minaplo> [Sarah smiled, then looked down at her camera, opening her just-taken digital image. It was a little blurry from the odd way she'd been forced to hold it, but…-
[00:23] <Minaplo> [It showed a wide, flat, empty clearing. No trees… In some cases there wasn't even grass. What there was was a cave.-
[00:23] <Minaplo> [And lying half-out of the cave, its skin barely clearing the rock walls, its eyes closed, was a great silvery snake.-
[00:23] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:24] <Minaplo> ["Oh god." Muttered Eli. "It's real."-
[00:24] <Minaplo> ["I knew it would be." Said Sarah brightly. "Even better, it looks like it's asleep!"-
[00:24] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, great." Said Eli.-
[00:24] <Minaplo> ["This means we can get a little closer." Said Sarah.-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["Swell." Said Eli resignedly. "How much closer?"-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["I just want to get some pictures from a few angles, that's all." Said Sarah happily. "C'mon!"-
[00:25] <Minaplo> [Cautiously, they emerged from behind the rockwall, and walked out into the clearing.-
[00:26] <Minaplo> [The great snake didn't move. A great green forked tongue lolled slightly out of its slack jaw, lined with sharp thin teeth about two foot long.-
[00:31] <Minaplo> [Its skin was covered in thousands of small interlocked metal scales which shimmered and scintillated in the sunlight, prismatic ribbons running up and down its long, sinuous body.-
[00:31] <Minaplo> [The ground around it was marked with deep, dark, scorched gouges. And the smell…-
[00:32] <Minaplo> [The smell was putrid. It smelled strongly of rust and rotting flesh…-
[00:32] <Minaplo> [Sarah was the first to notice.-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["It's dead." She said, lowering her camera.-
[00:35] <Minaplo> ["… Huh." Said Eli, lowering his bolter. "What killed it?"-
[00:35] <Minaplo> [Sarah pointed at the gouge marks. "Look at those. Chances are whatever killed it caused those too. What's your opinion, Eli?"-
[00:36] <Minaplo> [He walked over to the nearest gouge, knelt down, and touched the rock.-
[00:39] <Minaplo> ["… Hmm. My best guess would be, uh… Positron." He said. "Or a really powerful maser."-
[00:40] <Minaplo> ["Hmm. Human hunters?" Asked Sarah. "Iron Guard, maybe…"-
[00:40] <Minaplo> ["If it were Iron Guard, I'd expect to see more munitions fragments." Said Eli. "Bolt or missile remains…"-
[00:41] <Minaplo> [Fred, however, was starting to circle the corpse itself. He walked around the far side of the snake, where its belly was exposed.-
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["Uh… Sarah? There's something, um…"-
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["What's wrong?"-
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["There's something fucky with this corpse."-
[00:41] <Minaplo> [Eli cocked his head in confusion.-
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["Hold on, I'll be there in a sec." Said Sarah. She snapped a picture of the snake, then followed Fred around.-
[00:43] <Minaplo> [Here, they could really see the damage. The snake's underside bore countless burn marks and more fleshy gouges. Fred pointed to a long, narrow wound in the base of the jaw.-
[00:43] <Minaplo> ["I'd say that was the killing blow." He said. "Not to say that these others wouldn't have done their work."-
[00:44] <Minaplo> [He looked down at the ground around the snake's wounds. Blood extended in all directions up to about five metres from its wounds, mostly dry.-
[00:44] <Minaplo> ["Freshly spilled, I'd say." Said Fred. "This would've happened, at the latest, last night."-
[00:45] <Minaplo> ["How do you explain those?" Asked Sarah, pointing at…-
[00:45] <Minaplo> [There were large distended bulges in the snake's belly. They weren't injuries, or so it seemed. They reminded Sarah of sacs…-
[00:45] <Minaplo> ["Swelling fluid?" Offered Fred, shrugging. "I can cut one open if you like and we can see."-
[00:47] <Minaplo> [Sarah was silent for a few seconds… Then she nodded. "Okay. But do it carefully. If whatever's under there is corrosive, I don't want any splashing on you."-
[00:47] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, fair shake." Said Fred. He approached the nearest bulge at an angle and withdrew his prog sword.-
[00:48] <Minaplo> [With a deft flick of the wrist the blade activated, its vibrating edge quickly rousing, emitting a low mechanical whine and a glow of heat.-
[00:48] <Minaplo> [With a quick, careful slash, Fred drew a horizontal cut across the bulge, stepping quickly to one side as he did so.-
[00:49] <Minaplo> [The skin split and pulled back quickly, allowing the bulging mass to vomit out onto the ground. It wasn't fluid.-
[00:50] <Minaplo> [It was a shapeless, irregular membrane, light pinkish-red and covered in long thin veins. Dozens of small objects floated within, pushing up against the membrane walls.-
[00:50] <Minaplo> [Fred and Sarah looked over at each other.-
[00:50] <Minaplo> ["Was it pregnant?" Murmured Sarah.-
[00:52] <Minaplo> [One of the inside objects pushed against the cut edge of the membrane, and it split, a spew of heavy, metallic amniotic fluid disgorging onto the ground around it. The objects were carried with the flow, spilling out.-
[00:52] <Minaplo> [Sarah gasped. Fred swore.-
[00:52] <Minaplo> [They weren't the snake's offspring. They were something else's.-
[00:53] <Minaplo> [Tiny Annihilator-type Angelspawn, each about a foot tall, curled up in the fetal position.-
[00:53] <Minaplo> ["No way." Said Fred, his face twisted into a disgusted grimace.-
[00:53] <Minaplo> ["I-I don't understand." Said Sarah. "These are- Angelspawn? But since when do Angelspawn reproduce?"-
[00:56] <Minaplo> [Eli walked around the snake's great head. "Hey guys, I-"-
[00:56] <Minaplo> [He saw the Annihilator fetuses. His eyes widened like saucers and his jaw dropped.-
[00:59] <Minaplo> ["Oh, fuck." He said, going paper-white. "Oh, fuck."-
[01:01] <Minaplo> [There was a long, dread silence.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> ["So Eli." Said Fred. "Annihilators capable of making those gauges?"-
[01:01] <Minaplo> ["Very capable." Said Eli. "I could see three or four of them doing this."-
[01:02] <Minaplo> ["And they wouldn't have gotten far, either." Said Sarah. "I don't know if they'll come back or not…"-
[01:03] <Minaplo> [She shook her head, and knelt down, pulling off her backpack. "Only one thing we can do now."-
[01:03] <Minaplo> ["What's that?" Asked Eli.-
[01:03] <Minaplo> [Sarah pulled a large metal box out of her bag. She placed it on the ground and opened it. "Fred, could you place one of the babies and put it in here, please?"-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["Are you serious?!" Snapped Eli. "You want to take one of those things alive?!"-
[01:04] <Minaplo> [Sarah looked up at Eli with a gentle expression. "Eli, do you know how long it takes an Annihilator to gestate naturally?"-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["N-No. How long?"-
[01:05] <Minaplo> ["I don't know. This has never happened before." Said Sarah. "And I have no idea how widespread this behaviour is. But imagine this. How many offspring Annihilators do you think this corpse holds? Thirty? Forty?"-
[01:05] <Minaplo> ["I'd estimate around eighty." Said Fred.-
[01:06] <Minaplo> ["Right. Around eighty." Said Sarah. "And imagine this. If all eighty of those Annihilators reach adulthood in, let's say a month or six months, then in six months time the Great Rift Valley is going to be home to eighty new apex predators that can probably reproduce themselves. How long until that population doubles? Triples? Increases tenfold?"-
[01:06] <Minaplo> ["I-I don't know…"-
[01:07] <Minaplo> ["That's right." Sarah smiled. "I don't either. But if we need to know how much damage these things can cause then we need to know more about their reproductive cycle. Do you feel me?"-
[01:07] <Minaplo> ["… Y-Yeah. Sorry." He mumbled. "I'm on edge…"-
[01:08] <Minaplo> ["It's alright, sweetie." Said Sarah, giving him a big grin. "Alright, Fred, let's do this."-
[01:09] <Minaplo> [Fred gingerly grabbed one of the baby Annihilators. "Uuuggggh. It feels awful. So slimy and ugggh."-
[01:10] <Minaplo> [He quickly placed (dumped it more like) the baby into the box, and Sarah quickly resealed it, placing it back into her backpack.-
[01:10] <Minaplo> ["So." She said. "Eli, Fred. What do we do about the rest of these?"-
[01:10] <Minaplo> [Eli lifted his bolter. "I say we burn this site to the ground."-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["Yeah… I can't disagree." Said Fred.-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["Mmm. Unfortunately I don't know if we have the firepower right now." Said Sarah. "And if we're going to burn this, I'd rather be away from any unwanted attention first. We'll get the White Dove to level the place when it gets back."-
[01:16] <Minaplo> [Eli nodded.-
[01:16] <Minaplo> ["Okay." Said Sarah, standing back up. "Let's go home."-
[01:17] <Minaplo> [And so they headed toward the slope…-
[01:18] <Minaplo> [When Eli paused, squinting back over near the cave.-
[01:18] <Minaplo> ["What's up, sweetie?" Asked Sarah.-
[01:18] <Minaplo> ["I thought I saw something. Permission to scope?" He said, raising his bolter.-
[01:19] <Minaplo> ["Go ahead. Be careful."-
[01:19] <Minaplo> [Eli nodded, and, cautiously, never lowering his bolter from his shoulder, walked back to the cave.-
[01:19] <Minaplo> [There wasn't much of a gap between the cave wall and the snake carcass.-
[01:20] <Minaplo> [Worse, the bulges in the snake's body had filled the gap in some places.-
[01:20] <Minaplo> [Yet… Eli saw it.-
[01:20] <Minaplo> ["Oh, fuck."-
[01:20] <Minaplo> [They hadn't seen it because it'd been nestled in against a fold in the snake's flesh. As they'd left, it'd slithered out, only to flee fearfully back.-
[01:21] <Minaplo> [A tiny version of the giant snake, this one only a mere two metres long. Parts of its body- its eyes, for example- were clearly not fully developed, and as Eli approached it began to mew pitifully at him.-
[01:21] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:22] <Minaplo> [Eli raised the bolter scope to his eye. He aimed at the head. "Sorry."-
[01:22] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:23] <Minaplo> [It mewed, waving its head fitfully in the air, clearly oblivious to its surroundings.-
[01:23] <Minaplo> [His finger on the trigger shook.-
[01:23] <Minaplo> ["C'mon. I can do it."-
[01:23] <Minaplo> […-
[01:24] <Minaplo> [Five minutes later, Sarah, Fred, Eli and the baby snake began to make their way down the slope.-
[01:25] <Minaplo> [Sarah and Fred had secured a harness around the snake's torso, allowing them to pull it, whilst Eli had guided it out the best way he'd known how- with food, taken from their packs. It wasn't the best solution, but it worked.-
[01:25] <Minaplo> [The snake seemed to purr almost like a cat as it ate, and the tinkling of its scales as it moved created a musical, melodic rhythm.-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["So." Said Fred. "Eli. How's it feel to be a dad?"-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["Shut up."-
[01:27] <Minaplo> ["Dr. Orstein's gonna have some big questions for you when we get back home, y'know." Said Fred brightly.-
[01:41] <Minaplo> ["Shut up." Muttered Eli. "I'm not keeping it. I'll just see if anyone else wants it. Or if Ms. Holt wants to study it."-
[01:42] <Minaplo> [Sarah giggled. "Oh, sweetie. It's ok to be soft sometimes." She said, reaching out to ruffle his hair.-
[01:43] <Minaplo> [Eli reddened, muttering something incomprehensible.-
[01:44] <Minaplo> [They were halfway down the mountain when the baby snake suddenly seized up. It stopped so suddenly that Fred was pulled to his knees. "Son of a-"-
[01:44] <Minaplo> ["W-What's wrong with it?!" Asked Eli, raising his bolter.-
[01:45] <Minaplo> ["No idea." Said Fred. "It won't- nngh, come on-"-
[01:45] <Minaplo> [He tugged on the rope, but the snake only reared back, shaking its head wildly.-
[01:45] <Minaplo> ["It's frightened." Said Sarah. "Something's spooked it-"-
[01:45] <Minaplo> [The snake let out a shriek of terror- one that was answered from above.-
[01:46] <Minaplo> [The Manslayer's keening hunting cry could be heard for miles away, and as it sounded out a ripple of fear resounded through the group. The snake began thrashing about, mad with fear.-
[01:47] <Minaplo> [Sarah stared up at the eagle with wide eyes, transfixed, as it swooped toward her, holding a long, cruel talon out towards her- a talon so big it could grasp her and carry her away.-
[01:48] <Minaplo> [At the last second, Fred shoved her roughly out of the way. Sarah tumbled away, down the slope.-
[01:48] <Minaplo> [Fred brought his sword up with both hands, lunging upwards-
[01:49] <Minaplo> [The Manslayer's impact was enough to dash his body against the ground, knocking him senseless. The talon's claws dug deep into the earth around him-
[01:49] <Minaplo> [But the Manslayer jerked backwards, letting out a sharp croak of pain. Fred's prog sword was buried in its talon, right up to the hilt.-
[01:52] <Minaplo> [It thrashed about for a few seconds before reversing its talon, grasping the prog sword with its beak, and ripping it out. Blood spurted from the wound and a wide gash appeared, but the Manslayer seemed not to notice. It hovered over Fred, its wingbeats creating enough force to keep him and Sarah pinned down.-
[01:52] <Minaplo> [It raised its left, unharmed talon. It struck-
[01:52] <Minaplo> [Fred rolled clumsily aside at the last second, still gasping and clutching his side.-
[01:53] <Minaplo> [He wasn't fast enough. A claw cut across his back. He cried out-
[01:53] <Minaplo> [The Manslayer pulled its claw back, ripping Fred's carapace away with it. The beast shook it angrily, trying to disentangle itself-
[01:53] <Minaplo> [Fred tore out his bolt pistol and, firing both-handed, unloaded the entire clip into the Manslayer's chest.-
[01:54] <Minaplo> [The bolts clearly hit home and scored painful wounds, but the Manslayer was frenzied with anger and pain already.-
[01:54] <Minaplo> [It didn't stop.-
[01:54] <Minaplo> [It tore his armour away, finally, and turned to finish the job, raising its wounded talon-
[01:56] <Minaplo> [A whip-like sound cracked through the air, and a thin red beam struck the great gash across the talon's surface. The Manslayer reared backwards, the pain strong enough to interrupt its wing-beats.-
[01:56] <Minaplo> [Sarah had rolled over, pulled her maspistol from its holster and had fired- not intending to kill, but to simply cause it the most pain she could, to throw it off-balance.-
[01:57] <Minaplo> [The Manslayer smashed its talon against the ground several times, letting out high-pitched keening cries of pain. One reckless thrashing caught Fred in the chest just as he was intending to stand.-
[01:58] <Minaplo> [He crumpled, crying out.-
[01:58] <Minaplo> [The Manslayer tunnel-focused on Fred. It reared back, ready to tear him asunder with its beak-
[01:59] <Minaplo> [There was the distinctive chemical roar of a bolter. A shell slammed into the Manslayer's head, causing it to stumble aside.-
[01:59] <Minaplo> [Eli stepped forward, raised his bolter again, aimed, and fired. Single shot.-
[02:00] <Minaplo> [Another strike to the head. It reeled, falling backwards onto its back, its wings flailing as it tried to right itself.-
[02:00] <Minaplo> [Eli fired again. And again. Each time the Manslayer took a blow to the head, not killing it, but clearly dazing it and knocking it senseless. And with each shot Eli walked towards the Manslayer, his face a mask of ice cold concentration.-
[02:02] <Minaplo> [One final shot- then Eli pulled back the ammo draw, let the clip fall free, and lowered his bolter.-
[02:02] <Minaplo> [The Manslayer wasn't dead.-
[02:03] <Minaplo> [Eli stepped onto its chest, grabbed its head, pushed it aside- exposed the bloody, torn mess of its head wounds.-
[02:03] <Minaplo> [He tore an anti-armor grenade off his belt, pulled the pin, slammed it into the wound- the entire bird jerked- and then bolted away.-
[02:03] <Minaplo> [Three seconds later, the Manslayer roused itself-
[02:04] <Minaplo> [And its head erupted from the inside.-
[02:04] <Minaplo> [It staggered forward for a second unsteadily- then toppled over, falling onto its chest.-
[02:04] <Minaplo> [There was silence. Even the birds at the bottom of the mountain had long since started to flee.-
[02:05] <Minaplo> [Sarah got to her feet. Fred, groaning, clutching his side, remained prone.-
[02:05] <Minaplo> [Eliphas let out a long, deep, shaky, rattling breath.-
[02:06] <Minaplo> ["I really wanna go home now." He said, his eyes filling with tears.-
[02:07] <Minaplo> [Sarah's expression softened, and wordlessly she went to his side, bundling him up in a tight hug.-
[02:08] <Minaplo> ["You were really brave." She said warmly, stroking his hair. "Come on. Why don't we help Fred back down the mountain, then we'll head home. Okay?"-
[02:08] <Minaplo> ["… O-Okay."-
[02:08] <Minaplo> [And so they returned to Fred's side…-
[02:09] <Minaplo> [… Meanwhile, the snake slithered over to the now dead Manslayer.-
[02:09] <Minaplo> [It clumsily shifted the bird's wing aside, exposing the soft fleshy underbody- and began to eat.-
(21:27) <Minaplo> […-
(21:28) <Minaplo> [Getting the snake back to their science pod whilst escaping the attention of curious Kinambans was not an easy task- after all, it may have been a baby, but it was still two metres long.-
(21:34) <Minaplo> [At this time of the day the main street of Kinamba was busy, too. Or rather, it wasn't busy in a bustling way. The town felt restless, turbulent. They were troubled. They'd heard commotion. Gunfire. Bolters.-
(21:34) <Minaplo> [The people of Kinamba knew better than most the sound of bolter propellant.-
(21:39) <Minaplo> [Frederick being in a stretcher- a makeshift one- make it hard as well.-
(21:40) <Minaplo> [So they had an unnaturally large and intimidating snake, which they couldn't leave to nightfall in case it wandered off. And pulling it live through the streets of Kinamba was not an idea that anyone considered intelligent.-
(21:41) * CakeyCake (~ten.nozirev.soif.apalhp.302-7-511-89-loop|ekaCyekaC#ten.nozirev.soif.apalhp.302-7-511-89-loop|ekaCyekaC) has joined #nervfrance
(21:44) <Minaplo> [Their eventual solution was macabre- they bound the snake tightly in various fabrics and ropes (and a sleeping bag which Fred had brought for whatever reason), then had buried it inside the now rather hollow body of the Manslayer, stitching it closed as best as they could. They put a bit of junk in there as well to disguise any movement.-
(21:45) <Minaplo> [It was that which they dragged through the streets, the Manslayer's huge wingspan leaving long wakes of dirt behind it.-
(21:47) <Minaplo> [It worked, in that it brought the snake through Kinamba safely. It also inferred answers to the townspeoples' questions- of course, the bolters were to kill the Manslayer. And they were probably dragging it back to cut it up and study it.-
(21:47) <Minaplo> [After all, there was no chance of the Manslayer breaking out and, say, killing someone asleep in their bed.-
(21:47) <Minaplo> [Even if it did seem to twitch a little…?-
(21:51) <Minaplo> [A little house had been rented out to them during their stay in Kinamba. It had a main room and two separate small bedrooms, enough perhaps for a single bed and a wardrobe. The boys had one room, Sarah had the other.-
(21:51) <Minaplo> ["Ow, ow!"-
(21:52) <Minaplo> ["Oh, be quiet." Grumbled Eli. With a heave, he and Sarah finished dumping Fred onto the bed. "Lucky we brought you back at all, to be honest…"-
(21:52) <Minaplo> ["Mnerr." Fred flipped him off, before turning to Sarah. "So where's the snake going?"-
(21:55) <Minaplo> ["I may as well put it in my room." Said Sarah. "I won't be using it, and my lab pod's set up for geological studies. Besides, the damn thing'd just thrash about, knock everything over…"-
(21:57) <Minaplo> ["Fair enough. What about the bird?"-
(21:58) <Minaplo> ["Hmm." Sarah scratched the back of her left hand. "I'm not sure…"-
(22:00) <Minaplo> ["We cut it into twenty pieces, stuff them in bags and dump them back on the mountain." Said Eli.-
(22:04) <Minaplo> ["Aha." Sarah ran a hand fondly through Eli's hair. "That's the exact sort of unorthodox and unsettling serial-killer thinking I've come to rely on from you, Eli."-
(22:04) <Minaplo> [The boy beamed proudly, then a second later frowned. "Hang on-"-
(22:04) <Minaplo> ["So I guess the baby Annihilator takes the lab, then." Said Fred.-
(22:05) <Minaplo> ["It's the safest place for it." Said Sarah. "And the safest place for anyone else…"-
(22:08) <Minaplo> [There was a pause- the only thing they heard was the muffled, distressed cry from the snake.-
(22:10) <Minaplo> ["I should go get him out." Said Eli.-
(22:11) <Minaplo> ["That sounds like a great idea, Eli." Said Sarah with a smile. "I'm gonna go stack our tiny Annihilator away and maybe run what little checks I can."-
(22:12) <Minaplo> ["And I'm gonna lay here, wait for Mr. Caine, and regret my life's choices." Said Fred.-
(22:12) <Minaplo> [Sarah chuckled. "Do you need anything, sweetie?"-
(22:12) <Minaplo> ["Nah." Said Fred. "I'm ok."-
(22:18) <Minaplo> ["Okay." She tapped her two-way radio. "Let me know if you need anything."-
(22:19) <Minaplo> [By the time Sarah left the house, the cries of the snake had become much louder- and higher pitched, interspersed with a querulous purring. This had been interspersed with Eli's curses.-
(22:48) <Minaplo> [Sarah took the sealed metal box away to the safety of her cramped little lab.-
(22:49) <Minaplo> [It now sat on the main benchtop, inert, a little cool to the touch. Unmoving.-
(22:49) <Minaplo> [Perfectly innocuous, except for the fact that it housed an impossibility.-
(22:49) <Minaplo> [The temptation, Sarah mused, was there. To open the box, to prod and measure and study.-
(22:57) <Minaplo> [But in truth, she really didn't have the tools on hand. She'd only be able to perform the most rudimentary of notes, and it simply wasn't worth it.-
(22:58) <Minaplo> [Sarah instead, voice recorder in hand, began recording the events of the journey and the circumstances surrounding the young annihilator's finding and capture.-
(00:24) <Minaplo> [An hour or so passed. Sarah recorded what she could. Finding a small Annihilator in a membraneous sac along with another 26. That she spied at least six potential sacs in the snake's flesh. Estimates on its length and width. A good estimate of its weight (she had scales, after all). She recorded its apparent lack of behaviour.-
(00:26) <Minaplo> [Finally, she ran out of notes to take, things to measure. Sarah decided to go visit Fred quickly when she heard a sound through the pod's walls. A distinctive sound.-
(00:26) <Minaplo> [The sound of a powerful jet engine.-
(00:27) <Minaplo> [Sarah's eyes widened. She jumped to her feet so quickly that she nearly slipped on the floor. Catching the corner of the table in time, she pulled herself back up, slammed the door's opening button and leapt out before the stairs had properly finished deploying.-
(00:38) <Minaplo> [Lowering itself to the ground was a huge VTOl troop carrier, the force of its engines whipping dust and loose debris around it in a wide chaotic blurry radius. Sarah had to lift a hand to shield her eyes.-
(00:38) <Minaplo> [Only when the hum of the jet engine whined away to nothing and the dustcloud died down did Sarah lower her hand.-
(00:38) <Minaplo> [The White Dove sat before her. Promised Land's carrier.-
[16:19] <Minaplo> [Sarah hesitated now, standing by the lab pod's door. She didn't actually know if it was really Ezra who'd come- although it usually would be. She hoped it would be.-
[16:20] <Minaplo> [The Dove's forward access port slid open, a flight of stairs- much like the Pod's own, in fact- pulling out to provide access. The port itself was a good five metres off the ground after all.-
[16:20] <Minaplo> [There was a pause. Sarah found herself twisting her ring around on her finger and made herself stop.-
[16:22] <Minaplo> [Ezra stepped out, a hand covering his eyes against the glare of the sun. He looked around, saw her, and grinned.-
[16:34] <Minaplo> [He'd barely reached the bottom of the steps when Sarah reached him, almost tackling him. She threw her arms around his chest and out a whoop of delight.-
[16:38] <Minaplo> [Ezra caught her- barely- and spun her around, his legs kicking about for a few wild seconds as he fought to retain his footing. For a few brief seconds she was airborne, her legs free in the air, leaving small whirls of dust behind her as the tips of her boots tore through the dirt on the way up.-
[16:39] <Minaplo> [They stood there. For a good minute they stood there, together, just holding one another, Sarah's head on his shoulder and Ezra's head against her own.-
[16:45] <Minaplo> [Sarah closed her eyes and let herself simply breathe against him, catching the warm clean scent of his body. Of course, by comparison she probably smelled of sweat, dust, blood, eagle guts and whatever else the day had thrown at her.-
[16:45] <Minaplo> ["Hi." Said Ezra, pulling back slightly to look down at her.-
[16:46] <Minaplo> ["Hi. I missed you."-
[16:47] <Minaplo> ["You did. And I caught you." He said. "See? In my arms and everything. It was either that or the dirt, so…"-
[16:48] <Minaplo> [She laughed a little, knuckling him in the ribs. "Dumbbear."-
[16:48] <Minaplo> ["Mean." He said, chuckling- before frowning a little, running a thumb over her ear. "Hey, you've got a cut here."-
[16:49] <Minaplo> [He pulled away a little, suddenly looking her up and down. "And you're covered in dirt. And you've got skinned knees- what on earth?"-
[16:49] <Minaplo> ["Oh, yeah, we went on a little trip and got attacked." Said Sarah.-
[16:49] <Minaplo> ["Attacked?!"-
[16:49] <Minaplo> ["Manslayer."-
[16:49] <Minaplo> ["Heavens above." Muttered Ezra, suddenly looking up at the sky as though at any moment an oversized bird of prey might swoop down out of the skies.-
[16:50] <Minaplo> ["It's dead now. Eli's in the backyard cutting it up into a bunch of small pieces so we can get rid of it."-
[16:57] <Minaplo> ["Oh." Said Ezra. "Wait, you brought it back to the house?"-
[16:59] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. We had to hide-" Sarah looked up at him, frowning slightly. "Come on, you know there's a story behind this. Do you wanna hear it properly or do you want to be left with a dozen little pieces to put back together?"-
[16:59] <Minaplo> ["What, like the Manslayer, you mean?"-
[17:00] <Minaplo> [Another knuckle to the ribs. "Yes, like the Manslayer. Come on, come on…"-
[17:03] <Minaplo> [Sarah led him back towards the lab pod, although not before they saw Eli in the backyard with the Manslayer. He'd stripped away his shirt and was working away at the Manslayer with a prog knife, his bare pale skin glistening in the sun. He was very thin, with wiry knots of muscle running up his arms and around his stomach. His ribs were clear to see, and his skin was covered in several
[17:03] <Minaplo> dozen tiny patches of scar tissue, especially around the throat and chest.-
[17:07] <Minaplo> [The sight of the injuries- the little unsaid testimony of a pain-filled history- brought pangs to Sarah's heart, but she tried not to let it show. Besides, Eli was busy, his focus intent on slicing up the Manslayer. Sprays of blood often gushed forth from the cuts. Some fell on Eli. Most splashed out onto the dirt, creating random little patterns of bloody wet dirt. Around Eli's feet lay
[17:07] <Minaplo> two or three little prog bits, which had been broken off from the main blade, dulled as they were on Manslayer bone.-
[17:12] <Minaplo> [They left him alone.-
[17:24] <Minaplo> [Ezra didn't have so much as a second to look around the lab pod before Sarah grabbed him, pushed him against the nearest wall and kissed him. A firm, warm, hungry kiss. For a long minute, that was all he felt and saw; the endless plans and cautions and considerations fleeing his mind, the nagging constant dread left over from the meeting dwindling into meaninglessness.-
[17:24] <Minaplo> [It was hard for Sarah to pull away- both because she didn't want to and because of him pulling her close.-
[17:25] <Minaplo> ["I really did miss you." She said quietly.-
[17:26] <Minaplo> ["Uh huh." Said Ezra, a little breathlessly.-
[17:26] <Minaplo> […-
[17:26] <Minaplo> ["Hm." Sarah licked her lips a little. "Wine?"-
[17:26] <Minaplo> ["Oh, yeah, I had some before the family reunion." He said, laughing a little.-
[17:27] <Minaplo> ["Oh, right. The meeting." She frowned. "Did it go ok?"-
[17:28] <Minaplo> ["Y'know what, why don't we talk about it later, angel?" Asked Ezra. "Let's talk about something else. Like you! Tell me more about this story."-
[17:34] <Minaplo> ["Oh, you want to just talk…?" Purred Sarah against his chest.-
[17:35] <Minaplo> [He chuckled. "Well, not just talk, but not in the lab pod…"-
[17:36] <Minaplo> ["Hm, no. These things are expensive." She said, her eyes half-closed. "Besides, the baby annihilator makes it weird."-
[17:36] <Minaplo> ["Yeah…"-
[17:36] <Minaplo> ["Wait, what?" Ezra looked down at her, his eyes snapping open. "The what now?"-
[17:36] <Minaplo> [She pulled away, laughing. "Oh, didn't I tell you about that~?"-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["…" He gave her a suspicious, narrow-eyed look. "Oh. Oh, you're bad. You're torturing me, angel."-
[17:37] <Minaplo> ["A little bit!"-
[17:38] <Minaplo> [Ezra muttered, pulling out a chair and sitting down. "Ok, angel, let's hear this story."-
[17:40] <Minaplo> [Sarah sat down next to him, close enough for their shoulder to rub together. "Alright. So the locals told me a story about how some park rangers had seen a gigantic snake up in the mountain…"-
[17:40] <Minaplo> […-
[17:41] <Minaplo> ["… And so we brought the baby snake and the baby Annihilator back for study, and that's why we're going to need to bomb the mountaintop to bits." Finished Sarah.-
[17:42] <Minaplo> [Ezra was leaning forward, his head propped up by his left hand, his right around her waist. "Heaven above. When did Angelspawn start having babies?"-
[17:43] <Minaplo> ["I haven't a clue, bunnybear." Said Sarah. "But there would have to be at least 200 individual juveniles in that snake corpse… Assuming there's not another few thousand deeper in the cave."-
[17:44] <Minaplo> ["Today has just been a bad news parade, hasn't it?" Muttered Ezra. "Here's the thing. Most Annihilators seen in the wilderness just wander around aimlessly. They fight back if attacked but otherwise… In some places, farmers actually use them as a kind of scarecrow."-
[17:44] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh." Said Sarah.-
[17:52] <Minaplo> ["But you said it looked like there'd been more than one." Said Ezra. "Which means they're working together…"-
[17:52] <Minaplo> ["To bring down large prey and fill said prey with offspring, yeah." Said Sarah.-
[17:53] <Minaplo> [There was a dreadful silence.-
[17:55] <Minaplo> ["We need to find one." Said Ezra. "Study it. Destroy the others. They could have another thousand juveniles out there gestating as we speak. If they come to term, this area is fucked."-
[17:56] <Minaplo> ["No kidding. Not just this area. We don't even know how widespread this is." Said Sarah. "It could be a migrationary group. They might've been operating for who knows how long before we found them…"-
[17:59] <Minaplo> ["Heaven above." Muttered Ezra. With his left hand he pulled the Annihilator's metal box closer to him. "If anything I'd expect this before Metatron died, not after. Could they've mutated somehow? Evolved in her absense?"-
[17:59] <Minaplo> ["Maybe it was a dead man's switch. Dead Angel's Switch?" offered Sarah. "Maybe they've always had the power to reproduce, but she was suppressing it. So when she dies…"-
[18:00] <Minaplo> ["Aw, what a spiteful thing to do." Said Ezra, his brows pushed together, shaking his head.-
[18:02] <Minaplo> ["If this was something she intended, though, I can imagine it'll be as bad as possible." Said Sarah. "And not just Annihilators. We could be seeing Apocalypse Engines reproducing…"-
[18:02] <Minaplo> [Ezra made a face, the corners of his mouth pulled back in disgust.-
[18:31] <Minaplo> ["But. I had Eli put the baby snake away in my room." Said Sarah with a grin. "He didn't have the heart to kill it. He's a sweet kid…"-
[18:31] <Minaplo> ["Yeah…" Said Ezra quietly. "Heh. He knows my policy on pets, right? Hope he's ready to look after a giant goddamned snake."-
[18:32] <Minaplo> ["He doesn't want to admit it, but you can tell he's super into it." Said Sarah, laughing. "Who wouldn't be? Owning a giant snake sounds incredible!"-
[18:32] <Minaplo> ["You almost sound like you want one yourself." Said Ezra.-
[18:32] <Minaplo> [She turned to him with a wide, doe-eyed expression.-
[18:34] <Minaplo> ["Hey, you want one, you can have one, you just keep it off the bed and lounge…"-
[18:34] <Minaplo> […-
[18:40] <Minaplo> [The conversation, eventually, came back to what Sarah's entire reason for being in Kinamba.-
[18:42] <Minaplo> ["So it turns out our first hunch was right." Said Sarah.-
[18:42] <Minaplo> ["Oh yeah?"-
[18:43] <Minaplo> [She reached over to a nearby drawer- trying to reach as far as she could to avoid having to leave Ezra's embrace- and pulled out a bunch of papers. Sarah found one and handed it to him.-
[18:55] <Minaplo> [Ezra took it, giving it a quick look-over. His eyes widened a little.-
[18:59] <Minaplo> ["Lead six times normal, mercury four times, antimony three times and arsenic eight times." He looked up at her. "Holy shit."-
[19:13] <Minaplo> ["It's killing the trees." Said Sarah. "And a lot of the lakes around here are saline lakes, bunnybear. The groundwater's salty, the trees are dying-"-
[19:14] <Minaplo> ["And the groundwater rises and poisons the crops." Said Ezra.-
[19:14] <Minaplo> ["And it's now full of arsenic, too." Said Sarah. "So local water sources are toxic."-
[19:17] <Minaplo> ["But that doesn't make sense." Said Ezra. "That's the sort of pattern I'd expect from heavy-duty mining in the area, but most of Kenya-"-
[19:17] <Minaplo> [He paused. Flashes of the massive machines in the Synfront filled his vision for a second.-
[19:17] <Minaplo> ["Oh shit."-
[19:18] <Minaplo> [Sarah nodded slowly. "I knew the Synfront had automated mining machines, but…"-
[19:19] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. Shit." Ezra leaned back in his seat. He'd gone pale. "If that's the case, then at this point nearly a quarter of the continent's fucked…"-
[20:02] <Minaplo> ["A lot more of it will be ruined if we don't stop it, bunnybear." Said Sarah. "And it'll take centuries at best to heal the damage already done."-
[20:02] <Minaplo> ["And then you have reproductive Annihilators. Wonderful. Is there anywhere in Kenya that won't be ruined?" Muttered Ezra, clapping his left hand over his face.]
[20:07] <Minaplo> -
[20:15] * Zack is now known as ZackSleep
[20:29] <Minaplo> [Sarah didn't say anything. She simply leaned over, resting her head on Ezra's right shoulder, rubbing his back with her left hand.-
[20:29] <Minaplo> [They were still for a few minutes, letting the implications of their news hang in the air.-
[20:30] <Minaplo> [Eventually Ezra sighed, shook his head. "Not much we can do about it right now. I'll see what I can do once I settle into the Synfront. For now, though, I think I should see how Fred's going."-
[20:30] <Minaplo> ["Alright." Said Sarah, giving him a quick kiss before leaning back. "I might clean up here. I can start moving onto the Dove, right?"-
[20:30] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, go ahead."-
[20:45] * SyntaxPhone (~if.elibom-asile.tan-71-641-67-58|xatnyS#if.elibom-asile.tan-71-641-67-58|xatnyS) has joined #nervfrance
[20:51] <Minaplo> […-
[20:51] <Minaplo> [Ezra knocked on the door.-
[20:51] <Minaplo> ["Who's it?" Asked Fred.-
[20:51] <Minaplo> ["It's me, Ezra."-
[20:51] <Minaplo> ["Oh, come in!"-
[20:51] <Minaplo> [Ezra did.-
[20:52] <Minaplo> [Fred was lying on the bed, his shirt off, rudimentary bandages around his chest and shoulder. He was covered in tiny scratches and larger wounds.-
[20:52] <Minaplo> [None of these stopped him from using his phone, however.-
[20:52] <Minaplo> ["Hey, boss." Said Fred, looking up with a grin, his fingers flying furiously over the phone's facade.-
[20:53] <Minaplo> ["Hey." Said Ezra with a grin. He closed the door behind him. "Still chatting up that fortune-teller?"-
[20:53] <Minaplo> ["Yep."-
[20:53] <Minaplo> ["You gonna tell her about your super-manly encounter today?" Asked Ezra.-
[20:53] <Minaplo> ["Absolutely."-
[20:54] <Minaplo> [Ezra barked a short laugh, before crouching down next to Fred's bed.-
[20:54] <Minaplo> ["Looks like big bird fucked you up pretty hard." Said Ezra.-
[20:54] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, considering it never managed to touch me with its damn claws." Said Fred. "It tried, but all of these are just from it smacking me around."-
[20:55] <Minaplo> ["You're lucky. In the open they've been known to snap someone's skull from a solid swoop."-
[20:56] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, I've heard the stories." Said Fred. "We were lucky as hell."-
[20:56] <Minaplo> ["No kidding. Heard Eli did ok."-
[20:58] <Minaplo> ["Hahaha, Eli, man." Fred shook his head. "Guy's a piece of work, boss. He spent all day shaking like a leaf at the very idea of climbing the stupid mountain, then when the Manslayer attacks he pops three rounds to the head as clean as you please, then jumps onto it and shoves a grenade in its head."-
[20:58] <Minaplo> ["Then he starts crying, totally ruining his moment." Said Fred with a wry grin.-
[21:00] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, well…" Ezra shook his head. "Still, glad to see you're in good spirits."-
[21:01] <Minaplo> ["What's there to be down about? Nearly got killed, got ribs broken, s'fuckin' Tuesday, boss."-
[21:01] <Minaplo> ["Hah."-
[21:02] <Minaplo> ["So what's the plan now? We're off home shortly, eh?" Asked Fred.-
[21:03] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. I'll give us an hour, maybe a little more. Give Sarah chance to freshen up, Eli to ditch the body…"-
[21:03] <Minaplo> ["Where's Ms. Holt now?" Asked Fred.-
[21:04] <Minaplo> ["Just packing things up. She'll be moving back into the Dove in a few minutes, probably take a shower, find something to eat…"-
[21:04] <Minaplo> ["Ah." Fred nodded.-
[21:05] <Minaplo> ["… D'you want me to distract Eli for awhile?" Said Fred slyly. "Y'know, let you two settle back in?"-
[21:06] <Minaplo> ["Eyna." Ezra let out a short snort, shoving Fred's head backwards playfully. "Get back to your texting, you rotten brat."-
[21:26] * SyntaxPhone (~if.elibom-asile.tan-71-641-67-58|xatnyS#if.elibom-asile.tan-71-641-67-58|xatnyS) Quit (Quit: Bye)
[21:50] <Minaplo> [Fred's laughter followed Ezra all the way out to the yard.-
[21:50] <Minaplo> [Eli was done by now, the Manslayer now sitting in several black bags. Eli sat on a fencepost, washing the blood off his body with a canteen of water.-
[21:51] <Minaplo> ["Hey, Eli." Said Ezra.-
[21:51] <Minaplo> [Eli looked around- and quickly shot to his feet. "Ezra, I'm sorry-"-
[21:51] <Minaplo> ["What on Earth for?" Asked Ezra, grinning.-
[21:53] <Minaplo> ["I let Ms. Holt go into a dangerous area." He said. "I brought back an Impact Feral without permission-"-
[21:53] <Minaplo> [But Ezra was already chuckling. "Sit down, Eli. You're not in trouble."-
[21:53] <Minaplo> [Eli hesitated, then slowly lowered himself back down.-
[21:53] <Minaplo> ["I'm not, sir?"-
[22:00] <Minaplo> ["Eli, where Ms. Holt chooses to go, she goes. It's your job to protect her, not to restrict her movement."-
[22:01] <Minaplo> ["Uh." Eli flushed. "Y-Yes, sir, I mean-"-
[22:01] <Minaplo> ["No no, you're not in trouble. You've just been washing evidence of a job well done off your body, after all."-
[22:01] <Minaplo> ["I uh… Guess I have." Mumbled Eli.-
[22:02] <Minaplo> ["And besides, bringing the Impact Feral back was the right thing to do." Said Ezra. "Smart. Worth studying, I think."-
[22:02] <Minaplo> ["Uh… Thank you, sir."-
[22:02] <Minaplo> ["Have you decided on a name?" Asked Fred.-
[22:03] <Minaplo> ["A- A name…? Oh, you mean, a name for the snake." Asked Eli, a little too quickly to be convincing.-
[22:03] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh. I'll be expecting you to at least help look after it…"-
[22:04] <Minaplo> ["O-Of course, sir, uh, Ezra." Said Eli hastily.-
[22:04] <Minaplo> [Ezra grinned. He walked over, reached out and ruffled Eli's hair.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [The boy pulled away through pure reflex.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> ["Sorry." Said Ezra.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> ["I-it's fine, I mean…"-
[22:06] <Minaplo> ["So what's your plan for dealing with the body?" Said Ezra quickly, cutting through Eli's apologies.-
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["Uhm. Well, it's all cut up. I'm gonna take it back out to the mountain… Maybe bury it somewhere, or else just dump the pieces wherever." Said Eli.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> ["Very good." said Ezra.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> [After a second he held his hand out to Eli. "Good work today, Eli."-
[22:08] <Minaplo> [Eli cautiously took it. "Thank you, sir. I mean, Ezra."-
[22:10] <Minaplo> [Ezra gave him a smile. "Keep your chin up. I'm going to go back to the Dove and see how Sarah's doing."-
[22:10] <Minaplo> ["Alright, sir. I'll get dressed and then dump the bird."-
[22:11] <Minaplo> [Ezra gave him a nod- paused- then started heading back towards the White Dove.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> [The White Dove had a small part of it set aside for hygiene. A bathtub, a toilet, a mirror and a sink. On long missions, hygiene was more important than ever- keeping free of disease or toxic exposure was a priority for Promised Land.-
[22:35] <Minaplo> [When Ezra entered the Dove's cramped kitchen and mess, Sarah was already there, pouring tinned corn and tinned tomatoes into a plastic bowl. Her hair had a frizzy, messy look and her skin was still fresh and damp. Her dirt-stained clothes had been replaced with a clean white tank-top and a pair of denim shorts.-
[22:35] <Minaplo> ["Fooding already?" Asked Ezra.-
[22:41] <Minaplo> ["I'm hungry. I haven't eaten since breakfast." Said Sarah.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh. What's on the menu tonight?" Asked Ezra, stripping off his jacket and throwing it over a chair.-
[22:47] <Minaplo> ["Mission burrito." Said Sarah. "With white rice, pork, bit of cheese, lettuce and salsa."-
[22:47] <Minaplo> ["That sounds pretty… Intensive."-
[22:48] <Minaplo> ["I've had a craving for a good burrito for weeks." Said Sarah, pouting slightly. "Let me have my fun."-
[22:48] <Minaplo> ["Hey, no complaints. Let me know if you need me to help." He said, moving into the kitchen.-
[22:50] <Minaplo> ["Can you just put the tortillas in the oven for a little bit?"-
[22:50] <Minaplo> ["Not~ a~ problem~" He chimed, taking out a rough stack of seven or eight and placing them in the small oven on low heat.-
[22:54] <Minaplo> [Once done, Ezra turned around and wrapped his arms around her stomach, pulling himself in close against her. "Nice and clean." He said gently. "Feel better for it?"-
[22:55] <Minaplo> ["You have no idea." She said, letting her weight fall against him a little. She sighed in relief. "That damn Manslayer gave me a fright."-
[22:55] <Minaplo> ["Mmm?"-
[22:56] <Minaplo> ["I hadn't expected things to turn so dangerous." Said Sarah. "The instant Fred saw the Manslayer I should've turned us all back home."-
[22:57] <Minaplo> ["Not an unsound reaction, angel." Said Ezra. Her hair was soft against his cheek. "No, I get that completely…"-
[22:57] <Minaplo> ["… But?"-
[22:57] <Minaplo> ["But you pressed on anyway. Why?" Asked Ezra.-
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["Well, I really wanted to look at the giant snake-"-
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["But you must've had a plan in mind in case the Manslayer did attack." Said Ezra.-
[22:59] <Minaplo> ["I ah… I just figured, you know… I had Fred, I had Eli. We were well-armed, we knew it was there, we were keeping an eye out… I thought we'd be able to deal with it if it did attack, at least drive it off."-
[23:00] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh." Said Ezra. "And…?"-
[23:00] <Minaplo> ["…? And what?" Sarah turned slightly, the hairs on top of her head tickling against his chin and cheek.-
[23:01] <Minaplo> ["And you did deal with it. You bagged it, just like you expected."-
[23:01] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Sarah. "Yeah, we did, didn't we? We showed that big stupid flappy what for."-
[23:02] <Minaplo> ["… But I still feel bad about Eli." She admitted after a second. "He gets so worked up. He always reacts so strongly to his own violence, it just… I dunno, Ezra. It breaks my heart."-
[23:04] <Minaplo> ["He's a worrying warrior, our Eli." Said Ezra fondly. "Still, though, you're doing really well with him. He's very fond of you, you know… Probably likes you more than he likes me."-
[23:04] <Minaplo> ["Oh? How can you tell?"-
[23:04] <Minaplo> ["Just the little things." Said Ezra.-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh." Said Sarah, smiling a little to herself.-
[23:10] <Minaplo> [With the salsa done, Sarah doled out a small ration of sour cream into a bowl, then took a small block of cheese and began grating it.-
[23:14] <Minaplo> [All the while, Ezra remained snuggled up behind her, his eyes closed.-
[23:15] <Minaplo> ["I missed this. Missed you." He said quietly. "Wish I could've had you in there with me today."-
[23:16] <Minaplo> ["In the meeting?" Asked Sarah.-
[23:16] <Minaplo> ["Mmm."-
[23:17] <Minaplo> ["Wanna talk about it, bunnybear?" She asked, resting a little more firmly against him.-
[23:17] <Minaplo> ["I…"-
[23:17] <Minaplo> [Ezra let out a sigh. "I hated it. Every second in there…"-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["I knew it'd be bad. Nightmare was in there, Mary was in there too with her aura and her eyes."-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["How'd you handle it?" Asked Sarah gently.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["Oh, I just started insulting them all."-
[23:19] <Minaplo> [Sarah giggled. "That's my man. How'd they like that?"-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["Oh they hated it. I could tell. Mary didn't let it get to her, though. Shame, really. This entire deal…"-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["I'm listening."-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["It's like… Ugh. As far as deals go, it's easily the most lucrative we've ever done. Apart from the 50 billion fee, we're also getting huge levels of influence. We'll basically be running the UN armed forces. Then we're getting the Damocles. On top of that they're also giving us the entire Entelechy line, including Thanatos."-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["Yikes." Said Sarah, going still. "You weren't kidding!"-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh."-
[23:23] <Minaplo> ["But…?" She pressed.-
[23:24] <Minaplo> ["But the entire arrangement just makes me ill." Said Ezra. "I hate these people. I hate working with or for them. I wasn't even in the room ten minutes before I learned a truth that made me want to burn the contract and piss off."-
[23:24] <Minaplo> ["I getcha." Said Sarah. "You can tell me if you want…"-
[23:24] <Minaplo> ["I will. In time I'll tell you everything. But not before dinner." Said Ezra grimly.-
[23:25] <Minaplo> ["That bad, huh?"-
[23:25] <Minaplo> ["That bad." Said Ezra. "If this were a normal deal I'd take all their little bonuses and tell them to stick it."-
[23:26] <Minaplo> ["They probably know that." Said Sarah.-
[23:26] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. We'll have to be careful." Said Ezra quietly.-
[23:28] <Minaplo> [They fell quiet, the room silent except for the rhythmic sound of the cheese being rasped against the grater.-
[23:29] <Minaplo> ["How's the cheese going?" Asked Ezra.-
[23:29] <Minaplo> ["It's going. I'd be done if you weren't distracting me." She said warmly.-
[23:29] <Minaplo> ["Oh, am I a distraction now?" He asked, sounding mock-affronted.-
[23:30] <Minaplo> ["Only a little one~"-
[23:35] <Minaplo> ["Can't have that." He said, leaning forward to blow gently on her earlobe.-
[23:36] <Minaplo> [She shook her head as though trying to dislodge a pesky fly. "Damnit, Ezra."-
[23:38] <Minaplo> ["Ticklish?"-
[23:38] <Minaplo> ["You know I am."-
[23:39] <Minaplo> [Without warning, Ezra raised his arms, his fingers digging lightly into her sides. The grater was dropped with a clatter, nearly knocking over the sour cream in its awkward, ungainly topple.-
[23:40] <Minaplo> [Sarah squirmed, clenching her arms tightly against her sides. She squealed; the sound echoed slightly on the walls. "Nonono! Ezraaaaaaaaa!"-
[23:41] <Minaplo> ["C'mon, you can get out of this." He teased, his voice full of laughter.-
[23:41] <Minaplo> [His fingers dug a little deeper into her sides.-
[23:42] <Minaplo> [All of a sudden Sarah jumped back. Her weight was now fully against his.-
[23:42] <Minaplo> [He fell back slightly, steadying himself against the oven hurriedly- and she took her chance.-
[23:43] <Minaplo> [She turned on her heel, her fingers going for the sides of his neck. He braced his head against his shoulders pre-emptively- to no avail. "N-No wait-"-
[23:44] <Minaplo> [His alarmed, shouted laughter rang throughout the Dove for a good few minutes. No matter how hard he tried, nothing he did would dislodge her. Probing her side, going for her own neck-
[23:45] <Minaplo> [A minute later Ezra had finally thrown his hands up into the air. "M-Mercy, mercy-"-
[23:45] <Minaplo> [Sarah let go, beaming sweetly. Both of them at this point had a pale sheen of sweet on their faces thanks their exertion and the heat of the kitchen.-
[23:46] <Minaplo> ["You're a damned devil." Said Ezra, shaking his head out ruefully.-
[23:46] <Minaplo> ["You started it~"-
[23:46] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, well…"-
[23:47] <Minaplo> [Sarah stepped in close, kissing him gently. "Hey."-
[23:47] <Minaplo> ["Hmm?"-
[23:48] <Minaplo> ["I want to show you something."-
[23:48] <Minaplo> ["What, not gonna finish the cheese?" He asked, smirking.-
[23:48] <Minaplo> ["Oh, come on, Ezra." She said, tugging his hand.-
[23:49] <Minaplo> ["Alright, alright, I'm going- where?"-
[23:55] <Minaplo> ["Your room." Said Sarah.-
[23:55] <Minaplo> ["Ooh, excellent choice."-
[23:55] <Minaplo> [She laughed.-
[23:56] <Minaplo> [Ezra's room was about as spartan as one would expect. Undecorated walls, a single metal footlocker… The only real 'luxury' was that the bed was just big enough to fit two people.-
[23:56] <Minaplo> [Lying on the bed was a photo album, bound in dark green leather.-
[23:56] <Minaplo> ["Hm? Ok, what is it?" Asked Ezra.-
[23:56] <Minaplo> ["Check the photo album."-
[23:56] <Minaplo> [Ezra shot her a quizzical look, but she just smiled.-
[23:57] <Minaplo> ["Alright, let's see then."-
[23:57] <Minaplo> [Ezra sat down- the photo album itself was a family album- their album. So far, it was just photographs of the two of them in various locations or with various people.-
[23:57] <Minaplo> [But soon, Ezra thought, there'd be a third little person there as well.-
[23:58] <Minaplo> [He opened it up, starting from the first page.-
[23:59] <Minaplo> [Photographs, naturally. Their very first photograph together, sitting on a balcony of a restaurant in Frankfurt. They'd been younger, still students- Ezra wearing a suit with a red tie, Sarah in an elegant sleeveless black dress wearing a silver necklace.-
[23:59] <Minaplo> [Other highlights. Ezra, Sarah and the first batch of Neospartans. The first photo of them on the Dove.-
[00:00] <Minaplo> ["Oh, this was our first mission together." Said Ezra, pointing at a photograph of them in downtown Alexandria.-
[00:01] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh." Said Sarah. "Egypt was such a lively place…"-
[00:02] <Minaplo> ["Absolutely. Oh, hey. You, sunbathing in Greece. God, that would've been…" Ezra frowned. "2013?"-
[00:02] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Sarah. "A month after the mission in Cyprus, actually."-
[00:02] <Minaplo> ["Heaven above." He turned another page.-
[00:03] <Minaplo> ["Ah." He brightened. "Look, it's our christmas holiday in Japan." He pointed at a photograph of Sarah, looking resplendent in a pink and green kimono. "Look at you. As pretty as a christmas present."-
[00:04] <Minaplo> [His eyes twinkled. "And as I remember, just as fun to unwrap."-
[00:04] <Minaplo> ["Hah." She plopped down next to him. "Hurry up, hurry up…"-
[00:05] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh, uh-huh. Gimme a sec…" He began to flick through the pages a little faster. Events went by in a blur. Them in New York. A Promised Land party for the first 'graduates'. A photograph of laughing children, rescued from the Dead Zones with their families…-
[00:06] <Minaplo> [Then Ezra reached the end. Not the end of the album, but rather the end of the photographs. Or so he thought.-
[00:06] <Minaplo> [He turned a page- and spied new ones.-
[00:06] <Minaplo> [He frowned.-
[00:06] <Minaplo> [There were about nine of them, from various locales. Germany, Libya, Algeria, Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, and Kenya too, the most recent. The photographs had been taken over the course of about two years…-
[00:07] <Minaplo> [Only, there was something strange about them. Each photograph showed Ezra, smiling, standing next to another blonde-haired man. Azariah Caine.-
[00:08] <Minaplo> [Ezra stared at them, his eyes widening a little in wonder. "I…"-
[00:08] <Minaplo> [He swallowed- and turned to Sarah, who was smiling. "What…?"-
[00:09] <Minaplo> ["I found a bunch of photos with Azariah in them. About five to thirty years old." Said Sarah. "So whenever we were in those places, I'd find the right angle, take a picture of you- and then I merged the two images. You never realised it, but you were standing only a metre away from where he once did."-
[00:10] <Minaplo> [Ezra began blinking rapidly, turning his gaze back to the photo. One photograph, the quality of which had a grainy, aged feel to it, showed a young, grinning Azariah in front of the Goethe University.-
[00:11] <Minaplo> ["Heaven above." Said Ezra, tracing a shaking hand over Azariah's face. "Look at him. He looks so young."-
[00:12] <Minaplo> ["I know it's a little early for your birthday." Said Sarah gently. "But I couldn't make myself wait."-
[00:12] <Minaplo> [Ezra, trembling, closed the album up. He was already crying. "That…"-
[00:13] <Minaplo> [Sarah put her arms around his waist, squeezing tightly.-
[00:14] <Minaplo> [Ezra didn't respond at first. His left hand was over his eyes, wiping away the tears. "Damnit…"-
[00:14] <Minaplo> ["Ezra…" Said Sarah softly.-
[00:17] <Minaplo> ["I didn't- guh." He turned, wrapping his arms around her and pushing her down against the brown cover of the bed. Ezra kissed her, unreservedly, passionately, and she returned it with interest. He squeezed her tighter, his hands moving up her body, pulling down the straps of her top.-
[00:17] <Minaplo> ["W-Wait."-
[00:17] <Minaplo> ["Huh? Sorry, am I-" He pulled back. "What's wrong?"-
[00:17] <Minaplo> [She shushed him. "Listen."-
[00:17] <Minaplo> [Silence. Then-
[00:18] <Minaplo> ["That sounds like Eli." Said Ezra.-
[00:18] <Minaplo> ["He's screaming." Said Sarah. Her eyes widened. "Ezra-"-
[00:19] <Minaplo> ["Oh shit." Ezra was already up, his locker kicked open. A sword in its scabbard lay on a pile of neatly folded clothes- Ezra grabbed it, pulled the blade free, then tore off something strapped to the top of his locker- a positron pistol.-
[00:19] <Minaplo> [Sarah quickly pulled her straps back up and ran past Ezra, trying to find her abandoned maspistol amongst the clothes she'd left in the bathroom.-
[00:20] <Minaplo> [Eli continued to scream.-
[00:20] <Minaplo> [A few seconds later the two of them leapt out of the Dove and sprinted across the dusty path between it and the house. Eli's screams were loud, coming from inside.-
[00:20] <Minaplo> [Ezra kicked the door open.-
[00:21] <Minaplo> [Eli was lying against a wall- not completely against it. The door to Sarah's room was open.-
[00:21] <Minaplo> [A shed snakeskin sat abandoned, curled up, barely visible, in Sarah's room. The snake itself was curled gently around Eli.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> [He was screaming, his eyes popping with terror.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> [The snake licked his face gently with a long blue tongue. It purred at him.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> [Eli continued to scream.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["E-Eli!" Shouted Ezra.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> [Eli turned towards him. "Help! Help! It's got me! It's got me!"-
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["Eli, shh! Calm down!" Said Ezra firmly.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["B-But-"-
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["Eli!"-
[00:23] <Minaplo> [Eli bit down on his own tongue and mouth so hard he drew blood. He shook from head to toe, and much of his face and chest was covered in a layer of saliva.-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [The snake turned away from him and towards Sarah and Ezra. It purred at Sarah- but on seeing Ezra it hissed. Its mouth opened wide, showing off hundreds of tiny sharp teeth, a long blue tongue, and, at the back of the throat…-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [Sarah gasped.-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [The giant snake she'd seen at the mountaintop had had a huge wound in its throat. She'd assumed it had been a lethal blow designed to tear apart its brain.-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [She was half-right. It was a lethal blow, but it hadn't been going for the brain.-
[00:25] <Minaplo> [It'd been going for the core.-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["Ohhhhhhh fuck." Said Ezra.-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["It's not a fucking Impact Feral at all!" Said Ezra. "It's an Angelspawn!"-
[00:26] <Minaplo> [The snake reared up, and at this very moment unfurled from around its body a pair of massive gleaming wings, easily six metres from tip to tip. The sunlight, shining through a western window, caught on the wings, casting rainbow-like patterns across its surface.-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["Ezra. There's only one thing we can do." Said Sarah firmly.-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["Yep." He took a deep breath-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["And by that I mean you need to go outside and let me speak to it."-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["Ezra, it's clearly reacting to you." Said Sarah. "It probably knows me because I fed it earlier."-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["Oh, fuck. You're right." He said. "Wait, why does-"-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["Later, bunnybear. Please?"-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["No, no. You're right. Sorry." He took a hasty step back and hid behind the wall.-
[00:28] <Minaplo> [The snake followed him with his eyes… But a minute after Ezra was gone, it turned back to Eli, licking his face and rubbing its head against him.-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["Guh." Said Eli.-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["What's happening out there!" Shouted Fred through his door.-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["The baby snake's an Angel, it grew wings, and now it's broken out and thinks Eli's its mum." Said Sarah.-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["Ok, cool! Keep me posted!"-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["I don't like this, Sarah." Said Eli, whimpering. A little bit of blood trickled down his chin.-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["I know, sweetie." Said Sarah, coming a little closer. With only a slight tremor she lifted her hand towards the snake's snout.-
[00:32] <Minaplo> [The baby snake eagerly leaned forward- so quickly that Sarah nearly pulled her hand away- but it only wanted to rub against it. It continued to purr, the sound reverberating against the walls.-
[00:32] <Minaplo> [It was unnervingly catlike.-
[00:33] <Minaplo> [Sarah began to rub its snout, trying to dig her knuckles as deep into its side as possible. It let out a low keen of pleasure, flopping over onto its back and revealing its neck to her.-
[00:33] <Minaplo> [In doing so, it uncoiled around Eli, and he fell to the ground in shock.-
[00:33] <Minaplo> ["See?" Said Sarah, laughing a strange, slightly high-pitched laugh. "Totally harmless, Eli. Totally fine."-
[00:34] <Minaplo> ["Hahaha." He said, his face so utterly set against laughing that the sound came out more like that of a child hyperventilating.-
[00:34] <Minaplo> ["Why don't you come over and help me rub its, uh, underside?" Asked Sarah.-
[00:34] <Minaplo> ["Do I have to?!"-
[00:35] <Minaplo> ["Please?"-
[00:35] <Minaplo> [Eli let out something between a whine and a groan. He shuffled over and began gingerly rubbing its stomach.-
[00:35] <Minaplo> ["Azzz." Purred the snake. "Azzzlll. Azzlllll."-
[00:35] <Minaplo> […-
[00:36] <Minaplo> [After 35 minutes of rubbing, the snake had, despite expectations, actually fallen asleep, curled up into a silvery ball of scale and leathery skin and wing.-
[00:37] <Minaplo> [They walked outside, shaking their legs gingerly, rubbing cramped arm muscles. Ezra was standing outside, his sword and pistol lying on the ground. "Sounds like it went well."-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["Well, it didn't eat us." Said Sarah. "Actually, it's kind of cute in its own way. It's like a big legless winged rubbery cat."-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["That sounds like the worst sort of cat." Said Ezra.-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["Would you prefer a legless rubbery winged cat or a winged snake?" Asked Sarah.-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["… Yeah, okay."-
[00:39] <Minaplo> ["That thing was an Angelspawn?" Asked Eli, still shaking- although at this point it could've been from muscle cramps.-
[00:39] <Minaplo> ["That's what it looks like. No type of Spawn I've ever seen, though." Said Ezra.-
[00:40] <Minaplo> ["It explains a lot." Said Sarah. "A giant snake, 30 metres long, would have to eat a hell of a lot to maintain its size, even with S2 radiation streamlining its biology. Yet only a few livestock have gone missing over the past few weeks."-
[00:40] <Minaplo> ["But… The baby snake needs to eat." Said Eli.-
[00:40] <Minaplo> ["It's probably because its young. Its power organ hasn't fully grown yet." Said Sarah.-
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["But that just raises further questions!" Said Eli, flapping his arms. "That's two types of Angelspawn having babies!"-
[00:43] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, that's a good point." Said Ezra. "What's worse is that if it's an Angelspawn, then we now have Angelspawn fighting Angelspawn…"-
[00:43] <Minaplo> ["But that's a good thing, right?" Said Eli.-
[00:43] <Minaplo> ["I don't know if it is. Angelspawn don't fight in the wild." said Ezra. "It's as unnatural for them as it is for them to reproduce."-
[00:45] <Minaplo> ["The Metatron limiter theory?" Suggested Sarah. "The same thing that stopped them from breeding is the same thing that stopped them from fighting each other?"-
[00:45] <Minaplo> ["Maybe…"-
[00:46] <Minaplo> ["But… Something bothers me a lot." Said Eli. "If that snake was an Angelspawn, then it probably had an AT Field. That meant it could've taken Annihilators on. Yet we didn't so much as see an Annihilator body."-
[00:47] <Minaplo> ["No." Said Sarah, shaking her head. "But the snake wasn't even fully out of its cave. It's possible it died in an ambush."-
[00:48] <Minaplo> [Eli blanched. "I don't even wanna think about Angelspawn using small unit tactics, Ms. Holt."-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["None of us do." Said Ezra.-
[00:49] <Minaplo> [There was a moment of silence.-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["Alright." Said Ezra. "Let's fast-track a little. Sarah, you and I will take Fred back onto the Dove."-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["Okay."-
[00:52] <Minaplo> ["Eli, when you're ready, do you want to lead the snake into the Dove's cargo hold? We'll be relying on you to keep it calm during the flight."-
[00:52] <Minaplo> ["Yes sir." Said Eli grimly.-
[00:53] <Minaplo> ["Once we're done loading Fred and the snake on, I'll take the Dove around the mountaintop and flash-fry it. Then we'll retrieve the lab pod and head for home." Said Ezra.-
[00:53] <Minaplo> ["Sounds good to me." Said Sarah.-
[00:55] <Minaplo> […-
[00:55] <Minaplo> ["Ah, domus dulce domus." Said Fred, falling with a contented sigh back onto his Dove bed. Within a second he had his phone back out.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["You'll be alright here, Fred?" Asked Sarah.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, no drama. Oh, what's the word on spreading the word about Eli petting his gigantic snake?" Asked Fred innocently.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> [Sarah let out a snort.-
[00:57] <Minaplo> ["No telling anyone we have an Angelspawn." Said Ezra. "Not outside the company at least."-
[00:57] <Minaplo> ["But I'm okay otherwise?"-
[00:57] <Minaplo> ["Yes. Use your discretion."-
[00:57] <Minaplo> ["Got it, boss."-
[00:57] <Minaplo> [They left Fred alone, closing the door behind them.-
[00:58] <Minaplo> ["Mmmm." Said Ezra, shaking his head. "Well, that was fun. I guess for you it's like an aperatif of action."-
[00:58] <Minaplo> ["Haha."-
[00:58] <Minaplo> ["Still. Damned snake ruined the mood." Said Ezra. "It's a shame we don't have time to finish what we started."-
[00:59] <Minaplo> ["Are you kidding me? I feel like if I take one wrong step half the muscles in my body will seize up." Said Sarah, laughing. "God, I'm going to have muscle cramps forever."-
[01:00] <Minaplo> ["Pffft. It was only like, half an hour tops." Said Ezra. "Besides, if you join me up in the cockpit I'll make sure to give you a massage once we're done giving mama snake a viking burial."-
[01:00] <Minaplo> ["We don't even have a boat, though."-
[01:00] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, but it'll be on fire… That's like a half point."-
[01:01] <Minaplo> [Ezra watched as Eli, skittish as a mother cat around kittens, began calling the snake over. He kept saying some word that Ezra couldn't quite make out as it went.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> [Within a minute or so the snake was curled up in a corner of the cargo bay, sniffing at Ezra suspiciously.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> ["…" Ezra stared back at it. A bead of sweat travelled down his forehead.-
[01:02] <Minaplo> [But Eli was there to calm it, rubbing its neck and side, until the snake calmed down and settled its arrow-like head on the ground.-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["Hah, you're a natural." Said Ezra.-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["Mmm." Said Eli, smiling nervously.-
[01:05] <Minaplo> ["Azzllll." Purred the snake to itself, its eyes closed.-
[01:05] <Minaplo> ["Hey, Eli. What were you calling to it as you were bringing it over?" Asked Ezra.-
[01:06] <Minaplo> ["Huh? Oh. Um, the sound it makes when it's contented reminded me of a name I gave the first cat I owned. My mother gave it to me." He said gently. "So I just called the snake that."-
[01:06] <Minaplo> ["Oh yeah? What was it?"-
[01:06] <Minaplo> ["Um. 'Asiel'." Said Eli.-
[01:06] <Minaplo> ["Not bad. I like it." Said Ezra, nodding slowly.-
[01:12] <Minaplo> ["Alright! We all ready for liftoff~?" Cried Sarah from the doorway.-
[01:12] <Minaplo> ["Yes, Ms. Holt!" Said Eli, taking his seat next to Asiel the snake.-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["Yes, Ms. Holt." Said Ezra with a smirk. Eli's ears went a little pink.-
[01:23] <Minaplo> ["Okay! See you in the cockpit." Said Sarah before pulling away.-
[01:24] <Minaplo> ["Alright. I'll see you later, Eli. You know what to do if you need anything." Said Ezra, following Sarah out.-
[01:24] <Minaplo> ["Yes, sir."-
[01:24] <Minaplo> [The door shut behind him.-
[01:25] <Minaplo> [A few seconds later Ezra was strapping himself into his seat, Sarah sitting to his left as co-pilot. "Engine status?"-
[01:25] <Minaplo> ["Green." Said Sarah.-
[01:25] <Minaplo> ["Sensor and guidance systems?"-
[01:25] <Minaplo> ["Green."-
[01:25] <Minaplo> ["Weapons systems?" Asked Ezra.-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["Green and locked. Waiting to activate on your order."-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["Excellent." Said Ezra, letting out a long breath.-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["Let's make good work of it."]

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