Chapter 19 – Justifications
15 Years Ago
“You want me to do what, sir?!”
“I wouldn’t ask you if it wasn’t important, Saito.”
“But, sir… these are kids we’re talking about! Children! And you want to press them into military service?!”
“Not quite, Saito. Not yet, anyways. But you are aware of the power that Chaotics can wield, are you not?”
“You’ve seen what untrained and unleashed Chaotics can do to the world, first hand. You even led a team in capturing an outlaw Chaotic from the CSA. They called themselves ‘Bloodnought’, if I recall correctly.”
“I try not to think about that, sir. I just got lucky, is all.”
“I disagree. I think you’ve got a good mind for how Chaotics work, which is why I think you’d be the best mentor these new Earthian Chaotics could have.”
“Why not just ask the Nimalians to help out? They owe us a few, don’t they?”
“The existence of these new Chaotics must be kept secret, for the time being anyways. The rest of the galaxy endorses the idea of Chaotic conscription, but that isn’t true on Earth, even if it is a necessary evil.”
“I’m not sure I agree that it’s necessary, sir.”
“As I said, you’ve seen what untrained and unleashed Chaotics can do. You’ve seen what criminal Chaotics can do. And that’s not even getting into the potential for going berserk that all Chaotics possess. Leaving an untrained Chaotic to wander the streets is akin to leaving a nuclear bomb out in the wild, with a detonator tied to a random dice roll. It’s a chance we can’t take.”
“I suppose, but… children?”
“As I said, it’s a necessary evil. I am under no delusion that this action is good. But I do believe that this is the path to helping the most people in the future. Just as untrained Chaotics are bad, trained Chaotics — those who truly understand their power, and can control it — are undeniably powerful, and a net boon. I think that the outcome of the Nanocreature War can speak to that.”
“…So you’re saying that this is for the greater good, sir?”
“I am. I truly believe that training these four young Chaotics to eventually work for SERRCom is the right choice. There are some truly frightening threats out in the galaxy, and Earth needs protectors. In the event that our fleets can’t handle that, we need Chaotics to pick up the slack — or even to be the next Hero Machina, the next heroes that save the galaxy from ruin.”
“Those are some lofty aspirations, sir.”
“You’re right, they are. But the potential is there, all the same. Trust me, Saito. There aren’t many others I can go to about this.”
“…You’re asking a hell of a lot, sir.”
“And raising a bunch of superpowered kids wasn’t exactly a career goal of mine, you know. Hell, I’ve been single for over a decade.”
“I must admit, I considered not asking you because of that. But in the end, I still believe you to be the best choice.”
“…Oof. You sure know how to drive a point home, Lieutenant Colonel.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t.”
“…Alright. I’ll do the job. I’ll be the bad guy, and raise these kids to be soldiers… even if every fiber of my being is telling me not to. I’m putting that much trust in you, sir. You better not let me down.”
“I swear on my life, Saito. These four young Chaotics will change the future… I’m certain of it.”
“Then I’ll take your word for it, Colonel Lead.”
“Thank you, Major Saito. Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll introduce you to your new charges…”
* * *
Present Day, 20 Minutes Later
— Monday, October 10th, AD 2129 —
«Colonel, what in the goddamned hell have you brought onto my god-forsaken ship?!»
“None of us knew this would happen,” Saito snapped back.
«Oh, fucking fantastic!» Krick shouted over the comms, «that doesn’t change the fact that your fucking Corvette is fucking eating my goddamned ship!»
Saito scowled; Krick’s ranting was grating, but the man had a point. The Colonel slowly swept his eyes along the ground of Genesis’s fighter bay one, in which Raenaros was docked — and around each point of contact between Raenaros and Genesis, part of Genesis’s hull appeared to have been siphoned away. On top of that, the massive burn marks across Raenaros’s hull that had resulted from Drakkar laser fire seemed to have shrunk. The effect was subtle, so much so that Saito was almost unsure if his eyes were playing tricks on him, but a moment later Mote confirmed his suspicions.
“It looks like the Raenaros is repairing itself…” he muttered.
“Wow!” Kate rushed forward to take a closer look at the Corvette, leaving Saito, MacTavish, and Mote to stand near the entrance to the fighter bay. “This is incredible! It has a self-repair system? We could totally reverse-engineer that bitch and slap it on all of our ships!”
«Reverse-engineer this tech my ass,» Krick snapped, his voice carrying through the earpieces of everyone present. «That goddamn ship is using fucking nanites to eat my ship! That’s a no-fucking-go!»
“Well of course it’s using nanomachines, dumbass,” Kate retorted. “How the hell else could you do something like this? Without Chaotic powers, at least?”
«Now you listen here, you little shit! Twenty years ago this galaxy got fucked sideways by nanomachines. I am not going to let my ship be ground fucking zero for round two of the apocalypse!»
“Aw, c’mon—!” Kate began as she reached for one of Raenaros’s landing supports, only to be stopped short by an energy shield. “Oh, you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me! A containment field?!”
«Of course I activated a fucking containment field! It’s the only goddamn way to contain those fucking nanites. I would have beamed this useless piece of shit out into deep space, but we’re in goddamn Subspace right now, so unfortunately that’s not a goddamned option!»
Saito sighed wearily as he listened to Kate and Krick argue. He didn’t expect Kate or Mote, or even MacTavish, to remember the event that Krick was referring to — but Saito and Krick both were easily able to recall the Nanocreature War of 2110. Over the span of a mere month, a giant army of nanomachine-constructed creatures had laid siege to the galaxy, taking control of ships, planets, and people alike as they sought to claim all of the Chaos Ayas. Billions of people died and the CSA lost a large chunk of its territory before the Nanocreature menace was stopped. The Nimalians and the Earthians were lucky to have avoided the Nanocreatures’ wrath, and the CSA had since reclaimed its lost territory and rebuilt, but the knowledge and fear of the Nanocreatures remained ever-present in the galactic subconscious. Ever since the war, nanotechnology research across the galaxy ground to a halt as the concept itself became taboo.
However, something about the current situation struck the Colonel as odd. The Nanocreature War had been ended by a team of Nimalian Chaotics known as Hero Machina, who quickly gained fame across the galaxy for their achievements. To celebrate (and also reinforce) their fame, the Nimalian government had publicly released most of Hero Machina’s mission reports regarding the Nanocreature War, and like many other enamored denizens of the galaxy, Saito had read them all. According to the reports, the Nanocreatures were an ancient menace, created by an enemy of the Aldredas and possessing a lingering hatred of the Aldredas and everything derived — so why would an Aldredian ship employ the same kind of technology? Surely, something was different…?
The Colonel sighed again. Even if Raenaros’s nanites were different, this was hardly the time or the place to study them. Krick’s caution was completely warranted; further research could be conducted when they return from their mission. Saito then turned his attention back to Kate, who was engaged in a shouting match with Captain Krick over the comms.
«I swear to god, you fucking science types are going to be the end of my goddamned ship!»
“If not for us ‘fucking science types’ then you wouldn’t have this fucking ship! Our quick work is the only fucking reason this bag of bolts isn’t permanently confined to a fucking research lab!”
«Bullshit! Every other goddamn quarter I have to fight against the ETAA to keep this ship out of your grubby little bitch fingers! What good is a military craft if we don’t fucking use it?!»
“This ship is state of the fucking art, you dumbass! It literally poofed into the fucking sky one day, we still don’t completely understand half its systems! Of course we want to study it more—!”
“Alright, alright, that’s enough!” Saito cut in sharply. He stepped forward to approach Kate as he continued, “Lieutenant, Captain, this argument is completely pointless.”
Kate’s brow furrowed in irritation. “But—!”
“If you want to finish it, then do it in your off time after the mission,” Saito ordered.
«You trying to order me around, Colonel?!» Krick snapped.
“No…” Saito rubbed his temples in frustration. “…I’m not ordering you to do anything. But I’m sure that there are other things you’d rather be doing than wasting time in a pointless argument?”
«Oh, a million of ‘em, to be sure. But I just want to be clear about one god damned thing, 2nd Lieutenant! That containment field is staying up, and if you try to take it down, then precious protectors of Earth or not, I’m gonna fucking court martial your ass! Krick, out!»
The Colonel released another sigh and glanced toward Kate, just in time to catch her flipping off one of the fighter bay security cameras. He simply shook his head and turned back toward Mote and MacTavish, who were simply standing back — Mote with his arms crossed in impatience, and MacTavish with her hands clasped and shoulders slouched in awkwardness.
“I-I’ll, uh…” The Researcher began shuffling off to the side, laptop in hand. “…Um… r-right! Mote, um, just… st-stay there, a-and I can upload a copy of the, um, th-the Aldredian language cipher to your, um, R-RTA implants…”
“Huh…? Oh.” Mote passed her a quick glance before returning his attention to Raenaros. “…Sure.”
Saito’s gaze shifted to Mote after his comment, at which point the Colonel noted that Mote’s normal stoic expression was replaced with what looked like frustration. Is he worried about the Corvette? That doesn’t sound much like Mote. Well, if something’s up, this is hardly the place to talk about it. I’m sure he’ll find me later if he needs me. But for now… He turned back toward Kate. “No shutting down the containment field, alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, Dad.” She simply waved him off as she continued visually investigating the Corvette’s exterior.
With an amused smirk, Saito turned away and began approaching the exit. “I’m heading back to the gym. I’ll see you all later—”
“Actually, Colonel, wait a minute.”
Saito stopped walking and turned around to face Mote, whose eyes were averted. “…Something wrong?” the Colonel questioned.
“…Yes.” Mote took a deep breath, squared off his shoulders, and looked Saito right in the eye. “…Commander Rabine knows our secret, sir.”
“What?” Saito narrowed his eyes, simultaneously noticing Kate snap her attention toward Mote. “…What secret?”
“…About the nature of the Eximius Vir’s enlistment with SERRCom… sir.”
Instantly, Saito’s expression collapsed into a deep scowl. Mote’s words were cryptic, but Saito knew well what they meant — he had been with the Eximius Vir since the beginning, after all.
Ever since SERRCom picked them up when they were merely seven years old.
Four years have passed since the Eximius Vir turned 18 and “officially” joined SERRCom, giving the Colonel ample time to try and forget — but nothing would change the fact that he never earnestly spoke out against being put in charge of four superpowered children. Never did he speak out about being ordered to train them for military duty. Never did he speak out when he was ordered to begin training them in the field when they were 14. Nor did he ever speak out when he tagged along on their very first black ops mission… when they were merely 15 years old. And he had only been a Colonel for the past six years — he had been promoted twice based on his “work” with the Eximius Vir. His superiors never said anything, Hackett barely said anything when she first joined the team, and Travis bore only a look of bewildered concern when he learned just what his assignment to CSF-1 entailed. Nothing about CSF-1 or the Eximius Vir was right at their inception, but no one had said anything about it, and the moment that the Eximius Vir turned 18 and SERRCom officially announced their membership, everyone involved entered into a tacit agreement to simply never speak of the prior ten years. Saito had hoped that he would never have to face this past again, yet now…
“How the hell did she figure it out?” Saito snapped.
Mote averted his eyes and bowed his head. “…I accidentally let it slip, sir.”
“You told her?!”
“Not explicitly! But she asked leading questions, and I wasn’t paying attention, and ended up giving her enough information to figure it out…”
“I can’t believe this…” Saito massaged his temples, his brow furrowed deeply. “Mote, are you aware of what damage that information could do if it leaks?!”
“Hold on, fucking what?” Kate stomped over to Mote and Saito, her hands on her hips as she stared at the Colonel incredulously. “Damage? What damage?”
“I don’t think I need to spell it out for you,” Saito responded. “When SERRCom took you all in… well… you remember how old you were when you went on your first mission. Don’t you?”
“Well, yeah… but I thought that was standard procedure. Everyone else in the galaxy does it!”
“But not Earth. There’s no rules or regulations in place regarding Chaotics, and we don’t have the history or the culture to back up Chaotic conscription like the rest of the galaxy does — much less when the Chaotics in question are minors. Can you imagine what this information could do to SERRCom’s public image if it got out? Or, hell, its legitimacy as an organization?”
“Oh…” Kate nodded along, seemingly understanding… but then her eyes narrowed as she made pointed eye contact with the Colonel. “Wait a fucking minute. You knew that there were no rules about conscripting Chaotics? About conscripting us as kids?”
Saito averted his eyes, suddenly feeling a strong inability to meet the gaze of either Kate or Mote. “…Yes.”
“You fucking knew from the beginning, didn’t you?!”
“…You’re right. I did know.” The Colonel pursed his lips and crossed his arms before turning back to face Kate. “Listen. At the time, there was nothing I could do. There was no one to report this to! It was in the middle of the height of SERRCom hegemony, when they had successfully cowed every damn nation on Earth into following their whims, and blinded them all with the power of the Genesis and the promises of wealth from all of its tech, as well as the treaties we signed with Nimalia to rapidly build up our fleets. No one was willing to see SERRCom go down, back then. And even if I had said something, do you really think anyone would take the word of one measly Major against the entirety of SERRCom’s top brass? Or even against Matthew Lead, or David Shepherd? Conscripting you guys was the one thing they agreed on, and even fifteen years ago they had the clout to steamroll over anything I said and brush me to the side like a speck of dust. I would’ve been replaced in a heartbeat, and I guarantee that any replacement wouldn’t have been as understanding with you as I was!”
“Understanding?!” Fury flashed across Kate’s face as she grabbed the Colonel by the collar of his shirt and lifted him to eye level. “You just fucking told me that when I was pressed into service as a kid, it was fucking illegal! And no one said a fucking thing about it! Everyone else in the galaxy does this, so I thought this was just par for the fucking course, so I sucked it up. At least the missions were outlets for my fucking pent-up anger, but now you’re telling me that you watched us for fifteen fucking years and never said a goddamn word to anybody about how we shouldn’t even fucking be here?! All those fucking years that I spent cooped up in gray buildings or camping out on fucking uncolonized planets and shitting in the fucking woods, and you’re telling me that I could’ve been living on Earth and actually fucking enjoying life?!”
“You’re right that everyone does it, and that’s why we had to, as well!” Saito shot back. “There were no rules about it in SERRCom, but that was only because we thought you guys were a fluke. We didn’t need an official rule just to cover four Chaotics, and it wasn’t worth the pushback from everyone on Earth, anyways. But we were, and still are, significantly lagging behind the rest of the galaxy in virtually every category, so we needed Chaotics to level the field!”
“So what, we’re just fucking tools to you? Weapons you can unleash at will? And when you introduced me to the ETAA, to Scott, and Sarah — that wasn’t for my own fucking benefit, was it?! You just wanted to use my smarts for your own fucking good! Ha! ‘Understanding’ my fucking ass! Fifteen years pretending to be our friends, but it turns out that you’re just a fucking coward, without the balls to actually stand up for what’s right!”
Saito pursed his lips and glanced to the side. There was no counterargument he could think of; everything Kate had said was correct. His excuses were merely that — excuses. Part of him still clung to their legitimacy, to the idea that SERRCom needed Chaotics to stand up to the rest of the galaxy… but even so—
“The Colonel is right.”
“Huh?” Kate and Saito both glanced toward Mote, who stepped up to the two and forcefully separated them.
“The hell are you doing?!” Kate snapped, “he just admitted—!”
“To doing what he and SERRCom thought was best for Earth,” Mote finished. “And at the end of the day, they’re right. Conscripting us was the right choice.”
“What? Do you understand what the hell you’re saying?! We were fucking kids, Mote! Seven fucking years old!”
“And we were a danger to both ourselves, and those around us. I know you know that. When you and I discovered our powers, we almost killed the family that was fostering us!”
“Yeah, but… that still isn’t—”
“It’s plenty of reason to justify conscripting us. When you hold that much power, that much responsibility, you lose the right to be beholden to only yourself. You owe it to the people around you to learn how to control your powers, and to use them for the greater good.”
“Greater good?! You mean all those fucking black ops we were sent on?!”
“Those missions would’ve happened anyways, with or without us. But because we were there, allied casualties were greatly diminished — no, eliminated entirely. You need only to look to Captain Feng’s current condition to see what happens when a spec ops team goes on a mission without us.”
Saito felt a twinge of both anger and regret. Mote’s insinuation that CSF-1 was useless without the Eximius Vir stung, but he had a point. Considering how easily Mote had fended off Telregina, it was entirely likely that even just one member of the Eximius Vir could have prevented Captain Feng from losing his Ciei. But even so… to hear Mote making these points, of all people, was painful for Saito. Did he honestly, truly believe what he was saying — that conscription was the right move? Or had Saito simply managed to unintentionally indoctrinate him?
“You can’t… you can’t seriously be saying what I think you’re saying,” Kate muttered with a scowl. “This is…! If SERRCom wanted Chaotics so fucking bad, then why can’t they just go to Nimalia, huh? We’re supposed to be all fucking buddy-buddy, why not fucking show something for it?!”
“You know the answer to that,” Mote responded. “SERRCom needs to reduce its dependence on its allies, not increase it. We lean heavily on the Nimalian Union and the NSD as is, we can’t ask for more. If anything, we need to be asking for less.”
“Bitch please, if anything, the Nimalians should be asking us for shit! We’re the ones who gave them fucking Subspace Drives, and other tech reverse-engineered from the Genesis!”
“Much of that tech designed by you, might I add. You’ve never complained about working on SERRCom research projects before. In fact, I can’t even count the number of times that you got mad at me or others for trying to get in between you and your work! So what’s different now?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?! I could be working on my own fucking projects right now, on Earth, sitting in a beach-side condo under the sun! I could have a boyfriend! I could be running my own fucking business! My ideas could be making billions, but since I was whisked away as a fucking child, now everything I do has to be for ‘the man’! I don’t get any fucking credit for this shit!”
“So that’s why you’re angry? Because you weren’t permitted to live a life of decadence and fame?”
“That’s…! Well, yes, but also… I mean, do you really need an argument for how fucking wrong this is?!”
“You always need a justification for your opinions. Long-term decisions made on nothing but emotions and gut feelings are worthless.”
“Isn’t that exactly what SERRCom did when they pressed us into service? They had no fucking way of knowing that we’d be as powerful as we are!”
“It wasn’t a gut feeling, it was a rational choice. And the fact that SERRCom has conscripted the new recruits shows that their decisions are consistent, not emotional.”
“Consistent? Is that what you fucking get out of all this? You don’t care that our rights were fucking trampled, do you? All you care about is this stupid dumbass ‘greater good’!”
“Of course. It should be what you care about, as well.”
Kate simply stared at Mote, her mouth hung open and her brow furrowed in fury. Saito noticed her fists clenching tightly — in fact, her whole body seemed to be trembling. A moment later, she charged at Mote and swung fiercely as she released a furious shout, but Mote simply dodged out of the way of her fist, leaving her to stumble past him.
“You know I’m right,” he said quietly.
“Fuck you, you useless fucking piece of shit! You fucking son of a cunt!” Kate extended both of her middle fingers at him before whipping around and barging out of the room, shouting over her shoulder the whole way. “Goddamn bastard! Fucking indoctrinated dumbass…!”
Eventually, the door to the fighter bay closed behind her, leaving behind Saito, Mote, and MacTavish — who sat hunched over her laptop in the corner as she tried her best to pretend she wasn’t listening. What did I just watch…? Saito wondered to himself, this is hardly the first time I’ve seen Kate get angry, but this time… …well, I can’t say it isn’t justified. I’m more surprised about Mote. He always defers to the chain of command, so I guess I could’ve seen this coming, but even then. To so readily defend his own conscription? As a kid? Just what the hell did I teach him…
“I apologize for her, Colonel.”
Saito glanced over at Mote incredulously. “…What?”
“I apologize for Kate’s behavior,” Mote reiterated. “That was no way to behave while on-duty, much less in front of a superior officer. I’ll talk to her later about it.”
“…N-no, that’s… that’s fine.” Saito shook his head warily. I’ve a feeling that Mote should be the last one to talk to her…
“…If you say so. But, back to the original point… what do we do about Commander Rabine?”
“Just… just leave it alone for now. If she hasn’t threatened to do anything with the information, then just… leave her alone. I’ll talk to the General when we get back to Earth.”
“And if she does threaten to do something?”
The Colonel took a deep breath and exhaled wearily. “…Then come to me. Don’t do anything about it on your own.”
“Alright, sir. Duly noted.”
“Right…” Saito looked over at the Corvette, his gaze lingering on it for several seconds.
((You have embarked down a perilous path! The future of this galaxy may well hang on the decisions of yourself and your comrades. Whether that bodes ill or well for you, remains to be seen.))
The words of Prosusicivious suddenly jumped to the forefront of Saito’s mind. When he first heard them over two weeks ago, he thought the Drakkar was just posturing, but now, something about them seemed to ring true. Drakkar Faction Leaders were widely known to be conniving and untrustworthy, yet even so…
Saito shook his head again and turned toward the fighter bay exit, offering Mote and MacTavish only brief nods as he left. “I think we’re done here. Mote, MacTavish… I’ll see the two of you later.”