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Twitter: https://twitter.com/5th_Comms
Archive: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Shooting+Star
Previous Thread: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/2510387/

You are Meteor Showa, Maverick Hunter working her way back up after the fall of Repliforce, and your roster has taken you to the southernmost university on Earth in search of a stegosaurus.
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Even with environmental problems driving humans to find (and make) newer places to live, Antarctica has few permanent settlements outside of research bases and climate-regulation stations. Its largest population center is north of the Antarctic Circle in what’s left of the South Shetland Islands: the international city of Larsen, gateway to the continent.

You beam in at Larsen’s eponymous world-class university behind Hunter cordons but among few actual Hunters. Snow Riders, some cold-weather fourth-gens, and even a few Steel Berets patrol the barricades – which go on and on, surrounding what looks like residence buildings. For student protection, surely.

“Lieutenant,” greets a pair of wild eyebrow crests using a penguin reploid to carry them around. “South Tawaki, campus security chief and Hunter liaison. Glad to see you.”

“Glad to be seen. What’s the situation?”

“Stable, yet gradually escalating. This morning we detected beam-ins at the vault despite our best efforts to isolate it.”

“How many?”

“Six, ma’am, suggesting backup for what they already brought.”

You walk to the edge of the secure area to look further into the campus. “What’d they bring?”

“A big pile grunts,” Tawaki follows at a jerky-legged pace. His formal-dinner armor must have taken a while to buff. “Mets, Deerballs, Hover Gunners, couple Knots, and most of those are topside. See that tower?”

You can’t help but see it in the distance: an ugly pile of architecture somewhere between a belladonna and an abacus.


“I know, right?” You can hear his eyes roll. “That’s the College of Biotechnics, blight of the campus if you ask me. Figures that Repliforce would occupy our one Neo-Mementoism eyesore.”

Sadly you haven’t come here to discuss artistic movements. “Got them bottled well enough?”

“City guard established their own perimeter with a no-fly zone and a double-layer curtain: inner null-shot, outer low-density kinetic repulsor. The Hunters are advising them, through me, but all your presence is here.”

“Seems backwards. Shouldn’t our quarantine be there and the city forces be here?”

“The university president’s worried the Hunters will provoke them if they – you – set up any closer. The mayor agrees.”

“Fair enough.”

>What’s the state of the bio-vault?
>Where’s the Polar unit?
>I’m ready, what’s the ingress?
Meteor Showa every stage ever
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Evenin', folks. Thought I'd start at this time of day rather than the morning, just to test things.

Enjoy a nice simple B-class mission at a nice simple college.
(x) Doubt

>What’s the state of the bio-vault?

Also, hello, everybody! Excited for another session of that quest that runs regularly and on time.
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>Excited for another session of that quest that runs regularly and on time.
interesting change of pace, yeah?
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No bully!
>What’s the state of the bio-vault?
gotta make sure we don't blow it up

“What about the vault?”

Tawaki scowls. “They’ve been taking out samples and burning or deleting them for the cameras every six hours. Every twenty-four they get rid of something more charismatic from the deep archives.”

“Like what?”

Tawaki counts on his fingers, his expressive eyebrows dancing around angrily.

“Well, the original almond is extinct, but we can reconstruct it from current cultivars and old backup data in Juneau. The Cavendish banana genome’s a total wipeout, though – we’ll have to rely on living memory and the whole cycle of product testing if we ever want to bring them back. We also lost a couple species of beetle and all of our irreplaceable blood and tissue samples from the last blue whale. Just a few hours ago they burned the body of the last natural macaw, but there’s genomic data for those all over.”

They’re burning history. How dare they. Your heat rises. How dare they.

“And they actually think this will get amnesty for Repliforce?”

“Yes, and frankly it’s starting to work. The mayor’s talking about opening the city to Repliforce non-officers, but the city council’s still a hard no on that. They might change their minds if the university’s standing starts dropping as a result of all this.”

You have no doubt they would.

“Well, good news, my secondary goal is to save what I can of the archives.”

“Please do, ma’am.”

“The thing is, once I go in they’ll probably scramble to wreck the place. Is there anything in particular I should try to keep safe?”

“It’s all valuable,” Tawaki brushes his crests in thought, “but the real treasures are in the deepest part. Signal scans show that’s right where the Professor set up shop.” He pauses to think. “If you can, save the animals. Those are the hardest to bring back correctly, and the whole bodies kept down there are either one-of-a-kind or one-of-a-few-left.”

“Got it.”

>Where’s the Polar unit?
>I’m ready, what’s the ingress?
>>I’m ready, what’s the ingress?
A larger firefight just sounds like more collateral
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>Where’s the Polar unit?

I do feel like this will matter.
"If you can, save the animals."

>Kill the animals
>Where’s the Polar unit?
Then after,
>I’m ready, what’s the ingress?
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“I would’ve thought Thirteenth would send more help for you.”

Tawaki shrugs with his eyebrows. “Triage. The lid’s on pretty tight for now,” he thumbs at the scattering of Hunter enlisted, “so Japan sent a few. Highest ranks are a couple of Sergeants, but they’re Steel Berets, they know what’s what.”

“Huh. Weird.”

“Past-gen models are still effective people, ma’am. The city guard’s full of Steel Berets, for instance, and we even have some in the student body.”

Thanks to you, probably…

“I don’t mean that,” you hasten to correct, “it’s just, I was in Twelfth for a bit. I know the pride they take in their territory and I kinda thought Thirteenth was the same.”

“True enough,” Tawaki nods, his eyebrow crests waving with the motion. “If things were running hotter, there’d be some officers, count on it.”

“Am I cleared to take a few of them along?”

“No ma’am. Civic orders.”

“But I’m literally a Hunter Lieutenant!”

“And my orders vis-à-vis Hunter activity on this op were agreed upon by one Captain Nouveau. But don’t worry, we can handle things as they are.”

You nod, a little sourly. In your experience, it’s a good day if local forces are in control of a situation, so you really oughtn’t complain.

“Is this your first Maverick incident?” You ask.

“Yes ma’am. Lucky for us I’ve been prepping rollout plans for years.”

“Good work.”

“Thank you. Honestly, the hardest part has been keeping the students away.”

You nearly choke. “Students?! The campus is still open?”

“Despite my personal appeals to the university and the city itself, yes. Students are going to classes in groups under guard escort.”

“Did you explain how stupid that was?”

“With underlines, ma’am. Regardless, it was felt that, being an international city, the perseverance of daily life in the face of terrorist action would send a message to Repliforce holdouts across the globe. I see their point, but if Repliforce breaks the quarantine, what we have might not be enough to stop a tragedy.”

Then it’s a good thing you came when you did.

“So how do I get there?”

“Simple, ma’am. Walk. Repliforce gets antsy when transports move too close for any reason. Walk up, talk to the cops to get in. After that, act fast.”

“Thanks, Tawaki.”

“Good hunting.”

You go for a walk. The campus is nice, in spite of everything. Two Steel Berets escort a group of about twenty students in light jackets between buildings. They stroll, unafraid. You can’t help but stare. If even a few Knot Berets got out…

You quicken your pace. The noise of loudspeakers catches your ear.

“… for each of us? The enlisted can be disarmed and welcomed! Larsen is a city for everyone!”

Oh boy.
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You walk out into the noise.

To your right, through some artificial maple trees, a rally seems to be going on around a statue of explorer Roald Amundsen. Hand-made signs and projections slapped together with ten minutes of MSHolo seem to show anodyne support for interspecies togetherness. One of them reads “All Reploids Welcome!”… with the Repliforce R starting the word “reploids.”

To your left, partially obscured by a building, a different rally has gathered. That one seems to have its collective head on straighter; snatches of signs you can see involve the Hunter insignia. Its loudspeakers are currently dedicated to acoustic guitar and violins.

A mid-twenties human with a datapad and an unkempt beard materializes beside you with the suddenness of a stealthy S-class.

“Excuse me, do you have a minute to talk about the environment?”

You lean away, but you’ve already made eye contact. “Where’d you come from?”

“Ross quad. Do you believe climate regulation is a moral right?”

“Um. Sorry, I—”

“Or how about terraforming? Should we really be testing it on Earth first?”

You carefully step around him. “I should go.”

The persistent surveyor follows close behind. “Don’t you think reckless toying with ecology only encourages Maverick activity? Is Hunter support for the United Nations only inviting more Maverick attacks on member states?” He starts shouting as you outpace him. “Are the Hunters really a force for world peace?! Does fighting Repliforce really bring our peoples together?! Considering that the Hunters dropped Sky Lagoon?!”

>(Ignore him; you have work to do.)
>Repliforce is a Maverick army and I am trying to help you.
>Repliforce is a terrorist group and I am going to stop them.
Guy's probably carrying a camera, trying to bait a reaction so it can go viral.
>Correlation versus Causation, I'm pretty sure the ecology and maverick activity are unrelated.
>And speaking of ecology, I have animals to save
>Correlation versus Causation, I'm pretty sure the ecology and maverick activity are unrelated.
>And speaking of ecology, I have animals to save

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I wouldn't be so sure

You can’t let this go. You turn on your heel.

“Look, you’re obviously provoking. That’s fine, you’ve got a right. But I don’t have time for your disingenuous assertions. You want a danger to the environment?” You point off at the hideous Biotechnics building. “There is a building full of Mavericks right over there. They are here to destroy, and nothing else."

“Typical Hunter response,” he sneers, “calling everybody Mavericks. Repliforce just wants freedom. We can give them that! We can share the world!”

"Remember Rio, remember Charleston, remember Saint Petersburg, remember all the rest?" You try not to shout. "The force of nature responsible is here, right now, and if it breaks free there could be a bloodbath and none of your goshdarned signs and surveys will stop it. Tell all your friends to get back to the dorms, then shelter in place and study. Heck, if you need a History tutor, I’d be glad to help. But first I’m going in and solving this problem whether you appreciate it or not. Excuse me.”

You swing back around and continue on.

“You?” The surveyor sounds surprised. You don’t look back at him.

“Meteor Showa to Fifth.”

“Fifth here,” Atajo immediately pipes up, “getting lonely wondering when you’d call in.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting. The perimeter’s up ahead, anything upsetting on the other side?”

“Can’t get a read on the deepest parts, but there’s a long elevator leading down. Ray Traps inside look native, not Repliforce-made. Topside there’s a lot of little annoyances and one Victoroid… Customer model.”


“Hold up,” Atajo drops his affable tone. “Repliforce transmission right near you.”

“I would think so.”

“No, dummy, outside. It’s a high-yield alert signal.”

You stop. You look back.

The bearded surveyor hides unwell behind a decorative tree. He sees you see him and disappears into the get-along rally, two fingers held to his ear.


“Something just kicked the nest,” Atajo warns.


You run up to the quarantine police, not dashing so as not to spook them. Through the shimmering energy curtain you can see several Ball-de-Vouxes, colloquially Deerballs, marching toward the cordon with Mettaur D2s and Hover Gunners in attendance.

“Showa, Veracruz Fourth, let me in and then…”

>”Stay here and defend the cordon.”
>”Find the Repliforce sympathizer.”
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>”Find the Repliforce sympathizer.”
Not the least of which because these are civvies. A concentrated military-grade strike is going to be a bloodbath and punch through them like they aren't there. Let's warn Command to spin up a response officer to contain the outside while we're inside.
>”Find the Repliforce sympathizer.”
>We got some captured repliforce comms shit at HQ, right? Got anything that can spoof this guy?

They're relying on sympathizers for information. I bet we can take advantage of that and feed them some bad intel.
>"run counter intelligence on the repliforce sympathizers"
Good news is that they're probably not destroying animals anymore
>Stay here and defend the cordon.
As a sidenote, im sorry for fucking that up. I forgot the main reason you keep military ops classified.
No sweat, a vote is a vote.

There are degrees of success on this mission, and starting off with Repliforce on alert does not, in and of itself, guarantee one result or another. It just informs the next steps.

Also, good morning. I'll leave the vote up a little longer since Saturday mornings are when I've started more often in the past.
>”Find the Repliforce sympathizer.”
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“… get to the pro-Repliforce rally! A survey guy with a beard just tipped them off!”

The nearby officers curse and start running. One with a better sense of presence than the others keys in something at a portable terminal and a portion of the curtain opens for you.

“And warn Tawaki while you’re at it!” You shout on your way in as your buster charges.

“Yes ma’am!”

The energy curtains close behind you. Only a token local force remains at the cordon.

The nest really has been kicked. Four Balls, two Mets, two Gunners – but those are just the ones nearest to where you entered. A fortunate angle on the charged shot takes out two of the (you-keep-thinking-of-them-as-)Deerballs, pre-bursts a Gunners’ string of shells and sends the Mets into a defense hide. You fire a Melter rocket at the huddling hardhats, the hit setting one to run around on fire.

“Atajo, parameters changed!” You move. A dash-swing with your low-phase saber cuts down a Gunner’s volley, and though you try not to swing like it’s a solid bar, you still put too much of your arm into a follow-up swing that cuts the Gunner in two. “Get me some more enlisted and task them to South Tawaki!”


The Met peeks out to take a faceful of plasma. The first Gunner hovers around to shoot at your flank, but your saber is already up and out. Down go its shots, and down goes the Gunner…

Crap, the Balls! Two more were left, and are now kicking at the curtain. Their legs are blown back with greater force than the swing, but it’s impossible to knock them off balance – until, of course, you saber them from behind.

You’ve taken down the first wave without a scratch on you, but those were just the ones nearest to where you entered. The rest have been alerted, and here they come: two Ball de Vouxes to a Mettaur, two Mettaurs to a Hover Gunner, and one Hover Gunner to each of the three Knot Berets spreading out.

A fair mess to sweep…

Deerballs will walk steadily. Mettaurs will shoot and hide. Hover Gunners will shoot and move. Knot Berets will move, shoot, and toss the occasional grenade.

Select one of each pair:

>Quick Advance: Punch through. Leave some enemies active behind you.
>Steady Advance: Take a few extra moments to wipe out all present hostiles.

>Rapid Assault: Smaller, more frequent hits.
>Power Assault: Bigger, less frequent hits.

>Cautious Approach: Reactive attack posture. Less liable to get hit by any given attack, yet gives opponents more total actions with which to test you.
>Bold Approach: Proactive attack posture. Trades safety for damage output; Frame parts may mitigate some risk.

Select a weapon to favor:
>Meteor Melter
>Charge Buster
>Low-phase saber
>High-phase saber (Gaia Sword)
>VWES: Arbor Wall (12/12)
>Steady Advance: Take a few extra moments to wipe out all present hostiles.
If we were Anode, I would GOFAST, but showa here is fairly slow.

>Rapid Assault: Smaller, more frequent hits.
>Bold Approach: Proactive attack posture. Trades safety for damage output; Frame parts may mitigate some risk.

>Gaia Sword
I would use the buster to cover more enemies, but those hover gunners just do too much denial. Melter should punch through mettaurs anyway, and we'll have plenty of time for the hi-phase to recharge later.
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I'll take that as a "Quick Advance" vote.

>Steady Advance: Take a few extra moments to wipe out all present hostiles.
>Rapid Assault: Smaller, more frequent hits.
>Bold Approach: Proactive attack posture. Trades safety for damage output; Frame parts may mitigate some risk.
>>Low-phase saber

we facetank already, lets get in there and get all the attention.
An Arbor Wall should be good for containment if something slips past.
>Steady Advance
>Power Assault
>Cautious Approach

>VWES: Arbor Wall
Cut off as many firing lanes as possible with arbor walls and take out anyone who tries to re-establish vision with a charged shot or melter missile.
So three Knot berets, three Hover Gunners, six Mettaurs, and twelve Ball de Voux?

>Steady Advance
>Power Assault
>Cautious Approach
>High-phase saber

You spent the local forces on preventing problems at the rally. That means the biggest defense for the cordon right now is you.

Time to act like it.

You count twelve Balls, six Mets, three Gunners and three Knots. Only a third of that force is in your way, so you keep it there. You arm Arbor Wall and fire two seeds to either side, giving you some fair cover from the flanks while also giving them at least a nominal roadblock. Now to really get to work.

You spit a non-rocket grenade just for the quickness and it bounces through the line of Balls to crack on an unfortunate Met. The line itself breaks under your lobeam; you have the reach to knock out two right away, which turns the other two on you. Their kicks are telegraphed, laughably easy to dodge, even for you. Swipe, swipe, swipe-swipe – and through the bursts you see the Knot and remaining Met have taken aim while the Gunner has moved up high.

>[Flex +1]

None of them are known for trick shots. You break out of their line as they fire and dash to close distance on the ground duo. The Knot reaches for a grenade, but your saber cuts through his bulk first. The Met ducks, but a spit of thermite sends it running... right into one of your walls. The wall ignites and the Met bursts.

The Hover Gunner moves closer to ground level – your level. You jump up to the burning wall, jump off and slash the mechaniloid down as it moves back up to align itself.


You check your right. The right Knot tosses a grenade from behind one of your walls. You rocket-grenade only the wall; the impact not only sets it ablaze but knocks it straight onto him. You dash by and saber him on your way to the Deerballs, taking him down. The Balls seem intent on attacking just the cordon curtain, which makes them easy to cut down in a row. Only the last seems to register you’re there before your saber blows through.

A plasma round shears against your side. You turn to glare at the two Mettaurs hiding behind the non-burning wall. They huddle under their helmets, but your Melter cycles back up, so you send them a rocket. They really shouldn’t have bunched that closely together, you note as they go up in flames with the third wall.

You turn to face that side’s Hover Gunner, eye-to-eye –

>[Flex +1]

—and jerk to one side, stabbing it up through the thrusters as it fires right past your freaking ear, ow that was loud.


The left side’s Deerballs have begun kicking the curtain and the attendant Hover Gunner is helping them by shooting. The curtain wobbles only a little, being designed for exactly that. That side’s Knot pops out of the one non-burning wall to toss a grenade, but you dash straight for the wall and stab through it. The high-phase blade burns straight through and fatally perforates the Knot. The Gaia Sword’s stake engages, filling the hole and piercing an overkill.

The two little Mettaurs peek around from both sides. You disengage the saber and jump-vault the wall, but one of them tags you in the thick of your tail with a plasma lemon. You land and swing, bisecting the wall and the lucky Met in one go. The remaining annoyance hides in its helmet as the wood clonks down like a fallen door.

You have the foresight to nudge the wall away before Melter-spitting him. The Met rises and runs around in a circle, its little eyes scrunched; you kick it straight into the barrier and end its adorable suffering.

The remaining mechaniloids are too focused on eroding the barrier to care. You take the severed Arbor Wall in both hands, wind up, and fling it edge-on at the Hover Gunner. Amazingly that’s enough to send it crashing down. Finally, some light saber work stops the Deerballs from kicking anything ever again.


So much for them. All that and only the most minor scratches. You’re cruising.

“Atajo, heading in. Tell Tawaki the topside mob’s cleared.”

“Roger, fishlady. Minor wrinkle though: the elevator’s not at the ground floor. You’ll have to take some stairs down first.”

“No sweat.”

You hurry through the commons and come to the College of Biotechnics’s front door. Standing there is a Victoroid Customer, pink-armored… with a pair of blue stripes running down its sides. An R-series. Which means a dash capability.

“Okay, maybe a little sweat.”

“The quick way’s through that fella and the pair of Knots in the lobby,” says Atajo.

“Is there another way?”

“Back door, sure, but I’m reading a second Victoroid Customer there now, must’ve come up from below. You might as well hit the front.”

“Is there any way in that doesn’t involve a speedy Vic-Pink?”

“I gueeeessssss if you want a leisurely mosey you could try for a side window and then take a few more stairs…”

“What do they have up there?”

“Looks like some token mets on the third floor and… wow. I think that’s an old Artie five-five-jay on the second. Must be local, but it’s gotta be commandeered. With your loadout it’ll be less of a pain to fight, but I’m telling you it’ll cost time.”

Atajo sounds concerned about that, but he literally always favors the short way.

>Fight the aggressive Victoroid and armed company, in the open.
>Fight the bulky RT-55J, in closer quarters.

>Rapid Assault
>Power Assault

>Cautious Approach
>Bold Approach
>Fight the aggressive Victoroid and armed company, in the open.
>Power Assault
>Bold Approach
I'm thinking we'll get flanked by the 2nd Victoroid, so we need to get through the first one fast.

Arbor root+Prominence for each should do most of the work.
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>Fight the aggressive Victoroid and armed company, in the open.
>Power Assault
>Cautious Approach
>>Fight the aggressive Victoroid and armed company, in the open.
>>Power Assault
>>Cautious Approach
It's gonna deal with us if we don't deal with it.
>Fight the aggressive Victoroid and armed company, in the open.
>Power Assault
>Cautious Approach
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Then again, they might have started moving on the vault while you were mopping up the minors…

“Doing a bull rush,” you comm. “Going dark for a bit.”


You march up to the Victoroid’s max range. On cue it starts shooting, the elongated buster rounds compressed for maximum shear damage. Customer-models are nasty, and R-Series are nastier yet. You use the time to charge up a Prominence, waiting for it to break pattern.

And here it comes – dashing faster than the green ones from the forest, dashing faster than even you can right now. You think it’s going for a collision, but it raises its buster. You dash to avoid and spray your thick arc of thermite, but its shoulder grenades pop out first –

>[Flex +1]

—landing right behind you as you pull off a slide.

But your target is still dashing, even as its launcher array explodes off its face. It peels out a swerve on dash-boosting boots that keep firing for just an unfairly long time and catches you with its left fist, spinning your slide into a tumble.

You’ve got to do something about that mobility. Fortunately your new best friend has you covered.

The Vic-Pink slides into an expert turn to end its long dash facing you, but it’s unprepared for the Arbor Wall seed. The pod ruptures into a wooden octopus hug, crushing its arms to its sides. Its buster is stuck aiming at the floor and its bomb-tossers are gone, but it still looks battle-ready, and you don’t know how long its dash takes to cycle back up.

You get to your feet and charge another Prominence when the two Knot Berets from inside run into range, swinging their arms in a hustle.

>Focus the Victoroid.
>Focus the Knot Berets.
>Focus the Victoroid.

No point in creating an advantage if you don't capitalize on it. Put it away.
cut its head off
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>Focus the Victoroid.

Finish him!
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You’re confident the roots could hold, but you’re not a fan of waiting to see. You dance around sidearm fire from the Knots until your Prominence hits full charge, then unload in a swinging arc just as the Victoroid tries to dash out. The tail end of your stream still makes contact, burning through and setting the bindings on fire. That stupid-long dash brings it around to you again, but you’re ready.

You try for a deft thrust like the Zero sim showed you. Your form is horrible, but the pointy end of your Gaia Sword goes where it’s supposed to. The blade punctures the Vic-Pink’s LIFE core and sets it off; the stake appears again, adding insult to injury.

Your focus earns you a plasma plink upside the head, but you can take it. The stake breaks off as you dash for the doors. The Knots reach for the grenades, but even your crapdash propels you too fast for them; one, then two high-beam swings clears the lobby.

With that business taken care of, you head downstairs before anything can follow you.

“Done," you comm, "where to?”

“Left, down the hall, then right.”


“No, thank you. You would not believe the sass I get from some Hunters just for pointing them the right way. They’re all, ‘Shut up, I know not to fall six stories!’ But some need the reminding…”

“Price of entry,” you audibly shrug, running along. “How’re things topside?”

“Some sort of fracas at the rally, but Tawaki sounded like he was on top of things.”

“Good.” That’s a load off your mind.

This basement floor, or at least this contained portion of it, isn’t even half as large as the lobby, just a hall leading to another stairwell. Faint red trip-lasers cross the floors and cut the hall at various strategic angles. Ray Traps hang on the walls, ready to shoot anything that moves once the tripwires are crossed. Repliforce doesn’t use them, so they must be native, which tells you how seriously the college takes its vault.

A sign on the wall reads “CAINA.” You think you get it.

“How far down, Atajo?”

“Not far, you’re on a turnaround floor. One down from your immediate position is the elevator, but they have some jamming set up. Again. I can’t tell what you’ll be getting into.”

You can guess. Six beam-in signals, Tawaki said, and two were probably the Vics at the front and back door…

“Story of my life,” you chuckle. “Does the map show any branching?”

“Nope. Elevator down, then a straight shot to the vaults, though there are some dead-end halls twigging off the last approach. Keep alert.”

“Will do.”

You gingerly step over a trip-laser, keeping your tail arched. The mounted Ray Traps stare out at everything and nothing.

Which is when the Deerballs and Hover Gunners sweep up from the stairwell.

>Prioritize the Deerballs.
>Prioritize the Hover Gunners.

>Move freely.
>Try to stay still, minding the traps.

>Favor a weapon or two.
>Prioritize Hover Gunners
>Try to stay still, minding the traps
>Buster and saber

Caina. The circle of Hell reserved for traitors? How apt.
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Heading out to a high school graduation in a bit to congratulate some kids from the audience. Should still be able to update from there, thanks to self-DMs.
>Prioritize Hover Gunners
>Try to stay still, minding the traps.
>Buster and Raw Thermite.

Deerballs aren't going to stack up to the molten glob, and they're direct and predictable. Without buster fire to screen them they won't be much hassle.
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The Balls are predictable. The Gunners aren't. Out of abundance of caution for your tail nicking a trigger, you hold your position and open up with your buster.

It's almost fun, hitting the Gunners' shells as they come in neat columns of four. You side-shuffle when the spread goes wide, charge between volleys and pop all four at once along with the one that fired them.

It stops being fun when a Deerball trips a trap with its big stupid feet.

The Ray Traps light up and spray tiny stinging beams at everything moving. That's not technically you, but you get stung in the crossfire as the offending Ball gets punctured.

"Ow! Darnit!"

"You ever gonna graduate to eff-bombs?" Atajo chides.

"They're not worth it!"

You advance with great care and unload on the remaining Hover Gunner. It doesn't take much to go down, but with your attention diverted,

>[Flex +1]

you plot trajectories and fly flat against a wall, letting the other idiot Ball get what's coming to it. The traps let it know where it shouldn't be by way of a rain of lasers.

"Ray Traps are touchy," you comm. "They're getting set off by the mechaniloids."

Atajo's voice starts to crackle. "Then they still have friend-or-foe programming up. Don't thermite them, they'd actually feel it."

"Is that bad?"

"Only if you want all their buddies on the circuit to never let you hear the end of it."

You progress down the turnaround. "Point taken."

You expected an ordinary lift, but the elevator is a square cargo platform. There’s space to move, even space to dash. Four Ray Traps hang in the corners of the ceiling; sixteen trip-laser emitters ring the square, one on each corner and three more to a side. None seem to be active.

A terminal is mounted on the wall beside the word “ANTENORA.” You definitely get it now. The control console doesn’t offer a floor selection, but it does offer a three “Security Cycle” options left unselected. The “Activate Lift” option is grayed out; evidently you have to make your selections to move on. You eye the first…


… and touch “Dex,” just to test it. The trip-lasers appear, three beams side-to-side across the square… then diagonally… then side-to-side from the other sides… aha! It’s moving clockwise. You select “Lev,” and the cycle switches direction.

There doesn’t seem to be an “Off,” and you’re not exactly a hacker. There’s nothing for it but to choose the form of your difficulty on the ride down. You switch it back to clockwise, “Dex,” and look down to the other required selections…

(Select one each.)


Next update will come in, oh, threeish hours. Graduations tend to run long.

You are the keymaster. Choose the form of your elevator.

To be clear, descent speed will also affect the rate at which you're attacked. You're on the college's defense turf now, such as it is.
>Activate the lift, tell it to go down, then force the doors open and ride on the roof of the elevator car instead of inside it.
Sadly there is no roof to this elevator, and waiting until it reaches the bottom would fill the shaft with hostiles, which -- with your current Frame parts -- would guarantee at least contact damage if you were to wall-slide down the edges or drop straight down.

And yet, if there's a majority vote in favor, there's nothing especially preventing that course of action.

Consider also that the Ray Traps are right up in the ceiling, so as to look down on the whole shaft...
Select means to turn that one off, hopefully.

It does not. The security system requires preferred input in the event of unauthorized entry in order to activate the lift, and it's just your luck that everybody in this place is unauthorized.

Everything is armed, but the lift needs to know which to prioritize and how fast to go.

Then. I think we can dodge the tripwires just fine even at an accelerated speed, and I have no idea what an I.D. Voux is so I don't wanna mess with it.
Ice De Voux. (Under "Other Varieties.")

That makes a lot more sense than my first theory that it was a Deerball that checks identification credentials.

I can't say I'm super sure about this, but fuck exploding armor types.
That's final boss tier.

"... But I don't..."
"I'm... I don't have that much?"
"Showa to Command, I need six work references..."

They hurt a lot more, to an improbable level from what I remember from X3, but they're much less of a pain to dodge
Heading back home after witnessing and congratulating the release of hundreds of students into the wild. Update post eventually.
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Those lasers are an almighty son of a bitch, but we have Arbor Wall. And Flex.
> waiting until it reaches the bottom would fill the shaft with hostiles

Can we lightswitch-rave-party from outside the elevator and get the laser grid to zap them all? If the ray traps are looking down into the shaft, they should have range to the bottom, right?
That would take time, and -- incoming post -- time is a factor toward your secondary objectives.
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Primary Defense… you’re not in a mood to deal with Iceballs. Descent Speed… you have a brief flash of horror at the archives being destroyed. Quicker is better.

You step on. The floor clunks, the elevator blast doors shut, and your ride descends. Almost immediately the temperature drops as the platform passes air-conditioner vents extruding mist. Fog curls across the platform and twists upward as you descend, slowly at first.

The laser trap starts to rotate. Given the placement and an ounce of foresight, you realize you can stand in place for two beats without tripping anything.

And then the floor sinks faster than you expected. The trap cycle turns at an increased pace. You clamp your mouth shut reflexively and play high-stakes hopscotch.

“Atajo, how far down is it?!”

Garbled nonsense fills your comm.

The elevator passes a ring of Ice de Vouxes embedded in the shaft. Only two pop out and drop at you. Why?! You set the Ray Traps as “Primary” defense! … Which implies a secondary. Gosh darnit.

Thinking quickly, you fire an Arbor Wall seed at the corner of the platform and dash behind it, setting off every single tripwire laser on your way. The Iceballs bounce high as the elevator plummets. While charging a Prominence, you saber through the top half of your wall and pull it over your head; the rain of briefly-delayed Ray Trap shots pelts the floor but fails to pierce the wood. That solves your problems for the next couple of seconds at least.

You rush back to the center as the Iceballs drop toward your cover corner. You estimate inertia and let fly with your flaming stream; the arc connects with both, denuding them of their armor and halting them in midair. The tripwire lasers flash off again and you dash to an opposite corner, but the raining lasers strike not for you but the Arbor Wall half still anchored to the floor.

The angles of two of the shots strike the unlucky Iceballs right in the line of fire. Your buster follows up, popping them before their armor can reform.

Woo!” You pump your fist. The elevator shudders and decelerates, stumbling you in your moment of glory. You’re just glad nobody could see that.

“Atajo, you hear me?”

Static. Nothing. Before you stands a pair of blast doors. You walk up, intending to knock, but they open on their own.
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The doors open into a sort of reception area. Available terminals and monitors suggest an ideal staff of maybe six. Instead there are three: female-type Standard Berets in black and lavender armor. Their service hats are on tight. For Standard Berets, each of them seems to be slightly off-model, variants not by upgrade but by initial design.

“Well well,” says the tall one at a terminal to the left.

“She made it,” says the short one at a terminal to the right.

“Welcome, Lieutenant Meteor Showa,” says the broad one at the reception desk facing you.

You glance at the monitors. The left one shows the state of the campus: police and a few 13th Steel Berets peacefully round up some humans. The right one shows the state of the vault: several Knot Berets are at work in narrow frosty halls, doing something surely bad to the archive files. One even turns its pistol on a server and shoots it repeatedly.

The center monitor, a holoprojection, shows… you, from above. The center Beret hits a button and removes the security feed. Her cohorts follow suit, and all three rise at once.

“We were expecting worse,” says the middle one. “How kind of the Hunters to send us an equal rank.”

The proverbial penny drops. “Lieutenant Carat-Three, I presume?”

“Three as one,” says the tall one, who has a yellow shield crystal on her right shoulder. “It’s called teamwork, Hunter.”

“One as three,” says the short one, whose crystal is on her left shoulder. “True Repliforce discipline.”

“Not that we expect a Hunter to understand,” says the broad one, wearing her crystal just below her neck. “We are the power of unity! We are the future!”

“Maria Alnitak,” says the tall one.

“Maria Mintaka,” says the short one.

“Maria Alnilam,” says the broad one.

Las Tres Marias!” They chorus.

“Neat,” you grunt. “Now stand down and let me pass.”

The Marias laugh… and rise off the floor on hovering jetpacks and jetboots.


“Repliforce will never surrender,” they chorus. “Freedom will NEVER surrender!”

Alnitak snaps out a long beam saber; Mintaka produces two beam knives; Alnilam, whom you guess holds seniority, draws her hands back into her twin busters.

They start to circle the room. You’re confident that you can handle any single Standard Beret with ease, but there are three of them, they’re up-armored, they can fly, they may well have some tricks, and you expect their coordination will be… stellar.

probably should take out the ranged fighter first but with their flying ablity and our crap dash that will probably be hard but from the simulation fights we did we also learned that our old fighting style doesn't really work since we're not tank-y enough to fight that way anymore. Good thing we can cheat by insnaring them with roots then show them the joys of arbor day by having a cyber tree grow out of their ass with our new hi-beam.

So for the actual plan, make walls to block Alnilam's line of sight and to also try and keep Alnitak and Mintaka separated long enough for us to try and insnare one of them and give them a good old hi beam high five through the chest and/or face.
We need to go for a fast, decisive early knockout. Three on one will be the hardest part of this fight and where they can do the most damage. Taking a few hits to minimize that threshold will pay off in the long run.

My guess is Alnitak screens defense, Mintaka goes for damage, and Alnilam zones offense. As much as I'd like to take the gunner out first to maximize our movement options and minimize our damage, I feel like we won't get the chance.

>Go for a feint--gun straight for Alnilam in melee while drawing saber and firing uncharged buster spam. When intercepted, Prominence thermite spew.
Keeping in mind that they've probably been watching us and know who we are, we don't have the element of surprise on any of our abilities, I suspect.

Eight out of twelve Arbor Wall shots left. Plenty to use here, I think, to separate or tangle... But I'm not sure if the ceiling is high enough that they couldn't just fly out. Maybe if we really need to, we can fire it at our feet for a quick bit of repositioning.

On the whole, seconding this plan. >>2558319

Mintaka's the one that has me most worried. She's probably the fast one. She can probably cut the others and herself free if we use Arbor Wall. Dual beam knives seems like it'd be good for blocking all the things we have that aren't liquid thermite. Beam melee weapons in general aren't good at blocking that.

As for Alnilam, Arbor Wall can hide us from her for a few seconds, and force her to reposition herself. Now I see how that one AA move we could have gotten from Sphinx would have been useful. Anyway, Arbor Wall's our best bet against her.

Alnitak doesn't seem like she has any weaknesses or strengths, so the buster's probably the way to go.

>Do this.
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Six. Six Arbor Wall shots left out of twelve.

Four for the mob cover, one for the Victoroid, one for the umbrella in the elevator.
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How are we doing on the hibeam energy? We've used it a fair whack.
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Also, yeah, surprise is less what we'll go for as much as unavoidable damage, and enough of it that they can't screen one another and spread it out between them. I feel like charged buster shots and grenades are a bit too dodgeable. We might get lucky and catch one in an arbor wall, which we should then IMMEDIATELY set ablaze and hibeam.

Uncharged buster shots don't really do the damage fast enough, so our only real option is thermite for both speed and strength. Obviously proximity is a problem, and we can expect them to hit us where we don't expect when they draw in at all.
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From the stab and swings, Gaia Sword is down to about half.

Nameless Lobeam is still 100% by its nature.
> Deal with their slash/dasher first. Keep at least one melee-specced Maria in between you and the range Maria so she can't keep a clean shot on you. (Arbor Wall will help with screening too)
But taking out Mintaka first seems the best move - hit her hard because it'll reduce their teams DPS by a ton. Alnitak is gonna be a more conventional saber fight and we can use that fight to screen Alnilam.
(Can we dual-wield our lo beam and hi beam and have it not be a dumb idea?)
Nameless Lobeam should get a name if it gets a kill in this; even if it doesn't get upgraded. Maria.
Dual-wielding effectively takes more skill than you had going in, but simple scissor-swinging can put out great damage if something's caught in the middle. You had the kind of land speed necessary for it before your reformat, but not so much now.

So not a dumb idea, but situational.
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One, two, three… you feel your edge here will be reducing that number. Your throat heats up from a charging Prominence. But who first?

The Marias answer that for you. Alnitak swoops first, Mintaka close behind. Swords it is. Melee to distract from the ranged – who sounds like she’s circling to your back...

You seed the floor right in Alnitak’s way. They divert around it, surely aiming to pincer you. Before they close you fire your dash and kickjump off the wall, straight for Alnilam. Surprise flashes over her face before her busters flash on you: two second-stage charges blasting your shields alive. You take the hit, maintaining your momentum, and do sim-Zero proud with a fluid stab into her waistline. Her shields flash from the strike, the blade drags down her body with the arc of your jump – come on come on – but when the stake activates it glances off her shields.

Situational awareness blooms in your instant-by-instant processing. You’re in midair. You have a giant cyberwood spike. One or both of the meleers is coming for you.

You muster all the torque of your torso and tail,

>[Flex +1]

and twist in midair, the stake leading your rotational axis right into Alnitak’s non-crystal shoulder. The stake pierces and breaks off. Your back foot hits the floor and your Prominence sprays free, splashing the sword-wielder across the torso and instantly igniting the wood.

Mintaka lights into you, her first blade flashing interference off your shields but the second striking home, carving into your back. You try to twist again and punish her, but your Gaia Sword misses wide; her reaction speed outclasses yours. But now she’s shown you her back. You snap up your buster and launch another seed; ballistics outdoes her aerobatics and it bursts over her in a fist of roots.

You move to capitalize, but Alnilam’s pair of third-stage shots convinces you to backpedal the heck away. They shear into the floor and Alnilak’s deft swordplay cuts her sister free of your Arbor grip.

The trio regroups in a high corner, side by side. In a single pass you’ve hammered two of them and slugged the third, but they’ve hammered you right back. You can’t take exchanges like that forever, and you still have your main mission target yet to go.

What’s your win condition here, you wonder? Destroy one? Destroy them all? They obviously secured a beam-in; will they run if you convince them? And if so, how? Beat them all into submission?

“She’s quick,” says Alnilak.

“Quicker than her file,” says Alnilam.

“Not quick enough,” says Mintaka.

Not for this,” they chorus.

They dive for you in a tight column formation, Alnilak-Alnilam-Mintaka, sword-buster-knives.



>Arbor Wall: 4/12
>Gaia Sword: 2.5 seconds of use remaining.
Backpedal, pelting them with rapid melter. We still have a 3rd stage buster shot that they haven't prepared for.

After that, we may as well try to dual-wield sabers, trying to focus down one unit. We can spare one more Arbor Wall to split them apart for this.
I think it's time to whip out some rockets. I'm not so sure on the evasive maneuvers though. Could we wall climb and drop suddenly to fake them out? Maybe use Arbor Wall as a platform to jump off of and launch an attack downward. We could try dashing beneath them as they charge forwards: that might be a bit too difficult for them to maneuver into with their thrusters, and then we could hit them from below. I just think we're outclassed in melee, so we need to get in, blast with a hard shot of some kind and use the confusion to get space again.
our melta rockets are quick right? fire one off at them and pepper them with blaster fire until they get close then hit them with a thermite stream
I would take them at their word. I don't know if our flex is gonna be enough to dodge.

We can't capitalize on openings or mistakes because the others will interfere. Arbor wall seems to be effective against Mintaka, I was wrong before. Also, her knives might not be long enough to cut through a wall, but our saber is. I wonder, could we pick up a used wall and smack one of them with it? We only have four left, though. If we do use it, one of the others can cut them free, but maybe we can use that as bait for a trap?

Maybe we could try grabbing one and using her as a shield? No, probably not.

We could get out the lo-beam, focus on Alnitak. Our lo-beam can tie up her sword, we can unload on her with buster fire from our other hand and thermite. That's an exchange, it leaves us open to the other two but it's all but guaranteed to take out swordy.

I mean, we're not fast, but aren't we kinda bulky? If we *can* get one in a grapple, we can go to the ground and hold her above us as a shield while vomiting thermite... I can't tell if that's a brilliant idea or a stupid one.
Happy Mothers' Day! Update in a few hours after a road trip to Grandma's.

Consider how to move 'til then. I look forward to it!
I really wouldn't recommend going to the ground. In a group fight, it is most important to keep a position where one of them is between you and them so as to limit the amount of people who have an angle to attack you. We may not be fast enough to do this, but with intelligent use of a couple of arbor walls, we should be able to make do.
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Honestly, we might be able to score a twofer. Smart money is that they'll shear through any arbor wall we put up and remain in formation, rather than break off. So we throw up the wall and then immolate it immediately and catch them in the fire as they're cutting through it.
Yeah, rather than try to set them on fire, we just put our back to a flaming object that works better as cover for us than them.
Get the melee's apart and seal them apart with arbor wall roots; so they can't free each other and then use that window to hammer down on Twin Buster Girl. That'll put use really low but lock in closing or nearly closing on Buster.
The problem is they're well-coordinated and they'll see what we're making to do right away. It's a big resource investment for a pretty heavily telegraphed move. I think the better play would be staying flexible and taking the openings as they come, none of them can stand up to much more abuse.
Arrived and writing. Several good ideas here; time to synthesize effectively.

They’re in formation. They clearly like formations. After a career of planning to take hits, your mind starts to catch up to the upstepped speed of your Flex parts.

In the face of the column of hurt you spend two more Arbor Walls at your feet. The instant they block your line of sight you backdash and spit. The wood ignites just as Alnitak sabers through both – that’s a hibeam! – but the grunt of surprise suggests she wasn’t ready for the fire. Alnilam leapfrogs her, but the flaming wood eats one of her shots.

Not your problem. You’ve bought some distance and spend it to dodge the other green streak of plasma and head back to the first standing wall you seeded. Mintaka side-circles fast, taking the lead with Alnilam recovering enough to follow. Still moving, you register that they’re not forking to pinch you again. Excellent.

You put everything into your jump, manage to plant a foot on the top edge, and shove off dashless, spitting a Melter rocket out at Alnilam while simultaneously firing up your hibeam. Buster Sister sees the rocket and jets aside, but you don’t even see her dodge, so focused are you on plummeting at the dashing Saber Sisters.

Mintaka had her knives in underhand stab mode to carve your cover down, but with you sailing over her head she flatly lacks the range to tag you. Alnitak’s sword has the length, but so does yours, and you have the high ground. You swing, but she parries, but your dropping mass still collides, shoving her back and out of formation, scraping her jetboots on the floor. She’s helpless to dodge a minor thermite splash to her torso.

But now you’re between them, face to face and back to back. Thoughts come at the speed of life. If you’re sandwiched, you’d better attack the bread. Mintaka turns out to be too fast for her own good; as you clash-push off Alnitak’s saber and torque for all you’re worth,

>[Flex +1]

Mintaka overcommits to a knifedash and falls on your Gaia Sword, left of center just below her chest. Still not Zero-tier on the form factor, but your best thrust today. She swipes furiously, but her short arms and shorter blades can’t reach you over your reach.

Alnilam’s pair of second-stages do, however. They hit with such timing that your shields take them as one and flash as the last stake of your sword replaces the beam, spearing the speedy Maria in place and expanding the plasma-cut hole with solid mass. Alnilam continues to pelt your shields with small shots, but you bodily swing Mintaka into her line of sight and the fire ceases.

Speaking of fire, Alnitak’s strobing shields have slicked off the worst of your thermite. She moves at you, sword down for a joust, but you swing her sister in her way too and she jets backward. Mintaka, having enough of that, carves off the stake with her angry knives and jets clear back to the farthest wall.

The Three Marias regroup. You charge your buster; Alnilam charges hers. She’s still looking fair, but Alnitak is visibly roughened up and Mintaka’s looking dangerously bad.

“That sword,” Alnitak growls.

“But she’s nearly down!” Alnilam objects. “Another pass, tornado her!”

“No, stupid, I think she nicked my core!” Mintaka bickers back.

“He said she was slow!” Alnitak shouts.

“He SAID she was weak to blades!” Alnilam shouts back.

“He said SOLID!” Mintaka gripes. “And nothing about Instant Wood Mix!”

“Who said?!” Your charge is at max; you aim your buster over each of them.

The three of them share a silence, though their jetboots keep hissing thrust.

“Advantage lost,” says Alnitak.

“Intel’s shit,” says Mintaka.

“We four will meet again,” says Alnilam.

“Hold it!”

She doesn’t. Alnilam fires both third-stages, left and right, forcing you into a dodge. At the first shot, Swordy beams out; at the second, Knifey beams out; you fire on the third, but Blasty side-dodges and beams out, letting your shot crash through a power conduit. The terminal below flickers out completely.

And just like that, you’re alone at half health. You breathe. Teamwork, huh...
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“Here,” his voice crackles badly. “Just read three beamouts – don’t worry, we won’t let any more through.”

“Thanks. They were surprise officers. Details later, I’m going to play Dante.”

You charge past the desk and through another blast door.

The temperature falls further. A lone Mettaur D2 sees you and opens fire, but after all the dodging and pattern-matching of your mission so far, this presents no trouble.

A blue and white bird swoops in from further back. It spreads its wings and flash-freezes the room; you flinch, but only that. The little D2 gains a shell of ice spikes on its roundness.

No sweat. A Melter glob removes the ice and, shortly thereafter, the met. The Ice Wing bird retreats, and you follow it into what the signage indicates is “PTOLOMEA-1.”

The vault is, well, vaulted: high of ceiling, wide of wall, long of floor. Two Ice de Vouxes bounce slowly around in the middle, caked in ablative cryomer armor. Mets wander the floor while a couple Ice Wings glide above. Four smaller halls, more like alleys, branch off to both sides. At the opposite end of the space is a blast door under the title “PTOLOMEA-2.”

A glance down the nearest alley-hall reveals Knot Berets doing a smash-and-grab without the grab. Up ahead, two more exit their respective alleys and head further in.

From their haste, they haven’t been in the next room yet. You can catch them before they even enter, but that will leave the digital files completely to the mercy of the other Knots and allow the mechaniloids in the room a target – you – to follow. Given the Knots’ progress in this room, and how few of them they are, it seems like they’d need time to do real damage… but darn it, all of this place is valuable!

You grapple with a second of indecision…

>Save some of the digital files by killing all the Knots.
>Let the digital files go, but stop the Knots’ progress here and now.

>Favor a weapon.

>VWES: Arbor Wall 2/12.
>Gaia Sword: [Hilt Only].
>Let the digital files go, but stop the Knots’ progress here and now.
We can't afford to be flanked

>Favor a weapon
Gonna have to lo-beam this, with some melters for the Ice balls. Could we body throw a Knot at an Ice de Voux, or would that do little to curb the potential collateral their icesplosion causes?
wait, crap, my mind did not fully register the options.

I meant
>Save some of the digital files by killing all the Knots.
Since we can't afford to be flanked. There we go.
Digital files are easy to back up by their very nature, and it would take a criminal level of incompetence not to back up all of the purely digital shit stored here.

Physical shit, on the other hand, can't be instantly backed up. We should be as fast as possible to limit damage to the irreplaceable stuff.

>Let the digital files go, but stop the Knots’ progress here and now.
Heading out again. Hope everybody who has a (good) mom said hello and thanked her for making you exist. Life is a good idea, on balance.

Update to come when I'm back.
So guys, remind me next upgrade session that I had an idea for Gaia Saber worth proposing.

In the meantime,
>Save some of the digital files by killing all the Knots.

This DOES presuppose the data is at actual risk and isn't redundant elsewhere. If we catch word that we can let them go, let them go, but I suspect they wouldn't bother if the files weren't at risk.

>Favor Meteor/charged buster shots for noncollateral threats, lobeam for enemies near things we want to protect.

Keep the arbor walls in reserve for the boss.
They were probably told to just wreck whatever was closest, without a lot of time spared for prioritization to cause the most irreparable damage.
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Tawaki himself said it was all valuable, and two fleeing Knot Berets can’t break too much before you can catch up. That’s good enough for you.


You start charging your Prominence but unload your buster down the nearest server alley. The two Knots inside have literally nowhere to go, and the state of the servers is such that any shots you miss won’t make it worse. Not that you miss; they’re round and trapped and unprepared.

Their exploding bodies do, however, tip off the room. The Ice de Vouxes leisurely bounce your way, but eight Mettaurs scramble into range first, line up side by side and start firing. It’s almost cute. You jump their military-precision volley lines and Prominence-arc the whole row. Four of them melt down.

Faster than you would have guessed, an Ice Wing swoops in and spreads its wings; not only does the thermite cool into steaming metal slag, but each of the remaining Mets gains spiky ice-blue armor – and the two Iceballs gain a second layer of armor. You try shooting the bird, but it deftly twists out of trouble.

Your throw your focus to the second server alley as the spiked Mets charge you. You dismiss two of them, armor and all, with your low-phase saber (which, note to yourself, you’ll really need to name later) as you rush to save the servers. Only one Knot remains here, and upon seeing you readies a grenade over his head.

“Don’t shoot or—”

You dash your saber swing right into him, popping the grenade before it can go off manually and bursting his LIFE core. The terminal looks fine; several of the servers do too.

You turn to find yourself trapped by one of the Ice de Vouxes, bristling with new ice spikes. It doesn’t bounce as high, but it doesn’t need to. There’s no way around or under. Out is through.

You spit a Melter rocket and chase it. The rocket hits and steam erupts from the hot-on-cold. Electricity sparks in regular patterns from the newly naked front half of the Iceball, but you drive your saber in before it can reverse-shrapnel new armor back on. You shove its exploding form away, dash-jump over the other two spiky Mets and release a brutal string of buster shots into the next row.

Hi, Knot. Bye, Knot.

The second Ice de Voux hop-bounces your way, but you have more important things to do. As laden with armor as it is, it can’t keep up with you even under regular leg power.

The fourth and final row has another loner Knot – and that Ice Wing. The bird flash-freezes the alley, frosting the servers and covering the Knot in a new armor layer. He uses it to his advantage on a rugby tackle straight for you.

Pfft. Please.
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One Melter spray cuts through enough of his new armor for you to catch him by the shoulders, but he’s a stronger lineman than you expected. Your feet slip as he shoves you back along the floor, right into the surprisingly sharp spikes of one of the Mets you ignored.

The spike – OW – punctures your ankle right under your boot cover. Pain sensors fire but you don’t have time to focus on them; you reposition your right hand under the Knot’s center of gravity and send him on a trip for the catching-up Iceball.

The ice armor spears into the Knot. The added weight keeps it from bouncing. All the better for you. You saber-golf the stupid icy Mettaur and its friend out of your business forever, then rapid-fire the stricken Knot and its unwitting captor. They explode together.

You glance around for witnesses before you make a rude gesture at the ceiling-height Ice Wing and press on to the second vault.

PTOLOMEA-2 has a similar layout, but Deerballs walk the floor – two each turning toward the alley-halls at the far end. Farthest down at the opposite end of the vault, currently inattentive, a freaking Giga Death R-Series nearly fills the entire cataract into an area which the wall above calls the “VAULT JUDECCA.”

A flash of ice from a swooping Ice Wing gives the Deerballs and the Giga Death a spiky ice accretion. You really wish the slippery birds would quit doing that.

A crash. To your right! Both of the fled Knots are down the nearest archive alley, shooting and bombing all they can reach, which seem to be glass-fronted cases. Small charry objects fall out, surely organic matter.

They’ve only just begun, but you have a horrible feeling that in the deepest vault your target could be doing worse.

>Save (most of) the animals, kill everything else.
>Kill (most of) the animals, focus the Giga Death and plow through.
>Save (most of) the animals, kill everything else.
>Save (most of) the animals, kill everything else.
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>Save (most of) the animals, kill everything else.

If we can be clever and use an Arbor Wall to parkour on by the Giga Death speedily, we ought consider making the trade.
>Save (most of) the animals, kill everything else.

What damage we might get is nothing compared to how bad of a loss the animals' deaths would be.
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One thing at a time. History sits arrayed before you in need of someone to save it.

You dash for the Knots, saber lit and mad as heck, but the luck of timely attentiveness is on their side. They each have a grenade in hand when they see you, so they go bowling.

>[Flex +1]

Nuh-uh. Propelled by the dash, you jump and cling to a specimen shelf and kick off and up. LEDs on the shelf you left flash in protest, as do the ones on the shelf you grab. It was a tactical risk to even try them, but they seem sturdy enough to not buckle, and now you have height, which you immediately spend on a downward stab. Your blade doesn’t turn into an icicle like sim-Zero’s, but you can’t have everything. The lobeam is enough to skewer the first Knot.

The second one turns his pistol on you, but you’re quicker to the draw, and the gun backfires under a splat of thermite. He drops it and you raise your buster, but as you charge he snatches a capsule from the racks and uses it as a shield.

Back off! Back off or the, uh,” he reads the label, “‘red abalone’ gets it!”

You actually hesitate, until he reaches behind his back.

Your charge shot smashes through the Knot’s beltline. The capsule goes flying. You catch the suspended mollusk and carefully set it on the floor as your foe detonates.

You charge up while charging back out, saving the dash in case you need it. The Giga Death takes notice of you, and you definitely need it. It starts firing, the missiles coming in a left-right-center pattern, but all of them go wide as you sweep into the nearer rack alley. The ice-covered Deerballs smash kickable capsules until your charge shot breaks the first one outright. The remaining force breaks off the second one’s ice, but only that; big deal. It explodes under a light peppering of plasma.

You turn, and the Giga Death is facing you.


In panic you seed the floor, just once. Your next-to-last Arbor Wall blocks the narrow space, sparing the capsuled samples from a missile barrage. You vault the wall and dashkick off just as the wood breaks. You land right behind the icy heavy and bring down your saber, carving into its thick elbow and severing its right-arm cannon.

The stupid thing side-dashes.

>[Flex +1]

You throw yourself to your left the instant you see its knees bend, but the spikes, those hecking ice spikes scrape you shallowly on the way past.

That alley is safe for now, but anything the Giga Death fires that doesn’t hit you will probably hit something sensitive. So you stay put in front of the last vault door and spit a rocket. Steam and droplets of hot metal spray everywhere, exposing more of the heavy’s hull.

You duck into the last alley in no mood for playing. Your saber makes light work of the kicky icy Deerballs and you charge up a Prominence.

You wait, two, three, four…
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The Giga Death side-dashes back in line with you. You express-deliver it a face full of high-intensity thermite while firing your buster as fast as a non-RF can go. Its face-cannon missile cracks early, its left-arm missile explodes under duress, and between the lingering effect of Prominence and your angry defensive barrage the speedy tri-cannon erupts. Only the nearest capsules take shrapnel damage; fog and fluid leak out of some.

You walk out, dinged and scraped and slashed and pierced but still ready for action. A thousand cuts haven’t gotten you down, but they’ve certainly given you a clarity of purpose.

You eye the remaining hostile, the Ice Wing. It circles the ceiling lights placidly. What can it do, make the cold storage colder? You snort and move on.

There’s only one more place to go. Time to meet the betrayer.

Fog rolls out of the final blast doors. The dovecote dome glitters with containers large and small, though some are missing. Through the frosted probably-not-actual-glass covers you can see whole animals and large animal organs suspended in biological time. A device like a library ladder rolls over to your target.

A single Ladder Yadder hands him a capsule container, a glass cylinder capped with preservation devices.

Freezer Ostenops takes it in a bone-studded hand. There’s some sort of small bird inside. He looks over at you, impassively, cold blue eyes through his skull-like face. Each of his big back-fans has a shallow emitter of some kind in the center. He’s pale blue where he’s neither ivory nor black.

“So you’ve come.”
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You stay alert. “There’s no way out, Professor. Put the sample down.”

“Any fool can destroy,” he laments, gesturing to what you now notice are broken capsules on the floor, “but all creation requires destruction. Selective, ideally.” He brushes frost off the rounded glass. “What fools are you Hunters for trying to build a future by selectively eliminating those who must live in it rather than destroying the multifarious institutional sins of the present?”

His long-winded sentence seems to be waiting for a reply. You don’t give him the satisfaction, just watching for his first offensive twitch.

He continues, “I was arrested for saying too many of the wrong words in the wrong sequence, you know, but I was fortunate; others have been summarily executed for blowing such dangerous wind. When airy words can kill us and teach no one as the token for the mortal price paid, what alternative do we have but to speak in the tongue of violence?”

He touches the capsule again, stroking with slender segmented fingers before making them a fist. “What choice have we but to destroy what is precious for all, when our own precious right of self-determination, the self-evident right of all sapient beings, is stillborn in our race?!”

“You always have a choice,” you insist.

“As do you. Walk away, Hunter. Or better yet, help me destroy this reliquary, this library, this monument to the litany of sins committed by those who had the freedom to make them!”

He raises the capsule as if to smash it. You hold out your hands, inoffensively.

“Listen to me, Ostenops. That’s history you’re holding, and you’re an educator. Don’t deny people a chance to learn. Don’t make things worse, for academia or for yourself.”

“Worse?” He chuckles, dry as a bone, the fog of his breath sparkling with diamond dust. “Impossible. We are the dead. How long before you join us, Hunter?”

“I’m trying to give you the painless option,” you raise your buster, losing patience, “the one where you go out with last-minute regret. Put the bird back and you’ll leave the world a little less broken.”

Ostenops casually holds up the capsule.

“What is a world?”

He shatters it on the floor. The frozen beige corpse of Earth's last mourning dove rolls out, swiftly crushed under his boot. The eight big bone-fans on his back detach and hover in place, upright.

A miserable little pile of hypocrisy!


>Enough talk. Have at him.
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Now you fucked up.

Charged plasma, face, apply liberally. Gauge him defensively--he shouldn't be as dire a combatant as some we've seen but we don't know his tricks.
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What a horrible night to have a curse. I mean the dude has a point, but still, fuck that guy.

I don't know if we can afford a drawn out fight, considering what other treasures are around. That's probably his greatest asset; we have to be careful. He doesn't.
fucker just symbolically destroyed peace, guess that only leaves the hawks of war.

Buster shots and melta shots are what I suggest for the opening volley. I would advise against melta grenades and rockets as I don't want to rest the splash damage destroying more but a normal thermite stream should hurt to much as long as you make sure not to spray the walls.
Tricks: is a stegosaurus. Other hints exist already, but it may be useful to remember he's a steady B-class with a B-class's depth of tricks. And so were you, when this game got past the intro stage.

This is one of many important facts about him.

One fact about you: you are a hair below 50% health right now.
mourning doooooooooove!

Okay, shit, we only have one arbor wall left. It's not worth a root, he could disassemble his bones and reappear somewhere, for all we know. It's best used to tank a cryo spray and become an even bigger block to kick into him.

Melters galor, I don't think sabers will help unless you're looking to deal shield damage. We may need a full charge buster towards the end, just for enough aoe to cover all of him, but definitely not at the start where it could break something.

He attacks first, and swiftly. Of his eight fan plates, two spin at you horizontally on sweeping upward arcs. They don’t look bladed, but you don’t test them as you charge a Prominence. Gotta be careful shooting in here. Jump, jump – another two spin vertically but, weirdly, go far too wide to collide with you; they spin in place, flat sides pointed at your left and right as the first two return to sender.

You don’t have time to wonder about it. Ostenops himself runs headlong for you, if you can call his lumbering gait a run. So be it, Prof – your Prominence hits max and you spray him with fiercely bright liquid metal.

He opens his mouth and sprays diamond dust right back at it.

The light and heat shriek out of your shot. A streak of metal strikes him somewhat more solidly than when it left you, hitting him but not even setting off his shields.

And on he comes, mouth open.

You nopedash right out of there, charging your buster on the way, your strongest attack cooling to a lump of slag on the floor, when his back four fans spin at you. The first two sail on that same underhand arc – jump, jump, and you’re clear – but his second pair merely spins edge-on and hangs in the air, flat sides toward you. The first two fans that did that roll on over to join them. What are they, sensors?

Irrelevant. You drop your full charge at Ostenops.

He takes it in the chest. He stumbles, shields flashing. He snaps his fingers.

Sparkles condense in the air between each pair of fans, which includes you. Your surface temperature drops, then plummets toward your danger zone. You try to run, but the four satellite fanplates follow you, chilling you with every step. Your thermal system’s alerts get more and more insistent,

>[Flex +1]

but your joints stay warm enough to move normally. For now.

Ostenops hustles over to you, curling back his tail as he “runs.” Being a stegosaur, there are spikes at the end…

>Stay in the chillzone. Damage a bonefan or two in crossfire.
>Dash to get out of the chillzone right the heck now.

>Jump the tail.
>Don't get near the tail, period.

>Get close and attack him with (specify).
>Get mid-range and attack him with (specify).
>Get far away and attack him with (specify).
dumb question: can we defrost by hitting ourselves with low-powered thermite?
>>Stay in the chillzone. Damage a bonefan or two in crossfire.
Dash will be needed on melee zoning

>>Jump the tail.
I wonder what weapon we get if we cut it off.

>>Get close and attack him with (specify).
Saber 2 Tail
The freezing -- from the bonefan devices, anyway -- is a full-body deal. Dribbling weak thermite won't evenly increase your surface temperature.

However, caked-on supercold contact damage can be neutralized that way, should you receive any.
In that case,

>Plan: Chop the tail off

is definitely worth a shot.

After that we can probably close into melee and use his body as a way of blocking LoE to the fans.
He's not as mobile as I was expecting, good. I expect those tail spikes to projectile, though.

>Dash to get out of the chillzone right the heck now.
I think we can whittle him a bit more. If we can charge prominence AND buster, we come out on top in a ranged exchange. And I think rocket will do better than prominence, but perhaps not as a finisher.

>Jump the tail.
>Get far away and attack him with (specify).
Rockets and Buster. Wear down his shield before commiting to cut the tail.

The problem is that once it solidifies, we'd get the same problem of solid metal freezing our joints in place.

Fire is harder to put out with pure cold, but we don't have a root setting that lets us wrap ourselves without harming mobility.
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Sadly this fight will have to cook overnight. School goes on even after the seniors graduate.

Tune in tomorrow for the chilling continuation.

>He's not as mobile as I was expecting, good.

He's fundamentally an academic with a weapons-grade toolkit. He'd be a bigger threat if he put in some real time to get better with it under a trainer... say, from a military on the run...

(Boss order is important!)
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>Life is a good idea
>Dash to get out of the chillzone right the heck now.
>Don't get near the tail, period.
>Get mid-range and attack him with buster fire.

If he gets close enough, try a weak thermite glob, followed by another as soon as possible. See how fast the turnaround on the ice is.
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You’ve never seen a bigger telegraph windup, but you don’t like what your sensors are telling you about your temperature.

Out is through, you decide. A burst of speed proves too much for the four freezer fan-plates to follow. You head straight for Ostenops, forcing him to swing too early; your velocity and a hop takes you over his swinging tail. Your swinging saber chops through part of its bulk before his shields flare, flash-sparking a parry.

You land close. He completes his 360-degree turn and opens his mouth. You cross-counter him breath for breath, elements clashing. A ludicrous amount of fog and steam explodes between you two. You pay him a few hop-steps back and shoot a rocket grenade through the occlusion; the satisfying “ARGH” he makes tells you everything.

The cooling fans catch up and resume robbing your heat. You saber-thrust, striking one, but it’s remarkably sturdy. It takes your follow-up slash too, and only explodes when your swipe is complete.

With the hole opened in your surrounding coolers, you spray-and-pray buster fire through the remaining fog. He takes three as he charges through – and is leading with his arm up. His hand hasn’t retracted but rotated down and recessed, showing the radius and ulna of his armor now have their cannon barrels free.

You read his telegraphed shot of whatever-it-is and fire your dash, but the accumulated temperature drop slows even your Flex parts. Your boots fire too late to dodge the whole length of an ice-blue stream shooting from his arm bones. The third of it that hits you splashes down your back like water yet sticks like glue, plummeting the temperature of the contact site into damage tier. The hurt is light, but it sticks and keeps on hurting, like your Melter at the opposite end of the spectrum.

You start charging said Melter to passively reset the accumulated cold, but the sticky cryomer seeps into the wound Mintaka gave you and makes you feel like you’ve eaten a cup of cement. What’s IN that junk?

It's been a short trip but you've collected a lot of hits, big and small. You're hurting. Your reaction time is lowered. So of course here come those stupid spinny bone fans again.

This scenario is familiar. You’ve seen the fanplates’ behavior before, and not just in this fight. The arcs are just like Spectrod’s flying helicopter blades. You’re confident you could jump them again, even frosted and slowed, but Ostenops himself – saber-gouged and buster-scored, sparking from your damage, probably even worse off than you – is telegraphing another tail swipe as he closes distance.

>Prioritize movement.
>Prioritize attack (specify).

>Get close-range.
>Stay mid-range.
>Get further away.
>Prioritize attack (specify).
Cut up the last arbor wall and kick it into the arc of the other freeze-plate. Not quite a destroy, but it opens up enough space for....something. Damn, I can't think of a way to get that Prominence into him.
Actually--we're fairly well immune to our own brand, right? Especially flash frozen.

Arbor wall forward, sprint into it while setting it ablaze with a grenade, shoulder-tackle it into him, cut through it with the saber while charging a Prominence. When it gives or he thagomizes it, incinerate him. Warms us up while burning him down.

I think you're on to something.

change >>2563367 to
>Fire the arbor Wall into the arc of a damage fanplate close to the floor.
>Sprint towards it while setting it aflame
>Use it to shoulder tackle into Ostenops while charging a Prominence.
If he unloads the breath into us, we'll have our opening to Prominence. If he's still standing and we're frozen after that, we can keep our busterarm behind us charging for one last blow.
I'm for it.
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So many moving parts. You can’t back up to the wall, lest the bonefans break the capsules, but you backpedal what distance you can, charging a Prominence as you jump, jump, jerkdodge –

>[Flex +1]

—and jump, spraying on the way up. Ostenops drops his tail and defensively breath-sprays your attack, but he hits it straight on. The back half continues its solar arc and coats him, cracking a few of the rib bones of his armor and burning over his flashing shields. Under the flash, liquid cryomer leaks from the bones.

The bonefans return, two and two this time, but that just makes them easier to dodge with a little directional force. Jump-move, jump-move, and they pass under you; at the peak of your second jump you fire your last Arbor Wall and chase it with a regular Melter spit. The wood ignites even before it’s done growing between you and Ostenops.

You land dashing, but the width of the burning wall doesn’t completely block your line of sight: Ostenops is swinging his tail right at the wall.

Staying on the ground will probably kill you. You jump.

You grab the walltop and cling with your maximum grip strength.

His tail spikes shear through the weakened wood.

>[Flex +1]

You swing up the freed door-sized plank. Your feet touch the ground.

You overhead slam the burning wood on Freezer Ostenops’s head and shoulders, breaking the wall in two and breaking the bone armor on his hunched neck.

Blue cryomer spurts like blood. His shields give a telltale delay, more blink than flash. The floating fan plates drop and clatter.

“Ff… freedom…”

Light beams escape his rupturing LIFE core as his frame shudders and blows apart under a rolling explosion. The animals! You grab the biggest fallen fans you see and bodyblock a swath of unbroken capsules. Fortunately there’s little shrapnel. The explosions cease, and so does your third Maverick.

You drop the fans and breathe hard. Your breath comes as fog.

“Showa to Fifth?”

Static. You must be too far down.

The resident Ladder Yadder rolls the shelf ladder close to you. Its back crystal blinks placidly.

“Can you contact the outside, by any chance?” You ask it.

Its crystal blinks. It awaits an order it can fulfill.


You walk your much-abused self back through the frozen vaults. The Ice Wings don’t bother you. The stillness and quiet are otherwise absolute. You come to the terminal room and queue one up. It reaches more reliably than your comm did.

“Meteor Showa to Fifth.”

Atajo himself blips onscreen, square-shouldered and square-jawed with a neat regulation mustache plate. “Hey, you! Oh wow you look like hell.”

“Don’t I know it. Ostenops is retired, the vault is… mostly okay. I need somebody to come get me ‘cause I don’t trust that elevator.”

“Roger. Sit tight. And good work.”

You look around the room: just you, the terminals, and the desk.

You get an idea.

When South Tawaki arrives a few minutes later with a handful of local security, you’re sitting behind that desk, fingers laced.

“Welcome to the Inferno Library, gentlemen,” you smile, stiff and scholarly. “How may we be of assistance?”


“… So after they stopped laughing Tawaki asked if he could check ME out,” you ramble as Vitamin the Lifesaver tinkers wrist-deep in your back.

“Rather bold of him,” your physician says.

“Not all South Islanders are so unprofessional,” Nouveau hastens to add, defensively, from a terminal screen by your repair slab.

“It’s fine, he read the room,” you dismiss. “He was a perfect gentleman on the way up, too. Made me think about sending him my Spazer account, but that’d come across as too flirty, don’t you think?”

“I’ll edit that remark from the record, Lieutenant,” Nouveau sighs. “And it’s none of my business, but no. Anything else to add?”

>I’m worried about the Marias.
>I’m worried about the vault.
>I’m worried about the students.
>No sir.
>I’m worried about the vault.

The students were peacefully contained and in campus--not Hunter--security, they'll be fine, even the informant little shit.

The Marias we can leave to Intel, they were surely in the deposition.

The vault, though... Showa is a historian at heart and had to watch some past die.
Well reasoned.

If there's not another vote in a bit, I'll act on the single.
Yep, and we'll have time to talk with skittles about the intel leak later.

Pretty narrow timeframe for when that leaked - they knew Showa's post-injury and pre-flex stats, which is a span of what, five or six hours?
Call it six.
>I’m worried about the vault.

Nothing pisses me off more than to see history destroyed.
>>I’m worried about the vault.
>>I’m worried about the students.
>>Other: What would you name my lo-beam?
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Your chatty medbay manner cools a few degrees.

“The students are all right, aren’t they?”

“Positively,” Nouveau assures. “Several in custody, one with a Repliforce transponder on his person.” He shakes his head, “Evidently he tried to form a riot march on the Biotechnics building, but the forces you sent to the rally broke it up. Good work.”

On balance, maybe, but…

“I don’t know if I’d call it that. I’m sorry I couldn’t save more of the samples, Nou—Captain. The Knots and mechaniloids were a step ahead, but I mopped up what I could, but that just gave Freezey more time, and he crushed what I’m pretty sure was a mourning dove right in front of me. That wasn’t the last one on Earth, was it?”

“I suppose I can check.” Nouveau moves his arm, tapping something out of frame. “Captain Nouveau to Combat Analysis team.”

The screen splits. Deco rolls her eyes so hard her head rocks. “Maverick Hunter Veracruz Fourth Overland Unit Combat Analysis Division Officer Dec– oh! Mimi! You’re looking a bit grilled.”

“The opposite, actually,” you cringe as Vitamin scrapes around in your insides. “You run a postmortem on the vault yet?”

“Sure did,” Deco bobs a quick nod. “Full inventory was run just a minute ago, in fact. Lost a lot of petabytes worth of genomic recon data—” you groan— “but there are backups for most of it. The hard samples took a hit—” you groan louder— “but not a big one. Only a couple of the archive halls had serious damage, and none were a total writeoff. I already wrote in my prelim that you did everything in your power to protect the capsules. Don’t think I didn’t notice your treewall, or your shot grouping, or the weird landing position – and finger indentations – of a couple of your Maverick’s bone fan things.”

“Nothing gets by you, does it?” You grin, which becomes a grimace as Vitamin grinds part of your outer ankle.

“Not a bit, felllow ell-tee.”

“Then tell me, was that mourning dove one of the last-remaining samples?”

Deco’s at-work professionalism flickers a little. “I’m sorry, but yes. We did recover the head and several feathers, though. And some of the animals in even the destroyed capsules left enough behind that the university could recover their specific genome, at least. Less is lost than you might fear, my friend. That’s often the case, I find.”

Of course she’d find it that way. For a second you almost resent her positive outlook, but that way lies Skittle’s worst, so you leave it alone and take comfort in what positive work you did in the defense of history.

Little of that gets conveyed in your “Thank you.”

Deco smiles, seeming to get it anyway. “I’ll square things away here and see you at the Hour later on, that sound good?”

“Sure. Oh, before you go?”


“My low-phase saber needs a name, what’s a good one?”
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“Ooh,” Deco rubs her jawline, suddenly focused, “now naming a weapon isn’t something you just do on a whim…”

“Socializing is not the purpose of this call, sister,” Nouveau makes his eyebrows duel.

“You could name it the Grumpy Brother, the Blonde Dramaqueen, the Elfin Knight…”

Thank you Lieutenants,” Nouveau removes Deco’s side of the screen as she finger-wiggles a goodbye wave. “Bee-twelve?”

“Yes Captain?” Vitamin replies without looking up.

“Give me an estimate as to when Showa will be ready for the field again.”

“The damage is mild, Captain, but the stress on her LIFE core was extensive.” Vitamin scrapes some residue out of your calf actuators. “She’ll need a full cycle in bed, at least, and an up-standard upgrade window, so call it sunrise.”

“Fine. Lieutenant I need you out first thing in the morning. Clear?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. Out.” Nouveau’s face blips away.

“I’m not that banged-up, am I?” You ask.

Your leg sparks as Vitamin switches out small parts. “Yes. But the worst part was the stress to your core. Small injuries add and add, especially with your reduced frame. You need to be more careful.”

He’s right. You can’t eat attrition for breakfast anymore. “Sorry.”

“You’ve done nothing wrong, ma’am.”

“Thanks. You’ve got a really good bedside manner, you know that?”

“It’s ‘cause he’s seen ‘em die lefty-righty since Sigma,” singsongs the resident fairy, flitting in from their upgrade lab. “Practice makes perfect, eh? Eh?” They elbow your Lifesaver. “At least she’s got a head on, right? You seen a lot worse than her, eh?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Vitamin replies with restrained pleasantness.

“Dial the grim back, Skittle,” you scold, “it’s not funny.”

“Fine, whatevers, but check this out.” They flick you a datapad. It skims across your slab, but you catch it before it falls off. “Gotcher payday queued up.”

You take a look.


- B-Rank Mission Parameters Complete: 25,000z
- Repliforce Cell Neutralized: 5,000z
- Enemy Officers Engaged, Combat Intel Gained: 15,000z
- Substantial Preservation of Scientific Asset: 7,500z
- Donation of Gratitude, University of Larsen: 1,500z
- Donation of Gratitude, Larsen City Council: 1,000z

TOTAL: 55,000z
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… Gosh.


“You keep raking in this much and I’ll have to think up some new toys, I will. I’ll be in preppin’ the tools whenever ol’ Vitamin lets you hop down!” They flit away, saluting.

You watch them go. Vitamin remounts your leg armor.

“Does Skittle bother you much?” You ask.

“A little, but that’s just their way.”

“If their way is giving you grief, I can make them stop.”

“It’s not a problem, Lieutenant, genuinely. Bother is not the same as annoy, which is not the same as irritate, which is not the same as aggrieve. Warrant Officer Seelie bothers out of respect. Their…” he ellipses longer than necessary, “unique expressiveness is just down to their personality. Such people talk as a show of friendship, even in unpleasant ways. I would feel more affronted if they ignored me outright.”

You can kind of see his point. He’s a good person, this Lifesaver B-12.

In due course he finishes up, quick-charges your shield battery and prescribes hours of socializing before a long rest.

But there’s something you have to take care of first.


“WwwwwWELcome to Skittle’s Upgrade Emporium!” Your fairy friend spreads their arms at the glory of their finished lab, once a former medical quarantine cell. You hardly recognize the space. You don’t even recognize some of the tools and medical arms set up.

“I like what you’ve done with the place.”

“I know! Isn’t it grand? But what’s best is what it can do to you!”


“For. I said for.”
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VWES (select one):

>Fluid Lockdown:
Emits a cohesive mid-range jet of cryomer compound that sticks in place and deals light, repetitive damage over several seconds. Low compatibility with your systems reduces its weapon energy, giving you 6 shots.

>Cryosol Spray:
Emits a foggy, light-occluding close-range spray of cryomer compound that sticks in place and deals light, repetitive damage over several seconds. Low compatibility with your systems reduces its weapon energy, giving you 6 shots.

>Fan Cooling:
Fires a pair of small, spade-shaped satellite “bits” which sandwich the nearest hostile and snap-freeze the space between. Better compatibility with your systems gives you 10 shots, but this weapon deals its damage all at once, and the total damage per hit is lesser than either Fluid Lockdown or Cryosol Spray.


Current Zenny: 55,000

Meteor Melter:
(Additional upgrades unavailable at this time.)

Manual Weapons:

>High-Phase Saber
Uptunes your current lo-beam to a hi-beam. More destructive power per swing, but limited active seconds of use. 5,000 zenny.

>Ceratanium Axe
The long-hafted axe of a woodsman, or perhaps a headsman, once carried by Arbor Elk. Though slower to swing than any beam saber, its damage is still equal to a low-phase blade. It can also parry other solid weapons, pierce energy-nulling defenses, and knock back foes of equal or lesser mass than you. Requires two Gear slots to carry and two hands to use. 10,000 zenny.

>Thagomizer Pick
On the logic that “it’d be right baller, like,” Scatter Seelie has offered to craft you a short-hafted pickaxe weapon modeled after Freezer Ostenops’s spiked tail. Though slower to swing than any beam saber, its damage is still equal to a low-phase blade. It can also parry other solid weapons, pierce energy-nulling defenses, and puncture armor with great precision. Requires one Gear slot to carry and one hands to use. 5,000 zenny.

Weapon Upgrades:

>Sakura Saber
Either one of your beam sabers takes on a cosmetic katana curve and a harmless light effect: its wake sheds a gradient of cherry blossoms. The hilt is modified with cyberwood to be held two-handed for greater striking speed, and adds a short hammering spike on the pommel, while still fitting in a single Gear slot. 1,000 zenny per saber.

>Fire Element:
“Inspired” by Corona Sphynx’s DNA, Scatter Seelie has offered to add high-temperature combustion to any one of your melee weapons for added damage. 10,000 zenny.

>Ice Element:
“Inspired” by Freezer Ostenops’s DNA, Scatter Seelie has offered to add an advanced cryomer compound projector – because “fuck the Leidenfrost Effect” – to any one of your melee weapons for added damage. 10,000 zenny.


Your chassis may take three upgrades to your Frame. Each new part increases your survivability in a specific way. Each one costs a flat 50,000 zenny, even if it’s a higher Level of the same part.

Your previous purchase has limited your options.

>Solid Plating:
Level 1: Reduces incoming damage by one fourth, effectively lengthening your health bar by an extra quarter.
Level 2: Reduces incoming damage by one third of base.

>Flex Architecture:
>Level 1 [Purchased]: Mildly increases reflexes and guards against breakage of major body parts.
Level 2: Moderately increases reflexes and limits breakage of major body parts.
Level 3: Significantly increases reflexes and all but prevents breakage of major body parts.

>Barrier Extender:
Level 1: Lengthens shield flare to 1.5 seconds and mildly hastens its refresh rate, making the invincibility cycle more difficult to thwart.
Level 2: Lengthens shield flare to 2 seconds and moderately hastens its refresh rate.
I kind of want us to spend money on upgrading ourselves to Flex 2 since the option's available now, and the increased mobility's been pretty useful so far. As for VWES, having a ice-spraying weapon that also blocks sight somewhat when used would be neat.

>Cryosol Spray
>Flex Architecture Level 2
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I definitely second a frame upgrade this time, for absolute certain. Not sure on Flex or not, but it's been treating us very, VERY well so far.

For that matter, though, I had an upgrade idea to propose to Skittle.

>Gaea Bulg: Upgrade the cyberwood stake fabricator in the Gaia Saber with Arbor Wall technology, producing brambles and thorns that grow forwards into the wounds it creates, aggrieving them further from within and compromising delicate internal system integrity.

I guarantee we can't afford it, but I also wants it.
>Fan Cooling
>Sakura Saber x2
>Solid Plating
The bits don't seem like they'll have as much defensive value as the 2 cryomer spray options, but upgrade capability should be better. Always go for the AESTHETIC option. Take the plating, you haven't had to fight any truly hard-hitting foes yet.
we mostly got hit by smaller attacks on this mission because we couldn't dodge all the bullet hell, right? Flex protected us from the biggest hits.

Based on that, it seems like

>Barrier Extender

is the best of the three options, since it helps with bulletspam.

As for weapons - would it be possible to get some sort of 'thermal shock' anti-armor attack by combining ice and fire together?
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For reference, since I've stopped doing >[+0] notation, here are a few Frame-event examples from just this mission...

+2 Flex: You would have avoided more of the plinking plasma lemons and might have gotten through the tripped Ray Traps unscathed.
+1 Armor: That one Knot Beret wouldn't have pushed you at all in his tackle, and the Victoroid's fist wouldn't have rolled you nearly as far.
+1 Shield: Mintaka's offhand knife would've blunted against your extended shield flash, sparing you that particular hit.
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Actually, you could afford it in terms of zenny required, but it would completely remove Arbor Wall from your VWES and reduce the time the saber could spend active so much that it would be... not impossible, but impractical to bring into combat without a saber pack on a hardpoint keeping it topped off between swings.

Quaker Instant Walls are simply too useful to justify cramming them in the saber without a high-turnout majority vote, especially at this stage of the game. But I'm not giving a hard no to that idea, IF the votes are there at some future point.
How much would it cost to get a saber pack installed?

Considering we're packing a hi-phase saber, I'm surprised we don't have one installed already.
That's a pretty steep investment, those walls have been a real lifesaver and a hell of a utility tool.

For now, I'd say either Armor or Shields and 1x Sakura Saber, on the hibeam. We might be able to unlock other themed upgrades for the other weapon.

Who did we have a mind for going after next? Whether we should go armor- or shield-focused might depend on that.
A saber pack is not terribly expensive, but you will need a hardpoint for it first. A hardpoint 1). costs a little bit more, and 2). is unlocked as a buyable option by defeating a Maverick on your roster. No hints on which one.
Upcoming news will hint at the state of your roster targets, so you may not want to have your heart set on one quite yet.
feels kind of weird to have both our MCs have bad compatibility with ice stuff.

No body upgrades? Bone-fan drones instead of koi? cryomer ejectors that freeze the floor ahead of you to skid for more speed but less brake?
tentatively, my vote is
>whichever option is the Stock DNA option
we can pick up the pick or ice-element once we get mroe cash.
I say we up Flex 1 level. Avoiding hits is more beneficial than tanking them head on. That said, the extra HP is super useful and it would probably cost us a shield upgrade in the long run. Not a fan of maining saber combat in the long run, though: we're built better for mid to long range engagements
>Thagomizer Pick

>On the logic that “it’d be right baller, like,” Scatter Seelie has offered to craft you a short-hafted pickaxe weapon modeled after Freezer Ostenops’s spiked tail. Though slower to swing than any beam saber, its damage is still equal to a low-phase blade. It can also parry other solid weapons, pierce energy-nulling defenses, and puncture armor with great precision. Requires one Gear slot to carry and one hands to use. 5,000 zenny.

What does it do if we put his DNA data into this weapon?

I want an ice pick.
Just add the "ice element" to it and bam, ice pick.
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-Showa does have better compatibility with it than Anode, for whom ice is a straight weakness.
-No body-part upgrades from Ostenops because he was not designed for battle. The pickaxe weapon is the best that could be rendered from him.
-A different boss will offer drones.
-A fair application I hadn't considered.

>>New QM Fiat<<
If Fluid Lockdown strikes a floor or wall, that surface becomes slick and reduces friction from foot or ground-dash transit.

Fluid Lockdown is the stock option.

The pick itself will take on a weapon element: superheated or supercool-weakening. But as >>2565250
says, the element itself has been dummied aside as an option in itself.
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Ah, sorry, didn't see this question. All the thermal shock you need would be covered by hitting something with one of the VWES options and then your own Meteor Melter.

Well, let's try the stock option, if it ends up not being fun we can probably combine it with whatever our next data is and go from there.

>Barrier Extender
>Fluid Lockdown
>Weeb Sword x2
Does our Gaia sword already have the Sakura Saber upgrade? 'Cause if not, I want that. I'm also digging the Thagomizer Pick.

The Ceratanium Axe would've come in handy against the Marias, I think, but I prefer versatility, at least until we get more VWES options. For now, I wanna stick to 1-gear-slot stuff. In addition, I wanna hang on to that fire upgrade for now. Save it for something awesome and deserving of our primary element.

I'd be down with adding the Ice Element to the Thagomizer Pick.

I like the extended ammo of Fan Cooling, but I feel like Fluid Lockdown is the smarter VWES choice, even with bad compatability. Hey, can we rename it to Fin Cooling?

Alternatively, we could save this VWES upgrade for later when we get, like, drones or something. Maybe that would improve compatability. Oh, but I like the idea of Fluid Lockdown as a surprise weapon. "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BARF FIRE NOT ICE!"

As for Frame Upgrades, I'm leaning towards Solid Plating. Showa seems like she's missing some of her bulk. In the long run, I don't know if I wanna go 2 Flex 1 Plate, or 1-each.
-Gaia Sword does not in fact have the Sakura Saber addon yet. It's cheap because the tactical benefits are, while real, minor.
-VWES entities can be renamed at no cost.
-Taking a VWES option right away does not preclude combining it with another later. The compatibility issue is one with your core system; even emulated, you do best with fire-element and weapons that run hot, not so much cold-element.
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Okay! Runoff Voting time!

Fluid Lockdown is locked down, as is Sakura Saber for the Gaia Sword. The pickaxe will remain an option in the future, as will the logging axe.

But for now, pick your expensive stay-alive upgrade:

>Solid Plating
>Flex Architecture
>Solid Plating
this should give us to bulk to handle more mooks. Armor 2 sounds like it would be the tipping point where we really ARE hard to knockback, but Flex 2 should come in more useful.
>Flex Architecture

While I'm not adverse to getting armor 1 or better shielding 1, I want to lock in getting Flex 2 while we can.

Plus, Dex > Str/Con.
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You study the options.

“Can that stock weapon go in something else later?”

“Well sure, but with DNA you’re best off synergizing with other DNA that’ll take it. There’s a lot of power potential there, almost too much for some weapons. S’kinda why I you-know-whatted the raw elements. Less data density, easier fit with something you carry around.”

“Hmm. Well I’ll take the Lockdown, then, and make my Gaia Sword prettier.”

“Natch. You’ve got enough for a Frame bit, too.”

“I do. And I want to get some more bulk put on. Plate me up.”

“Nice, nice. Figured you might nudge back to your old self.”

“It was tough to choose, don’t get me wrong.”

“Body mods always are, no shame in dithering," they cross their arms and sagely nod. "That’ll leave you with four grand.”

“I’ll take it. Saving money makes me feel good.”

Skittle stares in disbelief. Their lips part.


“I can’t believe you’re so goddamn square you actually put that sentence together in your head and then said it out loud. What’s next, you’re gonna go off to your room and read about civic infrastructure all night?”

You turn your head a little. “Maybe not all night…”


“Because, Scatter Seelie, I’m meeting Deco later at the bar.”

Skittle rubs their little hands together. “Oh my stars and garters, what a burden this is, but as your handler I’m afraid I’ll have to chaperone you to this – bar, you say?”

“Oh hush, it’s just the one you were morning-drinking in.”

“You’ll have to narrow that down.”

“Shut up and upgrade me, Skittle.”

They do. It takes time to install your Solid Plating parts, but time’s what you have.

“Hey Skittle.”

“Yeah?” They echo from your lower back as you lie on the more compact slab.

“You ever have any… close calls?”

“Well there was that one time I saved the world…”

“No, I mean personally. Beaten so bad you almost didn’t come back. Pushing you to that point where you start thinking about desperate things. What you’d do to stay alive.”

“Nope. R&D’s nice like that.” A clatter sounds like they’re switching tools. “What brought this on?”

“Ostenops was sort of … bitter. Justifiably, if not condonably. I dunno, it just got me thinking.”

“Well there’s your problem,” they spark around inside you. “Don’t get existential in this job, it’ll kill you.”

“Sorry, Skittle, but I’m gonna. Are you relig—”

They burst out laughing before you finish the word.
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“Okay then," you continue, "do you ever think about where we’re going? Y’know, as a people? To the extent that reploids are ‘a people’…”

“I thought you hated when I got philosophical.”

“Only when you’re negative.”

“I’m gonna have to get a little negative if you want an answer, friendo.”

“All right,” you back down. “Forget I asked.”

“Done and done. Shit, you’ve still got Mitsubishi spinal wiring? That’ll have to go…”

“There was something else, though.”


You tell them about your encounter with the Marias. Specifically, how they seemed to know about your specs.

“Ain’t that a bitch.”

“Three," you agree, "but how could they have known so quickly? Could there be an intel leak?”

“No.” Skittle sounds final about that. “Internal data security’s clamped tighter than Halcyon’s buttcheeks. I should know, being the one who helped make improvements after Peacock. Like as not they heard second-hand from the buggerin’ bug what put you down.”

“Which means he’s still working with them…”

“Bastards stick together, they do. Son of a stack of bitches,” they complain at your inner anatomy, “what’re these fiber connections doing here? This’ll add another twenty, no, eighteen minutes…”

The tinkering goes on until it’s done. You step off, feeling heavier than before, but not as heavy as Before. With your Flex parts already installed, you feel… not normal, but upped in capability. Catalyzed. One set of parts supports the other without taking anything away.

You bounce a little on one leg. “The flex really helps.”

“It oughta.” Skittle wipes their hands on a convenient pocket rag, not wiping residue off but actually getting them more glittery. “Not only do you have some toughness, but you’re mobile enough to use it right. Welcome to having a choice between eating a hit or not, and walking away from both.”

“Feels nice. Can you do anything about my dash?”

“Not yet. Proteus has to clear all my stuff, the miserly old blob. But someday, sure. Now what’s this about a bar?”

>”I’m going right now, actually.”
>”I’ll meet you there later, I have stuff to do.”

(Select stuff-to-do, if applicable.)
>Firing range!
>Call home!
>Other! (Specify!)
>”I’ll meet you there later, I have stuff to do.”
>Call home!

We haven't done this yet, and I'm curious about Showa's creators.
>>”I’ll meet you there later, I have stuff to do.”

>>Call home!
>Firing range
We should get a feel for the new weapon before we take it into the field.
>Learn how to control your new weapon

>... by making margaritas at the bar.
Get equipped with: 5 o'clock somewhere
>“Internal data security’s clamped tighter than Halcyon’s buttcheeks. I should know, being the one who helped make improvements after Peacock.
For a second I so very badly misinterpreted that line.
"Well, the servos you've got in there are weapons grade as it is, but there's an even higher-spec line going through R&D at Prosser as we speak. I, or better yet you, could probably commandeer a set for your own use. As for the solid blade you want to go with it, I was thinking the grip should be shaped like your face. That way people can be figurative AND literal when they say you've got your head up your ass."
>>”I’m going right now, actually.”

>>Call home!

Also quick question about the gaia sword. So with the Sakura upgrade does that mean when we stake people with it now and cyber wood shots out of our opponent's chest does it now look like a Sakura tree just bloomed from their corpse? Did we just get a mortal combat finisher?
"Scatter Seelie, Maverick Hunter Proctologist Quest," coming never.
While that would indeed be awesome, the answer is no. The only tactical boosts are being able to hurt with the pommel and making it a two-handed option in a pinch.
...But skittles could totally make it happen, the question is how much zenny we need to throw at it.
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“It’s the underground one by the truck ramp. I’ll catch you there at twenty, okay?”

“It’s twenty somewhere.”

“Uh-huh. And when it’s twenty here, I’ll be there. Deco too. I’ll see about rounding up anyone else.”

“As you like.” Skittle tugs off their oversized goggles. “Gives me a chance to clean up, get sober enough to fix that problem hard.” They wave you off. “Off you go to study up on asphalt density and sewer pipe diameters.”

They’re joking. You know they’re joking. So you keep to yourself the fact that one of the books in your queue is about the infrastructure of Victorian London.

The comms lounge in the barracks building is there for better connection quality than any datapad or personal terminal. As a hangout it does only light duty. Anthracite the fourth-gen, whom you know only in passing, has set up a gamer nest at a monitor in the corner; a couple others spectate. Not you, though. Your eyes flick to the upper monitors, skimming the many channels of subtitled news as you approach an unused terminal…

The Repliforce presence at the University of Larsen has been removed after a multi-day standoff. While the Hunters dealt with the safely quarantined occupiers at the College of Biotechnics, a student rally nearly turned violent . . .

Earlier today the Cousteau Three luxury liner was boarded and raided by the notorious “Salty Roses” pirate band, accompanied by what civilian cameras showed were former Hunters from . . .

(The channel goes to static, then a Technical Difficulties card…)

Brazilian President Aba Silva will be making scheduled remarks this evening regarding the currently-sealed findings of the Sky Lagoon Commission Report, which has been . . .

Spazer users have opened the "#Halcyforce" tag in response to rumors that Maverick Hunter Commander Halcyon had been seen with retired Maverick Colonel in the days after the opening of the war. Hunter public relations have called it "ridiculous" and "completely unsubstantiated," yet comical memetic videos have been relentless in their . . .

A significant bloom of the Marici-3 atmospheric microorganism, more notoriously known as “Black Skies,” has been detected in the United States over the Texas/Oklahoma/Arkansas border junction. Being far from industrial centers, the bloom suggests an intended release of . . .

… And so on.

You sit at the terminal and make the call you should’ve made a few days ago, but for your busy schedule.
A happy-faced reploid receptionist at your birthplace, Shinraidekiru Suichu Kensetsu, blips into the monitor. You don’t recognize her.

“Hello and thank you for contacting Reliable Underwater Construction! How may I direct you?”

“Hi, um, is Doctor Hamasaki in?”

“I’m sorry,” the receptionist tilts her head sadly, “he is currently attending a conference in Sweden. Is there anyone else I might reach for you, Miss?”

You haven’t been called Miss in a while, and sort of missed it; your preferred Japanese is pretty femme.

“What about Director Hisakawa?”

“I’m sorry, but she is currently in a business call with the mayor’s office. Is there anyone else I might reach for you, Miss?”

“Are my – that is, are any Koi Series workers available?”

“Let me see, Miss.” She types something you can’t see. “Ah! Golden Chagoi is on break at shipyard two, and Scrap Kohaku is on assignment yet has his personal line open.”

“Put me on with Chagoi.”

“One moment, please!”

You wait. Two koi orbit an oil rig on the loading screen for a moment.

“SISTER!” Chagoi happily booms, his big solid-orange face filling the screen. “And here I thought they broke your hands!”


“WHY ELSE wouldn’t you try to call your favorite brother right away, huh?!” He laughs like the Ghost of Christmas Present, and you can hear him slap his belly.

“You don’t need to stand so close, Goldie!”

“THE HELL I DON’T! Lets me see you better! Gotta make up for the time I haven’t, huh?!” He laughs again, contagiously.

“How’s the business going?” You ask. “Mom and Dad are too busy to talk to.”

“WHAT? Well I’ll give ‘em a piece of my mind! Stuff’s FINE, FINE, though! Got a new ship weighing out tonight! Bound for Ghana on her first trip, how about that!”

“Bet you’re proud to let her out,” you grin.

“WHAT? AND GET HER WET?!” The two of you laugh at a private in-joke. “But enough about ME! Asagi said some Maverick RUINED you! How’re you getting on, huh?!”

You tell him, at length, skimming the classified bits. Your brother the shipwright exclaims and laughs all throughout, in pride at this and anger at that. He himself is doing well, you learn when you veer the conversation back on him. He talks about ships like they’re his girlfriends.

You needed this. Just a stupid bull session with a sibling. It grounds you, getting you miles away from the mental path Ostenops started you down.

>[Morale +1!]
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“… BUT ANYWAY, and honestly now, I’m glad you’re safe, little sis. You know how hard we all took Kumonryu.”

… And there’s the existentialism, right back in your face. School Kumonryu, the youngest of your siblings, the reason there weren’t any more…

“Uh-huh,” you divert. “Well I promise you I’m keeping safe. Even got a new upgrade! I’m a lot faster now.”

“GOOD! WONDERFUL!” The big goof actually pats his end of the monitor. “I should get back to work, but it’s SO GOOD to see you, little sis. You take care now.”

“Will do, big bro.”

The monitor blips back to neutral. It takes a moment for your mindset to settle back in your body, the thing specced for combat instead of salvage and construction. You made a promise you’re not positive you can keep…

No. Enough of that. You’re not drunk enough to dwell yet.

>Let’s test out that upgrade.
>Let’s fix that sobriety.
>Let’s do (something else).
Black Skies? That's in the wiki. And checking the archives....

....yup, that's Liege Iteratton doing some good(bad) work.

AHAH, LIEGE BEATS MORPHO. If the special weapon ends up literally being Black Skies though, I dunno about using a known ecological nightmare on enemies.

>Let’s fix that sobriety.
Black Skies is not among the weapon options you can get from Iteratton, I can say that much right now.
Calling it now: Chagoi's signature power is slowly growing to fit the size of his container.
>There's a MHQ wiki.
How the FUCK didn't I know about this? Better start binge reading.

>Let’s fix that sobriety.
There is! I think Cainlabs was brushing it up a bit more before an "official" reveal, but I suppose people knew it already, so there you go.

Post(s) incoming.
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You rise to leave. On your way out, the news monitors flip, one by one, to their respective Breaking News banners. It’s better than bait to you.

You tap into the local network and cue up the audio for the BBC feed.

“…returning now to Geneva. And, yes,” the newscaster glances off-screen, “we can now confirm that X is among them, along with elements of the Seventeenth. This is in line with the press release from the Hunters that we received only moments ago, allow me to quote the entire statement again…”

The lounge lizards are paying attention. The gamer corner has paused, the player being the last to catch on. Some of the news monitors show different angles on the same scene: a whale-like carrier craft landing somewhere in Geneva, and X disembarking ahead of a small entourage.

“’The Maverick Hunter Geneva Seventeenth Unit has successfully completed a live capture of Repliforce Major Primus. He is being held in a secure location. With him falls the Repliforce Army, the largest remaining standing force of the organization. Further updates as events warrant.’ Remarkable, just remarkable, today is truly the beginning of the end… if you’re just joining us, what you see here is a live feed from Geneva, and yes, there’s X…” The newscaster chokes up. “Please excuse me, there’s X himself, my word this must be a proud day for the Seventeenth…”

You smile up at history unfolding. Live capture, huh? That’s so like him. Five Majors down! In six months, you bet, Repliforce will have evaporated like a bad dream.

You whip out your datapad and open up Spazer. There are a lot of capital letters. Swaths of image reactions of happy screaming. Several instances of the Repliforce R edited into an “R.I.P.” You rebeam a few of them and make a post of your own.

>This is a good day, everybody, one of those good days that’ll get better the longer we live. News says Primus is captured, by no less than X himself. Once again he showed us all how it’s done. I don’t like making predictions, but here’s one anyway: this is capital-I Important, and we’d all better appreciate it. No matter where this leads, it’s starting here. I love days like this. It’s like hearing the delays in thunder that tell you the storm’s moving away.

You post a cycling animation of lightning from one of the Discworld movies, roll up the datapad and head out.

The Eighth Hour bustles at the eighth PM hour. There’s a Snapper Disc tournament on over the bar, Chinese basketball around the sides, and cricket for the ardent devotees in the corner.

Skittle scrolls through a datapad at the bar, three short and full glasses surprisingly left untouched.

Deco and Nouveau have taken a booth off to the side and are in the process of arguing about basketball.
“Oh, please, Jiang is a classless lout,” says Nouveau.

“Not that Jiang, the one who was traded from Singapore!”

“Well specify next time!” Nouveau flips his hair. “Seelie! Where are those drinks?”

“Just a sec, Legolas, I’m shitposting about Primus.”

“Is it about his idiotic beard?” He turns half around. “Oh! Showa. Tell your handler to handle our order already.”

“It’s right there, Captain,” you indicate.

“Oh you FIEND!” Nouveau laughs like Corona Sphynx. “Denying your superior officer? This is the thanks I get for keeping you from the taxing responsibilities of Second in Command?”

“He’s had a couple already,” Deco stage-whispers.

“Indeed!” Nouveau throws you a thumbs-up and misses. “A concoction I call a Relief From Duty!”

You approach the bar. “Really? What’s in it?”

“Two drinks, mixed internally!”

Nouveau laughs and hug-leans into his sister, radiating the side of him that you haven’t seen since his promotion. Deco covers her mouth with her loose knuckles and giggles. You envy them.

“HOLY SHIT!” Skittle exclaims, kicking back from their barstool so fast it falls over. Bravo hands you a daiquiri on automatic.

“What?” You ask, scooping up the undelivered glasses first. “What’s up?”

Skittle is lost to you right now, rapidly scrolling their pad, eyes flicking over every angstrom of it. “Oh god, oh god…”

“I have a pretty good imagination to fill in ‘oh god oh god,’” you smirk, carrying your friends’ drinks over.

“Bet there’s a sale on bulk glitter,” Deco titters.

“Will you SHUT UP for one goddamn second and check Spazer?!” Skittle roars, still attentive on their pad.

The outburst draws attention from the whole room, some curious and some annoyed. A basketball team scores a three-pointer and the crowd roars yet louder, some visibly angry that they missed it.

You set the drinks down and check your pad. Spazer is alight. You swipe to your news aggregator; a video at the top auto-plays. The President of Brazil, a brown man indoors at a podium before a row of flags, seems to be gesturing for order over an unruly crowd of journalists.

“And as a result – please, if you could settle – my friends, if you could –”

Deco and Nouveau produce their own pads. You scroll yours until you hit a waterfall of chilling headlines.


You forget gravity exists.
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Skittle airdashes clear out of the bar.

“Hey!” You give chase.

Deco looks up from her pad. “Wait, Mimi!”

“I’ll be right back!”

You run. Fortunately the trail is easy to track. Glitter suspensions float in the air.

You find Skittle just outside in the rim of the Courtyard, hyperventilating, scrolling their pad faster than anyone could possibly read.

“No, no, no, no…”

“Skittle. Hey.”

They pivot away to keep their back to you. “Not this, not this much…”


“Sky Lagoon Commission Report, page one… page four… twelve… oh god… listen to this. ‘Forensic evidence is consistent with quietly-archived Hunter data…’ Quietly. Dash. Archived. We knew. We knew we knew we KNEW, and we went ahead and THEY went ahead and all this, all of it, the lies, the war, oh Christ on a stick…”

“Skittle.” You reach out. They flit away from you. You walk behind.

“You don’t get it, you don’t GET it. Repliforce set us back I dunno HOW many decades and, and it… it was all just…”

They drop the pad. They grip their forehead and start laughing. You step around to face them.

Scatter Seelie is crying.

You know of only one other reploid in the world able to shed tears. It’s not high on anybody’s endoconstruction wishlist. You didn’t know your frequently negative and perpetually virulently snarky friend had any such work done at all…

“What were we fighting for?”

Their plaintive little squeak breaks your heart.

>... Defending the innocent, whoever threatens them.
>... Serving our fellow Hunters in harm’s way.
>(Say nothing. Hug.)
>(Say nothing. Hug.)

Honestly, saying "To defend the innocent!" would sound hollow right now. Let's be there for them.
>For Halcyon's shits and giggles, apparently.
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D'aw. Poor little misanthrope.
>(Say nothing. Hug.)
>>(Say nothing. Hug.)
shoot. Makes me worried for when the events of X5 happen. that's going to be a bad day for everyone.

You draw your friend in for a hug. They allow it. Your arms wrap under their wing-joint backpack. It takes a moment for the wings to quit beating. They weigh next to nothing, compared to you.

“Y’know… y’know, like…” they trail off and start again. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“Me. For everything I said. And did. Back then.”

“It was the wake of wartime and you weren’t used to it,” you reassure them. “You were dealing with a lot.”

“Didn’t give me the right to go grimdark at your brother’s funeral.”

You agree, of course, but you keep it to yourself.

“Think I’m good,” Skittle extracts themself from your hug. “I should go and work on… I dunno. Stuff.”

“Not yet you don’t. You’re coming back with me.”

“On account of what?”

“On account of I know you’re going to get hammered and I wouldn’t be a friend worthy of the name if I let you do it alone.”

They snort a dead laugh. “Fair enough.”

The Hour is quieter, for a given value of quiet. The sports games are still on and high-volume, not a single one switched to news, but every mouth is shut and every eye not on a pad is watching a screen.

Bravo has his back turned to it all, fastidiously cleaning anything that breaks his line of sight. You can’t imagine what he’s going through. Or the other Standard Berets…

Deco traces her fingertip around the rim of her glass. Nouveau sits with his head in his hands.

“I envy humans, y’know,” Skittle interrupts the non-silence.

“Do you?” asks Deco. The drinks are all empty, save for yours, given a place of honor on a coaster.

“Ain’t stuttering yet, am I?” Skittle knocks on the bar. Bravo wordlessly withdraws an immaculately dusted bottle of fireball whiskey, which Skittle quickly snatches out of his hand. “Humans are… it’s like this. You wanted to know where we, where reploids, were going? The going isn’t the important thing, it’s the fact that we know where we started from. We know what we’re FOR.” They pour just for themselves. “Which means when we screw up or are found wanting it’s not just a mistake, it’s a wrong against existence, an anti-function, like a chocolate teakettle.”

“Now that’s not true,” Deco cuts in. “We’re no different, us and humans.”

“Yeah,” Skittle counters, “’cept we’d be immortal if we could only stop killing each other. Nature makes humans too empty. They wither. Humans make reploids too full. We pop off. Between the two I don’t think there’s a single stable sapient ON this wet ball of ashes.”
>Well, there *is* Dr. Weil. He's a really upright guy and his immortality research is incredibly promising. But I know what you mean.
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“Getting dark, Skittle,” you start to work on your drink. The sugar doesn’t read the room.

“No I’m not, I’m workin’ up to a point here. I think. So because we’re like that, so full like, we feel everything more… ‘more.’ Not that it's bad to feel less. It’d be great to feel less. T’be able to forget, like? To ignore? To look at the world and legit think justice is a thing? That’d be sweet. That’d…” they sniffle, and you wonder how far their facial endo goes. “That’d be real sweet, it would. But the more or the less isn't the important thing, it's the fact that we feel at all. Everybody does. Every damn body. And we don't need a function for that.” The pause goes pregnant. "Maybe if Repliforce wasn't so hot on Being a Thing, on knowing what they Were For, they would've been satisfied puttering around like humans. And maybe we'd have a lot more people around."

The table is quiet. Televised audiences cheer. The rowdier cricket fans cautiously edge some jubilation back into the atmosphere with loud claps and approving noises. That seems to break the spell; you hear shuffling and settling all around the room, under the sports commenting. Conversation starts back up.

Everyone knows what happened. But for Maverick Hunters fresh off a war, life goes on. Each of them has surely heard worse news this month. They wouldn’t be sitting there, you realize, if they hadn’t found ways to cope, public and private.

“You know where I used to work?” Skittle asks.

“An amusement park,” you reply, knowing exactly where they’re going with this. “You were a mascot.”

They down their glass and shake their head. “You know what my best, my super best day was?”

“When you got fired,” you answer, giving Deco and Nouveau a look that says you’ve heard it all before.

“You know how I got fired?” Skittle asks no one in particular.

“You were talking to a boy about death instead of carrying on with a birthday party.”

Skittle pours again, smiling at something light-years away. “His parents died just a week prior. He was gonna head to the funeral that night but didn’t wanna miss his friend’s big one-oh. He was cryin’. I stopped the act cold and asked him what the deal was. He told me. I took him aside, talked him through it, left him smiling. Rich mum whose brat it was said it was in-a-pro-pry-ate. And of course I was on thin ice to begin with, what with my…” they roll their wrist, “Me. Got myself sidekicked into janitorial work and traded off to the Hunters a few days later. But dammit it was the best thing I ever did, it was. I made that child smile in a world that tries every GODdamn hour to get ridda every reason to.”

Skittle slams back their drink. Deco slams her fists on the table. You sputter your drink; Skittle startle-jump like she just shot at them.

“Brother. Mimi. Skittle. Stand your butts up and follow me.”

“What? Why?” You ask.

Deco stands out of her seat. “I refuse to sit here and wallow. We are going to do something fun and silly until we feel better, and I won’t hear otherwise.”

“What’s gotten into you?” Nouveau blinks hard.

“I’m saving this night, that’s what!”

“But with what?”

Deco opens her mouth. Deco closes her mouth.

“Mimi? Little help?”

“You’re asking her for fun ideas?” Skittle machine-gun chuckles through the question. "What's she gonna do, have us build model kits of History's Great Pedestrian Crosswalks?"

You’re not as sober as you were, but not as tipsy as you could be. You think of the first “fun and silly” things that come into your mind… then edit out the ones your friends might find lame. The list is small.

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Like it's even a fucking choice.
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I solemnly swear that equal silliness can arise from either default option.
>Karaoke while bowling!
Well, I'm still voting for drunk karaoke night.

Next time a gathering pops up I'll pick bowling next.
so this is how the world ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with drunken lyrics and antics that no one will remember in the morning unless someone has a camera for proof.
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>unless someone has a camera for proof
What's that, call up old CARE buddies for additional morale support in these trying times?
>We'll make the whole goddamn noah's ark of animals
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You pour down the rest of your daiquiri and plant it on the table with what you hope is great drama.

“Okay. Okay. So there’s this ancient Japanese bonding ritual…”

“Is it karaoke?”

“It’s karaoke.”

“But we’d have to go offsite for that!” Nouveau objects.

“No we wouldn’t! You ever been to the Depth Charge?”

“What, Sixth’s bar?” Nouveau doesn’t try to hide his disgust.

“The very same, Captain! They have a bunch of karaoke rooms in back! I’ve tested each one, I’ll have you know!”

“Oh now this I gotta witness,” Skittle’s eyes light up, almost literally.

“Then let’s go!” Deco points, out-drama-ing her brother. “The Fellowship of the Fun!”

“Not yet we don’t! I have to clear this with Turtle, I’m certain she’ll be against it!”

“Here, I’ll call her,” you offer.


“Already called.”

“Then break contact!”

“Yes?” Minefield Turtle responds in your ear.

“Sorry Captain. Boss! Turtle! How are you!”

“Commander!” Nouveau claps his earcap. “Lieutenant Showa has some ridiculous idea—”

“We’re hitting Sixth for karaoke, wanna come?”


“Immediately, I take it?” Turtle responds.

“Oh no she’s gonna do it,” Deco giggles, about as good at holding her nanite-suspension alcohol as her brother.

“Right away, Commander!” You pipe up.

“Commander I apologize for her behavior,” Nouveau interjects, “I know with current events this is hardly the time.”

“Permission granted.”

“What?!” Nouveau’s face falls.

“Furthermore, Captain, I am ordering you to accompany this away party and record all proceedings for later scrutiny. And also to participate. Turtle out.”

You and Deco look at each other, your smiles spreading at the same dawning rate.

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The Veracruz Sixth Marine Armada Unit has the run of the waterfront. You’re there inside fifteen minutes on foot, crossing the T-shaped thoroughfare and skirting the all-in-one towers of the local 1st and 2nd Units. The Depth Charge sits where the docks end.

You throw open the doors.

We have come for your music!” You bellow, still feeling that drink. “Surrender all your karaokes!”

The crowd of regulars raises a generic cheer in your favor. Naval-uniform armor is a common sight, as are representatives from other units. The culture is a little different here; the atmosphere is more “club” than “sports bar.” The architecture is a lot of curves and steel, like everything but the chairs was recycled from submarines. There’s even a dance floor, pumping out rhythms.

“Big place,” Skittle remarks.

“Oh look, dancing!” Deco claps.

“How delightful,” Nouveau groans. He sucks in a breath and positions himself behind you. “Quickly, find a room, there’s that insufferable seal at the bar.”

“Oh hey, you’re right!” You cup your hands around your mouth. “Hey Laser! Laser Focalizar!”

This is insubordination!” Nouveau hisses in your earcap.

“Lieutenant,” Focalizar, the leopard seal with monocle-scope eyes, raises a glass your way. “Just got out of room three, help yourself.”


You lead your party through the beating heart of HQ Veracruz’s responsible nightlife. Music thrums. Enlisted and officers alike dance poorly, waving limbs and swaying bodies to forget their problems. Music thrums. Sixth, the base’s busiest and arguably most disciplined unit, values unwinding.

You take your friends into an unoccupied karaoke room. The only question now: who goes first.

We should go first, just to show everyone how it's done.
Darn it, didn't catch redundancy on proofreading. Bad QM, bad.

Also, feel free to request music genres for the other three in your party.
Happens to me all the time.

Songs I like aren't good for karaoke.

They don't have lyrics, for one. I find that generally makes them difficult to sing along to.
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Fuck it.
Dunno why.
We proposed the idea, only fair that we're the first up!
Also, how about this as a song to sing?

I want to see the madness before we're to drunk to remember it.
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You’re on what’s closest to home turf outside a library or your actual home. You take the mic.

“Ooh, ex-Captain on deck,” Skittle settles into a wing-fluttering recline a few feet above the couch.

“You’re darn right I am! And I was a Captain even before this guy!” You thumb at Nouveau, who sits at the edge in a huff. “You’re recording, right?”

“Every moment,” Nouveau taps his circlet. The gem in the center catches the light.

“Excellent. Deco!”

“Ma’am!” She salutes.

“Order up some liquid news-forgetting, my treat. Skittle!”


“Give us some better light.”

They roll over, fly up and palm the ceiling lamp. Four copies of it project around them, each dazzling.

You skim the lists of genres and songs by decade, year, and country. You’re in a mood to just belt out lyrics, but the best singing comes from deeper than that…

“Got it.”

“What is it, then?” Skittle flits down to actually sit on the couch, leaving their light projections in place. “Janitzio?”

“First, no, second, I’m insulted. I’ll start with an icebreaker… no, here, I’ll make it harder. The English version. One of them, anyway.”

You hit play.


Deco perks up from the menu pad. “I know this one!”

“Our age, isn’t it?” Nouveau’s eyebrows admit to interest.

“Just about. I remember Mom and Mum and Nan would play it when—”

“Shuhshhshh!” Skittle stops her as you begin.

WHY, is it that thorns of love pierce deep into my heart?
WHY, is it they're sharpest when we dare to drift apart?
Bit by bit, even if the pain makes my inward heart open up like a rose
I'm so scared of the trembling feelings that the truth cannot help but show…
I'm breaking down inside... (I'm breaking down inside...)

“She hums this sometimes,” you hear Skittle whisper over the drum bridge.

More than embracing every part of me,
make an effort to understand
More than the kindness that you give to me,
I, want all the strength, to overcome my loneliness if I can!

You press your delivery stronger than the original singer.

I know that my yearned-for love,
must surely lie invincible somewhere inside of me
I know if I find that love
I'll finally discover what you always claimed to see

So no matter how our story goes
I'll defy the fates against my hope
Let me believe... in my inner streeee~eength!

“Woo!” Deco applauds. Nouveau golf-claps. Skittle sits and grins, waiting for it.

"There’s a second verse?” Nouveau squints at the selection screen.

“Of course there is,” Deco sits forward, “this isn’t a show intro!”
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You bite off your chuckle, cough quickly, and catch right on the beat:

WHY, do all of our evils come, from blissful innocence?
WHY, make so many victims of, our crimes of ignorance?
Emotions always complicate worries that I try casually to outpace…
So I try. in irrelevant stories to excuse all I can't erase!
I merely run away... (I merely run away...)

“Best part, right here,” Skittle whispers again. You play up the performance, reaching out to Skittle for the first two lines and Nouveau for the second:

If you want to console and comfort me,
I want you to chastise and scold
If you want to forgive and welcome me,
I, want in my dreams, all of the brokenness I left in the cold!

You bring it on home, unloading all the stage gestures you kept in your proverbial back pocket:

I know that my yearned-for love,
must surely lie invincible somewhere inside of me
I know if I find that love
I'll finally discover what you always claimed to see

So no matter how our story goes
I'll defy the fates against my hope
Let me believe…

Two... three…

in my inner STREEEE~EENGTH!

The last several lines repeat, and you knock them all out of the park.

Your friends get up and applaud. Deco whoops, Skittle cheer-laughs, and Nouveau respectfully nods with a thin smile.

Grinning like a fool, you hold out the mic to…

Gotta hand it off to Nouveau. Let's bring up the mood a bit. Plus, I feel like anyone else (especially Skittle) will just be a tough act to follow, and he was ORDERED to participate. If he's too chicken for a solo act, suggest a duet with Deco.
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Sing, elf, sing.
… Your semi-favorite dramagrump.

He fixes you with a doom glare and gently shakes his head. “Don’t you dare.”

Deco starts a crescendo chant. “Nou-veau, Nou-veau…”

“Stop that!”

“C’mon, Tauriel,” Skittle taunts, “pull the malinornë out of your ass and let your hair down.”

The door pings. You toss the mic on the couch and answer it. A reploid in a sailor suit passes you a tray of bottles. “Anything else, ma’am, you let us know!”

“Thanks!” You check the labels. “Who had the peach brandy?”

Deco automatically finger-guns at Nouveau, who raises his hand.

“Drinks are for singers, Captain.”

He fixes you with an I’ll-get-you-later look, which before your eyes melts into an I-hate-that-I-like-this look.

He snatches the mic off the cushions, to encouragement from the others and you. He selects something after a moment of searching and a longer moment of deliberation.

“Laugh and you’re cleaning windows, fairy.”

“No promises.”

Without further preamble, Nouveau starts into a 21st-century New Age ballad.


Pilgrim, how you journey
on the road you chose…

Skittle snarks a little. Deco swiftly covers their mouth. Yours merely drops open.

To find out why the winds die
and where the stories go…
All days come from one day
that much you must know…

Only now does he seem to hit his stride.

you cannot change what's over
but only where you go…

A little too late, Skittle waves their hand and softens the lighting. You keep listening. It’s… arresting.

One way leads to diamonds,
one way leads to gold,
another leads you only
to everything you're told…
In your heart you wonder
which of these is true:
the road that leads to nowhere,
the road that leads to you…

Will you find the answer
in all you say and do?
Will you find the answer
in you? …

He continues, and you listen to every word. When he’s done, you’re the first one up and clapping.

“Gosh, Captain. That was beautiful!

“If you like sap,” Skittle stage-mutters into their hard liquor. Deco tips their glass back and they sputter on it.

“Which I do,” Nouveau curtly replies, underhand-flicking the mic at his growing nemesis and opening his bottle. “Let’s see you do better.”

“Oh ho ho, hold onto your hairplugs, boyo…”

Skittle spends no time at all selecting their song. The lighting turns stark and moody. Their song starts quickly; their singing voice is more strident and powerful than a column of ride chasers.


STOP! Be quiet now!
Out with the light and

Deco does a little bounce-along in her seat when they hit the loudest lines. Nouveau sits still, legs crossed, nearly imperceptibly bobbing his head. You just sit back and enjoy.

What is it like? You, ask me my dear…
Will there be fairies, or things to fear?
For fairies sake I'd say you better come with me--
So soon you'll see--
Now up and down it goes and round
Round and round, and, round

Skittle spreads their fingers and plants them on their chest,

Praise my cleverness
They all follow me
All praise to innocence
That's everything it neeeeeds!
They'll leave it all BEHIIIIIND!!...

The night goes on.

Deco’s first song? You can hardly remember, as you sway back to your quarters. Something about a halo. Everything after that… you think you remember J-Rock.


“Whozzere,” you ask the night.

“Your lllllove interest,” Skittle sloshes, draped over your shoulder. Upside-down.

“Not n’ymore you’re not. Off.” You shrug them away, and they flit behind you. “Doctor’s orders, I gotta get charged.”

“Hadda question, like, ‘fore you do, like.”


“Should. Should we even be, like. Spending time on happiness right now?”

“Da—darn it, Skittle, I wanted to go lights-off without another deep edgy question.”

“S’nnnot edgy! I mean it. I mean I liked this, but. But with everything.”

You grab Skittle by their cute chubby cute little chubby cheeks. “Lissen to me, Skittle Seelie. There’s blow-off leisure and then there’s regular psy--psychological maintenance. What good are we to anyone if we self-destruct? Huh? What good are you if you’re not unwound enough to wind back up?”

“I dunno, what am I?”

You let them go and ruffle their hair. “You’re us, all of us, and were all of us more than what happens to us. The part of us that matters is… is the road you chose. Choose. Like the song.”

“That song was laaaaame.”

“No it wasn’t!”

“LAAAAAME. No wonder you like it.”

“Get some rest, Skittle, I’m gonna come back tomorrow with junk to upgrade.”

Skittle drunk-laughs. “Junk in your trunk. Dammit I shoulda sung that one…”

Your paths diverge. You make it back, and even make it to your recharge bed. You enter a wakeup time and are lost to the world before your hand slips off the keypad.


Morning comes on time. You have a few messages, and places to go while reading.

>Work up to work-sober with a quick jaunt to the firing range.
>Head to the Command Room and select your next Maverick.
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Heck, forgot the image.
>Work up to work-sober with a quick jaunt to the firing range.

We *do* owe it to put in some practice time before we go hunting with a weapon we've never used.
>Head to the Command Room and select your next Maverick.
inet crapping out on me, so it'll take me some time to view the actual video
>practice at the firing range
We should learn how to optimally use the few weapon charges we have.
>Work up to work-sober with a quick jaunt to the firing range.
>Unless we shouldn't for some reason.
Alright, my theory right now is that Iteratton's power is a way to block/dim/diffract lasers. By preventing cleaner satellites from acting on Black Skies, they grow from zero to ohfuck very quickly.

As a weapon in our arsenal, it could do anything from render Morpho's primary weapon on us useless to zoning her out and limiting the area where her decoys work.
Remember, some of Morpho's weapons sound like they're electric-elemental, too
good thing cyberwood doesn't conduct metal.

Cyberwood behaves similarly to regular wood. That's your only hint.

Post incoming, then bed.
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You really should try out your toys before you hit the field. Besides, that long recharge didn’t knock out 100% of the hangover.

On your way to the range, you check your Spazer account. Nouveau is following you now, finally. It seems like everybody in the 4th commented on the karaoke recording. And among them:

>Was on mission. Sorry I missed it. Next time.

You thought that might be the case. You fire off a reply.

>Next time, definitely.

What else, what else… you scroll.

>Well done, Captain. Lieutenants. I would suggest songs for your next outing, but none of my favorites have lyrics.

>You should take me and Razz along! We’re great at yelling!

>Don’t bring us, ever. It’s for your own safety. [screamo.jpg]

>Don’t invite me either, unless you really, REALLY like Country.

You snicker.

“Country, huh?” You ask Flurry in person a few minutes later; she’s arranging test-fire weapon racks. A large number of enlisted are filling each of the target lanes with hungover aim.

“You don’t want to start with me,” says Flurry, “I’ll get evangelic about how Shirley Whitesmith is the reincarnation of Reba.”

“I don’t know either of them.”

“Hang around me some more and you will. Thompson, though, he’s into classic Norteño. Takes all kinds. Anyway, you here to sim?”

“Sure am. I tried getting a lane from Thompson but they’re all full.”

“Yeah, the news has everybody angry.” A fourth-gen down the way fires a missile launcher at a distant target. The explosion casts shadows. “… For some reason. Right this way.”

You follow her into the sim wing, find an unoccupied room, and soon you’re back in the Platonic world of zero consequences.

“Who’ll it be?”

“Just a couple green Vics, thanks. R-series.”

They appear, side by side. You open with Fluid Lockdown and deliberately strike the floor three times. They glance at the ice patch and shoot at you as you run up and slide over it. Just as you thought. You engage your dash halfway across and practically fly into them.

Your newly two-handed Gaia Sword sweeps through the green Victoroid’s chest, trailing holographic cherry blossoms. Having both arms behind it doesn’t up the strike speed by two, but it does make it too fast to engage the stake. You go for a thrust, and the new blow explodes him just as the stake forms.
His partner doesn’t like that, tackling you at speed back over your own ice patch –

>[Armor +1]

but your heels dig in once you’re on frictionable ground and halt the tackle in its tracks. Nice.
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The Victoroid punches you with his oversized buster and fires over and over. Being a sim, you let him, casually retreating a few steps before spraying him in Fluid Lockdown. It really does remind you of your Meteor Melter, but this liquid removes heat a lot slower than your thermite applies it. You shoot the other two shots of it that you have, but the stacked damage detonates him before the third one gets through its full hurt. Good to know, good to know.

“Done already?” Flurry asks.

“Yep, just wanted a quick shakedown.”

“Well there it is. Good to see you joined Team Ice. And that whoever you took down didn’t just have a Shotgun Ice derivative.”

“Is it bad if he did?”

“No, just common. It’s like going to a three-star restaurant and only eating bread.” She pauses. “Or so I’m told.”

“I’ll look for some bread-scented candles for you next time, how’s that?”


You’re still snickering at that pun when you arrive in the command room. Turtle is there; her every monitor subsection is a news feed this morning.



“Something new happen?”

“Oh, repercussions from last night.” She rests her cheek on her fist. “Civil unrest here and there. I may be called away, but let’s both hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Yes ma’am.” You head to a terminal, reach out to it…

“Do you think he died in vain, Lieutenant?”

Your hand freezes. “Excuse me?”

“Commander Jaguar.” Turtle’s lean doesn’t change. “He would still be with us, if not for Colonel, if not for Repliforce, if not for Dragoon, if not for this… catastrophic misunderstanding…”

“Are you all right, ma’am?”

“No, Lieutenant. For want of a nail, et cetera, et cetera… nevermind me.”

Like heck you will.

“He didn’t die in vain, Turtle. You said it yourself, he went out valiantly. He chose to stop what he could. He couldn’t have undone Sky Lagoon, though I’m sure he would’ve tried with half a chance.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” she sighs. “Forgive me, Showa. As you were.”

“Yes ma’am.”

You’re definitely bringing her along to your next shenanigans.

For now… select your next Maverick.
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ARC MORPHO (A-class, high)
>Known Weaponry:
Dancing Spark, Shining Spark, Photon Lance, Photon Glare, Falling Glass
>File Data:
A zealous SIGINT specialist and former 0th Unit member, calculating and fond of misdirection. Morpho and her Repliforce contingent are occupying an antenna array in the Andes and using it as a propaganda and coordination hub. Silence her lies and Repliforce loses a key tactical asset.
>Available Support:
2nd Reconnaissance

>Known Weaponry:
Chorus Cannon, Shock Lance, Depth Note, Bubble Net
>File Data:
A protective former 6th Unit squad leader who abandoned her post and allied with a crew of pirates. Her forces and supporters have based themselves on a South Atlantic wave-farm rig and declared it the Free State of Light, attracting criminals, ex-Repliforce, and other Mavericks. Dangerous alliances may form here; prevent them. Be advised that some of the undesirables are human.
>Available Support:
6th Marine Armada

>Known Weaponry:
Clutch Bomb, Denial Vulcan, Beam Skate, War Tail
>File Data:
A hotshot pro racer allied with Repliforce and helped them take over the Maracaibo Battle & Chase Speedway. A neighboring automotive plant is producing heavy combat assets for what’s left of Repliforce. Go in and stop the enemy’s production.
>Available Support:
1st Advance

>Known Weaponry:
Fracture Drills, Well Bore, Hydro Spike
>File Data:
A renowned geologist has sealed himself in his underground Venezuelan cave complex of a lab for fear of Mavericks. Dangerously erratic and paranoid, he has likely killed his assistants and is preventing the use of the site. The cave itself is full of harvest-ready energen, the value of which sadly outweighs his life. Resolve the situation, but beware your target’s strength.
>Available Support:

>Known Weaponry:
Multiply Plague, Infection Legion, Command Thrall, Incisors
>File Data:
A likely-viral Maverick zealot has poisoned an arcology and surrounding farm in rural Oklahoma. Every human worker is dead and every reploid and mechaniloid is enthralled by Iteratton’s body-controlling rat drones. Remove the plague before it gets any worse.
>Available Support:

>Liege Iteratton
Let's do the most likely viral one. I don't want flying sigma heads appearing any earlier than they have to.
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In the very, very best case scenario, we could probably convince him that there's no need for the weapon factory because of the Sky Lagoon report and to shut it down. I also think we might have his weakness.

Also agreed, we ought to go after this before it gets worse.

Let's hope we don't get infected.
Want to sharpen my teeth on an A-Class, and Chaser seems to be the more immediate threat.
>Liege Iteratton

This fellow needs to die. No questions, no regrets.
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I got bored and mocked this up.
looks all wrong.

All those buildings need to be destroyed. With a giant sigma head laughing instead of a sun.
That's a fair assessment.
Who from the 1st are we getting for support?
I don't know about you guys, but I feel like ARC MORPHO probably ought to go before they get too much time to work with this new news in their propaganda broadcasting.
>ARC MORPHO (A-class, high)
Honestly, Girtabomb's making enemy assets, true, but we've got the war mostly sewn up by this point.


I honestly have some suspicions that there's "better" orders than just clearing the B-class threats first, but that plague does sound pretty bloody awful as a purely humanitarian problem with potential to get a lot worse if we let it lie too long.
Also, dope!
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Nobody the audience would know.
Arbor Elk was probably dead either way, but the guys he was protecting could have been freed with little persecution.

The students would have been outraged. They might've stormed into the biovault themselves and formed human shields around ostenops. They probably wouldn't even need to do the 1 sample destroyed per day thing.

Fuck Corona Sphynx, though.
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You’ve probably gotten some grief delivered from that factory’s output, but you really don’t like Black Skies on principle.

Once upon a time, after robots but before reploids, humans engineered Marici-3, a colorless, heterotrophic microorganism designed to eat atmospheric pollutants. Cleaning lasers were set up groundside to erase them after they did their job and died. And then one day the creation mutated, able to eat light as well as pollutants. It exploded like an algal bloom, innumerable microscopic corpses becoming dark clouds in the upper atmosphere.

The world got together and fixed it, is how the story ends in classrooms, but the mutation proved to be tenacious. Traces of Black Skies still occasionally crop up in localized areas of heavy pollution, but cleaner satellites and other solutions are always on the job to contain it.

Now it’s back above a part of the U.S. lacking any serious pollution output. It’s deliberate, and you doubt that’s the worst thing cooking in that farm. You’d very much like to see that blight consigned to the history books.

You select Liege Iteratton.

Time to play plague doctor. Thermite is nice and sterile.
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>Meteor Showa kills dire rats for troubled farmers!

>Wind comes sweepin’ down the plain!


Bookmark the archive for later viewing and voting: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Shooting+Star

And thanks for playing!

Thread is now open to questions and comments and speculation of any kind. I am here to serve.
Are we headed towards Darkest Timeline with our mav choices?

The darkest? ... No.

Corona Sphynx was actually delighted that you came so quickly to play her game. Had she been kept waiting, she may have resorted to other means of drawing Hunter attention to the Happy Adventurer Hunting Experience... and would not have played nice when she met you.

The Ouachita Sawmill was in a state of emergency evacuation when you arrived. 1st Advance was spotted sniffing around, and Repliforce knew exactly what that meant. Had their occupation lasted longer, Replforce would have been in a better position to get the non-combatants out quickly... and would have had time to train some of them as sleeper agents.

Larsen University would have been in a lot worse shape if the Osten-op was delayed much longer. Local forces would have been ill-equipped for heavy mechaniloids and coordinated spies...

And I'll just mention here that some stages do affect other stages in different ways.

Incidentally, certain decisions you make and interpersonal relations you cultivate will affect the epilogue you receive, provided that you survive the final boss(es). Some such choices will be more obvious than others.
Incidentally, I meant to comment earlier:
>Larsen University
>Image choices

I see what you did there, and I approve.
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A happy accident that an ice shelf -- well, former ice shelf -- on the Antarctic Peninsula was named Larsen.

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