Part One is archived and summaries will be posted on OP page.

STAR WARS: TROOPERS

Google Doc Part Two

MEETING BETWEEN LEON AND RAZOR (Late-afternoon 4 PM local):

Shortly after the others leave the office, Razor arrives at the office.  

Razor, seeing that Leon is in his office, steps in and address Leon "Sergeant, Good afternoon."

Leon, stands as Razor comes in, "Good afternoon, sir." "What can I help you with?"

"Yes, I wanted to check in. First, how are our 'guests' doing?" Razor asks.

"Everyone seems to be recovering just fine from the virus. And Dr. Ceylon and her ward will be leaving the garrison shortly to return to the clinic in town. ...And I believe that bandit is still being held in the brigg."

"Good to hear. And your men? Is Corporal Ragdos up and fit for duty?"

"He seems to be recovering fine as well. He should be fully ready for combat by tomorrow. Two days at the latest. He was just in here not too long ago making inquiries as to what happened while he was stricken."

"Good good." Razor pauses for a moment, takes a moment to look about the room and looks as if he is about to leave "I'll leave you to your work then..." However, before going he turns back to Leon "Unless their is anything else you would like to tell me at this time?"

"I can't think of much else to report, sir. I just hope Isard doesn't give us too much trouble here for knowing about her bioweapon tests." Leon pauses for a moment, "Sir, you look as if you have something on your mind. Are you sure there is nothing more I can help with?"

"Not right now Sergeant." He pauses for a moment "Stay on your guard, watch your words when Isard is a woman not to be taken lightly." Steps out of the office and leaves for his room.

A few minutes after Razor heads out, there is yet another knock on Leon’s door.  It seems Leon is quite popular today...

“Enter.”

Nahja walks in.  “Hey...Leon.  I’ve been thinking, do you have some time to talk?”  She looks somewhat tired still from all the events, but otherwise okay.  She probably hasn’t taken time to properly rest and relax since the chaos early in the day.

As Nahja comes into the office, Leon gets up and moves around to the other side of the desk. “Of course I have time. Has Revy woken yet?”

“No...she hasn’t.  She’s been like this before...I have a feeling she’s going to be...difficult to handle when she wakes up.  If it’s anything like the last time she nearly died, it could get rough.  It will probably take everything I have to keep her from tearing across the galaxy to find Allister all by herself.  Which...I’m fairly certain would mean her death.”  She sighs.  Sounds like she means it when she says this has happened before.  “I just need to make sure I’m around when she wakes up, that’s probably her best chance of staying cool....well...somewhat cool.”

“That sounds like the best one can hope for. What do you want to talk about?”

“I’ve been thinking about what I said earlier...and I think I’ve changed my mind.  What I want to talk about is us.  I don’t want to keep leaving just to make things safe.  A lot has happened recently, and after all we’ve been through, and after all that you’ve been through, I feel like leaving just isn’t good enough.  You went through a lot to come get me...I want to repay that ten times over.  But I can’t If I keep running away to be safe.  I.....want to know how you feel too....”  She stumbles a bit and stops speaking...waiting for a response of any kind.

Leon takes her hands and with a smile, “Nahja, I tracked you down across the galaxy to get you back and I’d do it again. If you want to stay you are more than welcome too.”

She smiles.  “You know...it’s going to take a lot of work.  I’ll do what I can though...” still smiling, but it seems like she didn’t expect such a simple answer.  “But how...well...I don’t care, however it can work, I’ll make it work.  I should warn you though...if I stay...Revy might stay...or might have to stay.  I’m....unsure of that...” she looks worried again.  

“No one said it would be easy. As for Revy, I guess we’ll have to cross that road when we get there. The two of you must be closer friends than I ever thought.”

Nahja puts her finger to Leon’s lips.  “That’s a topic for another time.  You’re right though...we can handle it when she wakes up. “  She pulls her hand back, “I just need to know if you are truly ready to handle this situation.  I’ll make this work...I’ll join the Empire if I have to, I’ll even make Revy join if it’s the only way...but I need to know for sure...need to know you want me here...”

Leon manages to hold back the surprise of Nahja declaring that she would join the Empire and even make Revy join. Wrapping her in an embrace, he says, “I promise. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make this work. Whatever it takes,” suddenly parched, “even if I have to leave my post.”

Nahja remains in the embrace, enjoying the mutual warmth... “And...?”

“And...I love you.”

Nahja holds Leon tight and smiles, nuzzling herself into his frame.  She then moves him over to the desk, pushes Leon down gently...”Now I can start paying you back for that rescue...and help clean off your desk...”  She smiles.      

“In that case I better lock the door don’t want any unwanted guests,” he says pressing two buttons on the side of the desk. And the blast door closes around the door.

A short while later...enough time for Nahja and Leon to compose themselves...as it were.  

There is...surprise...yet another knock on the door.  Nahja upon hearing the knock, says “Well, I suppose that’s my cue to head back to the infirmary, don’t you think?”

“I guess so. I can see there was a reason I never really used this office,” Leon says giving her a kiss before she leaves. “Come on in.”

Joanna Keyes appears in the doorway.  She glances at Nahja.  They share a nod, and a smile, as Nahja walks towards the door herself.  Joanna waits for Nahja to get close then leans over to her and says softly, though audible, “So you went ahead with it huh...well, don’t lose him then.”  Nahja nods and walks out the door.  Joanna moves in, the door slides closed behind her.  “Hello Leon.  How are things?”

“Things are good Joanna. Though, I’m more suited to a battlefield than dealing with all that is currently going on. Anyhow, I didn’t realize how close you and Nahja are since being captives together.”

“Heh...as you can guess we managed to spend some “quality” time together, as it were.  Though our outlooks on the situation definitely differed.  But...I’ve been thinking about it since I’ve had time to calm down, cool off.” Joanna thinks for a bit.  “I know my father and I are going to have a long discussion.  So...I think I need a little mental preparation.  I also think I owe you an apology.  Got a few minutes?”  

“I got sometime. An apology? That doesn’t sound like the Joanna I knew back on Carida. I guess a lot has changed since those days.”

Joanna nods and takes a seat.  “Thank you.  Yeah... a lot has changed.  The reason I owe you an apology is that I’ve been able to run everything through this thick skull of mine, as it were.  You know...running into you again under the circumstances was very surprising.  I figured you were just there because of my father, but I know there’s more to it than that.  I’m still trying to figure out where I should stand, but what I have decided is that you only did what you thought was right, in both cases.  I should be happy with your more recent choice, especially with all the defending of Allister I’ve done at this point.  But I also realize that’ll you’ll never truly align yourself with him.  Just like that time before, you sacrificed face to achieve a greater purpose in the moment.  So yeah, I can’t really hold that against you anymore.” She stops for a bit.  “In case you are wondering though, I still believe Allister and Creed have some very good points.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing from them in the near future, perhaps what they can help with might not be such a bad thing.  You’ll have to make your own decision on that though.”  She apparently has a lot to say...and seems to want to make you a passive listener for the moment...  “You know...when I was captive I tried to remember my training, prevent myself from becoming a tool of my foe as it were.  And for a while I just resisted on the principle that I should resist.  The problem was that I didn’t really disagree with any of it.  Even now I can think on it, and even if I wanted to say, I need my perspective corrected... I don’t think it would do anything.  It was harder because I wasn’t really forced to take on a supportive role of Allister.  It was something I decided to do one day...and although Nahja wouldn’t accept it, I decided it’s what I must do.  I had already decided that rescue was unlikely as well, but that’s how I had wanted it to be originally.  I didn’t want my father organizing some mass rescue effort for me.  By that point Revy had already failed to rescue us...it wasn’t a pleasant scene.  It was sometime after that that I realized I couldn’t change my view.  Even after everything that had happened, I couldn’t look at my captors as being wrong.  So here I am.  I’ve figured out it’s probably unfair to hate my father...but I still want to show him the problem with some of his thinking.  I guess....I guess that’s most of it.  It’s been a crazy few days.”

“It has been a crazy few days. Even if Allister and Creed have good points, they are still more dangerous to the stability of the Empire than the rebel forces. But I really don’t want to go into that conversation right now.” Leon pauses for a moment. “I’m not sure whether we received the same conduct after capture training, but do you remember the part about the psychological and physiological conditions? I remember how everyone reacts differently to prolonged capture. Some begin to identify with their captors, others break down to the point they are worthless, and still others come to need the beatings and torture be able to feel alive. I don’t know what your political beliefs were before you were shot down, but I believe you would have ever decided to go to war against the Empire.”

“Well then we should start there.  The training should have been the same, though I think stormtroopers get a little extra conditioning over navy pilots.  As you could surmise, my emotional state was already altered by getting shot down, and the initial realization that no rescue was coming, and that I might not survive on the planet much longer.  That being said, I wasn’t angry over it.  I didn’t blame the Empire, I did my job, I messed up, and the situation had gotten out of control.  If I could have I would have made it back eventually on my own.  Instead, Creed found me.  The only thing he wanted to know was who I was, and it didn’t take long for us to start discussing the days back at the academy.  I realized that he too had been left behind on a mission, but that he also seemed to take it in stride, after giving it some thought.  It wasn’t until I tried to leave, that I realized I wouldn’t be able to.  Creed needed me...I guess to get to you Leon, but he didn’t phrase it as such.  He told me the reason behind my being held was to put my father to test.  I admit...that I kind of liked the idea, my father had always been pulling strings or taking some other steps to get me somewhere, instead of letting me stand on my own merits.  He never wanted me to be a fighter pilot though, and as much as he tried to help my career, I’m also certain he prevented me from getting into a TIE training unit.  I didn’t think about being against the Empire until the discussions of weeding out unfit officials.  That got me thinking though, what if units like this exist within the Empire specifically for this purpose?  Or what if I’m just being tested by Imperial Intelligence?  Either way I decided to set my resolve...I won’t act contrary to my understanding of the Emperor’s wishes, and I won’t openly deny my loyalty.” She pauses, “Sorry this is taking a while, but I think it’s important to discuss this.  So I went from there to examining the pros and cons of what they do, and decided that it could indeed be beneficial if it were operated in the right manner...especially so if under the auspices of the Emperor.  From there it was business as usual I guess, Nahja arrived not too long after, and were treated favorably.  Revy was the only one to suffer, but I know it hurt Nahja plenty to know and see it, but it didn’t seem unusual for that to happen.  It wasn’t long after that I learned that you of all people would be leading the next rescue effort, it was then that I volunteered to be the hostess.  It was acknowledged early on that I would likely be returning to Empire proper, though there was the possibility that I could have died.  It’s perhaps that thought that has finally got me thinking about the situation differently.  I was assured that you wouldn’t let me die, and that I shouldn’t worry much about it.  But if you hadn’t...I don’t believe they would have done anything different.  So there you go, that’s a summary I think of the thought process I went through.  The thing left on my mind now is that, with this group having the resources they do, and with Creed and Allister both being force users...how could Imperial Intelligence not know of their existence?  So...even now I feel like there’s something more going on.  Well...what do you think?  Did I break under pressure?  Am I delusioned now and in need of reconditioning?  Or is there something else at work here?  Either way I have no problem with being debriefed or reconditioned and if possible returned to active duty, because I never did intend to fight against the Empire proper.”  A certain feeling of pride can be heard at times in Joanna’s voice whenever she talks about her military career.  

Never met a woman or an officer that couldn’t go on for hours. Guess that means female officers will talk to the end of time. Keeping his facial expression the same after the joke played through his mind, “It’s not my place to determine that. And I don’t know what influence the Admiral has had over your career. But if there is corruption in the Empire the Emperor is sure to know of it. Hell, he is probably using that information to further some grander agenda. And besides what good is having power without using it to bend the rules sometimes? Creed wants control of the Empire. That’s how I see it. And Creed never served the Empire. Cadet Ronald J. Gates served at the Academy where he went missing in action during the Omega Mission. RJ died on that world.”

Creed wanting to take over the Empire...I can’t deny that possibility.  But there’s something that doesn’t match up with everything that happened.  Aren’t Force users born that way?  RJ and Allister...were force users before they ever joined the Empire.  Someone must have known...Vader must have known.  Nothing was done then, or seemingly after it all went down.  It’s obviously something way above our heads though.  So you might be right, it might all be part of the Emperor’s grand agenda.  But how are we supposed to work with that if it is, or isn’t?”

“I recently learned that force users can sense each other. I’m sure Lord Vader and the Emperor knew of his abilities during graduation on Carida. As for Creed...It’s currently speculated that his power or the bulk of his power was bestowed to him by some kind of machine.” Leon sighs, “We work with it by moving in accordance to what we know. I know those two are threats, and I shall move to destroy them.”

“Hmmm, I think I understand more now.  I’m going to leave that at that, I didn’t come here to change your mind on things, more of to try to figure out where I stand before I bump heads with my father.  How do you think I should handle things with my father?  On the one hand, I don’t think I’d even be flying if it weren’t for him...on the other...I don’t like that he controls so much of my life.  Does he really know best?  Is it just the best he can do for me?  Or is it that he doesn’t believe in me either?  I know you haven’t been around him as much as I have...but you’d have a fresher perspective, that’s for sure.”

“I’m probably not the best person to ask about fathers. I met your father once, when he asked if I would take on a SAR mission for you. If he would go through channels like that to recover his daughter then I think he is someone worth listening too. Maybe he did keep you from getting TIEs or maybe he helped you to become a pilot. I don’t know. But if he didn’t want you flying I sure you would have never stepped into a role as a pilot. I definitely believe he is someone to listen too, and heavily weigh his opinions.”

She sighs.  “I guess.....I guess I don’t want to feel like I’m daddy’s little girl...I guess I expected things to be different once I was in the military.  Been trying to do things my way, or make my own decisions.  Other people’s fathers are probably farther away, they don’t have the same reach and influence as mine, I think that’s what makes this life different, or why I’m struggling with that relationship.  Guess I just need to work with it better,  we don’t get to choose everything after all.”  

“You want to make your own decisions... Your decision to join the Navy as a pilot was your own wasn’t it? At least that is what I’m understanding. Seems to me that you do have control over your life, even if your father exercises a little reach over somethings.”

“I just wish I could feel like the reach was little.  At this point who knows where I’ll get assigned, if I get assigned somewhere.  I guess it depends on what I say when I talk with him.  I guess what I really need to figure out right now is what my priorities are, more than anything.  That’s something that might take a me a while.”  She frowns.  “I don’t really have time to figure that out right now though.  I guess I’ll just have to see what happens when I see him again.”

“I can tell you right now where your priorities lie or where your passion is. Your strongest assertions were in your career as a Naval pilot. That is where your priority should be. From there you just need to figure out how everything else falls into place.” Leon pauses for a moment. “Well, that’s a soldier’s opinion anyway.”

“A soldier’s opinoin.  It’s true, being a pilot is the thing that’s most important to me.  I guess ideology and other things don’t much matter so long as I’m flying.  But then...”  she ponders something for a bit then shakes her head, “Either way... I just have to face my father, that has to be easier than being shot at.”

Leon chuckles. “I think I’d choose getting shot at over something like that any day. I know how to deal with people shooting at me that’s easy.”

Joanna sighs. “I guess that’s it then.  It’ll be a test of wills...somebody is going to win, and at this point I don’t know who.  Getting shot at is simpler at least.”  She stands up.  “Thanks Leon,  I think at the very least I’ve narrowed down what I really want to focus on with my father.  And I think I might just try to listen to him...somewhat.  I guess I’ll send you a message and let you know how it goes.  Let’s hope I’m back to flying again soon.”

“Glad I could help even a little.”

Joanna smiles.  “Seriously, thanks.  We’ll meet up again sometime, even if space is a big place.  After all... you’re still supposed to protect me right?” she winks, and heads towards the door, grinning all the while.  

I really shouldn't be looking at her ass right now. It is nice though.

ALLEN’S LAB (6 PM Local)

Autumn has managed to keep herself well distracted for the time being, and hasn’t caused any new troubles or disturbances, though she did make a very highly detailed scale model of a pony out of SpaceDoh.  Some time has passed since Alyssa finished speaking with Leon, apparently spend making arrangements.  She arrives at Allen’s lab to pick up Autumn.  There’s a knock on the door.    

Allen opens the door somewhat half heartedly since he’s not so keen on letting his newest labmember go.

Alyssa peers in.  “I’m here to pick up Autumn, I believe you’ve already been notified of this.  I hope she wasn’t too much trouble for you in here.” She says, calmly.  You can tell this person has been under a lot of stress lately, but she seems to carry it well enough.

“Mind if I talk to you outside for a bit?”  ((I assume they walk outside))  “Truthfully I can’t say I’m happy with this plan.  On one hand, having her stay at the garrison would be dangerous but we can handle ourselves.  Besides, there are a lot of things I can learn from her.  The Empire wants to subjugate all these Force users so there has to be something beyond these electronic and mechanical tricks she’s been doing.”  Allen crosses his arms across his chest.  “But is she really safer with you?”  

“Is she safer with me?  It’s not so much about me.  It’s about the increased knowledge of her existence combined with recent events that have drawn attention to this place.  She is not safer here, I am certain of that.  Is there more to it than what she’s been doing...old books and videos from per-Imperial days seem to suggest so.”  She pauses... “Can you learn from her?  What exactly are you trying to learn?  Everything I’ve ever heard says that such powers are genetic, and rare.  You could probably learn just as much from a little research than keeping a child around as a guinea pig.  It seems obvious to me that you care more about the child as an experiment than you do about her safety.  Is she safer with me indeed.”  She says, resolutely.  

“Okay fine, I admit that I am extremely interested in her ability and that curiosity may be greater than her and even my safety.  Where are you taking her and if need be, how can I get in contact?”

“Where I’m taking her is a secret, known only to a few.  Given the circumstances however, I do appreciate being given the chance to leave like this.  I may be able to give you an avenue of contact, but I need to discuss it first.  Otherwise, I’m pretty sure I could get in contact with you in the future.  Would that suffice?”

“It seems like you know what you’re doing and I trust that you can keep her safe.  But trust is a two-way street, pardon my cliche, so I would greatly prefer if I was able to contact you.  Go discuss this with whoever but I hope to hear about it soon.”

“I won’t be leaving immediately, just Autumn.  So I should have plenty of time to come up with a contact method.  I already said I owe you guys, so I don’t really plan to burn that bridge.  I can only control what I can control though, so if I don’t immediately find a good contact method, I’ll have to come up with my own, which will naturally take longer.  If you have any suggestions on that, let me know, that would speed up the process if my current plan gets turned down.”

“Okay great.  I’ll think about a plan to contact you.  I have some resources at my disposal for that sort of thing.  If that’s it I’ll let you take Autumn then as much as I hate to do it.”  Allen pauses and seems conflicted.  “I do have one thing to contribute.” After digging into one of the many pockets on his jumpsuit, Allen pulls out Yari’s lightsaber.  “This belonged to a Jedi who we fought once then saved our lives later.  I’ve been using it as a cutting tool but it’s not really that much better than a plasma torch designed for that machine back there.”  Allen gestures to the hulking CNC table in the back.  “I’ll give it to you then and perhaps when Autumn is old enough...”

Alyssa stares at the weapon for a bit.  “Thanks.  I don’t know if she will ever learn to use it...that kind of information, or those kinds of people are hard to come by.  But I’m sure it would help her be closer to her mother.  Who knows... it’s a big galaxy after all.”  She takes the lightsaber.  “Okay...I will be in touch.  Shall I get Autumn now?”  She says, glancing at the door once more.

   

“Mother?  I thought she was an orphan?”

“An orphan yes,  but she has nothing of her mother’s with her, there wasn’t enough time.  Her mother would have had a weapon like this...before the incident.  Maybe she has a deeper understanding of things like that, and could remember more of her mother just by having such a thing around...if nothing else.  Or perhaps just to help her connect to that past.  Does that make sense?”

Already lost in thought, Allen mumbles, “Could this be hereditary?”  “Ah, yes that makes sense and sure lets get Autumn now shall we?  Do you mind if I get a DNA sample before you two go?”

Alyssa thinks for a moment.  “Okay...I’ll risk it.  Let’s do that then she’ll be on her way.”  

After returning to the room, Allen walks up to Autumn with a cotton swab in his hands.  “Autumn, say ‘Ahh’”.

Alyssa nods to Autumn cooperates...to the extent that a young girl cooperates with such things.  But after perhaps two tries a proper sample is obtained.  “Time for us to get going Autumn, did you have fun here?”  Autumn nods, and then remembers the SpaceDoh and picks it up to return it to Allen.

Allen pushes it back into Autumn’s hands.  “It’s a present.  I don’t have any panels to clean currently anyways.”  Allen pats her head.  “For a kid, you’re not so bad.  Have fun with Alyssa then.”  Allen waves as they leave the workshop and thinks to himself, “Apparently kids like cleaning supplies.  I’ll have to remember that for the next time I find myself in this situation again...”

THE SCENE AT THE BAR (10 PM local):

--Later that evening.  You walk into the bar, The Rusty Nail.  A quick scan of the place allows you to determine very quickly that one person really doesn’t fit in.  Most of the patrons are older men, with a few younger guys and girls hanging about.  In the corner, you see a young looking, red headed woman.  Her clothing does not generally match the other patrons, nor is it anything that you’ve commonly seen.  She looks completely out of place, but it seems as though no one has bothered her about it.  She does not appear to be armed, though from a distance you cannot be certain.  She looks like this:   

“Well, she looks very much out of place. I think we should talk with her.” Leon starts heading toward the red headed woman in the corner.

“Sure, that’s a decent place to start.”  

As you both head towards the table, she takes notice of you, and watches as you approach, but says nothing nor makes any gestures.

Sitting down and saying with a grin, “Evening. Expecting anyone in particular tonight?”

She looks at Leon, “Good evening Mr. Murphy, I see you decided to accompany Mr. Ragdos this evening.” She then nods to Gavin.  “I’m glad you could make it, I didn’t have too much trouble finding this place after all, and the locals have all been quite nice...or so.”

“It’s Corporal Ragdos, actually, as I’m sure you saw knocking around somewhere when you were touring my brain.”

“You can just call me Leon. No need for formalities here.”

Looking at Leon, “You know, I suppose it’s good of you to join your...comrade here, but it seems you two don’t agree on how to handle this situation.  But that’s okay, there’s a reason I chose the Corporal here.  And admittedly, I don’t find it odd that he’s upset over my poking around in his head, but it was the best way to communicate with someone I’ve never met, at the time.  I’d have avoided the thought reading if I had the capability to do so.”  She says, calmly.

“And how exactly did you come by this “capability” in the first place?  It’s the first I’ve heard of people getting their minds read.”

“To put it simply, you wouldn’t have.  We don’t originate from the same dimension, after all.”  

Gavin stares at her.  “Your... dimension.  Does it have a zombie problem?”

“I never did like that place. Too many things trying to kill me at once.”

“At some point in its history, I believe so.  Actually no, I think they are still around, but it’s isolated enough that I don’t think anyone is too worried about it at the moment.  It’s okay though, if I were worried about it, I’d probably try to do something about it, I suppose.  But all in all, it doesn’t concern me at the moment...does it concern you?”  She asks, definitely directed at Gavin.

 

“I haven’t lost any sleep over it.  Honestly, I don’t think I know enough about the situation to be concerned, as long as they stay out of our dimension.”

“Only if someone thought they were useful in this dimension and willingly brought them, but even that would be difficult, after all, they are zombies.  But the militaries of the world have that area fairly well quarantined.  They just can’t wipe it out because of the proximity of urban areas to the exclusion zone.  On top of that the existing radiation makes any normal military operation troublesome.”

“Radiation?” Gavin looks vaguely worried.  “Hm.  Wish I had known about that.  So, is telepathy common in the zombie dimension?”

“No, it’s not very common.  I suppose we will be on that topic for some time, but that’s okay.  As I said, I will make it up to you somehow, and I don’t intend to actually do that again, once was enough I think.”

“Well, I’ll have to take you on your word on that.  I suppose we should move on to why you wanted to see me in the first place.”

She takes a deep breath, and then exhales.  “I suppose this isn’t going to be easy, since we already had trouble with the high level telepathy.  So I suppose some context would best serve us at the moment, perhaps you’d like to know why I came to you?”

“Sure, we can start there.”

“Here goes nothing.  I actually noticed an interesting source of energy that appeared on a few occasions in the aforementioned exclusion zone.  That, as opposed to the brainless braineaters, was of some concern to me.  It took some time but I finally tracked down the device that I assume helped bring your unit to my world.  A little bit of scrying on my part allowed me to learn of what had been going on in the place, including the existence of Creed, Dr. Miller, and your group.  I also found the machine which empowered Creed, which was one of the energy surges that I was hoping to investigate.  Considering the outcome when Creed used it, I realized that I should not use it.  I decided to look into the others who were involved.  So...though not entirely perfect, I decided to look into some....future possibilities, as it were, of the rest of you.  From there I concluded that the one Gavin Ragdos had a destiny that was...well...probably for the best.  Though the funny thing about destiny is that it’s always changing.  So I decided that if I liked one destiny over another, I should give that one a nudge.  And so... I decided that, you, Corporal, would be able to use the machine without detriment to the future of all dimensions, and could then stop Creed.....and perhaps go beyond that.  So I have decided to aid you, so long as you seek that.  If you do not, then I suppose I shall have to continue my search.”  She stops, as if out of breath, and pauses for responses.

“Well, that does help to solve some of our problems with defeating Creed. I was informed sometime ago that someone pure of heart or some crap like that would be best to gain powers similar to Creed. If that person is Gavin the the search doesn’t have to happen...” Leon trails off.

Gavin raises an eyebrow at Rias skeptically.  “Destiny, you say?”

“And...if not Creed, then consider that chances are very good for an invasion of your known galaxy.  In...maybe twenty years?  Several planets will be rendered uninhabitable...Deet-Roit is one of them.  You could possibly stop that...”

“And how do you know all this, exactly?  I mean, you show up and tell me my home planet is going to be destroyed in 20 years if I don’t do what you want me to?  You’ll forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical.”

“Worry not, I’ll forgive you that.  After all, I can’t be completely certain, time is a fickle thing.  Too many variables and factors.  

“You’re being awfully evasive.”

“So you want to know if I can see into the future, or how....I’m guessing?  Well if you already know that I have telepathy, then you know I must have powers of some sort.  And I do, though how and where I can use them is based on many factors.  I have found that in this dimension some of my powers are stronger, others are weaker.  So, I’m working with the cards that I’m dealt.”  She thinks for a minute... “In general, I use these powers in the service of those who want them, in exchange for something that befits the service granted.  However, this is a special case.  I’m not asking for anything in return, I just want to aid you in gaining that power.  You still have a decent amount of time, and as a sign of good faith I will help you until such time as decide you might do so.  But if you do decide against it completely, then I shall seek elsewhere, as I have said.  In the short-term though, I wouldn’t mind actually getting to know you, or your comrades.  I actually didn’t read nearly as much of your mind as you seem to believe.”  She does seem to smile a bit after that, a definite break from the serious face she’s had up to this point.

Gavin turns to Leon.  “Well, Murphy.  You’re much more up on all this nonsense with Creed than I am.  What do you think?”

“I say we listen to her. Allen did say that Dr. Miller, at least I think it was Miller, his old professor, said that to defeat Creed we would need someone to take on powers very similar to Creed. Someone who wouldn’t become tainted by the power. Rias, what you propose is very tempting. I do want to see that man die and his lieutenant, Allister. However, Gavin, I won’t order you take on those powers. That is something you have to decide upon.”

“Well, I won’t say it’s not tempting--assuming this thing actually works.  I wasn’t there for all this, so I’m having to go by hearsay.  It’s a little disconcerting.”

“I’m sure if it was me I would be a little disconcerted. Why don’t we seal this agreement with a drink? Imperial Slammers for everyone?”

“I wouldn’t say that sealing the deal now is necessary.  I have a feeling that he needs more time.  I’m willing to give that time, and more.  If that’s okay.” She pauses, “I suppose drinks would be nice, but again, the call on sealing any deals is up to Corporal Ragdos.”  

“Yes, I didn’t mean to imply that it wasn’t his decision.” Leon, turns around and motions a waitress over to order drinks.

“Well, I’m definitely not ready to seal any deals.  But I’m willing to consider it.  Willing to drink to that, Murphy?”

“Sounds excellent to me.”

The drinks arrive in a timely fashion. Perhaps an evening full of revelry will commence...or perhaps not.  But the first drinks have arrived!  Rias raises her glass in anticipation.  “Shall we?”

“To new friendships!”

Gavin grunts and raises his glass.

Everyone drinks, and it might be added, the drinks at the bar are surprisingly good.  Perhaps how a bar named the Rusty Nail still has patrons.  Rias looks over to Gavin.  “So...are you opposed to a few drinks and perhaps us all getting better acquainted this evening?  The night is still young.” She smiles.

“Why not?”

“Sounds good.  Now...you’re probably very interested in knowing why it is that I have powers.  That situation is a bit more complicated now that I’m here in this dimension.  In my own dimension...” She pauses, obviously struggling over what she should say.  “To provide a better idea by what I mean by providing services in exchange for something, In my dimension I’m known as a devil.  However...here...I’m not constrained by those things that require me to fulfill my role, as it were.  Normally I work with people in terms of a contract, but in this case I am not seeking a contract.  As I said, I don’t expect anything in return in exchange for the use of my abilities, the information I can provide, or even my companionship as it were.  So...I don’t know what significance “devil” has in your language...but I can explain further if you need it.  And by this point you perhaps realize that I’ve given up perhaps the most important bit of information.  Because, after all, I do believe in you.”

“I thought that devils were just a myth.  Then again, I used to think the same thing about mind-reading, zombies, and... other magic powers...”

“I think I need another drink now. Powers are one thing, a thing out of myth another.”

“Hey...what’s a devil after all of those other things?  I’d say you guys have had a very interesting time.  If there’s anything else you wanted to know, I don’t really mind talking about it.  But I think all this seriousness could be put aside for the evening, to be worried about later.”  She pauses for a moment, “Oh right...I suppose I should find a place to stay here.  Any vacancies?  And if you wanted me to stay with you....Corporal Ragdos, then that’s fine.”  It sounds like she’s finally somewhat tired of saying Corporal all the time, but she’s mostly holding it together.  

Gavin pretends not to notice her somewhat blunt advance.  “Well, we do have an entire garrison to ourselves.  I’m sure we have a spare bunk somewhere.  And I suppose if you’re going to be spending some time together...”  he extends a hand.  “You can call me Gavin.”

She takes his hand, and smiles, “Gavin, I rather like the name.  I’m glad to hear that you do want to spend that time together.”  She relaxes more now.  “So...a few more drinks...then head to your garrison?”

“Works for me.”

A dark bar at night, the 1st Lieutenant almost didn't need the cloaking device but he used it anyway. Stole a drink from one of the patrons that passed out awhile ago and watched and listened in on the conversation from a dark corner till they left. He followed cautiously till they were a block from the garrison. He went ahead of them and made sure to be in his room before they came in. In to bed after a short read, he'd think about his next move in the morning.

BEFORE SUNRISE, THE NEXT DAY:

The 1st Lieutenant awoke before the alarm. While everyone else was still asleep he slipped into the garrison's shower room. When he entered the small changing room that preceded the actual shower area, Razor was surprised to find that someone was already using one of the shower heads. A quick peak and he knew it wasn't one of the stormtroopers. The red hair and shapely figure gave that away.

The red hair and shapely figure belonged to none other than Rias Gremory.  She doesn’t seem to notice that Razor has spied her.  

A quick scan into the single open room of the shower and Razor knew she was alone. He quietly removed his own clothes, took his bar of soap, and his straight razor for shaving and entered into the shower silently.

Rias takes no notice as Razor enters the shower.  She seems to be quite relaxed, enjoying this extremely early morning shower.

Seeing no response from her, the commando decides that he might as well make himself known and see how she reacts. He steps up to shower beside her and speaking over the rain of the water says "Good morning, unknown woman using an imperial stormtrooper shower." He twists the knob on the wall and the shower starts up for him. Concealing the closed up straight razor in his palm that holds the soap, he begins washing his body. Straight faced he continues "Who are you?"

She turns to look at Razor. She glances over him quickly, then closes her eyes for a moment. "Hmmm....last night. I might not be entirely unknown to you, you were at the bar weren't you? Though, I don't recognize your face or your voice...curious. If you happened to overhear those events, then you already know what you need to know. If not, then we shall say that I am an acquaintance of Gavin. Sergeant Murphy, who seems to be in charge around here, allowed me to stay. But for a formal introduction, I'm Rias Gremory, and I'll be working with Corporal Ragdos for the time being. Is that helpful?"

As she talks and he washes his physically fit yet war marked body, the commando keeps her at the very least in the corner of his eye watching for any hostile action. The response she gives, whether it was meant to stir him up a response in him or not, didn't phase him since he already knew of her telepathic powers mentioned the night before. "Yes it was me, and it's amusing that you don't recognize my face since most of the galaxy does. You must be real far from home girl." He pauses before adding "Yes that was helpful."

She smiles. "Good to hear that it's helpful, sorry if I startled you by being here, but I can see that your priorities in that matter are commendable. Yes, I'm quite far from home, perhaps we can discuss that more in the future." She thinks for a bit. "Are you a celebrity or something? Seems strange for a military type to be famous otherwise....or perhaps a very high ranking general?" She considers you for a few moments longer..."Although...something is odd about your aura. You...are human...but...not human....any idea why that might be?"’

The last statement made the old soldier stop and for a moment. He just stared at the wall as the water fell down heavy on his head. For a moment he's not a soldier as he replies, "I wonder that myself sometimes." He turns to look at her "So you see auras you say? Can you see a soul?"

"Auras can reflect the presence of a soul. All living things have auras, as do all spirits. I'm not quite sure to what extent this applies to this universe, but I still see auras without trouble, so I assume it works at least similarly. As I said auras can reflect the presence of a soul, there are certain characteristics unique to each living thing. However, under normal circumstances I have to perform a magic ritual if I want to know more about a soul..." she pauses, "which I suppose the same ritual could tell me if someone did or did not have a soul. Though I must admit I'm not sure how such a thing would work in this universe. The other more definitive option would be to enter into a contract...but I don't recommend that at the moment. But yes, returning to what I think triggered this, there is something different about your aura than that of a typical human your age, but I would say it seems to have some signs that would reflect a soul. Sorry...it's not a simple topic, but does that answer your question?" She smiles softly, feeling that Razor might be troubled.  

After the girl had finished speaking, the clone held her gaze for a few seconds longer, studying her. He turned away and went back to cleaning himself. "We may talk about this later. I have the impression that you plan to stay for awhile."

She nods. "Indeed. Perhaps we should do that. For now though, I'll hurry up and finish here before someone walks in that's less composed around the opposite sex."

"You mean someone who doesn't recognize a potential weapon when he sees it and has the will to guard against it." the soldier said matter-factly. He was also nearing the end of his own wash, having built the habit of a quick shower years ago. "One more thing before you go. About what you said last night about seeing the possible future. You gave your assessment of Gavin last night. What of the Sergeant?"

She grins at the weapon comment, but turns serious after that. "Sergeant Murphy...it's hard to read his fate. It's troubled, that's for certain. It seems he has a lot of tough choices ahead of him, and it already feels like he's made several tough choice. Many of the possible paths lead to his destruction, but not all. However as I said, fate is a fickle thing, too many variables." She turns off her shower, and heads towards the towel rack. "I'll see you again soon I'm sure. Hopefully we can get along, as I wish to get along with all of Gavin's comrades so long as he and I will be working together. You are free of course to form your own opinions about me. I won't hold them against you unless you try to go against me. I normally wouldn't tell people that, but I feel like you appreciate the subtle understanding of such a comment more than most. Let's have a good day." She smiles and scoops up her towel, drying herself a bit before wrapping it around herself.

Razor keeps her in his sights as she goes to the towel rack. After she finishes speaking, the commando replies "My stance toward you is the same. Good day." He waits for her to leave first before drying off himself. He changes and leaves the room a few minutes later.  

Rias left the showers with a strange feeling weighing on her mind.  How could a such a stoic military man have such a concern with his soul? She stopped in the hall for a moment.  What is a soul to the people of this universe? That soldier’s soul was like the soul of someone raised from the dead and put in to the service of a devil...but how does that even make sense in this world?  If I bound a contract with him, it would become more clear, but, that is something I cannot do.  She blinks, and looks around her, she’s still alone in the hallway.  “Life here won’t be boring, that’s for sure,” she says to herself as she continues on her way, time to find Gavin, I need to know where I should be going from here, need to learn more about him, and the others here so I don’t have too many more surprises.  She nods resolutely and heads towards Gavin’s quarters.

   

The high-pitched beep of Gavin’s alarm pierces the quiet dawn.  He groans, and hits the snooze button.

One minute and 36 seconds later, he gets up anyway and switches off the alarm before it can go off again.  He stumbles out of bed and heads towards the closet, grabbing clothes, toiletries, and a shower cap, then leaves his room on the way to the showers.

Rias and Gavin’s paths cross, not too far from Gavin’s quarters.  Rias’ hair is still down and damp from her shower.  She looks up to see Gavin approaching, smiles, and greets him.  “Good morning Gavin, I was looking for you.  Heading for a shower?”

Gavin nods stiffly.  “I see you found the showers already.  I guess it’s good you managed to get one early.  I hadn’t thought about the difficulties of having a garrison built for one gender.”  It’s almost an apology for the inconvenience... almost.

She laughs.  “Yeah...my plan almost worked.  But I’m not the only early riser.  Got to meet one of the other soldiers.  We had a nice little chat I think.  I’m pretty sure he was the one known as Razor.  You know he was there at the bar last night?  I couldn’t piece it together until this morning.  So yeah...I was looking for you because I figured we’d have plenty to discuss.  Should I wait for you somewhere?  Or just tag along for now?”  She asks.      

“Razor was there?  Hm.  That might lead to an awkward conversation... I’m pretty sure he’s technically the ranking trooper here, so I really should have gone to him rather than Leon in the first place... as far as regulations go, anyway.  Was he listening in on us?”

“Yes he listened in on us, though I never saw him or heard him speak...he must be quite good at that.  But I know he was there, and he knew things that he would only know if he were.  But...if I had to say anything about it.  I don’t think we have to fear him for the moment.  I’m fairly certain that if he didn’t at least want to see where things would go, he would have tried to take me prisoner or something.  He showed me enough courtesy I think out of trusting your decision for the time being.  If that makes any sense.”

“C'est la vie.  If he wants to take me to task over it... I’ll just have to burn that bridge when I come to it.  The thought of consulting him honestly never even occurred to me.  We’ve barely been introduced.

“Anyway, you’re damn right we have plenty to discuss.  However, I need to freshen up first.  Meet me at the mess hall in 25 minutes.”

“Okay, see you there.” she smiles, and then heads off in the direction of her temporary quarters.

Gavin does not smile and continues to his destination, where he takes a 15-minute shower, and makes himself look presentable for duty.  Once finished, he heads to the mess hall for some breakfast.

Something LIKE EXACTLY 25 minutes later...in the mess hall.

As per Gavin’s instructions, Rias is waiting in the mess hall.  She is sitting at a table quietly.  As it’s relatively early yet, and with the absence of Chef Matthew, the mess hall is pretty empty at this time.  From time to time, she glances around the room, as if looking for something.  

   

Gavin walks in and passes Riasu, heading toward the nearest multiprocessor.  “I see you found the mess hall.  Didn’t get lost, I hope?” he asks, wondering just how well she knows the layout of the base.  He starts typing on the keypad of the food preparation device, and it soon dispenses three pancakes, six sausage links, a serving of eggs, a side of syrup, and a cup of instant black caf.

“Didn’t get too lost.  I spent some time last night finding my way around a bit.  I haven’t completely translated the writing system yet though.  But I’ve been working on it since I’ve been on this side of the portal.”  Rias looks down at the food.  “How does that thing work?  I’m a little hungry myself.  I’m not quite used to computers in this universe yet.”

Gavin gives her a brief rundown of how to use the device.  “Of course, that won’t help much if you can’t read what it says on the screen and keyboard.  So, our spoken language is the same in both universes, but not the written language?  How does that work?” Gavin asks.  As he speaks, he starts putting eggs and sausage into the middle of each pancake, then rolling them up into a tube.  He then picks them up, dips them in the syrup, and starts eating them quickly.

“Yeah I don’t know how that works, the language thing anyway, but thankfully I’m pretty good at translating things.  Was kind of necessary for the work of a devil, after all.”  She pokes around on the computer.  After some tinkering, and a small amount of frustration, she managed to dispense a few donuts, and a coffee drink of some kind.  “This looks edible enough.”  she says, as she returns to the table.  “Maybe with some practice I can get food that’s more like home.” she bites into one of the donuts, “Hmmm, not bad.  I have a feeling that our universes share a lot of similarities, well, I mean they obviously do...but I wonder why.  Maybe that’s something to discover later on.”  She pauses for a bit, takes another bite, then looks up at Gavin again.  “So...your thoughts so far on me being here?”

Gavin keeps one eye on the clock while talking, making sure that he doesn’t lose track of time and end up reporting late to Leon for his day’s assignment.  “You want my thoughts, huh?  Well then, I'm going to be frank.  I don't trust you.  You're far too eager for my help-- and far too eager to give the impression that you'd do anything to receive it.  The whole thing is... unsettling.”

“You’ve known that all along though.  I understand it’s going to take a long time for you to trust me.  That being said I’m fairly certain you can discern for yourself why I want you to gain this power, and why I’m offering so much to move you along that path.  If you must hear it from me, that’s fine too, though if you don’t trust me, I doubt it makes too much difference.  Either way you’ve put up with me this long despite all that.  So despite the alarms I’ve set off...you’re still interested, aren’t you?”

“‘Interested’ is a fair word to use, I suppose.  There’s been lots of... ‘interesting’ things going on in my life recently.  You’re only one of them.  Still, a dimension hopping, mind-reading devil is hard to ignore.  Let’s start with a few questions.  First of all, what do you know about Creed and Dr. Miller?”

“Not as much as you might think, psychometry has its limits.  From what I can gather though, Dr. Miller was an unfortunate player in all of this.  He accidentally created the first portal.  He found himself in an area known in my world as Chernobyl, Ukraine, on the planet Earth.  He was alone in a building when he discovered the machine that is now our primary topic.  He was analyzing that machine, when his portal malfunctioned.  It was that malfunction that likely opened temporary portals.  Through one such portal, the man known as Creed arrived.  As far as I could tell he didn’t arrive alone...he actually visited Dr. Miller with several of those...undead things, as escorts.  When he entered the room, he was able to activate the machine....it was as if it were intuition, like he just know what to do and how to do it...but had never done it before. That was the beginning of his transformation.  He had Dr. Miller locked away for several days...until Creed had learned all he needed from both the portal and the machines in the room.  Then he left, leaving Dr. Miller behind.  Anytime I viewed events involving Creed, I felt cold....the evil, the darkness....lingered for long after the events took place.”  she stops, breathes a moment.  “That’s about it...more or less.  That’s pieced together from images, sounds, and feelings, impressions, if you will, of the events that took place in that spot.”

“Wait... you say Creed arrived in your world via a portal, with an escort of zombies?  But I thought the zombies were FROM your world?”

“Sorry... I assumed he must have come from a portal, because he wasn’t from my world.  That much I could ascertain from bits and pieces of the conversation he had with Dr. Miller.  He entered the building with the zombies in tow.  Since I’m not exactly sure on the timing of all these events, I assume Creed had been there awhile, long enough to gain control of zombies, before ever confronting Miller.  Your group travelled through a similar portal to my world as well.  You were in the area, but I assume you never located the lab.  Although later on, a few of you did find it.”

“So, this machine.  Do you have any idea who built it?  Or why?  ...or how?  Is this kind of technology commonplace in your world?”

“I’m sorry.  I don’t know the answers to any of those questions.  Well....except the last.  It is absolutely not common.  Whenever it was built, it was beyond the reach of what I could see.  Events surrounding it not long before the arrival of Dr. Miller were clouded as it was.  Something very strange happened in that area.  The only thought I have is that there could be a connection between that and the nuclear disaster, but even that hardly answers the questions.”

“Hmm.  Moving on, then.  I’m a little perplexed as to why you’ve latched onto me, out of all people.  Were you aware that out of all of my squad, Razor excluded, I've had the least contact with Creed, and possess the least amount of knowledge about him, his powers, and his plan?”

“Perhaps that’s part of the appeal.  That you’ve given such serious consideration, and are trying to find the answers as best as you can.  That it concerns you, perhaps that’s important.  I think it also has a lot to do with ambition, ambition and conviction.  As I said before, you seemed to be the best case scenario.  I think the others...would rationalize the use of such powers too quickly.  Such a thing would be very dangerous.”

“And just what would those powers consist of, anyway?”

“Well...that’s something I’m struggling with a bit.  The machine seems so foreign to my world, I almost wonder if it came from your world.  The powers were great enough that I was able to sense the ripples of it after Creed had used the machine.  It nagged me for a while before I finally pinpointed the source and decided to investigate.  As best as I can surmise, the powers would likely consist of power over physical and spiritual things, and can feed on the power of emotions.  I believe that your group was already aware that Creed had powers, but you only received a limited demonstration.  I do not know what the limits of the power might be, but as far as I could tell, they can increase over time.  Though what governs that growth, I do not know.  If I were to meet Creed now... I could get much more accurate information on his powers.  Everything I know now is from residual auras and other evidence.”

“Uh...huh.  That’s rather vague.  Tell me, are you aware of something we have here in my dimension--something called ‘the force’?”

“Is that what you call it?  I’m acutely aware of it.  My own powers have mingled with it, and I’ve been able to draw upon it as a source for magic.  It’s very similar to the spiritual energies of my world, yet its not the same either.  Which is more reason for me to believe that the machine is from your world.  I believe it harnesses that power to some extent.  Really...ever since the portals were first opened, I believe the spiritual threads of energy between both worlds have slowly begun to mix.  I have no idea what that means for the future.  That does frighten me...just a little.  Not knowing something like that, something on that grand of a scale.”  the worry is evident in her facial expression at this point.  It breaks the very serious and unchanging demeanor up to this point.

“So, you’re in the dark on some big important issue.  Welcome to my world.  What you’re telling me is that this machine grants force powers, and so you think it’s from this world, is that correct?”

“Force powers of a unique and powerful fashion.  I think that would best describe it for the time being.  So...correct then.”

“Okay.  I suppose that makes sense.  So, you mentioned yesterday that it would be a bad idea for you to use this machine.  Why should I use it, when you won’t?  For that matter, why would you need to?  You seem powerful enough already.”

“I believe it’s a bad idea for me to use it...because my instincts told me as much.  And by instincts, I mean my native spiritual energies...the feeling I got....was that...the very nature of my powers and the nature of the powers of the machine were incompatible.  That the result would be destruction...on a level that I would be unable to recover from.  But Creed wasn’t from my world, and was certainly not a devil.  The case is the same for you, you don’t have powers that would collide improperly.  I suppose that’s not entirely encouraging either...but I’m fairly certain that such an effect would only happen to my kind specifically.  You, on the other hand, are a blank slate which it can write on.  As far as why I would need to...as I said, this power grows...in a fashion that possibly has no limits.  I’m fairly certain that Creed either already can, or in the near future, destroy me.  If you were to gain those powers, the case would be the same.  You would be able to destroy me.”

 Gavin raises an eyebrow.  “Would I have a reason to want to destroy you?”

“I should certainly hope not.  Considering I’d be likely helpless to prevent my own destruction at that point, giving you a reason is the last thing I’d want.  Really...I’m betting this whole thing on the idea that you won’t want to destroy me.”

“I see.  Okay, at the time, you also mentioned an invasion of my galaxy.  An invasion by who?  Creed?”

“No...something from outside, something unknown, something alien.  I can’t really give you much detail about the invaders.  They destroy, almost senselessly, and the galaxy is filled with suffering.  Emotions and feelings are more readily discernible than other things when looking in to the future, but they are also... unreliable in that sense.

Gavin raises an eyebrow yet again.  “You can’t give me many details... except that they’ll destroy my particular homeworld.  How does THAT work?”

“Simple.  Remember how I said it’s tied to emotions...well whose future do you think I was trying to read at the time?  I’m thinking the destruction of your homeworld would prompt a strong emotional response.  Am I wrong?”

Gavin scowls.  “You’re not wrong.  It just seems awfully convenient, is all.  So, I take it an invasion like this has happened before?”

“Not that I know of...not on that scale.  It’s not that your planet is singled-out for destruction.  It’s the sheer number of worlds that will be ravaged.  The amount of suffering...unparalleled.  Whoever this invader is...they are the most dangerous anyone has ever faced.”

“What do they have to do with Creed?”

“Nothing.  Though someone as powerful as Creed would be in twenty years...could probably stop them.”

“And you don’t think he’s likely to do so.”

“Perhaps...perhaps after he’s recruited them for a personal army.  I’m assuming by that point he’ll have taken over this galaxy...and will want to expand his horizons a bit.  I suppose I’m just guessing at that point.  But know this... Creed is evil, and it’s not too hard to figure it out.  He’s evil on a level that I even think it’s a bit too much.  Imagine that if the power is related to emotions, that evil feelings were rendered even more powerful.  It’s obvious his intelligence and other feelings haven’t been removed either, or else he’d just be a being of chaos and evil.  No...he’s up to something else instead for the time being.  Probably trying to grow his power safely, until such time as he fears nothing.”

“Hm.  Yes, I suppose I got that impression.  All right... you mentioned before that you make ‘contracts’ with people.  Can you elaborate on that?”

“Yes, I can, and I can actually be detailed.  Contracts in my world are basically an exchange of services.  As a devil I can provide services that normal denizens of my world cannot.  My magical powers probably hint to that, as magic is not common in my world.  In exchange people give a portion or all of their spiritual energy to me, or whatever devil they made a contract with.  That energy is collected upon death.  That of course prevents their spirit from living on after their body is destroyed...so it in essence shortens your existence.  But I suppose for some people it is worth it.  Now...since energies are different in this world, I’m not quite sure yet if I can even make contracts with people here, though I have feeling the effect might be similar, since the force, as you call it, is in everything, so I assume I could absorb it in exchange for services just as well as the spiritual energy in my world.  However I think the force varies more greatly in how it touches people, so that I think the energy within people disperses more quickly following death.  So I’m not sure what effect that would have on the process.  Make sense?”

Gavin frowns.  “So, in your world... if someone doesn’t make such a contract... what happens to this “energy” when they die?”

“That depends on how you’ve aligned yourself.  The spirit world in my world is divided, with spirits of good, evil, and in between.  The differences are....actually sometimes hard to see.  The good spirits would really be better described as the first spirits.  The evil spirits are really the first group to disagree with how things were run in the spirit world.  War broke out...and the evil spirits lost most of the early battles, and fled.  Since that time there’s a...not so much a truce, but a cease-fire of sorts.  The damage from wars such as that is great, and mutual destruction was a very real possibility.  As I said however, there is an in between, those are spirits that leave one faction or another, and prefer to be on their own.  Since they generally interfere with one side or another, they are fair game for destruction.  So each faction is out to gain spirit power.  So the spirits of the dead tend to join with one of these factions, in one way or another.  We devils cannot freely bring spirits into our fold, it’s generally easier for us to just consume them, but it severely limits our numbers.  Each individual tends to become powerful however.  As you might expect, the “good” faction is the opposite, they gain many spirits, and through their numbers they have a power great enough to keep us from going to war.  I hope that covers it.”  She thinks for a moment, and then asks Gavin a question, “Do you think I’m evil?”  She starts focusing a bit more on her breakfast that had been sitting there for a bit now.  

Gavin blinks and jerks his head backwards in surprise at the unexpected question.  “That’s a... hard thing to answer.  I have to admit, I’m not much of a philosopher... but I find the concepts of “good” and “evil” to be a bit iffy... especially when applied to people, rather than actions.  It’s possible for a good person to do bad things... or for someone to do “evil” things for what they think of as a “good” reason.  I mean... nobody really thinks of themselves as “evil,” right?  Evil is always the other guy.”

She looks a bit surprised by the answer, and smiles.  “So, it sounds like you just want to judge my actions.  That certainly puts me on a better footing here...at least.  Perhaps that’s why fate seems to like you, for the moment.”  She finishes off another donut.  “I said I wanted to get to know you, but I realize that I won’t get very far until you’ve decided to trust me, or decided that you know enough about me to feel safer.  So I guess if you don’t necessarily think I’m evil, then let’s keep working on what you actually think of me.  I feel like you can at least tell I’ve been pretty upfront about all this devil stuff.  Right?”

Gavin frowns.  “Sure.  Almost... off-puttingly upfront.  You actually seem a bit too earnest to be believed.  Take this whole thing with Creed, and the machine... Why do you really want me to gain these powers and fight Creed?  It seems like it's very important to you.  I sense something beyond merely good intentions, or the desire to prevent disaster.  Something... personal.  What do you stand to gain if I go through with this?”

“So...are you sure you want me to be upfront about that, I mean, you seem to think being too upfront is a bit suspicious.  I’ve been thinking you should have figured motives out already.  You’re asking the right questions anyway, obviously I want something and want you to help me get it.  But...of course I need to be upfront about it.  Your problem with me being upfront doesn’t stem from a desire for blissful ignorance, but rather a fear that I just happen to be...a con-man of excellent quality, as it were.  Ready to tell all truths that I must but able to find just the right truth to omit to get everything I want.  Something like that yes?”

“Pretty much exactly that, yeah.  Took the words right out of my mouth.”

“Well then.  I’ll let your own analysis of my motives guide you.  I already said I can’t gain that power myself directly, whether you believed that or not.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t want the power for myself.  There’s a lot I could do with that power available.  The simplest is that I could forever secure the prestige and safety of my clan.  The most complex...is that if that power could challenge the greatest spiritual powers of my world, then the entire balance could be undone.  Devils wouldn’t have to be in a constant state of near war...fearing for own survival.  Perhaps the supreme spiritual entity would no longer be able to sit and watch things without taking a real interest in actually bringing some sort of change.  The thing is...if a devil truly gained that power...there would be no doubt on anyone’s mind that peace or harmony wouldn’t be their goal.  The factions would immediately go to war seeking to destroy the holder of that power because everyone would share that same fear.  But you...you are an entity of a completely different universe.  You are someone who would bring new perspective.  Though...” she stops.  “That’s just wishful thinking.  I want power enough to change my world to the point that I would take great risk to obtain it.  I found that power...but it sits there, out of my reach.  So the only recourse would be to find someone else.  I’d need an ally, but I’d need a special ally.  Power wouldn’t be able to keep the alliance because eventually your power would far exceed my own.  So...I needed to find someone to form a genuine alliance with who would choose to continue it of their own free will.  Someone who’s own goals could be aligned with mine.  It’s a compromise really, because I wouldn’t ultimately control that power, just hope to guide it.”  She glances to the side for a moment, looking uncertain, then faces you again.  “Unless you died before your power was strong enough.  Then....then...there would be a way for me to gain that power under my control.”  She sighs, and leans back in her seat.  Expecting the worst of all possible responses, she braces herself.

“Wait, so if I died, you’d get the power?  I thought that only happened if you made a contract with someone.  Didn’t you say you weren’t proposing a contract?”

“Well...it isn’t a contract.  Devils gain spiritual energy from contracts, but that isn’t exactly how we increase our numbers, merely it’s how we can increase our own power.  However, depending on the circumstances and preparations, we have a limited ability to return people to life...as devils.  The caveat to that is that when returned to life, that new devil starts as an extremely low ranking devil, and is bound to service of the devil that brought them back to life.  If such a situation were to occur...I wouldn’t be able to resist trying to get that power through you as a devil.  But at the same time I’d be dooming my clan and perhaps all devils to a conflict of great proportions.  Any pretense or illusion of neutrality would disappear, but it’s a risk that I would take because I don’t think any other opportunity would present itself.  So...I guess the thing I’m really saying here...is don’t die if you take on that power.  If you don’t die then you won’t be under my control.”  She breathes for a moment, then continues.  “Which comes to the question of whether or not I’d kill you to gain that power.  In my universe...such an action simply doesn’t work.  In fact if I were to try that it would be an open declaration of war against the angels.  It’s also very possible that a soul could resist the ritual if the caster were the cause of the person’s death.  Honestly that’s unknown to me, and I don’t see a benefit to trying it.”  

Gavin’s face goes a bit grey.  “Okay, that’s... that’s kind of important.  When were you planning on mentioning that?”

“Originally.....I was just going to hope you didn’t die, and wasn’t going to say anything.  Then if you were dying...or could die... or did die... I’d have dealt with it at that moment.  But considering even that is a deception...an omitted truth.  I decided to avoid it.  I figured in the worst case scenario...at least you’d be happy about not having to die permanently.”  She stares down at what’s left of her breakfast, which is a half-eaten donut at this point.  Her tea has gotten cold.  For a proud creature such as a devil, she appears quite pitiful at the moment.  

Gavin regards her warily.  “Sure, I bet I’d just be thrilled to be bound to serve you for all eternity... or however that works.”

“Well...the benefits are nice.  Because you technically become a devil of the clan.  Which means you can gain more power, rank, and independence.  But I realize that’s not what you are interested in.  I could make all sorts of promises about that situation, but as it stands now you’d have no reason to put faith in them.  Although I have been painfully honest, even if it’s been in bits and pieces.  So where does that leave things?”

“Well, um...” Gavin looks vaguely uncomfortable.  “Let’s back up a minute.  So, all this demonslave stuff aside, we’ve gotten to the heart of the matter:  what it is you actually want from me.  You’re not interested in saving this world... you want me to save yours.  Or... not save.  Change?  Overthrow?  What, exactly?”

“You want to save your world, and I want to...not save, but change my world.  Change how?  I don’t even know.  I think as devils we are tired of how we don’t know these things, how we’ve been kept in the dark for so long, and for what, we disagreed?  There’s gotta be a different way, just none of us have been able to find it.  But if helping you save your world makes you want to help me out, then I don’t see how there’s anything wrong with that particular line of thinking.  I haven’t been in your world long enough to have a real connection to it and besides, I’m talking about a possible future.  The other thing is...you’ll need to stay in your world for a long time, to grow in power.  Coming to my world is potentially risky, though not at first.  Either way I’d have to invest years and years of time before I’d see a return.   You’ll get benefits immediately.  Not to mention Creed is a variable of concern,  and your linked to him via the events of you and your comrades.  If does anything too drastic that also interferes with my plans.  So...even if for selfish reasons, my first priority ends up being your world.”

“Okay.  So you’ll help me save this world, and then... what.  You said you didn’t want a contract with me, so you’ll just hope I’m a swell enough guy to keep my end of the bargain, travel to your world, and enact some kind of as of yet unspecified change there?”

“That’s the real crux of the problem.  Anyone not swell enough to do that...is probably going to do horrible things if they gain that level of power.  So I’m gambling on a long shot for lack of a better plan.  Pretty desparate of me I guess, but I have enough patience to risk it, after all, I probably won’t die anytime soon.  But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t grasp an opportunity when I see it.”

Gavin raises an eyebrow.  “So unless I’m just so completely pure as to keep every promise I ever make, I’m destined to wreck the universe?  Sounds kind of extreme.  Kind of brings me back to that whole argument on the nature of good and evil... I don’t think going back on a promise would automatically make me some kind of destroyer of worlds.  Especially if I felt I was doing it for the right reasons...”

“Perhaps not.  So my work is definitely cut out for me.  It’s like I said...by the time you have the power to save your own world, you’d have enough power to destroy me if you wanted.  So you’d have the power to refuse to do anything for my world or for me.  My only option is to make you want to return the favor.  I can’t do everything, but there’s plenty that I can do.  I have no illusions that for this alliance to work I’ll have to make a herculean effort.”

   

Gavin frowns.  “Unless I die, of course.  Then you’d have a bit more... leverage.  Yes?  You claim that you “can’t” kill me, for whatever reasons... what about if I were to die due to your inaction?  Say, I had come to count on your assistance, and then when I needed it most, it just happened to... vanish.”  Gavin leans back and stares at her.

She smiles.  “I thought there was a reason I was seeking you.  In the right moment of weakness...I can’t help but conclude that that could indeed work.  With far less risk than if I tried killing you outright.  That’s something for you to figure out then.  The solution seems simple enough...don’t rely on me for the wrong things, and always watch out for yourself.  We are both beings with rational thoughts and emotions however.  Because of that I still believe that there is a chance for real trust.  I’m not a perfect being that will do everything and plan everything correctly.  I can have my own moments of weakness.  Consider all of that in your equation.  Just as I want to make you want to help me...you should probably consider how you could make me not want you to die.  Which shouldn’t be too hard because wanting your death is not my highest priority.  I already said you being a devil would make things more difficult...but I can’t resist that temptation yet.  Perhaps you can find a way to make me never consider that option.  After-all, even devils can be out deviled.”

Gavin frowns.  “You’re awfully honest for a devil.  Are you under some kind of... compulsion to tell me the truth, if I ask the right questions?  Or is that just your personality?”

“Hmmm.... I wonder about that.  I’d choose to describe it as honor.  I come from nobility after all.  So...I guess you could say it’s part of my personality then.  It might also be that I genuinely find humans interesting, even ones from another universe.  Not in the sense that they’re like sheep, but more in how surprising they can be.”  She nods, folds her arms under her chest and relaxes again.  She’s apparently in a good mood now.

“You wonder about that?  Meaning you don’t know?  How could you not know something like that?”

“It was.... kind of a joke.  Everything’s been quite serious, I felt like loosening up a bit.  I’m being honest because I want to be honest.  Whether it’s honor, or thinking that’s the best way to handle it, or just because it makes things more interesting.  So is the lesson to be learned from all of this is that I should have made up a grand and fanciful story so that you could feel like a superhero from a comic?”

Gavin stares at her for a moment with his mouth hanging slightly open.  After a brief pause, he says “Okay.  I guess some communication issues are bound to occur when dealing with cross-species, cross-dimensional interactions.  But, no... I’d rather you NOT make up any fanciful stories.

Gavin shakes his head, as if to clear it.  “Getting back to the subject at hand, allow me to... check your moral arithmetic, if you will.  Only someone that is very good, and incorruptible, could handle the power you speak of.  Likewise, someone that is good and incorruptible enough to handle the power would also be honorable enough to keep his end of the bargain, and assist you with the issues going on in your world.  Am I correct so far?”

“Yes.  That’s correct.”

“Then you must be very certain that I would find the actions you desire from me to be just and moral.  After all, it sounds like my actions would affect the lives of many... an entire dimension, perhaps.  If I were to judge that your requests were “evil” or somehow immoral... or even just highly questionable... then it would follow that the moral thing to do would be to go back on our bargain.  And I’d be morally obligated to do so... if I were the kind of person fit to use this power.”

“Yes, in that you would hopefully be able to resist using that power in an evil manner.  Of what I want from you, what I want changed in my world, is that I have been unable to see what is just or moral about a world which is built upon conflict.  I do not necessarily know how to make it just.  I do feel like someone who has met the qualifications we are considering would make changes to the world that I could find agreeable, even if they are not the changes that I imagined.  So if I ask you to change my world...you will do so in accordance with the morals that have guided you up to that point.  I would be very surprised if that were an evil act that you would have to refuse to carry out.”

“So, all you’re asking for... in return for your help... is that I do whatever I would naturally do anyway, regardless of our bargain?”

“To do what you would naturally do when presented with the problem at hand.  I’m merely trying to point you in the direction of a world that feels broken with the hope that you will fix it,  but how it’s fixed is up to you.  So you should fix it as you would naturally do, but since I don’t think you would have naturally come to my world and fixed it, nor do I not necessarily know that you would have naturally sought out the power, so have I come to direct you.  Fate only has limited control, the actors in the story must use their own talents to move into the future.”

 

“I see.  Which leaves the main catch to be that whole... me dying, thing.  Which might happen whether or not I ask for your help.  If I just told you to take a hike, and worked with my team to get the power without your help... and happened to die sometime after... would you still be able to raise me from the dead as one of your minions?  I mean, do I have any power to prevent you from doing that, regardless of any deal we do or do not make?”

Rias finishes up her breakfast while pondering Gavin’s questions.  “With the proper preparations, it’s very possible that I could do just that.  Whether or not your soul could resist being called back to life if it is not willing, is a matter that is rarely tested.  I have a feeling it’s difficult to override the desire a person’s soul has for living, and clinging to life.  That being said, I could have avoided all of this, told you nothing, and perhaps have gotten that.  I already mentioned that bringing you back with me as a devil would be more complicated, and more dangerous, than if you came of your own free will.  I want you and I work to work together of our own free wills.  If you decide that we should part ways, then I shall go, and seek another answer, I shall not try to steal your soul after the fact, nor even follow you. I shall stake the honor of House Gremory on that statement.  If you are yet afraid that if we work together I should bring you back as a devil, then let me make a suggestion.  Devils are bound to fulfill contracts of any sort, not just the kind which takes a spirit.  If it were agreeable, perhaps we could find some arrangement whereby I cannot bring you back to life, though, it would be difficult to break such a contract if you changed your mind later.  Perhaps whether or not you want to live on longer is an important question for you to determine...how ready are you really to face death.  I think I’ve said all I can on that matter.  I don’t want to be brushed away Gavin, but if you refuse me then I will go, our paths likely to never cross again.  Please consider keeping me around,  it will never be my intention to let you down, or disappoint.  It’s that important to me, to have subjected myself to this, to be so honest about this, to have this chance of rejection, just to prove that I’m not here to harm or deceive you.  This too, I stake on the honor of my clan.”  She stares at Gavin now.  Few things have ever been said with such a level of determination, and a strange silence falls on the cafeteria in the moments following her last utterance.  

Gavin closes his eyes and shakes his head, but is unable to suppress a slight smirk.  “You’re an earnest little devil, aren’t you?  Everything you say drips with sincerity... though perhaps that comes in handy for a creature like you.”  Gavin’s smirk disappears, and his gaze hardens as he opens his eyes, and locks his gaze on Riasu.  “I’m not going to kid myself into believing that I can really know your true intentions.  You introduce yourself as a “devil,” which are well-known to be tricksters... according to popular myth, anyway.  And it would make sense that the greatest trickers would be the ones that can make their target believe that they’re completely open and honest--guileless and trustworthy.

“But why would a trickster introduce themselves as such?  In a way, it could serve to build trust more than keeping it a secret... such a conspicuous display of honesty... offering such a shocking piece of truth that, on the surface, you have nothing to gain from revealing, and everything to gain from hiding.  Or so it seems.”

“I guess like in most circumstances, I’m just going to have to play it by ear.  You asked me earlier if I considered you to be ‘evil.’  I don’t.  I don’t believe in it.  But I’m curious.  Do you consider yourself to be evil?”

“Hmm.  I think I can answer that without a monologue.  I have never brought suffering to someone who had not first brought suffering to myself or someone I cared for.  I have never deceived someone in order to claim their soul.  I never intend to start doing any of these things.  The only reason we even need spiritual energy is because of the war.  So even that is only self-preservation.  It may be selfish, but I don’t know if I would call it evil.”  

“Fair enough.  Well, as enlightening as this conversation has been, I need to check in with Leon to see what my duties for today are.  You’ve given me a lot to consider.  I’d like to meet again later, once I’m free, to continue our discussion.”  Gavin stands and begins clearing the table of his dinnerware.

“All right.  I’ll retire to my quarters then.  Call on me whenever you like.  I don’t really know what else I should be doing around here as is.”  She stands up, taking her empty plate and half-drunk tea, and waits to see what Gavin does with the items, and follows suit.  She departs,  “Take care Gavin, hope to speak to you again soon.” she says as they part.    

EARLY IN THE MORNING SOMEWHERE ELSE...

After coming in late last night from drinking with Gavin and Rias, Leon remembers that he hasn’t composed the daily duties list. I should have time in the morning after working out if I do it over my breakfast. Four A.M. rolled around far too early. But as routine, Leon woke and went for his 3 mile run, followed by weights and an abdominal routine. A little after six he rolls into the mess for some breakfast. Damn, this place isn’t like it used to be. Used to be the smell of home cooked food. At the multiprocessor, he punches in the code for oatmeal with slices of ham and a protein shake. Sitting down he starts to go over the long list of duties that he and his unit need to do to maintain the garrison. That can not be done in any one day with the current manning. Finishing his shake, the duties are finished and ready to be handed out at the 0700 meeting in the CIC.

AFTER THE BATTLE WITH SLEDGE

As the dust settles from battle, a citizen’s fire crew shows up to control the blaze that was started on the street by the bandits.  Dazed and confused citizens start slowly migrating back to their side of town turned battle sight, hoping that they didn’t suffer much in the way of property damage.  It is unknown at this time whether or not there were civilian casualties.  The lady whose speeder was wrecked stands in front of it in staring in disbelief.  Rias drops back to the ground, her wings and tail disappear as suddenly as they had appeared.  She begins to survey the scene for a few moments with intense concentration.  

Gavin is in something of a sour mood, disappointed with his poor performance during the battle.  He looks about the scene, and happens to notice the giant hammer lying next to Sledge’s corpse.  Gavin smirks, and then grabs the hammer and starts dragging it to their only working vehicle.  Once he gets it safely stowed, he straightens up, stretches, and notices Rias is still staring at the battlefield.

Gavin approaches her.  “You did pretty well today, considering that combat ‘isn’t your specialty.’”  He tries to see what she’s staring at.  “Are you... looking for something?”

She scans the scene quickly one last time, then relaxes and turns to Gavin.  “I was looking at auras...specifically of the ones that died today, just in case I missed something and there was some unique soul that happened to be available.  As expected nothing turned up.”  She motions over at Sledge. “That guy...just a dumb brute.  Nothing special.  As large and tough as he is...he would not be suited to serve me.  Not enough tactical versatility...and his personality and intelligence are insulting.  It would be a disgrace.”  She shakes her head.  “Sorry, you probably didn’t want to know my thoughts on that.  Either way, thanks, I haven’t been in a serious fight in a while.”  She smiles.

 “Uhhh.  So whenever someone dies, you scan their auras to decide whether or not to resurrect them as your slave?”

“Hmmm...not whenever someone dies, but If I’m in the vicinity...it doesn’t hurt to look I suppose.  In reality I don’t think I’ve ever had a servant that I hadn’t already planned for to some extent.  After all someone who becomes a devil keeps their personality as is, so selection is important.  But a missed opportunity is a missed opportunity.”  

Gavin shudders.  “So you have had servants before.  But you don’t have one now?”

She shakes her head.  “I do have servants actually.  They are all back in my world, tending to my affairs while I am gone.  Akeno is my second, she is in command in my absence.  I make that sound so important, but if things remain peaceful then really it’s just a matter of living daily lives.  Something....I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to.  I actually enjoy spending time as a human......ehh... sorry, I guess I’m homesick already.” She says, with a sigh.

“So... I take it you’ve been posing as a human in your home dimension?”

“I have...well...more than posing.  Well maybe not more than posing...but I want it to be more than posing.  Is that strange?”

“A devil who wants to be human?  Yes, I find that pretty strange, though probably not for the reasons you’re implying.  I don’t know enough about you, or your world, to judge whether that’s “strange” or not... at least not from your perspective.  From my perspective, this whole situation is pretty ‘strange.’”  Gavin wanders over to the wrecked tank, looking to see if he can jury-rig it into working for a short time--if nothing else to make towing it back to base easier.  “So you want to be human?  Is that it?”

“It’s not that simple.  Perhaps it’s more...I don’t want to be a devil all the time.  Actually...I really know exactly what it is.  But...” She shakes her head.  “I doubt you’re really worried about it.  I’m just this strange devil that showed up that you don’t even know if I’m going to steal your soul or worse, trying to push you to gain incredible powers, which would probably mean giving up the life you’re living now.” She sighs, looking down at the tank wreckage now.

Gavin laughs.  “All true.  But go on.  It’s not everyone who can say they’ve had a heart-to-heart with the devil.  Though...” Gavin looks despondently at the wreckage.  “I don’t suppose one of your powers is the ability to magically repair heavy machinery... is it?  I doubt anything would surprise me at this point...”

She chuckles.  “If Akeno were here....I bet she could do something about this tank.  I might be able to help some even if I’m not as good as Akeno with this sort of thing.  Just...give me small parts, I might be able to restore those.”  She smiles, “Why not...I guess I could go on.  It’s just that I want to just be who I am.  Which seems to contradict living as a human even though I’m a devil.  But... that’s just it, so much in the devil realm is based on the family, the clan, the position, the responsibilities.  I can’t pry myself away from those things, I can’t just abandon family.  But...sometimes I wish I didn’t have all that to worry about.  I want to just be Rias...just a girl...and be treated as such...I guess...sorry, that sounds silly doesn’t it?”  She looks a bit embarrassed now.  

“Nah.  It sounds normal.  I hate to break it to you, but I think everyone feels that way at some time or another.  Responsibility can get anybody down... whether it’s your family, your job... whatever.”  Gavin fetches his toolkit, and starts poking around in the wreckage, trying to see where he could start, and keeping an eye out for any “small parts” to give to Rias.  [Repair: 1d20+16]

He notices that several of the repulsor coils are damaged.  “Can you try your hand at these?” he asks, pointing them out to Rias.

“Normal huh?  Yeah, I suppose people feel that way.  But I can sort of... I don’t know... do something about it.  But even then I can’t quite escape being this important person, it seems to follow me around no matter how hard I try.  Someone else might just move to another city, or even country, and start a new life.  I could....I could always move to this dimension..but in the end I still can’t give it up.  I guess I just wish being a high level devil wasn’t the defining point of who I am for most people, but it’s kind of hard to get close to someone without them eventually finding out that I am a devil.”  She seems frustrated by that thought, but focuses that feeling into conjuring a bit of magic.  A small magic circle appears at her arm, and slowly and surely she starts shaping the coils back to what she believes to be their original form.

Gavin watches her work, fascinated.  “Huh.  Wish I could do that.  Seems like it would make things a whole lot easier... as it is, I think I’m gonna have to try to do the rest of this the old fashioned way.”  Gavin watches her work her magic on the coil, noting whether or not she manages to magic it back into a useable condition.  “So I guess you’re kind of a big deal in your home dimension, huh?”

“Yeah, a real big thing.  Not to the humans...but to the rest of the spirit world.  To the humans I’m just the most popular, yet most unapproachable idol of a high school, and president of the occult studies club.  I don’t want to keep it that way...but yeah.... kinda hard to get close to someone when you don’t want them to know you’re a devil.”  She continues restoring cores...though some seem to comply more easily than others.  Magical repairs might be a more a complicated process than it might sound.

 Gavin laughs.  “All that, and humility, too.  What’s so hard about keeping people in the dark, though?  I mean, it’s not like you have horns and a tail... most of the time.”  Gavin sets to work on getting the power restored to the tank as they talk.

“Well.. I could keep people in the dark...with magic.  That’s just... not something I want to do on a regular basis.  Only in special cases.  Part of the problem is that when urgent things come up, or, well, really sometimes anything can happen, it’s just probably best to not have many people around who don’t know what’s going on.  Besides...a devil IS what I am.  So if I’m going to be honest with someone... then it’s there.  So... I don’t know.  I just wish I could be more carefree in dealing with humans.  Especially because, despite the negative reputation that exist in this dimension for what devils are... I’m fairly certain it’s much worse in my world.”

“Well... you mentioned earlier you could ‘do something about it.’  What did you mean by that?”

“Well... I changed from devil form to human form.  More or less took over a high school....and now I’m running around in an entirely different dimension.  I mean that...I feel like I have... or should have... a lot more control over my life.  Yet for all I can do...it just doesn’t seem like it’s enough, or that it really makes a difference.”

Gavin considers that for a moment.  “So did you start off as a human?  Or were you born a devil?  ...and is ‘born’ even the right word?”

“A devil.  Born is applicable enough, born in to the Gremory family.  In the devil world, that’s who I am.  Nothing else about me really matters.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The family is rather important, and powerful.  Descendents of one of the most powerful devils, which means the power is carried on through the family line.  So all eyes and ears are on what the family is up to.  I’m just an embodiment of that power, it’s the power that everyone cares about.  What it really means is...the only friends I have are my servants...and even they dare not treat me like I’m someone other than their master, other than a high-level devil.  They’re proud of that...and I appreciate that immensely, and I think there’s genuine friendship, but they aren’t willing to cross the lines of formality and power.  It’s as if they respect me so much that they would hurt themselves to treat me as anything less.”

“I see.  So you’ve tried life as a human, and life as a devil, and find the human life preferable.  I’ll spare you any platitudes about the grass being greener and whatnot.  But I do have to wonder... would you really give up all your special powers, and just live as a normal human?  I imagine it would be like... I don’t know... if I were to live the rest of my life without my legs, or eyes.  It would be quite a step down from what you’re used to.”

“I think the only way to give up my powers... is to die.  I could always just avoid using them...but then some outside power will surely force me to use them...or die.”  She says, flatly.  

“That’s not really what I asked.”

“You mean, if it were a more viable option?  I don’t know if I have an answer for that.  On the one hand, I could blame the powers and heritage for my problems...on the other hand it could be caused by other things, or a combination.  Perhaps I just haven’t met the right people...or person.  Considering that not everything I have going for me is bad, I can’t immediately say I’d dismiss it all.  There are some days where I might feel that way though.  Then who knows... then maybe I’d regret it... call myself selfish....or think I was just too weak to handle it all.  I just want someone to treat me as who I am, I guess as a whole...without ignoring one part or another, but focusing on those things that make me unique.  If I knew I could get that by giving up my powers...than I probably would.”

“I see.  It’s not that you want to be a human, or a devil... you just want to be yourself.  And have others treat you as such.  You know, that’s another pretty common desire.  I’m beginning to think you devils aren’t quite as... exotic as I imagined.”

She smiles.  “Maybe not.”  She looks as if she’s about to ask something...then suddenly remembers she needs to finish straightening out coils, and gets back at it.  It looks like it won’t be too long before she finishes them.

Gavin raises an eyebrow and looks at her expectantly, to see if she will continue.

“Gavin....I know you’re probably still pretty guarded....and observing me still for now.  But...I’m still wanting to get to know you a bit better, something, anything really.  If you’re up for becoming the center of attention for a bit that is.”

“Huh?  Is there something you need to ask me?”  Gavin pauses at his work, and wipes the sweat from his forehead.

She finishes straightening another coil.  She actually looks a little tired herself...just not sweating.  “Not something I need to ask...just wanting to know.  Since I’ve been a little homesick...maybe I should ask about your home...what’s that like?”

My home?  It’s kind of a hell-hole.  Uh...” Gavin hesitates, wondering if that was a poor choice of words.  He clears his throat.  “Um, I’m from Deet-Roit, the Plasteel Planet.  It’s grimy, polluted, overcrowded... not enough food, money, or jobs to go around.  And there’s all kinds of crime.  Drugs, violence... you name it.  One of the reasons I joined up with the Corps was to get away from that place.  I don’t see much of a future for myself there... at least, not the way things are now.  There are a few people I miss, like my folks, and some friends, but... I can’t say I get homesick very often.”

“I’m sure you have roots there of some kind.  Family...but you made friends as well, so you must have some fond memories somewhere.  You make it sound like a planet full of unfortunate souls.  It’s the place that helped lead you to where you are now though...so it’s still defining who you are even now, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm.  Don’t remind me.”

Rias frowns.  “I’m sorry...I...didn’t think...”  She quiets herself, unsure of what to say.  

“Hey, don’t worry about it.  I think I’m getting close to being finished on my end... how are those coils coming along?”

She looks down, and finds that one last coil is smashed up.  “Almost there.”  She focuses on the coil, the small magic circle appears once again, and slowly but surely, the coil reforms itself.  Rias then looks up again, “I think that’s it on my end.  A lot of fine manipulation and focus,  it is more tiring than I expected.”  She grins sheepishly.

“So devils get tired like the rest of us, huh?  Well, thanks.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have fixed this without your help, and who knows how we would have been able to get this thing back to base.  Though, I suppose we should test it out before celebrating.”  Gavin makes sure everything is ready to go and that all the pieces are back where they should be, before attempting to turn the power back on to the repulsorlifts.

The TX-130 roars to life once again.  As the repulsor field comes to life, air fills the space beneath the tank.  The short breeze is enough for Rias’ skirt to take flight, if only for a moment.  A minimal, black, and frilly design is visible for just a brief moment as the tank slowly lifts off the ground. Although the repulsor levels are down a bit, it’s actually level and movable.  The power system will need some more work, but it seems likely that it can make it back to the garrison at least.  

“Yes!  Now we can just tow it back to base.  I sure hope it’s salvageable...perhaps between me and Allen, we can get it repaired properly.  If not... well, we can always sell it for scrap.  Anyway, nice work.”

“Glad to be of service, told you I could be useful.”  She grins.  “Let’s hope the ride back isn’t too bumpy.”

“Indeed you did, but I have to admit, this is not quite how I imagined.  Anyway, I wouldn’t worry about the ride... I’m sure there’s room for you in the Razorback.  I’ll probably ride in the tank, though... make sure nothing goes wrong.”

“Nah.  After putting that effort in...I think I’d like to ride on the thing.  Besides, what better way to test the quality of my help.”  She hops up on the side of the tank and climbs back into the top turret.  “I’m good to go,” she declares.  

Gavin climbs in the gaping hole in the side of the tank, and sits in the driver’s seat.  “Same here.

“Ready to go when you guys are,” he shouts the the rest of the crew in the Razorback.  “Just, you know... STOP if the repulsorlifts give out on us, okay?  You’ll be able to tell, trust me.”

LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN (BACK AT THE BASE)

Back at the base, Gavin tracks down Leon for a little heart to heart.  [Assuming I find him easily enough, the conversation begins thusly:] “Hey, Murphy.  You have a minute?  I was hoping to talk tactics with you for a bit.”

Gavin finds Leon placing a couple of books on the corner of the desk. “Sure. I’m always up for talking a bit of tactics,” Leon replies.

“If I can be frank, I was rather disappointed in my performance in today’s battle.  Piloting the tank seemed like a good idea at the time--I did excel in piloting back at the academy--but as of late, I’ve been focusing more on my sharpshooter training.  Once the tank got smashed, I was scrambling around, trying to find a good vantage point to shoot from... but by that time, it was already too late.  I think in the future, if we plan ahead so that I can get set up in a good spot ahead of time, I’ll be a much more effective asset to our squad--especially if I can get the first shot in, before they know we’re there.  What do you think?”

“Yes, I do agree that I allowed some poor tactical planning in our advance. If I had been thinking about the most cautious and advantageous of the squads assets I would have gone with a plan where you were put in place to employ your sniper skills, while I piloted the tank down range.” Leon seems to almost chuckle. “I guess I was a little cocky about dealing with bandits. We are the best the Empire has to offer. However, I believe, as a unit, we were able to adapt to the situation pretty quickly, as I was in a position to keep our rear a flanks covered. Now, that you mention it...What took you so long getting onto a roof? Can’t say I ever remember you not moving quickly into a solid position.”

Gavin clears his throat, obviously somewhat uncomfortable.  “Well... I don’t know what to tell you.  I’ve never been very athletic.  Climbing just isn’t my strong suit, especially when I’m weighed down with a full set of armor.  If I had been able to take my time, I’m sure I would have done all right, but trying to rush it, in the middle of a heated battle, made things a bit more difficult.”

Leon thinks for a moment. “I think I remember reading about scout armor in a gear database that might help you with being more mobile and still protected. I’ll do some digging and send you the secure holonet address link. There may also be some more gear in the weapon volume that might help you as well. Besides that don’t beat yourself up too much about this single battle. Rias was an amazing asset and I’m glad you suggested bringing her along. Her help certainly made the fight a lot smoother.” Leon moves around to the other side of the desk hits a button closing the door to the office. “I think I’ll bring up that weapon volume with the scout armor now and let you look at the specs and see what you think.”

Gavin frowns.  “Hmm.  I don’t really like the idea of giving up any protection... but... hm.  If it could help me get around easier--and give me a better chance of passing undetected... perhaps it would be worth it.  I suppose it couldn’t hurt to have a look.”  Gavin moves around the desk and starts reading the information that Leon pulled up.

“I’m in the opposite boat I suppose. I’m looking for a way to increase my protection without limiting the movement the standard armor already provides. Been in so many close calls I’m thinking I could use that increase, especially since, I’m a bit of a maverick in a fire fight. Back to the armor though, if I remember correctly it may be worth the time to request it through channels or back channels.”

“You may be right.  You know, while we’re on the subject, I’ve seen two troopers so far that were able to vanish into thin air:  Matthew and Razor.  Do you know anything about that?  Was it the armor they used, or what?  If that’s something I can request as well, it would certainly come in handy for getting into position and remaining undetected while sniping targets.”

Leon thinks for a long moment and then starts typing some phrases into the search bar. “I think...I remember something about that. I believe it was...yes...here we go. It’s a cloaking device. They are pretty rare and expensive. Would probably be very hard for to get through normal channels. But yeah that would definitely be something useful for you as the sniper.”

“Hmmm.  I suppose it couldn’t hurt to ask, and then look into other means if that doesn’t work out.  As squad leader, would the request pull more weight if it came from you?  I’ve... never been officially designated as a ‘sniper,’ or anything, so I don’t know how seriously they’d take any kind of request for specialized gear.”

“It’s possible that my position as squad leader and extra rank could make a difference. I will put in the requests as well as a recommendation for a specialized additional duty code of sniper for your records. I definitely believe that you would make the marksmanship cut pretty easily even on a bad day.”

“All right.  Sounds like a plan.  Appreciate it.”

“No problem. What kind of NCO would I be if I didn’t make shit happen. Or at least try to make shit happen. Officers seem to like to make simple shit hard.”

“Haha, yeah.  All right, I’ll let you get back to your reading then.”  Gavin turns to go, and then remembers something.  “Oh, yeah.  I meant to ask.  Why are we still keeping Nine-Toes around?  Granted, he was a semi-useful source of information today, but I doubt we’re going to need him in the future.”

“To tell the truth with all that had happened I kinda forgot about him being in the brig. I would say executing him would be a solid decision, but I don’t want to go through the process of burying him afterward. I think I may just release him. He shouldn’t be much of a threat anymore, since we’ve eliminated most of the bandits in these parts.”

Wh-what?  Just execute him?  Without a trial?  Is that standard procedure?  But wait, we can’t just let him go, either.  He’s CRAZY.  Have you ever talked to him?  He’s a danger to himself and others.  Isn’t there a mental hospital we can send him to?”

“I’ll look into the mental hospital. I doubt there will be one on a planet this far out on the outer rim. I’m not sure if executing him would be against protocol since we did kill all but two of his compatriots. I’ll pull up the imperial regulations regarding that before I make my decision.”

“But... that was on the field of battle.  There’s a slight difference between killing an armed combatant, and executing a helpless prisoner.  Especially one who’s clearly mentally unstable.  But...ah... good to hear you’ll be looking into that.  I’ll just leave you to it.”  Gavin appears concerned but heads out regardless.

“Yeah, there’s a difference. Good to know I have someone with more of a conscious as my second in command. You and Rias have fun now.”

“Hah...hah... yeah...  Later.”

Gavin makes his way to the vehicle storage bay to fetch Sledge’s hammer, making sure to pick up a hover dolly on the way there.  He loads the hammer onto the dolly, and wheels it down to the brig.  Before he gets in view of Nine-Toes’ cell, he takes the hammer off the dolly and drags it the rest of the way.

“Hey there, Nine-Toes.  I met your boss today,” Gavin says, then drops the hammer in front of Nine-Toes cell with a thud.

Nine-Toes looks over the hammer for a moment.  “Ahahahah, so you did.  So much for being rescued.”  Nine-Toes walks around in a circle for a second.  “On the other hand...with my boss dead, I’m free to do whatever.  Since you punks beat me AND Sledge...how’s about you guys become my new boss....er....bosses...?  Who’s the boss here anyway?  I think it’s a great idea, ahahahaha!”

“I’m not sure that would be such a good idea, Nine-Toes.  Murphy is the ‘boss’ around here, and I just had to talk him out of killing you.”

“Hmm....sounds like a great boss, I’d kill me too, ahahaha.  Maybe you should ask him anyway...I can do all kinds of stuff, I don’t even need to get paid so long as I get to keep some loot here or there, shit’s better than dying.  I think I can be more useful alive... that’s all I’m sayin’.”

“No doubt.  But you’d be even more useful with your head on straight.  That’s why we’re sending you in, for a...  psychological evaluation.  To see if you’re fit for duty.  It’ll be great.  You’ll get to answer some questions, take some interesting drugs, and you won’t even  have to die.”

“Hmmm.  I already take interestin’ drugs....well... I haven’t in a while.  I don’t know... it all sounds very....legal....and that’s boring.  But I guess I could show them a thing or two while I’m there....

Seems like I don’t have a choice....and maybe they don’t either...ahahaha.  Sign me up!”

“Okay, I’m pretty sure that counts as informed consent.  We’ll let you know when we’re ready to ship you off.  Goodbye, Nine-Toes.”  Gavin turns and begins dragging the obscenely heavy hammer back around the corner toward the hovery dolly.

As Gavin begins to strap the hammer back up to the dolly, he sees a switch on the weapon that he hadn’t noticed before.  Rather than turn on a device he knows nothing about, Gavin decides to pry the fucker open instead.  [Repair Check: 1d20+16]

Inside is basically just some coils and some kind of power cell.  It seems like the hammer is capable of making some sort of energy shockwave upon impact.  Gavin shrugs.  “Might be nifty, but I don’t know of anyone big enough to use it.  Guess it’s just scrap.”  Gavin wheels the hammer back to the vehicle storage area and stows it in the Razorback so he can drop it off at the scrapyard later.  However, before leaving, he goes to hunt down Allen, to settle some unfinished business.