Chapter 95 – New Encounters

Chapter 95 – New Encounters

2 Days Later

Wow, this place is really getting busy, huh?

Heh… Mark chuckled in response to Danielle’s observation, watching as she peered out over Tresnon’s Market Street from the elevated entrance. True to her claim, the street was more crowded than ever, boasting the kind of crowds one would expect to see in a shopping center on a weekend, despite being lunchtime on a weekday. Dozens of new stalls filled the sides of the streets, as well as a variety of haphazardly hung banners advertising all manner of cooking ingredients, utensils, and services, all in the name of preparing for the Hunger’s Bane feast in four days.

Eugh… Kate scowled as she joined Danielle in looking out over Market Street, with Mote approaching just beside her. It’s so damn crowded…

Just look at all of these people, going about their lives like normal, even though the threat to this place is greater than ever… Mote observed with a frown.

Oh, c’mon guys, Mark interjected, don’t be so down about this. If anything, I think the fact that people feel safe enough to go holiday shopping despite the Bleeder threat is a sign of how secure Tresnon is! They clearly trust the defenses to work, so why shouldn’t we?

And crowds are always exciting! Danielle exclaimed. It always means that people are really into something! And today, that something is a feast! She whipped around to face Mote and Kate, her arms pumped in front of her while she grinned and beheld her friends with virtual stars in her eyes. We’re all here to help Mark find the right ingredients to make his cooking the best ever! Isn’t that exciting?!

Mote and Kate both stared back at Danielle in bewilderment. After a moment’s pause, the two exchanged a glance, and then sighed in tandem, as if in defeat. …I can’t deny I’m looking forward to Mark’s cooking, after going for so long without, Mote admitted.

I’m just here to make sure you guys don’t fucking poison yourselves with the wrong ingredients! Kate insisted. This is a fucking alien planet, after all. You can never be too careful.

“Heh… I’m glad to hear it, Kate,” Mark replied with a smile, and then hefted a few empty bags in his right hand. Well, let’s get to it! That food won’t buy itself!

“Oh, Mark! I didn’t expect to run into you, here!”

Hmm…? Mark turned to look off to the side, toward the direction of the incoming female voice. Oh, Karísah! It’s nice to see you.

“Same to you!” Karísah cheerfully replied, coming to a stop just short of the Eximius Vir — with Davídrius standing just next to her, his arms crossed and expression foul as he glared out over the crowded Market Street. Karísah paid the Dean’s mood no mind as she looked over each of Mote, Kate, and Danielle, before remarking, “the three of you must be Mark’s friends, huh?”

Oh, right, you all haven’t met yet, have you? Mark commented, and then stepped aside as he began gesturing at his friends. Karísah, meet Mote, Kate, and Danielle, of the Eximius Vir. Guys, this is Karísah… as well as Dean Davídrius Wrikax, of WCU.

“Oi, oi,” Davídrius grumbled, “don’t drag me into this…”

“They’re our guests, Davídrius,” Karísah admonished as she passed him an annoyed glance. “They’re helpin’ out with Compound Defense, right? You should be a little nicer.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

…So you’re the Davídrius Wrikax I’ve heard so much about? Mote commented, looking the Dean over from head-to-toe, as if sizing him up. Both Davídrius and Karísah stood at six feet tall — making them tall by any conventional standard — yet they still fell one inch short of Mote’s height. This isn’t quite what I was expecting.

“I’m sure it wasn’t,” Davídrius drawled.

Mote, you can’t open with something like that… Mark said, you just met, after all.

Nah, I’m with Mote, Kate declared. This is one of the idiots who saved the fucking galaxy twenty years ago? Give me a fucking break.

“Tch… more outsiders with ego, huh?” Davídrius observed with a scowl. “Can’t believe I put up with this shit.”

To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that you were weak, or anything of the like, Mote clarified, while passing Kate an irritated glance. I’ve heard what you can do, and I don’t doubt your capabilities.

“I’m sensin’ one hell of a ‘but’, there.”

Aw, c’mon, everyone, why are we fighting already? Danielle interjected, moving to plant herself directly between Mote and Davídrius as she glanced between them. A big holiday’s coming up soon! We should be celebrating! Right?

“Yeah, exactly,” Karísah quickly affirmed, only to pass Davídrius a cheeky look. “But don’t mind Davídrius, he always gets grumpy when he has to deal with crowds.”

“That’s because crowds fuckin’ suck,” Davídrius retorted, and then looked over at Mote and Kate. “…That said, this is a good chance to talk. I’m sure y’all’ve heard of me, but I ain’t heard much of you Eximius Vir, aside from the claims that y’all can use your abilities without Chaos Energy. What’s up with that?”

Danielle shrugged. Dunno. But if I knew, I’d tell you!

If we knew, we couldn’t tell him, Mote corrected. An answer to that question would undoubtedly be confidential.

“Ah, great, another military stick-up-the-ass…” Davídrius grumbled. “Dunno what I expected.”

“If they’re all even half as powerful as Mark, then I’m sure they’ll have no problem with Bleeders, at least,” Karísah declared. “I’ve never met anyone stronger or more durable than him.”

Half as powerful?! Kate echoed incredulously, bitch, I’m even more powerful! You should see some of the shit I’ve blown up! I bet I could take out this whole damn city!

“You better fuckin’ not,” Davídrius growled.

“Ah ha…” Karísah laughed uneasily. “I’m sure it was just a joke… right?”

Kate does have a habit of choosing her words poorly, I must say, Mote commented.

Fuck you, asshole, Kate retorted.

“…Heh…” For the first time since the beginning of the conversation, a small smile crossed Davídrius’s face. “So y’all are harsh with each other, too, huh?”

“It really is interestin’ to see friend groups like this,” Karísah remarked.

The two of you are interesting, too! Danielle replied in kind. Davídrius kinda reminds me of Kate!

The Dean’s smile immediately flipped into a frown. “Dunno how I feel about that…”

It’s fine! Kate is brash, but deep down, she still cares about people, you know?

H-hey, what the hell are you sayin’?! Kate interjected.

It does make me wonder, though, Mote commented, his gaze lingering on Davídrius and Karísah. While the two were of the same height and both had black hair, little else about them was similar. Karísah’s shoulder-length hair, light skin, and muscular build contrasted with Davídrius’s tanned skin, low ponytail, and leaner build — not to mention their obvious differences in temperament, and the fact that Davídrius appeared to have 20 years on Karísah. …Are the two of you actually friends? Mote eventually questioned.

“Well… sorta, I guess,” Karísah responded sheepishly. “He’s more like my fa— uh… guardian.”

“First met her a long time ago, just over ten years at this point, I think,” Davídrius remarked. “Found her wanderin’ the wastelands, all alone, so I took her in. Been livin’ together ever since.”

Oh, I see! Danielle remarked. So she means ‘guardian’ like ‘parental guardian’, then?

“I ain’t a parent,” the Dean snapped. “Only thing parents are good for in this shithole is dyin’, or abandonin’ their kid to the wasteland. I got no intentions of bein’ so useless.”

Uh…? Danielle responded with uneasy silence, as did the rest of the Eximius Vir — even Karísah seemed to have adopted a pained expression, her gaze cast down and to the side.

“…Tch. Sorry…” Davídrius apologized, bringing an end to the protracted silence. “Guess outsiders like y’all wouldn’t understand. But this is one thing Karísah and I — as well as lots of folks livin’ here in Tresnon — got in common: our parents are dead, and died while we were kids.” He then took a deep breath, though his brow remained furrowed with frustration, and his arms crossed. “…So keep that in mind when y’all talk to other Tresédians.”

I… see, Mote responded warily.

Actually, we aren’t too different, Danielle declared, and then gestured at herself and the other Eximius Vir. We’re all orphans, too. I mean… we never knew our parents in the first place, so we didn’t have to see them, uh, die, or anything, but…

Davídrius turned his gaze toward Danielle, the frustration on his face soon replaced with contemplation. “Huh. That so…?” He then shifted his attention to Mote, Kate, and Mark. “…I guess that explains why y’all stick together, then.”

Well, that, and the fact that SERRCom has us by the balls, Kate snorted.

“Yeah, well, that’s the fuckin’ military for you. NSD ain’t much better. Though… how old are y’all, again?”

We don’t know exactly, actually, Mark said, but our best guess is around 22, or 23. Early 20s, basically.

“Early 20s, huh…” Davídrius mused.

“…Is something wrong?” Karísah questioned.

“Well, not really, I don’t think, but…” The Dean passed a doubtful glance toward the Eximius Vir. “…That timeline puts y’all’s parent’s disappearance right around the Nanocreature War…”

I doubt our parents’ disappearance had anything to do with the Nanocreatures, Mote replied. During the Nanocreature War, only two Earthian planets were attacked, and only during the final part of the war. And neither of them were Earth.

“Guess that does sound right…”

“…Ha, well, oof… this conversation really took a turn, huh?” Karísah remarked sheepishly. “Let’s just… put all of this behind us?”

Yeah, that’s right! Danielle immediately agreed with an emphatic nod. A holiday’s coming up! We’re supposed to be celebrating!

“Yeah!” Karísah affirmed with a smile, and then turned to Mark. “Speakin’ of Hunger’s Bane, are you goin’ to be cookin’ for people?”

I was planning on making a little something, sure, Mark replied, though… nothing too big. Only enough for the other Earthians and a couple guests, really.

“That’s a shame, I was hopin’ you’d help out with the campus dinner.”

I only really know how to make Earth dishes, and I figured people here wouldn’t be too interested…

“Much as folks here talk shit about outsiders, there ain’t much Tresédians like more than stealin’ other places’ foods,” Davídrius remarked. “We don’t exactly got much variety by ourselves. If you can spice things up, I’m sure folks would appreciate it.”

…Hmm… Mark eyed the Dean doubtfully. …Helping with the campus dinner, though…?

You should do it! Danielle urged. I can even help! C’mon, it’ll be fun!

Before you agree, you should be sure to know just what you’re agreeing to, Mote pointed out, and then turned to Davídrius and Karísah. Exactly what would cooking for the ‘campus dinner’ entail?

“You really needa ask? It’s literally just cookin’ for lots of people,” Davídrius replied incredulously. “Just have to make more shit. Takes more time, I guess, but ain’t like it’s complicated, or anythin’.”

“Says the one who never cooks at home…” Karísah muttered.

“Hey, I have tried. You’re the one who said I couldn’t cook for shit.”

Well, I don’t have any skin in this game, Kate remarked, but this ‘campus dinner’ shit sounds exactly like the kind of fucking bullshit Mark would want to help with.

That is true… Mark mused. …Well, Karísah, Davídrius, if what you say is true, then… I suppose I can help out, after all.

“That’s great to hear!” Karísah replied with a grin. “Me and Davídrius were actually just about to get some Hungers’ Bane shoppin’ done. If y’all come along, I can help explain how everything’s gonna go.”

We were just about to go shopping, too! Danielle exclaimed.

Certainly a convenient coincidence, Mote commented.

But a welcome one, nonetheless, Mark said. He passed Karísah a smile and a nod before turning toward the entrance to Market Street. Alright, then, let’s get some shopping done. Karísah, lead on!

“Gladly!” Karísah replied, leading the group into the crowds, a long day of shopping ahead of them.


“Alright, now that’s what I call a productive shooting session.”

“You can say that again, sir,” Captain Travis remarked with a self-satisfied smirk as he strode through the outskirts of Compound Tresnon alongside the other members of CSF-1. He then glanced to the side and playfully elbowed Researcher MacTavish, saying, “you’ve really improved, Kirstin. A couple more years of training, and I might even be able to call you a sniper buddy!”

The Researcher glanced back at him, only to quickly break eye contact to stare at the ground underfoot. “…R-really…?”

“You’ve certainly improved, that much is true,” Major Hackett declared, only to side-eye Travis a second later. “But don’t get her hopes up, Captain. Your sniping skills are, quite frankly, alien. I don’t know how you do it.”

“Ah ha ha… that so?” Travis replied with a sheepish laugh.

“Don’t downplay that freak skill of yours,” Saito retorted, “I heard about that shot you took on Sunova, down in the caves. With one bullet, you threaded a whirlwind of metal and one-shot the enemy Chaotic. Even Mote praised the shot — so you know it was a good one.” The Colonel then slowed his pace, his attention drifting off to the side, toward the walls that surrounded Compound Tresnon. “…Feels odd to have to go up on the walls if you want to do some shooting, though. I get that the land around here is a wasteland, but it still seems unwise to just fire guns from the top of the wall…”

“I assume that’s why there’s dedicated areas of the walls for shooting,” Hackett pointed out.

“Yeah, you get used to it, sir,” Travis replied, “it’s really easy to see someone approaching the firing lanes because of how flat it is out there, so there isn’t much danger to bystanders, I’d say.”

“There’s certainly a lot to ‘get used to’ here,” Saito muttered with a shake of his head. “There’s not much to do around here. Even the Relaynet access is so slow as to be practically useless.”

“Y-yeah…” MacTavish affirmed with a weary sigh, while clutching something near her collarbones.

Noticing the action, Travis passed her a glance, at which point an amused smile crossed his face. “Enjoying that necklace we got you?” he questioned cheekily.

“Uh… y-yeah…”

“That was a pretty useful find, wasn’t it?” Hackett commented. “A crystal necklace, that could also be used to store an identification key.”

“Even then, it’d be useless if Selind hadn’t agreed to give us access to Tresnon’s defense systems,” Saito pointed out, and then looked back at MacTavish. “Which I hear you’ve been taking advantage of a lot, eh?”

The Researcher regarded Saito with a wary stare. “…Sh-should I, um, not…?”

“No, it’s fine!” Saito replied. “If anything, I’m glad you’re taking a look — and that that necklace we got you as a belated birthday present could even be useful in that regard. Given the state of Tresnon, I didn’t think that some of their defense systems would be hidden behind electronic locks…”

“Ah, if it isn’t Luke and his friends.”

All four members of CSF-1 slowed to a stop, their attention drawn to a light-skinned brunette woman who was approaching down a perpendicular street. Beside her was the now-familiar silver-haired form of Gavon, who offered the Earthians a casual wave before stopping just short of them.

“Master Captain.” Saito acknowledged the Black Suns Officer with a nod before shifting his attention to the woman. “…And this is…?”

“This would be Ind,” Gavon replied.

“Nice to meet you~!” the woman commented cheerfully. She then sniffed the air before looking CSF-1 over head-to-toe. “Oooh, you smell like outsiders…”

“She’s one of the former Bleeders that I told you about, sir,” Travis muttered, his voice low so as to not be heard by Gavon or Ind. “Davídrius let her in two days ago.”

“I see…” Saito responded in kind, and then raised his voice to address the two newcomers. “Ind, eh?”

“I trust Luke’s kept you apprised of the situation?” Gavon questioned.

“That he has…”

“Still leaves me to wonder why a Black Suns Officer is chaperoning a former criminal without any local supervision,” Hackett pressed.

“Chaperoning?!” Ind echoed indignantly, and then crossed her arms as she glared petulantly at the Major. “I’m not just a guest anymore! I’m a member of Tresnon!”

“…Really?” Travis questioned, though his attention was directed at Gavon.

The Black Suns Officer responded with a resigned sigh and a shrug. “There’s not much to say. Their tip about the two Bleeder outposts was legitimate. Davídrius and Ralak even raided one of the outposts last night and brought back a few captives for questioning.”

“See? I just want to help!” Ind remarked; as she did, she slowly inched toward Travis, her eyes on the sniper rifle strapped to his back. “I’m sure you’ll get lots of nice info out of those stupid captives.”

“Right…” Saito drawled, watching as Travis slowly shifted his rifle to obscure it from the former Bleeder.

“Didn’t you only get this tip two days ago, though?” Hackett asked, “and now you’re saying there was a raid just yesterday?”

“The Dean wanted to act fast,” Gavon replied. “Which is probably why he only took Ralak as back-up, too.”

“Wait, it was only the two of them? Taking on an entire outpost?”

“They are Chaotics, Major,” Travis pointed out.

“Rather adept Chaotics, at that, despite what you might think,” Gavon asserted.

“You mean the Sentry and the Willthief? They’re some of the most powerful in Treséd!” Ind exclaimed. “That’s part of why I wanted to join Tresnon!”

“Now now, Ind, let’s… tone down the enthusiasm, just a tad,” Gavon suggested, and then turned his attention back to Colonel Saito. “Either way… those captives should help us finally get an informational edge. It’s the one upside of the Bleeders’ increased level of organization, lately — if you find an ‘in’, then there are more connections to pursue than ever before.”

“Why not just question the Bleeder we have right here?” Hackett responded as she stared down Ind — who merely responded with a toothy grin.

“We did,” Gavon commented, eying Ind himself. “…She says she doesn’t know much.”

“Which is true,” she quickly insisted, and then shook her head at Gavon. “Some hospitality. Should’ve expected as much from an outsider. Especially since your outsider reek is stronger than most.”

“I’m still Nimalian, you know. Though I guess that doesn’t mean much to Tresédians…” Gavon replied with a sigh.

“It does raise a question, though,” Saito pointed out. “Why are you watching her, alone? I thought the Dean wasn’t fond of outsiders, and the last I checked, literally everyone standing here right now is an ‘outsider’, by his standards.”

“Ha ha… well, Selind was supposed to be with me, but she apparently trusts me more than Dean Wrikax does.” Gavon shrugged. “Which is actually rather annoying. I’m supposed to be showing Ind here the ropes of defense duty, which would be a lot easier if I had the Head of Defense with me…”

“It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine~!” Ind insisted, heartily slapping Gavon on the back — so heartily, in fact, that he stumbled forward and spluttered. The former Bleeder then shifted her attention to the Earthians. “You guys are gonna be on defense duty, too, right? I can’t wait to see what outsiders like you can do! Maybe I’ll even get to use your weapons, cause a little Chaos~!

Saito, Hackett, and Travis immediately tensed in response to the almost imperceptible echo in Ind’s voice; even MacTavish noticed the verbal cue, and practically leaped behind Travis. Gavon, however, offered only an annoyed sigh before admonishing, “Ind, what did I tell you about partial invocations?”

“Aaaah, it’s fine, it’s fine~!” Ind retorted with a playful grin. “It’s just a little joke between friends~!”

“A joke that you better not pull again, or I swear to the skies, I’ll… tch.” Gavon sighed again before passing the Earthians an apologetic glance. “Sorry.”

“I certainly don’t envy you right now,” Travis remarked.

“Ha ha, well, I did volunteer to help Ralak with their rehabilitation.” The Black Suns Officer then turned to give Ind an admonishing look. “But this is a two-way street. You have to be cooperative with us, Ind, and that means cutting back on the threatening humor. I don’t know what you got away with while you were a Bleeder, but here, you need to have more tact.”

“Alright, alright, I get it, I get it!” Ind replied, bowing her head twice toward Gavon before spinning on her heel and charging off down the street. “Now, c’mon, we’ve been standin’ around for so long! Let’s go see those defenses!”

“Hold on!” Gavon shouted, quickly reaching his right hand toward Ind as he used his Gravitatechnism to lift her into the air, thereby immobilizing her. As she began struggling while floating, the Black Suns Officer turned toward the Earthians again. “…Sorry,” he apologized once more, “but it has only been two days, I suppose. Don’t worry, though — I’ll look after her.” He then began walking off himself, allowing Ind to fall to the ground as he shouted, “hey, what did I tell you earlier about running off on your own…?”

As Gavon and Ind continued down the street, Saito, Hackett, Travis, and MacTavish couldn’t help but stare after them in a mixture of concern and confusion.

“…Are all former Bleeders like this?” Hackett questioned.

“Well, uh, we’ve only met a couple,” Luke replied. “Ralak was saying that she wasn’t too different when she first defected, but, uh, it’s kinda hard to imagine her being anything like Ind.”

“W-well, um… studies do show th-that, um, re-rehabilitation can be, um… important,” MacTavish timidly pointed out.

“Sure, sure, I don’t doubt that. But…” Saito trailed off, still watching the retreating forms of Gavon and Ind before shaking his head and turning around. “Well, Tresnon isn’t our home, and this reformation program has apparently worked for hundreds of Bleeders before. So for now, let’s place our trust in Dean Wrikax and the other Nimalians. We, on the other hand, have some dinner to get.”

“Heh… fair enough, Colonel. Let’s get some food,” Hackett responded with a smirk as she, Travis, and MacTavish all joined Saito in continuing their walk down the streets of Tresnon.