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The Interstellar Medium
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Frosty Scandinavia
INFODUMPS, REVELATIONS, INFODUMPS.
She had slept for an entire day. Twenty-four hours of deep, comfortable sleep made her feel energetic and fresh as she got out of her bunk bed and started to get dressed. The small room aboard the
suited her fine, providing anything she could need while deployed. Not that there was a lot she actually needed, apart from a bed and access to the databases. Raising Heart, as ever, was her constant companion and what she kept closest to her heart.
Especially now when everything else had been destroyed.
She left the room in her normal officer clothing, Raising Heart dangling from her neck in the shape of a pendant, and made her way towards the Lab. Once they had gotten back the day before, after Fate had been handed over to the Triage Team, Hayate had told them to meet her in the Lab once they had rested up. She had a surprise, she'd said, one that might turn the tide of the war. Nanoha sensed what it might be -- sometimes eavesdropping here and there without meaning to -- but still couldn't put her finger on it. It had to be something big and powerful. Or very smart and covert. Either way, she looked forward to finding out what it was. Anything to keep her hopes up would help.
Along with having her thoughts distracted so she wouldn't worry about Fate.
She passed a few of the crew on the way and replied with salutes as was custom. They all seemed nervous and tense, but she could see in their eyes that their focus hadn't diminished. They were as focused, and loyal, as they had ever been. With a crew like that, Nanoha believed Hayate wouldn't have any problems when it came to jumping into the fire.
At the end of the corridors the Lab door lay waiting for her. As she stepped through a small hovering device the size and shape of a thick dinner plate flew up in front of her face. It seemed to observe her for a moment before it said, "Greetings, Cap'. I'm glad to see ye up and runnin' again. I swear I never really had any doubts whatsoever ye wouldn't."
Nanoha chuckled at the device. He always greeted her the same way. His accent was quite pronounced. "Thanks, Luiz. Are the others already here?"
"All are assembled, Cap'. Just ye follow me. Oh, and a greetings to ye as well, Heart."
Raising Heart flashed, but said nothing. The two devices didn't often speak with each other.
The Lab was far larger than one would expect. It stretched for several meters into the ship's structure, filled with diagnostics equipment, heavy machinery, tools and chemicals. It was a mess and she had to be careful not to trip over anything. To her right in a corner she could see Luiz's Master, Obrock, working on something with his glasses pushed up on his forehead, staring at something. He didn't notice her as they passed, fully absorbed in his work.
That crazy old man,
He doesn't seem to mind his hometown got obliterated as long as he can lose himself in here.
Obrock was one of the few refugees they had picked up from Mid-Childa at the start of the invasion that had any sort of skills that would benefit them. They barely managed to offer him the work before he had accepted, and since then he had made multiple improvements on their current equipment. He'd worked day and night to make final adjustments on their Purge Suits' internal programming. When they'd ask him if he wanted to take a break, all he'd said was, "The Absolution don't, so why should I?"
She put Obrock and his circumstances away in her head once they reached the small group at the very end of the Lab. The entirety of the Unforgiving was there: Signum, Vita, Teana, Zafira, Vivio and Yuuno, along with Hayate and Shamal at the front. All of them were dressed in proper officer clothing. She glanced at Teana's leg, but there wasn't any sign of the wound from before beneath the clothes. It had healed fully thanks to Shamal.
Luiz bowed, if a floating plate could bow, and left her without a word. Hayate nodded at Nanoha as she settled in beside them and all attention seemed to draw towards Shamal at that point, as if a lecture was about to begin. The Healer stood in a relaxed stance, one hand on her hip while her other arm, now fully cybernetic, dangled by her side. It shone in the bright light coming from the strong lamps positioned out in the Lab.
At the sight of that intricate metallic device, Nanoha couldn't help but think back on the invasion when the first Aeon bomb fell. Images flashed past in rapid succession of people who had died, but what stood out the most was Shamal, her arm torn to pieces, dangling from mere muscle fibers and nerve threads. There had been so much blood they'd expected her to die. The Triage Team hadn't had any hope for her either when they'd flown her out in a transport.
But she'd survived, somehow, even if Shamal's personality had changed somewhat from that incident. Nanoha was very thankful that she had survived, but at the same time wondered if it'd be a problem down the road...
"You can start," Hayate said, nodding at Shamal.
"Well then. It's good to see you all again," the woman said, looking at each Unforgiving member one at a time with a smile. "We've had many advances recently and we've also completed one of our major projects, which is why you are here right now. I won't hold your breath for too long, so here you are."
She sent a command to the Lab's AI and the wall behind her opened, revealing a hidden storage compartment where white suits hung on hooks. The suits were white and they all looked the same compared to the customized Purge Suits, but they otherwise shared the hard edges and general appearance. The helmets, hanging next to each suit, were new additions and had a transparent faceplate in the front with protective armor around the helmet itself, sharing the same distinct look as the rest of the suits. On the legs and arms, small thrusters had been equipped along with what looked like heat exhausts. A flat jetpack on each suit's back completed the look.
"The Mage Space Environment Combat Suit," Shamal said, gesturing at the suits with her cybernetic arm. "MPECS, or simply the Pec. While it may look similar to the Purge Suit, you can't summon it with magic. It needs to be put on like a spacesuit, though you can have your ordinary Barrier Jackets while inside them. The Purge Suit, however, won't fit.
"As for propulsion, you won't be able to use your magic to move in space, which is why you have these to do it for you." She pointed at the thrusters. "Just be careful not to go too fast in case you miscalculate the energy consumption needed to stop, or misjudge the distance. It will splatter you over whatever object is in your way unless you have the energy supplies to erect a barrier. Other than that, you fight as you would in normal gravity."
Nanoha flinched a little at the word 'splatter'.
"That... doesn't make it very practical, does it?" Vita said, tilting her head. "How are we supposed to fight stuff if we can't move properly?"
"Vita, you aren't meant to really fight the Absolution with these. Only in grave emergencies would that be considered."
"Then what are we supposed to do with them?" Vita crossed her arms, somewhat annoyed.
Shamal glanced at Hayate, who shrugged. "Boarding action," Hayate said. "We haven't briefed you on the whole plan yet, but I'll make it clear later. For now, just think of these suits as something to transport you from the Harbinger to the enemy ship."
"The what?" Nanoha said. Her theories from before had been somewhat correct when it came to the suits, but she had never heard that name before. She had no idea what it meant.
"The Harbinger," Shamal repeated. She grinned, an unnatural expression for the Shamal Nanoha once knew. Amused, yet predatory at the same time. "Its full designation is Mage Space Environment Mechanical Assault Siege Vehicle, MSEMASV. It's been in development for some time, but the TSAB scrapped it way back because they couldn't find any practical use for it. Until now, that is." She turned to Vita. "The Harbinger is what you are supposed to use for combat, Vita. It's capable of fighting the smaller Fighters the Absolution has. It might even be able to take down a battlecruiser if you work together, but the conditions has to be optimal for that. It hasn't really been used in a combat situation yet, though the simulations are promising."
"How many of them are there?" Nanoha asked.
"Two. Both need two pilots to work, so only four of you can go out there. The rest of you have to stay behind, I'm afraid. Anyway, they are, essentially, gigantic magical devices with pilot integration, compatible with your current devices in case you have one. If you don't, it'll work anyway."
She implied Yuuno and Zafira, but neither of them responded.
"What about its offensive and defensive capabilities?" Signum asked. She had her arms crossed, head tilted. She looked doubtful, but still interested.
"Standard, you could say. Two beam cannons, two missile launchers, four smaller beam guns. All capable of integrating with your own spells, amplifying them." Shamal paused, hesitating. "There is one major drawback, however. One we haven't been able to solve: energy. It doesn't have its own power source."
"So what does it use instead?" Nanoha asked the question, but sensed she already knew the answer. Vivio glanced at her, but said nothing. She didn't have to.
"Yourselves. Through new advancements in magi-tech mana filtration, you can use it to its full potential without worrying about overstraining yourselves, but only for a certain period of time. Around twenty minutes. After that you either have to bring new pilots or rest yourselves up.
"As for defense, Signum, it's the same principle as the weapons: your own magical shields and barriers. There are also two modes you can use: Assault and Siege. Assault allows more maneuverability and a balance between offense and defense. That's its default mode. Siege, on the other hand, shuts down your engines and leaves you drifting in space. All power is routed to offensive and defensive systems. That's what you must use if you're going up against battlecruisers." She paused again and her smile vanished. "Do not overestimate it, though. It won't withstand enemy fire for long. Avoid damage at all costs and only take damage if you have no other choice. If you have to use Siege, make sure the other Harbinger covers you."
"I like the sound of this more and more," Vita said, grinning. "What does it look like?"
A larger screen appeared, covering the entire wall. Images, diagrams and virtual designs appeared over the blue background. "The two beam cannons are located at its front, ahead of the cockpit. Four smaller beam rapid fire cannons has been fitted along the hull on each side. The two missile launchers are beneath it. If need be, it can fly in the atmosphere thanks to its shape and wings, though I don't recommend it. Nevertheless, since it's so flat it has a smaller signature than the Fighters, making it harder to hit as well."
"We will use them a lot," Hayate said. "When the Absolution fleet returns, and they will, we have to be ready. Which leads me to the plan I mentioned before." The screen changed to diagnostics and more diagrams coupled with Absolution ships with notes attached to them. "Since we are having problems taking down hostile ships once we are caught at close range, we needed a new strategy. We can't keep using Dimensional Hotdrops and Arc-en-Ciels, because they will start wearing us down. We'll make mistakes and we'll eventually lose. And that's not even considering the sheer energy usage."
"And to beat them, you want us to try and board them?" Yuuno asked, an eyebrow raised.
"Yes. We have analyzed the ships and found several possible ways inside, noted on the screen. If we can take over a ship, we can turn it against them or disable it. With the Harbingers this should be easier than destroying them. The crew might be a problem, but from what we know they are droids just like the rest, apart from their commander. It should be easy enough."
"But taking over a single battlecruiser would be too slow anyway," Nanoha said. "They'd kill us before we could make a difference."
"Exactly," Hayate said. "Which is why, in larger scale engagements, we will ignore the battlecruisers and instead go for the dreadnoughts."
Nanoha's eyes widened. It sounded outright absurd. A battlecruiser seemed reasonable in comparison. "Taking over one of those monsters? They must have a few thousand troops inside. Each. Not to mention Zealot Generals."
"Or Lords," Yuuno cut in.
"True." Hayate shrugged. "But we don't have a choice. With a dreadnought under our command we can wipe out their fleet more easily."
"I like this," Vita said as she smashed her fists together. "Bring the pain. Go up close. Wipe them out."
"Exactly, Vita," Hayate said, smiling.
"And don't worry about the Harbinger," Shamal said. "The AI is really sophisticated and polite. You'll get used to them quickly."
That marked the end of the briefing and the Unforgiving was dismissed. However, before Nanoha could join the others and leave, Luiz returned, bobbing in the air above them. "Commander Yagami, I think I may have some results ye might be interested in regarding the Absolution."
"Oh? Of what kind?"
Luiz rotated, almost seeming uncomfortable. "In private, perhaps."
"Alright," Hayate said. "But Nanoha stays. I want her to be updated."
"Of course," Luiz said and waited until the Unforgiving had left the Lab. Shamal bowed and went back to doing whatever it was she had been doing earlier. Nanoha checked the surroundings in case Obrock were hiding somewhere nearby, but she couldn't spot him.
"So, Luiz. What's so important?" Hayate crossed her arms.
"Worrying implications. Miscellaneous information about their hierarchy."
"Talk to me."
"I have accessed yer records from yer mission yesterday," Luiz said, indicating Nanoha. "There was a mention of one Lord Veena. We've come across that name several times in our data and it worries us."
"In the Absolution, through our analysis, we've concluded that they use a sort of caste system. Not counting droids, since they aren't humanoid, the lowest in the ladder are the prisoners of Mid-Childa, obviously. Then we have the Absolution citizens, of who we believe the majority have stayed behind on their home planet or are located somewhere else. After that we have Zealots, which ye could say are regular soldiers. They don't participate in battle on the ground much, instead staying on the ships themselves. Ruling them are the Zealot Generals, which ye've already been in contact with. And then..."
"And?" Nanoha repeated. The device started to annoy her with its hesitant speaking pattern. Luiz was a Social-Research device, which meant he wasn't meant for combat roles. He specialized in social interactions, but right now he seemed distracted. Almost a little scared.
"And then we have the Lords. Veena is part of them and they rule everything: social policies, politics, military. Citizens aren't treated badly, but they lack a lot of rights the others have."
"Why?" Hayate asked.
"Because they lack the potential for battle. The higher one's aptitude for combat, the more important you are in their society." He paused, spinning one turn. "That's what has us worried. Zealots are, theoretically, stronger than yer average mage. However, apart from the Zealots, who seem to be normal citizens with an aptitude for battle, the Zealot Generals and Lords are... strange."
Nanoha thought back on Zelaar and shuddered. There had been something wrong there, but she still didn't know what. "What do you mean by strange, exactly?"
"Please be aware this is speculation, but the Absolution uses energy weapons, yes? No magic as far as we know, except..."
"Except for the Zealot Generals and the Lords," Hayate finished.
"Yes. They use a combination of yer magic and Absolution technology, which to some degree has similarities with yer own. Zealot Generals are as strong as an AA+ ranked mage, at least most of them. Lords, like Lord Veena, are far beyond that. We haven't been able to get proper readings, but that's our conclusion so far."
"Are you saying taking down a Lord is basically impossible for us?" Nanoha said, licking her lips. They had suddenly gone dry and a strange heat built inside her.
"Not impossible, but very hard. It would take yer whole team to bring one down, we think."
"Great. Awesome," Hayate said, looking defeated. "Thank you, Luiz. Is that all?"
The device spun again. "There is one more thing. Somewhat disturbing. Those they take prisoners may be subjected to some kind of brainwashing. Word of warning: Don't trust anyone once ye board one of their ships until we are entirely sure."
"Brainwashing," Nanoha said, shaking her head. "Make the enemy join your army, use them against their former allies. Reinforce your own forces while waging psychological warfare at the same time."
"Basically. We don't know yet if the population itself has been brainwashed. Even the Zealot Generals might have been. For all we know, the Lords may be the only ones that aren't brainwashed and are therefore the true face of the Absolution."
"I don't like those implications," Nanoha said, looking uncomfortable. "All those we've killed would've been innocent."
"Depends," Luiz said. "They aim to kill ye. If ye don't return the favor, they succeed. It's a matter of survival."
"I still don't like it."
"Neither do I," Hayate said, "but we don't have a choice. Get over it, Nanoha. It's war. We don't have the resources right now to research brainwash countermeasures nor can we afford to show mercy at a time like this."
Nanoha glared at her friend, shocked and taken aback by her disregard for the implications. It wasn't only Shamal who had changed; Hayate had too, but more recently.
To be fair, all of us has changed. I have to stop thinking about these things.
Nanoha said nothing and silence reigned. Luiz bowed again and hovered away.
"Nanoha," Hayate said when the device was out of earshot. "Go ahead and rest some more, but do what you have to do to keep the Unforgiving updated and ready for a fight. This will be different. We can win this war..."
Nanoha put a hand on Hayate's shoulder, squeezed and smiled. "I know."
Nanoha spent the time alone in her quarters, reading up on the Harbingers and the things that had been going on without her knowledge. The situation down on the planet had stabilized somewhat, with TSAB forces pushing back the invaders in some places. In others, the Absolution had wiped out any resistance and conquered several towns. The intel from those towns had ceased shortly afterwards, but they knew enough to say that the population weren't slaughtered. Some had died, but the vast majority were being kept alive in massive camps where they were brainwashed just as Luiz had said. It fit with the Absolution considering how they operated. Their doctrines and religious reasons for war had to use some kind of brainwashing in the first place to make the masses go along with it; no sane person of Mid-Childan origin would join them. Which meant they were even more dangerous since they could get new recruits with ease. If the Absolution were allowed to run unchecked for too long the TSAB wouldn't be able to stop them from taking over the planet.
But something else nagged at her, too, and that was their origins. The clues were far too many to be ignored anymore once she thought about everything she had been told so far, from both friend and foe. The result became that Nanoha had decided that the Zealot Generals and the Lords were connected to the TSAB in some way. There had to be a link somewhere, hidden by layers of information in their own databases; evidence for her theory in plain sight, just that no one would think to search for it.
In a way, Luiz himself was suspicious. All that information they had gathered after less than a week seemed improbable. The possibility that they had somehow managed to hook into the Absolution's data streams popped into her head, but she soon discarded it. They wouldn't discuss social hierarchies over military channels during a war nor did the TSAB have spies. And how the hell had Luiz gotten the information about Zealots in the first place? Not even she had encountered one.
She put the reports aside and rubbed her eyes, questions spiraling out of control in her head. There was too much for her to think about and she felt alone. It was weird, being surrounded by others all the time, yet now she couldn't find anyone she could show her theories to. Hayate had become someone else, the Unforgiving had other matters to focus on, and the TSAB itself had now become suspects.
No, I can't trust them,
she thought, shaking her head.
I can't share it with anyone... Except...
Someone knocked on the door, rousing her. She took a deep breath to collect herself and then let it open. Yuuno stood there, wearing a troubled expression.
"Am I interrupting something?" He seemed uncomfortable where he stood in the doorway, uncertain if he should enter or not.
"No, Yuuno. Come in.
He walked towards her, hesitated, then sat down beside her on the bed. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm alright. Tired, but we all are." She paused. "Any news on Fate?"
"Some. She's still asleep, but they've managed to repair parts of her skin tissue." He shrugged. "But the teeth, the fingers. It's going to take time."
"I know." She glanced at Yuuno, observing. "Are you okay? Were you wondering about something, Yuuno?"
"I'm fine."He fidgeted, looked away, and sighed. "There's this thing I've been thinking about. Related to what Zelaar said and everything going on." He looked her in the eyes. She saw suspicion and fear, mixed into one solid emotion of revelation. "The Absolution and the TSAB... There has to be some connection."
Smart, adorable Yuuno. I knew it.
She let herself relax and her head grew clear. Her worries lessened. "Don't tell me anymore," Nanoha said and told him about her own theories. A rapid progression of words streamed from her mouth and she had to prevent herself to let the emotional and the more conspiratory parts from slipping out. When she had finished, Yuuno sat deep in thought.
"We can't tell anyone else about this," he said, wrinkles on his forehead. He supported his head with a hand over his mouth and the elbow on his knee.
"You don't think Subaru has anything to do with this? Some Black Ops operation we don't know about?"
She shook her head. "I can't say she doesn't, but the timing is too good. I know something is going on. I don't think Subaru actually has anything to do with it, but we can't be certain of who's listening in."
She could tell from his tone he didn't believe that himself. "No. Well, maybe, but it's absurd. My point is, we can't tell anyone. Unless we really trust them."
Yuuno nodded and stood up, fists clenched. "Okay then. I have to get back and keep researching before you go out with the Harbingers. I'll let you know when--"
She kissed him. She'd grabbed his hand to stop him and let their lips touch. An involuntary move, a reaction to everything around her. Spontaneous. A pleasant warmth spread from her lips to her cheeks as she blushed and squeezed his hand. Yuuno hesitated before accepting her into his arms. She wasn't really sure what she was doing, but he'd always been there in the past. She hadn't looked at him that way then, but now it had all changed. He was there for her and she was there for him. They had an understanding between them, something only they shared. She came to realize that--
Her vision turned red and an alarm blared in her ear. The alert level had been raised on the ship and an order for the Unforgiving to assemble on the bridge was announced.
They broke from their kiss and stared at each other for a brief moment.
"I'm sorr-" Yuuno began, but Nanoha cut him off.
"What do you have to apologize for? Take it later. Come on."
They rushed through the corridors, accompanied by some personnel going the same way, and entered the bridge where Hayate and the Unforgiving stood gathered in the middle. She took one look at the large screen stretched out across the bridge and saw an Absolution vessel just outside their effective range. It sat there doing nothing while the TSAB fleets had started to approach it with caution.
"A single ship," Mariam said from where she stood at her console.
"If it's another
I want it annihilated before it can do anything. Has it identified itself?" Hayate said, arms crossed.
"Yes. It's called...
?" Mariam forced the word out as if it was a bad joke. Nanoha thought the same. The name was weird for the Absolution. Strange, even. It had no connections to their doctrine or their religion as most of their ships did.
"Revolver or not, kill it," Hayate said. "We'll use the Sea if we have to, I don't want to take any chances."
"Wait, don't!" Teana stood behind them with gritted teeth, staring at the screen.
Nanoha raised an eyebrow. "Teana?"
"Revolver. Revolver Knuckle." She looked at each of them to and fro. "It's Subaru. I'm sure of it."
Nanoha's eyes widened as she stared at her.
"What?" they all blurted at the same time as the screen pinged and a figure appeared on it.
Surprised grunts and gasps echoed throughout the bridge.
"Tea." Her head had been shaved, cables prodding out from her skull with rough metallic rings keeping them in place. Her eyes had been replaced by some kind of visor that had been sunk into her skin, hiding two glowing red dots behind it. She wore a smile that froze Nanoha to the core. She had always been a cyborg, but now the last remnants of her humanity had been removed by force. What Nanoha was looking at was an empty husk. "I missed you, Tea. I'm coming to get you now."
As I suck at writing descriptions, here's some theoretical visual aids to help.
Concept Mental Images
The Purge Suit is a mix between the more stylish and sharp look of Saber Alter's black armor and the general bulky look of the Brute Crusher skin from Tribes (though as mentioned it differs from mage to mage.)
The white Pec Suits are more similar to ODST armor from Halo, except leaner and whiter.
Mentioned jet packs are similar to Tribes as well.
The Harbinger meanwhile is a mix between the Manticore from EVE and a creation by Garland, but more Nanoha-ish. Yeah.
Hope that helps.
Action resumes next time and we are now drawing closer to the end.
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