15 Minutes Later
I can’t believe it…
With an irritated frown upon his face, Mote stormed down one of the hallways of the Space Defense Station Opportunity, SERRCom’s secondary headquarters. The beautiful vista of Earth and the stars behind it stood just outside the hallway windows to his right, but he paid the view no mind as he stewed in his own thoughts.
When the hell did the recruits get so special? he thought to himself as he continued down the hallway, they can barely hold their own in a fight. Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy have yet to beat me in a training match, even with all of them against me. Just earlier today, I had to save that entire group from EA. And then that new Velocitechnic has the audacity to attack me! And now they’re being given such preferential treatment, just because they can summon special weapons? This is ridiculous!
With the thought of special weapons, Mote reached out his hand and summoned his massive battlehammer into it. The weapon’s massive blue and silver hammerhead sat atop a metallic gray pole nearly six feet long, with a softly glowing blue orb inset on both sides of the hammerhead. Every member of the Eximius Vir can summon a weapon like this… so why is it so special that the recruits can do the same?
“Ah… excuse me?”
“Hmm?” Mote dismissed his hammer and glanced up, where he found another man standing in the hallway. The man was tall, though slightly shorter than Mote (who himself was just over six feet tall), and possessed a light complexion with short black hair. His clean-shaven face made him appear rather young, aided by his clean and well-put-together outfit consisting of a thick green jacket that wrapped part-way around his chest and extended down past his belt, a leather-like sash, black slacks, black boots, and a green sort of half-cloak that attached to his belt rather than his shoulders and extended down to his boots — almost like a long skirt or kilt that was open in front.
Mote beheld the man warily. If I remember correctly… this is Kievkenalis Yumach. His irritated frown momentarily deepened into a full-on scowl. …One of the Nimalians.
“Uh…” Kievkenalis frowned. “Is there something on my face?”
“…No.” Mote shook his head and took a deep breath in an effort to reset his expression to neutral. A second later he returned his attention to Kievkenalis, who was staring back with a concerned look on his face. “Can I help you?”
“Ah, right.” Kievkenalis smiled and nodded curtly. “I’m looking for the Archoné— er, for Pallan Culana. Have you seen him?”
“He’s back there.” Mote pointed behind himself, down the hallway. “In one of the meeting rooms, talking to the… ‘Keys’.”
“Ah, of course!” Kievkenalis nodded again and began briskly walking down the hallway, calling out “Thanks!” as he did so.
Mote stared after Kievkenalis for a couple seconds before turning around and beginning again down the hallway. Those Nimalians… I don’t care if they’re the head of a nation, or former heroes, he thought bitterly, I just can’t believe that we’re handing over the recruits to them. What the hell is the General thinking? Earth’s first new Chaotics in years, and we’re sending them off to someone else!
A frustrated sigh escaped Mote’s lips as he attempted to puzzle out General Lead’s reasoning, but all he succeeded in doing was deepening his own irritation. The past two months had been incredibly frustrating already, with the brief Chaos Energy Quake at the end of August, his supposed vision, and then the Aldredas technology treasure hunt that resulted from his vision. The preferential treatment Mote had received as a result of the vision and the technology found during those missions was already more than enough to annoy him, but at least he possessed the skill and ability to earn his own accomplishments. The recruits had neither skill nor ability, as far as he was concerned, and thus they didn’t deserve even half of the attention they were getting. Just what the hell is going on, lately? Ever since that damn Quake, I feel like I’ve jumped into some kind of bizarro world…
“Ah, Mote! There you are!!”
Once again ripped from his thoughts, Mote looked up with an irritated expression on his face — only to loosen up when he spotted two individuals, a man and a woman, standing next to the hallway windows in front of him. The man possessed a broad build and an incredible height of six and a half feet, coupled with an olive complexion, short dark hair, and a uniform that matched Mote’s. The woman also bore the same skin and hair complexion, but her hair was longer and tied back into a low ponytail, and the top of her head came up to just below the man’s shoulders. “Oh… hey, Mark, Danielle.” Mote nodded toward the two.
“Finally get out of all the meetings?” Mark questioned as Mote came to a stop next to them.
“Today’s been really busy, huh?” Danielle questioned, “I thought we’d just return to Earth and then, you know, do our normal debriefing. But instead, we got sent to fight EA, and then transport the recruits around, and then we got to meet a bunch of important Nimalians! Who would’ve expected for that to happen?!”
“Heh.” Mark smiled in response to Danielle’s excitement. “It is pretty neat, huh? I can’t really say I ever expected to meet two members of Hero Machina, either. They seem a lot more grounded than I expected.”
“I know, right?!” Danielle excitedly replied, only to follow with a resigned sigh as she turned to look out the hallway windows. “If only Kate got to meet them, too…”
“It’s her own fault,” Mote declared. “The Director warned her that she would get a talking-to about her uncouth behavior before we left to back up CSF-1, and her attitude while we were away simply worsened.”
“For a bit, sure,” Mark responded, “but the two of you sure seemed to get along well enough after we left the ship yard.”
“Yeah, and she even helped you against that Drakkar leader, didn’t she?” Danielle pointed out, “c’mon, Mote! Don’t be so hard on her!”
“It’s true that her help was invaluable, and that her attitude improved, but that doesn’t change the fact that she has to answer for her previous behavior.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’d say that,” Danielle responded, her arms crossed and her cheeks puffed out in a pout.
“Even so, you seem a little… stiffer than usual,” Mark commented. “Ever since that big meeting earlier with the recruits, the General, and Archoné Culana, in fact. Is something wrong?”
“Hmph. You could say that,” Mote muttered.
Mark and Danielle exchanged uneasy glances before turning back to face Mote. “…Do you want to talk about it?” Mark questioned.
“I’m not sure what good it would do to ‘talk’ about things,” Mote replied, his frustration evident in his tone. “Ever since the damn Quake two months ago, it feels like things have been going crazy. People just aren’t listening to reason anymore. Visions, prophecies — it’s all nonsense, but for some reason, people are taking them seriously!”
“Ah…” Mark rubbed the back of his neck uneasily. “So this is about that whole thing with the recruits, huh?”
“Yeah, I kinda think that prophecy stuff is really weird, too,” Danielle remarked, and then shrugged. “But the new guys showed that they can summon those weapons out of no where, so I guess that does mean that they’re special somehow. Right?”
“Us being able to summon weapons doesn’t make us special,” Mote countered.
“Uh, that’s actually one of the many ways in which we are unique,” Mark replied. “Not a very good example.”
“Tch…” Mote snorted derisively. “Even so. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the recruits actually are special. Why, then, would we so readily hand them over to the Nimalians?”
“You know, I’ve been asking that very same question.”
“Huh?” Mote, Mark and Danielle all turned around, to find a lone man approaching them. He possessed a stout build, average height and light skin, with a graying military cut topping his head, a bushy gray mustache upon his face, and sharp cheekbones. His mouth was turned up into a disarming smile, but his perfect posture — combined with his impeccable outfit, consisting of a buttoned-up military dress shirt and navy blue slacks — belied a commanding, confident aura. Mote had no need to read the man’s name patch or look at the stars sewn onto the shoulder of his shirt to identify him as David Shepherd, the Commander of the General Forces — the man in charge of all of SERRCom’s ground-based military activities, and effectively the second most influential individual in SERRCom.
“Uh, s-sir!” Mote stuttered out as he and Mark both jumped to salute him. Danielle passed them a confused look for a second before realizing the Commander’s rank and following suit.
Shepherd merely chuckled in response. “At ease, Lieutenants. No need to be so formal around me. If anything, I’m the one who should be uneasy, meeting with SERRCom’s famed Eximius Vir!”
“Thank you, sir,” Mark replied as he slowly relaxed and replaced his arm by his side.
“Are we… really famed?” Danielle asked.
“But of course,” Shepherd insisted. “The four of you are the most recognized faces in SERRCom among the general public. I simply cannot overstate how lucky both Earth and SERRCom are to have such a skillful and powerful team of individuals as yourselves. And CSF-1, of course.”
“Oh. Uh… thank you again, sir,” Mark responded sheepishly. “But there’s no need for such high praise. We’re just doing our jobs, really.”
The Commander smirked. “That modesty is exactly why people like you. Keep up the good work, Lieutenants, and I’m certain that you’ll propel SERRCom to even greater heights!”
“If I may ask, sir,” Mote interjected, “are… well, you aren’t just here to speak with us, are you?”
“Ever the astute one, Lieutenant Emerson,” Shepherd answered. “You’re correct. My purpose here is to meet with General Lead and the Nimalians. I can hardly afford to miss a visit from our esteemed allies.”
“Yeah, they’re really cool, aren’t they?!” Danielle exclaimed.
The Commander passed her an amused smirk. “…Indeed they are. Though it certainly raises a few questions, wouldn’t you say?”
“…Sir?” Mote questioned warily.
“I believe you said as much yourself, didn’t you, Lieutenant Emerson?” Shepherd turned toward Mote with a knowing smile. “The Nimalians only just showed up today, and already, they’re claiming that SERRCom’s newest recruits are special individuals, and insisting that we send them to their own Homeworld for training… doesn’t it strike you as a bit, convenient?”
“It does, sir,” Mote responded firmly. Finally, someone who sees reason…
“I’m glad you agree,” Shepherd remarked, and then turned toward Mark and Danielle. “What about the two of you? Any thoughts or feelings on the matter?”
“I’m still a little confused about why we’re forcing them to join SERRCom…” Danielle said. “They really don’t seem to like it…”
“Yes, it truly is unfortunate…” Shepherd signed forlornly. “However, as the old saying goes, great power comes with great responsibility. These four — well, eight, now — recruits may help change the course of Earth’s future. Why, you Eximius Vir have already shown just how useful Chaotics can be.”
“I see that you agree with General Lead on this, sir,” Mark observed.
The Commander chuckled briefly. “Lead and I may have our disagreements,” he commented, “but that doesn’t mean that everything the man does is wrong. Recruiting these new Chaotics was certainly the correct move.”
“…If you say so, sir.”
“I take it you disagree?” Shepherd glanced over at Danielle. “Like your friend here?”
Mark adopted a pained expression, pausing for a moment. Eventually, he responded, “…permission to speak freely?”
Shepherd smiled. “For such important folks as yourselves? You don’t even need to ask. The Eximius Vir always have permission to speak freely in my presence.”
“Okay, then…” Mark took a deep breath before continuing, “well, it just doesn’t seem right to force people to join a military against their will. SERRCom, as an organization, is supposed to protect Earth and her people. If we just trample over those people’s rights, then aren’t we going against our very reason for existing?”
“I appreciate what you’re saying here, Lieutenant,” the Commander replied, “however, there is a minimum level of strength and power that SERRCom requires to be able to protect Earth. As it stands, SERRCom would not be able to stand against any other force in the galaxy. Not the Drakkars, not the CSA, not the Syraus, nor the Riaxen. We wouldn’t even be able to fight off the Nimalian Union, and they were regarded as the weakest civilization in the galaxy until we came along. What good is a shield, if you don’t forge it out of the best materials you can find?”
“I agree wholeheartedly, sir,” Mote declared. “SERRCom needs to be able to stand on its own. The new recruits, once they receive the proper training, will help us do that. The only problem is the idea of sending them away… they can’t help SERRCom if they aren’t even here.”
Shepherd nodded sagely. “Indeed. One might even say that it defeats the entire purpose of recruiting them.”
Mark glanced between Mote and Shepherd uneasily. “But, that’s…”
“Ah, there the three of you are!”
The four individuals standing in the hallway all turned toward the source of the shout, to find Colonel Saito approaching alongside a tall woman with a dark complexion. A black army cap covered most of her black hair, which was tied back in a short ponytail.
“Well, if it isn’t Colonel Saito and Major Hackett,” Shepherd declared as the two approached. “A pleasure to see you here.”
“Huh—?” Saito turned toward Shepherd in confusion, only to suddenly stop in his tracks. The Colonel’s expression stiffened as the corners of his mouth turned up into an uneasy smile. “Oh… Commander Shepherd. I… didn’t expect to run into you here, sir.”
“Now, now, there’s no need to be so stiff with me, Saito,” Shepherd replied. “We’re all part of the same organization, here.”
“Did you need something from us, sir?” Hackett questioned curtly.
“Oh, I was just having a nice chat with Lieutenants Emerson, Cox, and Carver,” Shepherd replied, flashing a brief smile as he did so — though for a moment, Mote thought that the Commander’s smile seemed more strained than it did before. “But…” Shepherd then glanced down at his watch. “I’m afraid I’m out of time. I have a meeting with Lead that I really shouldn’t miss.” He began walking down the hallway, stepping between Saito and Hackett before raising his right hand to casually wave at the group behind him.
Silence befell the hallway as Shepherd continued on; only once he had rounded a corner did Saito and Hackett turn back toward the Eximius Vir.
“What did Shepherd say to you guys?” Saito pressed.
“Ah, just… telling us his opinions regarding the Nimalians and the recruits,” Mark replied with an uneasy smile.
“Let me guess. He doesn’t like the idea of sending them off to train with the Nimalians?”
“Yeah! How’d you know?” Danielle questioned.
“In working closely with General Lead, I’ve had more than my fair share of encounters with Shepherd,” Saito responded warily. “He doesn’t exactly hide his Earth-centric opinions, and he clashes with Lead often. I know he’s gotten into spats with Commander Markovic, of the Space Navy, as well. …He’s no good, is what I’m saying. Don’t trust him.”
“Why not, sir?” Mote asked, “everything he said just now made sense to me.”
“That’s how extremists get you,” Saito countered. “They start small, with something easy to agree with, and then slowly drag you down the twisted path toward their actual opinions.”
“So you’re saying that Commander Shepherd is an extremist?” Mote replied incredulously, “that can’t be so. For him to have achieved the rank that he has, clearly his views and actions are at least somewhat valid.”
“Don’t be so confident,” Hackett interjected. “Most of the positions in the top brass are political. All you have to do is appeal to the people who could put you there.”
“Respectfully, Major, you could say the same about General Lead,” Mote countered. “The position of General of the Space Forces is appointed by the UN. That’s as political as it gets. Why is it that you trust Lead, then, more than Shepherd?”
“Mote, let’s not antagonize them…” Mark commented wearily.
Irritation crossed Mote’s face, but he quickly suppressed it and then bowed his head toward Saito. “…Sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to speak out of line.”
“Right…” Saito released an apprehensive sigh. “…Listen, Mote. I’m not trying to say that Shepherd is always wrong. And calling him an ‘extremist’ probably was a little much. But that man is willing to cross many lines to get what he wants… and he isn’t above using you. Just remember that.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Well, anyways.” Saito glanced over at Mark and Danielle. “About why I’m here — we have new orders.”
“Aw, already?” Danielle responded with a pout, “but we just got back to Earth earlier today!”
“That’s just how the chips fall when you’re as important as us,” Saito quipped. “Specifically, the three of you, along with CSF-1, will be in charge of escorting the recruits as they return home to pack in preparation for their training on Nimalia.”
“What about Kate?” Mark questioned.
“She’s not coming,” Saito answered. “Director Hamasaki has barred her from missions and most research for the time being.”
“Oof…” Danielle muttered.
“I did warn her,” Mote insisted, and then turned back to Saito. “So we have to play babysitter for the recruits, is that it?”
“Relax, it’s only for a week,” Saito replied. “Once they’re gone, we can get back to normal business… for the most part.”
“What does that mean?” Mark asked.
“…Well, SERRCom isn’t about to let the recruits go to an alien planet without any kind of Earthian guide or supervision. One member of CSF-1 — most likely Captain Travis — and one of you three will accompany the recruits during their stay on Nimalia.” Saito looked over at Mark. “I was thinking of picking you.”
“I’ll do my best to keep them safe, sir!” Mark replied enthusiastically.
“You’re splitting up the teams?” Mote frowned. “I thought the point of sending off the recruits was to not divert our time and energy. That’s the only thing we actually get out of this. And now you’re telling me that we aren’t even getting that?”
“You’re thinking too small, Mote,” Saito declared. “The primary reason we’re sending the recruits to Nimalia is because they can get a far better Chaotic education there. That’s all that High Command cares about; freeing up time for us is just a pleasant bonus.”
“Do we know how long they’ll be on Nimalia?” Mark questioned.
“Not sure… but most likely over a year. Maybe two.”
“Two years?!” Mote exclaimed incredulously, glancing between Mark and Saito several times before continuing, “sir, do you really mean to split us up for that long? This is ridiculous!”
The Colonel shrugged. “It is what it is.”
“It’s madness, is what it is. First those recruits steal our time, and now they’re stealing away our teammates…”
“Don’t blame them,” Saito insisted. “To be honest, Lead has been wanting to test this kind of split for a while. The four of you have shown that we don’t really need every member of the Eximius Vir in one place at one time — more often than not, just one or two of you is more than enough to handle whatever we’re up against. Hell, Mote, you and Kate proved that yourselves when you fought Telregina.”
“I didn’t win against Telregina,” Mote countered.
“You didn’t defeat her in battle, no, but given that the Drakkar Faction Leaders are all immortal, highly skilled Chaotics, I’d count being able to stand up to one for as long as you did a victory.”
“Hey… Mote, it’s okay,” Mark commented, drawing the attention of his friend. “I don’t mind being sent to Nimalia to help out. Besides, it isn’t as though I really helped all that much during our last few missions.”
“That’s not true,” Mote insisted. “The four of us are stronger together. Besides, you never know when we’ll need your strength or durability.”
“Heh.” Mark smiled. “I appreciate the thought, but really, you, Danielle, and Kate are far more effective combatants than I am. Who knows, maybe I can learn a thing or two myself from this trip to Nimalia.”
“Man, I wanna go to Nimalia…” Danielle turned toward Saito. “Can I go with them? Pleeeaase?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Saito replied, just before Mote could open his own mouth to respond. “I can spare Travis and Mark, but I’d rather not split the team even further. Especially since Kate won’t be coming on missions with us for the immediate future.”
“Heh…” Mark reached over to plant his hand on Danielle’s head and ruffle her hair. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get the chance to visit every now and then. And when you do, I’ll be sure to have some souvenirs and a hot meal ready for you. Ooh, maybe I can learn something about Nimalian cuisine…”
“Well, alright… but I’ll hold you to that!” Danielle remarked.
“I still don’t like this…” Mote muttered.
“Consider your complaint heard,” Saito replied. “But I’m afraid the plans are already set.”
Mote fought to suppress a scowl in the Colonel’s presence. Little about everything he had just heard pleased him — now, not only were the recruits getting special treatment, but they were also effectively stealing away one of his friends. I hate this… he thought bitterly, and then released a frustrated sigh. Well, at least I won’t have to waste my time teaching them anymore. In that sense, at least SOME good came out of all of this…
“Anyways…” The Colonel sighed loftily and turned around to begin walking off in the same direction from which he came, with Hackett following suit. “You had best get to bed early and get plenty of rest,” he shouted over his shoulder to the three Eximius Vir, “the recruits head home tomorrow morning, and we’re going with them. It’s going to be a busy week!”