Chapter 2 – Leaving (for) Safety

Chapter 2 – Leaving (for) Safety

The Next Morning

“Oh… Colonel Saito, wasn’t it? And Captain Travis?”

“Hm?” Saito and Travis turned away the gate in front of them to look down the road, where Davídrius, Rebehka, and Christeané were approaching. With Rebehka was a single suitcase, mirroring the fact that Saito also carried one — after all, they were all standing just outside of Compound Tresnon’s tiny airport. Even as the early morning sun began its slow march upwards through the sky, a couple of transport craft were warming up their engines in preparation to travel elsewhere on Nimalia; Major Hackett, Mote, Mark, Danielle, and Kate had all already boarded.

“Well, if it isn’t the Deans,” Travis remarked as the three Nimalians stopped short of the two Earthian officers. The Captain then glanced down at Rebehka’s suitcase. “Leaving already?”

“’Already’? I’ve been here for five days,” Rebehka replied. “If not for everything that happened on Hunger’s Bane, I’d have left yesterday.”

“Yeah… sorry ‘bout that,” Davídrius grumbled.

“Ah, c’mon, it’s not your fault,” Christeané insisted as he heartily slapped Davídrius on the back. “You should know better than to blame yourself.”

“But while we’re on the subject,” Saito interjected, and then paused for a moment to look out over the rest of Compound Tresnon. Parts of the Compound walls could be seen from the airport gates, and on top of them, the Colonel could spot the silhouettes of patrolling Defense Force members. “What, exactly, are your plans for re-securing this city?”

“Straight to business…” Davídrius muttered, his voice carrying with it the tinge of grogginess that results from a lack of sleep. “…Guess I can’t blame you, though.”

“Kaoné arrived just a couple hours ago,” Rebehka pointed out. “She’s already replaced the damaged power generator, and should be working on the shield generators about now.”

“Her powers sure are useful,” Christeané remarked. “Though she takes ‘em too seriously. She didn’t even come with us to see you off!”

“I can hardly blame her, given the circumstances.”

“Yeah…” Davídrius nodded absentmindedly, and then turned towards Saito. “Now that Kaoné’s back in town, our defense will be at full strength in no time. And they should stay that way as long as she’s around.”

“What about the fact that Bleeders got past those defenses?” Saito pressed.

“Eugh…” The Tresédian Dean groaned in frustration. “…I don’t like it, but we’ll have to stop acceptin’ folks into the reformation program for the time bein’. Until we can deal with Strén, and his two lackeys…”

“What about the Bleeders who are already in the program? Are they not a risk?”

“No, they ain’t,” Davídrius replied, this time with an irate firmness in his voice. “Selind and the Defense Force went over everyone who was involved in the attack, and of them, the only Reformation Program members were Shade and Feral. Hell, the two guards Shade killed on her way to sabotagin’ the power generator were former Bleeders. So don’t you go thinkin’ that the former Bleeders who were already here are the problem.”

“…If you insist,” Saito responded.

“Ah, well, I hate to press a sore topic, but, uh…” Travis smiled uneasily as he looked at Davídrius. “I take it that means you’ve investigated Ralak, too…?”

“As much as we could. She’s clean,” Davídrius answered, and then released a lofty sigh. “Seems like she’s blamin’ herself for this attack, too… damn it, should never have doubted her to start with…”

“That’s easy to say in hindsight, but I think you made the correct decision in the moment,” Christeané countered. “All we knew before the attack was that the two Bleeders you recently let in were bad. And from what I hear, Ralak vouched for them, right? So it only makes sense to doubt her.”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t the only one.”

“Yeah, Gavon was there, too…” Travis muttered.

“The Black Suns Officer? He vouched for the Bleeders?” Saito glanced between Travis and Davídrius. “How’s he play into all this?”

“That’s impossible to say,” Davídrius replied. “Some of the Bleeders we ran into abroad — and some of the Bleeders who showed up with Strén, too — they had Black Suns powered armor, there’s no doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean that the Suns are behind this. There’s any number of ways the Bleeders could’ve gotten that armor. But still…”

“That Bleeder we fought had a prosthetic, didn’t she?” Rebehka pointed out. “I know the Suns make liberal use of cybernetic limbs. Is there a connection there?”

“Maybe, but… I had Kaoné look at the pieces of the prosthetic that were left behind from me crushin’ Feral’s hand, but Kaoné said that those pieces weren’t enough to tell who made the thing. Somethin’ about the materials bein’ pretty common to any cybernetic prosthetic on the market…”

“How many people sell cybernetic prosthetics in this galaxy?” Luke questioned.

“Are you kidding? There’s tons of companies,” Christeané remarked. “If you’re looking for military-grade prosthetics, then there’s only a handful, with the Suns being one of them. But that’s still several orgs we’d need to investigate.”

“And if those prosthetics are openly sold on the galactic market, then finding the manufacturer might not give you the whole picture,” Saito commented.

“But the mere fact that Feral had one still gives us a lead,” Davídrius declared. “A hardened prosthetic, that looks and feels just like a real arm, that also had internal energy shielding — that’s some damn advanced tech. You’d never find a piece of tech that advanced at any of the Dumpin’ Grounds. The only way the Bleeders got one of those is if someone gave it to ‘em.”

“Not to mention, you can’t just slap one of those things onto your shoulder and call it a day,” Christeané added. “You need advanced facilities, resources, and knowledge to install a prosthetic that advanced. I sincerely doubt the Bleeders have access to any of that.”

“So you think that the Bleeders are being backed by a larger, more advanced organization, then?” Saito questioned. “Do you have any idea who?”

“I got a couple… but it’s all speculation, for now,” Davídrius replied. “Still, we know more now than we did before the attack. The Bleeders are sloppy — each time they make a move, they give us more information. If they keep this up, we won’t even have to do any investigatin’ ourselves!”

“Being passive never wins you any wars.”

“Relax, that was a joke. Of course I ain’t gonna just sit on my ass while the Bleeders are out there fuckin’ shit up. And what we know now is finally enough to launch some real investigations of our own. We know Strén’s back and leadin’ the Bleeders, we know he’s got two Chaotics named Shade and Feral who seem to be his seconds in command, we know they got prosthetics, and we know they got outside help.”

“And that they have a hostage…” Travis added.

“Yeah…” Davídrius’s expression rapidly soured. “…But she won’t be with the Bleeders for long. I can guarantee that.”

“And I’ll help out as much as I can, for the rest of the week,” Christeané readily replied, and then passed a wistful glance toward the transport craft sitting within the airport. “Still, it really sucks that we’re losing so much talent, all at once…”

“Ah ha… sorry about that,” Rebehka apologized with a sheepish laugh. “But this summit I’m going to is too important. I can’t miss it.”

“Summit?” Saito passed her an inquisitive glance. “Are you going to the same summit we are?”

“I’d heard that there would be SERRCom representatives there… so that’ll be you?” Rebehka then looked down at Saito’s suitcase. “…I guess that’s why we’re leaving at the same time, then.”

“Damn military summits,” Davídrius grumbled. “Could’ve really used your help around here…”

“Sorry, but you know how it is.”

“If you’re going, then will the summit have something to do with the, uh… metallic infection?” Travis questioned.

“That’ll definitely be part of it,” Rebehka answered, and then looked over both her shoulders, as if investigating her surroundings. After determining that no one aside from the three Deans and two SERRCom Officers was present, she turned back to Saito and lowered her voice, saying, “I also heard that some of the discussions will involve the CSA, somehow… and not in a way related to the infection.”

“If it isn’t about the infection, then there’s only a couple other things that it could be… and none of them are good,” Saito responded in kind.

“And while y’all are off talkin’ to diplomats in some boardroom, I’ll just be here… fightin’ crooked gangsters,” Davídrius muttered.

“Aw, c’mon, buddy, you’ll have me to help!” Christeané remarked with a cheeky grin.

“Yeah, until the end of the week.”

“Well, hate to say it, but that’s all I can spare. I’ll be needed back at KCC once the new semester starts.”

“Hmm…” Colonel Saito eyed Davídrius for a moment. “…If you’re lacking in manpower, then I can have the Eximius Vir stay here for the remainder of the week. They won’t be needed for the summit, anyways.”

“No, no…” Davídrius shook his head. “Don’t mind my complainin’, you and your… ‘Eximius Vir’ have already done plenty for Tresnon. If not for y’all, well…” The Dean paused for a moment, only to release a deep sigh and pass Saito a resigned smile. “Hate to say it, but if not for y’all, then the Bleeder army probably would’ve actually attacked. And a lot more people would be dead right now.”

“Whoa, what’s this?!” Christeané remarked in feigned awe. “Davídrius? Thanking a bunch of outsiders?!” He then turned to grin at Saito. “You better remember this, Colonel, it doesn’t happen often!”

“Oh, shut the hell up.”

“Heh,” Saito responded with a smirk. “Well, I’ll be honest, we had our own interests, here. But I’m glad we could help.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Davídrius grumbled. “Still, y’all ain’t gonna be around for forever, so I can’t use y’all as a crutch.”

“You say, as you use Kaoné as a crutch,” Rebehka teased.

“Hey, she volunteered to come back early,” Davídrius shot back. “’Sides, as long as she’s around, we barely even need anyone else.”

“So she really is that powerful, then?” Travis questioned. “I’ll be honest, she doesn’t really seem like the fighting type, to me…”

“Ha! That’s because she isn’t!” Christeané replied. “She hates fighting. But being able to conjure up matter out of basically no where is useful for more than just fighting.”

“And even in a fight, Kaoné’s Overdrive is very powerful,” Rebehka stated. “It wasn’t so useful during the Nanocreature War… but against opponents like the Bleeders, it’s the perfect counter.”

“What’s her Overdrive?” Travis asked.

“’Conflict’s Judge’. When she activates it, all weapons within ten kilometers of her permanently break. And while her Overdrive is active, all killing or aggressive intent within five kilometers of her is strongly inhibited.”

“And the Bleeders are practically driven by aggression and killing intent,” Davídrius added.

“I suppose that does sound rather powerful,” Saito commented.

“And a little concerning. My rifle’s a weapon, too, you know…” Travis muttered.

“Well you’re in luck,” Christeané responded cheekily. “’Cause Kaoné can just make you a new one! The magic of Materiatechnism!”

“Still… kinda wish I had more folks to back her up, so she didn’t feel like she needed to help,” Davídrius said. “Especially durin’ this break. She’s supposed to be with her family, right now…”

“Ah, right…” Rebehka responded uneasily.

“What, do you not have families of your…?” Travis began to ask, but trailed off when he noticed the rapidly souring expression on Rebehka’s face.

“Ah ha ha ha!!” Christeané laughed aloud as he threw his arms around Rebehka and Davídrius’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, guys! We’re the only family we need!”

“Speak for yourself,” Davídrius retorted as he shoved Christeané away.

“…Kaoné and Kevérin both have spouses and kids,” Rebehka eventually explained, “and Kevken has a boyfriend, but…” She then forced a smile. “I’ve just been, uh, rather busy, of late, so…”

“You think you’ve been busy? Oi,” Davídrius interjected, “I ain’t ever had a girlfriend in the first place.”

“I don’t think that’s because you’re too busy,” Christeané replied with a smirk.

“Heh,” Saito chuckled in amusement as he watched Davídrius glare at Christeané. The Colonel then stooped over to pick up his suitcase and took a deep breath before saying, “well, speaking of being busy, I do have somewhere I need to be.”

“Ah, right!” Rebehka quickly readjusted her grip on her own suitcase before turning to give Davídrius and Christeané each a farewell hug. “I really am sorry to be leaving the two of you to deal with this,” she said, flashing them both a smile before beginning to rush off toward the transports, “but this summit really is important! If I get the chance, I’ll come back to help out, I promise!”

“…Unfortunately, I can’t say the same,” Saito stated as he watched Rebehka disappear into the airport, before turning back to address Travis, Davídrius, and Christeané. “In a few days, the Eximius Vir and CSF-1 will have to return to Earth. Captain, you and Mark will be on your own again after that.”

“Got it, sir,” Travis replied.

“I don’t know what the hell SERRCom is up to these days, but, uh…” Davídrius scratched his head uneasily. “…Wish you the best of luck, Colonel. As outsiders go, you ain’t that bad.”

“Ha! I’ll take that as a compliment,” Saito replied with a smile. He then nodded toward Travis. “Captain. Keep watch of MacTavish and the recruits for me while the Major and I are out.”

“C’mon, what am I, a babysitter?” Travis responded, though he was smiling all the same. “Guess it’s better than whatever you’ll be doing at the summit, though, Colonel. I sure don’t envy you! Good luck with that!”

“Tch. Hopefully, I won’t need it,” Saito responded, and then finally turned to enter the airport himself, prepared to move on to his next task as the ever-busy leader of CSF-1.


A low electrical hum permeated a dimly lit control room, illuminated primarily by a handful of computer monitors and a large power generator seen through a window. The generator itself bore no markings of age; its metal components shone as brilliantly as a freshly polished car, despite the underground room in which it stood appearing much like a dirty, musty old garage.

From her lone seat within the control room, Kirstin looked down upon the brand new generator in thought. Barely an hour ago, Kaoné had created the generator on the spot to bolster Compound Tresnon’s power grid. Tresnon’s power outage during the Bleeder attack two days ago had been caused by the sabotage of a single power generator, after all — that is, the Compound’s only power generator. Seeing this glaring weakness, Kaoné — with Kirstin’s assistance — decided to replace the destroyed generator with a more efficient version, as well as augment the power grid with solar power. The new generator was easier to refuel and maintain, while the solar panels leveraged Tresnon’s sunny climate to create a distributed power grid that was resilient to attack. Kaoné, being a Materiatechnic, was largely focused on creating the power components themselves, while Kirstin worked on dealing with the programmatic side of the new power grid: ensuring the generators could distribute the electrical load evenly, ensuring that the load could be quickly and automatically rebalanced in the event that one or two of the generators suddenly went offline, and other such issues.

As she thought about the work laid out in front of her, Kirstin released a deep, weary sigh. While she was familiar enough with electrical systems to tinker with and improve upon them, she was no electrical engineer, and dealing with Compound Tresnon’s new power grid was quite the task to tackle — even more so considering that Kirstin would have to return to Earth in five days with the rest of CSF-1. Nevertheless, she resolved herself to get as much work done as she could, and so quickly returned to typing away on her laptop, which itself was hooked into the systems that drove the power generator in the adjacent room.

No sooner had she gotten back to work, however, than the load clunk of a lock unlocking echoed through the control room. Startled, Kirstin’s attention snapped to the control room’s entrance, where Selind appeared, her signature sniper strapped to her back.

Upon entering, Selind quickly scanned the control room; when she spotted Kirstin, she offered a casual wave. “Oh, it’s you,” she remarked, letting the control room door close behind her. “Have you seen Kaoné around?”

“Uh…” Kirstin stared blankly at Selind before suddenly looking away, her attention refocusing on her laptop. “Y-you, um, missed her. A-an hour ago…”

“An hour? Damn, that woman moves fast…” Selind let out a resigned sigh. “Not that I’m complainin’ that she’s helpin’ so much, but she really needs to look out for herself, too.”

“I-I guess…”

“And that goes for you, too.”

Kirstin looked up at Selind again, this time in confusion. “W-what…?”

“You heard me,” Selind replied, her arms crossed as she looked down at Kirstin with an amused smirk. “I know you’ve been workin’ your ass off, tinkerin’ and improvin’ our energy shields, and now our power systems, too. Now, I’m not one to turn my nose up at helpful outsiders, but the fact still is that you don’t live here. Don’t feel like you need to work so hard for us.”

“…O-oh…” Kirstin’s gaze fell again, and her shoulders drooped. “Am… a-am I not, um, h-helping…?”

“What? Are you kiddin’?!” Selind exclaimed incredulously, “’course you’re helpin’! That thing you did with the shields last week was a big help. I mean, it didn’t really help much during the attack, but that ain’t your fault, that was a power generation thing. And now you’re here, helpin’ out with exactly that. If the folks on the Defense Force were even half as smart and hard-workin’ as you, then Tresnon would’ve caught up with Tekdecé’s tech by now!”

“I-I’m not, um, th-that smart…”

“I hear smart people say that all the time. Look, I’m just sayin’, you’re a big help around here. Just, it seems like helpin’ is all you’ve been doin’. Take some time for yourself every now and then. I mean, those Earthian kids are goin’ on trips all over Nimalia, seems like — you should give that a try. Not many people get that chance.”

“…I… I dunno…”

“Huh. There’s really no where on Nimalia you find interestin’? Hell, if you don’t want to go anywhere, I could still show you around Tresnon…”

“I don’t…” Kirstin started, but trailed off as a thought crossed her mind. She then snapped her attention down to her laptop and began quickly shifting through the various open windows to find a specific piece of information. “A-actually, there, um, m-might be a place…”

“Really now?” Selind remarked, while watching the Researcher with a bemused expression. “What’s the place?”

“I-I’m not sure, a-actually. I, um…” Kirstin trailed off uneasily; from where Selind stood, she couldn’t see the actual screen of Kirstin’s laptop — the screen that now featured a world map of Nimalia, with two horizontal red lines across the northern and southern hemispheres. I can’t tell her that these lines were derived from the Dreadnought coordinate cache, Kirstin thought to herself, but… I can still ask her if the lines cross anything significant, right? Maybe she’ll know something that will help me get to the bottom of these coordinates…

“…You need help, there?” Selind prompted after a few seconds of silence.

“Oh… n-no. Uh, w-well, yes,” Kirstin replied, briefly glancing up at Selind before looking down at her laptop again. She then turned the device around on her lap, showing the screen to Selind — who then approached to take a look. “I, um, I-I’m doing some, uh… research, and, well… d-do you know if th-there’s anything, um, sig-significant under either of, um, these lines?”

“What do we have here… a world map of Nimalia, huh?” Selind mused as she inspected the screen. She then frowned. “Uh… now, I could draw you a map of Treséd blindfolded, but when it comes to the rest of Nimalia, I’m, uh… not so good at geography.”

Kirstin’s face fell. “Oh… s-sorry…”

“Though, hold on—“ Selind added, holding her hand out to stop Kirstin from turning her laptop around again. The Tresédian then leaned over to squint at the map. “…Huh. Well, I still don’t know much about Nimalian geography, but I can see two things, at least. The top line — what’s that, north? — looks like it barely misses the Hazard Islands. And the bottom line crosses right over the Fog Islands. Both those places have tons of stories about ‘em.”

“R-really? L-like what?”

“Well, the Hazard Islands are supposed to be super hazardous, or somethin’. Apparently Davídrius went there, once. Supposedly, the place is filled with all kinds of wildlife that could even hurt and kill Chaotics.”

“Whoa… r-really?”

“So I heard. Though I also heard that the NSD bombed the place to hell twenty years ago, or somethin’, so I dunno if any of that wildlife is still alive.”

“Oh… w-well… what about, um, th-the Fog Islands…?”

“That one’s a real mystery,” Selind remarked, finally standing up straight again and taking a step back. “Never been there, myself… and neither have most people, from what I hear. Supposedly, the place is always heavily fogged up — like, always always. One hundred percent of the time. And everyone who’s gone there says it’s super easy to get lost. Most people who go never even come back, and the ones who do say that their navigation equipment went haywire, and their trackin’ devices shut down. Some of ‘em even claim that they walked a perfectly straight line into the fog, never turnin’ at any point, and yet, ended up right back where they started.”

“…R-really…?” Kirstin turned her laptop back around to face her as she stared down at the small cluster of islands in the middle of the Aodé Ocean, south of Riverana and Tekdecé, and southeast of Treséd. “S-sounds like, um… th-the B-Bermuda Triangle…”

“Huh. So Earth has a place like the Fog Islands?”

“Well… th-those are just, um, stories. The, uh, Bermuda Triangle d-doesn’t actually, um, have any special e-effects, or anything… i-it’s all just myths.”

“Oh.” Selind shrugged. “Well, I can’t say for sure that the Fog Island stories ain’t myth, either. You’d have to ask someone who knows more about geography. Or history. I dunno, someone smarter than me.”

“Right… s-still, um… th-thanks.” Kirstin briefly made eye contact with Selind — just long enough to offer a meek smile — before snapping her gaze back to her laptop. “You helped, um, a lot…”

“If you say so,” Selind replied, eying Kirstin warily. “…Kind of a shame, though. I thought you were actually lookin’ to go someplace, but that question was just about more work stuff, wasn’t it?”

“Uh…” Kirstin fidgeted uneasily. “Is… i-is that a problem?”

“Not… really, but… you really are one of those people who works all the time, ain’t ya?”

“I-I… …I guess…”

Selind sighed and shrugged again. “Well, I guess if you like workin’, then I won’t tell you to stop. And even if you’re only workin’ on our power systems to satisfy yourself, you’re still helpin’ us in the end, and I’m more than happy to get help from outsiders.”

Kirstin warily eyed Selind. “…O-outsiders…” she echoed meekly.

“Ha ha, oops, hope I didn’t offend,” Selind replied. “With how the word’s used in Treséd, guess I shouldn’t be surprised that some outsiders would think we use it like an insult. Uh, well, ‘cause some folks do use it like an insult… still, I didn’t mean it that way.”


“Not really one for conversation, are ya? One of those Earthian kids is the same way. The one with the silver hair. Is that a common thing on Earth?”

“Uh…?” Kirstin fidgeted uneasily, her cheeks tinged red with embarrassment. “I-I, um… w-well… …I-I—“

“Alright, alright, I think I get the picture,” Selind commented with a sheepish smile. “Probably shouldn’t’ve asked. Hell, I’m probably just gettin’ in your way, ain’t I? I’ll just show myself out.” She turned around and opened the door to the control room; as she stepped out, she glanced at Kirstin over her shoulder and said, “keep up the good work! But also, take a break every now and then! It’s good for you!”

“Um…!” Kirstin meekly tried to speak up, but before she had a chance to finish her thought, Selind had left — and the control room door had closed and locked behind her. The Researcher stared dejectedly at the door for a few moments, but then she slapped her cheeks and shook her head in an attempt to clear her thoughts before returning her attention to her laptop. She still had plenty of work to do, after all, and it wasn’t about to do itself.


Late afternoon twilight blanketed the cloudless skies over Compound Tresnon’s tiny airport, and the mere handful of small aircraft resting within it. One large hangar stood on the far side of the airport, sporting an empty interior; Tresnon’s only real transport aircraft had been involved in flying passengers and goods into and out of the Compound all day long, and was currently out. All that was left were a handful of two- or three-seater aircrafts, barely large enough to squeeze more than that number into.

And yet, Pierce, Conrad, Liask, and Obra were about to attempt to do so, anyways.

“What the… but it’s so small…”

“It’ll have to work,” Pierce responded quietly to Conrad’s complaint, quickly looking left and right as he approached one of the three-seaters. While the vehicle was stowed out in the open, nary a guard was in sight, allowing Pierce to approach while outside of Conrad’s protective veil of invisibility.

“Somethin’ don’t seem right, though,” Obra muttered, his hand on Conrad’s shoulder so as to make himself invisible. “Where’s the guards…?”

“I think they’re all distracted with watchin’ the walls,” Liask suggested, her hand on Conrad’s other shoulder. “If we assume everyone inside the Compound is good, then another attack’s more likely to come from outside the walls, instead of inside.”

“Isn’t what we’re about to do proof that they need to watch the airport, though?” Conrad questioned, maintaining the constant aura of invisibility over himself, Obra, and Liask while he watched Pierce inspect the opening latch of the aircraft.

“Hardly,” Pierce countered, reaching into his pocket to pull out a set of keys and begin trying each of them on the vehicle’s lock. “Tresnon has an energy shield protecting it, right? Well, energy shields are usually only one way. Leaving Tresnon’s shield should be hella easier than trying to enter it. Even if the Bleeders had an invisible plane, if they flew into the shield, it’d be like they hit a brick wall.”

“Then how do you explain those keys bein’ left out in the control tower?” Obra questioned. “Or why there weren’t even any guards there?”

Pierce shrugged. “I don’t know, man. I’m not in charge of the guards, here. Maybe they just suck.”

Obra bristled at Pierce’s words, though his expression was lost under Conrad’s invisibility. And before he could speak up, Pierce had found the matching key and opened the aircraft’s door.

“Alright, let’s do this!” he exclaimed as he leaped into the pilot seat. “One plane to Rokres, here we go!”

“I dunno…” Conrad uneasily eyed the craft as Liask and Obra began to climb in. “This’ll be the biggest and loudest thing I’ve masked or muted, yet. I don’t know how effectively I can do it. And even if I hide our takeoff, won’t someone notice there’s a plane missing?”

“By the time we’re in the middle of takeoff, it’ll be too late to stop us,” Pierce replied, and then jerked his head toward Obra. “Mr. Barriers here can stop any anti-aircraft fire. We’ll be fine!”

“I suddenly feel a lot less confident about this,” Obra muttered, and then winced when Liask dropped herself into his lap. With a scowl, he remarked, “hey, what the hell?”

“Sorry, but there’s only three seats, here,” Liask replied as Conrad finally climbed into the last remaining seat and closed the vehicle’s door behind him. “And I can’t sit in Pierce’s lap, he’s driving.”

“Wait— why the hell are you driving?!” Obra exclaimed, his irate gaze turned toward Pierce.

“Wait, you’d sit on my lap if I wasn’t piloting?” Pierce questioned, his own attention on Liask through one of the rear-view mirrors.

“And these are the guys I decided to go to a hostile land with,” Conrad deadpanned, with his hand held against the craft’s hull.

“…Ahem. Well, either way.” Pierce quickly began going through the motions of activating the craft, its dashboard lights slowly flickering on and its engines powering up — though muted to silence by Conrad. “I’ve actually had experience with piloting a civilian spacecraft,” Pierce went on to explain, “so I figure I’m the most qualified to handle flying this thing.”

“Since when are spacecraft planes?” Obra challenged.

“Do you have experience with anything closer?” Pierce shot back. “Besides, they’re more similar than you’d think. All the aircraft I’ve seen on Nimalia take off and land vertically, and even have antigrav and inertial dampeners. Hell, most of them even go all the way up into the stratosphere!”

“That’s cool and all, but why do we even need the plane at all?” Conrad questioned.

“Fort Rokres, the main and closest city of Rokres, is several hundred kilometers to the south, across Mirage Lake,” Liask explained. “If we drove, it would take forever. Not to mention how easy it is to get lost out in the wastes…”

“I could run there easily all on my own, but I can’t carry all three of you,” Pierce added as he began flipping switches on the dashboard and adding power to the engines. “So suck it up, this is our best option if we want to be there and back in just a couple days.”

“Tch…” Obra’s scowl deepened. “Just know that the only reason I’m willin’ to put up with this is ‘cause our friend is missin’.”

“And if there’s a trail to find in Rokres, then we’ll find it,” Pierce insisted. “Believe it or not, I’m not just here for shits and giggles. I want to find Minilas just as much as you do.”

“Thanks for that, Pierce,” Liask replied, preempting a response from Obra.

“Ever the altruist,” Conrad deadpanned as Pierce finally took hold of the aircraft’s control yoke and began lifting the vehicle into the air, all while the craft was invisible and muted. “Now let’s just hope that things go as smoothly as you seem to think they will…”