This Too Shall Pass 3 1 16

[21:26] <Minaplo> [The knock was sharp, its thudding sound heavy and unwelcome.-
[21:31] <Minaplo> [Aksel ignored it.-
[21:31] <Minaplo> [Well, not quite ignore. He rolled over, putting his back to the door. He placed a pillow over his head.-
[21:37] <Minaplo> […-
[21:40] <Minaplo> [Aksel and his squad had all been awake by the time the Phantoms stormed the cells of Asgard, although despite the wording the guards had been torn apart before even seeing their enemies.-
[21:42] <Minaplo> [Quickly freed, Aksel and his squad quickly armed themselves as they went, the Phantoms leading them away from their cells and to a pre-specified rally point. They'd been in good spirits, Aksel Squad; freedom meant a lot when one had been locked up in a small cell for extended periods of time with nothing to do.-
[21:42] <Minaplo> [Even if they were only going to another cell, in reality.-
[21:43] <Minaplo> [Their good spirits evaporated almost instantly.-
[21:44] <Minaplo> [The corridors of Asgard were lined with corpses, many of them Feds, a few of them Phantoms. Phantoms were elegant, graceful creatures and it only made sense that their weapons mimic them in that form.-
[21:44] <Minaplo> [However, just because something was elegant didn't mean it wasn't brutal or murderous. The corridors were drenched red with blood.-
[21:45] <Minaplo> [Shurikens were in reality tiny spinning sharpened crystalline discs that would slice through flesh, bone and metal with ease. In fact, if fired too quickly they'd often overpenetrate.-
[21:46] <Minaplo> [However, the actual material that made shurikens only held its form if supercooled. Shuriken weapons had these cooling systems, slicing little discs off a larger block of the material. In most temperatures the shurikens began to dissolve almost instantly, which is why their range was often rather poor considering their speed.-
[21:47] <Minaplo> [If a shuriken dissolved within a wound, however, the liquid itself was actually an anticoagulant. Even a minor flesh would had the capacity to become lethal over time.-
[21:47] <Minaplo> [And so the bodies bled.-
[21:48] <Minaplo> [The Knights were no strangers to blood, or to combat. But the sight of it in full like this, so clearly one-sided, unnerved them.-
[21:49] <Minaplo> [The Phantoms did not pause to take in their surroundings. Most of the time they were invisible.-
[21:50] <Minaplo> [Even when they were visible, they moved with a deliberate grace that clearly had no time to stop and muse maudlin over corpses.-
[21:50] <Minaplo> [There was death to be done.-
[21:50] <Minaplo> [They'd halfway been to their destination when the Adept leading the troupe paused.-
[21:51] <Minaplo> [The Adept turned towards a nearby alcove, almost perfectly hidden behind a fake wall- in fact a panic door.-
[21:51] <Minaplo> [The group had gone silent.-
[21:51] <Minaplo> [Then Aksel heard it too. A muffled sniffle.-
[21:52] <Minaplo> [The Adept didn't need to bark instructions. One of the Phantoms leapt over to the door, searching for and finding the controls. Two others covered the door, shuriken rifles primed.-
[21:52] <Minaplo> [Behind Aksel, Aina let out a low dread moan.-
[21:53] <Minaplo> [The door opened. There were children. Aksel didn't know how many. He didn't have time to count.-
[21:54] <Minaplo> [The shuriken rifles fired for one and a half seconds. Then the Phantoms turned and walked away.-
[21:54] <Minaplo> [Aina burst into tears, a choking cry of utter horror in her throat.-
[21:54] <Minaplo> [Aksel had simply stared in shock, his eyes popping, unable to feel his hands or his legs.-
[21:56] <Minaplo> [Valencia had been the only one to really react actively. She'd gone berserk, leapt across the distance, grabbed one of the Phantoms around the neck and dashed her head against the wall, over and over until the Phantom's helmet cracked and her skull shattered.-
[21:56] <Minaplo> [The rest of their transit had been a blur. There'd been fighting. They'd had to restrain Valencia, cripple her a little in the meantime.-
[21:56] <Minaplo> [Aksel hadn't the energy or focus to really pay attention.-
[21:58] <Minaplo> [When he arrived back at the Synfront, he'd walked- floated, really- through its corridors, so dazed and mute that it seemed like his body was moving without him.-
[21:58] <Minaplo> [But it was moving. And it had a destination in mind.-
[21:59] <Minaplo> [He'd pressed the buzzer to Roku's suite.-
[21:59] <Minaplo> [There was no response, and there never would be.-
[22:00] <Minaplo> [Captain Beatrix sought Aksel out, and found him there, slumped against the door, dumbly thumping a hand against the buzzer. He was like a helpless cat just trying to get home, she'd say later, without a trace of humour.-
[22:01] <Minaplo> [Beatrix took Aksel aside, explained to him what had happened, that Roku had been arrested as a spy and had been tortured, beaten and abused, only to escape back to Asgard…-
[22:01] <Minaplo> [Where he'd been rescued from a scant hour later.-
[22:01] <Minaplo> [For a whole hour, Aksel had been there, within a proverbial arms reach.-
[22:01] <Minaplo> [But he should've been here, he said. He should've been here, protecting her.-
[22:01] <Minaplo> [Even though there was nothing he could've done.-
[22:02] <Minaplo> [He had sobbed. He had lashed out, striking the wall until his hands and feet bled.-
[22:02] <Minaplo> [He had then stayed in his room for several days, by himself, alone.-
[22:03] <Minaplo> [Five days after his rescue, Aksel emerged. He prepared an impromptu flight test.-
[22:04] <Minaplo> [During the prep for the flight test, he knocked out a technician, took his fusion cutter, aimed it at his own chest and destroyed his own core.-
[22:04] <Minaplo> [… And he had woken up in his room, two weeks later, staring at the roof.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [He couldn't even kill himself. There wasn't any escape from this hell.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [The only laughter he'd had since was when he looked at his personal record.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [Disciplinary action, it read. Ten weeks, trading and privilege ban.-
[22:05] <Minaplo> [Reason: Suicide.-
[22:06] <Minaplo> […-
[22:06] <Minaplo> [The knocking continued.-
[22:06] <Minaplo> [Aksel had ignored it, like he had for the last three weeks.-
[22:07] <Minaplo> [Apparently two and a half weeks had been how long it had taken for his superior to tell Mary Caine about his stunt.-
[22:07] <Minaplo> [Because he hadn't eaten, not since being rebodied. And his core couldn't handle that after two weeks.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> [But after that, he'd started to eat.-
[22:08] <Minaplo> [Not of his own volition. But because to not eat would be another form of suicide. And Mary had long since sealed that action for him.-
[22:12] <Minaplo> [The knocking continued.-
[22:12] <Minaplo> [Aksel knew that it'd go away eventually.-
[22:13] <Minaplo> [And it did.-
[22:14] <Minaplo> [But it was replaced with a different sound. That of his door opening.-
[22:14] <Minaplo> ["Aksel." Said Philippe.-
[22:14] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[22:15] <Minaplo> ["Aksel, get up." Hissed Philippe. "The new Supreme Commander of the UN military wants to see you."-
[22:15] <Minaplo> ["I'll meet him later."-
[22:15] <Minaplo> ["Uh, he's here. Right here. He wants to meet now." Said Philippe.-
[22:16] <Minaplo> ["Too bad."-
[22:16] <Minaplo> [There was the sound of footsteps.-
[22:16] <Minaplo> [Someone sat down on Aksel's bed.-
[22:16] <Minaplo> [Aksel rolled over resentfully, sitting up. "Who the fuck're you?"-
[22:17] <Minaplo> [The man sitting at the foot of Aksel's bed was a tall man, handsome, his form toned, agile yet strong. He had blonde hair with a slight curl and bright blue eyes.-
[22:17] <Minaplo> ["Ezra Caine, UN Supreme Commander, Co-executive of Promised Land." Said Ezra. He held out a hand for Aksel to shake. "Pleased to meet you."-
[22:18] <Minaplo> ["Piss off."-
[22:18] <Minaplo> ["Have you heard of Promised Land?" Said Ezra gently. "It's a sort of company- run for people whose lives were bred for war and now they've nowhere else to go."-
[22:19] <Minaplo> ["Don't care."-
[22:19] <Minaplo> ["Aksel, I'd like you to spar with me." Said Ezra. "Maybe we could talk some things over."-
[22:19] <Minaplo> ["Not interested."-
[22:19] <Minaplo> ["I see." Said Ezra. "Well, then. I'll be going."-
[22:20] <Minaplo> [Ezra stood and headed for the door.-
[22:21] <Minaplo> [He paused, just for a few seconds, to say one last thing. "I had high hopes for you, Aksel. I'd hoped we could work together."-
[22:21] <Minaplo> ["What for?"-
[22:21] <Minaplo> ["It doesn't matter." Said Ezra. "I'd thought you'd be ready to do anything if it meant being reunited with Roku, but it seems I was mistaken. Goodbye, Mr. Heiden."-
[22:22] <Minaplo> [Aksel nearly lept to his feet. "Roku?! Wait-"-
[22:22] <Minaplo> [But Ezra was already gone, the door sliding shut.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> […-
[22:23] <Minaplo> [When the knocking started the next day, Aksel didn't wait.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> ["Enter."-
[22:23] <Minaplo> [The door opened. Ezra Caine stood in the doorway.-
[22:24] <Minaplo> ["Are you ready to spar yet, Mr. Heiden?" Asked Ezra.-
[22:24] <Minaplo> ["It was a dirty trick you pulled yesterday." Said Aksel. "You didn't even tell me this was about Roku until you'd already gone."-
[22:26] <Minaplo> ["Dirty? Tough." Said Ezra. "And that's because it's not about Roku, it's about you."-
[22:26] <Minaplo> ["About me, but you said-"-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["I said I thought you'd do anything if it meant being reunited with Roku." Said Ezra. "But right now it seems like the only thing you're willing to do is nothing."-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["But what the fuck am I supposed-"-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["Follow me and find out." Said Ezra calmly.-
[22:27] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[22:28] <Minaplo> [Aksel followed Ezra.-
[22:28] <Minaplo> [Eyes followed them as they went. Mostly focused on Aksel.-
[22:29] <Minaplo> […-
[22:29] <Minaplo> [The sparring room was nearly empty except for Aksel, Ezra and a third guest- Eve von Hamburg.-
[22:29] <Minaplo> ["What's she here for?" Muttered Aksel.-
[22:30] <Minaplo> ["At my invitation." Said Ezra with a smile. "Take a sword from over there, I'll be with you in a minute."-
[22:30] <Minaplo> [Whilst Aksel went off to arm himself, Ezra walked over to Eve. "Glad you could make it."-
[22:30] <Minaplo> ["Your invitation was intriguing." Said Eve. "Inviting me to watch you and a broken-hearted Knight spar? It was so asinine, so pointedly valueless to me that I had to know what you meant by it."-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["Oh, it's for a good cause. Science." Said Ezra with a glint in his eye.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["Really."-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["You know, you say you're Jeremiah Caine. I'm going to try and prove that." Said Ezra.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> ["How?"-
[22:32] <Minaplo> ["Easy. My father always told me that Jeremiah Caine hated violence. Couldn't stand it." Said Ezra. "I think the hypothesis practically writes itself."-
[22:32] <Minaplo> ["Hah. Arrogant boy. If you think anything you do in this room can make me nauseous, you've got a lot to learn." Said Eve.-
[22:33] <Minaplo> ["We'll see." Said Ezra.-
[22:34] <Minaplo> [Ezra walked over to the weapon racks, grabbing himself a wooden sword. He then stepped onto the mat, where Aksel was already standing.-
[22:34] <Minaplo> ["So what do we fight to?" Asked Aksel.-
[22:34] <Minaplo> ["Until one of us concedes." Said Ezra. "Deal?"-
[22:35] <Minaplo> ["Fine." Aksel raised his sword. "You're pretty brave, you know. It's the rare sort of normal human who can handle crossing swords with a Solomon Knight."-
[22:35] <Minaplo> ["I think I'll manage alright." Said Ezra. He raised his sword as well, holding it out two-handed in front of him.-
[22:38] <Minaplo> [Neither of them moved.-
[22:38] <Minaplo> [Then-
[22:39] <Minaplo> [Ezra stepped forward with his right leg, a long strong stride, using it as a pivot for a heavy lunge forward.-
[22:40] <Minaplo> [Aksel leapt aside, swinging his blade sideways down against Ezra's head, but Ezra was already gone, using his momentum to 'fall' past the blow.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> [Ezra stopped his fall with his left hand, turning it into a roll before springing to his feet. The instant he was up, Ezra was swinging his sword one-handed towards Aksel's side.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> [Aksel turned on his heel, bringing his own sword up to swat Ezra's away- Aksel was bringing twice as much force, and Ezra nearly lost his grip.-
[22:43] <Minaplo> [Aksel then swung out, his tip only narrowly missing scraping Ezra's brow as Ezra leapt back.-
[22:43] <Minaplo> [There was a short pause.-
[22:43] <Minaplo> ["So you can fight." Said Ezra.-
[22:44] <Minaplo> ["You didn't think I could?" Sneered Aksel.-
[22:44] <Minaplo> ["Not much use if you choose not to, is it?" Said Ezra calmly.-
[22:45] <Minaplo> [Aksel lunged, launching off the balls of his feet into a furious, no-holds-barred attack, swinging his sword recklessly at Ezra's head.-
[22:48] <Minaplo> [Ezra tried to parry, and he missed- or so it seemed. He caught the tip of his sword behind Aksel's blade, adding more force and redirecting the flow of the strike.-
[22:49] <Minaplo> [It was more force than Aksel had anticipated, and he stumbled, one leg overextended, the other starting to give way.-
[22:49] <Minaplo> [Ezra didn't stumble. But then again, he'd let go of his sword.-
[22:50] <Minaplo> [as Aksel stumbled, Ezra struck out with his hands, catching Aksel in the eyes.-
[22:50] <Minaplo> [Aksel cried out, a mix of painful gasps and forceful curses.-
[22:50] <Minaplo> [Ezra delivered a powerful edge-chop to Aksel's windpipe, stunning him. Aksel coughed, nearly losing grip on his sword.-
[22:51] <Minaplo> [Aksel, now choking, half-blinded and his legs spread, was an easy target.-
[22:51] <Minaplo> [Ezra finished it. A firm kick between Aksel's legs, before grabbing Aksel around the throat and slamming him onto the ground.-
[22:51] <Minaplo> [Aksel's sword clattered away.-
[22:52] <Minaplo> [Ezra lifted his leg and brought his foot firmly down on Aksel's throat.-
[22:52] <Minaplo> ["Hrrk!"-
[22:52] <Minaplo> ["… Hm." Said Ezra, his face a mask of calm.-
[22:53] <Minaplo> [Ezra twisted his foot around slightly. "You're fast, and you have plenty of strength, but you're far too easily blindsided."-
[22:54] <Minaplo> ["Hrrrrrk." Aksel began clasping at Ezra's leg, but it held fast.-
[22:54] <Minaplo> ["You can escape this." Said Ezra. "You know you can, I know you can. So why aren't you?"-
[22:55] <Minaplo> [Aksel continued to struggle uselessly.-
[22:56] <Minaplo> ["I know what you want." Said Ezra calmly. "More than anything you want to hold Roku in your arms, to see her again. To feel her body against yours and to forget about anything but her for awhile."-
[22:56] <Minaplo> ["Breaking this lock is the only way you'll ever get to do that, I assure you, Aksel." Said Ezra.-
[22:58] <Minaplo> [Ezra dug his foot in a little deeper. "Heaven above, stop holding back, stop lying down and taking what I'm giving you!"-
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["Stop!"-
[22:58] <Minaplo> [It hadn't been Aksel who'd spoken. It had been Eve. She'd shot out of her seat, her face deathly pale, her eyes wide. Even as she spoke she clasped her hands over her mouth.-
[22:59] <Minaplo> [In the second it took for Ezra to look over, Aksel struck, wrapping his arms tightly around Ezra's leg, lifting it for a fraction of a second long enough for him to pull his throat out.-
[22:59] <Minaplo> [Ezra turned- slightly unbalanced-
[23:00] <Minaplo> [Aksel through the full force of his body along with his lower centre of gravity into a heavy shoulder shove, essentially tackling Ezra's legs out from under him.-
[23:00] <Minaplo> [He toppled.-
[23:02] <Minaplo> [They sprawled, a messy collection of legs and fists, struggling for a few seconds- but Aksel, beaten and out of breath, didn't have the heart. He pulled away, shaking his sweaty head. "Fuck it."-
[23:02] <Minaplo> [Ezra ran a hand through his, testing the joints of his legs just to be safe.-
[23:03] <Minaplo> ["Good job." He said simply, getting to his feet.-
[23:05] <Minaplo> [Eve was staring at him with a look of utmost loathing.-
[23:06] <Minaplo> [Ezra ignored her, walking over to her side of the sparring room, sitting down on a bench and grabbing a plastic cup of water from a cooler.-
[23:06] <Minaplo> [He drank it in one go.-
[23:10] <Minaplo> ["Isn't that interesting?" Said Ezra, staring down at his cup.-
[23:10] <Minaplo> [Eve rotated slowly to glare at him.-
[23:11] <Minaplo> ["My dad was half-right. You do respond badly to violence. To a specific kind of violence." Said Ezra.-
[23:12] <Minaplo> ["Shut up."-
[23:13] <Minaplo> ["The thing that gets me is that it clearly hasn't stopped you from killing whoever you wanted." Continued Ezra. "It's a really sad reflection on you that the only time you're caring of other people's pain is when you see it through your past eyes, you know…?"-
[23:15] <Minaplo> ["Is that all you wanted?" Asked Eve querulously, staring at him.-
[23:16] <Minaplo> ["Honestly, I was hoping to get at least a little sadistic pleasure out of watching your discomfort, but it actually feels pretty horrible, manipulating people's past traumas. How about that?"-
[23:16] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:16] <Minaplo> [Eve stalked away, leaving Ezra sitting on the bench and Aksel sprawled on the ground.-
[23:17] <Minaplo> [After a few minutes, Aksel got to his feet, sitting down next to Ezra.-
[23:17] <Minaplo> ["You." Said Aksel, rubbing his throat. "You fight like a real motherfucker."-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["I do. I'm sorry." Said Ezra. "I fight like a motherfucker because I was trained by motherfuckers, to put it succinctly."-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["Huh."-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["So what was that all about?" Asked Aksel.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["That was me stooping to their level, indulging in a bit of payback, and ensuring something goes real bad for me in the future, all in one go." Said Ezra.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["Sounds like a bad idea." Said Aksel.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["Absolutely."-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["So why'd you do it?" Asked Aksel.-
[23:26] <Minaplo> ["There're some things you hear about that you have to see, make happen yourself, to really get the full picture." Said Ezra. "Why don't I tell you a story?"-
[23:26] <Minaplo> ["Go ahead."-
[23:30] <Minaplo> ["Imagine a city. In this city, everyone is divided into two work shifts. The first works during the first 12 hours, then sleeps for the rest. The second works during the second 12 hours, then sleeps for the first 12. They all sleep in pods, all next to each other, so they see the other half sleeping." Said Ezra.-
[23:30] <Minaplo> ["Alright."-
[23:31] <Minaplo> ["One day, a man in Shift A sees that in the next pod over is sleeping a woman from Shift B, and leaves her a note for when she wakes up. She wakes up, reads it and writes him a note back. They both fall in love."-
[23:31] <Minaplo> ["Okay…" Said Aksel suspiciously.-
[23:33] <Minaplo> ["Now in this society, everyone is permitted, once in their lives, a chance to swap to the other shift." Said Ezra. "So the man from Shift A decides to surprise his lover by requesting to be swapped to Shift B. Only, the next day he realises that his lover had the same idea, and she swapped to Shift A."-
[23:33] <Minaplo> ["What a shitty story." Said Aksel. "You must be fun at parties."-
[23:33] <Minaplo> ["Shitty story? What makes you say that?"-
[23:35] <Minaplo> ["Well I mean, what're the chances of them having the exact same idea at the exact same time?" Said Aksel. "That's fucking unlikely. Furthermore, this is such a big life choice that they can only make it once, then why on Earth haven't they discussed this? Made plans? I mean, I'm young by your standards, I know, but even I know better than that."-
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["Absolutely right." Said Ezra.-
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["So what's the point?"-
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["Of the story?"-
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["Mmm."-
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["Well here's the thing. You're looking at these two lovestruck idiots from a neutral perspective, and of course you can see what they're doing wrong and judge them on that. Idiots, idiots, idiots."-
[23:38] <Minaplo> [Ezra poured himself another cup of water and drained it.-
[23:38] <Minaplo> ["Both of us can do that." He said, looking down into the bottom of his cup.-
[23:39] <Minaplo> ["Analysing them objectively is easy. But can you tell me how that man would've felt in his heart?"-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["I…" Aksel paused. He faltered.-
[00:07] <Minaplo> [Aksel bowed his head, buried his face in his hands and started to sob.-
[00:11] <Minaplo> [Ezra put an arm around Aksel's shoulders supportively. He didn't say anything, but his expression was gentle, warm.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["Ah, fuck." Muttered Aksel after a few minutes, wiping the tears away from his red, puffy eyes. "Fuck fuck fuck."-
[00:23] <Minaplo> [Ezra remained silent.-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["W-Why?" Mumbled Aksel. "What's your deal?"-
[00:26] <Minaplo> ["My deal is this, Aksel." Said Ezra. "You're the guy in the pod, and you want to be with your girl. You don't know how to do that, and you don't know if you're making a mistake."-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["Well I'm the guy watching the story shouting 'Fucked up narrative! Poorly structured! Maudlin!' at you from the sidelines. I'm the guy who makes sure you don't swap shifts and get your happy ending. Ok?"-
[00:28] <Minaplo> [Aksel stared up at him. Something seemed to be dawning on his face.-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["But… Why?"-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["Two reasons." Said Ezra. "The first is that I need your help, and you're useless to me if you're dwelling over what you saw and who you're missing. I need you sharp, I need you hot, I need you ready to go."-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["Okay." Said Aksel, rubbing the mangled matted beard he'd grown in the past few weeks. "And the other?"-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["The other is because I personally want you to be happy." Said Ezra.-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["I don't get it." Said Aksel.-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["I want you to be happy, Aksel. It's not a difficult thing to explain."-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["But why would you want that?" Asked Aksel.-
[00:30] <Minaplo> [Ezra shook his head, and got to his feet. "Aksel, that's how I know you've been in this hellhole too long. The question isn't why I'd want you to be happy."-
[00:31] <Minaplo> ["The question is why I'd not." Said Ezra.-
[00:31] <Minaplo> ["… You're a weird sort of Caine." Said Aksel.-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["So I've been told." Said Ezra with a wry smile. "I expect you to and your squad to be at formation by 7 AM tomorrow."-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["Uh, yes sir." Said Aksel awkwardly.-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["Good. Oh, and Aksel?"-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["Mmm?"-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["Shave your fucking beard."-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["Yes sir…"-
[00:35] <Minaplo> […-
[00:37] <Minaplo> [Aksel and his Squad stook at attention, alone, in the Solomon Auditorium.-
[00:37] <Minaplo> [They wore their inspection uniforms, standing abreast except for Aksel, who stood one metre in front.-
[00:40] <Minaplo> [They were also the only squad at inspection. Considering this area was usually home to loitering Solomons, this drew a lot of attention.-
[00:42] <Minaplo> [Aksel had shaved, stealing one of Philippe's razors to do so. He'd washed his hair. He'd eaten. His uniform was clean and smart, and buttoned up properly.-
[00:42] <Minaplo> [The rest of his squad hadn't argued. They'd just been happy to have Aksel bac.-
[00:42] <Minaplo> [They stood at attention for 25 minutes before Ezra showed up.-
[00:55] <Minaplo> [He wasn't alone. Next to him was a tall, bald, young Japanese man, wearing a Promised Land military uniform and the distinctive cobra-like hood of a Mark One Iron Apostle.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> [Aksel Squad didn't shift anything but their gaze as he entered.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> [Ezra stared at the lot of them, his expression impassive.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["Hm."-
[00:57] <Minaplo> [Ezra walked over to Valencia. He stared at her- she was nearly as tall as he was- then looked her up and down. Finding no faults, he continued with Lysander.-
[00:57] <Minaplo> ["Tsk."-
[00:57] <Minaplo> [Ezra reached up to straighten Lysander's tie.-
[00:57] <Minaplo> [Lysander blushed sheepishly.-
[00:57] <Minaplo> [Onward to Philippe, who passed inspection perfectly.-
[00:58] <Minaplo> [Then Aina.-
[00:59] <Minaplo> [She dared to look up at him, meeting his gaze.-
[00:59] <Minaplo> [They stared at each other for a minute, a deep red starting to flush Aina's cheeks. The corners of her mouth twitched.-
[01:00] <Minaplo> [Ezra turned away, Aina desperately fighting a fit of the giggles.-
[01:00] <Minaplo> ["Looks like your squad's in order, Heiden." Said Ezra. "Does it have a name?"-
[01:01] <Minaplo> ["Uh… Can't say, sir. We've always just called it Aksel Squad." Said Aksel.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> ["I see." Said Ezra. "Members of the squad lead by Aksel Heiden! Once you are dismissed, you will gather all of your belongings and proceed to Departure Gate Six-B in Hangar 4."-
[01:01] <Minaplo> ["Dismissed."-
[01:02] <Minaplo> [The squad instantly relaxed.-
[01:02] <Minaplo> [Ezra headed for the door quickly, followed by his cobra-headed aide. Aksel could barely overhear them talking.-
[01:03] <Minaplo> ["What do you think, Tokuro?" Asked Ezra… That was all Aksel caught.-
[01:06] <Minaplo> [The instant they were out the door, Aina broke down into giggles.-
[01:07] <Minaplo> ["Great. Just great." Said Aksel, turning around. "You couldn't hold it in for one goddamned minute?"-
[01:08] <Minaplo> ["I-I couldn't help it!" Said Aina, covering her mouth. "Dude is hooooooooooooot, yeow!"-
[01:08] <Minaplo> ["Oh God." Muttered Philippe.-
[01:10] <Minaplo> ["You don't reckon he's married?" Said Aina.-
[01:11] <Minaplo> ["He is. To Sarah-Holt Caine, co-executive of Promised Land." Said Lysander. "Graduated from Goethe University in-"-
[01:12] <Minaplo> ["You don't reckon he needs a mistress, then?"-
[01:12] <Minaplo> ["Jesus Christ, Aina." Said Aksel. "Who taught you that word? Was it Philippe?"-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["Hey, what the fuck?"-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["I'm just saying!" Said Aina, her face still red. She giggled. "Didn't you watch him walk away? Look at that tush-"-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["I regret every second of my life with you idiots." Said Valencia, clapping a hand over her face. "I'm going to go pack and also drown myself."-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["Careful, that sort of shit gets put on your permanent record." Said Aksel.-
[01:15] <Minaplo> [Valencia snorted. "Whatever. See you morons later."-
[01:15] <Minaplo> ["She loves us." Said Lysander.-
[01:17] <Minaplo> [Aksel started to laugh.-
[01:18] <Minaplo> [Aina was still gushing, Philippe was still looking like a horrified parent being informed of his child's outrageous sex acts, and Lysandr was smiling dreamily at them all.-
[01:18] <Minaplo> [Just a few days ago, Aksel had felt crushed beneath the wait of what he'd seen, what he'd missed…-
[01:19] <Minaplo> [… But now, for the first time in what seemed like forever, everything was starting to go back to normal. Things were looking up.-
[01:19] <Minaplo> […-
[01:19] <Minaplo> ["And then they all died on the shuttle." Said Lysander.-
[01:19] <Minaplo> ["What? That's a terrible ending!" Said Aina.-
[01:21] <Minaplo> ["Hey, I didn't write it." Said Lysander. "Besides, in these sorts of stories, you need to maintain tone by ensuring that periods of hope and happiness are only like little lights between huge waves of darkness, easily snuffed out-"-
[01:22] <Minaplo> [Aksel wasn't listening.-
[01:23] <Minaplo> [They'd showed up at the hangar, all of their goods together. Aina had a single bag's worth of goods, whilst Philippe had shown up with…-
[01:24] <Minaplo> [There were stories where a group of people go to a restaurant and start ordering food. The waiter asks the first person what they'll have, and he lists this massive meal that can very obviously be divided amongst the group. Once he's finished, he points to the next person and says "And he'll have…"-
[01:24] <Minaplo> [It was like that, only it was luggage.-
[01:25] <Minaplo> [They'd boarded a VTOL, which had swiftly taken them up and away from the hangar.-
[01:25] <Minaplo> [Whilst the rest of the team were chatting away, Aksel had watched out the window as they'd been loaded up into the cargo elevator, then up to the surface of Nairobi-2.-
[01:27] <Minaplo> [The city was a scene of utter devastation. Buildings had been smashed apart, others half-melted. The streets were choked with rubble- brick, concrete, the huge scrapped, twisted metal monstrosities that remained of several E-Destroyers.-
[01:27] <Minaplo> [The team fell silent and stared at the window.-
[01:28] <Minaplo> [But they weren't looking at the rubble.-
[01:28] <Minaplo> ["Hey, sunlight." Said Philippe.-
[01:28] <Minaplo> [They basked in it for a few short minutes as the VTOL took to the sky.-
[01:29] <Minaplo> [Their destination, however, soon became apparent: the Sword of Damocles.-
[01:29] <Minaplo> [The battleship loomed in the sky above them, keeping an endless vigil over the Synfront, warding away the rogue Angel known only as Nel.-
[01:30] <Minaplo> ["Strange." Said Philippe.-
[01:30] <Minaplo> ["Mmm?" Said Aksel.-
[01:33] <Minaplo> ["We must be being relocated to the Damocles." Said Philippe. "But why? The Damocles is probably stuck here dealing with Nel, so why bother moving us at all?"-
[01:33] <Minaplo> [The answer came soon enough.-
[01:33] <Minaplo> […-
[01:34] <Minaplo> [On arrival, they were greeted at the hangar not by Ezra, but by an old man who looked to be in his sixties or seventies, slightly stooped, with a shock of white messy hair and a small beard.-
[01:39] <Minaplo> ["Welcome aboard the Sword of Damocles. I am Bradley MacDonald, a member of Promised Land. Please follow me…"-
[01:40] <Minaplo> [Bradley led the squad through the long corridors of the Damocles, all the while holding forth on a great number of topics.-
[01:42] <Minaplo> ["… And in that sense, one must admit that, apart from being greatly unjust, the result of Dred Scott v. Sandford helped accelerate the United States' path to civil war. The abolitionist movement in the north objected to it ferociously… Ah, here we are, my friends."-
[01:43] <Minaplo> [They stood outside an unmarked door.-
[01:43] <Minaplo> ["Do we just go in?" Asked Aksel.-
[01:43] <Minaplo> ["Yes, yes." Said Bradley.-
[01:43] <Minaplo> ["Alright, then…"-
[01:43] <Minaplo> [Aksel stepped inside.-
[01:45] <Minaplo> [Within was a room, about ten by ten square metres, featuring a large round wooden table, eight cushioned chairs, and four corner sofas, placed fittingly in the corners. A very large flatscreen television sat mounted about ten feet up on the starboard wall. The floor was pleasant yellow carpet.-
[01:45] <Minaplo> [Along the unoccupied walls of the room were doors, seven in total.-
[01:45] <Minaplo> [The door shut behind them.-
[01:46] <Minaplo> ["Wow. What an interesting old guy." Said Lysander dreamily.-
[01:46] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, interesting." Said Valencia. "Just think, Lys, there's hope for you yet. If you survive the war, you too can aspire to be a weird old man rambling off unfocused reams of info at passersby…"-
[01:47] <Minaplo> [Aina and Philippe, meanwhile, began to explore, heading for the nearest door to their left.-
[01:47] <Minaplo> ["Wow!" Said Aina. "Aksel, look!"-
[01:47] <Minaplo> ["Eh?"-
[01:48] <Minaplo> [Aksel walked over. Within was a bedroom, with a lovely double sized bed with blue bedspread, a personal desk, wooden polished wardrobe, and a computer.-
[01:48] <Minaplo> [There was also a hamper tied with a bow sitting on the bed.-
[01:48] <Minaplo> ["Holy crap." Said Aksel. "Are we living here?"-
[01:48] <Minaplo> ["Hey, you're not supposed to go in there yet."-
[01:49] <Minaplo> [Aksel whirled around. Standing in one of the other doorways, holding an apple- a big conspicuous bite taken out of it- was Ezra.-
[01:49] <Minaplo> [Aina flushed with pleasure, instantly putting on her biggest smiles.-
[01:49] <Minaplo> ["So we are living here, then?" Asked Aksel.-
[01:49] <Minaplo> ["That's right." Said Ezra.-
[01:50] <Minaplo> ["Might I ask why, Marshal?" Said Philippe, closing the bedroom door.-
[01:50] <Minaplo> ["Why you're living here, or why I moved you here?"-
[01:50] <Minaplo> ["The latter, if you please." Said Philippe.-
[01:50] <Minaplo> ["Didn't Bradley tell you?" Said Ezra, frowning.-
[01:51] <Minaplo> ["Nope." Said Lys. "Mind, he told us a bunch about aerodynamics and the production of warplanes and how it became part of the military industrial complex which arose because of the emergence of industry, and how the Union won the Civil War because it had factories and the Confederacy didn't, and-"-
[01:52] <Minaplo> ["Right." Said Ezra. "I won't hold you in suspense."-
[01:53] <Minaplo> [He placed his apple on the table and, reaching down under it, grabbed a metal footlocker. He pulled it around to Aksel's side, before sitting down on the table and retrieving his apple.-
[01:53] <Minaplo> [Aksel and his squad stared at it.-
[01:54] <Minaplo> ["Well, open it up." Said Ezra, taking a bite from his apple.-
[01:56] <Minaplo> [They all looked at each other a little apprehensively.-
[01:56] <Minaplo> [Finally, Aksel stepped forward, kneeling down next to the box.-
[01:56] <Minaplo> ["Uhm…"-
[01:56] <Minaplo> [He grabbed the latched and pushed the lid back.-
[01:56] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:57] <Minaplo> [The others started peering over his shoulder.-
[01:57] <Minaplo> [Philippe gasped.-
[01:57] <Minaplo> [Finally, Aksel stood up.-
[01:57] <Minaplo> [He was holding a uniform in his hands. It was tan, and built for his measurements.-
[01:58] <Minaplo> ["This uniform looks an awful lot like yours." Said Aksel.-
[01:59] <Minaplo> ["That's because it is." Said Ezra. "Congratulations. Your names have been stricken from the Role of Knights. From this day on, you're all now full employees of Promised Land. You'll live here, and you'll receive full wages and free access to items that you might have, before today, considered luxuries."-
[01:59] <Minaplo> ["You can do that?" Said Valencia.-
[01:59] <Minaplo> ["I can." Said Ezra.-
[02:00] <Minaplo> ["Can we have hairclips?" Asked Aina, her eyes wide.-
[02:00] <Minaplo> ["Sure."-
[02:00] <Minaplo> ["What about bodywash?!"-
[02:00] <Minaplo> ["I don't think that'd be a problem…"-
[02:01] <Minaplo> ["Eeee!" Leaping over the footlocker, Aina leapt onto Ezra, hugging onto his arm. "Thank you, Mr. Ezra! Thank you so so much! You're just the best ever…"-
[02:01] <Minaplo> ["Don't thank me yet." Said Ezra, smiling. "This isn't a holiday. You're employees, and I expect you to do your jobs."-
[02:01] <Minaplo> ["That shouldn't be a problem." Said Philippe.-
[02:02] <Minaplo> ["Mm…" Aksel was staring at the uniform, frowning a little.-
[02:02] <Minaplo> ["In any case, I should be going." Said Ezra, gently but firmly removing Aina from his arm. "Aksel! When you're all settled in, meet me in the Tactical Sphere."-
[02:03] <Minaplo> ["Got it."-
[02:04] <Minaplo> [Ezra walked past, smiling a little to himself. Before long he was out the door.-
[02:04] <Minaplo> [Aksel tracked him the entire way. He wasn't smiling.-
[02:04] <Minaplo> […-
[02:05] <Minaplo> [As it turned out, their 'dorm' had bedrooms for each of them, an excellently stocked bathroom and an equally well stocked kitchen.-
[02:05] <Minaplo> [On each bed was a hamper bearing a few gifts, specialised to each member.-
[02:06] <Minaplo> [Philippe had unwrapped his hamper and taken the goods out one by one.-
[02:07] <Minaplo> [Aksel had, meanwhile, grabbed the hamper, torn the clear-wrap off and tipped it upside down.-
[02:07] <Minaplo> [A bunch of stuff rolled chaotically over his bedspread.-
[02:08] <Minaplo> [Several movies. A 'Homely Homemade Cookbook'. A bottle of lavender bodywash.-
[02:10] <Minaplo> [And, in a silver picture frame, a photo of Roku, wearing a pink sundress, sitting on a balcony chair overlooking the sea. She was beaming at the camera.-
[02:10] <Minaplo> [At him.-
[02:10] <Minaplo> [She looked so happy…-
[02:10] <Minaplo> [Aksel's one and only photo of Roku had burned with the wreck of his E-Destroyer.-
[02:11] <Minaplo> [For a few minutes, Aksel let his eyes fill with tears, felt them course down his face. He gently stroked Roku's face with his pointer finger.-
[02:11] <Minaplo> ["I won't let them take you away from me again." Murmured Aksel. "Not again."-
[02:11] <Minaplo> […-
[02:16] <Minaplo> [It took Aksel nearly an hour to find the damned 'Tactical Sphere'. He spent 50 of those minutes wandering aimlessly before he ran into Bradley, who kindly guided him to the right place.-
[02:17] <Minaplo> [The Tactical Sphere was a large semispherical room, about three decks high, although there was only one standing deck here. The top two-thirds of the room was nothing but holoprojectors, designed to project huge amounts of easily sorted information to be used by the people below.-
[02:17] <Minaplo> [Ezra was in here, in the middle, sorting through a whole lot of info that Aksel mostly ignored.-
[02:18] <Minaplo> ["You know, you're a real piece of work." Said Aksel.-
[02:18] <Minaplo> ["Do you mean that in the 'you impress me' sort of way, or the 'you son of a bitch' sort of way?" Asked Ezra without missing a beat.-
[02:18] <Minaplo> ["Can we go with both?"-
[02:18] <Minaplo> ["Wouldn't be the first time." Said Ezra, turning around to face Aksel. "What's wrong?"-
[02:20] <Minaplo> ["This whole thing, the new rooms, the gifts, so on, it's sweet and all, but it's calculated as fuck." Said Aksel coolly.-
[02:20] <Minaplo> ["Go on."-
[02:20] <Minaplo> ["First you start with Aina. You spent more time inspecting her than you did anyone else, knowing she wouldn't be able to resist inspecting you right back." Said Aksel. "Now we can't even mention your name without her going moist."-
[02:21] <Minaplo> ["Not sure I needed to know that, but go on."-
[02:21] <Minaplo> ["Then you have your weird old man show up." Said Aksel. "Spewing a whole bunch of random crap, knowing full well that Lys does the same goddamned thing all the goddamned time."-
[02:23] <Minaplo> ["I see…"-
[02:24] <Minaplo> ["Then you have the cushy dorm, filled with stuff that may as well be gold to us." Said Aksel. "You pressed Philippe's buttons right away because he thrives on that sort of thing, and he also loves seeing Aina and Lys happy."-
[02:24] <Minaplo> ["And then there's Valencia, who's happy so long as we're treated right."-
[02:25] <Minaplo> ["And then." Said Aksel, his voice taking on an angry tone to it, "You give everyone personalised gifts, as if to say 'I know all about you and can make you all love me in an afternoon by taking all your problems away'."-
[02:27] <Minaplo> ["So yeah. Real smooth player, you. I don't even know how you got a photo of Roku, but good going. Do you want an award for wrapping a bunch of battered Solomons around your finger, smooth guy?"-
[02:27] <Minaplo> [Ezra listened to this, remaining silent until Aksel was finished.-
[02:28] <Minaplo> ["Well." Said Ezra. "You're honest, at least. And if I were in your position I'd be just as suspicious as you're being right now."-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["But you're only partly right."-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["Partly right?" Asked Aksel.-
[02:29] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. The rooms are standard. They come with the kitchen and bathroom as standard. Ask Walpurgis if you don't believe me."-
[02:30] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[02:30] <Minaplo> ["Well, they are." Said Ezra.-
[02:30] <Minaplo> ["What about the rest of it?"-
[02:31] <Minaplo> ["Alright, Aksel. Do you want to see things from my point of view? Do you want me to convince you that all of this served a purpose greater than manipulating you all?" Asked Ezra.-
[02:31] <Minaplo> ["I think that'd be a good start." Said Aksel.-
[02:32] <Minaplo> ["Well, first and foremost, let's discuss your issues with Bradley." Said Ezra. "Actually, no, let's go about it a different way. Let's start with Lys. How many people do you know do what he does?"-
[02:32] <Minaplo> ["What do you mean?"-
[02:33] <Minaplo> ["I mean, just collect information obsessively, then ramble on about it constantly."-
[02:33] <Minaplo> ["Uh… Him and the old guy, I guess." Said Aksel. "That's it."-
[02:34] <Minaplo> ["Right." Said Ezra. "Have you ever considered that I have the same situation? That Bradley's the only person I know who does that?"-
[02:34] <Minaplo> ["Uh… No, I guess not. Does that matter?" Asked Aksel.-
[02:35] <Minaplo> ["Of course it does. Don't you think it gets lonely for Bradley? Half the crew think he's an annoying old man, the other half use him as a walking computer. I had a chance to bring two very singular people together and make them happy for it. I'm not going to apologise for matchmaking."-
[02:36] <Minaplo> ["…" Aksel huffed. "That's a fair point, I suppose."-
[02:36] <Minaplo> ["I'm glad you agree." Said Ezra. "Now, let's talk about Aina."-
[02:36] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh."-
[02:36] <Minaplo> ["Firstly, I need to correct you." Said Ezra. "If you think I spent more time inspecting Aina than anyone else, you're wrong. I spent as much time inspecting Valencia as well."-
[02:36] <Minaplo> ["That's not helping your case."-
[02:37] <Minaplo> ["You miss the point. You were more sensitive regarding Aina because she's young and vulnerable. I understand that." Said Ezra.-
[02:37] <Minaplo> ["But there's something you need to know about me, Aksel. I'm a NeoSpartan."-
[02:37] <Minaplo> ["Oh."-
[02:37] <Minaplo> ["… Oh." Aksel frowned.-
[02:39] <Minaplo> ["Aina and Valencia- I knew both of their genetic donors growing up." Said Ezra quietly. "Little Asuka, shorter than the rest, always willing to scrap and win. And big sis Amelia, although she was little to me, of course."-
[02:39] <Minaplo> [Aksel remained silent.-
[02:40] <Minaplo> ["Amelia was killed several years ago by Malchediel's attack on Paris-2. I never had the chance to say goodbye." Said Ezra. "So you'll have to forgive me if I lingered a little on their faces."-
[02:41] <Minaplo> ["…" Aksel looked a little shame-faced.-
[02:43] <Minaplo> ["And as for the photograph…" Ezra shook his head. "I carry a picture of my wife with me wherever I go. I keep a picture of my parents in a locket around my neck. I had no idea if you had any photographs, Aksel. But it seemed cruel to me to have the capacity to give you a picture and not do it."-
[02:44] <Minaplo> ["Huh." Said Aksel.-
[02:44] <Minaplo> ["If you prefer, I can take it back. Maybe you'd prefer an Ayanami swimsuit calendar?" Asked Ezra with a small smirk.-
[02:44] <Minaplo> ["Uh, no. I'm good. Gonna have enough trouble as it is without that hanging over me." Muttered Aksel.-
[02:45] <Minaplo> ["Good. I'd prefer to leave that off Promised Land's invoices. My wife handles the finances, you know, I'd hate to explain the circumstances…"-
[02:46] <Minaplo> [Aksel snorted. "Fair."-
[02:46] <Minaplo> [A silence.-
[02:46] <Minaplo> ["So… Are we good?" Said Ezra.-
[02:46] <Minaplo> ["… I suppose we're good." Said Aksel. "For now."-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["I'm glad to hear it."-
[02:47] <Minaplo> [A short silence.-
[02:47] <Minaplo> ["… So you're a NeoSpartan." Said Aksel.-
[02:48] <Minaplo> ["That's right. NS-Triple Zero-One." Said Ezra. "The first NeoSpartan."-
[02:48] <Minaplo> ["So you know what it's like, then." Said Aksel. "Being kept for war. Having your life built around it."-
[02:51] <Minaplo> ["Absolutely." Said Ezra. "I avoided getting cereal-boxed, but I understand how it feels. I even remember the timetable. Briefing, drill, tactics training, drill, lunch, melee drill, ranged drill, combat exercise, dinner, competition, free time, sleep."-
[02:51] <Minaplo> ["Mm…" Said Aksel. "What do you mean by 'cereal-boxed'?"-
[02:51] <Minaplo> ["It's old NeoSpartan slang. Do you know how you get those cereal boxes, and they come with some kind of toy or prize inside…?"-
[02:51] <Minaplo> ["… Nope." Said Aksel.-
[02:52] <Minaplo> ["Alright, well, in normal society, they sell boxes of cereal, and they sometimes try to entice people to buy by including little incentives, like a toy." Said Ezra.-
[02:52] <Minaplo> ["Huh. Neat. They just hand that crap out willy-nilly?"-
[02:52] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Ezra.-
[02:52] <Minaplo> ["Huh."-
[02:53] <Minaplo> ["The idea with the toys is that children will pressure their parents to buy the cereal." Said Ezra. "Then the kids race home, open up the cereal box and rifle through it. They find the toy, pull it out, and the rest of the cereal goes untouched."-
[02:54] <Minaplo> ["Wow, that's bullshit." Said Aksel. "They could trade that for cigarettes."-
[02:54] <Minaplo> ["Children don't smoke cigarettes."-
[02:54] <Minaplo> ["Well they could trade it for other toys-"-
[02:55] <Minaplo> ["Aksel, children in normal society don't rely on a barter economy." Said Ezra. "They have parents who provide everything the child needs and in most cases, want."-
[02:56] <Minaplo> ["Oh. Huh. Roku kind of talked about that sometimes, like how she used to work with refugee orphans." Said Aksel. "She'd be so sad about how they didn't have parents, and I once went like, well man, what's the big deal?"-
[02:56] <Minaplo> ["And thus began your exile to the living room couch." Said Ezra.-
[02:56] <Minaplo> ["… Hey, how'd you know?"-
[02:59] <Minaplo> ["I'll explain later." Said Ezra. "Anyway, the idea with 'cereal-boxing' was that the people who ran the NeoSpartans didn't care about us. They didn't care that we might've had dreams, or hopes, or families. That we'd want to play and have fun, not do gun drills. They didn't care that we felt sad about hurting others, sick about killing others, terrified when the others vanished."-
[03:00] <Minaplo> ["They never cared about the fact that we might one day grow up and want to function in normal society, to be more than a weapon. All of that was just, as the saying goes, 'cereal' to them. All they cared about was the one little special thing that made them take us in in the first place: that we could synch with an Eva, or fight, or both."-
[03:00] <Minaplo> ["A cereal-boxed NeoSpartan was one who only ever had that to cling to. Everything else was thrown away."-
[03:01] <Minaplo> ["Huh." Said Aksel. "Shit. If Roku and I ever have kids, I'll make sure the little shits buy cereal for cereal, not for the toy."-
[03:01] <Minaplo> ["I have the feeling you'll be a fantastic father." Said Ezra dryly.-
[03:02] <Minaplo> [Aksel beamed, a big wide stupid grin.-
[03:03] <Minaplo> [Ezra chuckled, shaking his head.-
[03:04] <Minaplo> ["… In any case, that's a big part of why I am who I am now, Aksel. I've been in the pit. I've been where you are. And I couldn't feel comfortable leaving you in there, wallowing in your misery when I knew I could help. That I could pull you out. That I could in time pull all of you out."-
[03:04] <Minaplo> [Ezra turned around. "If they didn't care about our feelings, about our humanity, then I'd have to do it in their stead."-
[03:05] <Minaplo> ["People without families seek new families. People without homes seek new homes. That's what I want Promised Land to be to the lost children we take in." Said Ezra quietly.-
[03:05] <Minaplo> ["… Well, uhm. Thank you." Said Aksel. "Sorry, I don't really know what to say to that."-
[03:07] <Minaplo> ["'Thank you' is enough." Said Ezra. "Besides, there is the fact that I believe happier people fight harder for people they trust. I could've treated you like a dog. Gadhavi treats you like a dog. And Gadhavi is a dickhead."-
[03:07] <Minaplo> ["I'm going to kill him." Said Aksel, his voice low and murderous. "I'm going to beat him like he beat Roku."-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["I have no doubt that our friend Gadhavi will meet a sticky end." Said Ezra. "But ah, you might have stiff competition for actually being the one to finish the job."-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["Huh."-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["Anyway." Said Ezra, rubbing his hands. "Let's get started."-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["What're we doing?" Said Aksel.-
[03:08] <Minaplo> ["Analysing our enemies."-
[03:08] <Minaplo> […-
[03:09] <Minaplo> ["Recognise this?"-
[03:10] <Minaplo> [The holographic figure projected into the room, between Ezra and Aksel. A D-Titan.-
[03:10] <Minaplo> ["Yeah. That's the supes that jumped me and my squad over Luanda." Said Aksel.-
[03:19] <Minaplo> ["I thought so." Said Ezra. "This is a Defender Titan. UN Callsign is 'Houndbear'. Your battle isn't the last time we've seen them."-
[03:19] <Minaplo> ["Yeah?"-
[03:20] <Minaplo> ["Houndbears appeared during the Federation counter-attack on Paris and both the Western and Eastern front. from what we've been able to gather, they're based on the Thruster Hero design." Said Ezra.-
[03:21] <Minaplo> ["Just like the E-Destroyer." Said Aksel.-
[03:21] <Minaplo> ["That's right. Only, we've yet to see any mass-production formations." Said Ezra. "Only squads of customs, like your own."-
[03:22] <Minaplo> ["Huh." Said Aksel. "That's weird. Do we know why?"-
[03:22] <Minaplo> ["Houndbears are an American design." Said Ezra. "With US industry currently paralysed, they probably don't have the capacity to build any more for now."-
[03:23] <Minaplo> ["Suits me just fine." Said Aksel.-
[03:23] <Minaplo> ["When you fought the Houndbears, what'd you find?" Asked Ezra.-
[03:26] <Minaplo> ["They were tough." Said Aksel. "Heavy armour, slower than us. They carried heavier weapons, too. Saw a Heavy Bolter."-
[03:27] <Minaplo> ["I see. That seems to fit reports from Europe." Said Ezra.-
[03:28] <Minaplo> [The holographic image flickered, then vanished. A new image appeared- a red Superheavy, with a mono-eye built into a sleek horned head.-
[03:28] <Minaplo> ["We don't know what this one's called." Said Ezra. "We've given it a custom designation: Meteor Red."-
[03:28] <Minaplo> ["… Huh."-
[03:28] <Minaplo> ["Recognise it?" Asked Ezra.-
[03:29] <Minaplo> ["Nope." Said Aksel. "Has it shown up in Europe too?"-
[03:29] <Minaplo> ["Only in Russia. It also showed up during the battle in Asgard, where it nearly held off Joan's Dysangelion."-
[03:29] <Minaplo> ["Yikes." Said Aksel.-
[03:30] <Minaplo> ["Yikes." Agreed Ezra. "So you didn't see it in Luanda…"-
[03:30] <Minaplo> ["You got any combat footage?" Asked Aksel.-
[03:30] <Minaplo> ["One moment. These were taken during the battle over Asgard…"-
[03:30] <Minaplo> […-
[03:31] <Minaplo> ["Hmm." Aksel rubbed his chin. "I don't recognise the fighting style." Said Aksel. "Very fast, though. Aggressive. Good at crowd control. The way it caught those Lances was pretty sexy, too."-
[03:32] <Minaplo> ["Focus, Aksel." Said Ezra. "I'll show you the footage from Russia now, since its behaviour changes drastically…"-
[03:32] <Minaplo> […-
[03:32] <Minaplo> ["… Hmm." Said Aksel. "Now that's fuckin' curious."-
[03:32] <Minaplo> ["Oh?"-
[03:33] <Minaplo> ["There wasn't any Meteor Red in Luanda." Said Aksel. "But there was a unit that I saw sporting the same sort of style. Lys had some theories, and if we compare the Russian lot to the lot I fought, I think we can conlude they belong to the leader of the unit. Bushido."-
[03:33] <Minaplo> ["'Bushido'?"-
[03:34] <Minaplo> ["See, he wore this samurai helmet as part of his uniform. You shoulda seen it, shit was all red and had a cape and this helmet with a visor covering his eyes. And he had an infrasonic voice modulator thingy…" Said Aksel.-
[03:34] <Minaplo> ["So you spoke to their leader. And he named himself Bushido?"-
[03:34] <Minaplo> ["Naw, he never told me that. I just called him that 'cuz I had nothing else to talk to him about, and we never talked after he got angry at me eating a sandwich wrong."-
[03:42] <Minaplo> ["Why'd he be angry at that?" Asked Ezra, frowning.-
[03:45] <Minaplo> ["Beats me." Said Aksel. "Maybe he's one of those weird gourmet guys who gets angry at you if you order a well done steak."-
[03:45] <Minaplo> [Ezra tilted his head slightly.-
[03:45] <Minaplo> ["What? Roku got the cooking channel, the fuck do you take me for? Like I wouldn't know about steak." Said Aksel, sounding a little offended.-
[03:45] <Minaplo> ["I dare not presume otherwise." Said Ezra.-
[03:47] <Minaplo> ["In any case," he continued, "Meteor Red's armour and weapon composition is unique. We have sources trying to work out more from captured databases in Asgard, but it's slow going."-
[03:47] <Minaplo> ["Huh. So what's my role in all this?" Said Aksel.-
[03:48] <Minaplo> ["So far, most UN Superheavy production has been around producing mass-produced E-Destroyers or building up our Red Arrow brotherhoods. We only ever produced four squads of customs like your own."-
[03:50] <Minaplo> ["Of those four, one squad was stolen by the UEF, another's in garrison here, the third's in space, ostensibly to help build a new moonbase, but in reality they're there to help defend our orbital defense satellite project and because we made first contact with aliens a few weeks ago, it turned bad and we may have started an interstellar war."-
[03:51] <Minaplo> ["What-"-
[03:51] <Minaplo> ["And the fourth is your own." Said Ezra.-
[03:51] <Minaplo> ["Wait-"-
[03:52] <Minaplo> ["Of the three squads we have, we can only free up one of them, and of those two it's either yours or Beatrix's squad. I chose you because you have experience dealing with Houndbears, especially this Bushido."-
[03:52] <Minaplo> ["It was only one battle." Said Aksel.-
[03:53] <Minaplo> ["That's one battle more than the rest." Said Ezra. "You're the best pick. And this time you'll go in a little wiser to his tricks. You'll think with your head. You won't let yourself be blindsided. You'll stay calm and pick them apart."-
[03:53] <Minaplo> ["And if Meteor Red proves too much to handle?"-
[03:53] <Minaplo> ["Leave that to me." Said Ezra.-
[03:53] <Minaplo> ["Huh."-
[03:54] <Minaplo> ["Alright, Aksel. We've done enough for today. You're dismissed."-
[03:54] <Minaplo> [Aksel got to his feet. When Ezra held out his hand for Aksel to shake- this time Aksel took it. A firm, solid handshake.-
[03:54] <Minaplo> [As Aksel was heading for the door, Ezra called out. "Oh."-
[03:54] <Minaplo> ["You still don't have a squad name yet, do you?"-
[03:55] <Minaplo> ["What's wrong with Aksel Squad?"-
[03:55] <Minaplo> ["It sounds terrible." Said Ezra. "Boy band terrible."-
[03:55] <Minaplo> ["Roku says some boy bands are pretty good."-
[03:55] <Minaplo> ["Roku also probably says you're the handsomest man she's ever met." Said Ezra dryly.-
[03:56] <Minaplo> ["… Hey. I'm a rugged, noble wolf." Said Aksel, sounding a little bit stung.-
[03:56] <Minaplo> ["I dare not presume otherwise." Said Ezra. "Here, catch."-
[03:56] <Minaplo> [Ezra tossed something small to Aksel- who snatched it out of the air.-
[03:57] <Minaplo> [It was a small lapel badge. A ten-pointed star, the cardinal points extra long, set in a bronze oval. There were words around the edge, but they'd faded.-
[03:57] <Minaplo> ["Or… Orv… Eh?"-
[03:58] <Minaplo> ["It was the name of a hand-picked 'elite' squad back in the Neo days." Said Ezra. "It's a Norse word. 'Aurvandil'. It means 'bright wanderer'. Fitting name for your team, don't you think?"-
[03:58] <Minaplo> ["… Huh. Sure, it sounds neat." Said Aksel, pocketing the badge carelessly. "Well, I'll see you whenever."-
[03:59] <Minaplo> ["That you will, Aksel. Have a good day."]

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