Chapter 36 – Elites’ Break
The Next Day
— Thursday, November 10, 2129 AD —
“Ah, fucking finally! We’re back!”
“Are you really that excited to have returned to the Opportunity?” Mote questioned.
“Duh. This station is basically home,” Kate retorted. “Of course I’d be glad to be back!”
“Right…” Mote shook his head as the two walked down the corridors of the ISDS Opportunity. They had just returned from a public works mission on Earth — specifically, to help contain and repair a catastrophically malfunctioning power plant in France. The mission was far from the first time Mote and the other Eximius Vir had been sent to help out the nations and peoples of Earth, and it had passed just as routinely as the rest.
“I can’t believe we’re still being sent on these fucking ‘public works’ missions…”
Mote passed Kate a reproachful glance. “These missions are for the good of the people of Earth, who are the same people that SERRCom is sworn to protect,” he declared. “It’s our duty to help wherever and whenever we can.”
“Yeah, yeah, you and your fuckin’ duty,” Kate deadpanned. “You aren’t the one stuck doing boring shit all the time, though.”
“What was boring about what we just did? We contained a borderline-meltdown reactor. None of our other power planet repair missions have been so intense.”
“But it’s still a basic-ass reactor built with basic-ass last-century tech! I need a design from at least this century to get me going.”
“Ever the picky one…”
“You just don’t understand what it’s like to be me,” Kate replied as she puffed out her chest. “Fixing that reactor was as easy for me as walking! You wouldn’t call fucking walking exciting, would you?”
“Depends. A walk through a park can be very relaxing, and worth looking forward to.”
“Alright, you smartass. You know that’s not what I meant.”
Mote chuckled briefly. “If you insist.”
“Of course I insist. I always fucking insist,” Kate replied with a smirk. “In fact, I insist so much it gets me in trouble. Fucking Director…”
“Don’t make me get the Director to reinstate your research and mission block.”
Kate shot Mote a glare. “If you do that, I’ll fucking kill you, you narc.”
“I see your punishment hasn’t changed you a bit,” Mote deadpanned.
“Hmph… always about the fucking rules and regulations with you. Just once, you should pull that fucking stick out of your ass and live it up a little.”
“Maybe I’ll shove it up yours, you could certainly use more stiffness in your life.”
Kate smirked and winked at Mote. “I didn’t know you were so kinky, Mote!”
“Wha—! Shut the hell up,” Mote insisted with a scowl. “What’s with you and the unwanted sexual metaphors?”
“Damn, Mote, that was the lightest of light ribbing. You really need to lighten up. Maybe even get laid.”
“Have you ever gotten laid?” Mote challenged.
“L-look,” Kate spluttered, “that’s not the fucking point—!”
“Oh, guys! You’re back!!”
“…Ah, Danielle,” Mote greeted as Danielle ran up the corridor and jumped to a stop right in front of him and Kate.
“You sure seem excited to see us,” Kate remarked.
“Yeah! It’s great!” Danielle exclaimed as she excitedly bounced on the balls of her feet. “Hurry up and change into your civilian clothes!”
Mote and Kate exchanged a confused glance. “…What for?” Mote questioned.
“Saito’s taking us out for dinner!”
“…Fucking… dinner? What?” Kate responded incredulously. “What for?”
“What do you mean, what for?” Danielle replied, “do you really need a reason to go out and eat some nice food with your friends?”
“Weren’t you the one telling me to ‘lighten up’, anyways?” Mote commented, looking at Kate.
“Don’t use my own words against me, asshole,” Kate retorted, and then released an impatient sigh. “Man, I wanted to get back to looking at those sweet-ass mechs…”
“Aw, c’mon, that can wait, can’t it?” Danielle moved in closer to Kate, clasping her hands over her chest, pouting out her lips, and tearing up her eyes. “C’mon, pleeeeaaase?”
“Hey, hey, what did I tell you about the fucking puppy-dog eyes in my face?” Kate retorted as she shoved Danielle back, only to shrug a moment later. “But, fine, whatever. Wherever Saito wants to go has to have better food than the mess hall…”
“Yay!” Danielle exclaimed, only to immediately turn toward Mote and pull the same expression that she had used on Kate.
“You’re relentless,” Mote deadpanned, only to break into a resigned smile a moment later. “…Very well. I suppose I am a little hungry.”
“Oh, wow!” Danielle drew back in surprise. “You agreed really fast! I thought I was going to have to turn into an actual puppy to convince you to come!”
Kate snorted in amusement. “Not that a puppy would’ve helped against Mote’s cold, stiff heart.”
“What?” Mote frowned. “Just because I never change my opinions based solely on the presence of a supposedly cute animal doesn’t mean—”
“Supposedly?!” Danielle exclaimed in disbelief.
“Fucking hell, Mote, it was a joke!” Kate declared incredulously.
“…Right. I’m sure,” Mote deadpanned.
“Anyways, I’m glad you both agreed to come!” Danielle commented cheerfully, only to frown a moment later. “Now if only Mark and Luke were here, too…”
“Yeah, well… can’t win ‘em all,” Kate replied with a shrug.
“It is a shame that we missed Mark’s birthday, though…” Mote lamented.
“Wait, what?!” Danielle exclaimed, “his birthday? When?!”
Mote responded with a blank stare. “…Yesterday.”
“Oh, no! I totally forgot! I have to message him!” Danielle spun on her heel and bounded off, pausing only for a moment to shout over her shoulder, “Saito said to meet him at disembarkation bay C3 in 20 minutes! See you then!!”
Mote and Kate watched Danielle rush down the hallway and then disappear around a corner. At that point they released simultaneous sighs of exhaustion, and then glanced at each other.
“Danielle really is full of energy all the time, huh?” Kate remarked.
“I don’t know where she gets it…” Mote shook his head. “…Anyways, we should get ready. Let’s go.”
“…I have to say, sir, when you said you wanted to go out for dinner, I wasn’t expecting to come here.”
“Just what the hell are you surprised about, Major?” Saito questioned as he deftly snapped apart a pair of chopsticks and began scooping up noodles out of the bowl before him. “I told you we were getting ramen. Did you really not expect me to bring you all to Tokyo? My hometown?”
“Fair enough,” Hackett replied as she readily followed Saito’s suit.
Mote eyed the two for a moment as he grabbed his own chopsticks, and then glanced around himself. The Earth-bound members of CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir — that is, Colonel Saito, Major Hackett, Kirstin, Mote, Kate, and Danielle — were currently all seated around a small table located in an equally small ramen shop on the streets of Tokyo. Despite the group gathering for dinner, the local time read just past 11 in the morning; Opportunity’s beaming systems allowed them to travel instantly to wherever on the globe they wanted, after all. The timing meant that the lunch rush was slowly ramping up, and Mote could tell that it wouldn’t be long before the shop was crowded.
I wonder if anyone will recognize us… He looked down at himself, and the blue turtleneck shirt and jeans that he was wearing. The others were dressed similarly casually: Kate maintained her red bandana, but was otherwise wearing a red shirt, a denim jacket, and jeans; Danielle had donned a simple t-shirt and shorts, despite the cold winter weather; Kirstin wore a black long coat, buttoned up and hiding whatever else she was wearing underneath; Hackett had a thick, synthetic-fur-lined black jacket along with her jeans and boots; and Saito dressed similarly to Hackett, but without the synthetic fur. None of them bore any emblems or signs of being a part of SERRCom, or any military for that matter — but the fact nonetheless remained that in a lunchtime crowd in Tokyo, Japan, Saito (and to a lesser extent, Kirstin, due to her brown hair and pale skin) was the only member of the group that didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
“What are you thinking about, Mote?”
“Hmm?” Mote snapped his attention to Saito, who was watching him while scooping some noodles into his mouth. “…Ah, sorry,” Mote eventually replied. “I was just thinking that we stick out a little… that’s all.”
“No fucking shit,” Kate retorted through a mouthful of noodles. “Did you expect us to blend into the crowd?”
“Don’t eat with your mouth full,” Hackett insisted, and then glanced at Mote. “It’s nothing to be too concerned about.”
“You’ll get some odd stares here and there, but that would be true in most countries,” Saito claimed. “Anyways, eat up! Your ramen will get cold if you just let it sit.”
“It’s really good, Mote!” Danielle remarked. “Give it a try!”
“Yes, yes…” Mote muttered as he began eating as well. Noodle-heavy East Asian cuisine didn’t sit high on Mote’s list of favorite foods, but complaining wouldn’t do any good. He was at least able to compromise with a spicy tonkatsu; spice and meat were the two things he looked for in a meal, and any dish that provided both was good enough in his eyes.
“It does feel a little odd to be eating dinner during local lunchtime, though,” Hackett said a few moments later.
“It can’t be helped,” Saito replied. “We’ve been operating on UTC minus 5 for a while now, so there aren’t many overlaps between our mealtimes and Japan’s.”
“We could’ve just eaten in New York,” Kate retorted.
“Ramen? In New York?” Saito countered incredulously. “There’s a couple decent places, sure, but nothing beats going to the source.”
“Yeah, it’s really good!” Danielle remarked. “Thanks a lot for bringing us here!”
“Uh, y-yeah!” Kirstin quickly added. “Th-thanks…”
“I appreciate it, as well,” Mote commented, “though, sir, I have to ask… why?”
Saito simply shook his head as he slurped up a handful of noodles. After swallowing, he replied, “you really need a reason for everything, don’t you?”
“We are busy, sir…”
“And that’s exactly why we’re here. We’ve all been quite busy lately, and as far as I can tell, the odds are high that we’re going to keep being busy for a while yet. It’s best to take breaks whenever we can — burnout does no one any good, after all.”
“We’re gonna keep being busy?” Kate echoed as she eyed Saito suspiciously. “How so?”
“Well, as it turns out, we’re leaving Earth again very soon,” the Colonel commented. “I can’t say more in public, obviously. But just know that we’ll be leaving in a couple days, and the trip itself will take another few.”
“Will we at least get to see something cool?” Danielle questioned.
“That’s impossible to know ahead of time. Though, given our track record…”
“We certainly do have a way of finding ourselves in… interesting situations,” Hackett stated.
“If it gives me a chance to blow something the hell up, then I won’t complain,” Kate declared. “I haven’t been in a good fight in fucking weeks!”
“Most people would say that’s a good thing.”
“Well I’m not most people, now, am I?”
“You’re more right than you’d think,” Mote responded, and then pretended to not notice when Kate threw him a glare.
“This all just… kind of sucks,” Danielle said, her gaze directed downwards. “We’ve seen some cool things, but… I want to see more than just military hardware, you know? Like Nimalia! Mark’s so lucky…”
“You’ll get the chance to see Nimalia eventually, I’m sure,” Saito assured her. “SERRCom has a reason to be directly concerned about Nimalia, now, so I have little doubt that we’ll end up visiting at some point.”
“Yay!” Danielle exclaimed. “I really miss Mark… and his cooking! It’s been so long — oh, no, Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and Mark won’t be around to cook for it! Aw, man…”
“I’m not sure how Mark would feel about you treating him like a personal chef,” Mote said.
“Oh please, we both know he’d fucking love it,” Kate retorted.
“I’m not sure that we’re going to have a Thanksgiving that he could cook for, anyways,” Saito declared. “We’ll likely be working through that entire week.”
“Aw, what?!” Danielle complained, “we don’t even get that off?!”
“That’s the military, for you,” Hackett said with a sigh. “I bet we’ll be working through Christmas, too.”
“Sorry, everyone,” Saito apologized, “but our missions are pretty important. Even so, I more than anyone understand the importance of taking breaks. I’ll talk to the General, see if I can get him to give us some leave… but I’ll be honest, don’t expect too much. Not for another few months, at least.”
“What a fucking travesty…” Kate muttered.
Mote passed her an incredulous glance. “What are you complaining about? You always spend your off time doing work.”
“Yeah, but at least I get to fucking choose to do that, dumbass.”
Mote opened his mouth to respond, but stopped as he felt a tug on his shirt. With his brow furrowed in annoyance, he looked over to see what was tugging him — where he found a young boy standing next to his chair, staring up at him with wide eyes.
“Hey! Hey, mister!” the boy said, as he tugged at Mote’s shirt again, “are you the man from TV?”
“…Uuuhhh…” Mote simply stared at the boy, bewildered. What do I say…?
“Awwww, you’re so cute!” Danielle cooed, quickly jumping out of her chair to crouch next to the little boy. “Hey there! What’s your name?”
The boy responded with a blank stare, and then looked up at Mote again — at which point he released Mote’s shirt and took a step back.
“…Remember where you are, Danielle,” Saito commented, and then looked down at the boy himself. “Hey, there. Where’s your parents?”
Mote snapped his attention to the Colonel; while he could understand everything Saito said, the cadence of the Colonel’s words felt somehow off. …Oh, of course. He switched to speaking Japanese, Mote realized, I should’ve known. Our implants let us understand everyone around us, but they still can’t understand us. Well… I guess the Colonel will have to do all of the talking, then.
“Ah, there you are!”
Rushing through the lunchtime crowd was a young woman — likely in her late twenties, by Mote’s estimation. She swooped in and scooped up the young boy into her arms, at which point she turned to Saito and bowed her head. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to bother. Sorry!”
“No, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” Saito replied, sitting back in his chair to look up at the woman and her child. “Your kid has a good eye.”
“Hmm?” The woman glanced between Saito and the boy in her arms with confusion. “What did he say to you? Did he say something bad?”
“Not at all. In fact…” Saito glanced toward Mote, and then turned to address the boy directly. “Hey there, little guy. If you want to grow up like Mote, then don’t run away from your mother, got it?”
“…!” The boy’s eyes lit up as he whipped around to stare at Mote again.
The woman followed the boy’s gaze, her own expression blank for a moment — until Mote saw her eyes suddenly light up with recognition. Immediately, she bowed her head toward him, and then again toward Saito. “Oh, I’m so sorry, we didn’t mean to intrude! We’ll get out of your way, now. Sorry!”
Mote and Saito watched the woman rush out of the restaurant, and soon disappear into the Tokyo crowds. The Colonel then turned back toward the table and took a deep breath. “…Well, that’s that,” he eventually said; Mote could tell, though only just barely, that the Colonel had switched back to speaking English.
“I didn’t know you were good with kids,” Danielle remarked.
“I helped raise you,” Saito pointed out.
“Still, that was annoying,” Kate muttered. “This is why I don’t like kids. Always getting in your fucking way, never understanding what they’re doing…”
“That’s harsh,” Saito countered. “The boy just recognized you all, that’s it.”
“Yes…” Mote responded warily, subtly surveying the restaurant around him with his eyes alone. When the group had first arrived, Mote had noticed that they were on the receiving end of several odd looks… but now, people seemed to be stealing glances much more frequently.
“If the boy recognized them, then who else does…?” Hackett questioned.
“How did he recognize us, anyways…?” Danielle asked, confused.
“The answer is obvious,” Mote said. “We’re some of the most recognizable faces in SERRCom… you should know that.” He then passed Kate a level glance. “It’s why keeping our behavior under control is so important.”
“Fucking whatever, dad,” Kate retorted.
“Are we really that well known…?” Danielle questioned, as she began looking around the restaurant.
“The four of you were Earth’s first Chaotics, after all. And you know all of those ‘public works’ projects you keep getting sent on? Half the purpose of those is to ingratiate both yourselves and SERRCom to the public at large,” Saito pointed out, and then shook his head warily. “…I don’t blame you for not realizing, though, since SERRCom doesn’t put you in charge of their messaging. You’re just a face they can use.”
“Awfully cynical of you to say, sir,” Hackett commented.
“Maybe, but he’s right,” Kate insisted.
“Even so, it doesn’t change the responsibility that we hold,” Mote declared.
“You can go shove that fucking responsibility up your ass, for all I care.”
“Weren’t you telling me earlier to remove the stick from my ass?”
“Oh shut up, smartass.”
“People sure seem to be looking at us now, though,” Danielle remarked.
After her statement, the group momentarily paused talking to subtly look around. Sure enough, it seemed to Mote that most of the patrons were looking at or otherwise talking about them — furthermore, their table now had a wider berth around it than before, even with the increasing density of the lunchtime crowd.
Upon realizing this, Kirstin shrunk into her chair, and spoke up for the first time in a while. “…Wh-when are we, um, going back…?”
Saito released a hefty sigh. “…I’d hoped that we’d be able to go incognito for longer…”
“If that’s what you wanted, sir, I think New York would’ve been the better choice, after all,” Hackett replied. “Or even better, LA.”
“Yeah, yeah…” The Colonel waved her off and then glanced around the table, at each of the ramen bowls in front of everyone. “…Well, it looks like we’re all done, at least.”
“I’m ready to get the hell out of here, too,” Kate remarked as she rolled her shoulders and then cracked her knuckles. “I wanted to take a look at the mechs before bed.”
“I suppose it is a little late, going by our time…” Mote muttered.
“Indeed. Well then, let’s get going,” Saito declared as he stood up from the table, prompting the rest of the group to do the same. “Back to work we go…”