This Too Shall Pass 3 4 24

[21:36] <Minaplo> [There was little luxury to be had in the briefing auditorium.-
[21:44] <Minaplo> [The room was large enough to accomodate a thousand, sorted into ten rows of a hundred each, each one higher than the other. Ten rows of hard plastic chairs, curved into a massive semi-circle, surrounded by the unadorned gunmetal surovite walls.-
[21:46] <Minaplo> [At the front of the room was the stage, sitting level with the lowest row. The stage housed a podium, a table for computers, and a large display screen mounted into the wall.-
[22:20] <Minaplo> [The room itself had, fifteen minutes ago, possessed a sterile, cold air; this air had long since become warm and a little muggy since as the crowd had filed in.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> [The audience consisted of officers from the Stormtrooper Corps' first and second regiments. In the very front two rows were the Regimental Magistrates, Junior Magistrates, Captains and Lieutenants that made up the commissioned officers' ranks. The rest of the ranks were given over to the Sergeants- the ones who led the squads into combat.-
[22:30] <Minaplo> [The commissioned lot were quiet, speaking furtively, brows furrowed, expressions serious, as though hoping to inspire their men through their solemnity. The sergeants, in contrast, chatted and laughed and told a dozen stories in loud tones that were caught and carried by the ancient acoustics of the auditorium.-
[22:32] <Minaplo> [In the middle of this great and lively mess sat Sergeant Mohammed Walid Shire of the First Regiment's Third Company.-
[22:45] <Minaplo> [Shire was a tall man; he sat a little low in his chair, yet even then he had a full head of height on his neighbours. He looked to be about thirty years old. He had a strong, well-defined jawline and a long, narrow nose. his eyes were wide and sat low on his face, shadowed by a firm browline; the eyes themselves were bright golden-brown in colour. His hair was black and as neatly straight as a ruler; it sat back in a well-tied ponytail.-
[23:59] <Minaplo> ["Gadfly's taking his time." Muttered Farrah to his left.-
[23:59] <Minaplo> ["Must've taken the elevators, silly bastard." Said Omar, the sergeant sitting to Shire's right.-
[00:01] <Minaplo> [Shire snorted. "Those damn things. You know one broke down?"-
[00:01] <Minaplo> ["How can you tell?" Muttered Omar.-
[00:02] <Minaplo> ["Oh, now you say it, I remember this." Said Farrah. "Didn't some wig get stuck in it?"-
[00:03] <Minaplo> ["Magistrate Benito from Eleventh Regiment. In there for an hour." Said Shire cheerfully.-
[00:03] <Minaplo> ["Pity." Added Farrah.-
[00:18] <Minaplo> ["Oh look." Said Omar, nudging Shire. "Here's Gadfly now…"-
[00:18] <Minaplo> [And indeed, Gadfly- or rather, Marshal Magistrate Narendra Gadhavi- had strode briskly and sharply onto the stage.-
[00:19] <Minaplo> [Awareness of his presence rippled out rather quickly through the room; a few seconds later, Shire heard someone from the far left shout "Hoy, Gadfly!"-
[00:20] <Minaplo> [The audience broke out into raucous shouts of laughter. Gadhavi stood, thin and straight as a rake, staring up at the audience. After a long moment, he smiled and let out a small chuckle. "Settle down, all of you. Happy fun time's over."-
[00:27] <Minaplo> [Gradually the hall began to settle. Within a minute or so the laughter and talking had died away, leaving only silence; all eyes were ahead on Gadhavi.-
(00:46) <Minaplo> ["Let's start."-
(00:49) <Minaplo> ["As you all know, the strategic situation has evolved in the past month." Said Gadhavi. "Hauptmann's inability to annihilate the rebel flagship and its Evangelions has had knock-on effects, leading to multiple setbacks across all European fronts."-
(00:51) <Minaplo> [There was a ripple of murmuring through the hall. Hauptmann had been popular.-
(00:52) <Minaplo> ["Thus," cut in Gadhavi curtly, and the room fell silent; "This briefing will be focused on updating you all on our situation, as well as providing detailed tactical data on the forces we're likely to find in the field."-
(01:08) <Minaplo> [The first hour of the briefing was dominated by tactical analyses: of the rebel AC Suits ("Their armour is thick, but their mobility suffers for it; preferably, try to distract them with one unit whilst another flanks…"), rebel force composition ("The Soviet Army favours close-to-medium range combat. So far they seem susceptible to baiting tactics and high volume fire defenses…") and the general progress of the fronts ("The Soviet line is making a fighting withdrawal back to the Litbel Line, where it will await reinforcements…")-
(01:10) <Minaplo> ["… Command has also made it clear that there are certain key rebel leaders that you may encounter on the field." Said Gadhavi. "Before that outline, we should discuss recent changes to how we operate."-
(01:10) <Minaplo> ["Firstly, yes, we now have a new supreme commander." Said Gadhavi. "Marshal Ezra Caine is now in command of the New World forces. I don't need to tell you all that his orders are to be obeyed."-
(01:11) <Minaplo> ["The Marshal has delivered a new directive that all regiments are to follow." He said. "From this time forward, all regiments will now be outfitted with a team from the Investigative Branch."-
(01:12) <Minaplo> [Unusual. Shire folded his arms and turned toward Farrah, who was quietly mouthing 'investigative branch' to himself.-
(01:12) <Minaplo> [He wasn't alone in showing confusion and hesitation. Someone from the third row called out "Why?"-
(01:14) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi nodded. "Why indeed. There have been reports from the front that enemy units have committed war crimes." On cue, a series of images flashed across the display screen. Shire focused on the most predominant.-
(01:16) <Minaplo> [On a grassy flat plain sat a small village; it burned and smouldered. Clumps of soldiers- Soviet, Shire recognised the markings- were positioned around the dying settlement. A battle tank stood front and centre, its machine guns firing down the village main street.-
(01:17) <Minaplo> ["These images have been taken by reconnaissance forces in the field, but they're designed for combat roles, not detective work." Said Gadhavi. "The IB teams will be equipped with all the tools necessary to investigate atrocities and bring them to light."-
(01:19) <Minaplo> ["Naturally, I don't need to remind you that we are above such actions." Said Gadhavi. "Stormtroopers wage war, they do not wage crimes against the populace. Any one found committing criminal acts on the battlefield will be harshly punished."-
(01:20) <Minaplo> ["In such a situation, the IB teams are permitted to carry out summary executions in order to prevent such acts propagating." Said Gadhavi coldly.-
(01:22) <Minaplo> [Dead silence in the room. Shire only half-heard it; he was still staring at the photograph. The tank, its looming bulk dominating the image… The flash of the machinegun. The screams he heard in his head as innocent villagers died…-
(01:25) <Minaplo> [Omar took Shire's hand firmly. "Hey."-
(01:26) <Minaplo> ["…" Shire shook his head vigourously. "… I'm here. I'm fine." He muttered.-
(01:26) <Minaplo> [Omar eyed him for a few seconds longer, concern showing on his furrowed brow; then he sat back, turning his attention toward Gadhavi.-
(01:28) <Minaplo> ["Now, regarding certain rebel personages." Said Gadhavi. The screen flickered for a moment, and several images flashed onto its clear surface…-
(01:29) <Minaplo> [There were eight images, divided into three rows; two on the top, three on the middle and bottom. The top two Shire recognised easily- Zhang Yanmei and Sera de Pteres.-
(01:32) <Minaplo> ["Zhang Yanmei, Sera de Pteres." Said Gadhavi, his tone sleek with disgust. "Evangelion pilots from what was once the NERV Paris division. Now they are traitors, with Zhang serving as their so-called chancellor."-
(01:33) <Minaplo> ["We have the strictest orders to bring them in alive." Said Gadhavi. "If they are encountered, then their capture is top priority. They must not be killed- this takes priority even over the preservation of allies' lives."-
(01:33) <Minaplo> [A bevy of murmurs and mutterings were set up across the room. This was an outlandish proposal; that was easily obvious.-
(01:37) <Minaplo> ["I know." Said Gadhavi, his lip curling. "I don't care much for it either, but this directive comes from Chairperson Caine herself."-
(01:46) <Minaplo> ["To make it a little more difficult, they're both known to be skilled combatants, especially in close quarters fighting." Said Gadhavi. "In all honesty, I expect Stormtroopers' role in securing their capture to be auxiliary, supporting more specialised units."-
(01:48) <Minaplo> [Fair enough, thought Shire. He stared at Zhang Yanmei's photo.-
(01:51) <Minaplo> [The most distinctive feature was her hair. Her famous hair. It was a clean, clear violet, lighter on the tips, becoming a richer dark near the roots. It didn't have the strange, artificial look of dyed hair, either- natural violet hair. Apparently a very rare genetic mutation, or so someone had said.-
(01:55) <Minaplo> [The other most notable thing was her obvious youth. Shire didn't know when the photo had been taken, but the Zhang he saw looked about 15 or 16, at best; it was hard to tell. Her face was a little too rounded, still possessing just enough of a hint of childish puppy fat to mark her as an adolescent.-
(01:56) <Minaplo> [Skilled combatants. Shire folded his arms and glared down at his feet for a moment.-
(02:03) <Minaplo> ["Below them are the key rebel commanders." Said Gadhavi.-
(02:04) <Minaplo> [He introduced them one-by-one: Marianne Amatore-DeForest; Augustus Harken; Alphonse Wellesley; Minerva Linden; Misato Katsuragi; and Liu Lin.-
(02:05) <Minaplo> [He elaborated on their strengths and weaknesses for a few minutes each.-
(02:05) <Minaplo> ["Command is, thankfully, less finnicky regarding their fates." Said Gadhavi with a small smile. "Although capture is preferable and encouraged, if doing so would endanger lives, then a pulse bolt to the head should do nicely in all cases."-
(02:15) <Minaplo> [The commanders' images vanished, and were replaced with a different set of photos- these ones Shire didn't recognise.-
(02:16) <Minaplo> ["These are the faces of what was once NERV's Special Operations Service, a specialised unit designed for highly perilous situations. They've turned rogue and are now a rebel outfit. Command gives no special preference to their capture; unless they surrender or are completely unable to fight back, then you are free to terminate them."-
(02:19) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi spent a few minutes detailing their abilities and giving a brief background of SOS's previous actions before settling on a single member of the group- a Japanese girl with auburn-red hair. "Mana Kirishima is the exception." Said Gadhavi. "Unlike the rest of SOS, Command prioritises her capture on the same level as a rebel director."-
(02:22) <Minaplo> [Mana's image faded.-
(02:24) <Minaplo> [Next came six photos… Shire recognised Asuka Langley-Soryu easily. These must be Eva pilots.-
(02:25) <Minaplo> ["These are the rebellion's Biotypical Evangelion pilots." Said Gadhavi. "Their capture is a priority. Backbreakers!"-
(02:26) <Minaplo> [There were shouts from the right half of the room.-
(02:28) <Minaplo> ["Starting from next week, First through Five companies will be assigned to Plug Apprehension Duty." Said Gadhavi. "If a rebel Evangelion is defeated in the field, you will deploy as quickly as possible with gunship support to secure the Plug and the pilot within. If possible, capture them; if their resistance is too great, you are authorised to kill them."-
(02:30) <Minaplo> [More child soldiers, thought Shire gloomily to himself. He sighed, settled a little lower in his chair and listened.-
(02:36) <Minaplo> [A moment later, Shire suddenly sat up again, his eyes widening a little. The photos had been replaced with twelve others- the Ayanami sisters. With a pang in his heart, he recognised Roku, seventh in the lineup…-
(02:43) <Minaplo> ["The Ayanamis. A squad of Bioexotic clones designed by NERV to pilot Evangelions." Said Gadhavi sleekly. "Unfortunately, it seems the rebellion still knows how to control them."-
(02:44) <Minaplo> ["As many of you know, an Ayanami escaped from this base some time ago. Thus it is imperative that you understand their abilities- the Ayanamis are dangerous."-
(02:45) <Minaplo> [Shire looked around quickly, saw some of his colleagues tense. He knew what they were thinking about- the soldiers shot and wounded by Roku when she'd been discovered. None of them, however, had seen the aftermath… Roku lying on the ground, spasming with pain, unable to cry out-
(02:46) <Minaplo> [Shire dimly realised that he'd been digging his right hand into his thigh to the point of being painful. With a slow breath, he loosened his grip, laid his hands in his lap and turned his attention back to the man who had brutalised Roku so.-
(02:50) <Minaplo> ["Each Ayanami possesses a powerful active AT Field." Said Gadhavi. "And possesses extensive combat training. Some excel in close combat, others- like the escapee spy 'Roku'- prefer firearms, whilst some have more control over their AT Fields than usual. They're also all very fast and excellent at infiltration, stealth and sabotage. All in all, they're among the most dangerous foes you Stormtroopers are likely to face on the battlefield."-
(02:52) <Minaplo> ["Unfortunately, not even killing the little bitches is enough." Said Gadhavi icily. "A dead Ayanami can be replaced with a backup body within two weeks. For this reason, Command advises capture over killing, if only to provide a more long-term solution to the problem they pose."-
(02:54) <Minaplo> [Backup body… Shire dwelled on the words. Is that why the choice to bash her came so easily to you, Gadfly?-
(02:56) <Minaplo> ["Considering their risk, I won't be too surprised if one of you decide to take whatever shot you can to put one down." Said Gadhavi. "It's understandable. However, in the event that you are able to capture one of them, certain precautions should be taken. A captured Ayanmi should be kept sedated or rendered unconscious in whatever way possible- even if gagged and bound, their AT Fields make them dangerous so long as they are awake."-
(03:05) <Minaplo> ["Furthermore, none of you are to talk with or interact with an Ayanami apart from what is necessary to fulfil your duties." Said Gadhavi. "Ayanamis are social agents as much as anything. They're talented liars, manipulators and spies- the escapee Ayanami was a spy, in fact, passing secrets to the rebellion. Your average Ayanami is designed to engender likeability, trust, to be a perfect friend or mate. They'll easily use seduction and manipulation to subvert you; the more powerful ones will simply take control of your mind."-
(03:05) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi's lip curled; Shire found himself mimicing the expression.-
(03:07) <Minaplo> ["They're weapons, nothing more, designed to pursue the most efficient path to an outcome. An Ayanami doesn't feel love or friendship. It'll do whatever it needs to use you. Don't be a useful idiot like the Solomon Knight Ayanami Roku bamboozled, before she sold him out to a rebel ambush." Said Gadhavi.-
(03:08) <Minaplo> ["Liar." Whispered Shire to himself.-
(03:08) <Minaplo> [He remembered the pain on Roku's face, the hurt in her voice when Gadhavi told her about what had happened. Shire knew the pain was real; why else would Gadfly have twisted the knife so?-
(03:08) <Minaplo> [A sudden chill ran down Shire's back.-
(03:08) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi was staring at him.-
(03:09) <Minaplo> [Shire stared back, and for a moment the two shared a conversation based entirely on the unspoken recollections of that day.-
(03:09) <Minaplo> ["…"-
(03:09) <Minaplo> [I suppose you think I've been 'bamboozled' too, Gadfly.-
(03:12) <Minaplo> [Then all of a sudden, Gadhavi was looking down toward the commanders, implicitly dismissing Shire.-
(03:12) <Minaplo> ["Upcoming deployments." Said Gadhavi suddenly, refocusing the attention of the unsettled room.-
(03:14) <Minaplo> ["Backbreaker companies one through five to be deployed on Plug Apprehension as noted. The rest of Backbreaker will remain on garrison duty in the Synfront."-
(03:14) <Minaplo> [There were mutters from more than a few on the right side of the room.-
(03:18) <Minaplo> ["I know." Said Gadhavi, his tone sympathetic. "But so long as the Angel continues to besiege Nairobi, we don't have a choice but to remain on high alert in case of rebel attack."-
(03:19) <Minaplo> ["Firestarters," Said Gadhavi, turning to the left side of the room- including, just barely, Shire. "You're on garrison duty as well… Except for the Sixth and Seventh companies."-
(03:21) <Minaplo> [Shire promptly zoned out, reflecting within on his own thoughts. This had been an uncomfortable briefing. A mess of thoughts mingled together in his head: a tank firing on civilians, a warrior youth, Roku lying helpless, Gadhavi's furious, savage anger…-
(03:25) <Minaplo> [He wondered where Roku was now. Whether she was being cared for, being kept safe… How long would it be before she had to return to the battlefield?-
(03:26) <Minaplo> [A small part of him mocked himself for worrying so much about someone who was obviously more capable on a battlefield than he was. Yet…-
(03:26) <Minaplo> [Farrah nudged him in the ribs.-
(03:26) <Minaplo> ["Huh?" Said Shire, suddenly looking up.-
(03:26) <Minaplo> ["You weren't even listening." Said Farrah with a mock frown.-
(03:27) <Minaplo> ["He's sleepy." Said Omar seriously. "Probably been kept awake by all that scary Ayanami magic…"-
(03:27) <Minaplo> ["Idiot." Muttered Farrah. "We were asking if you wanted to go to lunch later."-
(03:28) <Minaplo> ["Oh, yeah, yeah, inshallah." Said Shire a little dismissively. "I'm not doing anything else."-
(03:29) <Minaplo> ["Nor will we be for at least another month." Said Omar with a deep sigh. "Garrison duty in the Big Black Ball."-
(03:29) <Minaplo> ["Could be worse." Said Shire without conviction.-
(03:29) <Minaplo> ["I don't know if I believe that anymore." Said Omar.-
(03:31) <Minaplo> [Gadfly had apparently finished up. The order of dismissal was given, and Shire rose slowly to his feet. "About time."-
(03:32) <Minaplo> [They began to file out, starting from the back rows, one by one up to the front. Shire was happy to leave, although, he wryly thought, not like the view's going to improve.-
(03:32) <Minaplo> [As Shire approached the door, though, the back of his neck tingled yet again. He turned toward Gadhavi…-
(03:33) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi was staring at him, a small fey smile on his coldly lovely face.-
(03:33) <Minaplo> ["…"-
(03:33) <Minaplo> [What happened to you to make you such a sick, creepy bastard?-
(03:33) <Minaplo> [Shire turned away. Doing his hardest to ignore the force of Gadfly's stare on the back of his next, he left the auditorium behind.-
(03:33) <Minaplo> […-
(22:03) <Minaplo> [Night had fallen, although beneath the earth there was no sun to tell the Stormtroopers so. Instead they relied on clocks and their own tiredness.-
(22:26) <Minaplo> [Shire lay in bed. The dorm for his squad was spartan and cramped; five double-bunk beds sat against the bare walls, double-lockers at the foot of each for their belongings.-
(22:27) <Minaplo> [The only decoration the room had hung from the wall opposite the door: it was a flag of light blue with a single white star in the middle.-
(22:35) <Minaplo> [The room was, for the most part, dark; the only light came from a dim glowstrip built above Shire's head.-
(22:36) <Minaplo> [Shire himself sat up in bed, a pocketbook and pen in hand.-
(22:37) <Minaplo> [Sometimes he would write quickly for a minute or so, then pause for awhile; sometimes he would write, cross out a line, then continue, only to cross it out again.-
(22:59) <Minaplo> ["…"-
(22:59) <Minaplo> [After a few minutes on a particularly troublesome line, Shire sighed and tossed the book down.-
(23:00) <Minaplo> ["Crap." He mumbled to himself. His squad didn't stir.-
(23:14) <Minaplo> [Shire laid his head down on his pillow. For a few minutes he stared at the roof blankly before sitting back up and making another attempt at writing.-
(23:15) <Minaplo> [This didn't last either; after a few minutes he sighed, tossed the book onto his locker and burrowed down beneath the sheets.-
(23:15) <Minaplo> [Not a good night for it.-
(23:29) <Minaplo> [He rolled onto his side. Still visible in the dull glow of the strip was the flag.-
(23:29) <Minaplo> [The flag was important, especially tonight.-
(23:29) <Minaplo> [He had been writing of home. And for the people in his company, this flag represented home.-
(23:30) <Minaplo> […-
(23:30) <Minaplo> [The flag of Somalia was clean and simple. A bright light blue background and a modest five-pointed star in the middle.-
(23:33) <Minaplo> [As a schoolboy, Shire remembered being taught the meaning behind the flag's symbols. The star, he had been told, represented the Somali people both at home and abroad. The blue background represented the clear blue sky and the clear blue ocean, both of which Somalia had in enviable abundance.-
(23:48) <Minaplo> [He'd headed home that day and, feeling rather clever, told his family all about what he'd learned. His uncle had frowned.-
(23:52) <Minaplo> ["I remember," Said his uncle, "My own father, he told me the blue of the flag came from the United Nations, because they helped us with independence. It is the same colour, see?" And he'd cracked open some book and had shown Shire exactly that.-
(23:53) <Minaplo> [Shire's own father- who had never gotten along with the uncle in any case- argued against this, and before long there was shouting, cursing and general mayhem.-
Session Time: Thu Dec 31 00:00:00 2015
(00:01) <Minaplo> [Yet, despite their personal differences, their willingness to argue and fight, the two seemed perfectly capable of working together when it was for truly important reasons. Shire remembered the days where he- a chronic insomniac- would hear his father creep out in the dead of night. When confronted, his father would shake his head, roughly ruffle Shire's hair and say "Go back to sleep. I am doing something important. Take care of your mother and sisters."-
(00:02) <Minaplo> [And then his father would leave, and outside would be his uncle, waiting in a car, looking impatient as he puffed on a cigarette.-
(00:18) <Minaplo> [Then they would be gone for weeks at a time, during which Shire would do his best to help around the house and the store. He would have to stay home from school more often than not.-
(00:18) <Minaplo> [When they did return, they talked little about their activities, no matter how much Shire asked.-
(00:30) <Minaplo> [As time went on, these absenses became more frequent and longer; greater pressure was placed on young Shire than ever before.-
(00:32) <Minaplo> [Even when his father was home, nothing seemed to improve; his parents argued constantly now, albeit away from the children. Moments of joyous reunion quickly gave way to hours of resentment and tension.-
(00:48) <Minaplo> [Yet…-
(00:49) <Minaplo> [The tension did not end in Shire's home.-
(00:49) <Minaplo> [The world outside seemed to be going to hell.-
(00:54) <Minaplo> [Fourteen years before Shire was born, the Somalian government has fallen to a coup led by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre. Siad Barre's new military dictatorship rebuilt itself along socialist lines, based primarily on the example of Communist China.-
(00:55) <Minaplo> [Siad Barre had intended to follow the Chinese example and rebuild Somalia as a command-economy powerhouse. What he did was drive the nation into the ground.-
(00:57) <Minaplo> [Industries were nationalised, farms collectivised. Although the government attempted to shift Somalian society away from the clan-based politics that had been its staple, the dictatorship itself was prone to massive cronyism in regards to Siad Barre's own clans.-
(00:59) <Minaplo> [Popular dissent grew rapidly, especially in the eighties; to distract the people, Siad Barre provoked clan rivalries and inflamed tensions. By the late eighties the country was on the brink of collapse, mired in local inter-clan conflict and ravaged by armed uprisings.-
(01:01) <Minaplo> [By 1990 the Cold War was coming to a close; Somalia's regime could no longer count on even nominal support from fellow socialist states. Siad Barre's authority disintegrated, and by 1991 the civil war had reached its crescendo when rebel groups ousted Siad Barre's government from Mogadishu and dissolved the military.-
(01:02) <Minaplo> [The loose rebel coalition quickly turned on one another.-
(01:12) <Minaplo> [Why?-
(01:13) <Minaplo> [The fighting had not made sense to Shire as a child.-
(01:13) <Minaplo> [All he remembered was the smell of gun oils, the heat of fire and the taste of iron in his mouth.-
(01:40) <Minaplo> […-
(01:42) <Minaplo> [All that had changed by late 1992. After years of chaos, any central authority in Somalia had disintegrated. It had become a failed state. Such a situation created a vacuum of authority, and into this void stepped the United Nations.-
(01:46) <Minaplo> [At first, the intervention was limited to humanitarian aid and small peacekeeping convoys. Attempts to negotiate ceasefire stumbled due to the simple fact that the myriad factions ignored it. Furthermore, the country was a cartographer's nightmare; agreements of safe passage with one faction would be negotiated, then overnight that faction would splinter into six more, all hating one another and none of them willing to honour any such deal.-
(01:47) <Minaplo> [After a few months of this, it became obvious to all that the UN intervention was a toothless tiger.-
(01:51) <Minaplo> [One of the most powerful warlords in the region, Mohamed Farrah Aidid- leader of the United Somali Congress- declared his full opposition to UN intervention, and intended to challenge its presence whenever possible.-
(01:52) <Minaplo> [But by now the United Nations had had enough.-
(01:53) <Minaplo> [Although the first mission to Somalia had been a failure, the UN created a new one and returned in force, this time with over 20,000 troops and a mandate to restore order to Somalia by any means necessary. For a body so often seen to be useless and passive in the face of local chaos, it was a dramatic action.-
(01:55) <Minaplo> [Aidid was declared one of its primary targets.-
(01:57) <Minaplo> [For a few years, Shire remembered, things in Somalia improved to an extent. At the very least, it got something it desperately needed- a sense of de-escalation. The battles after the intervention were never as fierce as the ones before, and for a time, even Shire had been able to live a little more peacefully.-
(02:00) <Minaplo> [Yet it didn't last, and the intervention began to fail. US Rangers launched an operation in Mogadishu with the intent to capture Aidid and many of his key leaders; however, intenese resistance saw the operation, intended to be quick, dissolve into a brutal stalemate and a rescue attempt. The aftermath was catastrophic from a popular support perspective; the US withdrew support for the intervention, and in those days, this was a death knell.-
(02:04) <Minaplo> [The withdrawal of the UN saw Aidid declare himself President of Somalia, which drew him into a long war with the only internationally recognised holder of the title. The fighting thus resumed, primarily in the south and around Mogadishu- and once again Shire found himself drawn into a conflict against his wishes.-
(02:06) <Minaplo> [Aidid himself would die of wounds in 1996, and his son would inherit the title and his feud. In these regions, the people suffered as they must, whilst in the other, more relatively stable parts of Somalia, people worked on trying to rebuild the country.-
(02:07) <Minaplo> [The fruit of this endeavour was the Transitional National Government, formed in May 2000. Formed from a series of peace conferences with the intent to reforge the fractured country into something resembling unity, it was the best hope Somalia had had since the civil war began.-
(02:17) <Minaplo> [That dream, like so many others, died in Second Impact.-
[22:11] <Minaplo> [Water claimed the coasts; fire and war claimed the rest. Somalia, already glass-brittle, had shattered.-
[22:15] <Minaplo> [Gunpowder smoke shrouded the country whilst the innocent weak died. Starvation was a killer, and disease took more lives than bullets, no matter how hard the warlords tried to match it.-
[22:15] <Minaplo> [Shire had fought.-
[22:15] <Minaplo> […-
[22:16] <Minaplo> [Something special happened in 2004, however: the world returned to Somalia.-
[22:18] <Minaplo> [As it had multiple times before, it returned beneath a sky-blue flag emblazoned with a globe enveloped by peace laurels.-
[22:21] <Minaplo> [This, however, was not a force bound by treaty and resolution and bureaucracy, nor was it a force subject to the whims of popular opinion. The world had changed, and when everything had broken and burned and had fallen, that flag alone rose, offering the human race a simple choice. Put aside narrow dreams of old; bury yesterday's hatred with the dead. Come together, work for the new tomorrow; or die.-
[22:22] <Minaplo> [A 120,000 strong army group entered Somalia in March of 2004, under the command of General Dorian Lachapelle.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> [His orders were to enforce compliance. He had little oversight. As far as the UN was concerned, Dorian Lachapelle was as good as a military governor of everything in Somalia.-
[22:25] <Minaplo> [Some commanders, given nearly unrestricted power and influence in such a situation, would gleefully resort to using the heavy hand until nothing remained but paste.-
[22:29] <Minaplo> [Lachapelle knew better. He believed that armies won battles, but authority won wars, and to gain that authority he needed to understand the people. He had to know what they wanted and needed as well as what they didn't want, and to try to make himself as much of the former and as little of the latter as possible.-
[22:31] <Minaplo> [Lachapelle offered amnesty.-
[22:35] <Minaplo> [He knew that no matter the cause- nationalists, socialists, separatists, caliphatists, reactionaries- the bulk of the armies were made up of young men, men who had once been bored, or angry, or restless, or desperate, or just gullible, who had now fought the most brutal and savage sort of war in the most hellish of conditions. Young men who would take it all back in a second if it were not for the reprisals or the death squads.-
[22:39] <Minaplo> [That's what Lachapelle offered: a chance. A magical, miraculous chance to act on that regret. To step out of the old world and into the new; only this time, the border was guarded by Lachapelle and his legions.-
[22:40] <Minaplo> [The warlords shrank.-
[22:48] <Minaplo> [It did not matter to Lachapelle what creed they espoused. They were all part of the problem. That was the point that Lachapelle hammered home. He hammered until the warlords stopped looking like factions and more like a faceless mass.-
[22:49] <Minaplo> […-
[22:49] <Minaplo> [Shire had been among the very first to return home, as they called it.-
[22:55] <Minaplo> [The process, all told, had not taken long. He had approached UN troops and, after declaring his belief in God's message of peace, had surrendered his exceptionally heavy rifle and his bullets to the soldiers, who had taken him to the nearest UN-held camp. There he and thirty other amnestees had their names recorded as well as the names of any living relatives both in and out of the warlord armies.-
[22:57] <Minaplo> [Then he and roughly one hundred others had been trucked off to Baidoa, the capital of Lachapelle's administration. The convoys had been heavily guarded.-
[22:58] <Minaplo> ["Keeping watch on us?" He had asked one soldier, one with the French flag insignia sewn into his shoulder patch.-
[22:59] <Minaplo> [The soldier had smiled lazily. "No. Keep watch out." He said in broken Arabic.-
[23:02] <Minaplo> [On arrival in Baidoa, Shire had been interned with thousands of others in a camp on the outskirts of the city. A month passed, in which the UN authorities ran as thorough a background check as they could on him (which as it turned out, was not very thorough) before he was issued with a new ID, 16,000 shillings, three months worth of UN food stamps and contact details for an urban commune set up especially for ex-militiamen.-
[23:03] <Minaplo> […-
[23:07] <Minaplo> [A clean bed. A simple room. Three meals a day. Six hours of lessons with a school of imams from Morocco, who taught the lost generation to which Shire had belonged of higher reading skills, mathematics, of science, and of a newer way of interpreting the word of God. Six hours of work in the streets, doing what needed to be done. Building and cleaning were popular, but these boys- boys in mind at least, although men in body- had come from all across the country. Some could take the plentiful, if plain, UN rations and made them into meals that would've been like paradise in the militias. Some could mend damaged clothes or make new ones.-
[23:08] <Minaplo> [Two hours of football a day, the teams picked with utter contempt of old battlelines.-
[23:09] <Minaplo> [Eight hours of sleep in a clean bed, a simple room.-
[23:09] <Minaplo> [Quiet nights.-
[23:09] <Minaplo> […-
[23:11] <Minaplo> [The pulse rifle fitted snugly into the rack; a second later the magnetic locks clicked into place. Shire yanked on it experimentally; the rifle didn't budge.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> [Nine other rifles sat in a row next to it. The rack was now full. With a press of a button, a blast hatch sealed the gun rack shut.-
[23:29] <Minaplo> ["Your boys' shooting was a bit slack today, eh?" Said Farrah smugly. The fellow sergeant sauntered over, a flat-looking Omar at his side.-
[23:31] <Minaplo> ["You think so?" Said Shire seriously. He tapped a button on his neck; with a hiss, his helmet came loose. He quickly took it off and wiped at the sweat on his brow. "That's worrying. Figured you'd have lower standards…"-
[23:32] <Minaplo> ["You're a dumbshit." Said Farrah with a grin, punching Shire in the chest lightly.-
[23:32] <Minaplo> ["… How much did you sleep last night?" Said Farrah, his grin fading.-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["Plenty." Said Shire evasively. "Whole eight hours. Like a child."-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["… About two hours." Said Shire grudgingly after a moment as Omar and Farrah both glared at him.-
[23:35] <Minaplo> [Their glares were soon replaced with curses.-
[23:35] <Minaplo> ["You need to go to medical, brother." Said Omar. "You're getting worse."-
[23:38] <Minaplo> ["Medical is a terrible experience." Said Shire dully; he headed for his personal locker. "That doctor seems to be able to smell me by now. I wasn't even in medical last time he found me."-
[23:38] <Minaplo> [Shire made a face. "'If it isn't Sergeant Sleepless in the Synfront! Betcha wished you could drink yourself to sleep like I do, huh?' If you ask me, he's the one who needs to see a doctor, the man is clearly unfit to so much as treat a dog."-
[23:39] <Minaplo> ["Ah, Stimms." Said Farrah with a fond smile. "Synfront wouldn't be the lovely place it is without him, wouldn't you agree?"-
[23:39] <Minaplo> ["I would not." Said Shire. "I would not agree at all."-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["Stop making excuses." Said Omar, who was busy taking off his pauldrons. "We should book an appointment this week."-
[23:45] <Minaplo> [Shire was already taking off his gauntlets. "How do you expect me to agree to that?"-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["We have our ways." Said Omar ominously.-
[23:46] <Minaplo> ["Haha." Shire reached out and quickly flicked Omar in the ear. "Stop frowning so much. Your daughter'll mistake you for grandpa at this rate, frowny."-
[23:46] <Minaplo> [This only deepened Omar's scowl.-
[21:17] <Minaplo> ["Still, Omar is… Right." Said Farrah, his smile slipping long enough to frown in concern.-
[21:18] <Minaplo> ["…" Shire looked between the two of them. "You're serious?"-
[21:18] <Minaplo> [They both nodded. Shire sighed.-
[21:22] <Minaplo> ["Very well. I'll book the appointment for after my last shift at the end of the week." Said Shire reluctantly. "The two of you can come with me."-
[21:24] <Minaplo> [That got smiles from both of them.-
[21:25] <Minaplo> ["Good of you to see sense." Said Omar.-
[21:29] <Minaplo> ["Don't let it go to your already big head, Omar." Said Shire with a grin.-
[21:29] <Minaplo> [Omar scowled, but Farrah cut in. "Less wasting time, though; if we leave now we can get to the cafeteria early."-
[21:38] <Minaplo> ["The Cafeteria?" Said Shire politely.-
[21:38] <Minaplo> ["Yes. We were going to meet there today." Said Omar.-
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["… For lunch." He added after a moment in response to Shire's puzzled expression.-
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["… Oh. Oh. I forgot." Said Shire. "And… I don't think I can make it."-
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["Why not?" Asked Omar.-
[21:39] <Minaplo> ["I'm having lunch with- someone else." Said Shire hastily.-
[21:39] <Minaplo> [Farrah slowly smirked. "Aha."-
[21:40] <Minaplo> ["Don't think evil on it." Muttered Shire. He turned his back on them and began putting his armour away in its locker, stripping down until he reached the black bodysuit underlay.-
[21:40] <Minaplo> ["Wait, who did he-?" Asked Omar.-
[21:40] <Minaplo> ["You know. Her." Said Farrah.-
[21:41] <Minaplo> ["Ohh."-
[21:41] <Minaplo> ["I never said it was her!" Said Shire.-
[21:41] <Minaplo> ["But it is." Said Farrah.-
[21:41] <Minaplo> ["… …" Shire sighed.-
[21:46] <Minaplo> [Farrah began to laugh. "And just like that, all we've learned is passed; Shire's in love at last!"-
[21:47] <Minaplo> [Shire gave him a dark look. "Oh shut up."-
[21:56] <Minaplo> ["Never thought I'd see the day myself." Deadpanned Omar. "Chaste brother Mohammed laid bare…"-
[21:58] <Minaplo> ["You two are the worst friends a man could ever have." Said Shire, grinning in spite himself.-
[22:00] <Minaplo> [Farrah guffawed and Omar chuckled, and for a moment the two of them reached in to thump Shire warmly on the back; with that the three of them shrugged on their uniform jackets and left, shoulder-to-shoulder, laughing and teasing as they went.-
[22:02] <Minaplo> […-
[22:17] <Minaplo> [Eyes of blue.-
[22:18] <Minaplo> [Beautiful eyes? Calm eyes, a still pool. Chill eyes; the frost above.-
[22:19] <Minaplo> [Alluring eyes. Mocking eyes, unaffected by pain.-
[22:20] <Minaplo> [Seductive eyes. Cruel eyes, amused by terror.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> [A loveliness that turns to ice in your veins.-
[22:23] <Minaplo> ["…" Narendra Gadhavi gasped; he snapped awake.-
[22:40] <Minaplo> [He was in his bedroom, nothing more.-
[22:41] <Minaplo> [The burgundy sheets had been twisted and contorted around his body like a misshapen cocoon.-
[22:42] <Minaplo> [His body shivered with the beats of cold sweat running down his naked body; the air was very cool in Narendra's bedroom.-
[23:00] <Minaplo> [Narendra's heart pounded in his chest, the rush of blood and adrenaline deeply discomfiting.-
[23:00] <Minaplo> ["Lights, twenty percent." He said a few seconds later. The room lit up dimly.-
[23:15] <Minaplo> [The Narendra's bedroom was tasteful and understated, yet still comfortable. A double bed with burgundy sheets and two pillows to a side plush mauve carpet beneath his feet; a wardrobe built into the western wall; an en suite on the northern wall; a single large painting of pastoral, gentle landscape hung above the bedhead.-
[00:02] <Minaplo> [Narendra roughly tore his tangled sheets free of his body, climbed out of bed and, slouching, walked into the en suite. The bathroom was tiled in white, with sea-green tiling on the walls. The basin was plain white, with smoothened edges giving it a curiously roundish look.-
[17:34] <Minaplo> [He shuffled into the shower and turned it on; he let the hot water flow blissfully over his skin, letting it fog and dull his thoughts. He stood in a fugue for half an hour, moving only to perform the most perfunctory things needed for proper hygiene.-
[17:35] <Minaplo> [Eventually he turned the water off and stepped out onto his mat. He stood still for a while, just letting the droplets drip off him steadily, letting the air slowly cool against his heated skin.-
[17:36] <Minaplo> [He languidly rubbed at his chin. A bit of growth; time to shave.-
[17:37] <Minaplo> [Narendra filled the basin with hot water, then applied shaving cream to his chin and cheeks. He then took out his razor- a sleek silver-blue thing- and looked up-
[17:37] <Minaplo> [Hair of gold.-
[17:38] <Minaplo> [Flowing unfettered, free, contemptuous of bonds.-
[17:38] <Minaplo> [The razor at his throat had become a knife, brutal, long and lethal, the edge cutting just a little into his soft throat flesh, drawing blood-
[17:39] <Minaplo> [Narendra let out a cry, and something small and silver-blue struck the mirror hard. He stumbled backwards, hands over his throat, and-
[17:39] <Minaplo> […-
[17:40] <Minaplo> [A thin cut, nothing more. The razor he had thrown had struck the mirror hard; the blades of the razor had popped off, whilst the handle had fallen into a nearby waste bin.-
[17:40] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[17:41] <Minaplo> [Narendra spent several minutes like that, trying to bring his rapid, shallow breaths down to a slower, deeper rhythm.-
[17:41] <Minaplo> [Just a little cut.-
[17:41] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[17:42] <Minaplo> [He eventually returned to the basin, reassembled his razor and shaved himself, trying to ignore the unbidden spring of tears in his eyes.-
[17:44] <Minaplo> [Narendra stepped back into the cool air of his bedroom, his chin now much smoother, except for the small bandaid a little above his adam's apple. He stepped over to his bedside table and drew out the top drawer.-
[17:48] <Minaplo> [The drawer was neat and tidy: nearest to the bed were a series of small books, sporting titles such as Your Life, Your Control; Understanding It! with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Not Your Fault: A Guide to Recovery. Next to them were several small jewelry boxes, dark blue in colour. Finally, on the right most side, was a medication card: it contained several little plastic blisters, one for morning, afternoon, dinner and night for each day of the week.-
[17:49] <Minaplo> [Narendra took the card out and popped the blister containing Tuesday, Morning: a small handful of pills and tablets, all different sizes, shapes and colours, fell into his hand.-
[17:51] <Minaplo> [There was a jug of water atop his bedside table, next to his alarm clock, holo and lamp. He shoved the medication into his mouth, grabbed the jug and took a long draft, swallowing them all in one.-
[17:51] <Minaplo> […-
[17:59] <Minaplo> [After dressing in his uniform, it was time to eat. Breakfast for Narendra was a colourful, diverse affair. Laid out in front of him was a bowl of oat and wheat cereal in milk, a plate of buttered croissants with marmalade, a platter of full, fat strawberries, near-bursting grapes, firm bananas and wedges of watermelon; a plate of scrambled eggs with two hot pork sausages; a mug of hot, strong coffee and, of course, his holo set to display today's news.-
[18:02] <Minaplo> [Narendra ate and read over the course of an hour, taking his time, savouring the moment, letting the slight wooziness of his medication pass him over. Once he'd eaten, he scrupulously washed every dish and mug, placed them back in their places, then made to leave.-
[18:03] <Minaplo> ["Time to start the day," Said Narenda to his apartment; to empty seats in an empty room.-
[18:15] <Minaplo> […-
[18:15] <Minaplo> ["Good morning, sir."-
[18:16] <Minaplo> [The staff of Ops said it one after the other as he walked past. Each time, he gave them a firm nod. "Good morning, good morning…"-
[18:22] <Minaplo> ["Lieutenant Miama, what's the situation today?" Asked Narendra once he was seated.-
[18:25] <Minaplo> [Miama- a short, thin young man with short, black hair and grey eyes turned in his seat. "Nel continues to invest the Synfront, sir." He said. "It attempted several attacks on external defenses during the night- one at 2 AM, 3 AM and 4 AM- but damage was minimal and it was driven back by the Damocles each time. However, the attacks coincided with attempts to repair the first and second interception bulwarks, meaning that repairs have not progressed."-
[18:31] <Minaplo> ["Very good, Mr. Miama." Said Narendra calmly. "Ms. Bele, please send confirmation to Marshal Caine that the Synfront may not be fully ready for action by the time the rebel fleet mounts the expected attack. Send to him my apologies as well."-
[18:31] <Minaplo> ["Yes, sir."-
[18:32] <Minaplo> [Ms. Bele, who was very tall and had jaw-length frizzy hair, quickly went to work. "Synfront Operations to Sword of Damocles…"-
[18:32] <Minaplo> [For the next few hours, Narendra worked.-
[18:34] <Minaplo> [He read and heard reports, and sent out new directives; he oversaw supply flows and dispatched orders to forces in the field; he signed off on hundreds of seemingly identical forms, but paid enough attention to understand the intent and meaning of each and every one.-
[18:34] <Minaplo> [The system worked. The system flowed.-
[18:34] <Minaplo> [Every day, the same way, the pieces locking into place.-
[18:36] <Minaplo> [Mismanagement gave way to efficiency, just like chaos gave way to order. Confusion was met with clarity. Everything had its place, and Narendra felt encouraged, even warmed, as everything lined up, like a perfect collage.-
[18:37] <Minaplo> [Orderly. Unambiguous. Stable. That is how he liked Ops, and he had just started feeling hungry for lunch when the first interruption to that stability arrived.-
[18:38] <Minaplo> ["Director Narendra."-
[18:39] <Minaplo> ["What is it?" Said Narendra coolly, turning to look at the speaker- Marshal Magistrate Jackson.-
[18:44] <Minaplo> [Marshal Jackson was an Iron Guard: a towering savage beast of a man, more than two metres tall, with a massive, stout chest, bulging, muscular arms and thick, trunk-like legs. Despite this grotesquery his head was the same size as any normal man's, giving him the ridiculous, disproportionate look of a pea atop a boulder.-
[18:45] <Minaplo> [How does he live with himself? Asked Narendra silently. Such a twisted, disgusting body…-
[18:47] <Minaplo> ["My mission has been a success." Said Jackson. "Sondezi will work with us."-
[18:47] <Minaplo> ["Excellent! You've done well, Jackson." Said Narendra with a bright smile.-
[18:51] <Minaplo> [Distended torso, distorted form, how do they sleep when they're stuffed so full of shit, just slipping beneath the surface? They're vile. Vile, vile, vile.-
[18:52] <Minaplo> ["Thank you, Director." Said Jackson. "Now, Marshal Caine would like for us to consider what forces we're to allocate to Sondezi's command…"-
[18:53] <Minaplo> [This took half an hour, during which Narendra smiled and nodded and pointed out problems and offered solutions, all the while ignoring the bubbling, rising nausea and the gorge in his throat.-
[18:54] <Minaplo> [It was only when Jackson left that Narendra was allowed to relax, to breathe properly, to stomach the natural disgust at the loathsome giant's offensive form.-
[18:54] <Minaplo> [This respite, however, only lasted for 20 minutes before an altogether different beast arrived to break up his peace.-
[18:54] <Minaplo> ["Hey there, Gadhavi." Said Agatha cheerfully.-
[18:56] <Minaplo> ["Solomon Agatha." Said Narendra stiffly. "Remember your place. You are to refer to me-"-
[18:57] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, sorry, Director." Said Agatha with a quick grin. "You're just so grumpy, you know? It makes me want to be extra cheerful to bring you out of it all. Such pretty eyes shouldn't be so frowny all the time."-
[18:58] <Minaplo> [Narendra bit back the natural urge to strike, to kill before it had the chance; that wasn't a fight he could win.-
[19:02] <Minaplo> [Look at it smirk! thought Narendra to himself as he struggled to control his bile. Acts so friendly and fine, slim and perfect like a man's fantasy, but all of it lies, all of it poison. It wears a human mask, but I don't forget what you really are.-
[19:03] <Minaplo> ["What do you want, Solomon Prime?" Asked Narendra curtly.-
[19:04] <Minaplo> ["Hehe. My bad, Director." Said Agatha with a smile. "Doctor von Hamburg sent me along. She wanted you to know that…"-
[19:05] <Minaplo> [Agatha had to step as close as possible now, and whisper in his hear. He could feel her breath on his skin and smell her scent.-
[19:05] <Minaplo> [Fight it. Fight it.-
[19:05] <Minaplo> ["… I see." Said Narendra eventually, after which Agatha quickly withdrew. "Tell von Hamburg that I acknowledge the situation, and will do as she recommends."-
[19:06] <Minaplo> ["Gotcha. I'll pass it on. See you, Director." Said Agatha happily; she gave everyone a cheery wave (which most of Ops returned, smiles on their face) before she left.-
[19:06] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[19:06] <Minaplo> [Narendra let out a long, rattling breath.-
[19:08] <Minaplo> ["Now then, back to work."-
[19:10] <Minaplo> [The rest of his shift passed smoothly; he finalised forces for Sondezi, increased the budget for local refugee aid and agreed to reduce mining operations as per Marshal Caine's orders. He also oversaw the Synfront's own Stormtrooper regiments; one of the companies being sent to Asgard was still down a magistrate.-
[19:12] <Minaplo> [He perused the list of potential replacements… He saw one name in particular and smiled.-
[19:12] <Minaplo> [Before long, it was reaching the end of his shift. He got to his feet, gave a nod to the night shift director and left. He still had things to do before the day was out. He'd need to eat dinner, of course, and handle some private affairs. But first…-
[19:13] <Minaplo> […-
[19:13] <Minaplo> [The room was quite pleasant and attractive, with a rich, soft blue carpet, a pleasing powder-blue wallpaper and thick, comfortable chairs.-
[19:14] <Minaplo> ["Good to see you here, Narendra." Said Ephraim Siskin von Brandt with a smile.-
[21:11] <Minaplo> [Narenda gave von Brandt a quick nod. He smiled, but it was shaky.-
[21:13] <Minaplo> ["I've been looking at what you've filled out, and it looks like this week's been better than last." Said von Brandt. "Let's hear it in your own words."-
[21:13] <Minaplo> ["Ah."-
[21:14] <Minaplo> [Narendra hesitated. He bowed his head, unable to meet von Brandt's gaze. "I've been having fewer… Episodes." He said eventually. "And when they happen they're not as intense."-
[21:15] <Minaplo> [von Brandt nodded.-
[21:16] <Minaplo> ["They still happen a lot when I wake up." Admitted Narendra slowly. "But they've stopped happening during the working day. I've been able to perform properly."-
[21:17] <Minaplo> [von Brandt nodded.-
[21:21] <Minaplo> ["I'm feeling like I have more control over things than I used to. And I have the most control at Ops." Said Narendra. "Which is where I need it."-
[21:22] <Minaplo> ["So there's less worry when doing your job now." Said von Brandt.-
[21:23] <Minaplo> ["Yes. Yes, that's right." Said Narendra, nodding several times. "Which, you remember, was one of my major concerns."-
[21:45] <Minaplo> ["I do. Along with your own general wellbeing and being able to work more harmoniously with colleagues." Said von Brandt. "How are you faring with these?"-
[21:46] <Minaplo> ["… Mixed bag." Said Narendra. "I'm keeping myself strict, like you taught me. Taking regular meals, putting proper effort into how I live. I think it's working on that front."-
[21:46] <Minaplo> [von Brandt nodded. "In all honesty, Narendra, you're a disciplined man; I can't claim to have taught you how to apply that principle to your own wellbeing."-
[21:47] <Minaplo> ["… I suppose that's true." Said Narendra, smiling a little more honestly.-
[21:48] <Minaplo> [von Brandt's own smile widened to mirror Narendra's own. "How do you feel about that progress?"-
[21:49] <Minaplo> ["… Good." Said Narendra. "I hadn't realised how disordered I'd become in my own personal life. I… I feel like coming home to that, living like that, was only making things worse."-
[21:50] <Minaplo> ["It's still difficult, though." He added. "Waking up and coming back in and to a lonely home. It's so quiet. It's…"-
[21:50] <Minaplo> [Narendra leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees; von Brandt too leaned forward as if to mirror him.-
[21:59] <Minaplo> ["Empty." Said Narendra dully. "It's so empty, Ephraim. There's no one there to wait for me, no one there to greet in the morning, there's just me, and it's so empty that all I can feel is more me, and it's driving me insane."-
[22:03] <Minaplo> ["You're lonely, and you feel shaken by it." Said von Brandt.-
[22:06] <Minaplo> [Narendra nodded quickly, several times. "I feel trapped up inside myself. I… It's so difficult to be happy when you're like that."-
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["Let's return, then, to one of my earlier questions: you wanted to improve your relationships with your colleagues and try to prevent some of the unpleasant impulses you feel around them. How're you going with that?"-
[22:07] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[22:09] <Minaplo> [Narendra sighed. "It's not working. I still feel like I can't talk to anyone. I can't… It… It feels so unpredictable! I hate it. The only way I manage to talk to others is if it's at work, but then there's this… I feel unprofessional for focusing on anything other than my duty."-
[22:09] <Minaplo> ["So you find talking to others outside of a controlled situation challenging." Said von Brandt.-
[22:11] <Minaplo> ["Yes! It's… Ugh. It's sad that the most positive social interactions I've had for the last few months have been with a teenage prisoner of war I kept underneath my roof." Said Narendra, his voice richly bitter.-
[22:14] <Minaplo> ["Whose fault is it that this is such a challenge?" Said von Brandt.-
[22:21] <Minaplo> ["…" Narendra sighed. "I know. You say it's not mine, but you don't know what it's like to feel like you want something, to feel miserable without it, but every time you try to take it you fail, and the failure's all in my head!"-
[22:27] <Minaplo> [Von Brandt gave Narendra a long, gentle look. Eventually he nodded. "It feels to you like the failure's yours- but something you can't see, only experience."-
[22:29] <Minaplo> [Narendra found himself nodding- then he stopped and sighed.-
[23:03] <Minaplo> ["I know you're probably going to ask, but no, this means I still haven't said anything to Choi Hyun." Said Narendra hollowly.-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["All in good time, Narendra." Said von Brandt with a smile.-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["Mmm." Said Narendra with a deep sigh.-
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["What about your feelings around the bioexotics?" Said von Brandt.-
[23:05] <Minaplo> [Narendra shook his head firmly. "No."-
[23:06] <Minaplo> [von Brandt was silent; after a few seconds, Narendra eventually continued.-
[23:06] <Minaplo> ["I still… I still hate them." He said quietly. "I can't help it. Every time one of them appears, all I feel is… I feel nothing but…"-
[23:10] <Minaplo> ["… Fear and hate." He admitted. "I want to attack them, to… To hurt them, to destroy them, to punish them, but then whenever they appear it feels like another intrusion, and I just want them to go away."-
[23:11] <Minaplo> [von Brandt nodded, but before he could speak, Narendra continued.-
[23:11] <Minaplo> ["It wouldn't be so hard if I could bring myself to trust them, but how could I?" He said with feverish haste. "They're monstrous. They can do things, unnatural things, I- I can't feel safe. Ephraim, please-"-
[23:12] <Minaplo> [von Brandt frowned slightly; the change in expression seemed to almost break Narendra's heart.-
[23:12] <Minaplo> ["Don't refuse, please. You said you blocked her, you can keep them out. If you could train me, if you could teach me, I-I think I could feel safer around them."-
[23:14] <Minaplo> [von Brandt was silent for a long, few moments.-
[23:14] <Minaplo> [Eventually he sighed. "Narendra, you're the expert on yourself, not I. If you think it'll help, then I'll teach you."-
[23:14] <Minaplo> [Narendra's entire face lit up.-
[23:17] <Minaplo> ["… But at the same time, you have the right to know that my techniques are unlikely to block everything." Said von Brandt reluctantly. "If the same circumstances arise, then they would at best give you a brief stopgap to allow you to escape from their circle of influence."-
[23:17] <Minaplo> ["I-I know, but that's all I need. You said- you said it kept you safe, when Shi tried to seduce you."-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["Yes, that's true." Said von Brandt.-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["And if it can block the strongest of the Ayanamis, then it should be able to block a lot."-
[23:18] <Minaplo> ["…" Von Brandt was silent for a few long moments.-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["Narendra, it's possible- entirely likely- that Ayanami Shi's abilities are unique to her, they… May not be shared by her sisters."-
[23:19] <Minaplo> ["You don't know that for sure."-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["Admittedly I don't." conceded von Brandt. "And considering the development of their abilities, it may be something a few of them develop over time. But… I feel they would be the exception, Narendra."-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["Roku had it." Said Narendra firmly.-
[23:20] <Minaplo> ["What makes you say that?"-
[23:21] <Minaplo> ["She was able to subvert Sergeant Shire." Said Narendra.-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["What leads you to that conclusion?"-
[23:22] <Minaplo> ["He- Shire's a loyal soldier. He's for the UN! Yet he disobeyed me, insulted me-"-
[23:24] <Minaplo> ["All this over the body of a broken girl, Narendra?" Said von Brandt. "Men have been moved to pity over such scenes for millennia. If such a hurt girl could subvert Shire, why would they not also subvert you?"-
[23:25] <Minaplo> [A stately hand, fair like cream.-
[23:25] <Minaplo> [FIrm like iron.-
[23:27] <Minaplo> [Hot as the furnace.-
[23:28] <Minaplo> [Narendra was weeping openly, his hands clapped over his face, his shoulders shaking.-
[23:28] <Minaplo> [von Brandt sat in his chair, looking contrite, even guilty. "… Narendra…"-
[23:30] <Minaplo> [Narendra didn't speak for a long time; he only sobbed.-
[23:31] <Minaplo> [But when he finally did speak his voice was taut with anger. "Am I such a bad man?"-
[23:31] <Minaplo> [He leapt to his feet.-
[23:34] <Minaplo> ["For years and years, I've shed my tears and hoped for something better! But everytime I try to get it, everything goes wrong!"-
[23:36] <Minaplo> ["I've tried! I've tried my best, but all I seem to do is fail! Look at me! I'm the Director of NERV! I command the greatest fortress in history!"-
[23:37] <Minaplo> ["But all I've done, all I've gained- it isn't helping! I command millions, but I can't even speak to women!"-
[23:38] <Minaplo> [With a furious shout, he upended his own chair.-
[23:40] <Minaplo> ["It's not my fault!" Shouted Narendra. "How can a man like me be good when so much drags me down? It's their fault! They did this! They should've killed me then and there, but instead they let me live with this - this feeling of despair! I can't get away from it, no matter how hard…"-
[23:41] <Minaplo> ["… I believe you." Said von Brandt softly.-
[23:42] <Minaplo> [Von Brandt rose to his feet. "You've been given trying times, Narendra, and it's not your fault. Go home for tonight, eat, get some rest, and come back tomorrow; then I'll begin teaching you to protect your mind."-
[23:43] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:43] <Minaplo> ["Alright." Said Narendra quietly. "I'm sorry for my outburst."-
[23:44] <Minaplo> ["Don't be, Narendra. You're entitled to your own anger."-
[23:49] <Minaplo> ["But I attacked your furniture." Said Narendra.-
[23:49] <Minaplo> ["It's only a chair, Narendra." Said von Brandt. "I don't care about a chair, but I do care about you."-
[23:49] <Minaplo> ["… Thank you, Ephraim."-
[23:50] <Minaplo> [von Brandt smiled.-
[23:53] <Minaplo> ["Tomorrow, then." Said Narendra.-
[23:53] <Minaplo> ["Tomorrow." Agreed von Brandt.-
[23:54] <Minaplo> [Narendra slowly pushed his chair back up properly, gave von Brandt a firm nod, then left.-
[23:54] <Minaplo> […-
[23:55] <Minaplo> [Night time. The elevator clock showed 8:22 PM.-
[23:56] <Minaplo> [They'd be serving dinner in the cafeterias and small restaurants in the Synmall. Although Narendra had an excellent kitchen and plenty of food at home, tonight he felt he'd eat in the cafeteria with everyone else. Perhaps he'd feel safer in the hubbub.-
[23:57] <Minaplo> [Slowly the elevator moved lower and lower, often coming to a stop to let people in or out.-
[23:58] <Minaplo> [The elevator was empty bar for Narendra when it arrived on the top level of Technical. The elevator doors opened.-
[00:19] <Minaplo> [Choi Hyun was a slender, petite woman with wavy dark brown hair that fell in sheets to her shoulders, and wide, light green eyes that reminded Narendra of mint leaves. She had a sweet, small mouth, slightly large ears, and a light dusting of freckles across her fair skin. She wore a black turtleneck beneath a navy jacket uniform and trousers; the jacket bore yellow stripes across her
[00:19] <Minaplo> shoulders, indicating that she was a Doctor in the Computer Information and Electronics Division.-
[00:22] <Minaplo> [During battle situations, Choi Hyun would be on hand to monitor the MAGI cluster on which the Synfront relied. Before this, she'd done the same during Narendra's brief stint at the Geofront; in all situations, he'd found her to be composed and calm.-
[00:23] <Minaplo> [Much unlike himself right now; as the doors had opened to reveal her, Narendra's heart felt as though it had leapt into his throat, it pumped so hard. After such a turbulent day, the stress made him a little light-headed.-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [He tried to say something, but his mouth was so dry…-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["Hi, Director." Said Choi Hyun, standing next to him. "Didn't expect to see you so late."-
[00:26] <Minaplo> ["Er."-
[00:26] <Minaplo> ["Isn't your apartment on a higher floor?" She said.-
[00:26] <Minaplo> ["Uh." He forced himself to swallow. "Yes. I thought… I'd eat with the men tonight."-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["Oh!" Choi Hyun turned to look at him now; she gave him a sweet smile. "There's that fatherly streak I keep hearing about, Director?"-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["I wouldn't…" He stammered. "I mean-"-
[00:29] <Minaplo> ["I'm getting a bite to eat myself, actually. I'm a little tired of the food here, honestly, but I never got my dad's cooking skills, so I can't be choosy…"-
[00:34] <Minaplo> [I'm actually quite a good cook. The thought raced through Narendra's head. One of these nights, why don't you join me for dinner? It'd be lovely.-
[00:35] <Minaplo> ["Uh, hrm. Shame."-
[00:36] <Minaplo> ["… Yeah." Agreed Choi Hyun, slightly awkwardly.-
[00:36] <Minaplo> [The fuck did I say that for?-
[00:39] <Minaplo> [Seeing Choi Hyun here, speaking to her- or rather, being spoken to- was a mess of conflict for him. On the one hand, Choi Hyun… The woman he'd fallen for, even though he'd only really glimpsed her life through little gaps like this- the woman he'd lusted after night after night between the nightmares and memories. And for that reason, he'd also wanted to get away, to separate himself,
[00:39] <Minaplo> to give him a chance to escape to the quiet and calm down and be alone-
[00:39] <Minaplo> [Even if only a few hours ago he'd wept at that very thing.-
[00:42] <Minaplo> ["I'm actually eating with some friends tonight myself." Said Choi Hyun. "It's a bit ho hum, I know, but there's not really a lot to do here… Maybe I'm feeling a little homesick for Seoul. On a night like this I could ring up some friends and catch a movie, or go see a play… I miss plays."-
[00:43] <Minaplo> [There's a company in Seventh Regiment putting on a production of Cats in three days. They're not the best troupe ever, but they've got heart. Would you like to join me?-
[00:44] <Minaplo> ["Yeah, plays." Said Narendra.-
[00:44] <Minaplo> ["… Heh. Sorry. Military life, right?" Said Choi Hyun.-
[00:45] <Minaplo> [Narendra finally turned to look at her. He met her in the eye, and for a second his heart seemed to stop in his chest.-
[00:45] <Minaplo> [What did he want to say…?-
[00:45] <Minaplo> ["… I'm homesick too." He said.-
[00:46] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:48] <Minaplo> [She gave him another lovely smile. "One of these days, Director, you'll need to tell me about Johannesburg."-
[00:50] <Minaplo> ["… Jo…" He coughed, and turned away, his cheeks starting to burn.-
[00:50] <Minaplo> [The elevator came to a stop at Synmall level 1, and the doors opened; they both stepped out.-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["I'm heading this way." Said Choi Hyun, gesturing towards the left.-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["Ah. I er… Well." Narendra waved a hand in front of him.-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["Oh! I see." Said Choi Hyun.-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["Hey, Director?"-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["Mmm?"-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["Try to get some rest, ok? You look a little tired."-
[00:55] <Minaplo> [And then she smiled at him. It was a sweet smile from earlier, but also a little more; sad, wistful even. In that smile he saw pity; not the arrogant, condescending pity of looking down at a pathetic figure, but a loving pity, a kind pity, the sort that made you want to help.-
[00:55] <Minaplo> [Please don't go.-
[00:55] <Minaplo> [Let me join you. Stay with me. Come with me.-
[00:55] <Minaplo> [This is the best interaction I've had in weeks.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> [I'm pathetic.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> [I love you.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["I'll try. Enjoy your night, Doctor Choi." Said Narendra calmly.-
[00:57] <Minaplo> [He walked his way; she walked her's.-
[00:58] <Minaplo> [Narendra didn't remember much of what happened after then. He'd eaten, but he'd also found his way to a bar, and had more than his fill, and he'd done so surrounded by his own men, and there had been noise, and singing…-
[00:58] <Minaplo> […-
[00:59] <Minaplo> [The trees were thick here.-
[01:00] <Minaplo> [The roots were twisted and bulging beneath his feet, but that didn't bother him; he was sure-footed, and he could move quietly if he wanted. The ground was covered in dead leaves, but his clever feet found a path through them that spared him their noise.-
[01:00] <Minaplo> [Ayanami.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> [Narendra's patrol had begun twenty minutes ago. His armour was on, his railrifle cradled in his hands, a camo cloak over his shoulders.-
[01:06] <Minaplo> [The UN was beginning its push through the northern Congo, trying to cut a path toward the LN capital in Nairobi. After years of fighting, Narendra and his forces had finally- finally- managed to link up with a genuine, large UN force.-
[01:07] <Minaplo> [Forces like his were highly valued. Mobile, light, used to the terrain, they lived and breathed guerrilla warfare. They often acted as a vanguard, screening the advance of the main UN army.-
[01:07] <Minaplo> [Narendra may have taken orders from the UN, but in many ways they followed their own rules; one of those rules was that the colonel- him- would work as hard as the others, if not moreso.-
[01:08] <Minaplo> [And so he and his men set out on patrol, moving through the dense flora, subtly trailblazing as they went. Their base camp, and the other thousand or so men that Narendra had shepherded all these years, was two kilometres to the north.-
[01:08] <Minaplo> [Ayanami.-
[01:09] <Minaplo> [Twenty minutes after they'd left, they'd spotted her: an Ayanami, all by herself, wearing what looked like a damaged plugsuit. They'd only glimpsed her for a little while before she vanished.-
[01:10] <Minaplo> [A pilot. A UN Evangelion pilot. All orders of patrol and trailblazing had left Narendra's mind; such a person was a VIP, worthy of the most protection.-
[01:11] <Minaplo> [Narendra and his squad- six of them all up, including him- moved deeper into the forests, trying to find the pilot.-
[01:11] <Minaplo> [It would take another hour before they'd finally succeed.-
[01:12] <Minaplo> [There she stood, plugsuit shredded, some of it even sparking; blood dripped from gashes in her legs, across her chest, and across her left cheek. She had golden blonde hair and stunning bright red eyes.-
[01:13] <Minaplo> [How beautiful, he had thought at the time, but only for a moment. "Pilot Ayanami." He said quickly. "My name's Narendra Gadhavi. I lead a UN irregular unit. You're in need of aid; come back with us. We'll bring you back to allied lines."-
[01:13] <Minaplo> [She'd stared at him. The eyes… They seemed sad. Hollow. He felt sympathy within his chest.-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["It's alright." He said softly. "Pilot…"-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["You're the leader?" She said in a soft voice.-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["Yes, that's right-"-
[01:14] <Minaplo> [A light burst into existence, prismatic and blinding; he threw his hands up over his eyes.-
[01:15] <Minaplo> [When he'd dared to look again, he saw that his five men were dead.-
[01:16] <Minaplo> [They'd been cut apart by a single wave of kinetic force, strong and forceful enough to have simply torn the heads from their shoulders cleanly.-
[01:16] <Minaplo> ["W-Wh-"-
[01:16] <Minaplo> [He had stammered, unable to move, eyes popping with terror. My men…-
[01:17] <Minaplo> ["You're going to help me." Said the Ayanami. She approached him.-
[01:17] <Minaplo> [He staggered back, and fell over.-
[01:17] <Minaplo> [She smiled, stood over him, then slowly lowered herself over him. "Yes, you'll do. Be patient for a moment."-
[01:17] <Minaplo> [She placed her hand on his head.-
[01:18] <Minaplo> [A stately hand, fair like cream.-
[01:18] <Minaplo> [It had been hell.-
[01:19] <Minaplo> [For an hour and a half he had lay there, her cold, heavy hand on his head. During that time, she had taken his soul, forced it open, and gorged herself on the secrets within. Nothing he knew, not even his deepest secrets, darkest desires or most sacred dreams remained free.-
[01:20] <Minaplo> [It had been a violation. And when all was said and done, when the scars had been cut into himself, she'd left something there, something of herself. Something that resonated when she spoke.-
[01:20] <Minaplo> ["You'll return to your base. When the patrols end, you will place your helmet atop your tent and crawl inside."-
[01:20] <Minaplo> [And he had done exactly that.-
[01:23] <Minaplo> [That night, a fire had consumed the base.-
[01:24] <Minaplo> [The fire had gleamed red, and green, and purple and blue and yellow, and all the other colours and shades; it had consumed the palisade, consumed the tents, consumed the men inside. Men resting, men joking, men eating, men healing from wounds, men who'd gone to sleep and never woken up. They'd burned. They'd been his men, and they'd burned.-
[01:24] <Minaplo> [Narendra had not burned.-
[01:24] <Minaplo> [His tent had been marked, and he'd been spared, like a macabre retelling of a biblical plague.-
[01:25] <Minaplo> [When the burning was at its peak, something inside him resonated; and he had come.-
[01:25] <Minaplo> [The Ayanami had stood in the middle of it all, completely untouched by the devastation she had wrought.-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["My men." He had croaked, tears filling his eyes.-
[01:28] <Minaplo> ["Dead." Said the Ayanami. "And you now belong to me. Take your helmet and enough food, and march back to the main UN camp 60 kilometres northwest. You will tell their general that an LN ambush had scattered your men, but you think you know where they are. Furthermore, once you are in the base and the general deploys his forces, you will deactivate their portatron generators; once that is
[01:28] <Minaplo> done, you are to give the general this."-
[01:31] <Minaplo> [She handed a note to Narendra. Then she had left.-
[01:31] <Minaplo> [Narendra tried to bury his men, but all he buried was ash; and before long a monsoon rain came and washed his men into the mud.-
[01:32] <Minaplo> [And so he had left for the UN camp; or rather, it was a series of camps, containing a total of 100,000 men.-
[01:35] <Minaplo> [There, Narendra fled, and presented himself to General Hammond; he had told his lies, but he did so with tears in his eyes. General Hammond had shed a few of his own, to see Narendra's grief. He had given Narendra a drink of brandy, and promised his best aid to Narendra, that his men would be found and the ones who could not would be avenged.-
[01:36] <Minaplo> [A single division- 20,000 of Hammond's men- had deployed to the south, to intercept this ambushing force.-
[01:37] <Minaplo> [After they had left, Narendra had moved throughout the base, marking the locations of all their portatron generators. The normal soldiers wisely avoided these, but Narendra was different; once a South African general and engineer both, he'd understood the machines. With half an hours' preparation he'd rigged the machines together, then with one action, disabled them all. The base was
[01:37] <Minaplo> plunged into darkness and chaos.-
[01:38] <Minaplo> [Then Narendra, hating himself, but unable to refuse, had returned to Hammond. He had taken out the note and pushed it into Hammond's hands.-
[01:38] <Minaplo> [Hammond opened it. He read it. As he did so, his eyes narrowed.-
[01:39] <Minaplo> ["What is this rubbish, Gadhavi?" Asked Hammond, but gently. "Theology? Eschatology? Philo- what is all this?"-
[01:40] <Minaplo> [A perfectly straight beam of light had torn through Hammond's head. He had crumpled.-
[01:40] <Minaplo> [The world outside Hammond's command centre burned.-
[01:41] <Minaplo> [The Ayanami stood in the middle, waves of fire and energy bursting from her hands. Whole squads vaporised, vehicles flayed open, even concrete and stone melted.-
[01:42] <Minaplo> [Ruination was visited on the United Nations. All the while, the Ayanami stood in the middle of it, smiling calmly, gently; she was beautiful.-
[01:42] <Minaplo> [Hair of gold.-
[01:43] <Minaplo> [And when it was over, she had beckoned, and Gadhavi had come; and then he had been given another note, and more instructions, and another base.-
[01:43] <Minaplo> [And the bases had burned.-
[01:44] <Minaplo> [It only got easier for the Ayanami. With Hammond dead, the bases were in confusion, and news, any news- even from Narendra- was important, and accepted.-
[01:44] <Minaplo> [And each time Narendra silently begged with them, pleaded with them. Don't fall for it! It's a trick! Please, please see through my lie! Please, kill me! Shoot me!-
[01:45] <Minaplo> [Don't let me hurt any more of you!-
[01:46] <Minaplo> [With each base, thousands died, and every time the Ayanami grew warmer towards Narendra. "Well done with that rigging," she'd say. Or "Knocked out their communications with the pulse? I knew you could do it."-
[01:46] <Minaplo> [And her voice was beautiful. She began giving him gifts. Once, he sat on his knees, another commander dead before him. The Ayanami had given him a bar of chocolate and a pat on the head.-
[01:48] <Minaplo> [More bases. More deaths.-
[01:49] <Minaplo> ["One more, now." Whispered the Ayanami. She caressed his face. Her hand was so cold and heavy.-
[01:49] <Minaplo> [But it was never 'just' one more.-
[01:50] <Minaplo> [In the course of 32 days, Narendra sold out over seventy bases across six UN armies; nearly 200,000 men had died, the result of this one Ayanami.-
[01:51] <Minaplo> [By the end of the first week, Narendra was mindless. He saw what happened, and he pleaded dully inside his own head… But he had stopped seeing. He had stopped feeling. He felt one step disconnected from it all, a simple viewer observing a world he was helping to burn.-
[01:52] <Minaplo> [One more base.-
[01:52] <Minaplo> [This time, however, the base was truly insignificant. It was a well-developed base, true, but the major draw of it to the Ayanami had been the Evangelion.-
[01:53] <Minaplo> ["An Evangelion will be stopping here to resupply." Said the Ayanami. "This time, my love, we will kill a pilot."-
[01:54] <Minaplo> [And so it had played out like it had before. He had entered the base, and any trauma he spoke of was lent weight by the fugue grimness in his eyes.-
[01:54] <Minaplo> [But this time the Ayanami had made an error.-
[01:55] <Minaplo> [The pilot had gotten out, just for a little while.-
[01:55] <Minaplo> [Narendra had stolen a firearm. He was supposed to shoot her.-
[01:56] <Minaplo> [By that point he didn't remember her name. He recognised her- white hair, blue eyes, glasses- but he couldn't…-
[01:56] <Minaplo> [He had moved in for the kill.-
[01:56] <Minaplo> [And the Evangelion towering above had, for just a tenth of a second, flared to life.-
[01:57] <Minaplo> [… And everything washed away. The sickly resonance in his soul burned away. For the first time in a month, Narendra's body was his own.-
[01:58] <Minaplo> [And the Ayanami had stood in the middle of the base and been exposed.-
[01:58] <Minaplo> [A stately hand, fair like cream.-
[01:58] <Minaplo> [Hair of gold-
[01:58] <Minaplo> [Eyes of blue.-
[01:58] <Minaplo> [He was lovely.-
[01:59] <Minaplo> [A loveliness that turns to ice in your veins.-
[01:59] <Minaplo> [He stood, two metres tall, clad in golden armour, golden hair flowing away from a perfect ivory face, jasper-blue eyes shining. He had held a staff, and worn a cloak of rich purple.-
[02:00] <Minaplo> [He knew he had been caught.-
[02:00] <Minaplo> [With one final action he turned toward Narendra, caught his eye- smiled, a beautiful, cruel smile-
[02:00] <Minaplo> [Then had fled.-
[02:01] <Minaplo> […-
[02:02] <Minaplo> [Narendra had left twenty minutes ago. His power armour was on, his positron gun cradled in his hands, a damaskite mantle over his shoulders.-
[02:05] <Minaplo> His men had moved ahead of him, in a circuitous way, fanning out. That put their quarry between his men and himself.-
[02:05] <Minaplo> [Three of them.-
[02:07] <Minaplo> [Iron Guard. Mk3, their mighty armour a dark green.-
[02:07] <Minaplo> [It was said that you couldn't ambush an Iron Guard, only prove their suspicions about every rock and nook right.-
[02:09] <Minaplo> [And when the first shot had been fired, it had been from a Guard's bolter; it splintered a tree and the man behind it.-
[02:10] <Minaplo> [The ambush found, the Iron Guard fell into a familiar attack position. Two of them advanced, bolters at the ready, whilst the third hung back and provided covering fire.-
[02:12] <Minaplo> [Narendra's men shouted. They returned fire, maser bolts plinking harmlessly off the Iron Guards' armour plates. A bolter roared; a man screamed.-
[02:12] <Minaplo> [That's two.-
[02:12] <Minaplo> [Narendra advanced on the third Guard, the one who provided covering fire.-
[02:13] <Minaplo> [The guard had its back to him, but not for long. It turned;-
[02:13] <Minaplo> [The positron gun was set to maximum power. Narendra buttressed it against his shoulder, aimed, and fired.-
[02:14] <Minaplo> [The positron beam missed the head.-
[02:15] <Minaplo> [But then, he hadn't been aiming for the head. There was a very small section of the Iron Guard's power pack, a section that faced the neck. This section had thin armour and had a near-direct line to the positron core within.-
[02:15] <Minaplo> [This it struck.-
[02:16] <Minaplo> [The power pack detonated furiously, propelling the Iron Guard off his feet; a huge bulk of metal and flame.-
[02:16] <Minaplo> [The body slammed into the ground hard, twitched for a little while, then lay still.-
[02:19] <Minaplo> [The noise- deafeningly loud- was enough to attract the other two Iron Guard. They moved towards Narendra, standing back to back, covering each other.-
[02:19] <Minaplo> [Narendra calmly ejected the burnt out fuse-charge of his gun, threw it aside and replaced it with another.-
[02:21] <Minaplo> [One of his men shouted something, and threw a bandolier of grenades toward the Guards. Promptly, both guards turned and fired; another two of his men went down screaming.-
[02:22] <Minaplo> [The Guards dived to the side as the bandolier exploded, showering the area in shrapel and fire. The sound was deafening; if Narendra hadn't been wearing his helmet…-
[02:22] <Minaplo> [The grenades had winded one of the Guard, nothing more. It would be up to Narendra to finish it off.-
[02:22] <Minaplo> [He raised his gun-
[02:23] <Minaplo> [The roar of a bolter. The gun was nearly torn from his hands, a bolt slug hitting it in the muzzle.-
[02:24] <Minaplo> [There would be no firing it now; if he did the energy would just build up in the chambers for a few seconds before exploding.-
[02:24] <Minaplo> [Narendra ducked into cover and moved to slap the mangled on his back- the gun could magnetise on one of its surfaces, allowing it to adhere to armour- before he stopped.-
[02:25] <Minaplo> ["Distract him!" Shouted Narendra. Instantly, the volume of maser fire redoubled.-
[02:25] <Minaplo> [It was all focused on the Iron Guard who'd shot his gun. The fire would not be enough to bring the Guard down, but it was enough to mark his armour, blow small chinks in it, or damage joints.-
[02:26] <Minaplo> [Meanwhile, Narendra ran for the winded guard.-
[02:26] <Minaplo> [The second he'd reached him he pulled the trigger, activated the magnetic side, and strapped it across the Guard's chest.-
[02:26] <Minaplo> [Then he bolted.-
[02:27] <Minaplo> [The guard pulled the gun free with a wrench- just in time for it to explode in his hands.-
[02:27] <Minaplo> [The Guard's hands were torn free and his chest blown open and exposed. Not yet dead…-
[02:27] <Minaplo> [Gun gone, Narendra reached for his thigh, pulled out a bolt pistol, and unloaded the entire clip into the Guard's red core.-
[02:28] <Minaplo> [Crack. Crack. Crack! The core splintered in half, and the Guard ceased to move.-
[02:28] <Minaplo> [One left now.-
[02:29] <Minaplo> [But that went both ways; in the short space he'd had to kill the second Guard, the first had pounced on his men, using bolter and fist to dispatch them.-
[02:29] <Minaplo> [Just Narendra and the first Guard.-
[02:30] <Minaplo> [The bolts hadn't hurt enough to slow or wound the Guard enough; its injuries were already healing. Its armour in certain cases had been marked and weakened, but that was all.-
[02:30] <Minaplo> [The Guard stood in the clearing, eyeing Narendra.-
[02:30] <Minaplo> [Narendra stared back.-
[02:31] <Minaplo> [Gun gone, pistol empty. No allies. The matchup didn't favour Narendra.-
[02:32] <Minaplo> ["You're a foolish man to fight this fight." Said the Guard, his voice distorted by his damaged helmet.-
[02:32] <Minaplo> ["Sorry?" Said Narendra.-
[02:32] <Minaplo> ["I said you're a fool-"-
[02:32] <Minaplo> ["I wasn't listening." Said Narendra idly. "I was just admiring my cloak."-
[02:33] <Minaplo> [Narendra grabbed his damaskite cloak and ran it through his fingers. "Actually, I think it belonged to a friend of yours. Recognise it?"-
[02:33] <Minaplo> [The Guard paused.-
[02:33] <Minaplo> [Then, with a growl of hate, he spoke: "That belonged to Damaskari Captain Chang."-
[02:35] <Minaplo> ["Oh, is that who he was?" Said Narendra sleekly. "He didn't put up much of a fight. Bit boring, really-"-
[02:35] <Minaplo> [The Iron Guard howled with rage, dropped his bolter and charged.-
[02:36] <Minaplo> [With his right hand, Narendra tore off the cloak. As the Guard charged, Narendra crouched, twisted his head slightly- then leapt.-
[02:36] <Minaplo> [Special actuators gave Narendra the height he needed. He leapt clear above the Guard.-
[02:37] <Minaplo> [He threw the cloak down over the Guard's helmet- with its damage, the Guard would be completely blinded.-
[02:38] <Minaplo> [Then Narendra twisted mid-air, raised his left arm and braced it with his right. A compartment snapped open from wrist to elbow.-
[02:39] <Minaplo> [Within were knives- very thin, pointed knives, six of them arranged in rows of three. Each was a foot long, and their hilts were dedicated entirely to small positron batteries.-
[02:40] <Minaplo> [Narendra fired. The knives burst from his arm, streaked toward the Guard- flaring actinic blue with positron energy- and struck home. One caught the Guard square in the back of the skull, sending a foot of metal into his spinal column.-
[02:40] <Minaplo> [The Guard fell.-
[02:41] <Minaplo> [Narendra's landing wasn't controlled; he landed heavily on his arm. For a minute or so he winced in pain. Was his arm sprained? Broken?-
[02:41] <Minaplo> [After some careful probing, he decided it was neither; he got to his feet.-
[02:42] <Minaplo> [He withdrew his knives from the Guard's body and collected his pistol. Finally, he grabbed the Guard's own bolter, flipped the Guard onto its back, then fired the bolter point-blank into its chest until the clip was empty; each shot threatening to dislocate both of Narendra's arms.-
[02:42] <Minaplo> [But eventually it chewed through the armour, the chestplate, and then finally the core.-
[02:42] <Minaplo> [Three dead Guard, in exchange for six of his men.-
[02:42] <Minaplo> [It would be a miraculous margin for most UN forces.-
[02:43] <Minaplo> [It was a bad day by Narendra's standards.-
[02:43] <Minaplo> [He collected the bodies of his men- some mangled terribly by the horrid bolt shells- stocked their weapons-
[02:43] <Minaplo> [And placed down a beacon. Within 20 minutes, a VTOL would arrive to take his men home, as well as the Guard.-
[02:44] <Minaplo> [Narendra would sit by himself at the back of the VTOL, not speaking, remaining quiet. With the smell of dead and burning Guard still lingering in his nostrils, he would permit himself the minor grace of falling asleep.-
[23:45] <Minaplo> […-
[23:46] <Minaplo> ["…" Narendra Gadhavi snapped awake.-
[23:50] <Minaplo> [The sheets were twisted around him once again; his mouth felt dry and cottony, and his head pounded hard.-
[23:51] <Minaplo> [It wasn't the only thing pounding, however. Ever so distantly, muffled, Gadhavi could hear the telltale thud-thud-thud of someone energetically rapping on his apartment door.-
[23:51] <Minaplo> [Every minute or so, the thudding would stop, to be replaced by the doorbell pinging repeatedly.-
[23:51] <Minaplo> ["… Fuck's sake."-
[23:51] <Minaplo> [Whoever it was, they were persistent.-
[23:58] <Minaplo> [Narendra grumbled and pulled himself out of bed. For one mad moment he considered simply greeting whoever it was as he was- that is, completely naked.-
[00:00] <Minaplo> [However, the thought of it being a member of his bridge crew, von Brandt or (god forbid) Choi Hyun forced him to quickly dress in a pair of slacks and a t-shirt.-
[00:02] <Minaplo> ["Coming, coming." Snapped Narendra as he rushed to the door- whoever it was, they were still pounding away on it.-
[00:03] <Minaplo> [Narendra tapped the doorframe console; with a faint hiss the doors slid open.-
[00:03] <Minaplo> ["Ye-?"-
[00:08] <Minaplo> [The man before him was of average height. He had an open, honest, clean face with wide lips, bright and honest olive-green eyes behind a pair of glasses, short blonde hair and a rather squat, flattened nose.-
[00:08] <Minaplo> [He wore, Narendra noted with a faint sense of dread, a priest's cassock.-
[00:09] <Minaplo> ["Hello!" Said the Priest. "I'm Father Jean-Baptiste Sévère De Sauveterre. You may have been expecting me?"-
[00:09] <Minaplo> ["Father what?" Said Narendra, squinting.-
[00:10] <Minaplo> ["Father J.B. will do."-
[00:10] <Minaplo> ["… Sure." Said Narendra flatly. "Hey, listen, what's this about? I'm hung over, so keep it short."-
[00:12] <Minaplo> [J.B. beamed. "I'm your lawyer."-
[00:12] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:13] <Minaplo> [For a split second, Narendra went deathly pale. What the fuck happened last night?-
[00:15] <Minaplo> ["I uh…" Narendra coughed, glancing for a second over J.B.'s shoulder. "Am I in trouble?"-
[00:16] <Minaplo> ["No, sir." Said JB. "… Oh, you don't know anything about me, hmm?"-
[00:16] <Minaplo> ["I feel I'd know to expect a French priest." Said Narendra.-
[00:18] <Minaplo> ["Hmm! I see. I can explain, nonetheless. May I come in?"-
[00:18] <Minaplo> ["Oh yes." Said Narendra sleekly. "Make yourself right at home."-
[00:19] <Minaplo> ["Thanks!" Said JB. He stepped through and promptly took a seat on Narendra's couch.-
[00:19] <Minaplo> ["What a fine place you have." Said JB. "Quite large, too; do you live alone?"-
[00:19] <Minaplo> [Narendra sighed; he slowly walked over and took a seat on an armchair. "That's right."-
[00:21] <Minaplo> ["I see… You must get quite lonely sometimes."-
[00:21] <Minaplo> [Narendra cringed inwardly. "Please get to the point, Father JB."-
[00:24] <Minaplo> ["Yes, I'm sorry, ahem." JB cleared his throat.-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["As you no doubt have surmised, I'm a priest with the Catholic Church. As per the Istanbul Treaties, I've been assigned to the Synfront as an inspector."-
[00:31] <Minaplo> ["I see." Said Narendra.-
[00:31] <Minaplo> ["Specifically, Ezra Caine has decided to embed me within your command." Said JB.-
[00:33] <Minaplo> ["Has he now?" Said Narendra idly.-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["Yes! Actually, I'm to monitor your adherence to a very specific treaty- the Bioexotic Rights Treaty." Said JB cheerfully. "Basically, I'm here to make sure your command treats its bioexotics well."-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:40] <Minaplo> [Rage burst behind Narendra's eyes.-
[00:40] <Minaplo> [Fucking Caines!-
[00:40] <Minaplo> [Fucking Promised Land!-
[00:41] <Minaplo> [Fucking priests and fucking bioexotics!-
[00:43] <Minaplo> [It must've shown on Narendra's face, because JB frowned in concern. "That's not a problem, is it…?"-
[00:45] <Minaplo> ["I-"-
[00:47] <Minaplo> [Narendra swallowed down the urge to throw the man out on his arse.-
[00:47] <Minaplo> ["I don't see why it's necessary." Said Narendra.-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["The honest man never does, though." Said JB. "Unfortunately, only God can see the true depths of one's heart; us other mortals have to rely on our own faculties to see if you're truly honest or not."-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["Y-yes." Said Narendra, smiling through gritted teeth. "That's not what I meant."-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["I'm afraid I don't understand." Said JB.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["I'm questioning the necessity of the treaty, Father JB." Said Narendra. "Bioexotics do not need protection from us. Rather, the other way around."-
[00:59] <Minaplo> ["… Ah." Said JB.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> ["Look at them." Said Narendra. "I know you're just a priest, so you wouldn't have any idea of how it really is, but I've fought Iron Guard in the field. I've-"-
[01:03] <Minaplo> [The words caught in his throat for a second. The memory that came first was of…-
[01:03] <Minaplo> […-
[01:04] <Minaplo> [He fought it back. Tried to focus on the victories. The dead Guard.-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["I've seen them… Tear a squad of men apart with their bare hands." Said Narendra. "I've seen companies- that's over a hundred men in military talk- unload whole clips at them and not even slow them down."-
[01:07] <Minaplo> ["That's just your standard Guard." Said Narendra. "The more powerful ones, like the Solomon Primes or Ayanamis or Apostles, can manipulate space around themselves. They can deflect bullets, tear apart buildings, or… Or subvert minds." He gritted his teeth.-
[01:22] <Minaplo> ["So yes, I have trouble seeing how such powerful people need protection enshrined in law." Said Narendra sleekly.-
[01:24] <Minaplo> ["I'm afraid the world's leaders feel differently." Said JB. His smile had faded; his expression was now solemn, yet gentle and rested.-
[01:26] <Minaplo> ["I see."-
[01:27] <Minaplo> ["What's a priest doing protecting them anyway?" Said Narendra dismissively. "Shouldn't your lot be all up in arms over this perversion of natural order and us playing god and all that?"-
[01:42] <@Minaplo> [If JB was insulted by the comment, he didn't show it. "It is our belief that a person's birth and body do not preclude deserving love."-
[01:43] <@Minaplo> ["… And besides, God trusts humanity with the knowledge we've gained." Said JB softly.-
[01:58] <@Minaplo> ["Then he's a fool." Said Narendra bluntly. "As are all of you. Do you really not understand the threat they pose? I'm one of the few biotypicals on earth capable of fighting an Iron Guard one on one and walking away from it. I'm not ignorant."-
[01:59] <@Minaplo> [JB was silent for a minute or so, mulling over Narendra's words.-
[02:07] <@Minaplo> ["… I understand." Said JB. "I can empathise, Director Gadhavi. Things have been hard for you and your men. These wars have been brutal ones. The things you've faced…"-
[02:09] <@Minaplo> ["Don't even try to talk like you understand, priest." Snapped Narendra.-
[02:17] <@Minaplo> ["I'll freely admit that I don't." Said JB. "But I do understand laws."-
[02:17] <@Minaplo> ["Are you a big fiction reader, Director?" Asked JB.-
[02:18] <@Minaplo> ["What?" Said Narendra, wrong-footed. "N-not right now, I read more as a child."-
[02:18] <@Minaplo> ["Hm. So you wouldn't have heard of a book called The Maidens of Monsieur Madeleine?"-
[02:18] <@Minaplo> [Narendra shook his head.-
[02:36] <@Minaplo> [JB placed his knapsack on his knees, opened it and withdrew a mid-sized novel.-
[02:53] <@Minaplo> ["The book takes place in the future. Within 100 years or so." Said JB. "In this future, genetically engineered clones have been created for nearly every role-"-
[02:53] <@Minaplo> ["Soldiers." Said Narendra with a sneer.-
[02:55] <@Minaplo> ["… And miners, farmers, sex slaves- mass produced, or produced to commission. Whichever it is, they're slaves, the leashes held by biotypicals."-
[02:55] <@Minaplo> ["Monsieur Madeleine spends most of the story rescuing some and keeping them safe from the authorities." Said JB. "The clones feel pain, fear, love- but they're disposable people."-
[02:57] <@Minaplo> [Narendra stared at JB impassively.-
[02:59] <@Minaplo> ["You're asking why we have these treaties, Director. Fair enough." Said JB. "You're seeing efforts made to protect all of these powerful bioexotics and wondering why they need protection. Again, fair enough."-
[03:04] <@Minaplo> ["But the bioexotics you see are only the first." Said JB. "The cat is out of the bag. Once the war is over, humanity will be happy to look for ways to use the technology."-
[03:27] <@Minaplo> ["If we don't make laws now, then we condemn all the Bioexotics after the first to a heritage of servitude, slavery and humiliation." Said JB, his voice firm and strong. "Like all good laws, sir, this law exists to protect the weak, not the strong."-
[03:44] <@Minaplo> ["…" Narendra leaned back in his chair, his fingertips meeting over his lap.-
[03:45] <@Minaplo> ["Well, I've said my bit, then, sir." Said JB, placing his copy of The Maidens of Monsieur Madeleine on the table. "Have a read of it, please. Let me know what you think."-
[03:45] <@Minaplo> ["I will." Said Narendra sleekly, waving a hand at JB dismissively. "But for now, I have to work."-
[03:46] <@Minaplo> ["… Which today involves inspecting the Bioexotic corps." Said Narendra, his eyes narrowing. "Ezra Caine is a sneaky son of a bitch, isn't he?"-
[03:46] <@Minaplo> [JB just laughed.-
[03:46] <@Minaplo> […-
[23:28] <Minaplo> [They glid through the water with a smoothness most people would've found eerie.-
[23:32] <Minaplo> [There were forty of them, all the same slim build, all of them wearing form-fitting white wetsuits, all of them having light blue hair that fell to about the jawline. They swam the length of the pool with an easy grace that did little to hide just how quickly they moved.-
[23:33] <Minaplo> ["Too slow, loves!" Said Amala.-
[23:36] <Minaplo> [She stood at the far end of the pool, wearing her own wetsuit. She was a tall, slim woman; like her children she was pale, and like them also she had unusual hair: hers was a curtain of unerringly straight bright pink, falling around her face like a voluminous bell.-
[23:38] <Minaplo> [In her hand was a stopwatch, one designed to beep the moment the last Phantom touched the wall. She stared at it with a disapproving frown.-
[23:38] <Minaplo> [It beeped.-
[23:40] <Minaplo> [One of the Phantoms- Maraline- rose half out of the pool, her arms folded on the side. "Did we win, mama?" She asked eagerly.-
[23:40] <Minaplo> [Amala stared down at her. Wordlessly, she lowered the stopwatch down so Maraline could read it.-
[23:40] <Minaplo> [Maraline's face fell.-
[23:44] <Minaplo> ["Mayne's lot scored 3:39:55.4." Said Amala sternly. "What's the stopwatch say, hmm?"-
[23:44] <Minaplo> ["… 3:39:55.9?" Said Maraline slowly.-
[23:44] <Minaplo> ["That's right." Said Amala. "Back you go, girls!"-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["Do we know who was last?" Said Nelle, down on the left end of the pool.-
[23:45] <Minaplo> ["Sorry, the watch isn't that precise." Said Amala breezily. "Chop chop!"-
[23:46] <Minaplo> [To their credit, they didn't grumble too much. They turned about and swam at their own pace back to the starting blocks.-
[23:47] <Minaplo> [The moment their backs were turned, Amala promptly pressed a button on the stopwatch. A holo-emitter projected a short list recording each of the girls' precise touch times.-
[23:47] <Minaplo> [Nelle was very last at 3:39:55.9.-
[23:49] <Minaplo> [Amala sighed. With a thumb-press she dismissed the hololist. "We only have another half-hour to pull this off, loves." Said Amala, her voice carrying with a slight echo down the length of the pool. "You know what happens if we fail…"-
[23:49] <Minaplo> [The girls exchanged dark, foreboding looks.-
[23:55] <Minaplo> [The girls climbed out, excess water falling away from their resistant wetsuits. Such was the material that if they'd had a minute to themselves, their suits would soon be as dry as a bone; one of the miracles of angelic silk.-
[23:55] <Minaplo> ["Like a penguin." Muttered Amala.-
[23:57] <Minaplo> [A mental image flared in her head: forty little penguin friends for her forty little Phantoms, the two groups all swimming together happily…-
[23:58] <Minaplo> [It was only five seconds after the girls had finished diving that Amala realised she'd completely missed setting the stopwatch and had to call them all back.-
[23:58] <Minaplo> [They didn't grumble too much about this false start either- although Amala did catch a snatch or two of "Mama's tired".-
[23:59] <Minaplo> ["Alright girls. On my mark. Ready…"-
[23:59] <Minaplo> [There was no horn or gun-shot. To ensure they all reacted at the same time, a light telepathic pulse worked just fine.-
[00:00] <Minaplo> [The girls leapt into the water gracefully, merging into the waterline with barely a proper splash.-
[00:00] <Minaplo> [Again Amala waited, her stopwatch ticking up the seconds…-
[00:01] <Minaplo> ["Come on." She muttered as the time ticked closer to 3:39:55.4.-
[00:02] <Minaplo> [They swam as quickly as they could, arm over arm-
[00:02] <Minaplo> [The stopwatch beeped.-
[00:02] <Minaplo> [Again, Maraline was the first to pull herself out of the water. "We did it! Right? Right?"-
[00:03] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:04] <Minaplo> [Amala sighed. "3:39:55.7." She said. "Point three seconds off."-
[00:04] <Minaplo> [Maraline's head promptly smacked down onto her arms, folded as they were on the edge of the pool. "Damnit…"-
[00:04] <Minaplo> ["Do we have to go again?" Asked Nelle.-
[00:04] <Minaplo> ["Looks like, girls."-
[00:05] <Minaplo> ["But my body hurts." Said Nelle sadly.-
[00:05] <Minaplo> ["You know what happens if we fail, Nelle." Said Gessine sternly.-
[00:05] <Minaplo> [Nelle shuddered.-
[00:06] <Minaplo> ["Yes. You all know." Said Amala. "But if you're starting to hurt, then maybe there's no point in trying anymore today…"-
[00:07] <Minaplo> ["Well I'm fine." Said Gessine. "I bet we all passed except Nelle."-
[00:07] <Minaplo> [Nelle scowled. "That's not true."-
[00:08] <Minaplo> ["True or not, it doesn't matter." Said Amala, her tone firm. "Either all of us win or none of us do."-
[00:08] <Minaplo> ["But that's unfair." Said Gessine.-
[00:08] <Minaplo> ["It's not." Said Amala. "Trust me."-
[00:08] <Minaplo> [Gessine flushed. "… Okay, mama."-
[00:09] <Minaplo> ["We'll all try one more time." Said Amala. "Win or lose, we'll call it after that."-
[00:10] <Minaplo> [They all nodded and made their way back toward the blocks.-
[00:12] <Minaplo> [Just as her girls were about to dive, Amala heard the bubble of chatter from the door.-
[00:12] <Minaplo> [Amala turned.-
[00:13] <Minaplo> [Mayne- average height, light-skinned with short blonde hair- entered. Behind her, wearing their simple white t-shirts and shorts, were Mayne's 40 children, all of them seemingly identical to the untrained eye.-
[00:14] <Minaplo> [Mayne suddenly stopped as she laid her eyes on Amala.-
[00:14] <Minaplo> [Amala stared back.-
[00:15] <Minaplo> ["Space itself warps and wefts to mislead me," Said Mayne as she approached. "To witness your presence here."-
[00:16] <Minaplo> [Amala sighed, but Mayne didn't continue, so Amala spoke.-
[00:17] <Minaplo> ["It's not space but fluid time that twists you now." Said Amala in as dry a voice as she could muster.-
[00:17] <Minaplo> ["So one must conclude, for you are nearly a twenty-fourth of a day overdue." Said Mayne immediately.-
[00:17] <Minaplo> ["Lukos gave me his slot." Said Amala.-
[00:17] <Minaplo> [Mayne scowled.-
[00:18] <Minaplo> ["Look, I'm kind of busy…" Said Amala.-
[00:19] <Minaplo> ["Apparently." Said Mayne; she turned her scowling eyes toward Amala's stopwatch. "Striving not unlike a newly made Ozymandias…"-
[00:20] <Minaplo> ["Mayne…"-
[00:21] <Minaplo> [Mayne had a curious accent; it was breathy and light, in some cases nearly sing-song. But all of a sudden it vanished. "Oh fine. Just for you."-
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["Thank you." Said Amala earnestly. "Why are you bothering, anyway? There's not even anyone here…"-
[00:22] <Minaplo> ["Today's inspection day." Said Mayne. "I'm getting into practice."-
[00:24] <Minaplo> ["Ugh, so it is." Muttered Amala.-
[00:24] <Minaplo> [Mayne's girls formed into four groups of ten, who then sat down at the pools' edge, watching Amala's own. They chattered lightly among themselves-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["Have yours beaten the record yet?" Asked Mayne lightly.-
[00:25] <Minaplo> ["Point three seconds off." Said Amala flatly.-
[00:26] <Minaplo> ["Ooh, that's too bad." Said Mayne. "You know what happens-"-
[00:26] <Minaplo> ["Yes, yes. Yes. Yes." Said Amala.-
[00:27] <Minaplo> ["No need to be terse about it. It's your own fault, sister." Said Mayne.-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["I know that, too. That is, in fact, why I am terse in the first place." Grumbled Amala.-
[00:28] <Minaplo> ["Hmhm." Mayne smirked.-
[00:29] <Minaplo> [The stopwatch eventually beeped.-
[00:29] <Minaplo> [Maraline burst out of the water almost instantly. "We did it, r-?"-
[00:30] <Minaplo> [She froze, gawking up at Mayne.-
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["I'm afraid not." Said Amala icily. She showed the stopwatch to Maraline, who blanched.-
[00:31] <Minaplo> ["We're worse?!" Said Maraline. Half the girls in the pool clapped their hands over their mouths.-
[00:31] <Minaplo> [Amala just nodded grimly.-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["And in front of them." Said Gessine darkly, eyeing the crowd of spectators.-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["Oh no…" Murmured Nelle.-
[00:32] <Minaplo> ["Well. A promise is a promise." Said Amala. "I did say this'd be the last round…"-
[00:33] <Minaplo> [But none of her girls seemed happy at this. Especially not with Mayne's own girls right there.-
[00:33] <Minaplo> ["Last round?" Said Mayne, thick eyebrows arching. "But you have another fifteen minutes left."-
[00:33] <Minaplo> [Amala shrugged. "They're starting to hurt. Right, Nelle?"-
[00:33] <Minaplo> ["Uh-huh."-
[00:33] <Minaplo> ["So there's not much I can do." Said Amala with a sigh.-
[00:34] <Minaplo> ["Pity." Said Mayne lightly. "No harm in trying again though… My girls could use the ego-boost."-
[00:34] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:34] <Minaplo> ["What?" Said Mayne.-
[00:34] <Minaplo> [For Amala had whispered something under her breath.-
[00:35] <Minaplo> ["I said, 'double or nothing'." Said Amala through gritted teeth.-
[00:35] <Minaplo> ["…" Mayne's eyes suddenly gleamed. "You're serious? Double or nothing? But they're tired and sore-"-
[00:36] <Minaplo> ["Yes, and now they're competing in front of rivals, and the idea of doubling that'll make them swim even harder." Said Amala. "Spare the rod, right?"-
[00:36] <Minaplo> ["Haha. that's silly." Said Mayne. "You're an idiot."-
[00:36] <Minaplo> [Amala shrugged. "Double or nothing. Which is it?"-
[00:37] <Minaplo> ["Hah. Fine." Said Mayne, her smirk widening. "You're going to lose, but it'll be to my benefit. I take you up on that."-
[00:37] <Minaplo> [Amala nodded grimly. "Girls, do we want to go one last time?"-
[00:37] <Minaplo> ["Um…" Started Nelle.-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["I just went double or nothing, so if we lose this one…"-
[00:38] <Minaplo> ["…?" They stared at her.-
[00:41] <Minaplo> ["It means if you fail, we'll have to do it for twice as long." Said Amala.-
[00:44] <Minaplo> [They all let out cries of horror and outrage.-
[00:44] <Minaplo> ["Why?" Said Nelle, her heart breaking in her eyes.-
[00:45] <Minaplo> ["I'm a gambler at heart." Said Amala. "Alright girls, back you go…"-
[00:45] <Minaplo> [This time they grumbled all the way back to the blocks.-
[00:46] <Minaplo> ["Your daughters seem a little rebellious today." Said Mayne.-
[00:46] <Minaplo> ["No, not really." Said Amala. "They have a right to be- something stupid just happened, after all. Besides," Amala shrugged. "I don't care if they're rebellious here. Better there than in a firefight."-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["Ah. Yes, that reminds me… I heard you were recently fingered for deployment." Said Mayne.-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["Yes. To Asgard, of all places."-
[00:48] <Minaplo> ["Mmm… That's a shame." Said Mayne, and she sounded sincere. "I'd hate to be deployed there."-
[00:49] <Minaplo> ["Yes. Yes, I think you would. I'm not too fussed on it either. Girls, on my mark! Ready, set-"-
[00:49] <Minaplo> [Mayne paused patiently to wait for the light splashes to pass. "I've heard stories."-
[00:49] <Minaplo> ["What kind of stories and from who?"-
[00:50] <Minaplo> ["Stories from the retrieval team." Said Mayne. "They say the voices of all the dead linger in there…"-
[00:50] <Minaplo> ["Really."-
[00:50] <Minaplo> ["They say some Stormtroopers even went missing." Said Mayne, her voice a breathy whisper. "Dragged down into the dark by the restless spirits of the dead."-
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["Yes, well. Except. There's no such thing as restless spirits of the dead because they all get sucked into the Eternity Drive." Said Amala patiently.-
[00:51] <Minaplo> [Once again, Mayne's breathy, airy tone abruptly died. "Yes, but- oh, you're no fun. It's a spooky ghost story."-
[00:52] <Minaplo> ["Even if it were true, what for would a Phantom fear a ghost anyway?" Said Amala, running her hand slowly through her thick, straight hair.-
[00:53] <Minaplo> ["Well…" Mayne paused. "If it were true… They'd probably want to hurt Phantoms the most."-
[00:54] <Minaplo> ["… Yes. I suppose I can't really deny that." Said Amala slowly. "I can't begrudge them, even. If the tables were turned… Well. I'd probably do nasty, nasty things to anyone who killed my girls."-
[00:54] <Minaplo> ["Who wouldn't?" Said Mayne.-
[00:54] <Minaplo> [Amala nodded. It was true.-
[00:55] <Minaplo> ["You know I hate their battleminds and peaceminds." Said Mayne. "How it confuses them, how it fogs them up…"-
[00:55] <Minaplo> [Amala nodded slowly.-
[00:55] <Minaplo> ["But I wonder, with the things they're made to do, if it's not better that they don't remember all that." Said Mayne. "If they just…"-
[00:55] <Minaplo> ["Mmm. If they never remember what they've done, then a part of them can remain innocent and pure forever." Said Amala quietly.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Mayne.-
[00:56] <Minaplo> ["The choice shouldn't be between innocent, split up little girls and whole, tainted ones." Muttered Amala.-
[00:57] <Minaplo> [Mayne simply nodded slowly and turned her attention back to the pool.-
[00:57] <Minaplo> [Amala raised her free hand into the air. A second later, a book- a dictionary, in fact- appeared in her hand. Amala opened it to a certain page, glanced down at it, placed the bookmark down on it then put it back into its cache.-
[00:58] <Minaplo> [Mayne raised a slow eyebrow. Amala just shrugged.-
[00:58] <Minaplo> [Amala's girls continued to swim; pain or no, they moved as sleekly and gracefully as ever. Even, perhaps…-
[00:58] <Minaplo> ["They seem to be going… Faster." Said Mayne tightly.-
[00:59] <Minaplo> ["Maybe." Said Amala slowly. She glanced down at her stopwatch and stifled a smile.-
[00:59] <Minaplo> [The girls were onto their last lap. They glided through the water, lithe legs and slender, powerful arms cutting through the surface, propelling them forwards.-
[01:00] <Minaplo> [It had really caught Mayne's attention now. A familiar scowl was starting to cross her face, her thick eyebrows pushing together so tightly that it looked as though they were joined.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> [Amala stood calmly, impassively even. She didn't move, didn't even flinch, until her girls reached her end of the pool.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> [The stopwatch beeped.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> [Maraline burst out of the water. She didn't bother to ask this time; she just stared up at her mother hopefully.-
[01:01] <Minaplo> [Without saying anything, Amala passed the stopwatch to Mayne.-
[01:02] <Minaplo> ["…" Mayne took it. She looked down at it.-
[01:02] <Minaplo> ["… 3:38:44." She said hollowly.-
[01:02] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:02] <Minaplo> [The room was silent. Then-
[01:03] <Minaplo> [Amala's girls were whooping and shouting, crossing the lines of the pool to hug each other and clap hard on each others' backs.-
[01:03] <Minaplo> ["We did it!" Yelled Nelle, leaping into the air as high as possible.-
[01:03] <Minaplo> [Mayne's girls stared at this display of exuberance, puzzled frowns on their faces.-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["I… Guess your gamble paid off." Said Mayne slowly; it was a miracle she said anything at all, her lips were so tightly pressed together.-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["Hehe." Amala took the stopwatch back. "Learn your lesson yet?"-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["What lesson? You were lucky." Grumbled Mayne.-
[01:04] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:05] <Minaplo> [Amala grinned. She grinned so suddenly and so fiercely that Mayne took a step back.-
[01:05] <Minaplo> ["How many girls do you have, Mayne?" Asked Amala lightly.-
[01:05] <Minaplo> ["F… Forty. Same as you."-
[01:05] <Minaplo> ["Then how come I only count thirty-nine in the crowd?"-
[01:06] <Minaplo> [Mayne turned- indeed, there were only thirty-nine blue-haired heads there.-
[01:07] <Minaplo> [Amala reached a hand out toward the pool. A large ball of water floated from the surface, rippling as it did so. "Your first mistake, oh sweet sister of mine, was to think a peacemind Phantom can sneak as well as a battlemind one."-
[01:07] <Minaplo> ["Your second mistake was to take her to a pool."-
[01:08] <Minaplo> [Amala's gaze flicked, as it had many times in the past hour, to a series of wet footprints, which trailed off into a dead-end corner.-
[01:08] <Minaplo> [Amala twisted her hand, and the floating ball of water hurled toward that very same corner. The ball burst-
[01:08] <Minaplo> [And a girl shrieked, her wet outline becoming visibly apparent.-
[01:09] <Minaplo> ["Your third mistake, Mayne, was to think that I would really purposefully tire my girls out for an hour then, just as you arrived, agree to double the wager like an idiot."-
[01:09] <Minaplo> [Mayne stared at Amala. "What-"-
[01:10] <Minaplo> [Amala opened her hand. The dictionary reappeared. "Do you know what the word 'hustle' means, Mayne?"-
[01:10] <Minaplo> ["It… Means to go fast?"-
[01:10] <Minaplo> [Amala tossed her the dictionary.-
[01:10] <Minaplo> [Mayne opened it to the bookmarked page. She stared at it in confusion-
[01:10] <Minaplo> [A second later, her face went red. "You tricked me!"-
[01:10] <Minaplo> ["Of course I tricked you." Said Amala. "My girls beat your record a week ago."-
[01:12] <Minaplo> [Amala glanced for a second toward Mayne's infuriated face; then glanced away. "The pool's yours to use, Mayne…~"-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["You…!"-
[01:13] <Minaplo> ["Out you get, girls~" Said Amala cheerfully. "Let's get you all dried off and ready to go. Oh, Mayne?"-
[01:14] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:16] <Minaplo> ["I'll be generous and cash in after I return from Asgard." Said Amala lightly. "Aren't I magnanimous~?"-
[01:16] <Minaplo> ["I hope the ghosts eat you and all your girls." Muttered Mayne.-
[01:17] <Minaplo> ["I do hope they try. I'd like to see what it's like to kill a ghost." Said Amala, spinning on a pivot to face Mayne straight on. "Hey, don't be sad. You're hardly the first to be conned by the Moonbeam Baroness."-
[16:47] <Minaplo> […-
[16:49] <Minaplo> [For whatever reason, father Jean-Baptiste Sévère De Sauveterre had expected the air to grow colder the further they went into the Synfront's depths.-
[16:58] <Minaplo> [Yet it didn't really work out like that. The climate here, in the deeps of the earth, was the same temperate average it had been all the way up on the top level.-
[17:00] <Minaplo> [The Synfront was not a homely place. JB had been here barely a day and already it was obvious. Yet the millions of personnel here did their best to make it work. They claimed areas as their own- favourite eateries to gather with friends, shops run by whole squads on alternating basis, theatre groups putting on shows in any open area that fit, bands of musicians playing on corners and in malls… Anything and everything to give the Synfront a bustling liveliness, to make it a city.-
[17:02] <Minaplo> [Yet one did not need to go far from the heart of the Synfront to see that fragile facade crumble. Here, in the restricted sections, the posters vanished and revealed nothing but miles of blank metal wall and floor. The music had faded, leaving only the repetitive sound of hard shoes on metal. The scents and smells of food was gone, revealing the scrubbed, filtered air beneath.-
[17:03] <Minaplo> [Even caves were better than this place. Caves had a natural irregularity to them that gave them a sense of life.-
[17:03] <Minaplo> [This place was too artificial. Here, in the deeps, it felt like a body bereft of soul.-
[17:04] <Minaplo> [JB glanced at the man to his right- Narendra Gadhavi, tall and aloof. Gadhavi had not bothered to speak during the journey here, and JB hardly felt like speaking in a place like this.-
[17:10] <Minaplo> [Yet Gadhavi apparently knew his way around this metal labyrinth, so JB simply followed him.-
[17:12] <Minaplo> [Eventually, they came to a kind of complex, separated from the rest by a thicker door. This area had wider corridors and markings- one of the nearby doors indicated a gymnasium, whilst another indicated a track and field.-
[17:12] <Minaplo> [But Gadhavi ignored all of these; he instead approached a door labelled 'pool'.-
[17:41] <Minaplo> [The door opened, and JB would be greeted with the whiff of chlorine and the chatter of dozens of female voices.-
[17:42] <Minaplo> [The 'pool' room, JB saw, was a spacious chamber built around four large swimming pools, each one the length of an Olympic swimming pool, but four times as wide.-
[17:51] <Minaplo> [In or around each pool sat and swam girls- at least forty to each pool. All of them were identical to his eyes: bright, pale skin, light blue hair falling around the face, and large eyes with red irises. They had slim forms and east asian features, and he would've pegged them to be about 15 or 16.-
[17:53] <Minaplo> [In the whole room, besides himself and Gadhavi, there would've been about five exceptions to this crowd. The nearest group had two- a tall woman with straight, pink hair and one next to her whose hair was short blonde.-
[17:54] <Minaplo> [The moment Gadhavi and JB entered, the room fell silent, all at once; across the room all eyes turned toward him.-
[18:34] <Minaplo> ["Phantoms." Said Gadhavi, waving a dismissive hand at the lot of them. "Caine's favoured type of supersoldier. Agile, obedient, deadly, equipped with gear decades ahead of the curve."-
[18:34] <Minaplo> ["And yes, they're all clones." Said Gadhavi. "I believe there's a farm where they grow them, somewhere."-
[18:35] <Minaplo> [Gadhavi seemed to pause, perhaps to give JB a chance to say something. JB was.-
[18:35] <Minaplo> [But not to him. JB instead began to walk toward the nearest group, making sure he didn't trip on the slick pavement.-
[18:37] <Minaplo> [The nearest group of Phantoms were all out of the pool. Their wetsuits looked dry- JB assumed it was some newfangled technomagic- but their faces and hair were still wet and frizzy: many of them were vigourously rubbing their plain white towels through their hair, which only had the effect of making it even more unruly than it already was.-
[18:38] <Minaplo> [But they had stopped when he and Gadhavi had entered, and now they were watching him warily. There was an odd tension to their bodies.-
[18:38] <Minaplo> [So JB did what he always did: he smiled. "Hello, everyone."-
[19:10] <Minaplo> [None of them responded. The pink-haired woman's eyes narrowed suspiciously.-
[19:13] <Minaplo> ["I'm Father Jean-Baptiste Sévère De Sauveterre." Said JB. His smile widened. "But you can all call me JB."-
[19:49] <Minaplo> [More silence.-
[19:50] <Minaplo> [Then all of a sudden, one of them broke ranks. She walked up to JB, staring up close at his face.-
[19:50] <Minaplo> [As she did so, the other Phantoms all turned to stare at her, their eyes widening.-
[19:51] <Minaplo> [The brave Phantom continued to stare. Then-
[19:51] <Minaplo> ["You have a funny face." She said.-
[20:19] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[20:19] <Minaplo> [Almost imperceptibly, JB saw the pink-haired woman tense up.-
[20:20] <Minaplo> [And so JB threw his head back and laughed, loud and cheerful. The curious Phantom jumped back, like a startled cat; but a second later she smiled.-
[20:22] <Minaplo> ["You're totally right, my child." Said JB; he grinned. "I have a very funny face. Look at how flat my nose is! I look like a blobfish."-
[20:22] <Minaplo> ["What's a blobfish?"-
[20:22] <Minaplo> ["It's a fish with a funny face!"-
[20:25] <Minaplo> ["Oh." She shot her sisters a baffled look, to no avail; they were already turning to the pink-haired one with questions.-
[20:26] <Minaplo> ["Also, my ears jut out like a monkey's." Said JB. "And my eyebrows were put on my face upside down!"-
[20:26] <Minaplo> ["Why?" Asked the Phantom before she could stop herself.-
[20:27] <Minaplo> ["I'm just trying it out like this." Said JB happily. "You could say I'm browsing."-
[20:27] <Minaplo> [By her expression, she was utterly at sea.-
[20:28] <Minaplo> ["Who are you?" Asked the pink-haired one.-
[20:28] <Minaplo> ["I'm father-"-
[20:30] <Minaplo> ["It's not your place to ask, Adept." Said Gadhavi sleekly, inserting himself into the conversation; he now perched over JB's shoulder, his face carefully calm. "But if you must know, then this man is just a meddler, nothing more. Here to make sure you're all well-looked after."-
[20:30] <Minaplo> [Amala's gaze turned from Gadhavi to JB. She frowned. "You're not UN."-
[20:31] <Minaplo> ["That's right. I'm a neutral observer from the League of Non-Aligned States." Said JB. "I'm here to make sure your treatment is in accordance with the treaty."-
[20:32] <Minaplo> ["I like treaties." Said the curious Phantom. "Especially strawberry ones. Do you have any treaties?"-
[20:33] <Minaplo> ["As a matter of fact…" JB reached into a bag on his hip; a second later he was dumping a handful of toffee candies into her hands. "These'll do, right?"-
[20:34] <Minaplo> [The Phantom goggled at the treasure hoard as though she'd been given the Philosopher's Stone itself. She turned around on her heels toward her sisters. "I have treaties!"-
[20:34] <Minaplo> ["Are your Phantoms ready for deployment in a week, Adept?" Asked Gadhavi coolly.-
[20:34] <Minaplo> ["Of course." Said the Adept.-
[20:35] <Minaplo> ["Good. You're dismissed. March your Phantoms in quietmind back to your dorms."-
[20:35] <Minaplo> ["…" The Adept faltered. She turned back toward the Phantoms- who were now eagerly taking the candies from the curious one's hand.-
[20:35] <Minaplo> ["There's no need for quietmind, sir." Said the Adept. "Workmind is fine for-"-
[20:36] <Minaplo> ["I gave you an order, Adept." Said Gadhavi sleekly. "Quietmind. Now."-
[20:37] <Minaplo> [… But the Adept turned toward JB, whose expression was curious and warm. And perhaps something in there made her dig in her heels. "Quietmind is unnecessary, sir." She said, turning back toward Gadhavi. Her gaze was level. "I will keep them in Workmind-"-
[20:38] <Minaplo> [Gadhavi's backhand connected with her jaw before she'd even finished speaking.-
[20:38] <Minaplo> [The Adept took a staggered stack backwards, a hand on her stinging red cheek.-
[20:39] <Minaplo> [The warm look on JB's face had been wiped away.-
[20:39] <Minaplo> ["It is not your place to question, Adept. Only to obey. Quietmind."-
[20:39] <Minaplo> ["NOW!"-
[20:39] <Minaplo> [The Adept gave Gadhavi a look of purest loathing, before she reasserted her mask of calm. She closed her eyes for a moment-
[20:40] <Minaplo> [Her Phantoms froze.-
[20:40] <Minaplo> [A glassy look came over their eyes, and they all turned in unison to stare at their mother.-
[20:41] <Minaplo> [A few of them took a look of the room around them, blank incomprehension the only discernible emotion.-
[20:41] <Minaplo> [With one final look at Gadhavi and JB, the Adept began to march away, the Phantoms following along.-
[20:43] <Minaplo> ["Oh, and Adept?" Called out Gadhavi as she went. "Please let Sergeant Shire know that he has been accepted as Acting Junior 2nd Magistrate of the 1st Regiment's second brigade."-
[20:43] <Minaplo> [The Adept froze, just for a second, then continued on her march.-
[20:44] <Minaplo> [It was only after she and her Phantoms had left that JB turned his gaze toward the ground. The Phantoms had dropped the toffee candies where they'd stood.-
[20:48] <Minaplo> ["…"-
[20:49] <Minaplo> [JB sighed. He slowly began to collect the candies.-
[20:49] <Minaplo> ["They're a little more rebellious than usual." Said Gadhavi quietly. "I'm sorry you had to witness that."-
[20:50] <Minaplo> [JB didn't respond for a minute or so as he collected the candies. Once he was done, he straightened up to his (not that impressive) full height and met Gadhavi's eyes; JB's sombre, saddened own against Gadhavi's amused ones.-
[20:50] <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said JB. "So am I."-
[20:55] <Minaplo> [For the next few hours, Gadhavi made his rounds of the Phantom complexes, JB close behind.-
[21:14] <Minaplo> [The scene in the pool was the most unpleasant of the day, but that didn't mean the rest of the trip was pleasant; far from it. JB saw the sparse dormitories, lacking in all but the barest and most simplistic of decoration. He saw the training camps, which Gadhavi had insisted he see: here, Phantoms practiced combat, fighting holographic enemies in a huge arena, making barely any noise as they fought, executing perfect formations with lethal efficiency.-
[21:15] <Minaplo> [But worst than either of these had been dinner time, when JB had run across the Adept from earlier.-
[21:15] <Minaplo> [She did not speak to him, and neither did her Phantoms.-
[21:15] <Minaplo> [But at least the Adept recognised him; the same was not true for her children.-
[21:16] <Minaplo> […-
[21:17] <Minaplo> [One of the stipulations of JB's arrangement- one which Gadhavi no doubt was supposed to resent- was that JB would actually live with Gadhavi, sharing the same apartment.-
[21:19] <Minaplo> [And yet he didn't. Perhaps he would later, tomorrow. But the fool priest had been quiet and withdrawn ever since their little tour.-
[21:20] <Minaplo> [And so Gadhavi was happy to put his cooking skills to use; he was currently frying up strips of spiced lamb.-
[21:20] <Minaplo> [JB sat on a stool next to the kitchen bench, his hands folded across his lap.-
[21:23] <Minaplo> ["So." Said Gadhavi cheerfully. "An enlightening day, hm, priest?"-
[21:23] <Minaplo> ["Enlightening indeed." Said JB gravely.-
(22:20) <Minaplo> ["You see now?" Said Gadhavi. "No matter how innocent they appear, they're still capable of cutting people down without so much as a second thought."-
(22:56) <Minaplo> ["Is that what you wanted me to see?" Said JB, sounding surprised.-
(22:56) <Minaplo> ["It's all there is to see." Said Gadhavi.-
(22:56) <Minaplo> ["Hm."-
(22:56) <Minaplo> ["You don't agree, obviously." Said Gadhavi.-
(22:59) <Minaplo> ["I'd be happy to tell you what I did see." Said JB. "Perhaps over a drink."-
(22:59) <Minaplo> ["I've got beer and wine." Said Gadhavi. "Although I don't know if priests can drink…"-
(22:59) <Minaplo> ["God saw fit to make me a Frenchman before I was a priest." Said JB. "Wine is fine."-
(23:00) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi quirked an eyebrow for a moment, then shrugged.-
(23:00) <Minaplo> ["Now." JB said, a few minutes later, having just sampled a glass of shiraz. "You seem like a man who's been around the block, no?"-
(23:00) <Minaplo> ["You could say that." Said Gadhavi, who had a glass of his own.-
(23:04) <Minaplo> ["Have you ever had to deal with child soldiers?"-
(23:05) <Minaplo> ["…" Gadhavi's face twisted into a deep frown of distaste. "Yes. Most of us have."-
(23:24) <Minaplo> ["And so you know most of them as victims, no doubt." Said JB. "Children haunted by what they have seen, what they have done."-
(23:26) <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Gadhavi quietly. "Or rather, what they have been made to do."-
(23:36) <Minaplo> ["And do we punish those children for their actions?" Said JB.-
(23:37) <Minaplo> ["Yes, although, of course, not in the same way as we would an adult." Said Gadhavi. "A man who commits a war crime is culpable, a child… Well, we'd work to reintegrate them into society, wouldn't we? Rehabilitate them."-
(23:40) <Minaplo> ["Yes." Said JB. "So why do you treat the Phantoms so differently?"-
(23:40) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi's eyes became flinty and cold. "They are not children."-
(23:52) <Minaplo> ["They felt like children to me." Said JB. "Guileless and innocent. Taking joy in simple things like sweets. They were cautious of me, Gadhavi- when I'm just a stout little man with a funny face."-
(00:13) <Minaplo> ["An act." Said Gadhavi flatly.-
(00:21) <Minaplo> ["An act? Monsieur Gadhavi, the level of control you exercise over them…! You made them completely shift. One second they were cheery and talkative, the next… Nothing." He made a waving gesutre with his free hand. "To exercise such power, and claim that they can fool you-"-
(00:21) <Minaplo> ["Even if they are not, the best attitude toward them is to suspect it every second." Said Gadhavi immediately. "Did you not see what they can do?!"-
(00:22) <Minaplo> ["Yes. They are very effective killing machines." Said JB. "But I am of the mind, Monsieur, that when a man works to make another into nothing more than a tool, if he should succeed, then he is to blame for everything that they do."-
(00:31) <Minaplo> ["…"-
(00:32) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi's glass smashed against the wall, staining the white plaster with red.-
(00:32) <Minaplo> [A second later he tore the glass from JB's own hand and threw it as well.-
(00:34) <Minaplo> [Gadhavi had changed.-
(00:34) <Minaplo> [He stood a little hunched over, his eyes wide, his face a deep purple. His hands were balled into fists so tight that this nails cut into his palms. His teeth were bared, his nostrils were flared; his rage was terrifying.-
(00:35) <Minaplo> ["YOU- NOTHING- YOU DON'T KNOW!" Roared Gadhavi, and for one panicked moment JB was afraid for his life, that this man would leap across the table and wring his neck.-
(00:35) <Minaplo> ["GET OUT!"-
(00:36) <Minaplo> ["GET- OUT!"-
(00:36) <Minaplo> [It took all of JB's years of training and bitter-won experience not to break into a sprint. Instead he rose to his feet and stared at Gadhavi.-
(00:36) <Minaplo> ["We'll make an honest man of you yet, Monsieur."-
(00:36) <Minaplo> ["OUT!"-
(00:37) <Minaplo> [JB nodded shortly, then turned and, with a painfully measured pace, left.-
(00:37) <Minaplo> […-
(00:49) <Minaplo> [Mohammed Shire stared down at the bare lunch table.-
(00:53) <Minaplo> [He was hungry. Deeply, painfully hungry, and the smells of fresh bread and paprika-roasted chicken from the kitchens just a little away from his seat were awfully, desperately tempting.-
(00:54) <Minaplo> [He was also, now that he was alone and could admit it to himself, tired. Omar and Farrah knew him too well; he'd spent half his time at this table so far knuckling his eyes with his fists, trying to rub vigour back into himself somehow. It wasn't working.-
(00:54) <Minaplo> [His body wanted him to either sleep or to eat. But he had made a promise.-
[19:01] <~Minaplo> ["Hello, darling." Came a voice behind him.-
[19:05] <~Minaplo> [Shire turned. Amala stood there, giving him a wide, serene smile. Quite easily, Shire found himself smiling in response.-
[19:06] <~Minaplo> ["Amala." He said warmly; he stood and quickly pulled a chair out for her. "Please-"-
[19:06] <~Minaplo> [Amala seated herself before he could finish. She peered up at him, her hands folded beneath her chin.-
[19:07] <~Minaplo> ["…" Shire let out a chuckle, and sat back down. "I am in awe of your grace."-
[19:08] <~Minaplo> ["Are you saying my grace is awful?"-
[19:08] <~Minaplo> ["Yes."-
[19:08] <~Minaplo> ["… That means a different thing in English." Said Shire. "Amala, you are teasing me."-
[19:15] * Zack is now known as ZackSleep
[19:23] <~Minaplo> [Amala laughed. "Me and everyone else, darling."-
[19:24] <~Minaplo> ["Isn't that the truth. You should've seen what those idiots said today…"-
[19:24] <~Minaplo> [Amala reached out; Shire reflexively began to pull his hand back, but Amala caught it before he could.-
[19:25] <~Minaplo> [She gently yet firmly turned his hand over and began to gently stroke his wrist with her thumb; there was, for a moment, a shimmer of rainbow around her knuckles.-
[19:25] <~Minaplo> [A sudden wave of wakefulness swept through Shire's body. The dull foggy cloud of exhaustion began to part, leaving him feeling sharp and wakeful.-
[19:25] <~Minaplo> [He glanced down at his hand, then back up at her.-
[19:26] <~Minaplo> ["You looked tired, darling." Said Amala with a warm smile. "Tell me about your day."-
[19:26] <~Minaplo> [And so he did.-
[19:29] <~Minaplo> [He told her of the fitful night, stuck tossing and turning and occasionally scribbling jibberish down in his poetry diary. He told her of waking up, of eating a quick breakfast that he was too tired to enjoy. He told her of training and drills, drills that seemed to go on too long for his unfocused, wandering mind.-
[19:31] <~Minaplo> ["… So Omar and Farrah have pushed me like nagging aunts into going to the doctor." Said Shire, shaking his head.-
[19:32] <~Minaplo> ["Hehe. You sound a little grumpy…"-
[19:32] <~Minaplo> ["Well." He smiled sheepishly. "I do not fault their intent, but…"-
[19:38] <~Minaplo> ["I know." Said Amala. "You know, you're always welcome to come stay with me again…"-
[19:38] <~Minaplo> ["…" He looked away shyly.-
[19:40] <~Minaplo> ["C'mon. My girls adore you." Said Amala sweetly.-
[19:40] <~Minaplo> ["Yes, but…"-
[19:41] <~Minaplo> ["But?"-
[19:41] <~Minaplo> ["But it's improper." He said awkwardly.-
[19:41] <~Minaplo> [Amala giggled. "But you want to, right?"-
[19:42] <~Minaplo> ["Well-" He stared firmly up at the roof. "It raises questions, though…"-
[19:43] <~Minaplo> ["They'd understand." Said Amala.-
[19:43] <~Minaplo> ["I don't want to get you into trouble." Said Shire.-
[19:43] <~Minaplo> ["Adepts don't care about propriety." Said Amala.-
[19:44] <~Minaplo> ["It makes me uncomfortable!" Said Shire.-
[19:44] <~Minaplo> ["You looked plenty comfortable from what I remember-"-
[19:45] <~Minaplo> ["Please stop." Said Shire, covering his eyes.-
[19:45] <~Minaplo> ["Aw, darling." Amala let out a small sigh; she took his hand again. "I didn't mean to upset you, I just…"-
[19:45] <~Minaplo> ["I know."-
[19:45] <~Minaplo> ["It just seems strange…" Said Amala.-
[19:46] <~Minaplo> ["I know."-
[19:46] <~Minaplo> ["I won't push the point." Said Amala. "But… I would be interested if we could, mm… Find ways to make it more proper? How could we do that?"-
[19:47] <~Minaplo> ["Well, it would be fine if we were married, but-" Began Shire quickly.-
[19:47] <~Minaplo> ["Then let's get married!"-
[19:47] <~Minaplo> ["Amala." Said Shire in a low, hasty hiss. "You can't just say that!"-
[20:17] <~Minaplo> ["I don't understand the problem." Said Amala. "What's a marriage all about, anyway?"-
[20:17] <~Minaplo> ["It's about commitment." Said Shire. "Trust, and love-"-
[20:19] <~Minaplo> [Amala nodded, paying close attention.-
[20:19] <~Minaplo> ["And it's also about security and safety." He said.-
[20:19] <~Minaplo> ["Ah."-
[20:32] <~Minaplo> ["I do-" He looked carefully around and, having made sure no one was paying attention, murmured, "I do… I do love you." He flushed.-
[20:33] <~Minaplo> ["But I would- feel uncomfortable about the arrangement right now."-
[20:33] <~Minaplo> ["Oh?"-
[20:33] <~Minaplo> ["I would want to take us both away from this." He said urgently. "But I can't…"-
[20:33] * Tao (~ua.ten.letxof.dlq.65-571-291-271-epc|oaT#ua.ten.letxof.dlq.65-571-291-271-epc|oaT) has joined #nervfrance
[20:33] <~Minaplo> ["…" Amala lightly rasped her fingernails across the table.-
[20:33] * Raphael (~ua.ten.letxof.dlq.65-571-291-271-epc|02tahCdnA#ua.ten.letxof.dlq.65-571-291-271-epc|02tahCdnA) Quit (Quit: Bye)
[20:34] * Retrieving #nervfrance modes…
[20:37] * SyntaxPhone (~if.elibom-asile.tan-82-23-67-58|xatnyS#if.elibom-asile.tan-82-23-67-58|xatnyS) has joined #nervfrance
[20:43] <~Minaplo> [Shire winced.-
[20:44] <~Minaplo> ["I'm not angry at you." Said Amala, giving him a short smile. "I get it, Mamad. But…"-
[20:44] <~Minaplo> ["It's tiring. I'm shackled to this place so that not only do I not have freedom, I can't even…"-
[20:48] <~Minaplo> ["… No, let's talk about something else. I don't feel like I have the energy to bitch today."-
[20:49] <~Minaplo> ["Mmm." Said Shire. He let out a sigh, closed his eyes for a moment, and nodded.-
[20:49] <~Minaplo> ["Did you have a good day?" He asked.-
[20:50] <~Minaplo> ["It was okay. We beat Mayne's record!" Said Amala brightly.-
[20:54] <~Minaplo> ["Oh, your plan worked?" Said Shire.-
[20:54] <~Minaplo> ["Mmhm!"-
[20:54] <~Minaplo> ["Excellent. So now your girls won't-"-
[20:54] <~Minaplo> ["Right. And Mayne's lot will go double." Said Amala.-
[20:55] <~Minaplo> [Shire frowned for a moment, as though trying to figure something out, but it soon passed.-
[20:56] <~Minaplo> ["She tried to plant a spy." Said Amala with a rather haughty laugh. "It didn't work, of course… Waterprints. Very amateur."-
[20:56] <~Minaplo> ["I'm glad it worked out. I don't know what your girls would've done if you'd left them with double-"-
[20:56] <~Minaplo> ["They were starting to grumble a little, yes." Said Amala with a grin. "That's a good thing."-
[20:56] <~Minaplo> ["A good thing?"-
[20:59] <~Minaplo> ["There are some girls down there who don't grumble at all." Said Amala, her grin fading. "Girls who haven't had time to build up their own identities… Or girls who have been left too fragmented to form it."-
[21:09] <~Minaplo> ["Ah." Shire bowed his head, looking abashed. "I'm sorry to hear it."-
[21:45] <~Minaplo> ["No no, no gloomy." Said Amala firmly. "It's a thing that happens. One day it won't."-
[21:45] <~Minaplo> ["I- yes." Said Shire with a nod; he lifted his head and looked her in the eye.-
[21:46] <~Minaplo> ["I am glad, then, that your girls are grumbling." He said seriously.-
[21:46] <~Minaplo> ["… Hee."-
[21:46] <~Minaplo> ["… Oh, also." Said Amala. "We got an inspection today."-
[21:46] <~Minaplo> ["Gadfly." Said Shire slowly. "Did he cause you trouble?"-
[21:47] <~Minaplo> ["He forced them to march back from the pool in quietmind." Said Amala. Try as she might, she couldn't prevent an edge of bitterness creeping into her casual tone.-
[21:47] <~Minaplo> ["…" Shire let out a long sigh. "That is cruel."-
[21:48] <~Minaplo> ["Doubly so, because he brought a guest." Said Amala. "A cheery long-named man with a weird face who said we should call him JB. He gave the girls sweets, but…" Amala shook her head. "This seemed to irritate Gadfly, hence the quietmind."-
[21:48] <~Minaplo> ["Did they manage to take the sweets with them?" Asked Shire.-
[21:48] <~Minaplo> [Amala shook her head.-
[21:48] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[21:48] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[21:49] <~Minaplo> ["Let's order." Said Amala abruptly. "What'll you be having?"-
[21:50] <~Minaplo> [A few minutes later, the two would be sitting down together once again. On the table now sat two bowls of steamed jasmine rice; between them sat a large, deep bowl filled with a hot, bright orange spicy chicken stew.-
[21:50] <~Minaplo> [They ladled the stew onto their rice in silence, and began to eat.-
[21:50] <~Minaplo> ["Mamad." Said Amala.-
[21:50] <~Minaplo> ["Yes?"-
[21:50] <~Minaplo> ["Why does Gadfly seem to hate us so much?" Said Amala.-
[21:54] <~Minaplo> ["Mmm." Said Shire. "A question I've asked many times to myself. He doesn't just hate the Phantoms and Solomons either, but also Ayanamis and Iron Men. It is…" He let out a thoughtful sigh.-
[21:55] <~Minaplo> ["I am no stranger to hatred." Said Shire. "Men can hate another for many reasons. I have seen people who hate different people they have never ever met for petty reasons."-
[22:08] <~Minaplo> ["Perhaps Gadhavi hates people who are not like 'himself'." Said Shire. "Or maybe he had bad experiences with them. He is famous for hunting Iron Men, defeating them sometimes in one-on-one combat."-
[22:08] <~Minaplo> ["That's pretty impressive." Said Amala, her eyes widening slightly. "Makes sense that he wouldn't hesitate to hit an Adept, then."-
[22:09] <~Minaplo> ["… He struck you?" Said Shire, his voice becoming dangerously low.-
[22:09] <~Minaplo> ["I tried to insist that he let my girls march back without quietmind. He grew impatient." Said Amala with a cold smile.-
[22:10] <~Minaplo> ["… Ugh." Shire growled. "There is a man far too quick to let his fists and feet talk for him."-
[22:10] <~Minaplo> ["No kidding. I remember what you said-"-
[22:10] <~Minaplo> ["Mmm."-
[22:11] <~Minaplo> ["Still, I get those reasons, but they seem like shitty reasons." Said Amala. "We've done nothing to deserve his hate."-
[22:11] <~Minaplo> ["I agree." Said Shire. "But…"-
[22:11] <~Minaplo> ["But?"-
[22:12] <~Minaplo> ["People… Have stories." Said Shire. "We cannot condone or justify the actions he commits. However, we have to respect his story, to understand at least where he comes from when he acts. His story may be simply too overpowering for him- in that case… No matter how thuggish, brutal or barbaric he is, then he is in a sad way a victim of his own past."-
[22:13] <~Minaplo> ["… I suppose." Said Amala. "I think he's a bastard, though."_
[22:13] <~Minaplo> ["He is." Said Shire with a wry smile.-
[22:13] <~Minaplo> [They ate silently for a little bit before Amala spoke once again. "Oh. That reminds me… He had a message to pass on to you."-
[22:14] <~Minaplo> [Shire froze. "Through you?" He said cautiously.-
[22:15] * Mogatron (~ten.dshqrabme.pchd.85-252-6-67-ho|alliztahc#ten.dshqrabme.pchd.85-252-6-67-ho|alliztahc) Quit (Quit: ChatZilla 0.9.92 [Firefox 43.0.1/20151216175450])
[22:16] <~Minaplo> ["Yeah." Said Amala. "He wanted you to know that you've been accepted as Acting Junior 2nd Magistrate for the 1st Regiment's second brigade."-
[22:17] <~Minaplo> ["The… What!" Shire's eyes widened, but his voice fell to a whisper. "I didn't even know I was up for the position!" He hissed.-
[22:17] <~Minaplo> ["Neither did I." Said Amala.-
[22:17] <~Minaplo> ["This is-"-
[22:17] <~Minaplo> ["Fishy." Said Amala. "The 2nd brigade means-"-
[22:18] <~Minaplo> ["I'll be deployed to Asgard." Said Shire. "We'll be deployed together."-
[22:18] <~Minaplo> ["Somehow I don't think he means it as a nice favour to us." Said Amala. "This sounds-"-
[22:19] <~Minaplo> ["Fishy." Agreed Shire. "There are many old stories about a king who disposes of an unwanted vassal by throwing them to a dangerous war."-
[22:20] <~Minaplo> ["Mm." Said Amala. "It depends. If they send Rakshasas or one of the Primes, it won't be a problem. But…"-
[22:21] <~Minaplo> ["But if they don't then we're an open target for any retaliation." Said Shire. "And they will retaliate."-
[22:21] <~Minaplo> ["Can you blame them?" Said Shire.-
[22:24] <~Minaplo> ["No, but that doesn't mean I want to be there to receive it." Said Shire.-
[22:24] <~Minaplo> <Blame them? Said Amala*>
[22:24] <~Minaplo> ["It seems…" Amala shook his head. "He wouldn't sacrifice a place as important as Asgard just for the sake of killing us, would he?"-
[22:25] <~Minaplo> ["For a smart man, the 'Great Wolf' can be very hotheaded." Said Shire. "… I have trouble thinking even he is that foolish."-
[22:27] <~Minaplo> ["Maybe he's planning on waiting until we're dead to send in aid." Said Amala.-
[22:27] <~Minaplo> ["That would be a… Tactical misstep." Said Shire. "The UEF would send Evangelions for sure. They would lock space and prevent our reinforcements."-
[22:30] <~Minaplo> ["I really do love your memory." Purred Amala.-
[22:30] <~Minaplo> ["Uh…"-
[22:30] <~Minaplo> ["But you're right." She said, leaving him in the dust. "So if he doesn't commit Eva forces from the outset-"-
[22:30] <~Minaplo> ["Then he's sending us to our deaths for what seems a very poor reason." Said Shire.-
[22:32] <~Minaplo> ["I don't know if we're worth a military base." Said Amala.-
[22:33] <~Minaplo> ["You're worth much more to me than that." Said Shire quickly.-
[22:35] <~Minaplo> ["… Ooh." Amala suddenly leaned forward. "Wasn't expecting that~"-
[22:36] <~Minaplo> ["… Er." Shire flushed. "It just slipped out."-
[22:38] * Suzune (moc.rr.ser.yabapmat.551cfh1322356|enuzuS#moc.rr.ser.yabapmat.551cfh1322356|enuzuS) Quit (Quit: )
[22:46] <~Minaplo> ["I know of a few other things that can just slip out~"-
[22:50] <~Minaplo> ["A-Amala." Said Shire quickly. "Our lives could be in danger."-
[22:50] <~Minaplo> ["Are you sure you don't want to spend the night, then?"-
[22:51] <~Minaplo> ["… You are very handful." He said. "Very- a- handful."-
[22:51] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[22:51] <~Minaplo> [Amala beamed for a second; then squeezed his hand.-
[22:51] <~Minaplo> ["…" Shire let out a long sigh, but he did shoot her a small smile. "So. What do we do?"-
[22:52] <~Minaplo> ["Is there anything we can do?" Said Amala. "It's not like I can exactly run away or defect."-
[22:53] <~Minaplo> ["… Mmm." Said Shire with a sigh.-
[22:53] <~Minaplo> ["You could run, though." Said Amala.-
[22:53] <~Minaplo> ["And leave you in danger?" Shire shook his head. "No."-
[22:53] <~Minaplo> ["Well… If I do die, it won't be that big a deal, darling." Said Amala. "I can just come back."-
[22:54] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[22:54] <~Minaplo> [Shire shuddered for a moment. He took her hand with both of his own and drew it towards himself. "Please do not be so casual with your life and death."-
[22:55] <~Minaplo> ["I'm just stating a fact." Said Amala. "I don't have anything to lose."-
[22:55] <~Minaplo> ["Didn't you say that sometimes when an Adept dies their phantoms go mad?" He said.-
[22:55] <~Minaplo> ["Well-"-
[22:56] <~Minaplo> ["And that sometimes the Phantoms kill themselves. And they come back with twisted or blank memories." Said Shire. "And that even some Adepts-"-
[22:56] <~Minaplo> ["Damn your memory."-
[22:57] <~Minaplo> ["Listen. Even if none of those things were true I would not accept your death so casually." Said Shire urgently. "Death in war is not gentle. Death in war is not kind or peaceful. The deaths that are given to you by God's own hand are different from these. I will not run away."-
[22:58] <~Minaplo> ["…" Amala sighed. She shook her head. "Thank you. I… I appreciate that. But you have to know how scary it is for me if you died."-
[22:59] <~Minaplo> ["Then the only proper outcome is one in which neither of us die." Said Shire firmly.-
[22:59] <~Minaplo> ["Agreed." Said Amala. "The odds aren't great, though."-
[22:59] <~Minaplo> ["No, they're not. And I am no gambler." Said Shire.-
[22:59] <~Minaplo> ["… But you are." He said.-
[23:00] <~Minaplo> ["… Haha." Amala grinned. "You're really trusting me to come up with something this time?"-
[23:01] <~Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Shire firmly.-
[23:01] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:01] <~Minaplo> ["W-Well then. In that case I guess I'll just have to win." She said. "Two of us either both surviving or both dying. Double or nothing."-
[23:01] <~Minaplo> ["Double or nothing."-
[23:01] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:02] <~Minaplo> ["Amala." Said Shire. "Perhaps- perhaps I was wrong. Maybe I will stay with you tonight. Just this once." He said quickly, flushing.-
[23:02] <~Minaplo> [Amala beamed.-
[23:02] <~Minaplo> […-
[23:17] <~Minaplo> [JB pushed the door buzzer, and waited.-
[23:18] <~Minaplo> [It was near midnight by now- perhaps Narendra had gone to bed?-
[23:21] <~Minaplo> [JB did not much fancy sleeping on the floor at JB's door like a scolded child, but…-
[23:21] <~Minaplo> [I've slept in worse places.-
[23:22] <~Minaplo> [JB was just settling into the corner of the corridor when the door suddenly opened.-
[23:22] <~Minaplo> [Narendra stared blearily out, one hand settled unsteadily on the threshold.-
[23:22] <~Minaplo> ["Uh…" Narendra scowled. "Snoone…"-
[23:23] <~Minaplo> ["Director." Said JB, quickly getting to his feet.-
[23:23] <~Minaplo> [Narendra swivelled around to face JB, his eyes bloodshot. "… Oh."-
[23:23] <~Minaplo> ["May I come in?" Asked JB.-
[23:24] <~Minaplo> [Narendra swayed for a moment, and his eyes unfocused. Eventually however, he jerked his head at JB and stumbled back into the room.-
[23:24] <~Minaplo> [JB quickly stepped inside.-
[23:25] <~Minaplo> [Half the room had been demolished. The dining table sat in a dozen pieces, the chairs had shattered, the couch had been upturned and the fridge hung open, a trail of smashed alcohol bottles sitting in a puddle beneath it.-
[23:30] <~Minaplo> ["s'mess." Said Narendra. "Dectime, hahaha."-
[23:30] <~Minaplo> [Good lord.-
[23:30] <~Minaplo> ["Did you have an accident?" Said JB politely.-
[23:31] <~Minaplo> ["Hehehehe." Narendra giggled. "Saccident? Neh."-
[23:31] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:31] <~Minaplo> ["I think you could do with some water, Director." Said JB. "Just take a seat."-
[23:31] <~Minaplo> [Narendra was easily persuaded to sit.-
[23:33] <~Minaplo> [JB quickly rushed into the kitchen, gingerly stepping around what looked like a million shards of glass. He grabbed a mug from the cabinet, filled it with water and then, confident that Narendra was too drunk to notice…-
[23:33] <~Minaplo> [He took a small tablet out of his satchet and dropped it into the water. It instantly began to dissolve.-
[23:35] <~Minaplo> ["Here you go, Director." Said JB once he was back in the kitchen. "This'll clear your head right up."-
[23:35] <~Minaplo> ["Hehe." Narendra took the glass and downed it in one go. "I drink a lot!"-
[23:35] <~Minaplo> ["Really?" Said JB.-
[23:37] <~Minaplo> ["Godrun lasnigh'." Said Narendra. "Ba… Banigh'. Chohyun, sh… sh' didn'…"-
[23:38] <~Minaplo> [Narendra dissolved into a stream of babble.-
[23:38] <~Minaplo> [JB flipped the couch back upright and settled himself.-
[23:47] <~Minaplo> ["Sonely." Said Narendra sadly. "So… nn…"-
[23:47] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[23:47] <~Minaplo> [Narendra suddenly gasped. He bent forwards, clutching his stomach.-
[23:47] <~Minaplo> ["U-Ugh. Hurts!"-
[23:47] <~Minaplo> ["Good. That means it's working." Said JB.-
[23:55] <~Minaplo> ["Wh…"-
[23:56] <~Minaplo> ["Up you get." Said JB, rising and pulling Narendra up with him. "Let's get you somewhere else."-
[23:56] <~Minaplo> [By the time JB led Narendra to the bathroom, the director of NERV was shaky and pale, veins sticking out in his neck and temple. He was retching regularly.-
[23:57] <~Minaplo> [JB barely got Narendra into the shower before the man hurled.-
[23:57] <~Minaplo> […-
[23:58] <~Minaplo> [Roughly an hour and a half later, Narendra finally emerged, looking sickly and clammy, but at least walking straight.-
Session Time: Sat Mar 12 00:00:00 2016
[00:05] <~Minaplo> [JB sat on the couch once again. "Hello, Director."-
[00:06] <~Minaplo> ["… This is not how I usually wake after a night drinking." Said Narendra. He rubbed his head wearily. "Fuck! I feel like ten hangovers have come at once."-
[00:07] <~Minaplo> ["Hangovers are mostly dehydration and low sugar. I've already prepared some water for you." Said JB.-
[00:07] <~Minaplo> ["Thank you."-
[00:07] <~Minaplo> ["… How did you get in?" Asked Narendra suspiciously.-
[00:07] <~Minaplo> ["You let me in." Said JB.-
[00:07] <~Minaplo> ["I make bad choices when I'm drunk." Said Narendra.-
[00:07] <~Minaplo> [JB simply turned to look at the debris in the living room.-
[00:08] <~Minaplo> ["Oh, I wasn't drunk for that." Said Narendra, trying to sound sleek and failing.-
[00:08] <~Minaplo> ["I see."-
[00:09] <~Minaplo> ["Yes, I thought it was time to redecorate." Said Narendra.-
[00:10] <~Minaplo> ["… Oh, is that what you meant?" Said JB, sounding surprised. "I thought you were talking about 'deck time'."-
[00:10] <~Minaplo> ["… Deck time?"-
[00:12] <~Minaplo> ["Deck time." Said JB seriously.-
[00:14] <~Minaplo> ["… But I don't have a deck."-
[00:14] <~Minaplo> ["You make bad choices when you're drunk." Said JB.-
[00:14] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:14] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:14] <~Minaplo> ["…" Narendra began to laugh.-
[00:18] <~Minaplo> ["Deck time!" Said JB, causing Narendra to nearly double over with laughter.-
[00:21] <~Minaplo> ["Stupid-"-
[00:22] <~Minaplo> [Narendra fell into a chair; for a few minutes the two of them laughed together at the incredibly stupid joke.-
[00:22] <~Minaplo> ["Oh, boy." Muttered Narendra, now holding his glass of water. "That was…"-
[00:22] <~Minaplo> ["Nonsense." Said JB.-
[00:22] <~Minaplo> ["Nonsense." Agreed Narendra.-
[00:22] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:23] <~Minaplo> ["I didn't mean to snap at you earlier." Said Narendra.-
[00:26] <~Minaplo> [JB nodded.-
[00:27] <~Minaplo> ["I… It was a stressful day." Said Narendra. "I'm not good at handling change well. I like things orderly-"-
[00:27] <~Minaplo> ["And having a sudden intruder land on your doorstep…" Said JB.-
[00:28] <~Minaplo> ["Not something I'd deal with well." Said Narendra. "Furthermore, yesterday was… Bad. For certain reasons."-
[00:30] <~Minaplo> ["Mmm." JB nodded. "Nonetheless, I bear responsibility as well. I… Pushed. I shouldn't have. I hit a nerve, I think."-
[00:30] <~Minaplo> ["Something like that." Said Narendra.-
[00:30] <~Minaplo> ["I'm sorry."-
[00:31] <~Minaplo> ["Well, don't do it again and I'm sure it'll be fine." Said Narendra, holding his hand out. "A good time to start over."-
[00:31] <~Minaplo> ["Agreed." Said JB; he took Narendra's hand and shook it.-
[00:32] <~Minaplo> ["Not the best first day, I imagine." Said Narendra wryly.-
[00:32] <~Minaplo> ["No." Said JB. "But to be fair, director, not the worst."-
[00:32] <~Minaplo> ["Not the worst? You must've had some terrible first days, then. Call me Narendra."-
[00:32] <~Minaplo> [JB nodded.-
[00:33] <~Minaplo> ["Don't suppose you'll talk about them?" Said Narendra.-
[00:33] * SyntaxPhone (~if.elibom-asile.tan-82-23-67-58|xatnyS#if.elibom-asile.tan-82-23-67-58|xatnyS) Quit (Quit: Bye)
[00:33] <~Minaplo> [
[00:34] * Syntax (||xatnyS) has joined #nervfrance
[00:34] <~Minaplo> ["Oh, I suppose I could. They're not easy to forget." Said JB. "I was once part of setting up a civilian hospital in a warzone."-
[00:36] <~Minaplo> ["Which warzone?" Asked Narendra.-
[00:37] <~Minaplo> ["Ethiopia, 2002."-
[00:37] <~Minaplo> [Narendra winced.-
[00:38] <~Minaplo> ["The very first day I arrived, the Great Oromo Purge had started in the mountain valleys east of Addis Ababa." Said JB. "It… Well."-
[00:38] <~Minaplo> [JB smiled wanly. "Not a thing one forgets in a hurry."-
[00:38] <~Minaplo> ["I…" Narendra shook his head. "I heard stories…"-
[00:41] <~Minaplo> ["Everyone has." Said JB. "Four million massacred in eight months. Another sixteen million of starvation. UN didn't arrive until May 03."-
[00:41] <~Minaplo> ["Christ." Muttered Narendra.-
[00:41] <~Minaplo> [JB simply nodded. He quietly took a metal flask from his bag and took a swig.-
[00:47] <~Minaplo> ["… I seem to have misjudged you, Father." Said Narendra. "I thought you to be an armchair warrior, someone who passed judgment on people he doesn't know, who have seen things he couldn't fathom. But…"-
[00:47] <~Minaplo> ["I understand." Said JB.-
[00:47] <~Minaplo> ["Still, I feel rather ashamed that I judged you so quickly."-
[00:47] <~Minaplo> ["At least you have a second chance." Said JB with a smile.-
[00:47] <~Minaplo> ["I suppose that's true." Said Narendra.-
[00:48] <~Minaplo> ["I think there was a bit of judging done from both of us, honestly…" Said JB.-
[00:49] <~Minaplo> ["Oh?"-
[00:49] <~Minaplo> ["Well, it's easy to look at you and see the elegant director and not the soldier." Said JB. "Shallow, based off silly prejudices, but still."-
[00:50] <~Minaplo> [Narendra nodded a few times. "It never leads to anything, does it, that sort of attitude? That ugly… Leaping to conclusions about others."-
[00:50] <~Minaplo> [There was a pause.-
[00:50] <~Minaplo> ["No." Said JB quietly. "No it doesn't."-
[00:50] <~Minaplo> [They settled into silence for a moment as Narendra drained his water.-
[00:53] <~Minaplo> ["Soldiers suffer so much, don't they?" Said JB. "They see things they can't forget… Do things they regret."-
[00:53] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[00:53] <~Minaplo> ["And they lose so many." Said JB. "Friends, comrades…"-
[00:53] <~Minaplo> ["Yes." Said Narendra heavily.-
[00:54] <~Minaplo> ["My younger brother was a soldier." Said JB.-
[00:54] <~Minaplo> [Narendra nodded silently.-
[00:54] <~Minaplo> ["He died in the LN War. I was very close to him." Said JB pensively.-
[00:54] <~Minaplo> ["Where did he die?" Asked Narendra.-
[00:54] <~Minaplo> ["He died during the 32-Day Disaster." Said JB.-
[00:54] <~Minaplo> [Narendra froze.-
[00:55] <~Minaplo> ["Dozens of bases devastated by an LN bioexotic." Said JB. "They say he used a soldier puppet."-
[00:55] <~Minaplo> ["Y-Yes." Stammered Narendra. "I-I've heard…"-
[00:56] <~Minaplo> ["My brother was caught in a fuel explosion. They say it stuck to him, burning him until he fainted of the pain." Said JB.-
[00:57] <~Minaplo> [Narendra looked away, his eyes blinking rapidly.-
[00:58] <~Minaplo> ["I wonder what they're doing now?" Asked JB quietly. "The bioexotic and the soldier, I mean. Did the bioexotic ever regret their slaughter?"-
[00:58] <~Minaplo> ["Probably not." Said Narendra venomously.-
[00:58] <~Minaplo> ["… No, you may be right in this one case." Said JB heavily. "… I wonder if the soldier ever managed to forgive himself."-
[00:59] <~Minaplo> ["He didn't." Said Narendra before he could stop himself. "He- soldiers never do. They bottle it up and try to endure it, but deep down every time a comrade dies they feel it in their heart. They hate themselves a little more for not being able to do something."-
[01:00] <~Minaplo> ["Soldiers have to trust everyone else in their unit for survival, but they also know everyone else is doing the same. A soldier is responsible for everyone in his unit." Continued Narendra, his voice raw. "And to see that, to- to do that…"-
[01:00] <~Minaplo> ["No. He never forgave himself." He whispered.-
[01:00] <~Minaplo> ["… I see." Said JB regretfully. "Perhaps it is better that he didn't."-
[01:01] <~Minaplo> ["How do you mean…?" Asked Narendra.-
[01:01] <~Minaplo> ["How could the soldier forgive himself when he had done nothing wrong in the first place?" Said JB quietly. "The soldier was a tool of another much more powerful. The soldier is innocent."-
[01:01] <~Minaplo> ["The soldier should've been stronger." Muttered Narendra.-
[01:02] <~Minaplo> ["Perhaps things would have been different if the soldier had been." Said JB.-
[01:02] <~Minaplo> ["But we do not condemn people for weakness." He said.-
[01:02] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:02] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:03] <~Minaplo> ["I believe it is time this old priest rested his bones." Said JB, getting up with a sigh. "Thank you for your hospitality today, Narendra."-
[01:03] <~Minaplo> ["… For what little it was worth." Said Narendra bitterly.-
[01:03] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:03] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:04] <~Minaplo> ["Still, I valued it." Said JB. "Narendra, it probably isn't my place to say. But you seem… Overwhelmed. Something is weighing you down, and the strain of that is staining you."-
[01:05] <~Minaplo> ["But I think beneath all of that, there's still a good man in there somewhere." Said JB.-
[01:05] <~Minaplo> ["A good man?" Said Narendra. "That's a tall tale, Father JB. You're probably looking for Ezra Caine, got mixed up." He reached up and touched his dark skin and black hair. "After all, we look so much alike."-
[01:06] <~Minaplo> ["I believe there are good men and good women behind every pair of eyes." Said JB.-
[01:06] <~Minaplo> ["Then you're a very foolish priest."-
[01:07] <~Minaplo> ["Perhaps I am." Said JB. "Good night, Narendra."-
[01:07] <~Minaplo> ["Good night."-
[01:08] <~Minaplo> ["Oh. One last thing." Said JB. "The drug I used to detox your alcohol tends to make sleep difficult for a few hours. You might want to do something low-activity for awhile. Like read a book, maybe."-
[01:08] <~Minaplo> ["… You drugged me?"-
[01:08] <~Minaplo> ["You drugged yourself." Said JB. "I gave you the antidote before you impaled yourself on a chair leg."-
[01:08] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:08] <~Minaplo> ["Fair cop." Said Narendra with a shrug.-
[01:08] <~Minaplo> [JB smiled. "Good night."-
[01:09] <~Minaplo> [JB walked away, leaving Narendra alone once again.-
[01:09] <~Minaplo> ["…" Narendra sighed. JB's words had come too close. They felt strange, both personal and detached, talking about 'the soldier', not realising that that same man sat in this very room.-
[01:10] <~Minaplo> [I wonder if he would be so forgiving of that soldier if he knew that I'd been the one to blow up the fuel tanks.-
[01:10] <~Minaplo> [Narendra walked into his bedroom. It was cool, crisp and orderly.-
[01:10] <~Minaplo> [Narendra's rages never extended into here.-
[01:11] <~Minaplo> [Narendra settled into bed, but as the priest had said, sleep was elusive. Narendra tossed and turned, feeling raw and tired yet also unable to deny that closing his eyes wasn't doing a damn thing.-
[01:12] <~Minaplo> [Read, he'd said… Narendra turned sullenly toward his bedside table. He didn't feel like reading his helpbooks tonight.-
[01:12] <~Minaplo> ["…"-
[01:12] <~Minaplo> [A different book sat on the bedside table. The book the priest had given him earlier- The Maidens of Monsieur Madeleine.-
[01:12] <~Minaplo> [Narendra didn't remember bringing the book in here, yet…-
[01:13] <~Minaplo> ["I can't believe I'm reading some damned sci-fi story." Muttered Narendra as he took the book in hand.]

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