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Advanced Response Machine: AESIR - Episode 4 - Of Pawns and Kings

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The year is After Nuclear 605, a period of rebirth for the planet Earth. It has been six hundred years since the Earth was scarred by a nuclear assault that left the surface barren and radioactive. It is said that half of the world’s population died immediately from the blasts and nearly everyone else in the year afterward from disease or contamination. The land was forever altered beyond hope for recovery it seemed. Human civilization was wiped from the planet.

By the grace of God or a miracle, it was Antarctica that was spared from the devastation. As temperatures fell from a thick cloud of dust in the atmosphere blocking out much of the sun, the frigid continent’s harsh conditions worsened leaving the survivors to harden themselves if they were to survive. A new ice age gripped the planet.

The lone research base and experimental domed town toiled under the violent winds. A few thousand scientists and civilians began their work to rebuilding civilization. Decades slowly passed as the town grew into an ever expanding domed city that became known as Antarctica City. In their efforts they came up with a plan to reclaim the forsaken Earth.

The plan was a massive undertaking that would take generations to complete. They constructed massive machines the size of small villages fully automated sent to ravaged continents of the Earth to terraform the wastelands into fertile plains once more.

The machines succeeded in their design slowly recovering the land. In time people were allowed to leave starting new towns and villages working the land. By AN 605, half of the planet has been saved. All of the wonders and tools had come from a single organization. The HOPE group, an organization made after the nuclear winter, whose goal was to provide for the survival of mankind. They held all of the scientific minds and all new technology originated from them.

HOPE had saved the planet.

Episode 4 – Of Pawns and Kings

Southeast Asia – 4km outside of Yokatomo

Night almost finished with its hold over the Earth by the time the truck made it back to the transport. Rinn kept them out of sight and placed caution on being followed. They could not risk a compromised mission by the wrong people discovering them. It meant a longer time back to the transport, but it was worth it.

When they stepped out of the truck without the Commander it everyone left behind feel like the worst happened. Wells immediately made it clear that Callein was fine, but did not get into details with them. He seemed bothered leaving it up to Rinn to cover things. “That’s the situation with the Commander,” he concluded, after giving everyone a brief summary of the events at the clinic. “We’ll need to break him out at some point, but right now he needs to recover.”

“What about the mission,” asked Schir. She shrank a little when she got looks from everyone. They all thought the same thing, but said nothing. The question gave voice to something none of them wanted to think about.

Pushing forward, Rinn looked up at the transport, as they stood in the hanger. “We continue with the mission. It doesn’t stop without the Commander. There are two objectives we need to complete in the time before we get the Commander. The first is maintenance, repairs and resupply on the ship. Going through the atmosphere really trashed the ship, while we’re working in an alien environment and technology there should be something we can find to fix up the ship. Second is the primary mission assigned to all of us.”

Tension filled the hold after Rinn’s last statement. They all knew it had to begin soon. The risk they all accepted for the mission. “Investigating and testing the defenses of Earth.”

-X- -X- -X-

Antarctica City – Antarctica International Air Port Public Docking

“Weren’t sure if we’d see ya again, Ed,” barked Sam, discovering their guest in the back of the open cargo hold. The only other crewmember with Sam was Nate, who was too far back to have noticed Ed or even heard Sam. Sam waved to Ed and slapped him with a hardy pat on the back, as he got close. “The way the Cap’n talk’d weren’t sure if those military bastards let ya out!”

Ed stretched up a little and wrapped his arm around Sam’s neck pulling him down a bit. “Ya think I’d leave tah Niph without givin’ a prayer ta ‘er? Yer tah only pilot they’ve got now! I’ve gotta calm ‘er down a wee befer I turn ‘er ove’ ta ya!” He gave him a playful smirk.

Sam pushed Ed off him and roughed him up a little. “I’ve been flyin’ this hunk o’ junk longer than ya been walkin’! She trusts me better than ya!”

“Then why do I’ve more flight hours than ya since I’ve been flyin’?”

“The Cap’n just feelin’ bad for ya since ya ain’t got anythin’ else on this ship!”

“Sure it ain’t ‘cause he trusts me more?”

The old door to the hold creaked open blasting an awful noise. It broke up Sam and Ed’s roughhousing. They quickly noticed the Captain’s figure filling up the frame of the door. Sam immediately straightened up, more than before, but still hardly professional. “Cap’n! Ed’s come back!”

The distance between them made it difficult to read the Captain’s already tough poker face. “I heard from the port controller. Come for yer goodbyes and belongs, Ed?”

Nodding, Ed started walking deeper into the hold towards the Captain. He tugged on his fedora, out of habit. “Yeah, I couldn’t leave without seein’ Niph one last time!” Ed worked up a smile for the Captain. The stairs groaned under the weight of his steps until he finally came near to the Captain. Ed glanced over at the old man, while pulling on the brim of his hat a little more. “I’ll be in mah quarters befer I see everyone.”

Fin patted him on the back as he walked by. “Everyone’s still on board. So they won’t be hard to find when you’re ready.” While Ed continued into the hall, Fin’s eyes narrowed a little reading him. He waited until Ed went out of range. By then, Sam reached the door. “They’ve already changed him in a single day…”

Sam looked a little bewildered by the Captain’s comment. He leaned around the doorway trying to get a look at the hall, though Ed already was long out of sight. “Huh? What ya talkin’ about, Cap’n? He seems the same ta me!”

“That’s ‘cause yer a wee dim,” Fin replied. The atmosphere already shifted and Fin read it clearly on Ed’s face the moment he saw him. Years of dealing with all sort of scum and citizenry alike made it easy for him to see through people. Fin turned around and started out of the threshold. “Keep cleanin’ up the hold! Don’t know when ‘nother assignment will pop up!”

“Aye, Cap’n…” The mysterious nature of Fin’s response left Sam confused. He wanted to know more, but trusted the Captain to handle things.

Waiting what seemed like an appropriate amount of time, Captain Fin leaned in to Edgar’s quarters. Ed was still in middle of sorting through things and packing what was necessary for him. “What’s eatin’ ya, kid?”

“What ya talkin’ ‘bout?” Ed replied quickly, without missing a beat in his motions. He went over to the shelf pulling down a snow globe holding a snowman inside. Errant thoughts passed through causing him stop. It made his fingers run over the smooth glass surface.

Fin pushed himself a little further in the room. He crossed his arms watching Ed. “I’ve known ya long enough to know when you ain’t yerself. Something happen back at the base?”

The question froze Ed as though the icy winds of Antarctica gripped him with unyielding strength. Images of Shizuka surfaced in his thoughts. “Ya ev’r do somefin ya regretted later?”

“Too many times to count, kid.” Fin released a stifled chuckle. A whole day could be spent recalling all of them. “Nothin’ wrong with regret, Ed. Makes us human. Lets us learn from our mistakes.”

“But what if those mistakes ‘fected someone else? They ain’t jus’ yer mistakes anymore.”

“True enough, but ya can’t change what’s been done. Ya can only change what’s to come.”

“Yeah, I know…” Ed turned and shook up the snow globe, needing a distraction. The flakes in the liquid shined and bounced bits of light on his face. He shifted his eyes over to the Captain. His hand showed him the globe careful. “This is tah only gift I’ve from mah ma. I dun ‘ave any memories of ‘er, just fantasies I’ve cooked up from stories dad told mah befer he died. I always ‘magined ‘er bein’ kind with smile tah could make anyfin better. She’d want only tah best fer mah and do anythin’ if som’one tried ta harm mah.”

“She was a good woman, Ed.”

As though judging the weight, Ed lightly tossed the globe into the air. It only went a couple of centimeters from his hand, but shook everything up. He kept tossing it a little higher, bordering on reckless. A strange smile came across his face as he looked over at Fin. “Yer folks are sa’pose ta protect their kids.”

“Ed?” Fin started to take a couple steps into the room. The feeling he got from Ed put knots in his stomach. He did not like the look the kid had at all.

Ed caught the globe, no longer tossing it. His fingers wrapped around the sphere tightly. “But that’s just a childish fantasy, ain’t it?” A dark shadow drew over Ed’s face as he spoke. It continued to taint his features. Wrinkles cracked around his eyes from buried emotions. “It’s all just a fantasy!”

Still trying to carefully approach, Fin watched Ed. “We all need a little fantasy to keep reality at bay. Nothin’ wrong with it, Edgar. Reality is too harsh without a little.”

Tired of the coaxing, Ed threw the globe into his bag. “Reality?! Reality ain’t harsh! No, that’s too pretty of a word!” Ed slammed his fist against the metal wall of his quarters. It shook the shelf off one fastener causing it to slide everything down into the corner. Everything dangled precariously on the edge in an uncertain fate. “It was pointless in tah end! I did nofin’! We’re just insignificant piles of dirt tah be stepp’d on.”

The Captain rushed over to Ed hoping to calm him. He dropped a hand on his shoulder to connect with him. “Hey, it’s alright. Fate always hold’s back her worst hands, but you can’t lose hope! You saw something terrible, but you can’t let it stop you, Ed.”

“Yeah, I’ve gotta soldier on…” The word made Edgar laugh uncontrollable. It did not make any sense to him why he laughed, but he could not stop it. His outburst released him from the Captain’s hold allowing him to fall back against the wall. A hand gripped at his face while he laughed. Then the laughing stopped, suddenly. Silence followed.

He slowly lowered his hand away from his face. Edgar looked up at Fin. “Ya know she’s right. We’re just selfish. We didn’t even think about tah consequences. We never do! It’s just ‘bout tah money!”

“Hey, Ed,” snapped Fin. He slapped Ed across the cheek to get his attention. “Listen, yes, we’re in it for the money, but I pick our jobs. I only pick ones that I feel are worth it, even with the consequences.”

“So yer sayin’ ya knew what was goin’ to happen?! Bastard!” Enraged, Ed lunged at the Captain swinging. He missed Fin, but it still left the two struggling.

Fin fought with Ed for a little bit, but found his age catching up to his stamina. Rather than lose, he went for something reckless. He gave Edgar a head butt that knocked him to his knees. “Get a hold of yerself, Edgar!”

“Bastard!” roared Ed, trying to stand up, but too dazed to manage anything. The floor was too comfortable for him in his state.

The Captain grabbed Ed’s shoulder to lock him in place. “Listen, kid! Picking the jobs is my responsibility and the results lie on me as well, not you! Ya can’t always pick the right job, sometimes ya get the wrong one without knowin’! This is how it works in the adult world.” His words seemed to have reached Ed on at least some level, as he relaxed. Fin pulled away no longer needing to restrain him. “As you’ve learned the adult world is nothin’ like what ya thought. There’s plenty of darkness out there enough to crush in the strongest person, but yer enterin’ it. Ya have to be strong, if not for yerself, but for the girl, right?”

Edgar’s eyes widen a bit caught off guard by his words. He kept thinking about himself that he forget about her. It raged about himself without considering her. He needed to talk to her. “I need ta find ‘er!” he shouted, jumping up to his feet only to collapse once more.

“Woah, kid, don’t get up too fast,” joked Fin, “Yer brains were scrambled pretty good there!”

Grinning again, Ed looked up at the Captain. “I wonder whose fault that is?”

-X- -X- -X-

A rude morning or maybe an inconsiderate morning. It was one of them. Shizuka did not care which, both applied well to her mood. The rigid and simply designs of the apartment reminded her she was not safe, but trapped. A terrible thought to wake up to in the morning. However, such thoughts did not last for long. She knew why she was awake, something buzzed in her ear.

Sleep hazed, Shizuka looked around the room trying to figure out where the noise came from. It seemed to hit her from all sides. Annoyed and uncoordinated, she stumbled out of bed and knocked around the unfamiliar room in search of the noise. Everywhere she went it remained the same tone and strength, never weakening or gaining.

Just as the noise began to drill through her skull and rip apart the bone, it stopped. She sighed, but only to hear something just as annoying. A familiar voice broke the momentary silence and projected through the entire apartment. “Petty Officer Third Class Shizuka Kitawara, I’ve come to take you to your orientation.”

Shizuka’s eyes narrowed a little as she recognized his voice. “The Ensign…”

“Good you’re awake.” His response caught Shizuka off guard. She darted her head around expecting him to be in the room, but she remained alone. Then she realized he could hear her speaking from outside. “Are you ready to leave?”

She considered several responses for him, but left it simple. “Yes.” Arguing at the point she was in served her no purpose. She had objectives and seeing what they had in store was important.

“So you’re wearing your uniform?”

“Two minutes,” she grumbled. She looked around for a closest or dresser, but found neither immediately. When she arrived, she did not spend any time acquainting herself with the room. So she knew where nothing was other than the bed. A search managed to finally turn up a narrow slit in the wall, which turned out to be the closet with dresser built into the space. Finding the uniform was easy; it hung on hangers, all identical and all prepared.

The simplicity of it made it easy for her to figure out. She hated the thought of being berated by the Ensign for missing something. Shizuka did not want to give him anymore ammunition. She pulled out one set and threw it on the bed along with her dress. The sudden movements reminded her of the bandages and soreness, things she nearly forgot about. She stared at her body for a bit thinking about what to do about the bandages. However, she realized time was short. ‘I’ll deal with it later. I don’t want to hear him yelling at me to hurry.’

Spread out into the separate pieces, Shizuka examined the uniform to understand how to wear it. It seemed as straightforward as she initially thought. The uniform consisted of a pair of slacks, an undershirt, a dress blouse in her case, and a single breasted blazer. It used a blue color scheme for the design motif with a light blue base surrounded in trim and detail work by medium and dark blues. ‘Looks similar, but different,’ she noted, to herself recalling the Ensign uniform, which was more white than light blue.

Color or design did not matter to her. Shizuka put on the cloths quickly, tucking in the shirt into the slacks. The length of the pants were close enough for her, but she had to use the belt to keep them from falling down on her. When she put on the blazer it was loose around her waist and fit around her chest. She felt grateful she was starting to develop, but not enough to make it uncomfortable.

Finished, Shizuka made for the door. It was just in time as well, since the Ensign was about to call her again. “Looks like you’re ready,” he commented. He turned away from her and started for the elevator. “Let’s go, Petty Officer Kitawara.”

“Hiraoka,” she corrected, emphatically.

Ansgar looked back at Shizuka, stopped in mid-step by her correction. He watched her for a moment reading her expression. It came clearly across it was something she felt was important. Tempting the mood, he pressed the issue. “Kitawara is the name on record.”

Working up a glare, Shizuka stood firm on the matter. “Your records are wrong. I haven’t gone by that family name in six years. Hiraoka is my family name.”

“Your mother’s family name, if I recall.”

“Is that a problem?” The staring contest continued between them. It was unclear to Shizuka if the Ensign planned to give in or fight her on it further. “I’ve accepted your demands. This concession should be only a minor inconvenience.”

Pursed lips were the only sign he gave her. ‘Stubborn one…’ He closed his eyes to cleanse the air around him. When Ansgar opened his eyes he refocused on Shizuka. “Very well, I’ll see to the change in your records.” After concluding discussions, he resumed his walk to the elevator. “Follow me.”

The first stop they made was to the mess hall for breakfast. It ran smoothly for them and Ansgar gave her brief details of her day. He remained on a subject only long enough to insure she understood before moving on.

Their real destination, orientation, brought them to a new wing of the base Shizuka had not seen. The plate on the door was blank with only a room number, 302, next to the doorframe as the only marker. The Ensign opened the door directing Shizuka inside. “This is where your orientation begins,” he informed, his hand extended out motioning to someone else waiting inside. “Lieutenant Noltz, sir!” Ansgar came to attention and saluted. “I’ve brought Petty Officer Third Class Shizuka Hiraoka as requested for orientation, sir!”

“Thank you, Ensign Toule,” replied the Lieutenant, saluting him allowing him to return to an at ease stance. “Bring her in.”

Shizuka stepped in fully to take in the whole space. It unlooked unremarkable to her eyes. White walls surrounded her on all four sides. The room itself was small, about the same size as her apartment. A chair and desk sat to her left while a tall thin cabinet fit into the right. They were the only decorations for the room.

Waiting for her was the Lieutenant, already eying her up and down in a subtle manner, while still broadcasting it clearly enough so Shizuka understood. Lieutenant Noltz appeared to be young woman, likely in her late twenties. The uniform fitted to her as though part of her rather than something she had to wear. She had a close strict haircut, looking like she took her role as a career officer seriously and expected it from others as well.

Not knowing the expectations, Shizuka opted to stand in the middle of the room waiting to hear their plans for her. ‘Hopefully, I get some answers. I need to know what this is all about. What is that man planning?’

“Good morning, Petty Officer,” began the woman. A small thin device turned about in her palm as she approached Shizuka. She stopped half a meter away from her, staring down at the young teenager. “I will be your orientation officer. I will be familiarizing you with HOPE regulations as well as the AESIR Project, to which you’ve been assigned. To begin, you are part the military arm of HOPE, not the civilian arm, as such you are required to follow all military regulations. First, you acknowledge and address any superior officer you meet with a salute.” She demonstrated for Shizuka the salute. “Now you.”

Shizuka considered various rebellious actions, but only considered them. She knew she had to play along with them. Following the woman’s motions, Shizuka gave her the desired salute. ‘I’ve got to work with them, so they trust me enough that I have the guards lifted. I can’t do anything with them around me.’

“Very good. There’s a lot to cover. Take a seat over there and I’ll begin.” She looked over at Ansgar. “You’re dismissed. I’ll call for you when we’re done for the day.”

“Yes, sir!” He left with almost no sound, leaving Shizuka to the Lieutenant. The lights dimmed a little and the wall facing Shizuka shimmered to life. Text appeared on the wall, a title page for the first of many lessons.

Hours drained away in repetition on the various regulations required for military service and those in service to HOPE. It was all very dry and boring material for Shizuka. She felt herself losing it after an hour, but found a loud noise buzz in her ear the moment she trailed off. It felt like she was being watched at all moments, never allowed rest or chance for weakness.

“That concludes the regulations. Any questions, Petty Officer, before I continue?”

Shizuka had a lot of questions for her, but none of them valid to the subject material, save one. “Everyone keeps referring to me as Petty Officer, which from the information you’ve shown me is a rank. However, it’s not the lowest rank. Why is that?”

“It’s because of your special status.”

“Special status?” Different ideas came to mind. She considered it possibly something that man did, but she doubted it since Edgar was referred by the same rank. It still worried her the term, special status.

Lieutenant Noltz nodded to her. She pushed the button on her device changing to a different slide. “This is related to your assignment to the AESIR Project. All pilots in the project are granted a higher rank than the standard soldier. The training you will soon receive is designed to make you an elite pilot with only the rest of your team as your peers. Thus your elite status grants you a higher rank. For now you’re only a Petty Officer Third Class, but when your training is completed you’ll be promoted to Warrant Officer.”

“I see…” The answer was complete and full, but still left her with questions. The expectations placed on her weighed especially uncomfortable on her shoulders. She accepted what she had to do, but hearing a piece of it made her get a sense of what she was getting herself into with them. ‘Elite pilot? Why did they pick me? Certainly, there are far better choices than me. I’m just a teenager!’

-X- -X- -X-

Yokatomo Commercial District

Morning presented itself with another chilly day for the out-of-towners. Crowds filled the streets with people going to work and getting a breakfast on the go. Everyone had a place to be and focused on it. Yet a polite warmth managed to carry through them. It had Rinn and Elle with a lot to take in as they watched.

Broken into two teams, each team had different assigned goals. Terra Team One Alpha’s mission was to locate the necessary supplies for the transport. Rinn detailed a list of parts needed. Alpha Team was lead by Wells with Noinae and Schir. Bravo Team followed Rinn, accompanied by Elle, their task reconnaissance for their primary mission.

While Wells took the truck into the port district of the city, Rinn and Elle walked on foot through the city. Part of a good recon was feeling out the environment and people, so Rinn claimed. Their mission provided them with several different sorts of attire. Rinn selected the jumpsuits, making them generic enough to fit in as work crews or maintenance staff.

Eventually, they made it to a large park surrounded by the tall skyscrapers of the new part of the city. It gave them a good opportunity to sit and not look conspicuous. Rinn laid back in the grass, appearing very casual. “Come on, standing around is going to tire you out, Lellecausua.” He patted his hand on the grass directing her to the spot.

She looked down at him with a bothered expression mixing with worry. “We’re on a mission! You shouldn’t be lying about!”

“And you think I can’t investigate while lying down?” Reaching up for her, he grabbed her wrist and insisted on her sitting at least. He went back to relaxing once he got his way. “Look around, what do you see?”

“People. People without a care in the world,” she replied, not even thinking about the response.

Closing his eyes, Rinn grinned a little. “Really? I see something different. They’re struggling and fighting, they’re quite desperate. They want to live, probably harder than we do back home.” The hint of irony in his last words made him chuckle a little.

A little disturbed by his analysis, Elle turned to look down at him. “You sympathizing with them? You know what they did.”

“Yeah, I know.” Rinn dismissed her with a hand wave. “I’m just saying what I see, but you’re the one that brought it up. I was actually looking for a different answer. You saw before right, the difference that they have here. There’s an old part of the city and a new part of the city.”

“So, that happens a lot.”

“But examine it closer. You can see there is a difference in the technology, where the age changes. They don’t maintain the old, but they don’t destroy it either to rebuild. They just leave it. As though it was a reminder to them. The new part of the city has a significant difference in construction and technology, as though decades passed. What does that tell you?”

“They like to waste space.”

“It means that the old city was that way for a while and kept that way. It is still functional, but a recent boom in development came through in the last couple of decades. I would guess a hundred years ago, this was a small town, but you look at it now it is major hub. The port they went to is huge. There is traffic always going through.”

“So you’re saying something happened to turn this from a meaningless town into a metropolis in the last couple of decades?”

“Yes. That sort of development doesn’t happen naturally. There’s something very deliberate about it.”

“But how is that going to help us?”

“It means if it was deliberate then there was a lot of city planning done. So if there are any defenses it should be more uniform and less random. It makes our job investigating easier.”

Elle stared at Rinn for a while in silence. Any retort she might have had for him disappeared after his last round. It was difficult to dispute such logic. She did not even look too closely at the city. They were looking for military defenses and level of technology, she never considered the city itself to be a clue. ‘Who is he? He’s not a normal soldier…’ She recalled how his fast-talking and impromptu acting got the Commander treatment. He was very good with words.

Breaking the silence, Rinn stretched his arms releasing a long yawn as though having just awoke for a nap. “How’d you get your nickname?”

“Huh?” It caught her a little off guard. He asked it as though it was nothing and the most natural question to follow in the conversation. Nothing in the way he spoke made it seem out of place, yet she knew it was random. It had no purpose in their previous discussion. She hardened her expression planning to end his casual advance. “I don’t believe that has anything relevant to our investigation.”

Not even a flinch came from him. “Maybe, but we’re going to be stuck together in this foreign place for a while, living out of the hunk of junk that pretends to fly. I’m the outsider here along with your team newbie. Nothing wrong with me trying to learn about my comrades more, eh?”

Point proven again, he was good with words. She ended up feeling like the one in the wrong for having snapped back at him. Shifting her eyes away from him, though he still had his eyes closed, Elle worked out the turmoil in her mind. The fact that he was a stranger to the group made it difficult for her to trust him. He acted too friendly for someone assigned as their pilot.

Elle sighed, signaling her relenting to his inquiry. “The Commander, Polsen and myself have been together for a while. It was Polsen, he started calling me ‘Elle’ from the first day. He said my full name was a mouth full, so he shorted it on his own.”

“You didn’t protest?”

“I did, but he never listened.”

“Sounds like him. How far back do you guys go?”

“We were part of the Lyra 649th. Just regular enlisted soldiers.”

A pause in Rinn response followed Elle’s answer. It was not clear if he was thinking or just a difficult line to continue. However, his silence did not last for long. “Lyra huh, so you were a Fed during the war.” Another pause, though he made it clear he was thinking now. “The war ended four years ago and given his age. So you guys came in near the end.”

“Yes, we did not enter combat until the final year of the war. Most of the 649th was lost during the Battle of Cepheus-15. Only the three of us survived and only because the Commander’s heroics.”

“Yeah, the stories of the Linebreaker and the White Ram are quite well known. It’s pretty crazy charging the Alliance’s Third Fleet to break the line their fleet formed and turn the tide of the entire battle.”

Memories of the fighting flashed back for Elle. She pocketed them away in the safe spot she always kept them. War memories only served to dredge up sadness. “He only did that to protect the battalion. He wasn’t thinking about breaking the fleet formation.”

“But it was the unorthodox methods that turned the battle. The war would have dragged on longer had things gone differently at Cepheus-15.”

“The war ended soon after Cepheus-15,” she recalled. Lines of empty coffins filled her mind of the lost comrades. An entire battalion wiped out, people he knew since she joined. “He was promoted and given a command shortly after the battle. Ollane and Noinae joined the team then. We flew independent missions in the final days of the war. After the unification, we were part of the peacekeeping forces until this mission. Schir had only recently joined us before the mission. She’s never even sortied in real combat.”

Pulling himself up, Rinn looked over at Elle. “You guys have quite the history.” Appearing as though well rested, Rinn began to lift himself up.

“What about you?” Elle stood up and walked around in front of him. Plenty of questions about Rinn still remained. She only had guesses about him and reason for his selection. “I told you about us, how about explaining yourself a little.”

The light-not-taking-anything-serious expression washed over his face as he stared at her. A difficult poker face to read. “So suspicious looking,” he sung, as though treating the whole thing like it was just a game. He started walking over to the path that cut through the park. A summoning finger beckoned Elle to follow him. It seemed he was willing to bite.

When she caught up to him, he tilted his head in her direction briefly. “You must have theories. I’m curious what you think.” It was still game.

She hated the look he gave her, but knew he was not going to start. It was up to her. Elle felt like he was trying to make her look like a fool by guessing first and then correct on what she got wrong. Almost as though he judged her based on her answers. “The way you said it, you weren’t on the Federation side during the war. So you’re likely an ex-Alliance officer. Since you’re still in the military after the unifications I’m guessing you had no problems with changes in the military under the Federation, as many Alliance soldiers left service after the surrender.”

“It’s true that many Alliance soldiers disagreed with the methods of the Federation and refused to serve.” Their walk brought them near the end of the park. Traffic on the sidewalk increased as the day slowly moved on. Rinn directed them down a street as though he knew where he wanted to go next, despite being an unknown city. “But after such a lengthy and aggressive campaign, it is only natural to have people discontent with the outcome.”

Elle glanced over at Rinn with a narrow look. “You didn’t say if I was right.”

“True, but if there was something I wanted to correct I would have said.”

An evasive answer. She did not like how he treated it, but she continued anyway. “You spoke like Cepheus-15 was something you heard about rather than experienced. So you were probably not on the frontlines, since the Alliance threw much of their forces into the battle. The way you act is casual as though nothing surprises you. Perhaps you’ve seen too much of the war, rather than too little. A little cynical.” Checking him for any signs, he kept walking them down the sidewalk.

No reply or denial left her a little unsettled. She did not think she was so close. It felt like he was just playing her and leading her around. A terrible feeling settled inside her. “Your analysis and quick thinking at the clinic makes it clear you’ve got experience in this sort of thing. You’re used to lying to people, easily and quickly without a second thought. You read deeper into a scene than most would. Former military intelligence?”

A slow clap came from Rinn, as though granted her a reward for her efforts. “I figured you get to the answer with enough thinking.” She glared at him knowing he mocked her. “You’re correct. I was a former Alliance spy.”

“Why send an ex-spy from the former Alliance on this mission?” Silence from the ex-spy pushed her to come to her own answers, a loud. He kept nudging her, rather than reveal anything. “Your skill set as a spy makes sense for the investigation and analysis. But the mission was put together by the Federation Military and was an objective long before the unification happened. Including someone from the Alliance…” Her thoughts trailed off on her.

She worked the problem up to the point she stopped, but hit a wall. The Alliance part stumped her. It did not make any sense to her. A mission with the sole resources coming from the Federation, not the member states, did not have any support from the Alliance. Thoughts started back up for her as her train resumed. “No alliance members are part of the project. It was all made up of individuals from the Federation. Everything was being solely dedicated by the Federation President, it was his campaign goal, this project. The former Alliance member states had no say in any of it…” She stopped again, but for a different reason.

The annoying glow in Rinn eyes showed up again, as though telling her to continue. He egged her on like he was the teacher guiding the student to the answer. It was too smug. “Politics…the member states forced someone from their side on the mission.”

Smugness turned to a grin. Rinn nodded lightly to her, while continuing their walk. “You’re correct, this is a political maneuver by them to have a hand in the project. If things go well, they’re on the winning side and have something to tangible to use for support. If not, well I’m a spy, it’s easy to disavow any knowledge of my existence. I’m invisible until needed.”

“Don’t they know how important this project is?!” exclaimed Elle. Her voice caught the attention of passerby’s. She quickly quieted her voice and tried to look invisible herself. Once out of range and in a different crowd of strangers, she resumed. “They’re playing politics with something so dangerous.”

Rinn have a shrug to her. “It’s all a game for them. They do this sort of thing all the time. If things succeed they profit, if things fail they point fingers.”

“They’re so far away from the problem that they can’t even understand it. No one up there even knows yet. All of this, what we have here.”

“That is why we’re here.” In front of them was a large skyscraper. A new target for them as their investigation began a new turn. “No one’s been here in over six hundred years. It’s time to see how different they are from us.” Rinn walked through threshold of the sliding doors with Elle following closely behind.

-X- -X- -X-

Concluding the first part of the orientation, Shizuka entered the classified details about the AESIR Project. The Lieutenant changed slides and presented blueprints of something that Shizuka did not recognize, let alone understand. She only made out the words “AESIR” and “Freya” from the slide, which sounded familiar.

“Everything I’m about to tell you is highly classified information and does not leave this room. You are only allowed to speak about this information to those with clearance at or exceeding your level of clearance.”

“How will I know who does and doesn’t have clearance?”

“In general, pilots all have the same level along with the engineers and mechanics working on the machines. Work crews do not and are highly compartmentalized. Anyone else, it is best not to say anything unless they can provide you proof of their clearance.” Redirecting back to the slide, she activated a button on the device in her hand. The blueprints expanded and changed showing even more information about the previous slide. “I will be providing you the introductory material about the machine you will be piloting, the AESIR Unit 01, Freya. Further details on your machine can be found with the mechanics and engineers working on the machine.”

“Lieutenant, what is the Freya, that machine I saw?”

“The AESIR Project was created for the sole purpose of developing and producing the machines known as the AESIR. The AESIR machines are part the ARM Project, the highest-level project overseeing all related work. The AESIR are what we call ARM, Advance Response Machine. ARMs are designed for frontline response to threats that the general policing and military forces cannot handle. The AESIR, stands for All-Purpose Equipment for Self Interfacing Response, or highly specialized ARMs designed for human pilots to command and control.

“As you’ll learn in the training, the cockpit of the AESIR uses neural links to aid the pilot in control. Much of the machine is still manually controlled, but lower level functions are managed through these neural links. Part of your training will be accustoming yourself to this so that it is second nature.”

“Um…I don’t follow a lot of this, but this looks like a machine for combat, for war. What are we fighting against that these are needed?”

“I’m told you saw them already. Elements of human society here still do not wish to work together for the betterment of the Earth and survival of the human race. They wish to destroy what we’ve achieved and will use any means to do that.”

“Are you talking about the terrorist group Ragnarok?”

“Though we don’t know how, they have been able to create ARMs themselves. Such weapons of destruction are a threat to the peace and stability of the Earth. The AESIR are meant to protect humanity.”

“But I’ve never heard anything about this before. If they were using them, the media—“

“You’ll learn that the media doesn’t know everything about the truth of the world.”

“But is such power really necessary?”

“It is only with overwhelming power will we prevent further conflicts from occurring.”

“So we’re a deterrent?”

“Once they understand the power of the AESIR they will not want to fight anymore.”

Shizuka considered everything the woman told her. It all confused her. The battle she witnessed was very real. If the potential of more battles like the one she saw happened, more villages, innocents would be sacrificed. ‘If I don’t have to actually fight. If it is just a deterrent, but wouldn’t anyone do then?’ Pieces still did not add up correctly. “Why me? Why even use a human pilot?”

“You’ll have to speak to the engineers if you want to know why a human pilot is required to control the AESIR. As for yourself, you will selected by Doctor Kitawara specifically for the Freya. He insisted it to be piloted by no one else other than you.”

“So when he suddenly has a use for me, he comes calling. I’m otherwise forgotten, huh?” It did not really bother her as much as she thought. Such facts were accepted by her a long time ago. The reason she ran away was because she realized the facts, the truth about him. When he needed her he came and he needed her for his project. ‘He doesn’t think about anything other than his work and what he needs to complete it.’

Answers came, but questions rode along with them. They were never ending. Most times the answers were not enough. The answers were only vague enough to keep one satisfied, but wanting more moments later. Always starved, always hungry. No real truth, just the convenient truth.

The ‘truth’ ended eventually, followed up by the real part of orientation, physical training. Lieutenant Noltz began her explanation, “The first week I’ll be testing your physical condition and endurance. You will be required to be in peak physical condition at all times as an AESIR pilot. A specialized training regime has been created for you to get you in shape. It will be tough at the beginning, but you’ll adapt in time.”

A hint of doom came out in her words, like an ill omen. Shizuka swallowed slowly a little concerned about what they would subject her to for training. She feared that they might use it as an excess to punish her for her escape and behavior.

Whether a punishment or not, Shizuka never felt exhaustion like she had after the first day. It was something that she would never forget, yet never remember either. She was quite certain death was similar to how she was at the end.

-X- -X- -X-

Revived, Edgar returned to Base with his farewells concluded. He held a determined look in his eyes and a set course. However, it did not last for long before Ensign Tool spotted him. Ed tried to evade him, but failed, as he always knew where Ed turned. It took until caught for Ed to remember the band on his wrist. ‘Damn tracker!’

“I adjusted your schedule so you could finish your business, Petty Officer Dubois, but your orientation is still happening today.”

Tightening up his hand, he fought with his urges to snap at the Ensign. ‘I haven’t found ‘er yet!’ He fixed Ansgar with a stare trying hard to keep his emotions in check, but still failing. “I have one thing I need ta do and then ya can do what’ver ya want ta mah!”

“I’m afraid you’ve already used up your free time.”

Ed stepped forward losing the battle with his emotions. “Damnit! It’s just one thing! I dun even need ta leave tah base!”

Ansgar read Ed’s face seeing the serious tone in his eyes. He quickly weighed things forced to make a fast decision. “You have as long as it takes for me to find your orientation officer and get things ready. But you must be in uniform!” His words had to rise as Ed already started off in his own direction. All he got in response was a hand wave to acknowledge. Ansgar sighed to himself.

The answer put a smile on Edgar face. He sprinted over to the apartments not caring about how out of breath or sweaty he got in the process. The bag dropped carelessly at his side the moment he breached the threshold. Edgar was back out the door in seconds hopping on one leg with his pants while simultaneously fighting with his blazer. He finished his wardrobe in the elevator and bolted the moment it opened. ‘Where tah hell is she?! I dun have long!’

His first location he checked was the female apartments, but the computer informed him that she was not back. It sent him off deeper into the base asking around in search of clues. A couple of people remembered seeing something that seemed like Shizuka, but gave him no good leads. Minutes continued to drain away from him the longer he went. ‘Damn, if I had ask’d Ensign Tool he probably would ‘ave known! Now I won’t be able ta find ‘er at all!’

An empty hall in the middle somewhere looking like every other place Edgar came to a stop. He needed a moment to think. Everywhere he ran was already turning into a jumble within his mind. He could not keep one hallway straight from another. The bland military appearance left him confused. ‘Where is she?!’ He pounded his fist against the wall in frustration.

Just as he began to walk away, he crossed paths with Shizuka at an intersection. He froze in place standing in her way, though not intentionally. Ed simply did not know what to say or how to act now that he found her.

Contrary to how she usually acted towards him, she barely even flickered a moment of frustration at him. Her face looked like it wanted to sag and her shoulders curved down more than usual. Everything in the way she moved looked broken. The fire in her eyes was gone. Shizuka simply walked around Ed.

A woman in uniform walked with her, an escort. Ed did not recognize her, however she stared at him briefly as though he did something wrong. The whole scene confused him. He had no words. His words were sealed with his lips, locked up tight.

Shizuka continued her dead walk away from him. The further she got away the tighter Ed’s chest got. The paralysis finally snapped letting him stretched out his arm. “…Shu…Su!” It almost seemed like he was shouting unintelligibly. Only the woman glanced back at him, the one that noticed his voice. Shizuka made not response or reaction to him. Ed ran down the hall after her not willing to give up. “Shu…Shizuka!” He could not allow himself the moment of pride to get her name right. His eyes burned holes in the back of Shizuka waiting on her.

The call of her name caused her to stop. For what seemed like an hour, Shizuka slowly turned toward the voice. Her responsiveness was still missing. Ed finally locked eyes with Shizuka, but he did not feel like she was actually looking at him. The dead expression prevented her from looking like anything more than a doll. Nothing was getting through to her and he knew it. He hung his head, unable to say anything more.

Ed did not know when she left, he never heard the clicking of shoes against the polish floor. It was not until a hand grabbed him from behind that he returned to reality. Ensign Tool stood behind him, likely wanting him to leave with him for the orientation. Ed nodded vaguely at him and followed. ‘I missed my chance…but I have to keep trying!’

An unfamiliar room swallowed him up. His daze made the passage of time hard to track. Before him stood a young man, older than the Tool, but still qualified in age enough to merit young. Ed did not even try to get a feel of the man. Nothing really mattered to him at the moment. Orientation likely happened, but he would have failed a quiz on it.

His day ended with the same feelings he had the night before, multiplied.

-X- -X- -X-

A dark familiar room housed a gathering of the top brass of HOPE with the exception of one individual. Lieutenant Noltz joined them under request from the General. The three heads of the military departments seat on the commanding side of the table. Their faces held hard looks reading to judge and rip apart anything. Opposite of them was the nervous Lieutenant along with an ever unfazed Doctor Kitawara.

Starting out the meeting, the General leaned forward pressing his hands together while his elbows rested on the table surface. He peered over his interlaced fingers to stare directly at Lieutenant Noltz. “Lieutenant Elizabeth Noltz, you’ve been brought before this committee to give your report on the first week training progress of your trainee, Petty Officer Third Class Shizuka Hiraoka.” The General glanced down at the screen confirming he read it correctly. His eyes turned to Doctor Kitawara briefly before focusing on the woman.

“Yes, sir!” Dimming the lights, Elizabeth stepped forward to the table with device in hand. She brought up the physical records of Shizuka. A large “classified top secret” mark stamped the record, while the details outlined all measurements and tests performed on Shizuka. “These are the records run on Petty Officer Hiraoka at age one, then Potential #3294301.” She changed the slide to another record, a current one for Shizuka. It quickly transitioned into a graph comparing the results. “This is Petty Officer Hiraoka now after a week of training. While the physical training prior was not poor, she is not currently fit for the extreme forces placed on the body while piloting an AESIR. Her adaptability, logic centers and neural responses are higher than an average Potential. However, she has shown some resistance to the interfacing with the training simulator.”

The Admiral leaned forward a little joining General Nornland. “What is your assessment of her then? Can she handle being a pilot?”

Silence filled the room while the Lieutenant considered her answer. The longer she waited the worse it made her answer appear. She felt the eyes of everyone on her. “I do not believe she would make a good pilot, sir! She has the strengths of any Potential, but her environment for the last six years has not conditioned her for the rigors of military service. She has already displayed rebellious tendencies and if she were to continue forward in the Project she will likely resist.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. That is all, dismissed.”

“Sir!” She saluted to the committee and then departure the room.

Once the room was short one the atmosphere changed and redirected. Attention came to Doctor Kitawara. The Admiral pushed a little closer to the table working his stature to a commanding presence. “Doctor Kitawara, you’ve heard the report. Your daughter may be one of the best Potentials, but your disregard for her training has wasted her.”

“Agreed,” nodded the Nornland, “You requested her to be a candidate, but like with the other one both are not suitable for the Project.”

“I disagree,” Kitawara started, not that him disagreeing with them was a surprise. “I picked them because they were not part of the Project from the beginning. You think I’d just let my daughter go off and act like a rebellious selfish child knowing the importance of the Project?”

“You’re telling us this is all part of your plan?”

“Of course! I allowed my daughter to go, how do you think it was so easy for an eight year to just leave Antarctica City alone? I wanted her out there because of how it would shape her. Both of them will be far greater pilots than either of the two you handpicked. Besides, as head of the Project I’ve already had adjustments and specifications made to the Freya and Od for them. Unless you want the Project to go behind schedule and leave us vulnerable to their attacks, they are your pilots.” Kitawara stared at them in his usual unflinching matter. The look in his eyes lacked any sign of equality between them. When they had nothing more to add, he departed to leave them to their frustrations.

As the door closed, the General slammed his fist down on the table. “Damn you, Kitawara! We need the rights pieces that will do as ordered and not think. He’s threatening our command.”

“The man became less predictable after his wife died,” commented the Air Marshal, “He was a brilliant Potential and we needed him to get the Project back on course after the previous failures.”

“Perhaps…he’s too brilliant. Unfortunately, the course has already been set. But we still have options.”

-X- -X- -X-

The passage of a week was barely anything for them. Covertly sneaking out parts for the transport and spying left the team little time for any stray thoughts. Only when night came did they get any rest, unless they had a heist to carry out on a warehouse. In no time, their deadline came fast approaching.

That deadline was the reason they all gathered in the transport. Both Rinn and Wells took center stage. It seemed that the chance to cause trouble for the ‘demons’ improved his attitude, in addition to the time to let everything cool off.

Starting things off, Wells had his fist in the air looking pleased. “We’ve finally got enough parts to fix the ship!” Their last run just ended before the start of the meeting. Everything already off loaded from the truck and packed around the Skins. It looked like an organized junkyard. The Skin almost looked bothered being in the presence of random parts, as though being considered junk.

“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” Rinn reminded, placing a hand in front of Wells to curb his enthusiasm, “Someone still has to fix the ship.” He was not sure if he liked the new Wells with steam blown off.

Adding shifting eyes towards the Lieutenant, Wells directed his words. “Someone will need to.” While not attempting to be subtle, it still looked like a failed attempt. However, not letting any of it linger, Wells refocused the topic to a new subject. “And thanks to someone, we’ve finish preliminary investigation of the defense of Yokatomo. We’ll need to move on to another city for a comparative analysis.”

Shifting to a holographic projection of the Earth, Wells began a summary. Details of their recently acquired intelligence hovered in text next to the Earth. “Additionally, according the updated maps that we’ve managed to procure getting into Antarctica airspace is going to be difficult. Command believes the bulk of the military force and headquarters are stationed here.”

“I was able to track back the direction the cargo transport that carried the giant Skin that attacked us.” Following up Wells, Rinn projected his information on the holograph. Several different flight paths appeared along with markers noting the engagement. “Based on flight speed compared to our arrival, their response time correlates with this theory that Antarctica is their base. Add to the fact, that we’ve yet to see any real military presence in the city would seem to imply they are centralizing their forces there.”

“So we’ll need to get as much information on it as possible for Command.”

Schir, the team newbie, stood up to call attention to herself. “Isn’t it strange for there not to be any military presence anywhere else in the world? Given they are united, wouldn’t it make more sense to have bases spread around the world for faster response times and global presence?”

“They’ve been focusing heavily on terraforming the Earth,” replied Elle. They gained access to some historical records at a library. What they found started to piece things together. “According to their history, nearly all of their resources have been funneled to restoring the damage caused by the nuclear holocaust six hundred years ago. There has not been a single war in all that time. So it is likely that a military presence of any sort was deemed unnecessary. This H.O.P.E. Organization seems to run the restoration efforts and act as the central government.”

Noinae spoke up, as the meeting turned into a group discussion. “But we know they have a military force of sort. The giant Skin that attacked us is proof enough of that.”

“However, their official records state they have no *real* standing military, just a small group of volunteer enlisted soldiers. Everything’s handled by the policing agencies.”

“Official records. Governments lie all the time.”

“That’s right!” interjected Wells. He looked like he wanted to take command of the situation. “We don’t know what they have unofficially. None of our engagement made any of the media. Only some mention of an organization called Ragnarok from that day.”

“Media manipulation,” noted Rinn, his arms crossed appearing deep in thought. “It’s a pretty common tactic for military or government agencies in hiding the truth. Like Lellecausua said, they’ve never known war and it’s been centuries since. I doubt they want the public to know we’re roaming about. It looks like this Ragnarok group is an easy fall guy for them, since they are a known global terrorist group. However, they can still attack us by labeling part of the terrorist group and the public won’t know any different. Not that we are planning on exposing ourselves anymore, currently.”

“Do you think they have hidden bases then, if they’re going to all this trouble,” asked Schir.

Neither of them had a good answer for her. However, Wells took it upon himself to give her one. “That’ll be part of the reason why we will keep searching other cities around the world. If it is hidden, it won’t be easy to find, but we’ll need to know about it.” Everything seemed settled. They still had many questions, but only time would reveal them.

A graver air surfaced from Wells, despite the already serious atmosphere. It brought an awkward tension to the room. “We have one last order of business to discuss.” He paused for a moment, but everyone already knew where he was going with the meeting. It was the main reason they all gathered. The most important discussion of the night. “The Commander. We need to get a plan together for breaking him out of the clinic.”

-X- -X- -X-

After the weekly committee meeting, General Nornland returned to his office. A mountain of electronic devices covered his desk. He sat down in his chair leaning back, staring at the paperwork. The debate with Doctor Kitawara weighed on his mind. Their new pilots left him with too many concerns rather than assurances. Untested machines combined with unknown pilots, he did not like the direction things headed. All of the confident talk from the Doctor would not fix it for him.

Catching his eye on something new on his desk, Nornland leaned forward tapping his finger on the screen. The pad was placed in the center of his desk, his assistant felt it was important enough to give it such a position.

He read the highlights of the report as they scrolled across the screen. The report held the label of critical, hence the assistant’s placement. Yet most of it seemed very trivial, hardly anything important. It was simply company reports of stolen stock sent through one of his many intelligence agents. Yet it bugged him, he kept looking over it. The longer he examined it he started to see the reason. He went back and read the agents report thoroughly confirming his suspicions. “Rather sudden, these string of stolen supplies…”

His fingers poked at his computer screen activating it. He ran the reports through some additional databases. “We’re going to need move carefully. Last time worked to our advantage, but this time they’re staying hidden.” Several strategies ran through his mind to handle the matter. While he thought, his fingers sifted through data on his computer form the recent day.

A file on Edgar Dubois surfaced, a brief talking point during the meeting. He looked at the weekly report on Edgar. “Yes, this should work out. It’ll give the Doctor what he needs and it’ll work out for me.” The General activated a voice to text recording device. He prepared a reply for the agent. “Begin recording. I’ve got a team for you. They’ll handle this matter. Arrange the setup. Attached are all of the documents. End message.”

To be continued…

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  1. Andromeda's Avatar
    Well as I said would likely happen, I wrote another episode at the end of the year. I still had some time to work over it this time around so I'm getting up earlier. Anyway, Episode 4 is now available. This episode starts moving things a little faster. Not a lot of action, but here is a lot of a movements and world building along with the mounting tension of conspiracies.

    I wrote this episode is a very strange way. The best way to put it is that I took the filming approach to things. When I started I did not really know the order I wanted things, not to mention I wanted to wrote somethings and not other things at the moment. I already know everything I wanted because I ended up doing a lot of detail work over the year. So I just wrote what I wanted and I didn't care about the chronology of the story until I finished. So it was like filming a movie or show. You work around people's schedules and do what you need and then when you edit it you bring it all together. That's what happened for me. I wrote all of Shizuka and Ed's parts first, because I wanted to and then did Terra Team's stuff. I jumbled around the rest. I then moved it all around in the order that was correct.

    It was a weird way to write, but I got it done. It was easier than forcing myself to do something I didn't feel like at the time. As I mentioned before, I had the advantage of knowing the details going into it. During the time since the last episode I wrote out a detail summary for the entire series broken down by episode, followed by a shorter summary followed by a bullet points summary. So I've got a lot of information for it.

    Anyway, no giant robots fighting again, not high tension or emotions like the last episode. Though I did have some emotional moments with Ed. This was a cool off episode. Lots of stuff happened and the reader is still in the dark about quite a few things, some intentional, some I didn't have time yet. So it was a world building episode and a character building one. Terra Team One was still a pretty huge question mark on development for them, only Wells and Rinn had any really development after Cal got wounded. So I was able to mix in the two. Rinn got more back story, something that he was needing and then even members of the team got some background as well. Elle got the most attention, but more things were explained about who they were.

    On the world building, I had two goals for the episode. I needed to work in more details about Earth and I need to start talking about the world the Team came from. Considering the story and genre, it is pretty obvious, but all that is explicitly stated is that they come from space. So I needed to work in some details about the environment that they come from. So I got to talk about the Federation, the Alliance, the war and unification. All things that I've outlined on paper, but never brought up until now. Things are still vague and mysterious, but there are more pieces in place now. Plus I got to work a little politics in things.

    Shizuka ended up making a good chance to start answering some questions the reader likely had about the situation. Why are their giant robots when there is no war. Why are they using teenagers (because it is a trope >.>, though Ansgar is 19, Ed is 16. Shizuka is actually the youngest, so I still subvert the trope a little.) It was a good chance to work in a lot of things I wanted without sounding like it was out of place, which is always bad. When things are explained to someone that already knows them it never makes sense, you just know the audience needs to know them. A new person helps to facilitate this without being weird.

    Ed is still dealing with his guilt on the matter, something that will be a reoccurring theme for him for a while. It is not going to be making him emo or anything. But I think anyone would be feeling pretty bad about throwing someone to the wolves when they could have prevented it. He'll be getting over it in time, when the two make up. But it'll be something that nags at him, but also something that will provide him with motivation. So it is not all bad.

    The committee continue to work their conspiracies and I work the plans within plans that Doctor Kitawara has going on. The guy is a huge jerk and I only continue to play that up. I continue to toss around the term Potential, which will be an important term continuing. It is left as a mysterious element that can build speculation. There is pieces and expectations that people can put on it, so it should be able to have some good legs. I even conclude with a cliffhanger that has some fun implications.