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  1. (2.9.4) All humans, like the rest of the primates, learn by example. This does not just hold true for basic tasks like speaking or reading, but also applies to morals and ethics. Who we elect to spiritual guide ultimately depends on us, and, to a degree, to the environment we've grown up into. It is not rare to see a little boy striving to imitate his father, but what can be said of orphans? They, too, seek to shape and orientate their moral compass. There used to be two of them on military outpost of PN5-2. One of them was meek, fascinated by technology, awed by progress. He was a self-made man who found a mentor much later than he would have liked to. He admired him with all his heart, and he was disappointed beyond words when despair turned his idol into a mindless ragdoll.
  2.  
  3. The other orphan had grown up too quickly. Alone as he was, he resorted to reading almost compulsively. He believed in and loved knightly tales more than anything else. Even so, he had things he disliked about them. He thought that loyalty should come before pride, that honor should be the mighty shield that protects the weak, not the merciless blade that brings down the judgement against innocents. He revered the other orphan, and considered his mentor almost like a father. It didn't matter that they carried out painful tests on him, after all a knight is supposed to take pain in stride, isn't he?
  4.  
  5. The two orphans didn't dare to consider each other siblings. But when their mentor changed for the worst, they had to consider themselves at least allies. Alone versus the world, they risked everything they had to protect those they cared for. Betrayal, deceit, lies: they stopped at nothing because they couldn't afford to. And when the day of reckoning came, they were prepared. The man of science reneged on all of his principles that day, while the bookworm accepted his role as a pawn of destiny and took the blame.
  6.  
  7. It was for the best: dead people can't feel the hatred of others, he thought. But there are grudges not even death could extinguish. And so, having donned the whitest of mantles, and having bared the cruelest blade ever forged by men, he prepared to strike out against blameless people. People who used to live simply, adhere to their uplifting ideal, following those they admired while attending to their responsibilities. With a bitter laughter, the man realized  that unlike in his stories, there was no need for ancient prophecies or cursed children, venomous snakes a father raises only for them to kill him eventually.
  8.  
  9. This mother of all tragedies was born of nothing more than simple people doing what they thought was the best.
  10.  
  11. It was morning when you came to, the sun filtering gently through the window's bars. The environment of the cell struck you as unfamiliar for a second, that is, at least until you were fully awake again. There was a strange atmosphere, something profoundly unsettling about the circumstances surrounding you. Perhaps it was the result of the prolonged nightmares that plagued your sleep. It was the last one - the vision of a colossal, hulking metal titan cruising through the galaxy - that forcefully woke you up.
  12.  
  13. Your memories were jumbled and dizziness pervaded your body. The last event you could recall was... Mark's death. That was the horrific image you had unconsciously tried to suppress, probably in order to retain your sanity. He died one step away from success, one step away from returning home safely once more. It was something you hadn't fully metabolized yet, something you couldn't bring yourself to accept. And it wasn't just because Mark was the only person to show you a hint of friendliness: you were also starting to fully grasp the extent of the danger you had been plunged into.
  14.  
  15. And now you were supposed to just stay there and wait until the enemy attacked again and the HQ decided that the robots and their pilots were expendable enough to take care of the issue. Because that was what it came down to. But now wasn't the time to get worked up about it. There wasn't a lot to do, but anything was better than wallowing in bitterness.
  16.  
  17. You could organize your memories to prepare a report, or you could read a book. Alternatively, you could ask to talk with prof. Deucalion.
  18.  
  19. [Briefly describe the character's choice, mental state, and what happens before she gets interrupted]
  20.  
  21. At that point, the door opened. It was the first time someone skipped the formalities and just let himself in. The man who entered was somewhat short, standing roughly at the same height as you. His short hair was dirty blonde, and his blue eyes were shrinked by the lenses of the glasses he was wearing. He was donning something that looked like a purple ceremonial robe, partially covering a sturdy and thick black military gear.
  22.  
  23. "Good morning, miss Stella. My name is Father Matheus. I am here to invite you to Mark Venedig's funeral. We're holding a small service in his honor, and we were hoping you would join us."You nodded absentmindedly. It sure was strange that your comrade in arms had died, but it was even stranger to consider that a man you had never seen before was officiating what looked like a religious rite in his honor. Granted, this made sense. Mark had talked at length about his faith when he came visiting, after all. If anything, it was the man extending the invitation that was odd.
  24.  
  25. "So... are you a priest? Do you follow Mark's creed too?"
  26. "No, not exactly. However, it wouldn't be heretical nor blasphemous for me to conduct this ceremony. Having established these matters of canonicity, I find myself compelled to exhort you to hurry up, lest we be late. That'd be acceptable of you, much less so of me. Come on, they're waiting for us."
  27.  
  28. The sense of hurry in the pastor's words was palpable, but there was a thing you absolutely had to make sure of before leaving with him.
  29.  
  30. "Excuse me, uhm... 'father'. Do I know you?"
  31. The man cocked his head in visible sorrow, his brow frowned.
  32. "Von Neumann, could it be that you do not recognize me? I am Simulacrum."
  33.  
  34. And in that moment, his voice rang familiar to that you heard during battle. He was the pilot of the chrome ghoul, and somehow his somber appearance resembled that of his own robot.
  35.  
  36. "Oh... yeah, I am sorry, I didn't recognize your voice. I guess I am just still a bit distressed and confused."
  37. "Aren't we all?" he asked, showing you to the exit with his own hand. He let you get out first, but then moved ahead to lead the way.
  38.  
  39. "Well, for one, you seem pretty calm, Father Matheus"
  40. "Oh? Well, it's a father's duty to keep calm and watch over his children. Wouldn't you agree?"
  41. "I suppose. But aren't you afraid the same will happen to you? Aren't you afraid that you, too..."
  42.  
  43. That possibility was too grim and dark to contemplate, at least in the world you lived in. Except for a few rare acts of terror, war regarded those who wanted to be at war, and the poorest regions of the planet. Dying in battle was something you have never considered nor wished for, unlike Mark.
  44.  
  45. "That I too could die? That's no problem. I have already died a long time ago."
  46. "You... you did?"
  47. "Of course. 'Simulacrum', grave: that machine is where my soul is buried. After all, that mecha couldn't work without one, while I could. It was an easy decision for the high command, and an even easier one for me."
  48.  
  49. That explanation begged more questions than the answers it provided. Was that man... dead? What was a soul? How could one live without it? What did it involve? Back then, when the G-mu was mauled, you definitely felt Mark and others with you in the cockpit. Was a soul something fundamentally tangible? Moreover, some of those 'presences' didn't feel like Mark's brethren at all, but rather something far more unsettling.
  50.  
  51. All those questions were clouding your head, and before you could find a suitable answer, Father Matheus opened one more door, gesturing you to get in before him. It was a small, sober room. A few people were there, and the scientists you met were among them.
  52. A coffin was laid in the center of the room. It was black, and the shape of a golden star intersected over a golden arc. It was a military symbol that you had seen on uniforms before.
  53.  
  54. Before you could take a seat, a red-eyed man walked up to Father Matheus, his anger written all over his face.
  55. "What the fuck is the meaning of this, Matheus? I don't want that bitch at his funeral!"
  56. "What you want matters not. She's fought together with us, and she's here to bid him farewell. She has every right to be here."
  57. "Don't fuck with me," he replied, hissing his scornful reply through his teeth. "We all now it's her fault Mark is...!"
  58.  
  59. >Say no more. I will see myself out [Heritage+1]
  60. >How dare you? I did everything that was in my power! [Revenge+1]
  61. >Let the two settle it. No need to fan that flame [Synthesis +1]
  62.  
  63. [This is written in expectations that players picked either option R or S. Adapt it accordingly]
  64.  
  65. Having finished your verbal bout, the three of you parted ways. You and the boy sat far apart, while Matheus walked all the way to the altar. He stood alone behind the casket, his hands stretched out in a ritualistic prayer. People stopped talking, and those who were sitting on the floor stood up out of respect.
  66.  
  67. "We are here to give our final goodbye to our good friend Mark Venedig. O Mark! You have been chosen by the Valkyrie at birth, and now, having died in battle, you have fulfilled your destiny. May you walk the bridge of Bifrost ever safe! May your forefather and prophet, Amuro Ray, welcome you with open arms! May you and your brethren find peace in Gladsheim amongst the gods, 'till the age of Ragnarok is upon you!"
  68.  
  69. Much to your dismay, you noticed that many people were looking at you, and not at the ongoing funeral. Was that quarrel earlier what brought you to the spotlight? Or was it simply the fact that, for most of them, it was the first time seeing you? Neither prof. Deucalion nor prof. Isomaki were paying you any attention, after all.
  70.  
  71. The ceremony continued on that note for roughly 30 minutes. Some of the people attending it looked like they were in a hurry to leave. Was it because Mark was a Newtype? Apparently such a term had become a slur of sorts. As they proceeded to flow out of the room, some of them still quizzically glanced at you. [Socializing Background] Something in their eyes was now a lot less like curiosity and a lot more like worry.
  72.  
  73. Father Matheus was still in the room, confabulating with three more people. They seemed to be in the midst of an heated discussion.
  74. In particular, a short, tanned, platinum-blonde girl was lecturing the boy you had fought with earlier. He kept twirling with his brown hair in an act of ostentatious defiance, which made for a jarring contrast given how much he had cried during the service.
  75.  
  76. >Attempt to eavesdrop [Synthesis +1]
  77. >This is none of my business [Heritage +1]
  78. >Boldly walk into the conversation [Revenge +1]
  79.  
  80. [The quest presents some 'auto-mode' choices. Make sure to correct for them if they lose the 'popular vote'.]
  81.  
  82. Making sure to be far enough not to be seen, but close enough to hear them, you eavesdropped on the group. By giving them a second glance, you noticed that Roger and Dorothy were there as well, just behind the main group. It looked like they had not noticed you either. The duo were hard to spot from your earlier position, concealed as they were by the impressive frame of a man standing in front of them and right next to Matheus. That guy could rightly be defined a colossus.
  83.  
  84. The giant was completely bald, a thick black beard growing on his face and on his neck instead. In a way, he was the polar opposite of the brown-haired boy, with his shrill voice, his delicate frame and his babyface. Not only that, even their behavior was radically different. One appeared calm and serene, the other was as angry as he could be.
  85.  
  86. The discussion seemed to involve who should and should not be invited to a certain meeting. The brown, platinum haired girl insisted a certain person being present, whereas the little guy vehemently objected. Matheus and Roger attempted to mediate, while the others were largely silent and interjected rarely, only to express their disagreement with a point of view or another.
  87.  
  88. It was a very heterogenous group, and they stood out like a sore thumb. Unlike most of the people there, none of them were wearing a standard uniform. Roger and Dorothy were still in their formal black wear, Father Matheus looked like an archbishop holding an homily, the brown-haired guy donned red and only red, whereas the giant was covered by the green of his suit. Lastly, the short girl was clad in a strange, sailorlike outfit. The same golden star on Mark's casket was emblazoned on her shoulders.
  89.  
  90. However, despite your attempts at keeping at a safety distance, the eyes of the girl met yours, and she smiled in what seemed self-satisfaction. "What a coincidence. Miss Carlotta Dubois, was it? please join us, we are in the midst of discussing something important." Roger and Dorothy greeted you with a nod, while the giant turned around and stared at you with his piercing black eyes.
  91.  
  92. [Social Background] You were used to being the center of attention, of course, but the current circumstances were unusual to say the least.  Giving a distressed look to the girl, you tried to keep it together and to appear at ease as you asked a rather logical and straightforward question, not without a hint of irritation.
  93. "Excuse me miss, who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?"
  94.  
  95. The atmosphere was still tense, and out of the corner of your eye, you could see that the room was now all but empty. The personnel had left much faster  than you expected or could predict. Surely trying to sneak on Roger and the others must've distracted you from that, and now the sense of isolation was starting to stir. Not that you could count on any of the people who left the room, of course. It just felt like you suddenly had lost the protection a spectating crowd could have offered. At the same time, you also felt eager to go on the offense, tired as you were of being tossed around without a proper, minimal explanation.
  96.  
  97. The young lady who welcomed you earlier crossed her arms over he modest bust before proclaiming her identity loud for everyone to hear.
  98. "My name is Lal'c Melk Mark, Ace of the Brotherhood and former Topless. From this day onward I will be the acting officer of the company stationed on PN5-2. You will address me as captain, is that clear?"
  99. "Yes."
  100. "Yes what?"
  101. "Yes, captain."
  102. "That's better. Now, we were in the middle of scheduling a meeting, but a certain SOMEONE who shall not be named," she said, while clearly glaring at the boy in red, "was insisting that you should not be allowed to join. Of course that's preposterous, I am everyone's captain and newbies are no exceptio. I don't care about your grudges from the previous war. Is that clear?"
  103. No one dared to contradict her, but a certain someone clenched his fists in restrained anger.
  104.  
  105. "Good. Now let's go, we're headed to the briefing room."
  106.  
  107. While the room used for the funeral service was now as good as empty, the briefing room was admittedly much better. To begin with, it had a large, round table with comfortable chairs, and most importantly some of them faced the windows. Finally you could take a look at the world outside without having to ride a mecha. The chairs were numerous and well-spaced, which you thought was a nice touch. "A choice of the former squad leader... the one before Mark, I mean," Father Matheus whispered in your ear before taking a seat.
  108.  
  109. Regrettably, the briefing was not off to a good start. The short boy was still visibly upset, with no signs of getting over it. He decided to kick off the discussion by voicing a complaint.
  110.  
  111. "This would have never happened had Captain Venedig been alive," the man said to newly appointed squad leader. "If not by unanimity, we used to reach decisions by consensus at least. I don't want her to be there with us, gods know what she's capable of." Clearly he was not willing to let the matter go, but you had an idea.
  112.  
  113. >Confront him on his attitude head-on [Revenge +1]
  114. >Attempt a diplomatic resolution [Synthesis +1]
  115. >Harshly rebuke him for being whiny [Heritage +1]
  116.  
  117. [The next few lines offer a 'autopilot' way to handle the exchange. Consider tweaking it down or up, also based on players input]
  118.  
  119. [Socializing Background] "Hi-Drapearl, I suppose?" you asked all of a sudden. Granted, this was just a hunch, but the voices seemed to match. That would leave the giant to pilot the Solarion, which all in all made sense.  "This is not the first time you display unwarranted hostility. Could you please explain to me what is currently bothering you?"
  120. "First off, fuck off von Neumann," he responded, confirming your suspicion on the spot. "Second of all, YOU are what's bothering me. You shouldn't be allowed on board the robot and you shouldn't be allowed here."
  121.  
  122. You grinned, faking regret. "That truly is unfortunate, but I made an agreement with Mr Roger Smith here assuring me I would be part of any briefing session as long as I am part of this squad." As if to confirm the veracity of your words, the negotiator nodded and smiled.
  123.  
  124. "I said it once and I'll say it again: fuck off, von Neumann. I don't want you in the briefing session and I don't want you in my team. If you're really as innocent as you claim to be, then get the fuck back home."
  125. "Do you think I WANT to be here?"
  126. "Quiet, you two."
  127.  
  128. The captain's call to silence made you snap back into reality. She clearly disapproved of the infighting, and you couldn't help thinking that perhaps there was a better way to get Hi-Drapearl to acquisce, besides playing teacher's pet.
  129.  
  130. "No one wants to be here, I am sure. We'll have to make do, Ensign de Spycer. And Von Neumann has been an asset to the defense forces on this planet so far, or at least so I have been told. Now, let's get to the point."
  131.  
  132. As you all headed for the exit, the pilot of the winged mech could be heard whispering something.
  133. "Speak for yourself, bitch. I do want to be here."
  134.  
  135. Lal'c stood up and started circling around the table, scanning everyone as she passed by them.
  136.  
  137. "Very well. First of all, Roger Smith and Dorothy Wayneright: you will return to your assigned position. Your job here is concluded. The High Command can't afford to have more than one Super Robot deployed at this base."
  138. "Excuse me captain Lal'c, before we go, we'd like to point out that this base is severely undermanned as is. We wouldn't mind standing behind until more reinforcements arrived, so long as no major operations are planned."
  139. "I see your point, mr negotiator, and I agree. Regrettably, those in charge have already convened that no more reinforcements are to be sent to this base for the time being. I would love you to stay, but these are not my orders, meaning I am bound by them just as much as you are."
  140.  
  141. With a simple nod, Mr Smith signaled his willingness to comply. It was sad to see him go, given how considerate he had been of you. Unfortunately, everyone there was but a cog in a much larger wheel.
  142. "Very well, then. We shall depart after the meeting is over."
  143.  
  144. "Good. Next, I have been informed that the newcomer, Von Neumann, is not familiar with the team members. Please stand up and introduce yourselves."
  145.  
  146. "I am Father Matheus, Simulacrum" said the priest, hiding his smile.
  147. "I am Joan de Spycer, Hi-Drapearl," said the  brown-haired man, not even looking in your direction.
  148. "I am Lukasz Chtograd, Solarion" said the tall man, with no emotional inflection in his voice.
  149.  
  150. >Introduce yourself (Synthesis +1)
  151. >Ask Lal'c about her mech (Heritage +1)
  152. >Wait wait wait, JOAN? Your name is Joan? Like in Johan? (Revenge +1)
  153.  
  154. [Autopilot, make sure to correct]
  155.  
  156. "And I am Carlotta Dubois, but I see that most of you call me Von Neumann. Either way is fine," you replied, concluding this round of presentations.
  157.  
  158. "No one asked you," de Spycer hissed under his breath, as confrontational as ever.
  159.  
  160. "Very well. Now we all know each other. In the last battle, we dealt a decisive blow to the alien lifeform that has invaded this planet...uh, the Synapticons, apparently. Very good. But we're not done yet. The worst is behind us, that much is sure, but still have a long way ahead of us: we must mop up the minor nests and whatever pest escaped the psychic feedback of the broodmother's death. Before we go further into that, Von Neumann, I want a report of your last mission. Omit no detail." Captain Lal'c was again pointing her finger at you, her words implied that her orders were absolute.
  161.  
  162. Going over the events of the last day, you recounted the enemies and the difficulties faced, Mark's plan and his demise, as well the sudden surge of power coursing through the Von Neumann shortly before the Big O killed the broodmother. Only Lal'c and Joan looked like they were attentively following you.
  163.  
  164. "I am sorry for any imprecision on my part, but I don't fully understand the situation either. I lost consciousness after I went 'berserk', but I vaguely remember prof. Deucalion giving some details of what was happening to mr Smith. Isn't it so?"
  165. "Ah." The negotiator stuttered, taken aback. "Oh yeah, that's correct. If you want to read more about it, just check my report," he said, as if trying to avoid the topic.
  166.  
  167. "Oi oi Lal'c, aren'tcha glad we have one of your comrades on board with us?" the boy in red asked, not without some hints of malice.
  168. "That's speculation on your part, ensign de Spycer. And I stopped doing that a long time ago now."
  169. "That's what you filth say! But I don't believe ya, just like I don't believe missy here. Yer fucking with the rules that..."
  170. "Then, was that your opinion of captain Venedig too?" the captain suddenly asked.
  171. "Well, this and that are different, ya see..." Joan replied, stumbling on his words, clearly tripped up by Lal'c question.
  172. "You've made your position clear, ensign de Spycer. Now please be quiet, I have something more important to address."
  173.  
  174. Looking even more stern than she ever did, the captain turned around to face you.
  175. "Listen well, Von Neumann. That power...humanity has a habit of calling 'miracles' that which cannot be explained. This endless universe is filled to the brim with such 'miracles'. But if it cannot be explained, then it cannot be replicated. And if it cannot be replicated, it cannot be relied on. Only a fool would go to battle hoping that a miracle will occur twice, don't you think?"
  176. Compelled by her powerful words and by her energetic personality, you couldn't help but agree, nodding in her direction.
  177.  
  178. "Good. Real strength resides in those who believe in their own power until the very end. And that's what we'll work on. Starting from today, you'll undergo simulation training on your machine. You'll also learn some of the maintenance routines to be performed. I heard not many mechanics are willing to touch your robot. I can't really blame them for that."
  179.  
  180. [Socializing Background] That last comment struck you as a red flag. You sure as hell weren't thrilled at the prospect of carrying around and lifting heavy machinery, never mind fixing them.
  181. "Huh? That's kinda rude, isn't it? What's wrong with the von Neumann? Sure, it's big and somewhat intimidating, but it's just a machine."
  182.  
  183. The question precipitated the room in an awkward silence. Only the Hi-Drapeal's pilot withstood your gaze; everyone else turned away.
  184. "Just a stupid superstition," Lucasz said, halting the conversation with that stony remark.
  185.  
  186. "Very well pilots, the meeting's adjourned. Von Neumann, your robot is waiting for you in the hangar. We also arranged a new room as you requested, though you will be sharing it." Lal'c concluded, capitalizing on that moment of silence to avoid your question. She finally sat down and started filling some modules she had brought with her.
  187.  
  188. >Wait, sharing my room? With whom? [Revenge +1]
  189. >Let's get to the hangar and work [Heritage +1]
  190. >Bid Roger and Dorothy farewell. [Synthesis +1]
  191.  
  192. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- you are here
  193. [Autopilot, needs corrections]
  194.  
  195. Before he left, you thought that showing some appreciation for the sole person who tried to treat you properly was the least you could do. That's why rather than heading for the hangar right away, you decided to take some time to see Roger and Dorothy off. Running behind them, you caught up to the duo in the corridor connecting one wing of the military building to the other. They were talking about the report, or rather, it was mostly Roger speaking whereas Dorothy either nodded or proposed minor corrections.
  196.  
  197. "Mr Smith! Miss Wayneright! I, uhm, I wanted to say my goodbyes before you left, and... well, thank you. You helped me out both on the whole negotiation affair and on the battleground. I couldn't have made it so far without you guys."
  198.  
  199. The negotiator in black smiled and bowed slightly, and his companion did the same.
  200. "It was our pleasure, miss Carlotta. I appreciate your gratitude, and if I may impose, I have a favor to ask."
  201. "What is it?" you asked hesitantly.
  202. "Me and you... we're similar in ways we don't understand. All Super Robot pilots are like that, and your Von Neumann is in between a Super Robot and a Proxy. That's why you can function as a bridge between the rest of your team and captain Lal'c. No, rather, you should. And you should seek what you and her have in common. I am sure there's a lot."
  203.  
  204. "In other words... you're telling me not to judge a book by its cover?"
  205. "You could put it that way, I guess." The man checked his clock and turned around, lifting a hand to wave in your direction. "No slacking off now, miss! The hangar awaits and you got work to do. See you again!"
  206.  
  207. And just like that, you were left alone.
  208. It was not just the corridor. The whole building felt empty, as you wandered through it, as if that wing had been completely abandoned. Thinking of it, prof. Deucalion did mention the need for reinforcements and equipment, so there might've been some truth in your hypothesis. As if to stress this feeling of abandonment, the hangar was completely empty when you finally reached it. There were no mechanics, no security agents, and no fellow pilots. Only a metal ladder leading to Von Neumann's the cockpit and a toolbox. The giant black machine was crouching, as if it were a man at arms waiting to be knighted.
  209.  
  210. You only took a few steps towards the ladder before changing plans. After all, this was an unique opportunity to take a closer look at the robots used by your comrades in arms. Taking a peek couldn't hurt, now could it? And besides, this was the kind of information that could have proven to be useful in battle, even if just marginally.
  211.  
  212. The light in the hangar was scarce at best, so the other robots were barely visible. Nevertheless, you tip-toed closer to them, eyeballing their position using their contours and making sure not to come too close.
  213.  
  214. Crucially, the Big O was missing. Perhaps because of Roger Smith's departure, the machine was now nowhere to be seen. In all likelihood, it had probably been embarked on whichever spaceship was designated to transport the negotiator
  215.  
  216. Of all the mecha, the Simulacrum was the one that looked even more terrifying from a short distance. To think that machine held the soul of a person! Or at least, that's what Father Matheus maintained. The 'head' of the chrome ghoul was particularly uncanny, terribly out of shape and vaguely bestial. The most terrible thing, however, was that you could feel its 'eyes' on you, as if it were alive.
  217.  
  218. The Hi-Drapearl stood in all of its might just next to it. Its design was certainly unique, even if it was rare to see it in its robot form. It looked like it wasn't equipped with beam swords, or any form of close-ranged weapons, but perhaps it was not meant to ever fight from up close.
  219.  
  220. The Solarion towered the other machines in the hangar, solemnly watching over them all. The trump card of the Human Empire forces deployed on this moon, the Solarion had little to none in-combat utility when it wasn't firing his powerful concentrated beam. And yet it was also able to repair a hole in the walls, making you think that perhaps it shone as a support, too.
  221.  
  222. Finally, an unseen-before machine was parked in the farthest part of the hangar, closer to the exit. It was black and red, its head strangely round. Compared to the Big O, it seemed a lot more harmonious in its proportions, yet you couldn't shake the feeling that the mecha looked somewhat old when compared to the others you'd seen. Prof. Isomäki did seem to imply that the base was understaffed and undersupplied, after all.
  223.  
  224. Having finished your sightseeing stroll, you returned to the metal stairs and climbed it to the reach the cockpit of the Von Neumann, which opened with your touch. Even if you could see no one around, probably a small team of technicians did perform a minor set up routine to prepare the black robot for a training session. In any case, now it was up to you to decide what to do first. The monitor seemed to be already on, and three options were flickering on screen.
  225.  
  226. >"DATABASE" [Heritage +1]
  227. >"SIMULATION" [Synthesis +1]
  228. >"RECORDS" [Revenge +1]
  229.  
  230. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  231. [Sample of the 'database' decision taken in the previous run. Adapt it to make it coherent with the players' decision! Also be careful of the heritage option, consider changing it if the room thing has already been announced.]
  232.  
  233. Hungry for knowledge as you were, you could not resist the temptation of just pressing the 'Database' button. An interactive, cockpit-wide encyclopedia swirled in front of you eyes, overflowing with information on the most disparate topics. "Proxies", "Super Robots", "Alien species," these and more words fluctuated in the air just like fish swimming through the sea.
  234.  
  235. All in all, the interface was fun and involving enough to get even a girl like you captivated. Information was organized in clusters made of points and links, and by touching a point you'd get some information on a given fact. Touching that point again prompted a larger window that dealt with the same fact but in more minute details. By doing so, for instance, you learned that "Super Robots" were the original warmachines coming from a different universe.
  236.  
  237. They tended to bring their pilots along, and they could be used, disassembled and reverse-engineered to produce 'Proxies', ersatz that imitated some of the functions of the Super Robot they took after. It wasn't rare for humans in other universes to produce 'Proxies' of their own. Funnily enough, that was the case of the Grapearl, which later evolved into the Hi-Drapearl. A rathe peculiar coincidence, you thought. In turn, the Hi-Drapearl seemed to belong to another whole cluster of information that you had no interest in exploring right now.
  238.  
  239. Aliens were classified according to the judgement given by two prominent biologists, F. Keter and G. Euclid. Every known alien lifeform was present in the database, together with the danger assessment made by the two illustrious scientists. Rarely, if at all, did their opinion on the same species diverge. Synapticons were apparently considered to be a serious enough danger whenever they nested, but otherwise they ranked nowhere as high as other, more terrifying species.
  240.  
  241. Having had your fill and worried that someone could find out what you were up to, you pressed the 'Simulation' button and proceeded to fight some mock battles. Interspersed through the various scenarios were exercises for mobility and reflexes, clearly programmed to train the pilots to be aware of their surroundings and to be on their guard.  By the time you were done, you could shout 'FRACTAL BLADE' as if it were a single word in a fraction of a second.
  242.  
  243. The cockpit was filled with the sounds and the noise produced by the simulated battles, so much so that you almost missed the 'thud!' rythmically repeating just outside of your machine. Once you noticed, though, you quickly quit the program and pricked up your ears.
  244.  
  245. "Von Neumann! VON NEUMANN!" a voice outside was calling
  246.  
  247. Opening the cockpit's door, you saw captain Lal'c standing there, arms crossed and head raised up. Reacting almost mechanically, you gave her a military salute.
  248.  
  249. "Working hard, I see. The High Command wants me to keep an eye on you, but unlike Hi-Drapearl, you seem quite cooperative. I couldn't fathom what their problem with you might be."
  250. [Social Background] The captain was all praises. Probably she was fed up with Joan's grievances, to the point that literally anyone else looked better in comparison. This was your turn to play the model student.
  251. "Thank you captain. It's not easy for a newbie like me, but I'll keep doing my best. Now, If I could be so bold as to ask... "
  252.  
  253. >What's your impression of de Spycer? [Revenge +1]
  254. >Has a suitable room been arranged for me already? [Heritage +1]
  255. >Who exactly sent you here? [Synthesis +1]
  256.  
  257. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  258.  
  259. [Write the scene that follows accordingly]
  260.  
  261. Lal'c started scratching her head, as if she were deep in thought. It was as if she was pondering on something rather complicated, carefully assessing if she could share her doubts or not. Then, after clearing her throat, she made a go for it.
  262. "Von Neumann... have you ever heard of the term 'Newtype'?"
  263. "Huh? Yeah, I have, but captain Venedig told me that it's a slur and that I should not use it."
  264. "Well, he wasn't entirely wrong. It's more that people started calling 'Newtype' anything they couldn't understand, and some people did not want to lose their identity. I guess captain Mark was one of them."
  265. "I suppose," you timidly replied. "Can you believe it? They thought I was a Newtype too!"
  266.  
  267. Lal'c's eyes widened to paroxism. A mix of undiluted surprise and shock was now painted all across her face. Her eyes lit up, and she started climbing the stairs as fast and recklessly as she could. Before you realized it, she was inside the cockpit, making the space in there even more cramped than it usually were.
  268. "When captain Venedig died, you said you felt invigorated, correct?"
  269. "Y... yes, why?"
  270. "So what happened?"
  271. "I felt like Mark and the others were lending me their strenght, I guess..."
  272. "You already said that! I want more details and more precision. Who were the others? Other Newtypes? Were you capable of unusual feats? Like did you perhaps bend the laws of physics or something?"
  273. "No, I.. I don't... captain Lal'c, you're too close," you stuttered, moving away.
  274.  
  275. [Social Background] People had invaded your personal space before, meaning that you were kind of used to it. Playing it cool and using politeness were usually the best tools, and it looked like it was already working. Perhaps realizing her over-eagerness, the tanned girl moved away, stepping back on the flat part of the stairs.
  276. "Ah, yeah, that was a bit uncalled for of me. But the thing is, I think you could be a Topless!"
  277.  
  278. "Uhm... Thank you for your kind words, but I don't believe my figure is that great. I mean, I try to stay in shape of course, but.. wait, is that an order? If I could help it, I'd prefer not to get naked, captain."
  279. "No no no, you misunderstand, I mean Topless like..." she stopped her frantic speech and started looking for something in her pocket. It looked like a circular, silver-chromed band-aid. She placed it on her forehead before violently ripping it out, screaming "EXOTIC MANEUVER!"
  280.  
  281. Just as expected, nothing happened, but the captain's actions were enough to leave you flabbergasted. She , on the other hand, simply remained stuck in a strange position, like a magician who failed to impress her audience with her trick. Straightening herself up, she collected her emotions and attempted to regain her usual composure. Then, she handed another such band-aid to you.
  282. "Can't help it, I guess. Once you're a Topless, it's hard to return to normal. Being a Topless is a time-limited business, and some of us never grow out of it. I thought I did, but here I am, making a fool out of myself. If you ever want to give it a shot, try using this. Sorry Von Neumann, I'll see myself out."
  283.  
  284. >Reassure her [Synthesis +1]
  285. >Ignore the whole thing, try to change the subject [Heritage +1]
  286. >EEEEEEXOTIICCC MANEUVRE! [Revenge +1]
  287.  
  288. ==================
  289. [From here, the narration diverges. If option H is selected, continue and then implement the joint training later. Else, continue reading and use the dinner canteen for the following day]
  290.  
  291. ==========================
  292. [adapt to choice]
  293.  
  294. She seemed really dejected, but that's not what bothered you. It was Mr Smith's words earlier that day, the part about finding something in common. Perhaps this was an opportunity to learn more about the captain. Even if it was impudent, something compelled you to learn more eventually. Maybe she did this out of an odd sense of kinship? Be it as may, you made your mind up to walk out of the cockpit for the day.
  295.  
  296. "What is this 'Exotic Maneuver' you speak of? Is it like a super power?" you offhandedly asked, trying to catch up with her.
  297.  
  298. The girl smiled bitterly. Her eyes were those of a person reminiscing.
  299. "Yes, it is. The power of bending the reality of physics... that's what a Topless' real strength is. That is, until they expire. We all do. Topless... it means standing above everyone else. Being unrivaled."
  300. "I am sorry to say this, but I don't particularly desire that. I am glad just being the best I can be."
  301.  
  302. Lal'c nodded, apparently satisfied with your answer.
  303. "That's a fine spirit. But you shouldn't go about smashing the desires of those who DO want to stand on top. You see..."
  304.  
  305. Right before your commander could get into the details, the hangar's door opened with a loud bang. The other pilots were there, and Father Matheus in particular look somewhat shook.
  306. "Von Neumann!" he exclaimed. "We have been looking for you. You've been in there for hours. Don't you want to take a break?"
  307.  
  308. Time really did fly. Only now were you realizing just how much time had gone by, and a sense of faintness spread through your body.
  309. "Hours, even? That's... really something. I didn't think doing simulations could be so absorbing. Damn, I almost lost myself there"
  310. "Don't worry, it's a rather common event for beginners. You must've fallen into a trance," the platinum-haired girl explained. "I told you to practice with the Von Neumann, and so I thought you might've been here. That's why I came to look for you."
  311.  
  312. "In any case, are we eating or not?" Lucasz asked, his hungry voice sounding even more menacing than usual. "Von Neumann can come too. I don't care."
  313. "Yeah, good idea," the captain chimed in. "Let's eat together like a real team!"
  314.  
  315. >She seems fired up. It'd be a shame to disappoint her now. [Revenge +1]
  316. >Let's accept the invitation, what's the worst that can happen? [Synthesis +1]
  317. >I'll come if Hi-Drapearl won't whine [Heritage +1]
  318.  
  319. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  320.  
  321. [Note: if you select the H option, adapt the scene to explain that Joan is leaving]
  322.  
  323. You weren't exactly familiar with your teammmates. Matheus seemed to be nice, but he also had an aloof aura around him. Lucasz was quite hard to read, while Joan's hatred for you was plastered all over his face. Lal'c had started warming up to you, so maybe it was worth pursuing this opportunity.
  324.  
  325. Having dinner with them was not on top of the list of things you wanted to do, truth be told. The company was dull when not outright hostile, not exactly what you'd call ideal. Nut it was a good opportunity to understand them and try to gauge where this hostility could be coming from.
  326.  
  327. "Sure, I'll come," you replied.
  328.  
  329. Before you could take even one more step, Lal'c tugged at your shirt and held you back. Leaning closer, she whispered something in your ear.
  330. "Next time you use the Von Neumann, look for the word 'Newtype' on the database. I am sure you'll find what you see there interesting." She then let go of you, giving you a friendly smile. "Oh, and tomorrow we'll spar. You aren't going to learn much if you rely on simulations only."
  331.  
  332. Having said this, she walking briskly towards the rest of the team. You followed shortly behind her, still pondering the meaning of her words. Chasing those thoughts away, you attempted to make some small talk with the rest of the team members.
  333.  
  334. "So... what's on the menu?"
  335. "I'll be fucked if I know," Lukasz replied, his words like a gravestone on the conversation that could have been.
  336. "Why don't you choke on whatever it is that we'll eat, Von Neumann?" de Spycer added, effectively spitting on that grave.
  337. It wouldn't have been easy, but really, nothing had been up until that point.
  338.  
  339. "Can't we just get along like comrades? In the Brotherhood..."
  340. The captain's speech was halted in its tracks by another outburst of the Hi-Drapearl's pilot. "No, fuck that noise. Comrades? With all due respect, captain, going pew pew while fighting birdbrained aliens isn't enough to qualify for the title of comrade. I lost mine fighting the Mycenaeans, Angels, and the rest of the scum of this galaxy. You don't even BEGIN to..."
  341.  
  342. This time it was Lukasz who stopped Joan in the midst of his tirade.
  343. "Hi-Drapeal I swear upon the gods, if I hear bitching coming from your mouth again I will make sure you eat your next meal with a straw."
  344.  
  345. [Social Background] And thus the conversation ended for real. Some people have a natural talent at getting along with people. You would know, you were one of them. Nothing could be easier than getting people to hear what you had to say, provided their disposition was even a tad bit less antagonistic than Joan's. It seemed that Chtograd had the opposite talent, which was nevertheless very useful in its own right. Unfortunately, however, it was his perentory tone that killed your hopes of bonding with your teammates over a meal.
  346.  
  347. >This is a trainwreck. I am out [Heritage +1]
  348. >Maybe if I try talking with Joan... [Synthesis +1]
  349. >Have it your way then, cunts! [Revenge +1]
  350.  
  351. ----------------------------------------------------------------
  352.  
  353. Over the course of the dinner, no one said much. The food was largely tasteless and slimy, which also partially explained why no one bothered checking what was on the menu. Apparently it was a mix of key macro- and micronutrients, especially concocted to give pilots the right nutrition. It was hard to feel thankful for such a prodigy of science.
  354.  
  355. [Socializing Background] Despite what happened earlier, you still felt like something could be done to improve the mood of the team. Sometimes tit-for-tat was a winning strategy, and some other times addressing the matter directly was the easiest way to get out of a slump. Joan struck you as the kind of guy who doesn't mince words, so perhaps addressing the root issue could lead you somewhere. Once again, you tried to talk with Joan, this time as earnestly as possible. Perhaps it was your tendency to chit-chat and to play the perfect girl that was annoying him.
  356.  
  357. "Ok de Spycer, I suppose we started off on the wrong foot. Could you tell me how have I offended you? I'll try my best to make amends, if it's in my power," you seraphically said.
  358.  
  359. It seemed that Father Matheus appreciated your attempts, and Lal'c too gave you a thumb up. As for Lukasz, it seemed like he couldn't care less. John, on the other hand, started laughing hysterically.
  360. "Did you hear that guys? She's gonna make amends! Because that's totally how it works, yay the power of friendship!"
  361.  
  362. Ramming his fist on the table, he leaned forward and stared in your eyes. "My brothers have bled and are bleeding right now. It's because of people like you that this infighting won't end. The Flaming Skulls don't forgive."
  363.  
  364. This said, the man got up and left, taking his tray with him. Apparently the cafeteria expected every client to clean up after themselves, a reasonable and efficient procedure on a base starved for personnel and supplies.
  365.  
  366. The plate in front of you lied empty on the table. There was nothing left to eat, and nothing left to say. Everyone was feeling down at the table, and your presence wasn't making things better, that was for sure. But someone was oddly cheerful.
  367.  
  368. "Mediation is the the first step in the road to reconciliation. This is what the creed of the Mother of Machines teaches us," Matheus said, scooping up some more slop with his spoon. "You've done well, miss Carlotta. I am sure you'll be able to delve further into the subject later this evening."
  369.  
  370. You gave him a puzzled look.
  371. "Excuse me father, what could you possibly mean by that?"
  372. "Oh? Didn't we tell you? You're gonna share a room with Joan. We only have double rooms in the pilots' quarters, so you're gonna share with her."
  373. "HER??? What is the meaning of this? That's clearly... it's a boy, isn't it?"
  374. "Oh man, thank god you didn't bring this up in front of her," Lukasz remarked. "Or there would have been blood shed tonight. Good grief.
  375.  
  376. You slumped your shoulders, leaning against the chair. What the hell? Understanding social cues was YOUR thing. How did you miss the fact that Joan was a girl? She even had a girl's name! But wait, this was beyond the point. You didn't want to share a room with HER, of all people. Nothing good could've come of this, right? Or maybe... maybe there was a chance at building a bridge there.
  377.  
  378. >I'd rather keep sleeping in Jail. [Heritage +1]
  379. >I'd rather sleep with the captain [Synthesis +1]
  380. >I'll annoy the shit out of her [Revenge +1]
  381.  
  382.  
  383. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  384.  
  385. Following John's example, you disposed of the tray and of the cutlery before heading to you room.
  386.  
  387. Books upon books were still there for you to read, not to mention the cryptic message you hadn't fully deciphered earlier. Well, that sounded like your kind of evening anyway. The only thing left to settle was how to go through things. History books were a natural candidate for the task at hand, especially considering that you already understood more or less the current timeline.
  388.  
  389. By making an educated guess, you concluded that the last three volumes must've held the highest significance for the current situation. Absorbing all that information wouldn't have been easy, since they were three sizeable tomes, but there was no other way. With determination, you opened the first one. It was going to be a long night.
  390.  
  391. By the time you reached roughly the first half, another note scribbled on a piece of paper appeared. Every bit as undecipherable as the previous one, this instead seemed to transmit the happiness of the writer. "The... arrived..." could be clearly read. Two more words were readable without any need to resort to closer inspection: 'experiment' and 'ring'.
  392.  
  393. You were suddenly reminded that there was a ring in your pocket. A ring that might as well have been conjured out of thin air, since it certainly wasn't part of your family heirloom. But that was not all. You were also 'ordered' to take it off, as if it were something that could have caused even more trouble.
  394.  
  395. Almost reflexively, you pulled it out and laid it on the table. It was a simple, yet beautiful piece of jewelry. You couldn't help but wonder about its story and its significance.
  396.  
  397.  
  398. =====================================================================================================
  399. Trash bin\Ideas' corner
  400. During the trip to the briefing room, you barely spoke if at all. A strange silence had fallen on the group, or rather, the silence was perfectly justified. What was unsettling was the atmosphere of lingering hostility. Even if you were hardly a part of it, this was no longer a team. It was a house divided.
  401.  
  402. Upon reaching your destination, you stepped into a neat, tidy room furnished only with a circular table and with some chairs. A large, rectangular window opened on the garden outside, giving some colors to the otherwise monotone environment.
  403.  
  404.  
  405. Mustering your courage, willpower, and all of your dignity, you slapped the strange band-aid exactly where Lal'c put it, before suddenly tearing it apart shouting "EXOTIC MANEUVER!"
  406. Once again, nothing happened. You had no idea if this was the intended outcome, but the captain's disappointed face was enough of an explanation.
  407.  
  408. "Alright, sorry about that, Ensign Stella. I thought we were alike."
  409.  
  410. =========================================================================================================
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