Altercation – Waking Up

“Wakeyyyyyy wakeyyyyyyyy!”

Reginald’s eyes shot open at the sound of Red’s sing-song voice. When had Red shown up at the Manor’s medical facilities? He rubbed a throbbing headache out of his temples. That was strange considering that he hadn’t had a headache when he lay down for a simple mind-scan.

Everything was still blurry when he managed to smile nervously towards the ghost-like projection, “Hello Red, I have good news for you.”

It was only half good news and half bad news, of course. The good half was that he had retrieved her body–a child-sized humanoid drone. The bad half was that her toys were still in an orphanage in Dam-Torsad.

Red pouted her lips in response, “And I have bad news for you…”

Reginald furrowed his brows as he tried to stand, though, not feeling quite comfortable, he returned to sitting on the edge of the bed. He took the moment to glance over to Red. She seemed slightly different somehow, her ghostly legs dangling over the bed opposite his own. It bothered him that he couldn’t quite grasp what was different about her.

He shook off the feeling, “I’ve brought your body back from Mercy’s Keep. I’ll be working on it today…” He paused after realizing her response, “Bad news for me?”

Red lowered her head, her eyes transfixed on Reginald. She said sarcastically, “I know.”

At that moment, she hopped off of the bed, her feet tapping against the floor. Wait. Tapping? 

“See?” She smiled as she tapped over to Reginald’s bed and tugged at his hand.

Reginald felt the metal and plastic of the humanoid drone against his hand–the one that was sitting in pieces in his quarters. He was speechless. Red had to have either put it together or had another one lying around. Those were the only explanations.

Finally, he managed to utter, “But… how? It’s in pieces in my quarters. Did you put it together in the fifteen minutes I’ve been away?”

She shook her head, “Nu uh. It has been like, twenty hours. You died.”

He instinctively jerked his hand away from Red’s grasp, “What?! That–that doesn’t make any sense. I just put my head down for the mind-scan.”

Red frowned, “No. That was earlier. You died, Reginald. You died on the terrace. Vlad shot you.”

He ran his hand over his face, his breathing becoming rapid. A correspondingly accelerated beeping echoed from a monitor. He shook his head in disbelief, then finally laughed, “This is one of your jokes, isn’t it? Well,” He took several calming breaths then laughed nervously, “That was good. You really had me, there. So, did one of the servants help you with your body?”

Red pointed to a clock defiantly, “Look at the clock, did I change that too?” She walked over tot he window and pulled the blinds back, “And the sky? Did I make it dark too?!”

Truth was one of those things that the unbelieving party found difficult to grasp, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. For a second, his mind wondered if Red would gloat about being right–it was a childish thing to do, after all. Then again, Red was more mature than many of the capsuleers he had chanced to meet in New Eden. The second passed quickly, his neurons lurching forward into his postmortem mental checklist.

Do I need to update my clone? No, this is a soft clone. Good. All fingers. All toes. Vitals look… normal.

 Despite the calming effect the checklist was supposed to provide, he remained pale with realization, “No, that’s just–just–” He checked his hands and clothes a dozen times, “I lost twenty hours?” He turned towards Red again, his gaze fearful,, “I died?”

Red responded matter-of-factly, “You did. And Vlad killed you.”

His mind flooded with a thousand questions, only barely managing to select the important ones, “Why? How?”

Red shrugged, “I only just heard about it, and came to look for you.” She settled back onto the bed, “Did you bring me the other stuff?”

“So you mean it just happened?” He asked, really only to himself rather than for confirmation.

After a while, he realized Red asked him a question. He responded, but his tone was tangential, distracted, “No, the other stuff isn’t here yet.”

“Oh,” Red sighed dramatically. After a while, she asked, “Yes, it just happened a little while ago. Do you want to see it? I can get the surveillance logs for you?”

Recognizing Red’s disappointment, he said, “I’m sorry, I know where they are though.” He took a deep breath, “But, yes, I’d like to see the surveillance logs.”

Red picked up Reginald’s neocom from the bedside table and tapped away. Reginald found it somewhat interesting that they now had something in common–they were both using “new” bodies. He corrected himself–technically, Red’s body was an old one rather than a new one. If something is so old to have been forgotten, is it possible for it to be new again? Then again, he had no idea how far Red’s memory went back–her attention span sometimes seemed that of a six-year-old, but her memories were often as clear as a security drone’s footage. She handed him the neocom.

Speaking of which.

Reginald handled the neocom with trepidation. He had never watched himself die before. It was disconcerting enough to see his corpse flying out in space, but to watch that life end? Some philosophers would argue that the life didn’t end. But he disagreed. This part of him had lived a life. It had lived a life twenty hours beyond his current one, twenty hours that he would never live again. He wondered if that Reginald had had the same thoughts, desires, fears. He wondered if the man he was about to watch die had–he paused for a moment, then continued with the thought–had loved Kat. He shook his head. There were more pressing questions at hand. As much as it pained him, Kat would have to wait.

Red climbed up onto the bed next to him to watch. He considerately angled the neocom so that she could see, though he was certain she had already seen it. All the same, it seemed like the proper thing to do. He hit the “play” icon and the scene of his death played out before him from the perspective of a watchful security drone.

He nearly laughed at his stupidity, though looking back on it, it was certainly what he would have done. Vlad had threatened Kat–that was more than enough to send him over the edge onto a suicide mission. Maybe that was something he should work on. His eyes scanned the datapad intently as he watched as Vlad ruined his dominant hand, then waited on bated breath as his deceased self stood up defiantly. Would he have been able to keep going?

For Kat, yes.

He was surprised, watching the scene now, that the deaths of his men seemed like afterthoughts. But the idea of Kat being, of all words, ‘abused,’ angered him immensely. His gripped tightened as he watched himself fire a single round into the back of Vlad’s head, a useless, futile gesture. And then Vlad shot a knife into his heart. Reginald swallowed as he watched himself start to bleed onto the Terrace–he could also swear he felt the blade in his heart as he sat on the bed with Red, but he knew that wasn’t possible. It was his way of feeling empathy for the man who lost his life.

Red’s brows furrowed when Vlad bent down to whisper something to the dying Reginald.

“What did he say?” She asked, curious.

Reginald’s interest was also piqued, so he rewound the video and raised the volume, making adjustments so that the video zoomed in on Vlad leaning over the helpless man.

“You shouldn’t have done that. Now you die like your men,” The robot said, almost vindictively.

Red frowned, “I wonder what he meant by that.”

Reginald knew exactly what it meant. It was a confession, a vengeful one conducted over Reginald’s helpless final moments, but a confession nonetheless. He grit his teeth in anger at the gesture. Vlad had been playing with him like a toy, then had gloated over his victory.

“He…  He did kill them.”

Red offered reason, “He didn’t say that. He said you would die like they died. And you did die. But he didn’t say he made them die, right?”

Of course. A child’s wisdom. Reginald tried to counter “But how would he have known?”

Red outpaced him, “Everyone knows your men died?”

The exchange prompted Reginald to look at it more objectively. There were connections, some form of evidence he could draw upon. He tapped his fingers on the datapad absentmindedly, then made the requisite commands to view information on the unsolved murders.

“But they were killed by knives,” He glanced at Red, “Do you think they’ve already moved my body?”

“Yup. It is here in the morgue. I went there first, cause I just wanted to see,” She kicked her feet against the bed railing, “It’s all bloody and stuff.”

Reginald smothered a disgusted look, “Would you mind taking me there? If the knife matches that of the other murders, then we’ll have a stronger case against Vlad.”

He stood up, acclimating to his new legs.

Red hopped off of the bed, “Kay. But it’s kinda scary there.” She tilted her head and looked up at him with wide, blue, innocent eyes, “And there’s a ghost in there too!”

She added, watching him wobble, “Can you walk?”

Reginald tried to look normal, “A ghost? Well, this place is full of surprises, isn’t it?” Still unsure of himself, he somehow managed to bow–he could still be a gentleman, that was good. He offered Red his hand, “After you, my lady.”

Red curled his fingers around his own, then started to lead him towards the morgue. The entire time she was a chatterbox. She skimmed over the topics of Ezzy, the other slaver hounds, which were her favorites, and why. She then told him a story about “peeking” in on Ryven’s new room–Kat’s old room–though she didn’t find anything interesting. When they finally reached the morgue, Red, from somewhere in the realm of cyberspace, recalled the pass code, then tapped it lightly on the keypad. The door slid open. She shivered.

Reginald thought it strange that the drone would shiver as well, but he squeezed her “hand” reassuringly. He wasn’t sure if it made a difference one way or another or if she even felt the gesture. He added, for good measure, “Ghosts are only scary if you let them be scary.”

Red shrugged, asking hesitantly as she tiptoed over to where Reginald’s corpse was being stored, “Have you ever seen one?”

Reginald closely followed, “Come to think of it–no.”

Red glanced up at him and quirked a brow, “Then how do you know if they are scary or not?”

He smiled back nervously, “A good question.”

He asked shortly after, “Are you afraid of the dark, Red?” He hoped to explain why ghosts could be scary.

Red moved over to the drawer and tentatively pulled it open using both hands. She wrinkled her nose as she peeled back the white sheet that covered his corpse, “I’m not. But she is.”

Reginald started examining the corpse, searching for the knife wound, “She?”

“Shalee.”

He took out his datapad to make a recording of the wound, “Really? I never thought her to be afraid of very much. But the dark can be scary–it’s the unknown mostly. That’s what tends to scare people.”

Red leaned against the table and flicked her finger against the tab that hung off of his toe, “One time? Our Father chained us up in this very scary room and it was so dark. That’s why she doesn’t like it.”

Reginald nodded, furrowing his brows, “What kind of Fa–” He glanced down at Red, then thought better of it, “That sounds horrific. I can’t imagine what that would have been like.”

Red merely nodded, her expression solemn.

He finished making the recording, then made a note to visit the evidence rooms. “There you see?” He tried to smile, “No ghost.”

Red looked back over her shoulders and shivered, “Maybe. But if there was one here you probably won’t see it. Cause it is a ghost.”

Reginald tried to play along, “And who might it be a ghost of?”

Red looked back at the corpse, fluttering her fingertip across the foot tag, “Lots of people probably. Snake says he has seen a Deteis boy here one time. His ghost, I mean.”

He frowned, surprised at the honesty, “I see.” He tried to be comforting, “Well, do you think we should be going, then?”

Red nodded then dashed towards the door.

Reginald watched her dart away, then glanced around the morgue. He felt a sudden pang of fear at the idea of being left alone, in a room too large to see all at once. He stared back down at his corpse, then saw something move in the corner of his eye. He shot around quickly, to see nothing. He knew he had to be imagining things, now. All the same…

“Wait! Don’t leave me here like that!”

He closed the drawer, then rushed after her, catching up just as she reached the doorway. She paused to look back at him, “Better hurry then.”

Red winced as an air unit suddenly turned on. A stack of papers rustled as a cold gust of air flowed through the room. The sound shattered an otherwise still atmosphere, leafy echoes ringing.

“Was that you?” He asked as he glanced at the rustling papers.

Red widened her eyes, “Nu uh. I promise.”

Feeling uncomfortable, Reginald led her gently out back into the corridor, “Then, my lady, would you mind closing the door?”

Red entered the passcode, the door closing and locking, “Told’ja there were ghosts.”

He said stoically, really more for himself than for her, “I’m still not convinced.”

He tried to change the subject hastily before she became suspicious, “Do you know where the evidence room is? I just need to check something.”

“The security room?”

He nodded, “I want to check the knives. If they’re the same, then don’t you think we’ve got Vlad red-handed… or whatever the equivalent is for a robot?”

Red studied him for a moment, thinking. “You would have to check the bodies of your men, no? Or ask Alexa, she might know?”

Red opened her mouth to continue speaking but froze suddenly. Her humanoid drone became inactive. Shalee must have woken up.

Sighing, Reginald shook his head. He was surprisingly tired after this excursion. He made a note to visit the security room. He suddenly had a strong desire to see Kat, to hold her, to know that she was safe, but his eyes grew heavier and heavier. He felt exhausted. He returned to his bed at the medical bay, hoping this was an issue with the soft clone rather than a problem stemming from his reintegration. He pondered the thought for a few moments–about the implication of a nervous system not quite attuned properly–then slipped back into slumber.

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Altercation – Prelude

Tinkering. That’s what the Sebiestors did. His mother had been adamant that he should never do such work, to sully his hands with grease and oil. Another one of the myriad restrictions placed on his childhood–after all, what gentleman worked with his hands? Then again, she would also probably be livid that he was seeing Kat. He smiled at the thought, then continued on with his work.

He double-checked the hand-written notes the drone mechanic had given him. Most of the re-assembly of the child-sized humanoid drone had been completed off-world, but a few finishing touches were required upon arrival: Some wiring to complete, double-checking the power supply, testing motors, calibrating emitters. All right, perhaps not a few finishing touches. He would never go back to that drone mechanic again.

He stood up, admiring his handiwork. Electrical engineering and applied physics had never been his strengths, but he could at the very least follow hastily-scribbled instructions. He started putting away his tools–next time he wouldn’t do this in his quarters.

It was an absolute mess, with bits and pieces strewn about as if a Tempest-class battleship had dragged itself across his floor. But despite the mess, he was surprisingly satisfied with the job well done. His goal was complete: Red would have her body back.

There was, as of yet, no news on the toys currently kept at an orphanage in Dam-Torsad. Father Ansar had been tight-lipped about the location, fearful that Reginald would unleash his stereotypical sociopathic tendencies upon poor children. He shook his head at the thought–he was a capsuleer, not a monster. Nonetheless, he felt the unsatisfied edge of a quest incomplete. He wondered if Red would be upset at receiving her things piecemeal. He made a note to contact Father Ansar about the re-acquisition of the toys.

After sweeping up the bits and pieces around the drone, clearing the surfaces of his quarters, and washing up, he stepped outside to his balcony to enjoy a glass of lemonade. Breaks were rare these days. There were operations that needed planning, he served as a representative in coalition diplomacy when Lady Lianne or Ryven were unavailable, the reactions market was rebounding, logistics needed to be calculated, and then there was his relationship with Kat.

He wondered where she was, deployed as a Legionnaire to a conflict the details of which even Kat didn’t know. Ryven had mentioned visiting her, though Reginald had not inquired as to where. He respected that Kat had a life beyond his own. In some ways, he was thankful for that–their time together was all the more valuable as a result. He couldn’t wait to see her again. Unexpectedly, his mind turned to L’s warnings.

Reginald understood that L was only looking out for his best interests, though in truth, that’s what frightened him. L had worked for the Sakakibara family years before Reginald had even been born, and his insights into family affairs were generally correct. What if L was right? What if Kat was a poor match? What if–

“No!” He said to himself aloud, shooting out of his seat.

He walked over to the railing of his balcony and gripped it tightly. He glanced down at the foamy waves in their eternal struggle to whittle away at the rocks at the base of the cliff. She was worth it. Why couldn’t they see that he was happy for once?

“Do you love her?”

Red’s question popped into his head as if on cue.

“Do you love her?”

Killawazza Valintine’s voice joined Red’s in a duet.

Reginald couldn’t keep himself from laughing a little. How many people were going to ask him that question? He stared out towards the horizon, the deep blue of the sea contrasting against the azure of the pale sky. Did he love her? The question was a difficult one. Love had been a foreign concept growing up–he imagined that most families didn’t have mothers that struck their sons with switches for not smiling properly or sisters who cared more about a title than about their siblings’ well-being. And then of course, even if he could answer that question of his love for Kat, another question was raised immediately: Did she love him?

His thoughts were disturbed by a sudden flashing of his neocom. It was a message from L. Though short, it filled Reginald with a sense of dread.

“Naomi is at the Manor.” – L

What business could she possibly have? Without finishing his lemonade, he darted into his quarters. He found it strange that his room was so neat, and wasn’t there something in the middle of the floor when he left it? He put it out of his mind and continued out towards the Terrace. He needed to see what his younger sister wanted. It was time to confront Naomi Sakakibara.

 

Into the Keep

“There is a half-frozen, half-rotted head on a pike.” 

He thought it intriguing that he had said that out loud. But there it was, a half-frozen, half-decayed head sitting atop one of the pikes at the base of one of Mercy’s Keep’s massive statues. He wondered if his quest to find Red’s things was attuned to his sense of self-preservation. Shaking away his doubt and suppressing an urge to sketch the Keep, he started walking down the bridge from the landing pad towards the entrance.

The entire structure seemed hewn from the rock itself–an imposing ancient structure with interesting modern juxtapositions. Five statues were visible from where he stood, which he supposed measured the cornerstones of Amarrian culture: A hooded priest, a Holder, an armored knight, a commoner with farm tools, and a slave in chains praying for salvation. Even though each one looked ancient, he wondered if the fifth statue was a recent addition–considering Lady Lianne’s views, after all.

“Our sand castle didn’t quite capture the… enormity,” He whispered, expecting that Red was following him silently.

Two ancient suits of armor stood across from one another at the entrance to the Keep–a mere rectangular opening cut directly into the mountainside. He swallowed back his trepidation, recalled his upbringing as a Holder, then took a step into the Keep proper. A drone activated and floated over to Reginald.

“Good morning. My name is Reginald Sakakibara and I believe I have an audience with Seneschal Hotuban Klimut.”

There was no response from the drone except a visible blue light–what Reginald perceived to be a scan. After finishing whatever it started and apparently satisfied, the drone flew back to the ceiling and went inactive. Once the drone was away, Reginald noticed a flight of stairs. As he approached it, the sound of clinking silverware and shuffling echoed down the steps on the heels of flickering torchlight. Redoubling his resolve, but not without some hesitation, he made the climb.

The staircase opened into a large hall filled with almost a hundred cyber-knights and modestly-dressed serving girls catering their requests for food and drink. The warmth was extraordinary in comparison to the frigid mountain air from the landing pad and antechamber. The walls were lined with murals depicting ancient scenes as well as more modern renditions of spaceships. The ceiling was interestingly low for such a large room, though Reginald suspected that it was due to the ancient origins of the Keep being constructed without modern tools or equipment. The tables were occupied by Khanid cyber-knights of varying ages, some of them shooting questioned glances at him.

After a while a young Khanid got up from his seat and approached him, saying flatly and without smile, “You look lost.”

Reginald suppressed the urge to correct the youth by adding “My lord” to the end of his sentence, but decided that he should stand on ceremony instead. He responded politely, with his court-pressed smile, “Good morning. My name is Reginald Sakakibara and I believe I have an audience with Seneschal Klimut.”

The youth looked surprised, “The Seneschal?”

The youth glanced towards a long table at the far end of the room, elevated above the rest. There were knights of various ages seated there, though what seemed to be Seneschal Hotuban Klimut sat at the center, deftly managing a pair of chopsticks as he ate his breakfast with a cup of tea.

“Yes, indeed. But I certainly don’t wish to interrupt his meal.”

The Khanid flicked his head towards the table, “Come, I will introduce you.”

Reginald smiled, “Thank you, I very much appreciate your assistance.”

They made their way past the tables towards the Seneschal. The ages of the patrons was quite vast–even some children playing in between them. Reginald noticed a few stares in his direction–he was used to such treatment, at least. When they finally reached the Seneshcal, the man in question had not even bothered to look up from his meal. The young Khanid bowed deeply, “Master Hotuban, this man claims he is here to have audience with you. He says he is named Reginald.”

Reginald bowed respectfully at the introduction. Hotuban waved the Khanid away, still not looking up from his meal. As he stood there, others seated at the table threw suspicious glances at him, though they offered no conversation. He was used to this treatment, being a Holder’s son.

He thought to himself the adage, “Never press one’s luck with the higher-ranked, or within their home.” He made an addendum, “Especially if they are surrounded by a hundred cyber-knights. And certainly, never interrupt a meal.”

Hotuban finally finished his bowl of rice and eggs, then took a long drink from his cup of tea. Eyeing Reginald, he asked in a monotone voice, “Your business?”

“Fleet Captain Aldrith Shutaq,” Reginald started, then thought better of it, then started again, “I was informed by Fleet Captain Aldrith Shutaq that you are the Seneschal of Mercy’s Keep. There are several items I have been tasked with retrieving, with your excellency’s permission.”

He wasn’t really sure what the honorific would be for “Seneschal,” so he went with “your excellency.” Hotuban seemed unimpressed. One of the Khanid at the table–a large man with a braided beard–grunted at Aldrith’s name.

“Brother Aldrith informed me of your interest. You will be allowed to reclaim the items in question if we still have them in our possession.”

Reginald bowed, “Thank you very much.”

Careful to adopt Hotuban’s language, Reginald asked, “Did Brother Aldrith inform you of the nature of the items?”

“Yes. Children’s toys and a holographic interface humanoid drone, child-sized. Speak with Father Ansar. He managed inventory when the Order reclaimed this place.”

Reginald smiled, “Very well, thank you very much. Where might I be able to find him?”

“Within the chapel.”

“Thank you.” Reginald glanced around, unsure where the chapel was located.

Thankfully, Hotuban provided him with a guide–a teenage True Amarr boy that had already finished his breakfast, “Take this man to the chapel. Direct him to the chaplain.”

The boy bowed, then beckoned for Reginald to follow. Reginald bowed in respect once more to the Seneschal, then proceeded to follow towards a set of double doors. The rest of the journey was completed in silence as the boy led Reginald to the chapel. Much like everything else in the Keep, the chapel seemed carved out of rock itself–the altar adorned with a black marble slab offering a smooth surface for ceremonies. Holes and shafts had been carved into the ceiling–most likely to provide air, Reginald surmised. Upon entering the chapel proper, Reginald made a traditional reverent sign.

A priest that he believed to be Father Ansar was busy tending to the altar with a female acolyte working quietly beside him. The pair were cleaning icons upon it with laser brushes and other delicate devices. Reginald was loathe to disturb the sanctity, so he approached the altar with rehearsed respect.

Once he had reached the altar, the priest looked up, squinting, “And who are you?”

Reginald bowed, “Father, my name is Reginald Sakakibara and I have been tasked with retrieving certain items. The Seneschal was kind enough to tell me that you oversaw the transition and storage of the items from when the Order reclaimed the Keep.”

The priest responded grumpily, “He didn’t tell me anything about that.”

Reginald frowned, “The items are of great sentimental value and I would be most appreciative if you aided me in locating them.”

The priest grunted, “Let me guess, something the silly capsuleers left behind when this place was run by Aldrith’s pathetic excuse of a knighthood?”

Reginald wore a smile his mother had beat into him, “Quite. That would be an accurate assessment indeed.”

The priest crossed his arms, “All right, what were they?”

Reginald nodded, “A toy slicer, two dolls, and a child-sized humanoid drone.”

Reginald took out a sketchpad from the satchel. It was a rough sketch of the Keep, drawn only from the memory of the sand castle he had made with Red.

He indicated where Eran’s chambers would have been, “The owner of the items indicated that they would be located here, prior to the move.”

Thankfully, the priest seemed nodded in recognition as he took the sketch, “Huh. Well I remember the drone and I do believe I remember the toys as well.”

Reginald smiled, “As I’ve said, I would be most appreciative if you could lead to their whereabouts.”

The priest nodded nonchalantly, “Certainly. I donated the toys to a charity in Dam-Torsad and the drone was dismantled after we found it was being used by some red-haired little girl to befriend the younger students and make mischief amongst the rest of us. She was somehow getting through the security on the fluid router network here. Some flaw the capsuleers left in their systems no doubt.”

Reginald grew pale, his quest lengthening tremendously at the words, “I see.” He tried to salvage what he could, “When the drone was dismantled, were the parts kept in storage? And the name of the charity, if you don’t mind?”

The priest furrowed his brows, “You are not seriously thinking of taking toys from poor children I hope?”

Reginald smiled back, “Not without at least a ten-fold exchange. I operate a fund for a charity of my own–my grandparents wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

The priest crossed his arms, “Are you a capsuleer? Or were you just sent by one?”

Reginald decided to counter with a jab of his own, “A capsuleer, yes, but I am also a Holder. I understand my responsibilities to the people, to serve as an example.” He added, for good measure, “It is my burden.”

The priest let his eyes wander, “Wonderful. One of the most dangerous creatures in the galaxy is asking me for the address of an orphanage.”

He snapped his eyes back to Reginald, “Give me your donation; I will take it to the orphanage myself and try to get your toys back. As for the drone, it is probably still in our cybernetics storage. I will get that for you as well…”

Reginald offered an olive branch, “Father, I understand your animosity towards capsuleers. We have done unspeakable harms since the technologies of clone and capsule were combined. But I have not forgotten my duty, I have not forgotten the path.”

“Good of you to admit that. My offer still stands. Take it or leave it.”

Reginald took out his datapad, “I can transfer the funds immediately, Father.” He did so, then added, “And I certainly appreciate your assistance in obtaining the parts for the drone.”

Reginald decided to take a shot in the dark. He understood that Red was a projection of Lady Lianne’s subconsciousness that took the form of her childhood self. He made a series of inductions–Lady Lianne had mentioned her mother and father in passing though the fact that Lady Lianne was Holder indicated that her father must have died or been stripped of his title. Was she an orphan? He hoped that he wasn’t wishing premature death upon Lady Lianne’s mother when he developed his next few sentences.

“Father, the toys in question belong to a little girl who no longer has her parents or her siblings.” That last part was a stretch, but as Lady Lianne had never mentioned having brothers or sisters, though he added it for dramatic effect, “They are memories of her time here, with her adoptive family. I hope that you understand… they’re very important to her.”

“Well if she’s the little imp that was using it to terrorize Sister Urshii the night we caught the thing, give her a smack on the knuckles for me. But I suppose it would be expected an orphan adopted by capsuleers would have a few behavioral issues.”

Reginald laughed nervously hoping that Red wasn’t listening, “I’ll be sure to convey that to her current chaperones.”

Ends justify means, Red!

The priest rolled his sleeves down, “Wait here, offer a prayer, take a blessing. I’ll be back with the drone.”

Reginald thanked the priest, then sat down at one of the pews. He felt it strange, having gone through a period of unbelief lasting all of two months. He had not even set foot in the Cathedral at Cerra Manor after all. He recited a childhood prayer for the first time in a while, focusing on things he should be grateful for: A corporation that was doing decently, his relationship with Kat, Lady Lianne’s reluctant blessing on that matter, Lady Lianne’s act of forgiveness, Lady Lianne providing a home for his corporation… The list seemed endless.

She cared about her pilots, of course. When he confessed his crime to her, she had every right to throw him out of the alliance or be executed repeatedly. She had held his fate in her hands. And where he had expected retribution, she showed mercy.

“Everyone deserves mercy, Reginald, even the darkest of us all. It’s going to be all right.” 

He swallowed at her words, feeling tears burn at the corner of his eyes. He did his best to stifle them. There was a reason she was the alliance executor after all–and being the executor of an alliance for years couldn’t have been built upon tyranny. Perhaps she really did have their pilots’ best interests in mind, even for the ones that fell from grace.

“Forgive me,” he whispered to God and Lady Lianne alike.

The priest trudged back into the chapel carrying a crate, jolting him out of his meditation. He handed Reginald the crate, “Here, and I’ll visit the orphanage in question in about two weeks. Maybe longer, I can’t foresee when I’ll have the time.”

Reginald took the package gratefully, “Thank you, Father. Please contact my household’s office in Myyhera if we can be of any assistance.”

The priest continued unabated, “Several joint servos and a gyroscope were salvaged from it, and it’s in a few pieces. Find a decent mechanic or drone specialist and you’ll have it repaired in a day or so. Shouldn’t be hard with your money.”

Reginald smiled, “Thank you.”

“Yes. Well. Thank God before His servants. And serve Him above all else. We should be just fine then.”

“I thank the Lord constantly, Father. And in His name, I serve the Crusade.”

“Heh. The 24th? Well, I have a feeling that in a thousand years this one will be mumbled about in dark corners rather than sung about by choirs. But I’ll stay quiet until God has ruled on that one. Now be off with you, I have to prepare for the noontime sermon.”

Reginald bowed again, “Thank you for your time, Father.”

He carried the package back through the maze of Mercy’s Keep and out of its surprising warmth into the frigid air of the mountainside. As he approached his shuttle, he allowed himself a glimpse back towards the impressive structure. The crate underarm, he turned his back on it, but not before hearing a soft giggle from behind him. He turned quickly, but saw nothing other than the windswept bridge and the daunting fortress.

Sighing, he boarded his shuttle.

“Maybe it was the plan all along, he didn’t save you then to save you for this.”

“Save me for this, indeed.”

Encounters

“Do you love her?”

There’s a wisdom that children possess all of their own, even if it stems from a ghostly, holo-projection of a consciousness resembling a child. Reginald looked up from his drawing of Red–he had started it on the Terrace a few days before but had returned to it for a little more detail work. It was lying on an elevated drawing platform, which was shaped like a wedge, on his writing desk. Somehow, the fact that it was a sketch of Red rather than a painting captured her spectral appearance quite well. He wondered if she was watching him.

Reginald first met Red when he was still new to the Terrace, before he was a participant in the mad ballet. He had been speaking with Kat–funny, how he referred to her as “Kat” recently, when it was Katerina or Miss Tzestu back then–when a holodrone activated, projecting the image of a little girl. Kat had not minded at all, though Reginald, wounds from Huola still fresh, treated her as he would an actual ghost. Red told them about the Blood King among other things and then she had disappeared.

That was something that they shared, at least, a general distaste for the “Blood King”–Red’s nickname for Tigerfish Torpedo. Reginald was unsure how deep her aversion ran, but he imagined that she wouldn’t be too upset by his attempt to get Tiger arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. There was always risk for those who labored for true justice, though he would prefer to remain on friendly terms with Red. She was a part of Shalee he could actually enjoy, the part that didn’t judge him for his feelings for Kat–the one that didn’t try to force a courtesan on him. He shook away the embarrassment from his face, then penciled in an adjustment.

All it took was a chance meeting to spark a fascination. After that, his mind began to churn tirelessly at the question of Red’s existence and how deep her knowledge and observations of the happenings of the Terrace went. And then he was locked out of his room, his box sitting behind doors with the automated repair capabilities equivalent to a Hyperion-class battleship. He needed someone to open the door and Red, for better or for worse, was the natural choice.

He peered down at the drawing, adjusting the lamplight slightly. He was falling behind on his game with her–to retrieve her things from the Keep. A toy Imperial Navy Slicer, a hover car, two dolls, and a drone that “lets me have a real body,” Red had said. He wondered if they were still there and if they were still in working order. But no matter the trial, it was his first quest in their private game against the Blood King. And he had no desire to lose to a monster.