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The Avalon Chronicles

Discussion in 'FanFic' started by Errhile, Nov 25, 2017.

  1. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    These are notes / reports from a RPG - using a homebrew mechnaics and setting - we don't use the official Modiphus mechanics nor setting (primarily because we've started it back in 2015, i.e. well before there was enough Infinity RPG material. Aslo, we don't really need all that detail).

    It was heavily inspired by the Girls und Panzer anime concept, but with “big robots” instead of tanks. Both GM and player being Infinity fans, we decided to use this universe as the setting for the game.

    Originally, these reports were published at Datasphere and Infinity the Game forums. Due to these nearing the end of their respective lifespans, I'm migrating the reports here.
    Though I guess they do qualify as fanfics...



    That’s how it is:


    Almost 30 years have passed since the end of the war with the Evolved Intelligence. The EI managed to unexpectedly Transcend
    (GM’s comment: I haven’t talked about this yet, I think, but it’s supposed to be because the Combined agents located and cracked open the Penny Arcade, acquiring the Digester), effectively vanishing from the conflict in a matter of seconds, its Aspect bodies becoming lifeless statues. Its subordinate races were therefore left out in the cold, so the Human / Tohaa alliance was able to drive them back through the wormhole and end the war.

    A couple of years after the war, a new sport, eventually second only to Aristeia in popularity, emerged - TAG-Soft (that’s a temporary name until we come up with a better one). It uses outdated, manned (this is a basic requirement) TAGs to play wargames, much resembling paintball and the like. Weapons fire non-penetrating ammunition (equivalent to rubber bullets, and non-explosive warheads on launcher-type ordnance), allowing for quite realistic ballistics, and computers take care of determining the effects of a hit. All this makes the sport showy, yet very safe: barring collisions with terrain / other players, there’s basically no way for a pilot to be actually harmed (pilots are prohibited from leaving their cockpits outside of the hangar, and escape / ejection systems must be disabled).

    Both professional and amateur teams exist, though high cost of maintaining obsolete TAGs means they are not very numerous.

    Teams are often partially sponsored / supported by TAG manufacturers, who supply them with replacement parts (on-demand / custom made for these obsolete, sometimes downright antique machines), much like a car manufacturer could support a racing team using their cars. Performance and armaments can be upgraded as per league rules, but every change must be represented by real alterations to a machine and registered with the game organiser.

    A typical team consists of 8 TAGs - while rules allow for bigger teams, these are uncommon due to procurement and maintenance requirements (and the bigger, the more rare). While smaller teams are easier on the budget, they also suffer from being outnumbered in the field.

    In military service, manned TAGs have been already long replaced with Remote Presence units. Only some second-grade Ariadnan units and underfunded mercenary outfits still field TAGs with actual pilots inside.


    The place:

    Planet Avalon, a PanOceanian colony world. One of the handful of new planets discovered and settled after the war.

    Avalon is mostly covered in water (however, nowhere close to Varuna), with two large landmasses, Morgana (South America-sized), and Merlin (Australia-sized), in the southern hemisphere’s temperate zone, and a number of islands. The soil is fertile and supports extensive vegetation, luckily not as aggressive as on Paradiso. Most of the land fauna is arachnid - some species get as big as a small dog, quite furry and very colourful
    (GM’s comment: in my mind, they’re based on earther jumping spiders). They are not aggressive toward humans, and in fact some species are considered cute enough to be kept as pets (being roughly as domesticated as cats, that is - don’t bothering themselves with humans most of the time).

    Many of the settlers, at least on Merlin, are Spanish / Portugese speakers, and dominant cultural trail seems South American.

    There is one professional TAG-Soft team on Avalon, the Knights of the Round Table, based in planetary capital, Port Arthur (on Morgana). One amateur team did exist, but was disbanded about 5 years ago due to piss-poor performance and lack of interest.

    Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy is an large combined school (i.e. one institution covering elementary, junior high and senior high education), located in the city of Belo Horizonte, continental capital on Merlin. It is also a pretty expensive school, meaning it is attended by most of the local elite’s children.

    The school’s motto is “Facere aut non facere, non experiri”.

    The principal, Ms. Ginevra Chennault, had recently decided to reactivate the school’s TAG-Soft team, taking advantage from the fact the equipment wasn’t actually sold, but mothballed. Trying to keep the costs manageable, it was decided to employ a coach from outside of the typical circle (being a professional sport, TAG-Soft has a cadre of professional coaches now, usually ex-players themselves).


    The protagonist:

    Warrant officer Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez, Corregidor Jurisdictional Command (retired). Diego is a veteran of the Paradiso conflict (as a Gecko pilot), and once a hero. After the war, he was for many years an instructor in CJC’s TAG school (finally - the chief instructor) but became obsolete once the last manned TAGs were phased out of the Nomad military. He was later posted in logistics, but couldn’t really stand it, and finally retired about 2 years ago.

    Having worked meaningless jobs since then, he’s bored and ready to take a chance to once again do what he really liked: train TAG pilots, even if for a game only.

    He is well-known for his multilingual cursing, likes spicy food, good beer and a number of other good things in life (though these aren’t usually too sophisticated - Diego is a man of rather simple pleasures). Also, quite a ladies’ man, pretty handsome at that. However, he can take a “no” for a “no” (on Corregidor those who can’t end up with broken arms…).

    Note about age: Diego looks almost forty years old. Biologically, he’s almost fifty (thanks to high-quality medical care of this era… also, a quality body), but technically is almost sixty - he was KIA during the Paradiso operations and later Resurrected. Which actually is the reason for him not seeking a combat position in a merc outfit: being dead sucks, and he knows it for fact from his personal, first-hand experience.

    Diego is motivated primarily by boredom: given the quality of his body and the typical available medical care, it can be assumed he’ll live for another 50, maybe 60 years, most of it being active, productive time. Simply too much time to spend it watching holos all day long. Secondary motivation is financial - the CJC retirement pension ain’t all that great, and he’d prefer to raise his retirement fund than to deplete it.

    While it is obvious that the school does offer him significantly lower wages than a local / PanO coach would claim, it is still good money and allowing for a pretty comfortable life in Belo Horizonte.




    Avalon Chronicles

    entry #1

    “Welcome to Avalon”


    Diego got an offer from Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy to become their TAG-Soft team’s coach. The team was inactive for 5 years, as the previous attempt proved disastrously unsuccessful. While not becoming a teacher himself (in a formal sense) he’ll be assisted by a PE teacher.

    To the school’s great surprise - he accepted almost immediately. Well, the school was mid-term already, and didn’t intended to start the team sooner than beginning of the next term.


    Friday, September 20th.

    After an uneventful journey, Diego lands in the Belo Horizonte Astroport, where he’s greeted by Yuni Iskandar, an attractive (if you’re into seriously athletic types. Also, her looks suggest Polynesian/Pacific islands descent
    (GM’s intention was Malaysian, exactly) young woman who appears to be the PE teacher designated to assisting Diego regarding the team. She’s a motorcycle enthusiast (riding an imported Diryat Fatih bike, pet-named “Beast”... And doing it way too fast). She threatens to break Diego’s arms should he try anything on the pupils. She, however, gladly accepts his response that “breaking hearts of sixteen-years-olds was something he considered OK, but only until he hit about twenty years of age himself”. Not that Yuni herself goes around unnoticed by the teenage students ;) And she is currently single...

    Since the landing, Diego congratulates himself for keeping the Nomad military-issue programming on his comlog: while it is outdated by military standards now, it provides him with pretty effective spam filters and ad-blocks!

    The next meeting is at the school - the principal, Ms. Ginevra Chennault, wants to be sure Mr. Ibarrez understands his role. She’s a tiny, old, dry and strict lady, who reminds Diego that he should behave “properly”, and conduct the team’s training in a way that she wouldn’t get complaints from the parents. She also states that the fate of the project relies on the results Diego will be able to produce. Which he replies to with “ - Ma’am, if you want results, then I can’t be running no sunday school there”. The Principal accepts this - memorabilia in her office (and the way she behaves) imply that she was once a front-line officer of the Bagh-Mari Regiment.

    Yuni later informs Diego that Ms. Chennault currently teaches literature, and that she is in the school longer than herself, but still not long enough to have seen the previous TAG-Soft attempt in person.

    The next visit is the teachers’ room, where Diego is welcomed rather indifferently, save for Father Loyola (teacher on religious studies and a Christian priest) who is clearly antipathic towards him, and a history teacher, Gerhard Oobleck, who’s openly enthusiastic on meeting “a real war hero”, and invites Diego to be a guest in the classes he’ll be teaching on the EI conflict. Ibarrez agrees reluctantly - he considers it all to be events of the past, and he isn’t exactly enthusiastic about getting back to them.

    Next stop - the TAG hangar, where chief mechanic Eric Wana and his assistants are trying to restore the team’s equipment into working condition. Mr. Wana seems to be a pedantic, perfectionist type - which isn’t the worst kind of guy to be in charge of a workshop!

    The motor pool consists of a Gecko, an Iguana, two Anacondas, a Szalamandra, and a trio of Lizards. All the machines (save for one Anaconda) are, as Eric says, going to be ready for use by Monday, which is the good news. Bad news is that all these TAGs are in their original, stock configuration (instead of the “Praxis refit” standard Diego was used to in the Nomad military, and that is familiar to the Infinity the Game players), making them clearly inferior to any other TAG they could meet on the playfield.

    The final stop is the meeting with potential team members. Despite the school’s size, there’s only 8 of them, including only one boy (who, seeing the rest of the team and their intended coach, quickly storms away). Of the girls, six are genuine volunteers, the seventh was actually forced into the team by her teachers - she’s a problem kid, school bully and also one neglecting on her PE classes. Diego immediately begins to think of her as “the bad apple”.

    All the students are first or second-class Senior high-grade students (i.e. no third / final-years ones).

    Diego orders a first training session for the next day (Saturday) - he contacts a Laser Tag facility in the local mall to use it for orientation training and show the girls the basics of infantry combat (hey, you have to walk before you can run).

    After the meeting ends, he’s ready to hit the town with a list of places where he could rent a living place, passed to him by Yuni. He actually makes use of one of these, and, having now an accommodation, begins to familiarize with the neighbourhood. He ends his evening dining at Silva’s, a small local diner / cafeteria (specializing in Brazilian cuisine, and having it’s own micro-brewery), run by elderly gentleman named Esteban Silva. The owner is assisted by a teenage waitress, Dominique, who is seemingly an Atek.

    The cafeteria is typically frequented by local regulars - some of them being a trio of elderly NeoColonial War vets, and offers an “old-fashioned, human-touch service”: it uses almost no augmented reality stuff, and the orders are taken personally by the staff instead of being placed via comlog.

    Having finished his dinner, Diego enjoys a tankard of in-house beer when a chance customer, seemingly a not-so-local idiot who thinks he can get away with it, gets ballistic over the fact he was pinging the staff on his comlog for five minutes already and hadn’t yet been served. He’s naturally impervious to persuasion, and obviously looking for a brawl, calling the waitress (who remains perfectly civil) an Atek scum. As Diego intervenes, the waitress notices that the things are soon to get really ugly for the bully, and tries to defuse the situation once more - to no effect. The bully would’ve hit her, but that’s the moment for Diego to show him how a fair fight looks like by Corregidorian standards: the offender gets subdued in a quick, brutal and inelegant manner (which, however, doesn’t allow it to turn into a slugfest and demolish the cafeteria) then promptly removed from Silva’s, to everyone’s (save for the guy) relief.


    Saturday, September 21st.

    Diego meets the team (and Yuni) at the laser tag facility to let the girls learn the ropes - and to assess his players.

    After a warm-up first round, the team gets divided into two squads of four (Yuni filling the odd place) and set up against each other, with elements of instruction being introduced each round. Diego watches it all from a refree’s station, doing his best to enforce teamwork and trying various pairings.

    The resulting observation are like this:

    Mako, a basketball player (she decided to take up TAG-soft, while still playing on the basketball team, and apparently follows some other activities too - making her a very busy person). Very sporty, very active player. Does well in teamwork, and uses terrain extensively. Excellent prospects.

    Minuette, a cheerleader (she gave up the perspective of being head cheerleader - once the current one graduates at the end of this year - to enter TAG-Soft team) and self-proclaimed “morale officer”- things can get ugly if one day she’s forced down from her sugar-induced high. Does well in teamwork, and is physically fit. Sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely. Prospectively a good, solid player.

    Patricia, a DJ. She seems to always come with Octavia in tow. Nondescript as a player (though pretty laid back), prospectively an average team member. Notable feature - she’s never seen without headphones (though she switched to low-profile ones for laser tag practice - usually these are huge external headphones!) Somehow, they don’t seem to affect hear hearing.
    (at least Diego didn’t notice it happening yet…)

    Octavia, a cello player. Close - almost inseparable - friends with Patricia. Shy and apparently insecure, tends to hide behind her friend. First thing Diego did was to place them in opposite teams. In combat, Octavia tends to panic (luckily this results not in running away, but in screaming and firing full auto at whatever scared her - though her accuracy is terrible). Seems to be doing very poor if forced to act on her own. Interesting fact - says to be way better checkers player than Patricia. Poorest prospects as of now, will require extensive work to make her into an effective team member. Diego notes down to contact her music teacher on whether she could possibly be given more solo performance.

    Evangeline, “the princess”. Proper language, proper behaviour, proper everything - that kind of girl. It took a while to persuade her to crawl on the floor when under fire. She likes the affairs she takes part in to be organised and well-managed, resulting in an urge to command other team members (that’s not bossing them around, she simply feels a need for the effort to be coordinated, and since nobody else is going to do that…). Prospective team leader, though she will require a lot of work to make her develop a tactical sense necessary in the field.

    Morgan, the sleepy one. Seems to totally lack interest in anything, and is apparently capable of sleeping all day, anywhere, anytime. Despite this, she’s a precise, methodical and controlled combatant. Prospectively a valuable team member.

    Alex, “the (bad) apple”. Aggressive and reckless, she tends to rush enemy positions guns’a’blazin’. While she’s able to intimidate the opponents in the laser tag facility, this will be of little use once the team mounts their TAGs. Diego is not a fan of the shock and awe tactics - Alex has a good entry point, but a lot of work will be required to teach her some really useful behaviour.

    After the allotted training time is up and the team is told to show up on Monday (after classes) for their first TAG practice (Mako runs off in hurry, she’s always tight on time with various activities), and the vid recordings from the laser tag practice gets mailed to the principal. She wants results - she should be glad to know that Mr. Ibarrez got right into the work!

    Diego asks Yuni whether she’s like to wash the “battle dust” down her throat - which results in both of them ending up at Silva’s for a dinner. The veterans and staff greet Diego as a regular already.

    The meal is good, the beer excellent (though Yuni has to limit herself - she’s driving!), and the chat pleasant.

    Which makes for a fine ending of a day.


    Which sums up entry #1.
     
    Ariwch, Danger Rose, Section9 and 2 others like this.
  2. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #2

    “First Blood”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).

    The Team:

    Alex Narahari - (2. class, 17y) Indian. “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways. Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them.
    Evangeline Neve - (1. class, 16y) Italian. “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs. Prospective team’s captain.
    Mako Joyo - (1. class, 15y) Micronesian. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person.
    Minuette Diane Chryse - (2. class, 16y) Australian. Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely.
    Morgan Lai - (2. class, 17y) Polynesian. “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player.

    Octavia Moina - (1. class, 16y) Brazilian. Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. Patricia’s best mate.
    Patricia Summers (1. class, 16y) North American. DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate.


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - (~60y, looks ~40) Latinoamerican. The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - (~35y) Polynesian. TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious).
    Gerhard Oobleck - (~40y), German. Teaches history. Enthusiastic about the perspective of having a real war veteran (Diego) in his classes.
    Ginevra Chennault - (~90y) Polynesian. School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. Strict and to-the-point. Teaches literature.
    Yuni Iskandar - (29y), Malaysian. PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Senores Anzamble, Ral and Trowa (~80y) Central American (various). Veterans of the First NeoColonial War (Fusiliers), now elderly retirees and regular guests at “Silva’s”.
    Bolo” (in his late 20s). Chief of the “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”, one of the local paintball teams.
    Dominique Torres - (16y) Argentinian. Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”.
    Esteban Silva (~80y) Brazilian. Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Roger Smith - Evangeline’s chauffeur (Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard).
    Scythe” (in her mid-late 20s) - member and field commander of the “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders” paintball team.
    [GMs note: Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.]


    Sunday, September 22nd

    Diego spends most of the day digging through various data on his comlog - team members extensive school files (he’s glad to find all of them are healthy, so no need to worry about any one of them passing away during practice - also, that Morgan is not narcoleptic, just lazy), league rules, local biology information (once you’ve been to Paradiso, you know better to check and memorize what the heck lives in the local woods!) and a ton of other stuff.

    He also plans Wednesday's training in the practice ground owned by the school - left basically unattended since the previous team was disbanded. Thanks to Avalon’s active biology, it is heavily overgrown by now, but that doesn’t concern him.

    He manages to do it while walking the neighborhood to get himself familiar with the layout.


    Monday, September 23rd

    Diego manages to buy himself an inexpensive car to get around, and heads to school. He mails the fine arts club teacher asking for a school-wide contest to be ran: he needs a color scheme for his team. The one used by the previous team is apparently too stained to be worth to rescue it. He attaches silhouette drawings of the TAGs the team uses (and pilot’s jumpsuit). His idea is to have the primary school kids do the colouring, and junior high school ones vote the coolest variant, thus allowing the younger kids to feel invested in the team too.

    Eric, as he promised, made all the TAGs save for one Anaconda good to go. He becomes a little frustrated with that last TAG, as there’s something glitchy with its movement system. Hardware was triple-checked already, and Eric begins to consider smoking some incense for it. And praying. Diego suggests it might be a glitchy driver in need of an update, though, as he comments, incense and a prayer might help or not, but definitely won’t do any harm, so he’s absolutely for it if Eric feels such a need.

    Just make sure the incense won’t trigger the fire alarm, please.

    Yuni comes in about 2 PM, just in time to be presented with the TAGs being ready for use. When she expresses her curiosity about what it feels like to drive one, Diego offers her a chance to walk the Szalamandra out of the hangar (and once that is done, all the other TAGs too).

    The girls show up after 3 PM, and are promptly sent to the changing room to get into their jumpsuits (one can pilot a TAG in “civvies”, but a pilot’s jumpsuit provides better cushioning and interfacing. It also allows the pilot to use TAG’s built-in toilette, a perspective that makes the team very uneasy. Still, Diego points out that when you’re 4th day on an operation, it really isn’t very practical to get out of your armor every time you want to visit the loo…). They feel a bit odd in the jumpsuits, though Evangeline mentions it isn’t half-bad, as these aren’t partially transparent like the Bakunin pilot suits (
    a reference to the Lizard Pilot Bootleg model). Diego replies that luckily for them, the suits didn’t come with ports for a tail, either (a reference to the initial meeting, where Minuette, having learned that their coach is a Nomad, immediately asked what he has done with his tail). The vision turns out to be pretty shocking…

    Eric then goes over with an instruction on safety rules when driving a TAG. Much to Alex’ regret, they aren’t going to be given guns any time soon.

    After that, Diego leads the outside and assigns them to their TAGs. Alex gets the Anaconda, Evangeline - Iguana, Mako - Gecko, Morgan - Szalamandra, Minuette, Patricia and Octavia - Lizards. They are to get up, walk, trot and eventually run in the adjacent yard (and warned not to stray into the school’s car park!).

    Surprisingly, Octavia does excellent, apparently being a natural talent
    [GM’s note: And develops a moderate case of seemingly out-of-character maniacal laughter when she realizes it], while Mako tends to fall on her face more often than anyone. Yes, they all make their quota of falls and slides, but that was to be expected (and the yard in front of the hangar will be in need of some serious maintenance after the practice). Minuette even manages to pull some acrobatics in her Lizard, though back vaulting from a handstand (and a couple other tricks) result in spectacular crashes into the dirt. As Diego comments, the designer didn’t expected the armors to be used for that kind of activity, and there simply isn’t enough flexibility in the spine.

    Patricia is all over the interface from the moment she gets into the TAG, luckily it proves too well-protected to allow her to do any serious hacking from the inside (at least for now). Diego warns her that getting hacked in a TAG is a very, very nasty affair (“ - Chica, just think what happens when the hacker gets to flush your toilet the other way…” - “ - Eeek. Once Eva is done with her brain bleach, I’d ask for some, too….!”). She also confides to Diego (over a private channel) that it was actually Octavia’s idea to enroll in TAG-Soft, and Patricia herself was dragged in to keep her company - not, as it could be initially thought, the other way around.

    The day’s practice ends with girls playing throw and catch with an empty supplies box (which Eric wrote down as collateral damage. Well, they didn’t have a TAG-sized ball for them…).

    Diego suggests Eric to re-check the gyroscope on the Gecko. While Mako learned how to maintain balance in her TAG, she is not a sure-footed and fluid in her movements as Diego expected her to be - apparently, there’s something strange going on there. Well, perhaps her movement pattern is different enough from standard so the armour’s interface needs some more time to learn it...

    The next practice is set for Wednesday. Mondays and Wednesdays are appointed as after-school practice days, and Saturdays as off-school practice days. Diego also announces that he’ll be handing out “homework” “to keep you chicas from getting bored”. The perspective of homework is taken with shock and disbelief… He also mentions that he intends to have a school-wide competition for a colour scheme for the team. The girls themselves intend to come up with a name for the team, but on the spot, they get no ideas.


    Wednesday, September 25th

    The team (accompanied by Diego in the spare Anaconda, now finally operational) moves to the school’s training ground, for mobility and navigation exercise. After all, TAGs react to various terrain types different than humans, and trying to negotiate a steep and slippery slope will likely end in what the girls aptly called “the rototiller incident”.

    Alex is definitely unlucky - first, a big spider (which is medium cat-sized) lands on her Anaconda’s head (she is not arachnophobic, but seeing such an animal suddenly just in front of your eyes…) and gets immediately squashed as she instinctively swats it with the TAG’s hand. Then she miscalculates a jump when the team fords a stream, and gets stuck in the mud. So, when Morgan and Evangeline try to pull her out, she deliberately flips the Iguana so that it gets stuck too - just in this case, head down (opening a private channel to Evangeline allows Diego to learn that “the princess” does actually know quite a lot of dirty words, just doesn’t use them when someone can hear her).

    Once the TAGs are safely on the other bank, Diablo says on the common channel “- I’m really curious, Alex, how do you mean to survive the first five seconds of a game, given your attitude…” Alex takes a moment to catch up: “ - Uh, what do you mean?” to which one of the girls (probably Morgan) explains “ - A bullet to your back, moron.

    - I didn’t know the rules allowed for friendly fire…

    - Remember, chicas - there’s nothing friendly in a “friendly fire”...

    Evangeline does her best to fit in the role of team commander, but she’s apparently overwhelmed with the amount of data she has to process. This also makes her become somewhat ham-fisted in her approach to other team members, and Diego has to intervene over PM, telling Evangeline to at least hear other girls’ suggestions and ideas, even if she’s not going to use them.

    As he explains to the girls, they cannot hope to outgun any opposing team - which is going to beat them in general experience, and most likely in terms of equipment quality (unmodified Reptiles are basically the weakest TAGs available, no one uses stuff as antique as RM-100s). Therefore they have to be able to outsmart and outmaneuver their opponents - and the ability to read the map, navigate and use the terrain for their advantage is going to be crucial to them.

    During the exercise Diego notes that Mako still performs worse than he expected, though Eric swears by the gyro of her Gecko.

    The team heads back to the hangar, and the chief mechanic looks pretty desperate, watching “his TAGs” coming back covered head to toe in mud (in some cases, like Evangeline’s iguana, literally). Diego orders the team to wash their machines clean with water hoses - which promptly erupts into a free-for-all water battle between the girls (though somehow Alex gets targeted more often than anybody else). After a few moments Diego spoils the fun, saying that they don’t have a “Miss wet t-shirt competition” on schedule for the day.
    [GM’s note: Yuni would win anyway. ^_^] The team gets to the changing room.

    Before going home, the girls get informed that on Saturday, a day in the paintball field is in order. The team is to assembly at the hangar in the morning, and go shopping for equipment before the game itself.

    Alex seems delighted - she’ll be finally able to shoot people (she attempted to join the school’s shooting club once, but they refused, and - as the GM depicts it - “dug in, deployed razor wire and landmines, and swore to defend till the bitter end”)!

    One last thought strikes him, though, and Ibarrez asks Mako to stay a little longer - try riding in the Anaconda he was using himself (and is perfectly sure it has properly calibrated gyros). She still has the same kind of problems as in the Gecko. Diego and Eric can but scratch their heads… then bring a motion-capture-capable camera and ask Mako to do some general gymnastics in front of it. They can’t tell if her way of moving is atypical, but computer analysis will sort that out - maybe the girl needs a customized movement software.

    Diego then heads to “Silva’s” for dinner. It is a good thing in this day and age that you don’t have to sit over actual papers when doing your paperwork (and running a team is quite a lot of it, including some teacher’s paperwork). He also secured a “realistic” computer game (FPS-type with good multiplayer option… Not necessarily with the best VR, but definitely one that represents a TAG battlefield very well) and is all over the mission editor, preparing “homework” for his team.

    You can’t really train your TAG operation in a game, but for tactics and teamwork, it will do!

    Senores Anzamble, Ral and Trowa can be seen at their regular table, discussing some long-gone battle - and Dominique peeks above their shoulders from time to time, pointing out various bits: she seems to be pretty into military history.

    At some point they become interested in the simulation scenario Diego is constructing “for his pupils as homework”. Dominique expresses her fascination with TAGs - she dreams about driving a TAG for a moment one day, and even more so about getting to take one apart - and it turns out she’s making very detailed (and fully articulated) scale models of TAGs herself.
    [GM’s note: Think modern Japanese Gunpla toys] While the blueprints for such models are readily downloadable, she upgrades these to fit her own requirements for detail (basically, she stops at the detail limit of the 3-d printers she’s able to rent time on). Diego is pretty impressed, and asks for a download of her work (which gets promptly sent to Eric with a request for his professional opinion as TAG mechanic). He also joins the conversation with the three elderly Fusiliers (though not all of their suggestions are fit for a TAG-only tactical scenario, of course).

    He also secures Saturday game time with the “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders” at their game field.


    Saturday, September 28th

    The team gather at the hangar in the morning. Diego decided that it will be more fun to use one of the team’s own vehicles rather than put on request for a school’s bus. Well definitely there’s fun, as Yuni drives out one of the two TAG transporter rigs (think Dragon Wagon) - well, only the tractor, the trailer (capable of carrying 5 TAGs and assorted supplies) won’t be needed this time. With a soft spot in her heart for big, noisy and powerful machines, she immediately starts to like the massive truck which gets aptly nicknamed “Monster”.
    [GM’s note: Yeah, I think we went a little overkill with the truck. A mobile storage & maintenance bay for five TAGs, even fully loaded with 5 of the heaviest machines, like Szalamandras or Jotums, still won’t weigh anywhere near what an M1 Abrams does, which is what this truck can haul. An ordinary 18-wheeler would be enough. But damn if it isn’t cool. ^_^]

    A mallplex where Diego had located a paintball store is the next stop. The Monster gets parked on the outside (as it doesn’t fit into the underground parking lot), causing quite a sensation.

    At the store the girls get wild - Yuni shoos Diego away:
    - Have a nice conversation with the shop assistant, Diego - I’ll take care of the girls. Ladies, we’re goin’ shopping!
    - Yuni, why do I feel like I just entrusted a fox with custody over a henhouse…?
    - Because perhaps you did… >:3
    Somehow, the team manages to agree on a common camouflage pattern. Diego persuades Alex out of getting herself a gattling cannon (basically on the grounds of how heavy and unwieldy it is), but feels resigned once she gets adamant about taking a revolver-fed grenade launcher. Morgan gets herself a sniper rifle and a bush rag. Octavia turns herself into a pretty convincing Nisse, complete with the 6-visor helmet…
    “ - Diego, I think we’ve created a monster”
    “ - My exact thoughts, Yuni…”)
    (GM’s note: Well, Patricia helped - she suggested the fully enclosed helmet, which does seem to make some crucial psychological difference for the normally meek Octavia…)
    And Evangeline is a pretty, pretty Fusilier princess, complete with a cute little beret and a pleated mini skirt. It’s a combat-camo-printed and utility-pocketed pleated mini skirt, but still, Diego’s despair is palpable. Diego orders those who insisted on shorts / t-shirts / tank tops to take spare trousers and jackets to wear once they change their minds about skirmishing with loads of bare skin… [GM’s note: The whole dress-up thing may possibly be my poke at some Infinity female models… But if it is, it’s a small, loving one. ^_^]

    Diego intended to pay for the equipment with the team funds (paintball training is way cheaper than using TAGs - which is why he went for it. The other reason is that there are several paintball teams and fields in and around Belo Horizonte, while the only other TAG-Soft team on Avalon is the professional one and located on the other continent), but Evangeline gets really stubborn - she wants to pay for all of it herself, “to do something for the team”. Well, the total costs comes out to be a small fortune, but as she says (albeit through a rather rictus grin) “after all, it is my pocket money and I can spend it however I like”.

    Needless to say that the impression the Monster made in the parking lot is immediately dwarfed by the team marching through the mall in full combat kit (though Yuni and Diego make them at least pack their paintball guns as not to flash them in public…). Next stop - “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders’” paintball field!

    The opposition is naturally impressed by the kind of vehicle the team arrives with, and bewildered by team itself: seven teenage girls… They agree to play it TAG-Soft like, i.e. with a combat controller outside of the field in addition to field commander. Also, despite being more numerous (9 players) they agree to have two of them sit out to even the numbers. The “Spiders” are not a pro competition team, but they are all seasoned veterans of this hobby.

    Diego points this fact to his team, expressing he doesn’t expect his team to win. They’re complete noobs, the opposition is vet. Expecting a win would be completely unrealistic.

    Instead, he expects that the girls will make the “Spiders” sweat for their victory - and the more they will make them sweat, the more will he be satisfied.

    A kill-out game proceeds. Despite being noobs, the girls (under Evangeline’s command, and Diego doing the combat control part) manage to stop the Spiders’ initial rush, and swing into offensive a number of times. Minuette becomes the first casualty, then the team manages to score their only kill in the game, with Octavia eliminating Scythe (and effectively putting the Spiders into LoL). Although the team maneuvers vigorously and very effectively, they prove to be too lousy shots to make any use of this, and this advantage is wasted.

    Evangeline is completely trampled with data she has to manage as field commander, not to mention she has to shoot, too!

    Morgan changes positions like an expert, though her sniper rifle fails to score any hits.

    Alex soon learns that a grenade launcher doesn’t work well as a primary weapon, especially if you like to shoot a lot (Diego made up his mind about her: “burned hand teaches best”, if she doesn’t take advice, let her do it her way and fail, then explain why she failed). She eventually swaps it for Evangeline’s Combirifle.

    Octavia does like a marvel (despite being just as lousy shot as the rest of them).

    Still, it takes the Spiders half of an hour of fighting to cripple the team to the point where they can’t fight back. Mako and Patricia are the last ones to go down.

    Definitely, the girls made them sweat!

    A number of games follow, with roughly similar results. The team reacts quick, and isn’t afraid to maneuver, but their weapons skills aren’t worth a damn.

    The Spiders bid them goodbye, hoping for some games in the future - it was a good sporting fun for them, and not such one-sided as they first expected.

    The Monster takes the team back to school, half-conscious with exhaustion. Morgan is, for the first time ever, seen not to doze off because of boredom, but actually fall asleep. Several members get dropped at convenient points en route. A limo awaits for Evangeline at school, and her chauffeur, Roger, looks pretty alarmed seeing his charge in full camo gear, with twigs in her hair, dead on her feet (and yes, dragging the damn grenade launcher behind her). Mako, knowing that there will be a lot of muscle pain in the morning, manages to trot away - but she’s the only one with that much power of will.

    Yuni parks the Monster and agrees for a late dinner at Silva’s with Diego (not to mention she can leave her Beast in the parking lot at school this time, and have more than one beer!).

    On the way they start wondering how many of the girls will just throw themselves on their beds as they were… and how many will fall asleep in the shower.

    At this late hour, “Silva’s” is completely empty (save for senhor Silva and Dominique, who herself is sweeping the floor and singing - thanks to headphones, she doesn’t notice Diego and Yuni for quite a while). The owner reminds her that her shift is ending soon, and she should be getting home. And to be careful on the way - he really seems to care about the kid. Her reply “ - Sure, grandpa Esteban!” seems to really move the old man. After a few minutes, he asks if he could join Yuni and Diego.

    Senhor Silva is in a mood to tell his story this evening - as it appears, he lost his family during the EI Conflict - both his children on Paradiso (in a way that sounds like combat losses, Diego doesn’t ask for details), his daughter-in-law and grandchildren during the Bombing of Accontaciemento. Diego acknowledges - it was a nasty war, and yes, he fought in it. Esteban expresses his hope that Diego got some of those alien bastards, to which reply is “ - Yeah, I got some of them. And then one of them got me.

    Which is the time for him to raise his tankard: “To absent friends”, and Silva joins him in the toast.

    Dominique’s story is revealed, too. She’s a bright, hard-working kid who dreams to be an engineer - just like her mother dreamt. Her mother, however, had her when she was 18, (which sent her educational plans down the gutter) and since then does make ends meet working as a low-grade technician at a local drone factory. Not bad for an Atek (or “economically unprivileged”, as the politically correct term goes), apparently, but still not a place from which one could aspire to anything.

    Dominique tried to get one of the precious few scholarship grants the Roberto Rocha Academy (the best school in the region, also, the most expensive…) sets up every year, but she failed, and failed in the most painful way: she scored just after the last person accepted. While she intends to try again next year, it will be more difficult to get it as she gets older.

    In the meantime, she got herself a place in a public school, one of the, sadly rather low-quality, charity-funded institutions ran by the Church, and works as a waitress for Silva. As he says, he’s paying her the maximum legally allowed for an underage, unskilled worker. He could manage the joint all by his own (with some robotic help), but he appreciates the kid who spends most of her income on extra study (save for the bit she spends on her hobby).

    Hearing all that makes Yuni go bitching about the education system - but Diego stops her. “ - Yuni, enough of it. I didn’t come here to criticise how your nation handles itself, including the education. And believe me, I’d really have a few words I’d just love to say on that…” She also starts wondering whether it would be possible to get Dominique a sports scholarship.

    Diego replies that he’s not going to promise anything and to anyone, but he had taken the blueprints Dominique was making, and sent them to Eric for a review.

    - We can’t change the world all by ourselves. And the rest remains to be seen.

    Which, generally, makes for an end to this entry (though my GM threw me a cliffhanger that there will be 2 mails getting into Diego’s mailbox on Sunday morning. One from Eric, the other from Loyian N’dele).

    Who’s Loyian N’dele? Oh, let me have some cliffhanger on you, too ;)


    Which sums up entry #2.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  3. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #3

    “Anjos e Diabos”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).

    The Team:

    Alex Narahari - (2. class, 17y) Indian. “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways. Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them.
    Evangeline (or Eva) Neve - (1. class, 16y) Italian. “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs. Prospective team’s captain.
    Mako Joyo - (1. class, 15y) Micronesian. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person.
    Minuette (or Minnie) Diane Chryse - (2. class, 16y) Australian. Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely. The only team member to have siblings (three in fact).
    Morgan Lai - (2. class, 17y) Polynesian. “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - (1. class, 16y) Brazilian. Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate.

    Patricia (Patty) Summers (1. class, 16y) North American. DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate.

    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Amar Lal (1. class, 16y) Indian. The only boy who was interested in joining the TAG Soft team, but stormed out of the initial meeting, immediately gaining Diego’s antipathy.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - (~60y, looks ~40) Latinoamerican. The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - (~35y) Polynesian. TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Gerhard Oobleck - (~40y), German. Teaches history. Enthusiastic about the perspective of having a real war veteran (Diego) in his classes.
    Ginevra Chennault - (~90y) Polynesian. School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. Strict and to-the-point. Teaches literature.
    Ken Kamehameha (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s) Hawaiian. Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow.
    Yuni Iskandar - (29y), Malaysian. PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Senores Anzamble, Ral and Trowa (~80y) Central American (various). Veterans of the First NeoColonial War (Fusiliers), now elderly retirees and regular guests at “Silva’s”.
    Bolo” (in his late 20s). Chief of the “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”, one of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - (16y) Argentinian. Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor). She is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time.
    Esteban Silva (~80y) Brazilian. Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Roger Smith - Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard.
    Scythe” (in her mid-late 20s) - member and field commander of the “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders” paintball team.
    [GMs note: Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.]

    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere

    Lt. Loyian N’dele (29y), Maasai. Once Diego’s favourite student (and attempted romantic interest, but she turned him down. Very gracefully in fact: they still are friends) in one of his last TAG classes. She was re-trained for remote TAGs, and remains in active service (CJC).


    Sunday, September 29th

    In the morning, Diego - getting to deal with the team-related paperwork - finds two e-mails in his mailbox, one having been delivered through Arachne from his long-time friend Loyian N’dele. She’s worrying about him, as the rumor mill has brought her news that “Diablo” sold out to pilot a TAG in some combat zone. As she knows his past (and the fact he’s not willing to enter a battlefield anymore), does that mean something went really wrong for him…

    Diego is quick to assure her that this is not the case - he went into TAG-Soft as a coach of a high-school team on Avalon. Nothing to worry about here.

    The other mail cames from Eric, who has checked on the blueprints and holos Diego sent him (Dominique’s works) and is pretty impressed. While, as he points out, there are superior quality kits on the market, these would be the high-end ones. What Dominique makes is obviously using some massively outdated design software (Eric had to first identify the formats to open them at all), but she gets every last gram of performance and functionality out of these. Also, there are details on the models that had to be hand-made, as they are obviously below the resolution of the 3-d printer used. All in all, these toys would be worth some serious Oceana to collectors, should their creator be willing to sell them.

    Also, Eric is pleased to inform that he had most likely solved the problem with Mako’s Gecko. Being the bare-bones, stock configuration 3.0 Gecko, the poor old Reptile’s driver was unable to cope with high-performance user like Mako, effectively lagging in reactions behind her and thus tripping her up. He gutted the program and made her a new one that should be able to react quick enough.

    Diego e-mails Mako that he’d like her to be earlier for Monday practice, as her Gecko requires a test run.


    Monday, 30th September.

    The last week of the first semester begins, and the school is going to be a little crazed over competition tests / exams / qualifications, you name it. It will be followed by a week-long break.

    The results of the graphics competition get into Diego’s mailbox in the morning, so the team will be getting their colours today.

    He does, however, begin the day having a talk with Eric about Dominique. Long story short, while her designs are merely toys, she clearly has potential for mechanics, and Eric is positive when Diego suggests they could give the girl a tour of the team’s hangar - perhaps on Wednesday?

    Mako shows up early, just as requested, and takes her Gecko out of the hangar to test the new driver. It does indeed make a difference, immediately noticeable to everybody as the rest of the team slowly gathers.

    Diego informs them about the colour scheme contest - which is a big surprise for the girls as none of them - except for Minuette - followed the elementary-grade section of the school’s bulletin. They’re shocked to hear their colours have been designed by minors, and as Alex expresses it, they expect awful pastel designs with lots of flowers on them - totally unacceptable. Diego replies that, specially for Alex, he’ll be adding extra butterflies to her Anaconda’s paintjob. Jokes aside, he switches Mako’s (who’s still testing her driver in front of the hangar) Gecko into the team’s new paint scheme: a really minimalistic, two tone grayish graphite black and basalt dark grey design, with glowing neon blue accents.

    It is definitely a positive surprise, and the team finds it hard to believe it is a work of an elementary school student - though, as it gets explained, it was the junior high school who was voting over the projects.

    Having the colours, the team goes back to arguing about a name. There’s some strong opposition against a “girly” name - despite the team being all female now, the current players will be in for no longer than a little over 2,5 years, and it cannot be expected that it will always be a girls’-only team.

    Finally, Minuette comes up with an idea all the team members find acceptable: Anjos de Rocha (Portuguese: Stone Angels)
    [GM: I prefer the more poetic-sounding “Angels of Stone” ^_^], which is both fitting the colour scheme and being a reference to the school’s patron. Patricia, as the resident computer expert, is tasked with finding an appropriate stylized angel and turning it into team’s emblem.

    And, to Diego’s relief, not very likely to irritate padre Loyola (too much).

    Quickly, two more TAGs are walked out of the hangar, and the team (plus staff) forms in front of them to have a group photo taken (by Reksio) in their new colours.

    The practice of the day is dedicated to target practice with TAGs - Octavia is clearly doing best of the team. Alex, while very enthusiastic (the girl just loves to shoot!) is not very successful.

    Diego asks Patricia (over Private Mode) to help the girls with personalizing their interface displays, and especially teach Evangeline on how to deal with it. While her Iguana is best suited to being a command vehicle, Eva herself suffers from a bad case of information overload in combat (especially given her tendency to micromanage her troops).

    Morgan is asked whether she enjoys her role of a sniper - perhaps she would like to reconsider her position in the team and swap her Szalamandra for a lighter, more mobile TAG? She says she’ll think about it, also, she would like to try the grenade launcher next time they go paintball.

    Evangeline (who’s not doing too well regarding shooting) is suggested to set up some targets in her backyard and practice at home. She’s somewhat shocked she didn’t got that idea herself, but immediately catches on it, thinking loudly she could perhaps ask Roger for some advice on that.

    Yuni asks Diego if he would be willing to assist her this week during PE tests - while the scores required to get a passing grade are set at minimum, as PE is the least important subject in the curriculum, she’s going to have it done properly, and that means a lot of work - and a hard workout for the kids! She could definitely use a hand.

    Diego agrees immediately (well, he doesn’t have much else to do anyway), making Yuni pretty enthusiastic about the fact she was able to secure his assistance earlier than Gerhard (the history teacher).


    Tuesday, October 1st.

    Having dusted off his field uniform, Diego shows up to assist Yuni, putting on his best impression of a drill sergeant (well, as far as he can without breaking rules of conduct at school!), terrifying a lot of kids, causing some shock and loathing… As well as gaining about as many sympathizers among the students! “No, he doesn’t bite - he swallows them whole!” ;)

    He also enters into - and loses - a push-ups competition against Yuni - while his result is still impressive by school standards, he cannot match her in this field. As he comments - well, he got out of shape, time to do something about that!

    Diablo also jumps at the opportunity to get onto Amar Lal, the lad who stormed out of the initial meeting of the TAG-Soft team candidates. “ - Ah, Mr. Lal. I’m glad to see you” followed with the best obstacle course style hurrying “ - Slower! Even slower! Maybe you’d better lie down, huh? Perhaps Mr. Lal would care to crawl backwards?

    Naturally, the handsome-veteran-turned-TAG-Soft coach showing up to assist Miss Iskandar in PE exams doesn’t doesn’t go unnoticed by the student community, and the rumour mill gets a spin. Though, as Diego points out to Yuni half-jokingly, this could actually lower the number of accidents that happen among male students: he still remembers that goldilocks who walked into a lamp post on the day of Diego’s arrival, because he was gazing at Yuni...

    After school he drops in for dinner at Silva’s, and asks Dominique what time she ends her classes on Wednesday, as his chief mechanic would like to see her. She’s, however, torn between one of her dreams coming true (she’s been invited to visit a hangar with real TAGs!) and her duty - she has agreed to help senhor Silva after her classes. However, Esteban assures her he’ll manage on his own, and that she should take the opportunity.


    Wednesday, October 2nd.

    Dominique shows up at the school’s gates just after midday, and, after checking her visit with Diego, Ken Kamehameha sends her in (accompanied by one of his subordinates for guidance: while there are augmented-reality signs with directions on the campus, Ken is bright enough to understand Diablo’s suggestion about a print-out map for the girl, who can’t access them).

    While she’s initially shy and a bit overwhelmed by the presence of a real TAG mechanic and true machines, Dominique soon forgets her troubles and - having shown great knowledge about the machines (she’s able to identify the variant used without VR assistance, something Eric admits he couldn’t easily do himself) - is allowed to get elbows-deep into the mechanisms of the “spare” Anaconda, eventually assisted only by Reksio, while Eric is conferring with Diego.

    In his opinion, the girl has great talent, and an already extensive body of knowledge, doubly impressive because of her reduced education opportunities, and it would be a criminal waste not to have her properly educated in mechanics. However, it is beyond his reach do actually do anything about it, and he cannot take her in as a trainee due to legal restrictions…

    Once the Anaconda is fully assembled again, Diego asks whether Dominique would like to drive it out of the hangar.

    She’s still testing the TAG (and taking her share of slips and falls) as the girls gather for the Wednesday practice. Diego informs them they have a guest today, and that they should hurry up to the dressing room - it is time to put them through field maneuvers. Also, he’d like to know what their plans are for the next week break - are they in town, or is anybody leaving for holiday?

    In any case, he’ll be available on site should anyone want to take individual lessons, and he will consider giving them some extra homework (nota bene, the girls are not having an easy time with Diego’s virtual combat scenarios, but they perform acceptably).

    It is agreed to run Monday practice as normal, though the Wednesday one is revoked - Patricia has a gig to DJ. Diego immediately asks whether he could come, though Patricia warns him she’s not sure he’ll like the music.

    Asked whether the guest is going to be the eighth team member, Diego replies that he’d like to have it that way, but as Dominique is not a student of the Academy, this is currently impossible.

    The team suits up and moves out, this time accompanied by Diablo only via comms. The field exercises go without any noteworthy events, though Dominique is doing pretty well (on her first exercise, she’s performing a bit above the team’s average).

    After the practice, the girls exit their TAGs, getting first chance to see Dominique face-to-face (and, in some cases, to see her at all - not everyone has yet mastered the interface and is aware of the internal camera option). They want to know which school she’s in - and it takes them quite a while to recall (or search through their comlogs) that there indeed is one St. John’s High School in Belo Horizonte. Then they realize what it means, and Evangeline is the one most shocked by the revelation that today’s guest, one who Diego would like to have on the team, is an Atek.

    Curiously enough, the “princess” gets immediately laid into by Patricia for (assumed) judging people’s worth by the thickness of their wallets, and asked how much money does one need to have to qualify as a human being in her eyes - Minuette being called in as an example (she’s the least well-off of the team members - and that’s because her parents own a chain of popular restaurants!). Patty for some reason seems to be really personally offended on Dominique’s behalf by Eva’s reaction, threatening the other girl with “a kick up that “hoity-toity’ ass strong enough that they’re gonna need to call in a proctologist so Patty can get her sneaker back afterwards”.

    Alex, the “bad apple”, just shrugs: “She’s doing okay in the TAG, so I’m OK with her, Atek or not!”.

    Diego point out that Dominique is “just a human being. Look, two legs, two arms, one head”, to which Minuette quickly adds “and no tail...” - which quickly derails the dispute into Minuette being obsessed with folks having tails, and Diego suggesting they should find her a boyfriend.

    As it turns out, Minnie already has a boyfriend (a star player on the football team, and the tallest guy in school) - and gets scolded by the other girls for snuggling with him all the time in public .

    The issue of Dominique being an Atek gets abandoned due to the more pressing issues of Minuette’s private life ;) (Minnie’s pretty surprised anyone noticed… Morgan’s reply: “He’s so huge he’s impossible to miss, and you, no offense, have about the subtlety of a weasel on acid. Even I noticed.”) and the team eventually leaves for home, though an uncomfortable silence still lingers between Patricia and Evangeline.

    On their way out they pass the principal, who’s coming to see Diego about some matters.

    As Ms. Chennault informs the coach, she’s satisfied with his work so far - in fact, she’s pretty impressed by the pace on which he’s making the team up. However, the school’s board is already complaining about the costs of the program (mere two weeks into it), and have to be shown some results. She’s aware that going against another school-level team would require a trip off-planet (or at least inviting an off-planet team to Belo Horizonte), so definitely not a trifle problem, but should an opportunity arise, it cannot be missed.

    She’s also pleased to observe that miss Narahari had not added anything to her rap sheet in the previous two weeks, which is something of an achievement for her, and while mr Lal’s parents were complaining about the way their son was treated by Diego during PE classes, she - having checked the video records - is pleased to find these complaints groundless.

    Mr Ibarrez also raises the issue of the prospective 8th player, Dominique Torres. While the principal recognizes the person - in fact is still impressed by the Atek who not only tried to get into the academy, but almost succeeded in getting a scholarship - she points out that the scholarships have been awarded already, and there are simply no more this year that could be assigned to miss Torres.

    However, Diego recalls that Dominique was going for a scholarship for academic merits: indeed, a very limited amount of these are being set up by the school board as to comply with the regulations (a matter of giving a chance to the talented kids from lower social classes… though hardly anyone from below the middle class ever goes for them). Yuin had mentioned about sports scholarships…

    Indeed, Ms. Chennault agrees that there should be a scholarship, at least one per sports program being ran at school. However, the TAG-Soft starting at the end of a term, there was no scholarship being set up for the team. Still, as there actually is a team now, they are entitled to get one. She leaves the issue in Diego’s hands - and for the first time, he’s grateful to have a crapload of paperwork to do (the principal, being the old front line officer, shares Diego’s hate and contempt toward quartermasters and other kinds of bean-counters).

    He also raises the idea of the school starting a paintball team, which the principal agrees to take into consideration in the future. She also recalls Bolo (of the “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”) as a former student.

    As Ms Chennault comments “ - I guess we’re going to make a teacher of you yet, mr Ibarrez!

    ...And she manages to scare the living shit out of Diego’s pet digital devil!*

    • Diego has a “desktop animal” custom-programmed for him back in the CJC days that can be seen in Augmented Reality either around him, or - emitting from an AR sticker - near to his “office” in the back of the hangar. A cheerful, animated devil with a cauldron of boiling tar, a pitchfork and other paraphernalia, making faces, rude gestures, jumping, whistling or boiling some students in the cauldron. It reacts to the surroundings, and can also behave according to Diego’s mood.
    As soon as she’s gone, Diablo begins to fill the papers to get himself four sports scholarships for the TAG-Soft team, assuming that if he requests four and pesters the board vigorously enough, they might consider giving him one just to get rid of him…


    Thursday, October 3rd and Friday, 4th

    Diego keeps assisting Yuni in PE exams.

    She also asks him whether he would consider it a problem if she went alongside the girls into the paintball field on Saturday. She had bought herself all the gear anyway, and it would be a pity to have it gathering dust. Still, she knows he uses the game to train and assess the team…

    Nope, that’s not a problem for Diego.

    Besides, she considers getting into paintball herself apart from the TAG-Soft team...


    Saturday, October 5th

    The team takes another visit to the Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders, and this time Yuni enters the field with the girls. Morgan trades her sniper rifle and bush rag for the grenade launcher Evangeline got the last time. The team considers a shortage of shotguns, though the combi+flamethrower combo (originally used by Eva) partially helps the issue.

    Since it is actually the second day the girls are playing paintball, and they had some time to practice, they manage to win this time! Sure, their accuracy is still lacking, and Evangeline can’t actually score any hits with the sniper rifle (it is later suggested she should keep something small - either a shotgun or an SMG for self-defense, hide under the bush rag and concentrate on commanding). Plus, especially in the initial part of the game, most of the advantage comes from Diego’s experienced guidance - he’s a professional soldier after all, and Bolo can’t really match him in the combat controller role. Still, the team comes out on top, with no loses and several kills to their accounts (Octavia scores three, Alex one, Minuette one, Patricia one, Yuni one. Last of the Spiders, Scythe, opts to surrender when she finds she’s all alone against a full team).

    Diego makes a note to himself that he’ll need to look for a more demanding opponent for his team. The Spiders are a fun bunch to fight, but once his chicas get their shit right, they won’t be much of a challenge any longer. An occasional meeting to blow off some steam is OK, but for training, the Spiders aren’t going to offer much.

    The gaming day ends earlier than the one the week before, and both teams sit at a campfire frying sausages (though Eva is deeply shocked by the idea of frying a sausage for herself, just like that, on a pointy stick… and then eating it with no plate, nor fork and knife… the rest of the team, especially Patricia and Alex, take a lot of pleasure in “breaking the princess bad” ;)). Unfortunately, as Diego learns, drinking age on Avalon is 18 years, so even if he had known before there’s a campfire party planned, the beer would be out of question (still, he wonders if he could get a crate or two of alcohol-free beer slide by…).

    Both teams engage in some laid back small talk, and even engage in a burping contest (Yuni was a strong contender, victory however, by a surprising late entry, goes to Minuette, who boasts she trained up that particular skill specially to annoy her older sister)…

    Back in town, Diego asks Yuni on her plans for the next week (it is school break, after all) and agrees upon doing some PE together. He feels out of shape, and has to work on it (and well, a chance to work on Yuni wouldn’t be something to overlook either!).


    Sunday, October 6th

    Diego gets another e-mail from Loyian. She’s relieved to hear Diego wasn’t desperate enough and isn’t anywhere near of a front line - and coaching a TAG-Soft team seems to be as close to his favourite job as possible. Also, a curious thing, her nephew (Loyian’s older sister married off to Bakunin) is playing on a school TAG-Soft team too. She’s quick to notice that Bakunin will be in the Avalon system on October 17th and 18th, changing a Circular (on their way to Human Edge). It will be a perfect opportunity to get a game in against the “Human Revolution”, the team of the high school where Loyian’s nephew is playing.

    Diego responds that he’s grateful, and definitely willing to jump at the opportunity. He promptly notifies the principal of Roberto Rocha’s Preparatory Academy, and goes to check the data on the Stone Angel’s first opponent. Like for the first time with the Spiders, a victory can not be expected. Victor Stone, their coach and combat controller, is a veteran of at least Diablo’s prowess, and the team, while not top-tier, is an experienced league squad.


    Which sums up entry #3.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  4. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #4

    “A Musical Interlude”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).

    The Team:

    Alex Narahari - (2. class, 17y) Indian. “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working - so far, so good). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Evangeline (or Eva) Neve - (1. class, 16y) Italian. “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Mako Joyo - (1. class, 15y) Micronesian. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person. Excellent team player. Prospective 2IC of the team. Gecko TAG.
    Minuette (or Minnie) Diane Chryse - (2. class, 16y) Australian. Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely. The only team member to have siblings (three in fact). Solid team player. Lizard TAG.
    Morgan Lai - (2. class, 17y) Polynesian. “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Szalamandra TAG.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - (1. class, 16y) Brazilian. Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers (1. class, 16y) North American. DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Average player. Lizard TAG.


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Amar Lal (1. class, 16y) Indian. The only boy who was interested in joining the TAG Soft team, but stormed out of the initial meeting, immediately gaining Diego’s antipathy.
    Devil - Diego’s “desktop animal” and digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Reactive to the surroundings.
    Diego DiabloIbarrez - (~60y, looks ~40) Latinoamerican. The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - (~35y) Polynesian. TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    father Loyola (undetermined / unknown) - school’s chaplain and teacher on religious studies. Uptight and boring, he’s has shown clear antipathy towards Diego.
    Gerhard Oobleck - (~40y), German. Teaches history. Enthusiastic about the perspective of having a real war veteran (Diego) in his classes.
    Ginevra Chennault - (~90y) Polynesian. School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. Strict and to-the-point. Teaches literature.
    Ilya Malinin (2nd class, 17y) Russian. Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend.
    Yekaterina (Katya / Katyusha) Malinin (3rd junior high school, 14y) Russian. Sister of Ilya, plays drums in the school’s orchestra. Minuette’s friend. Nobody actually uses her first name in full form.
    Ken Kamehameha (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s) Hawaiian. Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow.
    Yuni Iskandar - (29y), Malaysian. PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Senores Anzamble, Ral and Trowa (~80y) Central American (various). Veterans of the First NeoColonial War (Fusiliers), now elderly retirees and regular guests at “Silva’s”.
    Bolo” (in his mid-20s). Chief of the “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”, one of the local paintball teams, and a Academy’s graduate. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - (16y) Argentinian. Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor). She is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Prospective team member.
    Esteban Silva (~80y) Brazilian. Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Roger Smith - Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard.
    Scythe” (in her mid-late 20s) - member and field commander of the “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders” paintball team.
    [GMs note: Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.]

    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere

    Lt. Loyian N’dele (29y), Maasai. Once Diego’s favourite student (and attempted romantic interest, but she turned him down. Very gracefully in fact: they still are friends) in one of his last TAG classes. She was re-trained for remote TAGs, and remains in active service (CJC).

    Victor “Cinderblock” Stone (undetermined). Coach and combat controller of the Human Revolution TAG-soft team, retired Bakunin Jurisdictional Command TAG pilot and former Morlock.

    Note - these are all characters who made appearance so far. Starting with the entry #5, I’ll be trimming the list down to those who actually were present or at least referred to in a given entry.


    Sunday, October 7th

    Yuni calls Diego after he has done his morning workout (old habits die hard, you know - Diego still wakes up early and does his gymnastics) and is pleased to hear she didn’t wake him (even if she has to wait a few moments before he gets out of the shower). As she reminds him, he wanted to do some PE with her, right?

    Less than 3 minutes later, Diego is in front of the house, ready to do some running.

    Having finished the workout, they do some calinestics for cooldown. Yuni is pleased to inform Diego he’s not as much out of shape as he claimed back when she had beaten him in the pushup contest at school. And also, that he had not turned into a couch potato despite being long removed from active duty.

    They agree to take a trip out of town on the next day and do some exercising in a more natural environment (well, that isn’t exactly what Diego had in mind saying Yuni should try orienteering, but hey, it still works for him).

    Diego spends the rest of the morning checking up the data he dug up on the Human Revolution team. While not top-notch, they are experienced and well equipped. A pair of Geckos, a Szalamandra, two Anacondas and a trio of Lizards (all of them being Praxis refits, which puts them head and shoulders above the Angels’ TAGs), all geared for close distance combat.

    They prefer to hit hard and fast, favouring either frontal assault or hit and run tactics to get close & personal with their opponents.

    Later in the day he shows up for the practice. Before that, he’s approached by Eric, who got an idea of running the same procedure they used for Mako on the rest of the team: film them in motion capture, and use the data gained this way to make custom driver programs for every one of the girls. If they start today, Eric says, these should be ready for the game next week. While the performance increase will be not as visible as it was with Mako, it will definitely be there.

    Diego gives him a green light on that immediately.

    Today, the team is going to try TAG on TAG combat for the first time - Yuni jumps into the spare Anaconda to provide the 8th player, and Diego divides the team - squad #1 will be made up of Eva, Alex, Patty and Yuni, combat-controlled by Eric (who objects strongly - he’s a mechanic, not TAG combat controller, and can’t match with Diego in that department - but is finally persuaded) against squad #2 led by Mako (which makes her quite apprehensive), and including Morgan, Minuette and Octavia. One of the reason for this breakup is to prepare Mako for the role of backup leader, as to limit the effects of Loss of Lieutenant in case of Eva getting shot (Mako was chosen for this role as the best team-player, and being pretty smart to that).

    Alex is delighted being finally allowed to shoot the big guns (the only fly in the ointment being the fact she’s teamed up with Eva, so she can’t shoot the “princess”).

    Diego’s devil, happily whistling, puts some extra firewood under his cauldron.

    The initial skirmish sees Patty going down first under #2’s flanking attack, and then the squad #2 presses on head on, forcing Eva to withdraw. The withdrawal, however, is executed flawlessly, and Eva is able to consolidate her unit. Then something goes wrong, as #1 tries a frontal assault (perhaps it has something to do with Alex running forward, yelling on top of her lungs, and gun blazin’). They are met with accurate and effective fire - Alex goes down instantly, and on top of that, gets mercilessly scolded by Diego.

    Well, he makes sure she will remember not to let her emotions get better of her in combat!

    With Alex still cursing on the comms, Eva and Yuni try to employ hit & run tactics again. Either Eva is lucky, or she knows the coach well enough already to anticipate his movements. Nevertheless, #2 sets up their ambush flawlessly, eliminating both Eva and Yuni momentarily.

    Eva watches the VR bullet holes on her Iguana’s breastplate - just at the height of her own face - with an unhealthy fascination…

    Well, as Diego puts it, now they know how it feels. When being told his leadership meant the #2 outclassed #1 by far, he mentions that they won’t be getting a fair treatment in the oncoming match.

    Uh… yes, he somehow didn’t tell them yet that they’re going against Human Revolution, a Bakunin team, next Thursday. The team wants to know about their opponents, and is pretty disheartened to learn they are going to be outclassed in both experience and equipment. However, as Diego points out, that was exactly what he was telling them since day one: whoever they will go against, will be more experienced and better equipped. His answer? The same as always: outmaneuver them!

    Still, the news make the girls nervous (especially Octavia - “Uh, a real game? That is, with the whole school watching?” though Diego tries to reason with that - “Hey, chica, so what? When you play your cello, there’s a lot of audience, too, and here, you’ll have the team around you, kinda like an orchestra, right?”). They are going to miss the Wednesday practice due to the gig being thrown by Patricia (they’re all invited, and all of them intend to show up). After some schedule-checking (especially in case of Mako, as the sports clubs she belongs to intend to put the break to some good use!) an additional practice is agreed upon for Friday.

    And as Diablo points out again, he doesn’t expect the Angels to win their first game. He will be fully satisfied to see them make the opposition sweat for their victory. And while Eva is at least skeptical about that, he reminds the girls that the first time they faced the Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders, they got a sound beating (yet still made the other team sweat for it). And the second time, the Angles owned the Spiders - lock, stock and barrel.

    Eva still prefers to downplay their success - “but it was only luck…

    Diego dismisses the team, expressing his hope they’ll have a good time at the party.


    Tuesday, October 8th

    Yuni takes Diego out of the city for some outdoor activities, which allows them for quite a bit of chatting on the way (even on the Beast and with Yuni driving recklessly fast, it is still almost an hour in transit). She quickly gets on the topic of her past relationships, which were all apparently short-lived due to the men not being able to keep pace with her (and one guy, who seemed a good pick initially, turned out to be relying on chemical augmentation of his performance. Diego is left to wonder whether Yuni means sports performance, the bedroom one, or both. He choses not to inquire).
    [GM note - Some confusion here. What she said is really two things: One, she likes it when a man can “keep up” with her. Or, if he can’t, he’s man enough to admit it without whining, or worse, throwing a fit and demanding she slow down for him. Two, all her serious relationships didn’t work out for various reasons, sadly usually because, sooner or later, her partner turned out to be some species of asshole. Like the one who introduced her to motorcycles, but couldn’t stomach her wanting to be an equal riding partner with her own bike, instead of being an “ornament” for his machine.] She, however, notices Diego is in pretty good shape, and apparently not relying on drugs - though, as she says, she’ll have to take a look at his diet!

    She does also point out that she’s happy to see what they’ve determined on day one - that Diego doesn’t mind riding in the back seat of the Beast (apparently, some of her former boyfriends had issues with that).

    The plan initially includes cross-country running (Diego does just fine there), then Yuni gets the idea to try swimming. Diablo is not too cocky about it, as his swimming experience covers mostly swimming pools, rather than lakes! Still, he can cope with it. Besides, Yuni swimming is a sight to behold, both on the grounds of skills and stunning looks :) He turns down the offer of climbing activities, however. Definitely not something he’s used to, sorry. Yuni just shrugs - fine, maybe another day.

    Apart from that, Yuni is pretty surprised Diego isn’t much into swimming - she thought that, being three-dimensional movement, it will be something very natural to a Nomad, you know. Well, perhaps it is - but if one is a dolphin, as Diego explains (or maybe when diving, with a ballast vest). Yuni admits she had heard something about Nomad cetaceans, but asks Diego to explain it in details. As he says, many Nomad ships have dolphin pilots, who really find the three-dimensional space something natural. Still, he’s damn glad there isn’t one swimming with them, as it would soon end in the cetacean getting overtly flirtatious (or just as well making sexual propositions) to either one of them. Or both, damn those pea-brained phallic symbols… besides, they still cannot be persuaded on the topic of dental hygiene, and as the result, their breath stinks of fish!

    They’re back to Belo Horizonte by mid-afternoon, and Diego suggests a dinner at Silva’s (actually, way earlier than his usual dining time, but they’ve burned a lot of energy out of town) - which is gladly accepted. After all, senhor Silva’s beer is not a bad way to replenish electrolytes, is it?

    Even if Yuni has to limit herself to a single tankard (she’s driving…).

    They’re pretty surprised to see Patricia coming into the restaurant, though Diego is quite sure he knows the reason for her visit. She asks to join Yuni and Diego at the table, sipping something adequate to her age and local legal restrictions (which she purchases being very polite and respectful to senhor Silva, going as far as to pull off her headphones when talking to him) - Diego is sorry to say, but until senhor Silva brews some alcohol-free beer, he cannot offer Patty a tankard. She shrugs with a mischievous smirk - it’s really no problem for me to get myself a beer, coach - to which he replies he doesn’t have a problem with that: experience everything, as long as it’s in moderation. Plus, he adds, he’d be grateful if she kept from drinking in situations where he could see her, and wouldn’t be able to turn a blind eye. Which, as far as Patty is concerned, sounds like a fair deal.

    Indeed, Patricia is there to meet with Dominique - a “friendly digital bird had told her” where to find ‘Nique (plus, she isn’t actually surprised to see Diego and Yuni there). Diego’s devil momentarily produces a slingshot, and begins to look for the bird, so Patty produces one, and the devil goes hunting, shooting stones into the air as enthusiastically, as inaccurately.

    Patricia intends to present Dominique an invitation for the Wednesday gig. Since the event is to be held in a really popular spot (and an expensive one to boot!), ‘Nique is reluctant to accept, and Patty has to spend quite a while persuading her to accept it, and not think it charity or pity (besides, as she points out, being the star DJ running the event has its privileges, including a stash of invitations to be handed out however she sees fit). After all, she says, the team (even the “princess”, as Patty says - she had a few words with Eva, and “corrected her view on things”) accepts her and wants her to be one of the Angels - and, as her friendly little digital bird has told her, the wheels have been put in motion to make that happen. As far as she knows the coach, she says, the thing is, therefore, as good as done. Patty also confesses to some admiration for ‘Nique, for her attempt to break out of her socio-economic box: “With all the cards stacked against you, you still took up the fight, stood up for yourself, and just barely missed blooding The System’s nose!” With her own anti-authoritarian streak, this is something Patricia can get behind and respect.

    ...and the devil shoots down the little yellow bird with his slingshot, then proceeds - with a vengeful grin - to pluck it before boiling it in his cauldron-of-tar!

    But… but I don’t have anything to wear!” - Dominique, flustered, grasps at straws, but Patricia gives her everyday wear a quick glance determines that it will do - “This kind of old-school casual is back in fashion these days, just add some neon-glow plastic jewellery and it will work just fine. Well, provided you’ll be able to locate any neon-glow plastic stuff after Minuette hits the shops…” - after which she manages to finally persuade ‘Nique into accepting a VR invitation, which - to the latter's surprise - includes full-access to the club’s VR suite (being an Atek doesn’t mean you don’t have a comlog, just that you aren’t able to cover the expenses of using it in any reasonable capacity). As Patty says, she’s into the Augmented Reality special effects, and would feel the performance incomplete if the audience wouldn’t be able to experience these.

    A few moments later she bids Dominique, Yuni ad Diego good-bye, and leaves Silva’s, her trademark headphones pumping some kind of noise into her ears on high output.

    Which leaves Yuni and Diego wondering how should they dress as not to stand out (at least, not too much). For Yuni, Diego says with a tongue-in-cheek, doing her hair into pigtails would do to make her look no older than graduation-class student…

    He, however, takes some addresses from her - at his age, blending into a teenage crowd is not going to be easy…


    Wednesday, October 9th, and Thursday October 10th early in the morning.

    The morning PE with Yuni is pretty uneventful, and later Diego hits the shops to hunt himself a suitable outfit for the evening gig. Unable to hide the fact he’s way older than the expected clientele, he decides to go for biker’s leathers (including his trademark devil applied on the back of the jacket).

    Diego manages to do some paperwork on the matter of school’s board and sports scholarship: they’ve decided that four scholarships are definitely too many. since that’s exactly what Diego expected them to do, he agrees and keep pestering them for three.

    He also swaps a few e-mails with “Cinderblock”, who is pretty surprised to hear that a fellow Nomad (and a TAG instructor he had heard about back in the military - after all, about half of the Nomad TAG pilots in the recent years took some classes ran by Diablo) is running a school team on Avalon. Stone quickly agrees for a game, though it is going to be a tight fit in the logistics - the Human Revolution has to get off Bakunin, down the gravity well, move to the gaming field, play a game, then get back into deep space to catch up with the mothership before it leaves with a Circular to the Human Edge. Doable, but they won’t be staying overnight, though.

    Late in the afternoon, at the club - the “Love of Noise” - Diego and Yuni are among the first to arrive. Indeed, he’s definitely the oldest person around - luckily, the intimidating effect of black leather biker’s outfit keeps everyone else from asking stupid questions (and provides Diego with extra bar width / personal space), and accompanied by Yuni (dressed tight-fit in fashionably tattered jeans and a skimpy t-shirt - she does, in fact, look like she could well be a college student) he doesn’t seem so totally out of place. Patricia is on-site already, and she has secured a booth for the team. The girls show up, too, one after another - and dressed for the occasion. As Diego observes, most (or at least, a significant and eye-catching part) of the female participants are adhering to the teenage principle of competing at “who will dare to wear a skimpier outfit” - miniskirts little wider than an Algulacle’s utility belt and skimpy tops are the norm. Still, not all of them - among the team, several styles can be observed. Obviously, Alex wears the most provocative, revealing costume (basically, a tiny bikini, with combat boots, and some jewelry made from gun ammo), while Octy had chosen a stylish black set which looks quite conservative in comparison (well, most anything would look prudish next to Alex, really). Significantly, Octavia’s outfit also includes a pair of tinted shades, continuing the thread of her beating her shyness by concealing her face. Minuette indeed had to raid the city for glowstick-like bracelets, inserts (there's even some threaded into her hair!), and a pair of glowstick earrings to go with her sporty-like outfit - which actually comes very handy once Dominique shows up in her casual clothes, and Minnie doesn’t mind sharing some of the glowing goods with her (her image doesn’t become noticeably less glowy despite that).

    Dominique is actually enthusiastically greeted by most of the team, lead by Patricia - “So, you’re here, great! See, gals? As coach Diablo said, ‘Nique, just a normal human being - two arms, two legs, one head, what more can you ask for?” Naturally, Alex wouldn’t be herself if she hadn’t dropped something mean into it “ - Yeah, and ANTs!” (“Uh, Yuni? I’m not up to date with youth slang…”) - however, Alex won’t let Yuni spoil it, and explains herself: “- Absolutely No Tits!

    Diego replies quickly - “Well, it is not like you have that much ‘lung capacity’ either, chica!”, which results in quite a shock: while Dominique isn’t well-developed in this department, and furthermore doesn’t dress to accent it (in her sweater and leather jacket she’s showing even less skin than Octavia(!), being the only one around with a covered midriff), Alex is indeed well-endowed - and presenting her charms with absolutely no qualms or reservations. Only the presence of Yuni (an object of ill-concealed jealousy among female students regarding her figure) gives this argument enough credibility to slide by... Though how much the girls are going to believe the next one in this situation, is really uncertain “ - And take a man’s word on it, chicas: the world doesn’t start with tits, nor does it end with them. Seriously.

    The uneasy moment is broken by the appearance of a girl who is just as cheerful and even more energetic (if at all possible!) who jumps on Minuette with a hug - she’s introduced as Katya Malinin, sister of Minnie’s boyfriend Ilya (who, himself, is absent, apparently not being into this type of entertainment. “And hey, if he started to jump around in here, the ceiling would come down! Though, some people might think that a great end to a good party...“). Diego is, in fact, surprised to observe no male presence around the team members - of the seven of them, only one - Minnie - seems to have a boyfriend. Sure, Mako is perhaps too busy for that, Morgan too disinterested in anything, Alex too much of a troublemaker, Octavia perhaps too shy, and Evangeline too prissy, but still...). Also, as Minnie chats animatedly with her friend, “Katyusha”, they switch languages, and it becomes apparent she can speak Russian - maybe not quite fluently, but enough to communicate effectively enough. That makes the third language Minuette knows, after the common English, and Portuguese (she’s the one who came up with the team’s name in that last one).

    Evangeline comes last, with the team wondering whether she’s going to show up at all or - as Diego suspects - just planning to be fashionably late. Still, her dress makes Patty shake her head in disbelief - “I told you, casual dress. Eva, this is a rave, not a cocktail party for the board member’s families!”. The protesting Evangeline is quickly dragged away to Patricia’s changing room, and - apparently much to her shock - swaps her fancy (and expensive) shoes for a pair of Patty’s sneakers, gets her (equally fancy) smooth jacket thoroughly crumpled and tied around her waist, her elaborately pinned hair let loose and mussed, and the overall attire liberally supplemented with glowstick goodies from the seemingly endless stash hung on Minuette, before the end result is considered acceptable.

    Other familiar faces on the dancing floor include most of Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders and Eric’s technical assistants (Eric himself - despite being invited - didn’t show up, presumably he’s buried in re-writing the drivers for team’s TAGs).

    The gig goes on smoothly - Patricia (or, apparently, DJ Scratch, as she’s introduced) definitely knows her trade, and has a real knack for reading the crowd’s mood - and Diego spends the time on the dancing floor with Yuni. Still, he notes to himself he has to send Patty some songs and styles that were popular on Corregidor in his youth.

    Since the party is attended mainly by high school-aged kids, and the place is really high-end, there is no problem with drunk kids (no alcohol is served, period), though apparently some other kinds of recreational substances did make their way to the club. Still, as far as Diego can tell, it ain’t anything really problematic, no reason to call the cops.

    Late in the night, the team members start to make their goodbyes - they want to catch some sleep and “wake up early enough to make it for the practice tomorrow!” Mako, with her busy sports schedule, is the first one to go.

    Dominique goes home soon after, having admitted she really liked the party.

    Morgan, having, despite initial laziness-borne reluctance, gotten very much into the fun, marks the second occasion of being sleepy because of tiredness instead of boredom.

    Octavia slips away with a tired but satisfied smile. Apparently, this was the first time she dared attend one of Patty’s performances, and it looks like she enjoyed herself.

    Eva is tired enough to forget her expensive shoes and go home in Patricia’s sneakers (Patricia notices that once she’s ready to go herself :P).

    The gig managed to wear down Minnie’s seemingly endless energy, too.

    Alex, however, is still in excellent condition, with her eyes curiously shiny - she’s high on something, though apparently nothing hard (yet she’s clearly testing the coach - and Yuni - who again doesn’t see a reason to call the cops). She gets the same line Patty got about beer the day before - though Diego explicitly stresses his hope she’ll be careful and will not harm herself with some bad shit. She, too, considers these to be acceptable terms.

    Patty is the last one to go - she switches the DJ’s set to autoplay to keep the remaining few guests happy, and visits the booth to say goodbye. She’s dead-tired, but happy: it was a good night, and a good gig.

    Even if Eva went home in her sneakers, and left her those fancy (and ridiculously expensive) shoes…
    [GM’s note: It’s not like Patty’s left with no shoes to go home in, but those Converse were her favourite everyday pair…]

    Once all the team members are gone, Yuni and Diego make ready to leave the party too. They decide to skip the morning workout, though at some point Yuni concludes “Well, okay - we’ve done a night’s worth of dancing in the vertical position already...” - she trails off suggestively, to which Diego replies quickly “Well then, there’s only one question left - your place or mine?

    Just let me think which one’s closer! Jump on the bike!

    ...and then Yuni and Diego leave to spend the rest of the night (and, presumably, a good part of Thursday) together.


    Which sums up entry #4.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  5. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #5

    “Say You Want a Revolution!”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #2 - starting with this entry, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed.
    A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link.
    Note #3 - the “#x” notes the episode in which given character made first appearance.


    “Anjos da Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17y) Indian. “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working - so far, so good). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Evangeline (or Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16y) Italian. “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.

    Mako Joyo - #1 (1. class, 15y) Micronesian. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person. Very ambitious, and seems to take the school motto very seriously… Excellent team player. Prospective 2IC of the team. Gecko TAG.
    Minuette (or Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (2. class, 16y) Australian. Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages). The only team member to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Lizard TAG.
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17y) Polynesian. “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Szalamandra TAG.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16y) Brazilian. Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers #1 (1. class, 16y) North American. DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Average player. Lizard TAG.


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Devil - #2 Diego’s “desktop animal” and digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Reactive to the surroundings.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40) Latinoamerican. The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35y) Polynesian. TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    father Loyola - #1 (undetermined / unknown) - school’s chaplain and teacher on religious studies. Uptight and boring, he’s has shown clear antipathy towards Diego.
    Gerhard Oobleck - #1 (~40y), German. Teaches history. Enthusiastic about the perspective of having a real war veteran (Diego) in his classes.
    Ginevra Chennault - #1 (~90y) Polynesian. School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. To-the-point and strict, but fair. Teaches literature.
    Ilya Malinin - #5 (mentioned in #3) (2nd class, 17y) Russian. Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Isabell “Pills” Talho - #5 (looks to be in her middle 30s) South American - school’s medical officer (given the Academy’s size and high profile, she’s a fully qualified general practitioner with a lot of fancy tools), and likely a resurectee.
    Yekaterina (Katya / Katyusha) Malinin - #4 (3rd junior high school, 14y) Russian. Sister of Ilya, plays drums in the school’s orchestra. Minuette’s friend. Nobody actually uses her first name in full form. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.

    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s) Hawaiian. Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29y), Malaysian. PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, gets along pretty well with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had recently (entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”...


    “The Peanut Gallery”

    Caught in short glimpses (these characters are to be fleshed-out should they make a full appearance):
    Lyra #5 (girl, strings, somewhat maniacal, extreme sports enthusiast),
    Fred #5 (boy, strings, his name’s Frederic, but everybody calls him Fred), and Lupe #5 (boy, brass) - Octavia’s orchestra mates.
    Bonnie - #5 Lyra’s girlfriend, always dragged in her wake, and embarrassed by the other’s manic antics. Cooking club star.
    Kim #5 (red-head, captain), Tara #5 (blonde), Amanda #5 (blonde), Clarissa #5 (brunette) - Minnie’s cheer-squad friends (maybe not so much in Clarissa’s case - she’s very happy Minnie quit, as that gives her a shot at team captaincy next year).
    Rikoriko (last name) - #5 girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school polymath genius and “mega-nerd”.


    Team Members’ Parents:

    Roberto Moina - #5 (early 50s) Brazilian. Octavia’s father. Easily irritated and very over-protective towards his daughter (which may be related to some accident that affected the family in the past). Has the dangerous looks of a high-class gangster, but melts completely in the face of his “little angel”.
    Sylvia Moina - #5 (late 40s) Brazilian. Octavia’s mother. More level-headed and calmer than her husband, but no less caring.
    Emma Summers - #5 (middle 40s) North American. Patricia’s mother, a corporate with shark-like demeanor.
    Steven Summers - #5 (middle 40s) North American. Patricia’s father. Interstellar trade specialist. Laid back, unkempt fellow Diego initially took for an artist of some kind.


    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    (All #2) One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” (mid 20s) - Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” (mid 20s) - field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (16y) Argentine. Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor). She is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Prospective team member.
    Gabriel Navarro - #5 (late 50s) Argentine. League-certified TAG-soft referee. A solid, calm, to-the-point man.
    Roger Smith - 2# (early 40s), North American - Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard,


    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere

    Lt. Loyian N’dele #3 (29y), Maasai. Once Diego’s favourite student (and attempted romantic interest, but she turned him down. Very gracefully in fact: they still are friends) in one of his last TAG classes. She was re-trained for remote TAGs, and remains in active service (CJC).

    “Human Revolution”:

    Bakunin-based high-school TAG-soft team.
    Victor “Cinderblock” Stone #4 (mid 50s), USA - Coach and combat controller of the “Human Revolution” TAG-soft team, retired Bakunin Jurisdictional Command TAG pilot and former Morlock. Exotic mod: charcoal, stone-like skin, silver wire-like hair, and burning orange eyes. A self-assured, cocky, but quite friendly fellow.
    Glynda “Fairy” Fairgood #5 (late 40s), African - Human Revolution’s chief mechanic, and pretty inventive at that. Has an obviously cybernetic right arm (equipped with a full tool suite). Has a definite air of a mad scientist about her.

    Ash “Dash” Vivian #5 (17y), West-European - forward operation / assault specialist. Anaconda TAG, with akimbo SMGs and jump-jets (i.e. Super Jump-capable - a surprise upgrade the “Revolution” tested in their match with the “Angels”). Exotic mod: rainbow-coloured hair. A brash, boisterous tomboy with an ego at least 20% bigger than anybody else’s.
    Fio “Shy” Emeri #5 (18y) South American - line player, and their “bad apple”, never seen without her trademark balisong knife. Her demeanor seems to hint some connection to the Observance. Gecko TAG armed with an assault pistol and a balisong sword. Exotic mod: pink hair. In actuality, her callsign is not ironic: she’s really very shy, and uses a slightly deranged, intimidating appearance and attitude as a way to avoid unwanted interaction.
    Garfield “Animal” Logan #5 (16y), North American - line player. Anaconda TAG, armed with a boarding shotgun. Exotic mod: green skin, pointy ears and protruding canines. Practical joker, some hacking skills. Sociable and excitable. A huge chowhound. “Trouble’s” best mate.
    Lucas “Jaws” Romero #5 (17y) Central American - team sharpshooter. Lizard TAG, with marksman rifle. Exotic mod: shark-like, zig-zag toothline. Distanced, cynical and acerbic, with a dark sense of humour. Meryl’s longtime boyfriend - they seem to argue constantly, but he’s really completely under her heel.
    Meryl “Firestarter” Santos #5 (17y) South American - heavy weapon’s specialist. Szalamandra TAG, armed with HRL and flamethrower. Exotic mod: devil-like - red skin, smooth, pointed tail and short horns. For someone nicknamed “Firestarter”, possessed of a very cool, even temper. Lucas’ longtime girlfriend.
    Petra “Claw” Kovalyova #5 (15y) Russian - scout and skirmisher. Gecko TAG armed with a boarding shotgun. Exotic mod: cat-like eyes, ears and tail (and retractable claws). Quite cat-like in character also.
    Simon “Heartbreak” Ross #5 (16y) North American - team’s captain. Lizard TAG, with combi rifle/light shotgun. An Emo pretty-boy, with several piercings. The “smooth” ladies-man - tried his luck with Evangeline.
    Tendaji “Trouble” Okoro #5 (15y) Maasai - Loyian N’dele’s nephew. Close support and explosives specialist. Lizard TAG, with rifle and a copious supply of (TAG-scaled) grenades. “Animal’s” best mate. Loves a good “boom”, and in general likes things loud, at work and at play.



    Thursday, October 10th.

    Yuni and Diego have ended up at Yuni’s place - and did quite a bit of “horizontal dancing” before finally falling asleep. Turns out, Yuni has absolutely no problem with occupying all of her queen-sized bed by herself! Diego on the other hand is well-adjusted to narrow bunks found on Corregidor, where space is somewhat at premium, so he has no problem with her “expansiveness”. The morning workout for Thursday is definitely done!

    He wakes first, in the early afternoon, and is relieved to find Yuni has a pretty big (by Nomad standards) and comfy flat all for herself (he didn’t exclude the possibility of her having a flatmate). It is quite a while since their last meal, so he has a vague idea of making breakfast for both of them, but apparently Yuni’s fridge contains only raw, fresh products. He might’ve learned a thing or two about food preparation, but in 23rd century cooking from raw supplies isn’t a common skill. Especially if you’re a Nomad.

    He’s still somewhat stunned when Yuni finds him. Hardly a surprise for her. Still, as she comments, if you want to eat properly, you should know what’s in your food. And there’s no better way to achieve that than preparing it yourself!

    Yuni takes charge of breakfast preparations, demoting Diego to vegetable chopping duty (“- You can work a knife, at least, right?, - Sure, passably. Who you need shanked?, - Those tomatoes first. - ...Ah.”).

    After breakfast (Diego takes a note - he should download some interactive cooking handbook for beginners), they take a shower together (- I don’t think it will be faster that way, Diego. - Definitely not, but I really think it will be more fun!) which costs them another hour.

    When dressing after the shower, Diego is somewhat surprised to find Yuni painting her finger- and toe-nails. He realises now she actually had her nails painted every time he’d seen her before. Turns out, Yuni owns quite an impressive collection of nail polish in a stunning assortment of colours, choosing a different one almost everyday. She calls it “her one girly trait”.

    Yuni decides she’s in the mood to go riding today. She then gets an idea to put Diego’s biker outfit to some practical use, and proposes to teach him how to ride a motorcycle (he can handle a car, but never had any need for a bike). Although her Beast is obviously off-limits, she manages to borrow a rather standard bike for him.

    While he manages to get his quota of falls and badly executed maneuvers, Diablo learns quickly. After years in a TAG’s cockpit, he has an affinity for machines, and besides - a modern motorcycle, with all the electronic helper gizmos and gyroscopic stabilizers, isn’t all that difficult to handle.

    In the evening, Diego and Yuni go out to dinner (in a restaurant other than Silva’s, just for a change of pace) and then finally decide to call it a day. By mutual agreement, they decide to take things slow, and just see how it goes. Neither of them is really in any hurry… Though Yuni comments jokingly that “proposing to take it slow must sound funny from a girl who dragged him to bed after barely three weeks of acquaintance...”. Diego brightly replies that he sees absolutely nothing wrong with three weeks. If it was three days, then he’d worry (and, while he doesn’t express that, these are standards he keeps for PanOceanians. Among Nomads, three days are a plenty of time, and three hours aren’t unheard of. Still, if it goes down to three minutes, and you aren’t in a war zone… In an actual war or other high-stress environment, anything goes!
    [As they say: In love and in war… ^_^]).


    Friday, October 11th.

    After a morning run with Yuni (which becomes daily routine), Diego swaps a few more e-mails with Cinderblock - and the Board of Education, who make him trim his request down to two sports scholarships for the TAG-soft team - then moves out to school for the planned practice session. This day they’ll have to keep to a VR training scenario, as all the TAGs are gutted out for the driver upgrade Eric has proposed.

    Eric himself… well, what can be seen of him are mainly the soles of his shoes, as he had thrown himself head-first into upgrading. He does also have some other upgrade ideas, though Diego vetoes the one that would result in burning out 80% of the main processors. It is a desperate proposition, and would leave the team financially crippled. For the first game, he says, the upgraded drivers will have to do.

    As the assistants confess to Diablo, if they didn’t knew Eric well enough already, they would think he’s holding them leaving him alone at the workshop and going to the rave on Wednesday against them...

    Principal Chennault calls Diablo to inform him that Miss Narahari’s behaviour improvement wasn’t permanent. Somewhen on Thursday morning she was arrested for brawling, disorderly conduct, and being under the influence of a number of recreational substances that she wasn’t legally allowed to use (either due to general bans, or at least age restrictions). She’s out of custody (as Ms. Chennault says, “her father has thrown a bundle of banknotes thick enough to have that solved”), but still - nothing to be happy about.

    As the girls show up for practice, traces of the brawl can be seen on Alex’s face (thanks to modern medical science, they’re mostly healed already, and some make-up would cover them completely, but Alex declined to apply any - she actually looks to be pretty proud of the marks, wearing them like battle scars). From what Diego manages to get out of her, some guy didn’t catch on that “no” means “no” (or, to be more precise, that “enough” means “enough”), so she kicked his ass - and other assorted pieces of anatomy. What Alex mumbles indicates clearly that the fella really needed to see a doctor after she was done with him.

    The context isn’t clear, but it might’ve been either some random one-night-stand, or Alex’s regular boyfriend (quite likely her already-ex-boyfriend now!).

    While he understands the situation (and makes that clear, besides, back in his youth on Corregidor, Diego wasn’t the nicest kid around either), he’s also clear about not approving of the way Alex settles her matters. “- Sure, Coach, yeah, whatever…” - Diego’s disapproval clearly doesn’t impress Alex much… Though his mention of her having “a reputation to uphold” causes some shadow to flit through her face, gone so fast Diego is not exactly sure he hasn’t imagined it...

    Eva and Patty swap their shoes back. Eva can be seen wearing a curious crossover between high-heeled boots and sneakers today - as she comments, she liked Patty’s Converse well enough to check her own wardrobe, and was surprised she had no sporty footwear apart from dedicated gym shoes…

    Patty can only shake her head: “Only you would call high-heels <<sporty>>...

    The team is generally happy with the Wednesday party - they say they had a great time. Morgan notices a hickey on Diego’s throat, and points it out. Minnie seems delighted: “ - Oh, and some girl got lucky with our Coach!” - Well, or the Coach got lucky, Minnie, it all depends on your point of view” - replies Diego. Yuni might be standing next to him, and it is likely that nothing can be hidden from the kids for long, but he intends to stay discreet about it. He’s not 15 any longer, to brag about such things! Yuni likely doesn’t help when she “nonchalantly” comments “- And whoever the girl is, I’m sure she feels very lucky indeed!” while performing a luxurious stretch...

    They are less happy to learn all the TAGs are out of service today, and they have to contend with VR scenario. And he has a few really difficult ones for them today. Diego proceeds to run his Angels through simulated battles against opponents modeled on the stats of the Human Revolution, to give them a taste of how difficult the coming match is likely to be - which is quite a bit!

    For the Saturday, another paintball session against Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders is planned, and Eric says the TAGs will be operational again in time for the Monday practice.

    As the team leaves home, Diego asks Minuette for a moment in private. He has been somewhat puzzled to learn that of the seven teenage girls in the team, only one - Minnie herself - has a sweetheart (of any gender, this is not an issue for him). Is everything okay? As he mentions, if there was a group of seven roughly-sixteen-year-old gals on Corregidor, and six of them didn’t have anyone, it would most certainly be a cause of much “crying and gnashing of teeth” - and mean big problems on the horizon. Minnie assures him that it is just a coincidence that most of them are going single at the moment (Octy, for example, as she says, might be a little shy to have her eyes on anyone, but it doesn’t mean it works the same the other way! And… Well, she’s been told to work on her discretion recently, so, Coach, sorry, can’t tell you more. But rest assured, everything’s shiny, not to fret!
    (^_^)).


    Saturday, October 12th.

    It became almost a tradition for the team to ride the Monster to the paintball field on Saturday mornings.

    The practice this day is, again, exhausting - a full day in the playing field, and the Spiders got their stuff together after the defeats last week. Plus, to prepare the Angels for the game against Human Revolution, the Spiders make use of their superior numbers. This, generally, evens the odds between the teams, and the fight gets pretty heated, resulting in a couple of narrow defeats and even some draws by mutual destruction. The last, big one, is a result of Morgan single-handedly wiping out two remaining Spiders, while getting taken down herself. Before the match, the normally pretty indifferent and unflappable Morgan got into an argument with Alex (it was a second long, hard day in a row, with the big game looming, as can be expected tempers are somewhat frayed). It was over which of them is “worse” - Alex, with her solitary gung-ho routine, which usually gets her “killed” without accomplishing anything, or Morgan, with her chronic sloth and putting in the barest minimum required effort, which means she usually doesn’t accomplish much of note herself in battle (though, Diego is happy to know, she is much more awake during TAG-soft than in any other class). With that last performance, Morgan seems to have won that one...

    Diego also notices that Mako is underperforming - though she has excellent teamwork, she’s usually the first to get taken out, shoots very poorly, and is still not quite as fast and nimble as could be expected (with no excuse of uncooperative TAG to deal with here) - and he now sees it has already started some time ago and is getting worse. Later, Yuni informs him that she also thinks something is wrong with the kid - and also, that the other coaches of the various sports clubs Mako belongs to have already noticed. After initially blaming each other over an increase of workload, they are now likely to form a coalition against Diego, whose team seems to be the “one too many”, making the girl overworked. They were initially generally indifferent to Diego, but now decided the upstart newest club, and also one ran by a bloody dirty Nomad, can’t be allowed to interfere with their star!

    Diablo appoints Mako for a checkup with Pills on Monday.

    After that’s done, both teams sit down around a campfire (this time, Eva is no longer shocked by the idea of sausage-on-a-stick) - Diego brings in two crates of (alcohol-free) beer he had conveniently stashed in the Monster. While the Spiders would’ve preferred normal beer, they gracefully accept what is offered, in the spirit of camaraderie, given their opposition is not of legal age for a cold one (and as Yuni later confesses to Diego, they have it easy here anyway - on Avalon, legal drinking age is 18, while on NeoTerra it’s 21. “Gosh, how happy I was when I got outta there! My first month in college was pretty much a non-stop bender!”).


    Monday, October 13th

    Final minutia of the game arrangements for Thursday are being agreed upon - the Revolution is to land at the Belo Horizonte spaceport mid-afternoon on Thursday, and they have to be away before midnight to catch up with Bakunin.

    Meanwhile, Mako undergoes a medical checkup. As dr. Talho informs Diego, the girl has overextended herself (well, he was suspecting that already). Too much physical exertion, not enough nutrition, not enough rest. It is not malnutrition or exhaustion yet, but going that way. Also, while Mako was never an exceptional student (except in sports), her grades are going bad because of this, too.

    Before practice, Minuette approaches Diego, unusually subdued. Turns out, she’s also worried about Mako. Though it’s not quite completely obvious yet, as Mako’s oldest friend, Minnie can see there’s something wrong. Like, the tomboyish Mako never had much use for make-up, but she’s wearing some now, and Minnie’s pretty sure it’s to hide the bags under her eyes...

    Well, sad news. Once the team is suited up, Diego opens a private comms channel to Mako to confront her. She’s both relieved and ashamed - she admits she felt stretched thin - “Not enough hours in a day, Coach” but “I’ve always managed with all of that before, really...”. As Diego points out, that was before she picked up TAG-Soft. And, as he says, it clearly is too much. She’ll have to choose some activity to drop. “And, chica, I’m going to be blunt about it. If you won’t make the choice, I’ll make it for you - by kicking you out of the TAG-Soft team, for your own good. It will be hard for the team, but we aren’t playing for anything really serious - your health is way more important.

    As it turns out, Mako is relieved to hear that. The basketball team had asked her to take the vice-captain’s position (which will most likely mean captaincy once the current team captain graduates next year), which, with her talent, is very likely to lead to a professional career in the continental representation down the road. Which is a future she finds very appealing. Also, as she confesses, she found that combat sports and the aggression associated with them are just not her thing. She can jump and dodge in a TAG or in the paintball field all day long, but once it comes to shooting someone, she just can’t stomach it. She didn’t want to abandon the Angels, but TAG-Soft doesn’t appeal like she initially thought.

    Given the prospects in basketball, and associated increase in workload there, she intends to write off the Aikido club, too.

    She, however, plans to stay long enough to take part in the game against Human Revolution - she doesn’t want to leave the other girls hanging right before the big moment, and make the fight even more difficult by increasing the Angels’ numerical disadvantage. Though, she self-deprecatingly notes, she doubts she’ll be of much use anyway... Mako intends to inform the rest of the team of her resignation after the game. She also decides to skip her Wednesday basketball practice to go home early and get properly rested before the match on Thursday. She thinks it’s the least she can do, and she can afford it - no way the basketball coach will make trouble for her now, he wants her on his team too much! She refuses Diego’s offer on informing her basketball coach of this (well. He hoped to do it himself, as a way of playing in the petty world of school sports’ politics…).


    Wednesday, October 15th

    Eric reports that the TAGs are operational again, and Diego asks him to send Reksio out and do some photo sampling of the game area. While TAGs can alter their paint scheme into any camouflage pattern, Diego wants any edge he can have against the Revolution - and a camo pattern exactly matching the environment is one of these he can actually get.

    The preparations for the game are made - the school intends to try and raise some money on their expensive newest sports club by making the transmission available as pay-per-view (which is pretty standard method of dealing with any interesting event in PanOceania). Also, a league referee - senhor Gabriel Navarro - shows up to inspect the Team’s TAGs.

    The practice Diego orders for the day is relatively light - more of a refresher course before the big day tomorrow. After some discussion with the girls, it is also decided that the entire team should head out to the spaceport the next day to greet the Human Revolution as they arrive, to show themselves gracious hosts.


    Thursday, October 16th

    While he doesn’t expect his team to win that particular game, Diego wants to be ready even for such an unlikely course of events: he obtains a bottle of alcohol-free “champagne” and stores it at the warehouse.

    The team shows up early in the afternoon, more or less grudgingly released by their respective teachers for the upcoming game (Morgan seemingly had the least of fuss, as she was taking a history class with the enthusiastic senhor Oobleck), swap their clothes for team jumpsuits (Diego managed to procure one for himself, too) and roll out in the Monster. Diego makes a show of inspecting “his troops”, with the Devil performing a parade-drill “goose step”, carrying the pitchfork like it was a rifle, stopping sharply and doing some stunning “weapon drill” maneuvers - before he drops the pitchfork onto his hoof and starts to jump around on the other leg, cursing visibly and nursing the hurt leg...

    They are in the spaceport in time to see the Revolution’s arrival - Victor apparently had to call in some favours, and his team comes to Avalon in style. They arrive in a (surplus) assault landing ship (which had left it’s interplanetary tender in orbit), and by civilian standards, drop into LZ fast and hard. Diego has enough combat landings behind his belt to guesstimate the passengers are pretty likely to be meeting their breakfast again… Though it still isn’t a real combat drop.

    Being a surplus craft, the lander touches down with a lot of flames and smoke from its rocket engines - all the gravitics on such an old vessel are likely devoted to keep the cargo (mostly) intact.

    Then, the ramp drops, and two heavy transport rigs - Revolution’s equivalents of the Angel’s Monster - roll out for the terminal.

    Victor is first through the Customs, followed closely by “Fairy”, the team’s chief engineer - who keeps grumbling that those pesky Customs officials almost wanted to remove and impound her (cybernetic) arm. “Well, what I can do about the fact I really like to keep my tools handy, eh?” - and given her “mad scientist” manner, one could only wonder what kind of stuff she does call “tools”...

    - So, what made an old dog like you come to a place like this, Diablo?”

    “ - Well, they happen to brew good beer around here, you know.” - which “Cinderblock” considers to be a fair reason. Still, in his eyes, the Angels look way like “a bunch of PanO girlie scouts…

    The Revolution team members gradually come to the hall too - one of them does initially look like the landing was indeed too much for his stomach (though it is corrected a moment later - “Animal” does indeed have an exotic modification to his skin. He’s green all the time). Reactions they cause among the Angels are somewhat mixed:

    • Patricia compliments “Dash” on her rainbow-colored wolf-cut hairstyle. Ash preens “- Thanks! Yours isn’t half-bad either... Though mine is definitely at least 20% cooler!” It quickly becomes apparent the rainbow-haired girl is pretty full of herself. Though, taking their cue from their coach, none of the Revolution kids seem all that impressed with the Angels, at least as a TAG-Soft team, most of them are at least somewhat graceful about it. Ash on the other hand is openly dismissive and self-aggrandizing. “With that opposition, the match will be over in twenty minutes flat, at most!” By the end of the little gathering, Patty’s very sure she doesn’t like the braggart girl.
    • Minnie goes completely bananas about “Claw’s“ cat-like exotic mod, asking whether the tail is real (“Sure it is. Do I have to take off my pants to prove it?”), and if she could touch those grooooovy ears… Petra pretends to make a big deal of it, but finally agrees - and has to forcibly keep herself from purring once Minnie starts scratching her behind the cat ears…
    • “Shy” comes out of Customs playing with her trademark balisong knife, all grumbling that it is the only one she managed to smuggle through (she lost three other knives to the Customs inspection). Her demeanor is found too scary by everyone (even Alex gives “the crazy bitch” a lot of extra space!), though after a few moments Fio is tentatively approached by Octavia (that’s quite a surprise!) asking whether “Shy” plays any musical instruments, perhaps? “With your long, slim fingers and dexterous hands, you definitely should!...” Well, Fio is, in turn, pretty shocked herself…
    • “Heartbreak” goes right after Eva, trying to win her over in Italian. She doesn’t notice that he is using translation software on his comlog, and virtually reading pre-generated text… And does pretty well (well, he is sly!) for a long while, until Evangeline blushes crimson, slaps him in the face and storms away, leaving Simon with a stunned look, asking aloud “ - But… But what did I say…?” only to see “Jaws”, “Animal” and “Trouble” laughing their heads off (“Animal” hacked into his translation software and made a tiny, little alteration he considered funny). Minnie reacts with “- Oh, poor thing, you don’t know?” “- Well, I was asking her out for dinner…” “ - No, you asked her to go to bed with you…” “ - Garfield, I’ll kill you…! Why you do this to me, man?!” This quickly turns into asking Minuette how many languages she can actually speak - and she admits to a really formidable array of these: she’s fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese, can manage communication in German, Russian, Hindi, and Arabic, and knows some bits of Mandarin, Japanese, Maori, and Latin. When everyone expresses their amazement at her incredible linguistic talent, Minnie just shrugs, smiling modestly: “It’s a gift.
    • “Animal” and “Jaws” gaze at Yuni (swapping comments silently) with such intensity (and admiration) that Diego feel the urge to declare “Sorry lads, the lady is already busy”. He manages to refrain from that, however (besides, Yuni is well-accustomed to this kind of attention from that kind of boys, and apparently considers not noticing it to be the best tactic). Though they soon turn their attention onto “Heartbreak” trying his charm on Eva. And Jaws is pretty quickly “adjusted” by his girlfriend, “Firestarter”.
    • “Trouble” instantly (and loudly) recognizes Diablo as “The fella who tried to put the moves on my auntie Loyian”, though doesn’t seem to hold it against Diego - “Means you have good taste, mister!
    While they could’ve spent more time getting to know each other, it is time to roll back to school and prepare for a game. The convoy goes through Belo Horizonte, definitely making a statement - three huge trucks, and two of them towing big rigs.

    On-site, the Revolution’s TAGs have to undergo the referee's inspection, while the Angels have a moment to relax before jumping into their machines. This is, however, not gonna happen, as a man with the looks of a South-American gangster storms into the hangar, followed by a trio of other adults (and Ken Kamehameha closing the procession). The school’s AR tags them as senhor and senhora Moina, as well as senhor and senhora Summers - Octavia and Patricia’s parents. Senhor Moina is furious about the idea of “his little angel” participating in something as dangerous and un-girly as TAG-soft. Apparently, his daughter hadn’t told him about this - and what’s worse, the (mandatory) permission slip from one’s parents for participating in this activity she presented was forged (which, of course, falls on Patricia - who confesses to doing it on Octy’s request...).

    Roberto Moina unleashes a verbal onslaught on the Summerses, (though Diablo gets some flak, too), blaming Patricia for “always dragging his daughter into trouble”, and declaring there’s no way he’ll allow this foolishness to continue endangering his “delicate little angel”. Senhor Moina cannot be reasoned with, neither by his wife who tries to calm him down, or by Mrs. Summers who mounts a icily calm - and biting- defense - to the point where Ken assures Diego he has a rubber-bullet gun and a teargas dispenser at hand. Octy’s daddy just refuses to hear or believe any arguments, including from the rest of the team, who wander over, drawn by the noise, and try to tell him his “delicate little angel” is, in fact, pretty much the most dangerous fighter on the team. He is so mad he doesn’t even notice that his “little angel” slipped away and into her Lizard.


    The sound of sealing armor and starting engines doesn’t however get unnoticed by Diego, who quickly opens up a private channel to Octavia. While close to tears, she looks determined, not someone to be talked out of her mind “- Yes, Coach?, - Apply moderation, chica. Just don’t go over the top, okay?, - Understood.

    Meanwhile, Patty starts frantically typing something into her comlog...

    As senhor Moina is about to find out, it is pretty difficult to negotiate with his teenage daughter, when she’s determined like that… And clad in 1,5 tons-worth of armored exoskeleton.

    [Here’s the (half-joking) musical cue for this scene. ^_^]

    Papa.” – Octavia strides forward and gets her father’s attention through her Lizard’s external loudspeakers, an unusual edge of steel in her voice.

    Roberto Moina can only stare – when a 3,5 meter powered armor looms over you, you shut up and listen!

    - Papa, Mama. I’m sorry for deceiving you. But I just knew you’d never agree… And I wanted to tell you before the match, really, but there was so much to do, and there was never a good time… I’m sorry. But I won’t let you take me away. I wanted this. Patty didn’t drag me anywhere – it’s me who dragged her here, really. And I still want this. For a long time now, there was a part of me… Feelings in me… Anger, and aggression, and resentment… That I didn’t know how to deal with, because of my shyness. But that I also didn’t want to let you see, because they didn’t fit the picture of the “little angel” you see me as. I don’t blame you for anything, I know you always wanted only to protect me, especially after the accident. But I just can’t be your “little angel” anymore. Not only that. This… This is also what I want to be.

    - But… But what about the orchestra?… Your music?…” – the stunned Moinas grasp at straws.

    - Nothing’s changed there. I adore music, I love playing the cello. I want to continue doing that, probably make a career out of it. But as long as the two don’t conflict, I want to also play TAG-Soft with the girls… I’m really sorry. But this “little angel”… Wants to be an “Angel of Stone” too.

    Octavia strikes a dramatic, determined pose… Just as Patricia strikes the last key and pumps her fist triumphantly… And, with a sound halfway between a church organ fanfare and a thousand drawn swords, an AR projection of a pair of enormous mechanical angelic wings unfold out of Octy’s TAG’s back!

    Diego finds this a moment to chime in “ - And we have no way of getting her out of this armor now if she doesn’t want out, senhor Moina. Not without a combat hacker, and we’re plump out of those. You’ll have to deal with this…” (this is not at all true - Diego or Eric could easily override Octavia’s controls and get her out of the TAG. But they don’t advertise that!).

    “ - Yeah,” - Steven Summers adds his bit “ - and that’ll be a tough bargain. Just like with those damn Haqqislamites, I know what I’m talkin’ about…

    This finally does the trick. While senhor Moina still can not understand what is going on, at least he came to the point where he can accept that. All of the parents are escorted out of the hangar by Ken. Diego asks whether he may consider Octavia to have a valid permission to participate in the activities, which is (grudgingly) confirmed. This also means nobody is going to press charges against Patty on the ground of Octavia’s forged permission - though senhora Summers leaves with a meaningful “ - We’ll sort it out back home, young lady!

    Her husband follows her after affectionately mussing up Patty’s spiky blue hair “ - But we are proud of you for wanting to help your friend.” - he stresses the “we” part with a lopsided grin.

    Once the parents are gone, Patricia lets out a huge breath “ - Phew! Looks like I should get out of this with just a month or so of being grounded… And Octy gets to play! Could’ve been worse!

    Diego replies “ - Think, chica, think. The best way to not get punished is not letting them stick anything on you. The best way to achieve that is not getting caught. Well, naturally, the best way to not get caught is not to do questionable stuff in the first place…

    Patty grins “- That’s just what my mom says, too!

    - Okay girls, suit up! Time to get that going!

    - Alex?”

    “ - Yes, Coach?”

    “ - I want you to take down that crazy chica with the knife.

    - Uh… why?”

    “ - ‘Cause I’ve seen you can’t stand her.”

    “ - Sure. Shouldn’t be hard. All she’s got is a knife and a pea-shooter.”

    As the team walks out of the hangar, they are greeted by cheers from the public - which includes some of Octavia’s orchestra mates (Lyra, the strings player with outrageous mint-green hair, is making a spectacle of herself, waving huge AR “fan-hands”, to the apparent embarrassment of her girlfriend) and Minnie’s cheerleader friends.

    ‘Nique didn’t made it in time to see them leaving the hangar, but managed to see the game on the vid screen in the auditorium: Patty slipped her a pass.

    Diego also gets his first glimpse of Ilya Malinin, Minuette’s boyfriend. He really is just as huge as they said. He also doesn’t seem too friendly, sitting rigidly with his arms crossed and a stony scowl on his face - but that may have something to do with his little sister, Katya, literally standing astride his shoulders, waving her pom-poms and cheering her heart out. He at least waves back when Minnie waves at him...

    Morgan is surprised to spot her studious classmate, Rikoriko, in the audience. “ - Didn’t think the mega-nerd would be interested…

    Victor contacts Diego, proposing a little friendly bet - “I bet your girl guides won’t stand twenty minutes against my team!”

    “ - Right, what would you want in that case?”

    “ - I recall you have some cheerleaders in the team… Next time we meet, your girls are going to do a cheerleading act for my team. How ‘bout it?”

    “ - I accept. But if we hold these 20 minutes in the field, you’ll be doing cheerleading for us.”

    “ - You got a deal, Diablo!”

    The TAGs parade in front of the audience, with Angels brandishing AR wings programmed by Patricia (“I meant these as a surprise, but back in the hangar the occasion was too good to waste…”), and into the playing field. The spectators move to school’s auditorium to watch the game in AR or on big screens (as relayed by aerial drones). Eric mans the tech station, Yuni the medical station (to keep an eye on the team’s parameters), and Diego takes the combat controller’s seat.

    He also promptly informs the team about the bet. Some of the girls are outraged (like Alex), but most take it calm - well, they were told not to expect a victory here, and cheerleading isn’t something they’d be really worried about.


    - OK, chicas. Disengage dress colours, engage camouflage pattern. You are go.

    - Righ! Everyone ready?” asks Evangeline.

    - Oh, oh, a moment, please! I need to pee!”

    “ - Minnie?! Now?!”

    “ - Yeah… ...Aaaaand I’m done, we can go!”

    “ - God, Minnie! Really!?” Eva is deeply shocked and disgusted.

    - Just don’t forget to wash your hands…” mumbles Morgan.

    Based on the records of Revolution’s previous games and their cockiness back at the spaceport, Diego assumes the opponent will try to go for it, hard and fast. Well, the best way to not get hit is to not be where the blow lands, right? He sends the Angels to the left, outflanking the Revolution.

    His prediction hits the mark, as the Angels execute a flank strike against the extended line of Human Revolution, stretched in frontal assault. However, no bullets find their targets (or at least, no TAG is considered eliminated by the game rules), though a frantic firefight ensues. Pressed from their right wing, Human Revolution falls back to left - apparently in panic, but in fact, this is a feigned flight. The Angels follow the Revolution, though Diego is wary, and advises caution. Nevertheless, caution is not enough, as the team walks into an ambush. “Dash” proves her nickname is accurate, executing a lightning-fast dash to charge her Anaconda right in between Mako and Minnie, taking both of them down simultaneously with her twin SMGs. (Mako takes it hard: “ - Ouch… I’m so sorry, girls…”. Minnie tries for drama: “Augh, I’m dead! Avenge me, friends!...”, but she ruins the patos by giggling.)

    Angels fall back and flank to their left, while Revolution storms forward, hoping to wipe the opposition out. The time is running short on them - ten minutes are gone, ten more and they’ll be cheerleading for the Angels regardless of the game’s outcome. Victor has definitely told his team about the bet! The blow, however, misses. Even if it is a narrow miss - Angels barely avoid further casualties. Despite outmaneuvering the opposition, however, they are unable to take down any members of the Revolution.

    Diablo throws the team into a frontal assault - the Revolution is unlikely to expect that! - and indeed catches them in a tight spot. Nevertheless, Fio (quickly, efficiently, and brutally) takes down Alex (so much about “taking down the crazy chica”...), but at the same time Octavia gets into a vicious firefight with Lucas - and wins!

    And the game had already passed the 20 minutes mark. Angels might be unlikely to win the match, but the bet is won already (much to Alex’s relief).

    Reduced to 4 players, Angles disengage and try hit and run tactics. Almost there… the Revolution was laying in ambush, with Ash set out as bait. Pressed hard, she uses her “secret weapon” - the mysterious pods on the backs of her Anaconda’s shoulders pop open, revealing thruster ports, and she leaps crazily away from the Angels’ gunfire, leaving them with jaws hanging (“ - Holy…! Wow! Is THAT even allowed?!”).

    Revolution engages in another furious frontal assault, but the Angles are nowhere to be found: Diego takes advantage of the pretty unique feature of their gaming field, which contains a section of seashore. It is a masterful move: his team advances underwater, outflanking the Revolution again and surprising them completely (it is time for the opposing team to be surprised that the rules allow such a trick - TAG-Soft arenas rarely contain open bodies of water other than maybe a small river, except perhaps on Varuna, and the Revolution are Nomads, making them even less used to such terrain features). Still, the Angels again fail to score any kills.

    Angels need a moment to catch their breath, and Diego orders them to take a defensive position. Revolution approaches cautiously, and Meryl manages to take out Patty with a HRL hit. Angels fall back, covering their retreat. Still, they’re exhausted, and Eva’s medical readouts are going crazy - heartbeat and stress levels are up, and she’s panting heavily, biting her lip and squirming in her TAG.

    - You need to calm down, Eva. Deep breath, chica, and have a sip of water.”

    “ - I… Don’t think that’s... The best idea, Coach.”

    Yuni chimes in “- I think I know what’s going on, Diego. Better switch this to private mode.

    A private channel gets opened.

    - Eva, don’t fret, your TAGs plumbing is OK. Nothing to fear, even if you had to do #2. Just relieve yourself and let’s get going!”

    “ - But, uh, just like that? Into my suit?”

    “ - Hey, chica, how do you think we dealt with it back in the army? When you’re three days in combat, you don’t jump out of your TAG to look for a privy! We’ve been over this.”

    - But... But everyone will know!”

    Eric joins the conversation “ - No one will know you used the toilet facility of your TAG, apart from the fellow responsible for maintenance of the sanitary systems. Which is me. And trust me, miss - your secrets are as safe with a mechanic as they are with a priest.

    - But surely, they will smell it...

    - They will smell nothing. One of the few systems they don’t even touch in Praxis when doing a refit, is the air conditioning and hygiene. You’ll get out of the TAG cleaner than you got into it - better living through nanotechnology! See, of the 8 TAGs the team was using for practice, 5 had their toilets emptied already. Minuette advertised herself pretty loudly, but I’m not going to tell you which other ones - as I said, I keep my secrets. But fact is fact: 5 out of 8. Have you noticed anything?

    “ - No, I had no idea… Ugh… Ok… I’ll try...”

    - OK, chica, I’ll close the connection now so you can have all the privacy we can get you at this moment. Do your thing and let’s be back to the game.”

    A few moments later Evangeline’s medical readouts start moving toward normal…


    Diego mutters under his nose “- Frack, I guess I should’ve showed them the apple juice trick…


    The Revolution apply their shock and awe tactics again, while Angles withdraw, covering their retreat with fire. Fio’s Gecko appears out of nowhere, avoids Octavia’s bullets, and throws her sword. The balisong unfolds in mid-air and embeds itself in Octy’s Lizard’s shoulder, disabling her gun arm. Octavia attempts to catch the rifle with her other hand, but isn’t fast enough - “Shy” finishes her with a double tap of her assault pistol, one bullet to the head, other to the chest…

    At the same time, “Heartbreak” confronts Evangeline at close range. This day, the Angel’s captain is just a bit faster and more accurate - she puts a burst into his chest, eliminating the opposing captain. She then closes into point-blank range and viciously pumps another burst into Simon’s TAG - “just to be sure”.

    Boy, the girl can surely hold a grudge!

    The game has hit the 45-minute mark.

    Angels (now down to two players - Morgan and Evangeline) move out sharply, as the Revolution attempts to set up a trap for them. Despite their opponent being disorganised (in LoL), the team fails to score any kills.

    Diego is forced to go back to maneuver warfare - the game is basically lost, against three time as numerous opponents, but he’s not going to surrender it. The girls won’t hear of it either.

    The match turns into a deadly cat-and-mouse game, as tense minutes tick by. Finally, the last two Angels attempt to hit and run attack - they even manage to surprise the Revolution a bit, and Morgan puts a full burst into Meryl’s Szalamandra, but the angle is bad and rifle bullets fail to penetrate the heavy armor. Moments later, Ash takes Morgan out with twin bursts of her SMGs.

    “Trouble” uses the shock effect of his grenades to herd Eva in the desired direction - just where Petra is waiting with her shotgun.

    This is the end…

    Still, a few moments earlier, the clock marked the 60th minute of the game. The Angels held out three times longer than they were expected to!

    The “destroyed” and “disabled” TAGs are allowed to get up and everyone walks back to the hangar.

    The spectators’ mood is bowed (the home team lost) but unbroken (they still managed a good showing!), and the Angels of Stone are greeted back with applause (with Lyra and Katya pretty much having a competition for who can cheer the loudest).

    As the team members leave their cockpits, Diego handles out bottles of sports drink, and promptly sends them away to shower and get back “in civvies”.

    The plan is to take out the Revolution for a meal (though Yuni talks Diego out from the idea of visiting Silva’s with both gangs - officially, on the grounds that some would not be able to stomach the hot cuisine there!). the final choice is one of the places owned by the Chryse family - Minnie says she’s taking it on her: “ - Losers buy the dinner, that’s fair. Besides, Evangeline paid for our paintball gear already.

    Both teams load into their monster tractor trucks (Revolution leaves one rig and the other’s trailer at school) and hit the town.

    The meal is pleasant - even the Bakunin kids appreciate it. And they doubly appreciate the dessert (Garfield shows a huge sweet tooth, munching down so many extra pieces of cake that no one is able - or in fact interested - in keeping track of!), plus engage in small talk.

    Ash can’t stop gloating over her jump-jet trick (“ - I thought I’d kill myself pulling that! So awesome!”). However, her earlier dismissive and condescending attitude towards the Angels of Stone has changed. Not only does she not rub their nose in their loss, she openly and sincerely, if a little backhandedly, compliments the Avalon girls for their performance in the face of the much more powerful Human Revolution. In fact, the entire Bakunin team is quite impressed with the Angels’ resilience, perseverance, and “balls”. Petra sums it up best: “I’m still not sure about the <Angel> thing, but you got the <Stone> part down perfectly!”. Also, some of them less than others, but in general the Revolution kids don’t seem very bothered by losing their little bet - hey, the Angels won fair and square. “Trouble” and “Animal” actually look forward to the cheerleading - they think it'll be hilarious!

    There’s a lot going on during the dinner, with much friendly banter and socializing all around. Patty and Garfield talk shop and swap hacking tricks. Simon apologizes formally (and dramatically, falling on one knee and her mercy) to Evangeline, which she magnanimously accepts - well, she got to “kill” him already, no use holding the grudge further, right? Octavia and Fio seem to really connect (Octy will later confirm that the “crazy bitch” routine is just a mask “Shy” uses as a shield against her social anxieties). Minnie still fawns on Petra and her tail. And quite a bit more. Diego catches some of it, misses a lot.

    Mako informs her team-mates that she’s quitting, which is greeted with much sadness. Well, Alex attempts jeering: “So <Mako Joyo - supergirl> couldn’t hack it after all…”, before Morgan administers a swift “attitude adjustment” in the form of a quick slap to the back of the head… Minuette on the other hand nearly bursts into tears.

    - Hey, it is not like I’m moving to another planet! And I promise I’ll come to all your games to cheer on you!” consoles Mako.

    - Well, and I’m sure the girls will be doing the same for you, chica. A TAG cheer-squad, that is sure to impress the opposing team!” - Diego chimes in with a malicious smile.

    Eric will later admit that conversation with Glynda was pretty inspiring, though he’s not sure whether he’ll ever muster the courage to draw upon this inspiration!

    Still, two hours pass away quickly, and soon it it the time to escort the Bakunin team back to their ship. Once the Human Revolution is away (with many good wishes and hopes of meeting again soon for a re-match) on the way to their mothership, Yuni drives the Monster back to school to offload the team. Naturally, a limousine - with Roger behind the wheel - awaits Evangeline. Patricia and Octavia leave hand-in-hand as always, with their parents this time. There’s no arguing going on - seems senhor Moina is coming to terms with his “little angel” wanting to also be an “Angel of Stone” (Diego manages to pull Roberto aside for a little chat. “ - You know - or maybe you don’t, I guess - how it is. You watch her go out into the world, but all you want to do is lock her up in a tower and stand guard day and night… - Yeah, the locking up part doesn’t really work out too good, for you or, most importantly, her. - Yes. My wife was trying to tell me for years. But I think I’ve finally realized that myself.“). Everyone else scatterers in their own way.

    With the kids gone, Yuni and Diego go to Silva’s for a tankard or two - and happen to meet Dominique just before her shift ends. She asks to pass her greetings to the team - she wasn’t able to see them coming back (she was in hurry to get back to Silva’s - she’s in a middle of another gunpla project and needs to raise money for the parts).

    They end the evening heading for Diego’s place (though he’s slightly worried that his bed might be a bit narrow for Yuni’s tastes. Also, with the game taking all his attention, he hadn’t managed to get that cooking manual yet). As Yuni comments “ - I’ve told you already, I have to take a look at your diet!” Well, they’ll get to that - eventually
    (^_^).


    Which sums up entry #5.
     
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  6. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Assumptions on LHosts

    A few things we assumed about LHosts for the purpose of “T’A.Gs of Avalon” game.

    A typical fresh-from-the-vat LHost is, biologically, a fully grown human body in it’s prime. Which makes it equivalent to between 20 and 25 years of real age. “Younger” or “older” specimens may be specially ordered if needed or desired.

    A basic LHost is essentially just a human clone, with no major cybernetic, bionic or genetic upgrades (though these can be ordered, too). High-performance LHosts, like the Bodhisattwa class used by agents of Aleph, are a different thing, and far more expensive.

    However, even the low-end LHosts are a result of careful genetic screening, making them as close to perfect specimens of Homo Sapiens as technically viable. Which means they are very healthy and with no defects (such LHosts are rejected by quality control procedures, when they happen. And they happen rarely). Thanks to that careful screening, they maintain excellent health, performance and looks significantly longer than it is average for natural-born humans, though within limits. There are known cases of people aging slower or keeping in good health, or living as long as it is typical for LHosts - just not that many of them.

    As for looks, basic LHosts tend to cling to classic standards. One of the more popular models is Myron, designed along the lines of ancient Greek athletes, as presented in sculpt - proportionally and harmoniously built (skin tone and facial features are typically made to fit with client’’s original look, or at least the same phenotype), though it doesn’t have the musculature of a modern-era bodybuilder.
    While not as flashy as the bodies-of-the-year, Myrons keep selling well, thanks to their evergreen design.

    Diego Ibarrez uses a Myron-series LHost.
     
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  7. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #6

    “Load Up On Guns, Bring Your Friends”, part 1


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #2 - starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed.
    A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link.
    Note #3 - the “#x” notes the episode in which given character made first appearance.


    “Anjos da Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17y) Indian. “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working - so far, so good). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (16y) Argentine. Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on a sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16y) Italian. “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (2. class, 16y) Australian. Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko.
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17y) Polynesian. “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16y) Brazilian. Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16y) North American. Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Average player. Lizard TAG.


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Bianca (Bia) Irene Chryse - #6 (2 class junior high, 13y), Australian. Minnie’s younger sister. Fiery red hair, uncouth mouth and a talent for getting on people’s nerves, which often gets her into trouble - as Diego said, “she’s as sweet as a candied chili pepper”. A total tomboy and skateboard riding thrill-junkie. Is quite fascinated with TAGs now, but has to wait till she gets to senior high before she can apply for the team.
    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Reactive to the surroundings.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40) Latinoamerican. The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35y) Polynesian. TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Gerhard Oobleck - #1 (~40y), German. Teaches history. Enthusiastic about the perspective of having a real war veteran (Diego) in his classes. Very energetic and slightly manic, moves fast and talks even faster.
    Ginevra Chennault - #1 (~90y) Polynesian. School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. To-the-point and strict, but fair. Teaches literature.
    Ilya Malinin - #5 (though mentioned earlier) (2nd class, 17y) Russian. Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Mako Joyo - #1 (1. class, 15y) Micronesian. Ex-team member (Gecko pilot, and for a time prospective 2IC) - turned out that combat sports weren’t really her thing, plus she was offered captaincy of the school’s basketball team once the current captian graduates at the end of current year. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person.
    Nyree Rikoriko - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #6) (2nd class, 14y - she started school a year early, and skipped a grade in junior high) Maori - girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad).
    Reksio - #1 Eric’s favourite Palbot, named after an obscure
    cartoon character.
    Scott “Scoot” Löwe - #6, (2 class junior high, 14y), German. Another skater kid. Bia Chryse’s classmate, skating buddy, and “absolutely-not-boyfriend!
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29y), Malaysian. PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had recently (entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”...


    Team Members’ Parents:

    Leila Torres - #6 (early 30s), Argentinian. Atek, Dominique’s mother, came from Acontaciemento. Early motherhood ruined her educational plans, as a result, she works as a technician in a drone factory to make ends meet. They’re very close with Dominique.

    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Senores Anzamble, Ral and Trowa - #1 (~80y) Central American (various). Veterans of the First NeoColonial War (Fusiliers), now elderly retirees and regular guests at “Silva’s”.
    Esteban Silva - #1 (~80y) Brazilian. Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Gato” - #6 (in his late teens) Brazilian. A peddlar in the less-pleasant part of town where the Torreses live. Dominique’s friend, supplies her with made-to-order gunpla parts. Probably a black market contact, too.


    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere

    Lt. Loyian N’dele - #3 (29y), Maasai. Once Diego’s favourite student (and attempted romantic interest, but she turned him down. Very gracefully in fact: they still are friends) in one of his last TAG classes. She was re-trained for remote TAGs, and remains in active service (CJC).


    Friday, October 17th

    Yuni and Diego spend a night together, at Diego’s place this time. While his bed is very spacious by Corregidor standards, it is still a single person one by PanO’s... And way too narrow for Yuni’s “active” sleeping habits, which end with her sleeping half-hanging over the edge (in a very cat-like way).

    In the morning she manages to pull that inspection of Diego’s diet she was talking about (by inspecting his fridge), and considers it acceptable, though not advisable in the long run if he really wants to keep himself in the peak human condition his LHost makes possible. She also has to skip her morning training routine to get to school in time.

    Yuni points out that the lack of news from the principal, Ms.Chennault, is good news in fact - if she was seriously irritated by the Team’s performance, she’d have Diego summoned to her office first thing in the morning. She’ll, however, want to see him on Monday, though.

    Well, it’s time for Yuni to go to work!

    Diego spends the day doing paperwork - the scholarship for ‘Nique (the Board of Education made him go down to one scholarship, and they’re now arguing over fine points of entry requirements), the ammo, fuel, and parts consumption reports from Eric, and other standard reports he has to do for the school.

    He also manages to download an interactive “cooking for dummies” manual and - accessing a local Arachne node - locate an open-source, do-it-yourself-by-fabricator plan for a motorbike he actually likes, though downloading these plans will take some time (Arachne doesn’t work too well in PanO territories). The bike is, in fact, a reverse-engineered umpteenth generation descendant of an ancient design, Ural (probably with a bit of Ariadnan history, too) - a piece of early 20th century engineering remade, so a Nomad staying planetside could recreate it with an industrial-grade fabricator and a tiny bit of technical know-how.

    Diego intends to ask Eric for technical assistance - he could probably do it all himself, but having a pro engineer helping him would make it way more effective, besides, Eric might like the very idea of such a project.

    He also swaps a few e-mails with friendly banter with Loyian N’dele, who already got records of the game from her nephew.

    Also, he gets an e-mail from Ms.Chennault just as predicted - she wants to see him on Monday morning.


    Saturday, October 19th

    The team, now six members strong, moves out for their traditional paintball practice with Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders, where they are welcomed like heroes (the Spiders have watched their game against Human Revolution, too) - there are cheers and gun salvoes (dry)fired into the air - which leaves the Angels a little stunned. Evangeline is the first to recover, and, like the princess she is, proceeds to bask in the attention, and quite pompously “accept the due adoration of her fans”. Which of course causes much eye-rolling among the other girls (though it seems to Diego to be much more good-humored than truly annoyed, compared to what it would be a mere month ago).

    At first, they try fighting full team vs. full team, so six Angels vs. eight Spiders. Even the advantage provided by Diego as the commander, though, is not enough, not today at least, and the first two matches end in bad losses for the Angels - especially the first one, a massacre in less than 15 minutes.

    Thereafter, to even out the odds, the Spiders draw straws and have one of them sit out each round. Six Angels versus seven Spiders (with their respective combat controllers) seem to make the chances roughly equal.

    During the, now traditional, after action campfire, Patricia casually informs them that, just as she expected, she’s been grounded for a month. No parties, either attended or DJ-ed, limited Maya privileges, best of behaviour and discipline, and at least “B”s for all grades (with at least “A”s in her advanced comp-sci) are the terms. She doesn’t seem very worried: “It’s no worse than any other I received to date. No sweat.” It also turns out Octavia has offered (quite adamantly insisted, actually) to share Patty’s punishment with her friend. This doesn’t seem very meaningful, as the terms of the grounding are things Octy would be inclined to do or not do anyway, but Patty sincerely appreciates the gesture all the same.


    Sunday, October 20th

    Having dealt with the morning mail, Diego calls Yuni and suggests they could go out of town again. They rent a bike for him, and go try climbing this time - Diego gets the ropes of this activity pretty quickly. They also take time to swim in the lake.

    They spend a pleasant, active day together… And have enough self-control (barely!) to not also make it an unplanned night at Diego’s, for there’s work to do in the morning.


    Monday, October 21st

    First thing in the morning, Diego shows up for a meeting with Ms.Chennault. She has had a conference over the TAG-Soft project with the school’s board, and so far, the project stays - though with no increases in the budget. While most of the board members were disappointed with the lack of victory, she had persuaded them by reminding them of the results of the previous Academy team, who got into action after two months of preparation (compared to the Angels’ one) and was completely annihilated in less than 20 minutes, causing no casualties for the opposing team. So, the Angles were doing - by comparison - very acceptably.

    Ms.Chennault has only positive thing to say about the girls and their performance. She is not, however, impressed by Diego’s own performance in the game - she expected more of him!
    [GM: This is not unfair of her, I believe. When we played the match out, Diego was, in fact, cursed with a series of pretty bad die rolls, significantly below the average that could be expected from his character stats.]

    She is aware of the technological gap between Angels and the Revolution, or any other potential opponent, and suggests Diego should now at least buy some extra armaments as far as the funds allow. She’d like to see his proposal for some firepower upgrades and their cost estimate as soon as possible.

    Later in the day, Diego discusses the possible upgrades with Eric. They decide to get a disposable missile launcher (Panzerfaust or Blitzen - Diego favours the Blitzen, given the straight TAG-vs-TAG combat is the case, it gives better chances of a one-shot-kill than the more universal Panzerfaust) for the Gecko (assuming that the lightest TAG is the one most likely to go down first, there’s no much point in worrying about its limited ammunition). Getting the same upgrade for more TAGs would make ammunition costs skyrocket quickly.

    Another TAG badly needing an upgrade is the Szalamandra. A heavy TAG predestined for the support role, but armed only with a standard gun makes little sense. With Diego’s knowledge of the fine points of TAG warfare, and Eric’s technical expertise (and market knowledge), they decide to go for a cheap and often overseen weapon: a large autocannon, Ariadna style. Not as universal as a missile launcher or rapid-firing as an HRMC, an autocannon still packs plenty of punch against a single, hard target, is very simple to maintain and (relatively) cheap to feed with ammo. Diego insists on giving the Szally some form of a sidearm for close-in work, where the autocannon would be impractical.

    They also make appropriate adjustments in the “homework” training simulation, allowing the team to test out possible weapon configurations.

    As the girls show up for the afternoon practice, they are ushered into firing range, for their accuracy still leaves much to be desired. Minnie “inherits” Mako’s Gecko, and immediately starts talking to it with affection (and petting it!), so the poor thing wouldn’t feel lonesome and abandoned after Mako left the team.

    Naturally, this makes several other team members roll their eyes…

    Minnie then goes all bananas testing her new TAG - being the most mobile team member, she well appreciates its nimbleness. As Diego comments “Well, the girl has just lost 500kg of weight, I guess every chica in this situation would be crazy with joy!

    While the girls are happily perforating AR targets, senhor Oobleck calls Diablo. He is going into the Paradiso conflict with his Senior High classes this week, and wants Diego as a guest star, say, on Thursday, hmm? Since this was in the air from the day one, Diego agrees, asking only how much into details he should go. Gerhard doesn’t, however, require him to make a lecture - besides, as Diego points out, all those big-brains writing history books tend to have all the data (including a lot of already declassified information) and hindsight he, being a soldier in the midst of action, never had.

    In return, he asks Gerhard whether he’d be interested in some paintball, as Yuni and Diego are going to try it. As he says, a school’s paintball team is pretty likely to form at one moment or another, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a teacher’ team by that time. After all, it would be a good idea to kick their butts once in a while, and show those brats their teachers aren’t such fossils their pupils tend to take them for!

    Senhor Oobleck says he never did such things, but he’d be happy to give it a try - as he had observed, Diego was using paintball as additional training method for his team, right? Gerhard also boasts he used to be very sporty in his school days, being quite the runner, and he’s still pretty quick on his feet. So he should at least “make a good distraction as a moving target!”.

    Once the practice is over, Minnie stays for a moment to ask Diablo for a favour. Her younger sister, Bia, got pretty interested in TAG-soft after witnessing their match, and begs her for a visit to the hangar. Diego has nothing against it, but - having learned that Bianca is a junior high grade student - decides she won’t be allowed to pilot a TAG.

    Minuette is allowed to bring her sister for the Wednesday practice.


    Wednesday, October 23rd

    In the morning, Diego receives an e-mail from the Board of Education - they’ve (grudgingly) agreed to assign a sports scholarship to the TAG-Soft team of the Academy. Diego immediately sets the wheels in motion, regarding the school.

    He makes sure the download form Arachne is complete, before forwarding the files to Eric. They’re soon at the hangar, fabricating first parts for Diego’s future bike.

    The team gathers for practice, with Minnie bringing her sister (on a skateboard). Bianca is all over the place - she’s just as energetic and cheerful as her older sister, but, unlike Minnie, who doesn’t seem to have one mean bone in her body, Bia has a snarky, nasty streak a mile wide, and her acerbic comments step on the team’s toes. Well, mostly on Alex’: “ - Ah yes, Narahari. The sad, lonely girl with a crushing inferiority complex, that makes her try to rise her self-esteem by trampling others. So sad...” Morgan, meanwhile, gets named as the second coming of their eldest sister: “ - The coloring is quite different, of course, but that look… And now with the raised eyebrow! That’s just classic Frankie!” The younger miss Chryse would be an obvious candidate for the team, but she isn’t old enough to be allowed in… As Morgan points out to Alex (after keeping her from strangling the annoying brat right now, right there), once that happens, they’ll be out of school.

    - Unless, chica, you intend to book an extra year or two, that is...” comments Diego.

    Bia then points out that Patricia is a, supposedly pretty good, hacker, and asks whether she couldn’t maybe “persuade” the school systems that Bia was already in high school, so she could join the team? No dice. Patty says she must first serve out her current grounding before she can try earning another, and besides, “ - Such favours don’t come cheap, catch my drift, kiddo? How many grand is your allowance, hm?” Besides, comments Diego, does Bia really want to be two years older already? Girls usually like to have years taken off, not added on… Bia just pouts at the injustice of it all.

    The girls would love to do some force-on-force practice, but with just 6 team members present, the result would be pretty bleak. Sure, with Yuni and Diego, that would make a full team. But whichever team would include Diego, would have an unfair advantage. Still, Diego says, if they really want it, they might try how long would take the team to take him down.

    Yes, all of them, and with Bianca as their combat controller - we can’t have her in a cockpit, but she can surely get behind a command console.

    If they really want to see how they really did it in CJC…

    Diego jumps into a Lizard (ex-Minnie’s) and heads out. Being alone against six of his students, he decides to apply hit-and-run tactics. In some curious twist of fate - or intuition - Bia starts with a perfect answer, sending the whole team forward in a crushing all-out assault. Still, Diego skill is more than enough to counterbalance the team’s numerical superiority. Minnie, Alex, Octavia and Patty are down-and-out before he pulls out - unable to track him and laying down fire on the positions he already abandoned. Shocked, Eva and Morgan take a desperate last stand back to back, trying to cover the space around them. Diego takes them down in quick succession, never showing in their sights.

    Putting an entire team out of game took him little more than 5 minutes…

    - Damn, Coach, that was as incredible as it was scary…” - Morgan is pretty impressed.

    - So, that’s how it looks for real…” - Eva is stunned.

    - Not exactly, chica. It was clean TAG-on-TAG. No remotes, no hackers, no infantry support. But yeah, that’s roughly the level you’d have to expect in the field back in my days…

    As everyone is getting ready to leave, Bianca receives a comlog call from one Scott Löwe, innocently inquiring if she’s up for a late afternoon at the skate park. Bia is quite happy and eager to agree, and expedites her leave, streaking off on her skateboard - though not before receiving some affectionate teasing from Minnie over hurrying off to meet her sweetheart. “ - Scoot’s so not my boyfriend! Honestly, sis, not everyone is as crazy about eating face as you are with your man-mountain! Yuck!” Which would probably be more convincing if her ears weren't quite so red… “ - Ah, young love... So cute!” sighs Minnie.

    Before the team disbands, Diego informs Morgan he was invited by senhor Oobleck to a history lesson, so they’ll see each other next day. As she comments, it’s gonna be pretty interesting, with all the military history buffs around...

    After the practice, he heads out to Silva’s, to see Dominique. She’s pretty nervous when he says that “they have to talk”, and then can’t believe her ears when Diablo informs her that she’s changing schools, and if she can get the paperwork done, she can start in the Academy on Monday: they got a sports scholarship for her! Somehow, the veteran Fusiliers nad senhor Silva catch on far quicker than ‘Nique herself…

    When she finally does, she can’t resist the urge to lounge over the table and hug Diablo :)

    Everyone present, regular customers all, cheer and raise a toast to Dominique’s great fortune, and another one to Diego, for being the person to grant the girl her fondest wish. The veterans then break into a celebratory song (some portuguese military equivalent of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow”). All this leaves ‘Nique quite flustered, though with a silly grin on her face.

    - It’s going to get a little lonely here without you,” comments senhor Silva once the singing is over. This has Dominique quite alarmed.

    “- Senhor Esteban! Are you… Are you firing me?...”

    - My dear child, I’d never dream of it! Weren’t for you, this wouldn’t be the place it is! You’ll always have a place here if you want it. However…

    Senhor Silva proceeds to explain that, with the school year so far along (it’s already two weeks into second term), even with her grades transferred from St. John’s, ‘Nique is going to have her work cut out for her if she wants to properly catch up and secure her place in the, much more demanding, Roberto Rocha Academy. Especially with the demands of the TAG-Soft team on top. Her most prudent course of action, then, would be to take a leave of absence from “Silva’s”, and focus on her studies.

    - Once your academic career is fully on track, after New Year’s perhaps, I’ll be delighted to have you back for a few afternoons a week. But even then, as now, school should be your most important focus. After all, you didn’t simply want to just attend the Academy, you wanted to really learn, right?

    Though leaving makes her sad, Dominique can’t but admit that “Grandpa” Esteban is quite right.

    They agree to meet on Thursday afternoon at Silva’s, and head out to meet Dominique’s mother (who has to sign up some transfer-related papers). Diego also offers to visit St’ John’s (‘Nique’s current high school) and make things go smoothly there, too.


    Thursday, October 24th

    Diego sorts out the photos he intends to have on hand for the history lesson (and deciding against attending it in his old CJC uniform), and goes out to visit St. John’s High School. While he’s initially welcomed with some suspicion, things go smoothly as soon as his identity and documents are verified as genuine.

    Mid-afternoon, he turns up for the history lesson, and receives a pretty surprising call for help while walking through the Junior High Ward of the Academy’s main yard: Bia Chryse is hanging on a flag pole, about four meters above the ground - by her underwear! She, obviously, can’t get down on her own, even if she was ready to fall these four meters to the ground. She wasn’t attracting attention due to the fact there are classes in progress, and her comlog is still within school premises. She could, naturally, use it to call for help, but it would mean that everyone would know what happened to her…

    “ - ...And don’t swing around up there, we don’t know how much your bloomers can take.”

    “ - They held out so far, right?”

    “ - ‘Cause that’s static tension. You start swinging around, you make it dynamic tension. That’s two different things. Learn your physics, chica, dammit!”

    Diego gives the flag pole a quick look - the powered winch controls are damaged (or more likely, sabotaged) so while he’s authorized by the school’s system to lower a flag, he can’t do it. There’s a handle socket for manually cranking the winch, just in case, but of course there’s no such handle around! Luckily, Diego can call a friendly mechanic - Eric - to send in the tool along with a Palbot. Once Bia is safely on the ground (Eric is sure there’s a story behind this, and Diego promises he’ll tell him everything, on condition it won’t propagate any further), Reksio goes to repair the mechanism.

    As for why Bianca ended up in the air, she’s pretty cryptic there - but apparently she stepped on someone’s toes, y’know… Diego is quick to put the facts together and sticks it on Alex, though, as he notes, he has to admit she made it unnoticed somehow. Which requires some talent. Sure, it could’ve ended ugly if young Chryse fell from that pole, but she didn’t, right?

    (It is worth noting that Diego is unfamiliar with the idea of a “wedgie”. It is not that bullying doesn’t happen on Corregidor - in fact, it happens pretty often, sadly - but other “pranks” are used for that purpose).

    All’s well that ends well, isn’t it?

    Anyway, Bia is safely on the ground, sitting under the flag pole and trying to get some life into her legs that went completely numb, just before the bell rings, and her Junior High friends get out for a break. Bia is lucky those few who take notice of their little group are wholly absorbed with Reksio fixing the winch mechanism... And to spot Scoot before he spots her, which gives her a second to frantically stuff her stretched-out bloomers down the back of her uniform pants! Wouldn’t do for him to see her being so un-cool... Diego is able to leave Bianca in Scoot’s (“He’s not my boyfriend!”) care. Seeing him for the first time, Diego must agree with Minnie: the two do make a cute couple. :)

    He’s still on time for the history lesson. Once Gerhard is done with his job - and he’s passionate about teaching history, a real master of his trade (even Morgan seems less sleepy in his lesson), the kids are allowed to ask questions of “a real witness of these events”. Most of these come from Nyree Rikoriko, the Maori girl Morgan pointed out as a “mega-nerd” back when the team was marching out to play against the Revolution - she actually takes Diego into a virtual one-person crossfire of questions (her academic eagerness provoking some eye-rolling from her classmates, though it’s apparent they mostly regard it as par for the course). He can’t answer all of these - he wasn’t a commander or politician, but a grunt in the line of fire… Still, the last one comes in unexpected, and pretty creepy: “Sir, you are a resurectee, right? Could you tell us, please, how does it feel… To die?” She immediately notices she probably went too far, and frantically adds that if Diego doesn’t want to, he doesn’t have to answer... Plus there’s the bell ringing for the break already. But well, since she asked… Hey, he’s a guest, and doesn’t have to keep to school breaks too much.

    - I can’t tell you much. I got it real easy myself: all I felt was an impact, and the next thing I remember was waking up in a new body. But others often didn’t get it that easy, and it took them a longer time to go. It was an ugly, messy affair…

    He pulls out a photo out of his made-ready folder and displays it in the classroom’s AR: a wrecked Gecko TAG lies in a corridor of the PNS Lazarus (it is an official WarCor photo, it carries labels of date and place), with a gaping head-sized hole melted through the plastron, and the back of the torso blown out.

    - For all you military history buffs here: that’s how it looks when a light TAG gets hit with a shaped charge AP-EXP projectile.” - Diego notices that many of the students went suddenly pale and completely silent. A few are turning green. “ - I’m not going to show you the photos of the inside. As I said, a messy affair”.

    Morgan sits in the back of the classroom, moving her hands in the air - trying to fit what she sees on the picture into the real dimensions (and pilot’s position inside) of a Gecko TAG. She has probably noticed the familiar smiling devil painted on its thigh armor. Yes, it was a miracle that Diego’s Cube was still salvageable after that hit!

    “ - I hope that answers your question.”

    - Well, yes, that’s it for today. You may go.” - Gerhard chimes in, and the students leave the classroom in a hurry “ - Diego, thank you. Could you wait for me for a moment? Miss Rikoriko, a word, if I may?…

    As it clearly means he should wait outside, Diablo walks out. After a few minutes Rikoriko walks out of the classroom, throws a shy, mumbled apology and goodbye to Diego, and pelts down the corridor, as if she had hell on her heels. As senhor Oobleck explains, the girl has a troubled past - a couple years ago, she was a victim of very serious bullying, and was badly traumatized. It was seemingly resolved happily and she received expert psychological counselling and made a very good recovery. Still, in light of her personal history, he felt alerted with her question, and was having a word with her to ensure she wasn’t having a slip back (or worse, being targeted again), and maybe going suicidal… Luckily, his worries proved unfounded - it seems the question was just a result of her typical tendency to let her thirst for knowledge override all other concerns - like basic courtesy and tact...

    Next thing on his agenda is meeting with ‘Nique at Silva’s. They then drive into the seedier part of Belo Horizonte - until Dominique suggests it would be wiser to leave the car, if Diego wants to find it there once he comes back - and continue on foot. ‘Nique got some extra money as “holiday benefit” from “Grandpa” Esteban, and she intends to buy some extra groceries to celebrate her school change.

    Diego watches the district with curiosity. It is not an outright slum (not that there are no slums in PanOceania, on Avalon, or in Belo-Horizonte itself), but definitely not a good neighbourhood. Sure, he had seen worse, but most of the time they were already half-covered in jungle… And some opinions were that Morats storming through them actually did a lot to improve the real estate worth!

    Having done the shopping (‘Nique knows, and is known to, all the vendors by name, apparently the local community is pretty closely knit. A good sign.), they meet a young man with a head of huge hair, walking by a pair of crutches, who is apparently ‘Nique’s friend - Gato. While what they do might seem like a black market transaction on some heavy drugs, he has actually brought some freshly fabricated parts for Dominique’s current gunpla project. It’s quickly obvious he and ‘Nique are very good friends. He’s overjoyed with the news, once she tells him she’s swapping schools, and drops his crutches (which alarms ‘Nique) to enfold her in a bear hug (which, tellingly, alarms her none, except when she needs to breathe again).

    - Good for you, Torres chica! Good for you. Grab your chance, get out of here while you can, and forget about us losers.

    - I could never do that…” Dominique hides a small blush by turning away.

    In the middle of all that, it takes Gato a while to notice Diego, whom ‘Nique (eager for a subject change) introduces as a Corregidor serviceman (Diablo feels it necessary to inform that he’s retired) and a coach at the Academy.

    Gato says that in such case he has to tell “the boys” to keep their hands off the unfamiliar man in the neighbourhood (“unless they feel they have money to waste on hospital bills”). As the story goes, he was recently doing some job at the astroport, and some local lads “and freshly made berets” (which implies new Fusilier recruits) tried to teach some manners to a quintet of Corregidorians, probably off-duty from the local trade mission: “four ‘sheriffs’ and a fella they called a ‘foreman’, though I doubt they had a construction crew foreman in mind” - some details are lost in translation there, but Diego does catch on - four Algulaciles and an off-duty Mobile Brigada, and got their butts handed to them in a truly heinous fashion…

    Well, this Gato character might be bringing gunpla parts for Dominique this time, but he looks way like a black marketeer to Diego. Not a high-profile one, just a local contact, but still a valuable one, should he ever need anything less-than-legal on Avalon. It is useful to know such people. They tend to know other people…

    The Torreses live in a “project”, a tall block of flats, occupying something that is a little more than bachelor apartment - the main bed/day/dining-room, a tiny bedroom, and a tinier bathroom. It isn’t posh - definitely, the limited resources do show - but from what Diego can see, is it home.

    He’s also introduced to Ms. Leila Torres, Dominique’s mother. Ms. Torres is a woman in her early thirties, though she’s been through a lot of hard times, and it shows. She must have been really stunning in the past, now, she’s still quite pretty, but also looks permanently tired.

    Yes, she also barely believes the news (‘Nique hasn’t spilled the beans before!), but she’s as thrilled as her daughter - after she’s able to understand what ‘Nique, who’s quite literally vibrating with excitement, is even saying!

    - Little Spark, please! I’m really happy that you’re happy, but slow down, honey, ‘cause I can’t parse a word you’re saying!” she laughingly chides.

    Once proper communication is established, there are a lot of happy exclamations, hugs and tears of joy. It’s a touching mother-daughter moment which leaves Diego feeling a little awkward. Leila and Dominique are obviously very close, and equally as much friends as mother and daughter (well, Leila is barely more than twice ‘Niques age).

    Plus, Leila had already heard about Diego, who allowed ‘Nique to get elbows-deep in a real TAG. Though she gets a little flustered at their introduction: “ - ...But you didn’t mention, that he was so… Ah… Never mind!...” Apparently, Diablo made some impression! Which doesn’t go entirely unnoticed by ‘Nique, who develops an impish grin and promptly finds an excuse to give mom some space.

    Dominique disappears into the kitchen (well, takes it over, really, as it’s just an annex to the main room), going to upgrade the stew with extra ingredients she bought (and expressing hope that Diego will stay for dinner), while Diablo accompanies her mother on daily chores for a moment - he has a questionnaire on the family to complete…

    As he learns, Ms.Torres came to Avalon about seventeen years old, already pregnant, and declares ‘Nique’s father to be “unknown”. Which obviously is far from the truth, but also implies she was running from something. Still, Diego considers this to be absolutely not his business, at least not a hair’s width more than is necessary to fill in the form. The kid is a natural talent in mechanics (her mother tends to specialize in software rather than hardware, and admits to “geeking out” over her technological obsessions as much as her daughter tends to), having done countless repairs and upgrades in the neighbourhood (including a pretty impressive rooftop greenhouse). Leila expresses hope that her daughter will have the chance she missed herself. Early motherhood has clearly turned her life plans upside down, spoiling her chance to drag herself out of Atek-dom, and apparently there are days when she wonders how it would’ve been if the events went the other way. Still, every time she looks at her daughter, she considers it was, in the end, worth it. Observing their interactions, from the first brilliant smile that literally lit up Leila’s face when she saw ‘Nique come home, it’s very clear to Diego that she speaks the truth. Dominique may have been an unplanned child, but she isn’t now, nor ever was, an unwanted or unloved one.

    After the dinner (‘Nique’s cooking skills have been apparently carefully honed by Esteban Silva, and she turns out to be a great cook - and the part of the food already prepared earlier by Leila is nothing to sneeze at either!), she also insists to show Diego her room - a small, cramped space barely enough for a bed, wardrobe, and desk, where her gunpla workshop is located: and excellent case of well-organized mayhem, plus a display cabinet. She’s currently working on a Szalamandra model, and decides to do it in standard Tunguzkan armament and colour scheme. Classics are classics, right?

    On his way back home Diego gets a chance to think over the Narahari issue. Apparently she isn’t quite rid of her bullying ways, and this is going to get out - especially after that trick with Bia on the flag pole. He makes a note to contact Ken Kamehameha in the morning, and suggest to him to check vid records on the Junior High yard, then tell Diego whether he should get that reported to the principal or any other authorities. Of course, Ken might agree to help Diego handle this his way. The head bedel and an old training NCO make a dangerous combination if they decide to make someone’s life hell… And Eric probably won’t be above pulling a few pranks on Alex, too.

    Even if covering a toilet seat with military-grade pepper spray is not on the menu.

    Oh, and he should talk with Alex. Last chance, and all that.


    Which sums up entry #6.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  8. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #7

    “Load Up On Guns, Bring Your Friends”, part 2


    “Anjos da Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17y) Indian. “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working - so far, so good). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (16y) Argentine. Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Lizard TAG.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16y) Italian. “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (2. class, 16y) Australian. Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). One of two team members to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17y) Polynesian. “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s).
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #6), (2nd class, 14y - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high) Maori - girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, Anaconda TAG.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16y) Brazilian. Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16y) North American. Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Reactive to the surroundings.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40) Latinoamerican. The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35y) Polynesian. TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Frederic (“Fred”) Ulani #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #7) (1. class, 16y) Polynesian (of mixed-Caucasian descent) Plays another cello in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate.
    Isabell “Pills” Talho - #5 (looks to be in her middle 30s) South American - school’s medical officer (given the Academy’s size and high profile, she’s a fully qualified general practitioner with a lot of fancy tools), and likely a resurectee.
    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s) Hawaiian. Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow.
    Koi Rikoriko - #7 (5th class elementary school, 11y), Maori. Nyree’s younger brother, with some serious attitude. Despite being a kiddo, he’s very protective of his sister. Also, his first encounter with Eva seems to have resulted in a case of puppy love on his part…
    Lupe Ramirez - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #7) (2. class, 17y) Argentine. Brass player in the school’s orchestra (which makes him Octavia’s colleague). Seems to be a silent, reserved type. Goth styling.

    Reksio - #1 Eric’s favourite Palbot, named after an obscure cartoon character.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29y), Malaysian. PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had recently (entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”...


    Team Members’ Parents:

    cpt. Reweti Rikoriko - #7 (in her mid 40s) Maori. Nyree and Koi’s mother. Active officer in the PanO military (Crocman Regiment), a very strict, hard, and to-the-point person (which probably does make her a pretty strict and demanding mother). The family has long-standing martial tradition - Nyree’s grandfather was a highly decorated soldier on /Paradiso during the EI Conflict, though Diego has never seen the man there (again, gramps was a Crocman too, which may explain this a bit ;)).

    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Esteban Silva - #1 (~80y) Brazilian. Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).

    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere:

    Glynda “Fairy” Fairgood - #5 (late 40s), African. Human Revolution’s chief mechanic, and pretty inventive at that. Has an obviously cybernetic right arm (equipped with a full tool suite). Has a definite air of a mad scientist about her.


    Friday, October 25th

    Diego calls on Ken and asks him to check the security records from the junior high’s front yard yesterday, early afternoon, then tell him what he thinks about it.

    Ken is quick to find out what happened, and assures Diego that informing him was the best thing to do. If he didn’t, the thing has a chance of coming out on its own, and hitting Diego with the backblast for not reporting the incident. On the other hand, going with it to the principal wouldn’t change much (nothing would, unless Bianca would like to report the case against Alex… which isn’t likely).

    Even then, Alex is unlikely to get anything worse than a disciplinary hearing with no real consequences. The school board tends to hush down incidents to keep a clean official record… Plus, unless Alex went after a really high-profile target, like Evangeline (which she’s too cunning to do), any serious actions against her would be quickly squashed by the army of lawyers her father has on payroll. All this much to the displeasure of director Chennault.

    The chief of security also warns Diego against taking any direct action against Alex - as he says, if they were in Nomad army barracks, nay, any army barracks, a drill sergeant would be bringing all the hells on a perpetrator, and, given the case, everyone else would consider it the right course of events and turn a blind eye. Alas, this is a school, and regulations here are way more strict regarding what the staff might do to a troublesome pupil.

    Though, as Diego puts it, in the army there are regulations too, and you can still fuck somebody up real bad, with a copy of the General Regulations Manual in your hand, as long as you know how to do it - and following it line by line, point by point…

    Still, should he do something, it would be a huge problem for both Diego and Ken - one for doing, the other for knowing and not reporting it - and also probably for Yuni and Eric, if it even looked like they could have been his accomplices…

    As it is, the school is dealing with Alex primarily by outwaiting her. Two more years, and she’ll graduate, becoming someone else’s problem. As long as no teacher is stupid enough to make her repeat a year!

    Still, this brings up another question - was Alex always such a problem? Ken wasn’t around when she was starting the elementary school, but he quickly checks up on the disciplinary / security records, and finds out that she was a rather average kid until about 5 years ago. Then, pretty suddenly, all hell broke loose.

    Diego later catches Alex after her classes, and walks her to the school’s gates trying to reason with her. There’s much talking on his part, and little on her’s… He admits he can’t pin “little Chryse’s flag-duty incident” on Alex, though he is still able to “add two to two together to get four”. He also mentions he’s actually impressed by the fact it was done in a way that didn’t alerted the school’s security program*, which actually makes Alex visibly uneasy. Apart from that, she’s completely unimpressed, apparently she’s been through hundreds of such “moralising” speeches already.

    Just before she leaves, Diego asks what happened to her five years ago. Alex, however, refuses to talk about it. “ - And it’s not as if you don’t have full access to the files, anyway. You can do your own damn research, Coach.

    * While the school grounds are constantly monitored with cameras, it is not practical to have all the the vid-feed under constant human observation, so a pseudo-intelligent image recognition software is used to alert the security when something suspicious or irregular is noticed. Alex managed to hang Bia on the flagpole without causing this system to react.

    Later on, Diego goes to do some serious data-digging regarding Alex. And he soon learns that about five years ago, her mother and younger brother were reported among the victims of a passenger shuttle accident in the orbit of Avalon. Though evidence isn’t quite conclusive, the shuttle is said to have been sabotaged by a Shasvasti sleeper agent (a leftover from the EI Conflict that was “orphaned” by the Shasvasti Continuum). She was left only with her father. Cross-referencing the dates with her school records indicate that a few months after that her grades plummeted, and disciplinary problems arose.

    On a brighter note, crossing the campus earlier, Diego’s attention is drawn to a group of familiar faces. The front of the pack of students is dominated by the colorful, loud, and boisterous presences of harpist Lyra Vidal, the Angels’ own Minuette, and little drummer Katya Malinin, with the dark and mostly silent but smiling figure of trombonist Lupe Ramirez providing a counterpoint (Minnie seems on excellent terms with Lyra and Lupe too - but then she seems on excellent terms with pretty much everyone). Behind them is an uncharacteristically animated Octavia - accompanied not by Patricia, but a similarly excited fellow cellist Fred Ulani. They are deep in spirited but hushed discussion, a constellation of AR screens displaying musical notation, audio-signal equalizers, and other arcane data filling the air all around them. Flushed, grinning, and bright-eyed, they don’t even seem to notice how close together they’re leaning... The rear is brought up by Patricia. She seems the picture of relaxed unconcern, head bobbing slightly to the beat pumping from her headphones… But Diego is pretty sure that behind her shades she’s watching the pair in front of her like a hawk.


    Saturday, October 26th

    The team gathers for weekly paintball practice, now including a new acquisition - Dominique. Diego planned to inform Eva she’ll have a new team member as a classmate, starting Monday, but somehow, in the midst of the trouble with Alex, he forgot to do that. Still, there she is, ready for their first paintball game… Until they notice that although there are enough paintball guns for everyone (especially given that Diego had already got one for himself - a replica of an old-styled Nomad-issue bullpup Combirifle), ‘Nique has no uniform (and no funds, the scholarship allowance doesn’t cover extracurricular activities like weekend paintball games!). Still, Eva offers to take her on a quick shopping tour and buy her an outfit to match the team’s camo pattern. ‘Nique, as is a running theme with her, is hesitant and flustered to accept “charity”, but Evangeline convinces her it’s a “matter of honor”. “ - I have already paid for the gear for all the other girls. It would simply not be fair at all if I didn’t do the same for you.” With that settled, Eva spirits ‘Nique away in her limo, instructing the others not to wait and begin without them - and naming Patricia replacement team captain in her absence, which leaves Patty a little panicked.

    On the field, Yuni temporarily joins the team, as they go against the Spiders. She retires once Evangeline and Dominique arrive from their shopping trip (after only an hour or so, contrary to the fears of some of the others that, having unleashed Eva on a shopping mall, they would be gone for hours on end). Playing as a seven, the team manages to hold their own against eight Spiders about half the time.

    Eva gives Diego a report on the weapon trials he set up in the team’s “homework”, and the girls do some rearranging of their paintball guns based on them. It looks like Patty would be the best candidate for the autocannon, as she’s the one to best make the sniper rifle work for her. Minnie shouldn’t have serious problems adapting to panzerfaust-style missiles, but turns out she’d do better with an SMG than a shotgun for her main weapon. Morgan on the other hand sees an increased performance when given a shotgun - seems the close assault role “gets her blood pumping” better. Also, it is decided they may actually have to give Alex a chance with a Spitfire. With her aggressive style, a light automatic weapon is likely to do well - now that she’s finally learning some restraint and real teamwork. For now she must make due with a combi rifle. The paintball light grenade launcher is taken up by ‘Nique for now. She’s not amazing with it, but can make it work reasonably. Eva herself takes up a shotgun, as a defense weapon mainly, as she’s mostly hanging back and commanding. Octy is perfectly fine with the flexibility of her rifle-flamer combi, no changes necessary.

    On the return drive, as the team takes a nap in the back of the Monster’s cabin, Diego quietly discusses the Alex problem with Yuni. As she puts it, the best and simplest way would be to just bend Alex over one’s knee and give her a proper spanking. Diego replies that while the idea is tempting, and perhaps would even work, he guesses it wouldn’t be a widely accepted method of solving the situation...

    ...That is, unless Yuni was trying to give him a hint about something else…?

    - What? No, Diego, I can’t say that would be my fancy, thank you. Though, if it is yours...?

    - Mine neither, but for a moment I thought you were telling me you are into that kind of stuff. As you know, I can adapt… Ah well, let’s cut it, we have a cab full of teenagers, we don’t want them to hear all that!

    - Oh, by all means, don’t mind me, you two...” - Morgan sits just behind them, and apparently isn’t asleep for once… Looks like the game is up...


    Sunday, October 27th

    Diego spends this Sunday with Yuni, out of town - just like they did a week ago.


    Monday, October 28th

    Diego shows up at school earlier than usual (he has some paperwork to do, plus he wants to work on his motorcycle), only to find that ‘Nique is already there - all over the team’s fabricator (just shy of rubbing herself all over it in gear-head ecstasy, actually). Being an industrial-grade machine, it outperforms the ones she was able to access before by an order of magnitude. Still, she says she’ll keep using her contacts and suppliers (apparently as a way of channeling some funds into the local economy), at least for projects that they can handle... Unlike the one she’s working on now - a major one she’s pretty secretive about. She offers to pay for the materials used for that from the team’s stocks, but Eric just waves that idea away: she’s not going to make a visible dent in their supply.

    Still, Diego notes to himself he should buy a base block or two for the fabricator: his motorcycle is a far bigger project than some gunpla parts.

    Diego is also surprised to see Nyree Rikoriko (accompanied by her kid brother, Koi) awaiting him. She’s somewhat afraid of Diablo (she goes on to apologise again for the question she asked at the history lesson last week), while the cheerfully cheeky Koi is one of Diego’s fans since he was assisting Yuni during the previous term’s PE tests.

    Nyree is interested in joining the team, and Diego gladly accepts her in. There are two formal matters he has to see to later, though - first, while Nyree is in the 2nd year of high school, she’s just 14 years old. Luckily, the regulations don’t specify the age, just school year, but he’ll have to consult that. Second, given her age (and the case of Octavia’s forged parental permit), he’ll have to verify whether her parents are really OK with Nyree joining the team.

    As the team gathers - and learns about the new member - there are some interesting reactions. Minnie, of course, is overjoyed, and throws herself at Nyree in a hug to show that. Morgan is again surprised - the “mega-nerd” being interested in an academic sense is one thing, but actually wanting to join in? Eva welcomes the new team member with her usual tact and style - and completely unexpectedly becomes an object of Koi’s fascination. He’ll be following her with puppy-dog eyes for the rest of the meeting (which Diego finds completely surprising - sure, Evangeline is graceful and pretty, but, being 11 years old, Koi shouldn’t be getting interested in girls yet. Given the fact she’s 5 years older, she might just as well belong to a different species… Oh well. Not his business, after all).

    The last and most significant reaction comes from Alex, who looks overjoyed and acts very familiar with “‘Ree”, calling her a “long time no see friend”, and happily reminiscences about the “fun times we’ve had together”. Something in her voice, her positively sharkish smile, as well as Nyree stiffening and stuttering in response, tells Diego that most likely it was Alex who bullied Nyree back in the day. That, plus Koi getting ready to get into a brawl with Alex (he wouldn’t have a snowball in hell’s chance against her, but apparently he won’t let that stop him).

    “ - Alex, enough.”

    “ - Hey, Coach, but I’m not doin’ anythin’, just hanging’ with me ol’ friend ‘Ree, eh?”

    “ - Narahari, tell that to the horse marines!” [well, the actual expression used more like “I’m the one to fool others, not the one to be fooled”]

    Which does the job of drawing the line. For now at least...

    One more curiosity, is Patricia arriving alone, much earlier than Octavia. When asked what managed to break up the hitherto inseparable duo, Patty reports Octy stayed behind after music practice to “conspire” with Fred. The Academy’s yearly music exhibition is coming up, and this year, unlike all the previous times when she participated solo, Octavia decided to ask her fellow cellist to enter as a duet. Mr. Ulani was quite eager to agree. They’ve been at it, disappearing together to semi-secretly plan and practice their performance, for a few days now. Even Patty doesn’t know exactly what it is they’re preparing, but she’s suspecting it won’t exactly be a “traditional” cello piece...

    The team changes into jumpsuits (there was one extra from the very beginning), and goes out for maneuver and mobility practice - both ‘Nique and Nyree need to get the basics of the Angels’ highly mobile style of combat, and more maneuver practice for the other girls won’t go amiss either. Rikoriko does fine for a beginner, though of course a custom-written driver program will improve it (as soon as Eric can make another one). She was asked to do some gymnastics for the motion capture software for that purpose.

    Alex continues to try and get a few needles into ‘Ree. She is not completely unsuccessful, but the rest of the team (especially Morgan) endeavour to keep her more or less in line.

    Dominique, when asked, says her first day at the new school went fine, though she really has a lot of catching up to do. Still, having full access to Maya, even if “just” for educational purposes, is a dream come true. Though, she needs to maybe ask her mom to write some better spam filter - now, when her comlog is on full access, the amount of advertisement spam she gets becomes hard to cope with. Patty offers to whip something up for ‘Nique on that front.

    Once the girls are gone, Diego calls Nyree’s home, and makes short conversation with her mother, a line officer in the Crocman Regiment. She’s brief, to-the-point, and rather strict. In Diablo’s opinion, she doesn’t need much effort to be pretty intimidating. Even without making a Maori war face.

    She (somewhat eagerly, really) confirms Nyree’s permit for joining the team, and is interested on how her daughter does there. As Diego replies, they’re after her first training session, and so far, she does better in cockpit than most of the players did on their first time (though Nyree was not significantly less likely to trip over her own feet than any of the other girls, once she got the basics down she is noticeably less likely to trip over or walk into obstacles - seems the girl has a very good sense for distances and dimensions).

    Well, seems that getting into TAG-Soft wasn’t Nyree’s own idea. Or at least, not entirely…

    Diego does then check the school records, and isn’t at all surprised to find that it was indeed Alex who used to bully Rikoriko. In the aftermath, Nyree was transferred to another class, and there’s a restraining program put into effect on their comlogs, alerting the staff if the two of them get too close to each other’s location (Nyree - and only her - has the option to turn that off).


    Tuesday, October 29th


    Diego visits “Pills”, on topic of what he has learned about Alex. Dr. Talho is a general practitioner, not a specialist in psychology, but working as a school doc she must have a passable grasp on what goes in the kids’ heads. And certainly a better one than an ex-squaddie has.

    There isn’t anything on the topic in school records (while Alex did receive psychological help, it was handled outside of school). However, when presented with Diego’s observations, existing school records and hard data, she speculates that Alex’s behaviour might be a response to not getting enough attention (primarily from her family). As she observes, it’s pretty surprising, given that she’s the only child left, and theoretically her father should be spending more time with her.

    That, however, is pure speculation.

    But for Diego, that’s good enough.

    Also, ‘Nique can be seen in the hangar, still working on her “secret project”.

    Diego has seen her going to school on her bicycle, even though the scholarship includes an allowance to cover public transport. Dominique explains that she figured she’ll be able to keep the money (as it is simply given away, meant to pay for bus passes - but no receipts are even required to prove that) and just bike around (“Now with my comlog working on full capacity I can do it safely!”). A handy coincidence, as she had to take leave from working at Silva’s, and she needs cash for her modeling projects.

    “Well, ‘Nique, all fine and dandy - until winter comes…”

    “Hmph, right… But I guess I’ll be worrying about it once it comes.”

    He also suggests she might try selling some of her gunpla - with many elements hand-made and real-life functionalities included, they are likely to command a reasonable price (and Eric said after just seeing the blueprints - these would be worth serious money on collectors’ market). However, Dominique turns down the idea on the grounds of the emotional value of her models.

    Yuni visits the hangar, curious about Diego’s motorcycle project she caught a glimpse of on Monday (he intended to show it to her once it is ready, but didn’t made a real secret of its existence), so does Patty (who offers to help with the software for it - not that there’s much to be done there, as the only electronics are those required to make it street-legal: as Diego jokes, you could whack it with a Blitzen, and the only thing required to get it going again would be hitting the kickstarter).

    Yuni actually offers to chip in some assembly work herself. She finds the concept of building a motorcycle from the ground up quite fascinating, and is eager to learn something new - she’s a bike enthusiast from the riding side of things, and hasn’t tried anything technical beyond simple maintenance. And as she says, it will be a fair reversal, Diego teaching her something this time.


    Wednesday, October 30th

    As the team gathers for practice, Ken shows up, accompanied by a freight drone that unloads a number of packages into the hangar. (“ - Ookay, Diego, that is a big one…” - “ - Off you go, Ken, not going to show you what’s inside. You’d think we’re compensating for something!” - ” - Oh, are you?”): the autocannon and Blitzen, each with their ammo supply, have arrived. Still, a SMG-analog for Minnie wasn’t ordered in time, and will have to wait for the next delivery.

    Alex is, of course, attracted to the autocannon, but Diego waves her away “ - Not your style, chica. Not enough bullets in the hopper, too low rate of fire…” “ - But it does pack an oomph, doesn’t it?” “ - Well, indeed…”

    Since the maintenance drones have managed to clear a part of the training grounds, now there is a kill-town (let’s be honest, a kill-house doesn’t really work for TAGs!) available. Time to practice some MOUT tactics, as “urban” playfields are used for TAG-soft quite often. Of course, at least in the amateur league, the structures are single-level only, so nobody will get on top of them and get hurt accidentally falling.

    Minnie tries to find a comfortable carry position for the Blitzen on her Gecko. Patty familiarizes herself with the autocannon (which kicks like a mule! And thus will require a few alterations to the targeting software). The entire team then engages in target practice. ‘Nique is doing fine, while Nyree is a curious bird here: she actually fights against her targeting program. Diego and Eric investigate, and are pretty stunned to learn that Rikoriko’s savant-level mathematical genius is an applied ability! She can - and does - calculate ballistics as quick as TAGs computer, but with superior accuracy (okay, it doesn’t show until umpteenth position after decimal, but with no doubt it is there!), and can actually feel minutes of angle differences in barrel position. Diablo has already seen a number of folks who were able to instinctively apply targeting corrections, but Nyree is the first case he has ever seen of a shooter actually calculating targeting solutions in their head - and doing it on the fly!

    Another custom program will be needed - targeting software to match her skills. Also, Diego notes down to test her (in VR so far) with a grenade launcher: direct fire weapons are easy to correct, but, being able to do the same with an indirect fire one is likely to really make a difference. A pity her TAG won’t be able to load a heavy grenade launcher, but a light one is totally viable. Of course, she could always use a forward observer, but that can be done. First, by outfitting Minnie’s Gecko with an FO suite, and second, by getting some REMs for scout and target acquisition duty.

    While REMs aren’t forbidden in TAG-soft, they are not popular for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they require a lot of supervision from the team - a surplus chassis is not difficult to obtain, but milspec control software allowing for reasonably competent semiautonomous operation in a battle is another kettle of fish. As a result, a player designated as REM controller can’t really concentrate too well on fighting with his or her TAG. Second, they are soft targets: in a game where guns are chosen with TAG-killing in mind, chances of a drone withstanding a hit are really low - they may be harder to hit than a TAG, but what would be a glancing blow for a TAG will put them down but good. And finally, many teams - especially in the amateur league - go for the show, and REMs aren’t showy.

    Well, as long as Diego runs this team, however, he’s not going to mind whether something is showy, or not. If REMs are to give his Angels an edge, then REMs are good. Plus, team’s captain, Evangeline, isn’t much into fighting herself - therefore the plan is to outfit her Iguana with a shotgun for close defense work, and keep it primarily as a C&C TAG. She’ll be then able to concentrate on command duties, and should have enough attention potential left to manage the REMs. A Pathfinder Dronbot-equivalent REM would fit the bill.

    In fact, Diego discusses several ideas with Eric on that day. Apparently the conversation Eric made with Fairy after the game against Human Revolution is going to bear some fruit. One of the ideas is applique armor, meant as a stop-gap measure until the team can send their TAGs for a refit. After all, if you have a humanoid figure, you could dress it in some over-sized flak vest, right…? Naturally, such armor would not be very durable, and thus, while not expensive per set, it would quickly add up to a serious expense. Still, the team should get a good several matches out of it before the cost of replacing the armor after each battle becomes unreasonable when compared to an armor refit. And by then they may finally get a better budget...

    Diego would love to have some counter-detection gizmos on his machines, but TAG-sized camouflage suites are expensive, and maintenance heavy. An idea of a TAG-sized ghillie suit is dropped quickly - while, without a doubt, it would do well, breaking down the shape of an immobile TAG, it would surely be torn into rags when moving in a dynamic fashion.

    Before the team dismisses, there’s a less-serious matter to discuss. The Friday, November 1st, is a day off, being a public holiday. In PanOceania, the Christian All Saints Day got pretty heavily mixed with Anglo-Saxon Halloween, Latin American Dia de los Muertos and several other traditions, all liberally sprinkled with commercial sauce. While Halloween-like trick-or-treat door-to-door routine is not observed (at least on Merlin), costumes and parties are celebrated.

    While Diego already does have an idea for a costume, Yuni suggests for him to don a suit, an idea he takes a liking to.

    The other girls speculate Evangeline will no doubt dress up as a princess. Eva does not deny it, which makes Alex comment: “ - Aw, come on! That’s just boring. You always look like a princess anyway, all graceful, and beautiful, and shit…” While Eva is stumped for a reaction to the rather back-handed compliment, Minnie adds in: “ - Yup, it doesn’t have to be any deep ‘show my true inside’ thing, but try to have fun with it! Do something you wouldn’t normally, just for kicks!” Eva is left with a speculative look on her face...

    Patty intends to spend the holiday at home (she is still grounded) with Octy, watching horror movies. “ - And hiding under the blanket”, as Octavia adds, smirking - curiously enough, it is Patricia who’s getting frightened. Alex takes the opportunity to maliciously imply they are having a lesbian affair. Patty’s reply is: “ - Oh, eww! Hell no.” At Alex’ (rather pointed) questioning of her attitude towards “alternative sexualities”, Patty adamantly assures that: “ - I have no problem at all with girls liking girls, boys liking boys, or whatever other configuration somebody wants to do ‘It’ in. But with Octy we’ve been so close for so long that we’re practically like sisters. It would be like incest! C’mon, Alex, would you consider anything like this with your own sister? Or brother…?

    With a strange face, Alex shuts up. Given what Diego has learnt about her family, Patty must have hit her right where it hurts. Hopefully, it was unintended.

    Also, despite Morgan catching Diego and Yuni “red handed”, more or less, the news still doesn’t seem to have spread. Morgan is not one for gossip, it looks like. But she does seem to be enjoying herself, wearing her ghost-of-a-smirk every time she sees them together… Which proves to be somewhat unfortunate for her. Minnie, having experience reading her own older sister (who is reportedly possessed of a stoic temperament very similar to Morgan’s) notices Morgan’s recent good humor… And completely misinterprets it, much to Morgan’s annoyance, as a sure sign the dark girl got herself a boyfriend! Morgan’s denials are just fuel to Minnie’s joyful fire, and it takes some work to dissuade her from pestering Morgan for the identity of the lucky guy...


    Saturday, November 2nd.

    The team gathers at the hangar to drive out for their weekly paintball game, they, however, come in their Halloween costumes. Diego himself wears a suit, which goes along well with red skin paint, fake beard and horns (some could say he dressed as himself… but he does make one hell of a devil! ;)).

    Apparently Nyree is first on site, as a enchantress, complete with star-spangled cape and pointy hat, a wand, and a grimoire of magic… Until she enters the classroom / briefing hall and finds a fresh cadaver there. And the cadaver arises slowly, loudly demanding “...brainzzzz…” - well, Morgan did choose a costume that goes well with her tendency to sleep anywhere ;) She’s not the only zombie around, as a number of these do infest the warehouse, under orders from Baron Samedi (Eric & his tech assistants). Still, her “zombie wakeup” surprised Nyree really bad.

    Other character include a slasher gothic-lolita, complete with maniac laughter and blood-covered knife she loves to lick (“Raspberry syrup, Minnie?” “Yup, Coach :P”), a somewhat too clean street punk / attempted hobo (Eva turns down the offer of making her attire “more realistic” with some old machine oil - still, her daring to dress down so much makes a big impression), a human-sized Squalo TAG (which apparently is the “secret project” ‘Nique was working on - for once her figure works to her advantage, letting her pull off the gangly look of the RP TAG quite well), two more girls who get initially ridiculed for not following the costume thing… Until someone notices that there’s something wrong about these two - there are Patricia Summers (Octy) and Octavia Moina (Patty), which actually makes for a pretty unnerving effect. A stone statue of an angel is also observed, though as soon as Minnie turns away from it for a moment, it transforms from a praying pose into one reaching for her with claw-like fingers, causing Minuette so scream, jump back and land on her butt.

    - Whoa, Alex! Excellent job on that angel!” - Diego is quick to praise the girl. Which, again, makes her visibly confused.

    As she explains, she recalled the remark about an old TV series that gave Minuette an idea for the team’s name, and dug it out. And she found the creatures (predators which were immobile statues while observed, but came to life and went after their prey if it so much as blinked) very appropriate for the occasion. She also found out that Minnie’s recollection was a bit faulty - the “Angels” in the series weren’t actually “Stone”, but “Weeping”. Still, the “wrong” name is a much better one for the team.

    The company is completed by an Amazon Queen / Jungle Princess (take your pick…), complete with a spear and a leopard-skin bikini. Sure, Yuni fills the suit really well, but the bikini itself wouldn’t get noticed on a beach: for PanOceanian standards, it could be described as “mainstream and rather conservative”. Still, taken out of that context… well, it is a sight to behold!

    A few more moments are given to admire each other’s costumes, then the team is off to the changing room: costumes won’t be practical as field uniforms for the paintball game! Still, Yuni and Diego are going to stay in theirs. Among the others, Morgan leaves her zombie makeup on, changing from a rotting schoolgirl into a rotting soldier, and Patty and Octy are continuing their charade and playing it to the hilt, having now switched paintball gear and uniforms as well.

    Nyree has her own outfit (still with that new smell) and gun, which throws Eva off-balance a bit. Luckily, the uniform doesn’t match team’s camo pattern, so Eva will be able to get the stuff back in order by procuring a “proper” set of fatigues for Rikoriko.

    At the paintball field, Yuni’s costume has a pretty disruptive effect on the opposition, as the male part of the Spiders finds it extremely difficult to take their eyes off Yuni, regardless of the female part hissing “ - Stop devouring her with your eyes, morons! She’s there to disrupt your cohesion, ever heard of psychological warfare…?!”. At this moment Diego chuckles, readjusts his tie, and speaks in the best deep, purring voice he can muster “ - Oh, but why so harsh, dear ladies? I’m sure we could negotiate an agreement you would consider perfectly satisfactory…” - which does the job of similarly stunning the female part of the opposing team. The Devil, naturally, produces a collection of parchments ready to be signed with blood…

    Without further ado, the teams get out into the field. Being at equal strength, the Angels are able to win between 60% and 70% of the games, though with no doubt Diego being able to read Bolo’s movements like an open book (and Bolo, being unable to get his eyes away from Yuni, and therefore think straight, for the most of the time) does influence this a bit.

    Still, what can be observed - Nyree tends to lose her head when under fire (pretty much like Octavia did, before she solved the problem with a mask). Also, she’ll need more experience, but that will come in time.

    Alex is still an aggressive player, but she is no longer charging towards the enemy without any consideration - and therefore manages to survive till the end in a number of skirmishes. Once the games are finished, Diego loudly compliments her on that - and again, this makes Narahari uneasy and confounded.

    After the team is dismissed, Diablo adds a note to her school files - Alex seems to be reacting well to praise. Likely, she suffers from not getting enough recognition and positive stimuli (well, at least that seems to ring with what “Pills” said), therefore - he suggests - she should be given tasks in which she can excel, and then praised when she does.


    Sunday, November 3rd

    Another outing with Yuni. This seems to have became a pleasant routine.


    Monday, November 4th, in the morning

    Diablo comes to his “office” to deal with some paperwork, and is pretty busy, when he hears knocking to his door. Absent mindedly, he just barks “Enter!” and continues filling the forms - just like he did back in CJC - waiting for whoever is there to specify their business.

    It is the Devil that catches his attention - hiding behind an AR window with a terrified grin and poking a clawed finger towards the door. Diego finally looks up.

    Now, they haven’t met before - haven’t even ever been within line-of-sight of each other. But every veteran of Paradiso would have recognised this figure and head of golden hair, even when dressed in civvies (some detached part of Diego’s brain notes the modest blouse and skirt she’s chosen instead of powered armor look quite fetching on her...).

    Leaning against his door frame and looking down at W/O Ibarrez, is Jeanne d’Arc herself…


    [GM: How’s that for a high-impact cliffhanger for you? ^_^]


    Which sums up entry #7.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  9. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #8

    “Taking Care of Business”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #2 - starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed.
    A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is
    available under the link.
    Note #3 - the “#x” notes the episode in which given character made first appearance.


    “Anjos da Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17y) Indian. “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working - so far, so good). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16y) Argentine. Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Lizard TAG.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16y) Italian. “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (2. class, 16y) Australian. Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17y) Polynesian. “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s).
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #6), (2nd class, 14y - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high) Maori - girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad). Joined the team in #7, Anaconda TAG.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16y) Brazilian. Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16y) North American. Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Reactive to the surroundings.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40) Latinoamerican. The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35y) Polynesian. TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Ginevra Chennault - #1 (~90y) Polynesian. School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. To-the-point and strict, but fair. Teaches literature.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29y), Malaysian. PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had recently (entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”...


    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Knights of the Round Table:

    Avalon-based professional TAG-Soft team. Note - Knights’ callsigns (drawn from Arthurian myth, of course) are attached to position / role in the team, not to a particular person.

    Sabra “Arthur” Ortiz - #8 (early 30s) Argentinian (of Central European descent). Field commander of the Knights of the Round Table, and Joan of Arc’s lookalike. Takes (guilty) pleasure in confounding people with her looks, but apart from that, she’s apparently a pleasant person and a professional in her field.

    Ernest “Merlin” Mendoza - (mentioned only) Knights’ combat controller.
    “Lancelot”, “Mordred” - (mentioned only) other members of the team. “Mordred” is the heavy / support position, “Lancelot” is the trooper (knight) position Sabra played at before the previous Arthur resigned.


    Monday, November 4th

    Well okay, there are a few beings Diego would be more surprised to see on his doorstep. An EI Avatar, for example (especially given the fact all the known ones were either torn down by R&D teams, or serve as museum pieces, after being totally gutted to make sure they won’t be moving again no matter what!). But the Maid of Orleans is still rather high on the list.

    “ - Coach Ibarrez, I presume?”

    “ - Well, yes indeed, miss Stanley…”

    Her grin is half amused, half guilty: “ - I guess you’re wondering what Joan of Arc is doing in your office. Well, the answer would be: ‘Nothing’. You see, I’m not her. My name is Sabra Ortiz - or Arthur, if you prefer going by callsign”.

    Now, when one gives the lady a closer look, indeed, she isn’t Joan. Her eyes are green rather than blue, and facial features and skin tone are all off a bit - this stunning blonde comes from South America, not Western Europe. Still, when they aren’t standing elbow to elbow, it is easy to mistake Arthur for Joan. They could have easily been sisters, even non-identical twins (Diego will later learn that Ms. Ortiz wasn’t actually altered to look that way - she’s as natural as they come, her look being considered a quirk of genetics. Maybe not exactly random, as no one - except ALEPH, you can bet - ever managed to trace back all the strands of DNA that made it into Joan’s genotype…).

    - But you still managed to scare the hell out of my Devil, Arthur...”

    She’s been around Merlin on other business, and decided to pay the other TAG-Soft team on the planet a visit. Also, to ask them for a game. As she explains, the Knights of the Round Table maintain a tradition of running an event around Christmas time - sometimes they play a regular match against themselves (four on four), sometimes it is a ‘knightly’ tournament, sometimes they invite some foreign team for a match - raising money for a charity chosen for that year, and also as a publicity stunt. This year they’d be delighted to do it with the Angels of Stone - perhaps as a friendly match, though, of course, it would require a serious handicap to even the odds.

    She also mentions that it would be good to get to know the members of the Angels, should any of them want to go professional after graduation - an amateur team on the same planet is likely to produce some local talent. Especially given their performance in the game against Human Revolution (Diego gets complimented on his use of the terrain, particularly the trick he pulled moving Angels underwater “ - Well, the shoreline was just laying there, I thought it would be a shame to let it go to waste…”) - the previous TAG-Soft team the Academy ran wasn’t even close to being as interesting as the Angels are.

    Not to mention that a few of the current Knights came from the amateur circle, yet some of them, after professional success, started looking down on amateurs. If the Angels put up a good fight, it will be a welcome reminder on their own humble beginnings!

    Diablo wages it out - being a charity event, the game would not bring any direct revenue. However, as a publicity stunt, it would likely raise the Angels pretty high. Especially, if they manage to win against the Knights (appropriately weakened by a handicap - first thing Arthur mentioned was fielding only half of her team). Also, the Angels desperately need combat practice, and the Knights are, after all, the only other team on the planet.

    So, as he informs Sabra, he likes the idea a lot, but he has to consult it “upstairs” to get an official acceptance. The term is loosely agreed as roughly two weeks before Christmas - since the last week is end-of-term and the Angels will have their schedules full with end-of-term exams. And Christmas time is likely to see both parties spending time with their families, or even travelling somewhere for “winter” holidays.

    Which sounds fine, giving the Angels roughly a month to prepare.

    After Arthur is gone (leaving contact info for herself and “Merlin”, the Knights’ coach and controler), Diego calls the principal with the news. She’s all for it. Even if they would have to play on the Knights’ field, it is still far cheaper to transport the team and equipment to the other continent, than off-planet - with their current budget, the Angels can’t afford that at all! And, being a beginner team on a backwater planet, the Angels aren’t going to get a lot of visitors. So it’s definitely a chance they can’t miss: a chance for some good publicity for both team and school, some practice, and, if they do well, for finally convincing the board of increasing the budget!

    So, Ms. Chennault decides the project is a go.

    Diablo is back to the paperwork he was doing since morning. There are order forms to be filled, and budget calculations to be made. He decides he has to cut the team’s practice down to one session in TAGs a week, the other will be done either “nude” (i.e. without TAGs), or in a virtual environment. After all, unless the budget gets a serious increase, running more than a single TAG session a week simply costs too much.

    There is a grenade launcher to be bought for ‘Ree, and Diego has to agree with Eric here - a light one is a waste of effort. Still, Rikoriko’s Anaconda won’t be able to carry a heavy one, so the reasonable option is to swap her TAG for ‘Nique’s Lizard. Having a GL will also open access to specialist munition types, like smoke rounds.

    Minnie needs a SMG analog for close-up work, she does with it better than with a shotgun (at least in sims). Also, two Forward Observer kits - one for Minnie, the other for ‘Nique (who, being the last non-specialized player, is the best candidate for it).

    The recon REMs are scratched for the time being - they are simply too expensive and fall victim of the expense cuts by Diego.

    He also discusses the new projects with Eric. The applique armor is in prototype stage. A TAG-sized ghillie suit was abandoned - while actually affordable, unlike a full built-in camo suite, it’d be too fragile, quickly getting torn to shreds on a moving TAG under fire. Still, Eric came up with another idea: a “one-use” immobile deployable camouflage. It could be carried by each machine in a compact equipment container, deployed for a given situation, and then abandoned on the playing field, to be collected and returned to compact position after the game. Diego likes the concept, asking Eric to run some virtual projects. of that type of cover, suggesting elastic rods as structural elements, allowing the device to be compact when carried, and able to self-deploy once required.

    Eric worries that this type of camouflage would only really be practical in woodland areas, while most TAG-Soft arenas are, in fact, predominantly urban terrain. Diego replies, however, that this is not exactly a problem - you could use a deployable cover that imitates something common in an urban environment, for example a garbage container. Still, it would be a short-lived advantage - after a few first games the opposition would expect it, and likely have a database of the covers used so far in their visual recognition software!

    They keep working on it till the afternoon practice.

    When Diego finally leaves his office, the girls are all there already. They seem to be rather lazy today - save for Yuni and Minnie doing warm-ups in front of the hangar - probably because of the weather, which is getting really warm. Morgan looks to be (no surprise there) asleep on some supply crates. Alex is sitting on the ground in front of her, playing absentmindedly with an unlit cigarette, and looking to be in an exceptionally sour mood today for some reason. ‘Ree and ‘Nique doing some refresher course on science (Dominique still has to catch up with her school material, and Nyree is a walking databank after all), with Eva also participating. Octy & Patty are occupied with some of their musical stuff.

    Though Minnie urges them to get up and get some exercise, they are too occupied to do so, or otherwise not interested. Alex does use the opportunity to make an acerbic remark on Minnie’s figure, and for her trouble receives another “adjusting” nudge (in the form of a gentle but firm kick) from Morgan, who apparently once again isn’t as asleep as she seems...

    (Truth to be told, with the amount of sweets she constantly consumes, Minuette is definitely a bit on the plump side. Overactive, sporty, in excellent physical condition - but plump. The day she stops exercising so much will be the day she most likely starts a fast ride to being flat out fat*. The fact she dropped cheerleading for TAG-Soft doesn’t help, though the weekly paintball games seem to be making up the difference for now).

    • Alex actually called Minnie “The biggest meatball around” (“meatball” - “pulpet” in Polish, a colloquial, derogatory term for an overweight person)
    - Hola, chicas” - which makes some of the team members stand up “- guess who showed up today in my office!” - Diego produces a picture of Sabra Ortiz.

    Dominique and Nyree jump to their feet, both trying to speak at the same time (‘Ree is a tiny bit quicker, and ‘Nique lets her do the talking with a joking bow). “ - Ms. Sabra Ortiz, callsign ‘Arthur’, field commander of the ‘Knights of the Round Table’ TAG-Soft team…” - Diego stops her before she can start reciting all the league statistics.

    - So that’s not Joan d’Arc, then…” - Morgan mumbles, relieved.

    - Indeed not,” - Diego puts up a picture for comparison.

    - Can’t mistake one for the other for more than one look,” - Patty shrugs “ - Unless the observer is a male and doesn’t see anything above the neck…

    - You sound like you’re talking from experience, chica…”

    - Oh indeed, I do...”

    “ - Whoa, Patty, I didn’t know you’re a resurectee too, but chosen a female body for a change!”

    Which, basically, makes Patricia shut up on the topic.

    - But what did the leader of the Knights want with you, Coach?”


    “ - Well, is everybody seated? Then sit down,” - Diego waits till the team takes seats “ - They want to play a game with us.


    - I… Is that serious, Coach?” - Evangeline does have a pale complexion, but at this moment she could make Snow-White green with envy “ - And when? Last time you gave us just one week notice, Coach...” - grumbles Morgan.

    - When, when… Why aren’t you chicas in your gear yet, huh?” - Diego winks, “ - Now, Eva, what are you asking? Yes, seriously, you are going to play against the Knights. No, it’s not going to be a ‘serious’ game. When? We’re aiming at two weeks before Christmas. The Knights are running a charity event, and want us to play them as a part of it.

    - A publicity stunt! I see!” - one could almost see the gears turning in Miss Neve’s head. She might be a teenager, but given her origin, she must’ve been taught quite a bit about public relations work, “ - This is actually likely to work real well!

    - Yeah, and that’s why we have a month to prepare. So, off to the changing room, chicas. We have a training session to run. Oh, Alex, stay a moment, I want to have a word. Let’s step outside.

    - Uh-huh, Coach. What is it now?”

    “ - First off, we’re out of camera view, so you can light up, if you want. I’ll ask Eric to put an empty can here for an ashtray.” - Alex accepts that invitation without hesitation. She must’ve been warned persuasively enough that smoking inside of the hangar is - for safety reasons - out of a question. “ - Apart from that, I wanted to ask what is troubling you.”

    - Why do you think there’s anything ‘troubling me’, Coach?”

    “ - We haven’t exactly met five minutes ago, Alex. I can see there’s definitely something eating you.

    Alex, however, remains stubbornly silent, though she gives Diego a long, hard, judging look, as if she may actually be considering his sincerity.

    - Well, okay, chica. If you don’t want to tell me, I won’t know. In that case, join the rest once you’re done smoking.”

    The training is a force-on-force, with two squads of four and Diego commanding both for a change - an interesting mental exercise. (He does jokingly complain later that he had lost against himself! “ - Well, it means you also defeated yourself, no?” is Yuni’s laughing answer). They make good use of the “urban” environment: Close Quarters Battle (or “black tactics”, as the pros tend to call it) is very, very different from fighting in a woodland terrain (or “green tactics”).

    The girls are doing fine. Morgan, with a shotgun (and some hand grenades - Eric made some props / training ones for her until they can buy real ones) is on the front line where the action keeps her blood really pumping. Patty is still getting used to the autocannon, which she wields as a heavy sniper rifle. Even when she misses, the huge weapon has definite intimidation value! Dominique is doing very well, integrating smoothly as a solid universal trooper, a role not glamorous or flashy, but important as a binding core for any squad. Nyree, however, obviously trying really hard to be useful, puts herself into the role of Eva’s aide - and tends (though in a very respectful manner) to correct every decision Neve makes: adjust position by two meters, cover a sector ten degrees more narrow, etc. While she’s right (apparently her Crocman mother has taught her a lot!), it quickly becomes unbearable for Eva: that’s one hell of a backseat driver.

    Once they’re done for the day, Diego calls both girls over. While Evangeline admits Nyree’s corrections were right, and she followed them (she had taken to heart the advice on listening to her subordinates), she’s visibly frustrated. Still, though obviously very grudgingly, she declares she’s ready to give up the team’s captaincy to ‘Ree, acknowledging her better tactical skill. Diablo, however, disagrees.

    First, he points out, despite Rikoriko’s undisputed tactical expertise, her micromanaging style would be dangerous for the team: they would get used to having ‘Ree think for them, and stop thinking themselves. If such an unit loses their micromanaging leader, they’re as good as gone.

    Second, constantly adjusting everything frustrates people - they might gain a few percent in effectiveness due to adjustment, but their frustration would negate that improvement, and then some. Nyree sheepishly acknowledges - she can get behind all that.

    However, as Diablo puts it, since they have such a talent on the team it would be a shame to waste it. He suggests making ‘Ree a platoon sergeant, someone to take over should Eva get eliminated - or capable of taking command of an element, say, half of the force, and training the team to operate as two fireteams: few TAG-Soft teams are able to display such level of flexibility.

    Which seems to satisfy both girls.

    Diego also asks Yuni if she wouldn’t mind going dancing again on the weekend. Yuni’s in fact very agreeable to the idea of hitting a club together and quite eager for some dancing, both vertical, and horizontal after that, as she puts it. This Saturday after team paintball sounds good.

    She also reminds Diego that the school Autumn Music Festival is on next week’s Friday, and they should be attending a team member’s performance - two in fact, as Octavia will both be playing in the school orchestra’s Autumn Concert, and then performing in the Young Musicians Competition. There will be some dancing at the Festival too, of a more formal type as well as party style, if he’s interested.


    Wednesday, November 6th

    The morning is rather uneventful, and the afternoon brings a TAG-less practice with paintball guns, force on force (with Eva and ‘Ree leading fireteams against each other). The weather, however, spoils halfway through - the rain is heavy and prolonged, and the wood-covered game area quickly turns into a muddy nightmare.

    At one moment, Alex and Eva get into an argument as the first berates and ridicules the other for being afraid of taking a jump over a mud-filled ditch - and both promptly end up taking a dunk in it, accidentally pushed in by Minuette. For a moment, it’s hard to tell which of the mud-covered shapes is Alex and which is Eva, as both let loose an impressive string of invective.

    - Well, what are you doing in there? It’s no time to be rolling around in mud, playing piggy!

    Minnie giggles looking down at them and extends her arms, intending to give them a hand up. Alex and Eva each take the offered hand, share a meaningful look, and, in the biggest display of agreement and cooperation to date, proceed to pull Minnie into the swamp with them.

    A moment later they are joined in the improvised foxhole / mudbath by their fourth fireteam member, Dominique, who dives in on her own, as bullets start flying.

    They forget to cover their rear, however, which allows Morgan to sneak close and hurl a grenade into the foxhole, eliminating all four of them.


    As they climb out, Eva is really, really unhappy. It’s pretty likely that was the first time in her life she took a dive in mud, and now is deeply concerned about all the dirty, nasty things and germs there:

    - Hey, Eva, never had a mud facial mask applied in a spa?”

    “ - But that’s high-quality, mineralized cosmetic mud, not this… This thing! Who knows what does it contain!”

    “ - Well, does a bear shit in the woods?”

    “ - Eeeek…!”

    “ - Chicas, why nobody told me we have bears on Avalon?

    “ - Because we don’t*, Coach?

    • A “bear spider” exists, though, being one of the largest species on the planet, with about 80cm diameter on average.

    Diego declared it the end for the day, and called the team to come back to the hangar (and showers!). Still, Alex manages to to “accidentally” trip Nyree into that mud-filled foxhole.

    On the way back the girls (especially Evangeline) complain about the weather, which makes Diego jokingly promise that he’ll turn down any request for a game on Paradiso: what they’ve experienced today is not much by Paradiso standards. A Paradiso rainstorm is indeed a rainstorm worthy of that name.

    Plus, the bugs. As he says, he really felt for those poor dudes in the infantry...

    - Oh, right, Coach - a bug can’t get into a TAG, right?

    “ - Unless it came on board when you were getting in. Then good luck trying to get rid of it, chica!”

    - Ouch…

    Since Eva is spending a lot of time under the shower (three times as usual, but you know - shampoo, conditioner, hair tonic, what-not: she is genuinely worried about her luxurious, hip-long, ash-blonde mane after that mud bath), Diego takes a chance to again try and get Alex talking (she’s still down on her mood), but she really doesn’t cooperate. She however admits she’s thinking about quitting smoking, which Diablo approves of (hardly surprising Alex, but hey).

    Still, Diego’s behaviour seems to keep Alex a little off-balance, distracting her from tormenting Nyree - mostly…


    Saturday, November 9th

    As the team assembles before the weekly paintball game, Alex can be seen in much better mood (at least, more like herself) despite sporting a prominent black eye:

    “ - But hey, you should have seen the other guy! I stomped his ass.”

    “ - Alex, out of curiosity, was that the same one as last time?”

    “ - Wha? Nope, not that one. I don’t even remember what his name was, anyway, Coach…”

    Minuette muses on the need to name the second transport rig - the one the team uses to ride to the paintball field was called “Monster”, and the name stuck, the other remains unused and nameless. “ - I’ll have to go and visit it, the poor thing must be feeling lonely and sad, abandoned like that!” Which makes the rest of the girls roll their eyes good naturedly at Minnie’s “machine whisperer” antics.

    Dominique takes a moment to show off a mock-up of the applique TAG armor. Eric assures they should have field testing prototypes ready for the practice on Monday. It looks pretty much like a winter jacket, except made for a person some 3,5-meters tall… And possessed of two additional small arms on their chest. ‘Nique can’t resist putting it on, which, of course, ends up looking rather ridiculous.

    - I guess even Minnie’s sweets stash wouldn’t be enough for her to gain enough weight to fill that get-up out…”

    “ - I wouldn’t bet on that.

    As Yuni goes off to ready their ride, Eva takes some time to discuss the results of their most recent round of virtual “homework” with Diego. The projections are very promising: with a HGL and competent FOs, Nyree has the potential of becoming a holy terror, with her savant-level ballistics calculations, able to drop a round on anything, anywhere, anytime the team needs it… At least that what it looks like in the optimal conditions of the sims.

    Minuette meanwhile begins to once more bother Morgan about the latter’s supposed relationship.

    - C’mon, Morgan, you can tell me! Who’s the lucky guy?”

    “ - For the last time, Chryse, there is no guy!”

    “ - Ooo, so it’s a girl then?”

    “ - No, not a girl either…”

    “ - No way, so it’s two guys?! Wow, Morgan! I didn’t take you for the adventurous type!”

    Morgan’s only reply is a facepalm and despairing groan...

    Unfortunately, Alex takes the opportunity of everyone else being otherwise distracted, and proceeds to amuse herself by sticking new barbs into Nyree. She’s questioning ‘Ree’s abilities as a player, and generally aggressively undermining her self-esteem. Which, after all, is a very fragile thing for Rikoriko, given her history of being bullied by Narahari.

    This time she gets more than she bargained for, however, as for the first time ever Nyree stands up to Alex, cutting her off with a harsh comeback, and for a moment Diego is convinced it’ll end up in a brawl. While Alex looks a bit like a cat that has cornered a mouse, and found it surprising that the mouse fights back, Diablo expects ‘Ree to throw the first punch. He’s actually waiting for it, ready to intervene - once the punch is thrown (first, he can’t allow a brawl, second, Alex is a well-experienced brawler, while Nyree is not). He figures that some folks have to learn some things the hard way - which in this case means Alex learning that Nyree is no longer a pushover.

    However, this is apparently not the case. The gals aren’t going to solve the situation with fists. Nyree throws a different gauntlet down: they’ll settle it once and for all with paintball guns. One on one, two “kills” out of three. Here and now.

    - And if I win, you get off of me, Narahari. For good.”

    “ - Yea, ‘Ree, but what’s in it for me? Huh? What do I get if I win?

    Nyree goes silent, and it’s obvious she has to take a moment to gather up her courage and resolve, before she gets out, in a low, dead voice:

    - If you win… We’ll… We can resume our relationship where we left off, two years ago…

    Alex’ mocking smirk morphs into a wide, nasty grin of sharkish delight:

    - Ah, so you miss it after all? Whoa, ‘Ree, didn’t know you were a masochist! Well, works for me! If that’s what you want, I’d be more than happy to oblige!

    To be honest, Diego is disgusted to hear Alex say this. But things have reached a fragile moment: Nyree has mustered her strength to stand up and fight. Should he use his authority to cancel the duel, the matter will stay unresolved further. Which really won’t be healthy for anyone.

    - Well, Yuni, seems like we’re going to have a showdown at high noon there...

    The rest of the team are shocked by the whole development, observing the going-ons mostly in uncomfortable silence. Minuette is most distressed:

    - Must we really fight amongst ourselves? Please, girls, can’t you just get along?...” - she tearfully pleads.

    - Sorry, Minnie. If we had it your way we’d have world peace. But this needs to be dealt with, I believe. No way around it I can see.” - answers Diego.

    Alex takes her Spitfire and marches out, but Nyree needs to equip herself - she borrows Patty’s sniper rifle and accepts the Nisse greatcoat offered by Octavia, though she refuses a ghillie suit suggested by Diego. She then opens her comlog and starts flipping through documents.

    - Hey, ‘Ree, come on, move your ass! What are you readin’ there, the user’s manual?”

    “ - Yes. And safety procedures. Safety is… Important.”

    “ - Pff, yeah! You have your safety, and you have your trigger, what more do you need? Let’s get this over with!”

    Finally, Rikoriko marches out of the hangar and into the playing field. Aerocams are dispatched to follow the duel.

    “ - Chica… Don’t mess this up…” - whispers Diego.

    - You know, Yuni, I haven’t seen that one coming. I thought she was just going to bloody Alex’s nose. I intended to separate them once that happened.

    “ - After it happened?” - she gives him a knowing smirk.

    “ - Sure. Some folks learn best when the knowledge is virtually beaten into them with a stick. Seems that Alex is of that type, too.”

    - Looks that way, yeah.”

    “ - Problem is, neither you nor me could’ve given her that lesson...”

    “ - Yeah…”

    - And Evangeline, you didn’t hear any of that, understood?”

    “ - I am sorry, Coach, miss Iskandar? Have you said something?”

    “ - One smart girl, keep it that way!

    Both girls are finally in position, and the showdown begins.

    First round Alex rushes in, spraying wildly with her Spitfire. Under a hail of fire, Nyree panics and is quickly eliminated.

    - So, one for me. One more and we’ll be back to good old times!

    Well, no-one said the game has to be honest, right? And Diego sure as hell he doesn’t want to see Alex win this one! He opens a comms channel to Rikoriko.

    “ - Chica, enter the treeline where she can see you, then once out of sight turn to the side and take a well-covered position about thirty meters left of that point. Don’t let her know where you are. Don’t stick to a single sniping position.

    - Understood, Coach.

    Alex rushes in again, in her typical reckless manner. However, her target is nowhere to be seen, and certainly not where Narahari was expecting it. ‘Ree takes a few shots that miss, but they manage to throw Alex off-balance. Finally, as Alex decides she better find some cover after all, Nyree manages to put a paintball right between Narahari’s shoulderblades.

    Only one round to go, and Diego keeps instructing Nyree:

    - You shouldn’t be taking more than one shot from a single position. Well, in special cases, two shots. That’s not a rule set in stone, but only very few snipers I knew survived long without adhering to it. Shoot, then relocate. Have an alternate position chosen before you need to get to it, preferably two or three alternate positions, and two or three steps further. And evacuation routes from them, too.

    - Got it, Coach. Think a few steps ahead, plan in advance, relocate after each shot.”

    Alex has noticed that reckless approach doesn’t work well any longer, and she is way more careful now. The game turns into a running battle: Nyree keeps moving after each shot, making Alex guess wildly for where the next one is going to come from - but she can’t score a hit. All the running has worked her stamina down, and she’s breathing heavily: that surely doesn’t help her accuracy. Still, her misses are close enough to keep Alex retreating again and again.

    They finally move to the “urban kill-town” used for TAG practice. And it seems ‘Ree herded Alex there on purpose…

    Alex takes cover in one of the buildings, covering the only door with her Spitfire. For a while, Rikoriko is nowhere to be seen, and Diego considers that she might be wanting to sit Alex out.

    - Come and get me, ‘Ree. C’mon, if you don’t, the best you can get now is a draw. Well? Try it! Of course, I’m covering the only entrance!...”

    “ - Idiot.”

    “ - What!?”

    “ - You’re an idiot. You still think like a civvie. You’re in a room with only one door, yes... But that doesn’t mean there’s only one entrance.”

    “ - Shit!” - Alex spins to face the window behind her, just as a silhouette comes flying in through. She manages to bring her Spitfire to bear, peppering the wall with paintballs as she turns, and put a few shots in.

    But that’s not Rikoriko. That’s just Octavia’s greatcoat, stuffed with vegetation and stones. These windows were way too high up for Nyree to pull that kind of stunt. Narahari, realising she’s been had, scrambles to face the door - and the sound of footsteps - again, but there isn’t enough time. ‘Ree bursts in, and puts the muzzle of her sniper rifle to Alex’ throat.

    A hovering aerocam keeps watching the scene.

    - Well, shit,” - Alex spits, disgusted and defeated, “ - Looks like you win after all, nerd.

    She goes to push the barrel away, but Nyree is having none of that, tightening her grip and thrusting the rifle firmly - and threateningly - at Alex.

    - ‘Ree, the hell you doing?! I get it, you win, congratulations. Could you get this thing out of my face now?...” - Alex backs up a step, confused, and perhaps getting just a little bit worried...

    Nyree follows, keeping the rifle at Alex’ neck, her own face calm and cold.

    - You know, Narahari, we should really thank Eva for getting us such high-class equipment. At maximum power, this model of rifle can send it’s ‘paintball’ sim-round out up to three hundred meters. Care to guess how many Joules of energy that requires at barrel exit? I’ll give you a hint: it’s more than would be needed to, say, collapse a human throat. So, what do you think will happen if I pull the trigger now?...” - Nyree’s voice is low, serious, and deadly.

    Oh shit.

    - Now, of course, there are automatic safeguards against using it on full power at point-blank range. The user’s manual has instructions for disabling these. Not that I’d ever do such a thing, other than for maintenance, naturally. As I said, safety is important…

    Diego chimes in over comlog: “- ...But the safeties could be faulty. Equipment breaks down sometimes. A tragic accident...

    - You’re not serious, right? You’re both not serious!..” - Alex, beginning to see where this is all going, is really sweating now, her eyes darting between Nyree and the aerocam.

    - Does that mean I have a witness, then, Coach?

    - More than that, we have a recording from the aerocam. But that’s not the point. Alex, if she pulls the trigger, you’re going to get a crushed windpipe. This won’t kill you, because we will get you to a hospital on time, promise. But on your way there you’ll be so busy almost dying you won’t believe that assurance at all… And you’ll spend some time in intensive care after that.

    - No way. No way! You’re bluffing, both of you!...” - Alex’ giggle is high and hysterical.

    - Bluffing? Do you know, do you even realise what you put me through? ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me’? What utter bullshit. Whoever came up with that inane rhyme was obviously never a victim of true psychological abuse. And you didn’t stop at words anyway, didn’t you, Alex? All that you did and said… Did you know, because of you, I almost…! Almost... Tried to k-kill m-myself…!“ - Nyree’s voice breaks, and she needs a moment to collect herself again, but the rifle in her hands never waveres. “ - You like causing pain, don’t you? Well, here’s a taste of your own medicine.” - Nyree bores into Alex with ice-cold eyes.

    - You won’t…” - Alex swallows heavily.

    Nyree’s hand tightens on the grip.

    - ‘Ree… ‘Ree, please, no...” - Alex, completely terrified now, openly begs for mercy...

    … Which isn’t granted, as Nyree calmly pulls the trigger.

    - God, please, no!...” - Alex shrieks, paralyzed with terror...

    - Click!” goes the rifle.

    Alex, deathly pale and trembling, half conscious with fear, collapses to her knees, reflexively clutching at her undamaged throat.

    Rikoriko raises the rifle, presenting it to the camera - the magazine was missing the whole time, and as ‘Ree opens the action for inspection, it becomes clear that she pulled the whole operation with an unloaded weapon. Well, apparently Alex in her crib was being given chili peppers to chew on, but Nyree was given guns to play with. And these were no toy guns at all….

    - Nyree, stand down and come back to base. Oh, and take the Spitfire with you, we don’t want it to be abandoned there.

    - Roger that, Coach.

    - ‘Ree?...” - whimpers Alex, looking up, eyes wide as saucers, at her once-victim.

    - I almost can’t believe I was ever afraid of you…” - Nyree’s face holds only disdain.

    As ‘Ree makes her way back, Diego turns his attention to Alex, who’s still crumpled on the ground, staring off into space that Nyree vacated.

    - Alex, you okay?

    - Fuck, I pissed myself…” - mumbles the girl, cheeks burning with humiliation.

    - Well, get yourself up and back to the hangar. Or should we send someone after you?”

    “ - No, I’ll manage…

    As the defeated, shell-shocked bully drags herself to her feet, Diego can’t resist hammering the point home just a tiny bit more:

    - And I hope you realise, Alex. If she really wanted to waste you, all she had to do was aim some 15-odd centimeters higher and push the barrel under your safety goggles… At this range, a sim-round through the eye and to the brain is as deadly as any real bullet.

    Nyree arrives at the hangar, exhausted and shaky, obviously crashing from an adrenaline high. The other girls surround her and offer their subdued congratulations and support.

    - You all right?” worries Yuni.

    - Me? I feel great! I think I’ve wet myself, just a little, and I’ll probably start hyperventilating any moment now, but I’m really great! Best I’ve ever felt since two years, at least!” - Nyree gives a trembling but sincere grin.

    Once Alex arrives, she’s ordered to the showers “to sort herself out”, though Diego also asks Minnie to give her some sweets for “she looks like Death on vacation.” She definitely needs to raise her sugar level, and humbly accepts the candy Minnie offers her.

    - Death on vacation, Coach? I wonder what he would do… Become a farmer, perhaps?

    - Wait, Minnie… “He”? La Muerte is a woman!

    - Really, Coach…? Are you sure?”

    “ - PanOceanians, dammit…”

    - That’s cultural differences for you. :)

    As Alex shuffles past, Morgan captures her with a glare, eyes narrowed with menace rather than the usual boredom:

    - And should you get any stupid ideas, Narahari, about maybe taking some revenge… You as much as touch her, and I’ll touch you. We clear?

    - Crystal.” - Alex nods weakly.

    (Morgan seems to be the only team member capable of beating Alex in a brawl, and Alex knows this. Alex is a way more experienced fighter, but Morgan has the raw strength and toughness to balance it out. Diego guesses that their chances in a stand-up fight would be roughly equal - and bullies like Alex hate equal fights.)

    Yuni checks her comlog’s watch: “ - Well, we’re late. Did anybody think of warning the Spiders?

    Patty rises her hand: “ - I called them, Miss Iskandar”.

    - See, Diego… And we’re the ones supposed to be mature and responsible here…

    “ - Speak for yourself, Yuni ;) ...I know, I know, men mature until seven years old, after that they only grow bigger. And swap their toys for more expensive ones…

    Once Alex gets out of the showers (which takes her quite a while), the team is ready to move out - they arrive for the game about a hour late.

    The girls are pretty down on their spirits, which doesn’t go unnoticed by Bolo:

    - Diablo, is there something going on with your team?”

    “ - Well, we had a really bad furuncle there, Bolo. It had to be cut open, and we managed to do it today. For now, it hurts and drains, but I guess we’ll get better in the end. You know, there are things that need to be cleaned.”

    “ - I see.”

    They proceed to play, but the morose disposition makes the team lose more times than they win on that day.

    Alex, still visibly pale and shaken, is on her best behaviour, obeying commands without question, playing carefully, staying mostly silent and wholly non-confrontational and non-acerbic, and demonstrably going out of her way to remain within arms’ reach of Morgan and away from Nyree.

    The day at the field is concluded with the traditional campfire, but the gathering is brief: the Angels are obviously not in the mood today. They pack up and leave, but not before Diego can notice Alex sneaking looks at Nyree when she thinks nobody can see her. There’s a blush on her pale face when she does it, but weather it’s shame, rage, or something else entirely, Diego can’t tell, Alex’ face otherwise unreadable.

    Back at the hangar, after the team dismisses, Diego finds Alex making use of her “smoking lounge” - apparently, the plan to quit smoking is currently on hold - with a clouded look.

    - You okay, chica?”

    - Well, Coach, you have access to all the school files, right? Tell me, did Rikoriko really make a suicidal attempt?

    - I can’t really tell you, Alex. School files cover only what happens at school, and that information isn’t in there. But from what I know, I believe she either actually has, or was very close to it…

    - Shit. I could really use a drink right now…

    - Well… I can only offer you that alcohol-free beer we had at the campfire…” - he gets a disgusted look “ - Yea, I know, it’s like having sex through a rubber, but it is the best we have at the moment…

    Once he’s done with Alex (who heads home… hopefully), Diego is ready to catch up with Yuni. They had plans to go dancing, but after today the mood is spoiled - regardless of the position the dancing would be done in.

    “ - What I feel like now, is I’d like to get drunk today, Diego. You in for a few beers?”

    “ - As they say on Tunguska, Yuni, ‘vino, ano na radost’ nam dano, vodka, ana na zalost’ jest’ sładka’...”

    - I’m not Minuette, Diego. I can’t speak Russian…”

    “ - Sorry. It’s ‘wine we were given for the joy, vodka, it is sweet for the sadness’... And I say, today is a day for vodka.

    “ - Yeah, no argument here. Let’s go and get wasted.”

    Which they proceed to do.


    Which sums up entry #8.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  10. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #9

    “Playing it by Ear”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #2 - starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed.
    A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is
    available under the link.
    Note #3 - the “#x” notes the episode in which given character made first appearance.



    “Anjos da Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17y) Indian. “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16y) Argentine. Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Lizard TAG.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16y) Italian. “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16y) Australian. Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17y) Polynesian. “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s).
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #6), (2nd class, 14y - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high) Maori - girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Joined the team in #7, Anaconda TAG.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16y) Brazilian. Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16y) North American. Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40) Latinoamerican. The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Felipe Ramos - #9 (late 40s), Brazilian. Music teacher, head of the Academy music department, and conductor for the school orchestra.
    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s) Hawaiian. Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29y), Malaysian. PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had recently (entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”...


    Students:

    Ilya Malinin - #5 (though mentioned earlier) (2nd class, 17y) Russian. Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Koi Rikoriko - #7 (5th class elementary school, 11y), Maori. Nyree’s younger brother, with some serious attitude. Despite being a kiddo, he’s very protective of his sister. Also, his first encounter with Eva seems to have resulted in a case of puppy love on his part…
    Yekaterina (Katya / Katyusha) Malinin - #4 (3rd junior high school, 14y) Russian. Sister of Ilya, plays drums in the school’s orchestra, and is in the junior division cheerleader squad. Minuette’s friend. Nobody actually uses her first name in full form. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.


    “The Peanut Gallery”

    Caught in short glimpses, to be fleshed-out when / if they make a full appearance:
    Lyra Vidal - #5, (16y) Chilean. A harph player, another of Octavia’s orchestra mates. Somewhat maniacal, extreme sports enthusiast.

    Bonnie Rose - #5, (16y) English. Lyra’s girlfriend, always dragged in her wake, and embarrassed by the other’s manic antics. Cooking club star.
    Lupe Ramirez - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #7) (2. class, 17y) Argentine. Trombone player in the school’s orchestra (which makes him Octavia’s colleague). Seems to be a silent, reserved type. Goth styling.
    Frederic (Fred) Ulani #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #7) (1. class, 16y) Polynesian (genetically, Caucasian-Polynesian). Another cello player in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate.


    Team Members’ Parents:

    Leila Torres - #6 (early 30s), Argentine. Atek, Dominique’s mother, came from Acontaciemento. Early motherhood ruined her educational plans, as a result, she works as a technician in a drone factory to make end meet. They’re very close with Dominique.
    Roberto Moina - #5 (early 50s) Brazilian. Octavia’s father. Easily irritated and very over-protective towards his daughter (which may be related to some accident that affected the family in the past). Has the dangerous looks of a high-class gangster, but melts completely in the face of his “little angel”.
    Sylvia Moina - #5 (late 40s) Brazilian. Octavia’s mother. More level-headed and calmer than her husband, but no less caring.
    Emma Summers - #5 (middle 40s) North American. Patricia’s mother, a corporate with shark-like demeanor.
    Steven Summers - #5 (middle 40s) North American. Patricia’s father. Interstellar trade specialist. Laid back, unkempt fellow Diego initially took for an artist of some kind.
    Clyde Chryse - #9 (middle 40s) Australian. Minnie’s (and Bia’s, and Frankie’s) father. Very tall and gaunt. Severe and humourless-looking but surprisingly nice. A food technologist, with managerial specialty.
    Vivian (Vivi) Maybel Chryse - #9 (late 40s) Australian. Minnie’s (and Bia’s, and Frankie’s) mother. Short, plump, and energetic. She visibly vibrates with positive energy (looks like we know where Minnie got her style…). Somewhat fussy. By trade a chef, specialized in pastries.


    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Dorothy Smith - #9 (likely late 30s), British. A member of the Neve family’s staff and/or security detail, and subordinate to Roger. The name could suggest some relationship to Roger, but more likely is just a cover.
    Roger Smith - #2 (early 40s), North American - Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard.


    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere:
    Fio “Shy” Emeri - #5 (18y) South American. Line player in the Human Revolution team, and their “bad apple”, never seen without her trademark balisong knife. Her demeanor seems to hint some connection to the Observance. Gecko TAG armed with an assault pistol and a balisong sword. Exotic mod: pink hair. In actuality, her callsign is not ironic: she’s really very shy, and uses a slightly deranged, intimidating appearance and attitude as a way to avoid unwanted interaction.

    “Frankie” Chryse - #6 (mentioned only so far) (20y), Australian. Minnie’s and Bia’s older sister. Graduated the Academy and went on to study environmental engineering and geology at the Bourak Institute of Planetology. Reputedly possessed of a stoic temperament similar to Morgan. “Frankie” is no doubt a diminutive nickname in the same style as her sisters’ and mother’s.


    Saturday, November 9th, late evening and night

    Yuni and Diego leave their rides at the Academy and hit the town by taxi. It is a drinking night, and a sea of hard liquor is used to get both of them wasted. Really, really wasted.

    Though the first order of business, when they’re still (mostly) sober, is Yuni asking:

    “ - So, how did you know?”

    “ - Know what?”

    “ - That little Rikoriko was bluffing?”

    “ - I didn’t.”

    “ - ...Oh.”

    “ - See, I was sure she was serious. So either I could play along and hope Alex will back down, or…”

    “ - Or the shit would hit the fan, and we would be having seats in the front row…?”

    “ - Exactly.”

    “ - Honestly, I was panicking! I thought about running there to stop Nyree, but I didn’t think I’d make it.”

    “ - I thought about it too, just intended to grab a TAG for it. But it made no sense. There just wasn’t time: none of us would make it there faster than it would take her to pull the damn trigger.”

    “ - You were right, of course, we could have had a trauma team aerodyne there in minutes. They’d have airlifted Narahari in a jiffy, probably had her stabilized before reaching the hospital, even. Wouldn’t have mattered a damn where our jobs were concerned. The TAG-Soft program would go down… Civil charges... The shit-storm would be a thing to behold!”

    “ - Which made it all the more important for Alex to see the point without Nyree shooting her.”

    “ - We could still get in tons of trouble. I doubt Alex will blab to her dad, she seems too proud. But depending on what, if anything, the others say outside practice…”

    “ - Whatever happens, happens. We get no say in it, so no use worrying about it.”

    “ - I guess…”

    That fatalistic tangent done with, they proceed to some serious consumption. Luckily, Yuni happens to be the type who gets merry and giggly when drunk (Diego keeps mostly serious, though his legs and then tongue are hard-hit with booze), so the mood is raised quickly. The topics discussed cover stuff like what will happen if they ever get off-planet with the team: in some jurisdictions (like Corregidor and most modules of Bakunin) the girls who are 16 years old would be legally considered semi-adult, allowing them to legally purchase alcohol and many popular drugs. Which could mean trouble, but also likely some pretty interesting observations. Also, they wonder how Alex does when she’s drunk… And what does she drink. Yuni suggests moonshine, but Diego waves that away: she might be the bad girl around, but she couldn’t stomach a real moonshine. Like the one he brew during the Paradiso Conflict using sweet pudding (from field rations) as a mash base. “ - Y’know, sugar. Need’t for fermentation. Lucifer’s beard, what an awful stuff it was. But it had a kick…

    Yuni is surprised by such an application of sweet pudding, though Diego assures her it wasn’t the strangest concoction around: one guy from Bakunin used to make a Shasvasti infusion. That is, infuse spawn-embryos in high-volume spirit. Tasted really awful…

    - But y’know, Shasvasti’s yer enemy, so down the hatch with ‘em!* ...Plus, it hit like a maglev train.

    • well, this makes more sense in Polish, being a reference to an old anti-alcohol slogan “Alcohol is your enemy”, later corrupted by adding “so pour it in the face”, though “pour” here can mean both filling something with a liquid, and (colloquial) beating somebody up. So - alcohol is your enemy, therefore destroy it - by drinking it ;)
    Still, that’s too much for Yuni, and she finds a clever way to change the topic.She’s happy to find the Ariadnan proverb about vodka being sweet for sorrows to be true. Even though, as Diego observes, they carry no Ariadnan liquors in the bars they’ve visited that night. Ariadnan alcohols are pretty raw, straight and unrefined.

    At one point Yuni asks Deigo’s opinion on Sake. Said opinion turns out to not be complimentary. No Sake for them today, then. Just as well, as Yuni says, as she has some mixed memories associated with that particular spirit…
    (hint, hint).

    They both get really seriously pissed, but both of them are mature enough and know their limits, so the avoid making a nuisance of themselves with no effort. Once they’ve had enough, they take a taxi and get to Yuni’s place, where they proceed to sleep together - in the strictest literal sense this time.
    (^_^) But not before taking the anti-hangover pills, God bless the chemists!


    Sunday, November 10th

    Diego wakes up first, but he finds Yuni, instead of being in her usual spread-eagle sleeping position, to be practically wrapped around him, entangling him with her limbs. Getting out of bed without waking her up seems impossible… Then again, he’s not in a hurry anyway.

    A few hours later (in the early afternoon) - that is, after the second part of anti-hangover medicines, a long shower
    (with “activities” ^_^) with Yuni, and a breakfast (he still didn’t have that much chance to work on his cooking skills, but at least he can now offer more assistance than just slicing vegetables) - Diego is ready to make some calls. As he explains, he gave the girls a night to “sleep with the new situation”, but now he has to talk with them. Yuni gets out of the comlog’s reception field, letting him do his job in relative privacy.

    Nyree is first on his call list. She answers promptly after the second ring, all proper and polite… And dressed in a shirt in a truly eye-bending bright-violet tribal pattern. Diego expresses his concern about the events of yesterday:

    - Remember what you said? ‘The best I’ve ever felt...’?

    He spares no effort in making a point of how that kind of pleasure can lure people into becoming not unlike Alex, and apparently Rikoriko understands the danger well enough. She assures Diego she’s not planning to indulge in any more of such activities. Far as Nyree is concerned, the matter with Alex is concluded, and if the latter will keep her part of the bargain and not harass the former anymore, then nothing more need come of it. Nyree plans to approach their future interactions professionally, and certainly not planning to now emulate Alex’s style, in regards to Alex herself, or anyone else.

    Diego ends the call satisfied that Nyree shouldn’t “turn to the Dark Side”... But he still resolves to keep an eye on her, just in case, at least for a while.

    Alex is second, and it takes her quite a while to pick up the call. Apparently, she has no problem answering in just her underwear… Though, given her party outfit, Diego has already seen her wearing (slightly) less, and he remains resolutely un-shocked.

    Clearly she’s been drinking hard that night (as Diego comments “ - Alex, you look like something a drakomon dragged in, but eventually decided not to risk eating...”), plus didn’t have the experience and common sense Yuni and Diego did (including taking the pills before falling asleep). She admits of mixing several types of alcohol.

    - Lucifer’s beard, Alex, you never mix alcohols. Daddy never taught you that?”

    “ - …” - the answer is heavy silence.

    - Well, don’t, okay? ‘Cause that’s how it ends… Better yet, you don’t know how to drink? Then learn, before getting so smashed.

    Apparently the day before she was made to understand what a monstrously gigantic asshole she was - and she seems to be reconsidering it.

    She’s also somewhat unsure about Diego’s intentions: “ - You’re a hard one to figure out. I could almost believe you really care…

    (Interesting note: speaking with him over the comlog, Alex addresses Diego with informal singular “you”, rather than “Coach” like all the team members do, including Alex when at school / with the team.)

    Alex in her present state is not the most communicative, though she does assert, taking a strangely principled stance, that she intends to keep to the terms of her bet with Nyree, and not raise a stink about how Rikoriko threatened her:

    - Whatever else I may be, I won’t be no snitch, and I won’t be no liar...!

    Diego leaves her to nurse the (physical and moral) heartless killer hangover.

    Evangeline is third, though the call is first answered by one Ms.(?) Dorothy Smith, a member of the house staff (a curiously pale and poker-faced individual - Diego could almost peg her for some kind of android...). Still, Diego is someone she knows about, so he gets switched thru to Eva - who turns out to be practising paintball in the residence’s grounds with her security personnel. She appears crawling under a bush, in full combat gear, beret, face paint, and all.

    Diego stresses to her that as team captain, she has to have an eye on everybody, and make them work as a unit. And Alex, difficult and high-maintenance as she is, will be far more useful to the team if she’s treated well - this is a part of the human management skills Eva is to develop as the leader (as she observes, that’s about what her father said when the subject of TAG-Soft came up. Diego gets an impression that Mr Neve has a service history of his own).

    Evangeline resolves to approach the matter of Alex professionally and try her best as officer to resolve the issues in her command, so Diego leaves her to resume her wargame. (Wonder if her bodyguards relish the chance to legally shoot at their employer?...)

    Fourth call is Morgan. Looks like Diego interrupted her early afternoon nap - no surprise there (though it is a bit startling to see her dressed in a simple t-shirt instead of the sharp pressed dress shirt and tie she literally always wore when he’s seen her before). Diablo thanks her for taking care of restraining Alex so far, but also points out Miss Narahari will need friends really bad. Sure, he cannot force friendships, but he can point the issue out to Morgan, and voice his hopes that she won’t be writing Alex off totally based on her behaviour up to date. As he mentions, Alex’ mind is pretty messed up, and some of it comes from the lack of friends.

    Morgan says can’t promise much - most of it will depend on Alex and how she acts from now on anyway - but she resolves to at least try to give the (hopefully former) bully a fair chance. Diego can’t ask for more, so ends the call satisfied and lets Morgan go back to her nap.

    His self-appointed “morale officer”, Minuette, is fifth. Diego is surprised to see her surrounded by little kids. As it turns out, Minnie volunteers at the St. Florence Rorke Children's Hospital… And she already made her charges aware of who Mr. Diablo is (and of his tragic lack of a tail :P). Anyway, he asks Minnie to take special care of Alex - who perhaps doesn’t look like she wants to have any friends, but actually needs some kind souls around her. Thank you, lucky stars, for Minnie, who’s more than ready to be friendly (and share her supply of candy!) with anyone! Never fear, coach! Minuette Diane Chryse is on the job! Speaking of job, duty calls (in the form of a little pigtailed blonde tugging on Minnie’s sleeve to ask if it’ll be much longer, cos’ she needs to visit the little girls room...), so Diego leaves Minnie to it.

    This, however, makes Diego wonder if he could persuade Alex to work as volunteer alongside Minnie.

    He decides against calling the remaining team members (‘Nique, Octy and Patty), as they don’t seem to be involved in the problem as much.

    Once that part is done, Yuni and Diego leave for some motorcycle practice.

    Diego estimates it will be somewhere between one and two weeks more till his own ride is ready.


    Monday, November 11th

    The team gathers for suited-up training. Patricia is alone again - Octavia, as is lately customary, stayed behind to rehearse their music competition entry with Fred.

    Nyree once more brings her brother, Koi, who wanted to see the team and their mecha again…. And absolutely not, of course, to just see Evangeline, right? Eva really, really doesn’t know what to think about him and his puppy-like devotion...

    Alex shows up, still looking slightly out of it, heavy things obviously still on her mind. She spots Nyree, in her customary study “coven” with Dominique and Eva, and heads her way. Before she can reach Rikoriko, however, her way is blocked by little Koi. The boy interposes himself, glaring up at the much larger Alex, fists clenched, the chubby purple cartoon dragon on his t-shirt imitating its owner’s hostile demeanor.

    For a moment, Alex can just stare, dumbfounded.

    - ‘Scuse me, squirt, but I’d like to have a word with your sis, there…

    - As if! Ware up to me, you wouldn’t come within a hundred meters of her, let alone get to ‘have a word’! You’ve had enough ‘words’, creep. Get. Lost.”

    Alex blinks down at Koi, flabbergasted speechless. Everyone is now paying attention to their little confrontation, the tension in the air palpable.

    - You do realize, smallfry...” - Alex says slowly, in a low, flat voice, her face unreadable, “ - ...If you really tried to stand in my way, you’d be a wet stain on the pavement in seconds… Right?”

    “ - Y-yeah…” - Koi gulps, visibly nervous now.

    - But you’d still try anyway.” - It’s not a question. “ - For her.

    - Yup.” - is Koi’s unhesitant reply.

    Alex takes a slow step closer to Koi, looming over the boy, her face still stone, eyes shadowed. The little guy begins to cover, but immediately catches himself, stiffens his spine, and crosses his arms in a pose half defensive, half defiant. He’s visibly terrified, yet refusing to back down.

    Alex’ hand begins to rise.

    Several people begin moving to try restrain her, foremost Morgan, but they won’t be fast enough. Diego would make it… But decides not to. He has much more experience reading body language, as relating to fighting, than anyone there… And realises Alex is very much not throwing a punch.

    Alex’ open palm comes down gently on top of Koi’s head, and she affectionately ruffles his hair (destroying his green-dyed mohawk crew-cut in the process).

    “ - Good man.” she whispers, voice choked with emotion.

    Alex grins at Evangeline:

    - Y’know, Princess, I wouldn’t write him off just yet. He’s got the spark in him. Sure, now he’s just a squirt, but in a few years… If I were you, I’d keep my options open, know what I mean?” - her tone is half-mockingly jockular, but to Diego, Alex sounds very much like someone desperately trying for levity to disguise how close they are to breaking down in tears.

    - Uh… Thanks, I guess… H-Hey, my hair!”

    “ - Now stand aside, kiddo. I really just want to have a word with your sis, ‘kay? ‘Ree, if you will, let’s step in front of the hangar?”

    As the girls walk out (Alex’ intention is to move out of hearing range, but remain in sight, to alleviate any worries as to her intentions towards Nyree), Diego suggests to Koi that a more durable mohawk could be made by applying sugary water to his hair. All the fancy chemicals available, but old-fashioned methods are often still the best.

    They do their conversation unheard… Until, at one point Alex exclaims:

    - T-that’s fucked up!

    She’s clearly shocked and dismayed, and it looks like she’s trying to reason with Nyree about something, even going as far as pleading. The other girl, however, is clearly having none of it, refusing to budge on whatever issue they’re having, or even discuss it further. They eventually return, Alex unhappy and defeated, Nyree resolute.

    Rikoriko also takes the opportunity to deal with one final matter:

    - ‘‘Ree’ is what my dad calls me. And my brothers. And my friends.” - she declares firmly.

    - ...And I’m none of those. Right. I get you... Nyree.” - concedes Alex meekly.

    Diego makes a mental note to also address Nyree with full first name from now on.

    Minnie, her timing impeccable, offers Alex some candy as a pick-me-up, which is accepted with awkward but sincere thanks.

    At that point Octavia finally arrives, almost late for the practice. She’s actually skipping and singing to herself happily, at least until she notices everyone is watching. She blushes heavily and tries to hide behind Patricia, which doesn’t work too well, as Patty is the one giving her the biggest teasing grin. Apparently the practice session with Fred went pretty well. Did they make some sweet, sweet music together?
    (^_^)

    The team finally moves out to the practice field.

    It is worth noting that from this point on, Alex no longer picks Rikoriko as the main target of her acerbic comments - these get pretty evenly distributed among the whole team. And there’s noticeably less of these, and they are also less nasty, closer to what could be considered friendly trash-talk.


    Wednesday, November 13th

    Luckily a pretty uneventful day, save for Octavia being late again. The training for today is virtual reality games, the team honing their skills in MOUT (military operations in urban terrain).

    First, however, Diego voices the idea of pulling another publicity stunt - a visit at the St. Florence Rorke Children’s Hospital. Everyone seems OK with the project, which makes Minuette very happy... Save for Alex, who promptly refuses:

    - A hospital? No. Not happening. No fucking way.

    She refuses to be persuaded, or to even explain her negative reaction, even faced with the full force of Minnie’s adorable pleading puppy-dog pout. Finally however, she concedes to fill Diego in on her problem - after the two of them step outside. As Alex reluctantly explains (lighting up a cigarette - the plan to quit smoking is not doing so well with everything that’s been happening lately), she is afraid of hospitals, since her brother died. He passed away at St. Florence’s, actually. While her mother was killed on the spot, the rescue service managed to get her brother to the hospital, and he spent a month in intensive care, before eventually passing away, never awaking from the coma.

    So, Alex doesn’t want to go to the hospital. Fullstop.

    As Diego sums up - that’s a phobia. As such, it ain’t nothing rational, therefore he’s not going to persuade her out of it. However, he points out, they are going to take their gear, TAGs and transport rigs, so someone will have to stay with the stuff. He would like to see Alex going with the rest of the team, but if she does, he won’t be asking her to get anywhere but to the gate itself. Every step further would be her decision.

    - Besides, Alex, I’d like you to consider taking it to a therapist. Not saying you have to go, merely you should think about it.”

    “ - Go to a head-shrinker…? Yeesh.”

    “ - Yeah, I know, I hate these guys trying to get into my head. Had to do my time with them too. But you have many problems you could do without. So, perhaps ask your dad to pay for a good one, huh?” - though that last suggestions gets him a stony silence again...

    Once they’re back, Alex grudgingly concedes that she’ll at least think about going with. For which she’s reworded with a flying tackle-glomp from the overjoyed Minuette.

    - Cool your jets, Minnie. She said she’ll consider it, she hasn’t agreed just yet.

    Diego happily drops most of the preparations on Evangeline, as an exercise in logistics and diplomacy.

    One more, happily drama-free, note today, is Octy revealing that she’s swapping e-mails with “Shy” Emeri. She even got a pict of Fio in her “civvies”. Indeed, the difference is startling - if not for the mane of pink hair, nobody could identify that shy, sweet, unassuming girl as the crazy leather-clad chica with a balisong knife they’ve met…

    Fio decided to follow Octy’s suggestion, and acquired a musical instrument - a keytar - and started practicing. She’s finding the new hobby quite fun, though she doesn’t have all that much time to devote to it, what between TAG-Soft and her own schooling: she’s studying with an aim to become a “vet”, as they euphemistically call it on Bakunin - a bio-engineer specialized in designing, “assembling”, training, and/or taking care of, custom creatures. There’s even another pict, of “Shy” with her current “school assignment” - an engineered animal she’s supposed to take care of. It looks to be a white bunny, one made to look rather cartoonish and unbearably cute, by the name of, coincidently, “Angel”. And, as far as they can read it’s “face”, Diego thinks the rabbit has the looks of someone who would very much like to pull out a switchblade and start slitting throats. Hopefully, Fio will be okay…

    “Shy” also reports her teammates “Animal” and “Trouble” assembled - and modeled - some prototypes for cheerleading uniforms, for the cheer routine the “Revolution” ows the “Angels” when they next meet. Those were apparently quite… Eye-catching. No picts are included, however. Fio, not knowing New Avalon’s specific regulations and attitudes, but expecting them to be stricter than Nomad ones, didn’t want to accidentally land her pen-friend in trouble, with her parents or the law, for possession of teenage smut...

    After practice, Yuni, with a mischievous smile, informs Diego she’ll be picking him up tomorrow at 11:00, for the Music Festival. Well, Diego expected to be the one doing the picking up. But he’s nothing if not adaptable, and certainly not so proud or “macho” to insist on the traditional procedure. However, if Yuni is the one doing the picking up, that means they’ll most likely be riding her Beast there. He wonders what she’s planning to wear to make that possible. At least it’s a semi-formal event, so no tux for him.


    Friday, November 15th

    Time for the Academy Autumn Music Festival. It’s a big, whole day event and school function, starting at noon, so no classes today.

    Yuni rings Diego’s doorbell promptly at 11:00, grinning ear to ear. She’s certainly making the most of the semi-formal nature of the Festival, turning up in a curious ensemble: shorts under a two-piece short-front-long-back skirt, a zip up sleeveless crop top, and high-top sneakers (very fancy and dressy ones, but still), all in deep red pseudo-leather. It’s not a ball-gown, that’s for sure, but then, it’s not a ball they’re attending. And it’s not like she doesn’t look damn fine.

    The festivities kick off big-time, with a concert of the school symphony orchestra, with senhor Felipe Ramos conducting. They perform classical pieces (well, considered such in the 23rd century), starting with a full symphony. Diego finds it somewhat boring, though he can see the skill behind the performance. Yuni does say they are considered the best student orchestra of Merlin, one of the best of Avalon as a whole.

    The orchestra roster of course includes several known characters like Octavia, Katya, Lyra, Lupe, and Fred, so it’s interesting to see them in action, at least (tiny Katya wrangling the huge orchestra drums is a sight indeed). Octy and Lupe perform solos, and their skill is undeniable.

    Diego notes the facial expression Octavia wears when playing the cello - it’s the same deadly-serious look of laser-sharp focus he’s seen many times, on her TAG’s comm-channel.

    After the concert is finished, the free-form, open part of the Festival commences. Most of the school grounds and buildings were transformed into a mosaic of smaller concert halls, band scenes, and dance floors, both inside and open air, with resting areas and cafes scattered among them. There are musicians, amateur and professional, locals and guests, performing live everywhere, in all possible numbers, ensemble configurations, genres, and styles. The guests - students, parents, and other invitees - are encouraged to mingle and move around, enjoying any and which performance in any way they please.

    The Academy Young Musician Competition starts immediately in one of the halls, but it’ll be about two hours until Octavia and Fred’s turn. So, Diego’s idea to go dancing with Yuni, while delayed for a week, finally comes to fruition. Through the afternoon and evening, they give each other quite a workout with various lively dances, starting with Argentine tango (which is more lively and, let’s say, aggressive than the toned down “sports” tango you usually see. Then again, for Diego this and several others are popular “folk dances” he knows from home).

    There are several other familiar pairs on the various dancing floors. Senhor & senhora Moina can be seen, so can senhor & senhora Summers.

    Minuette (in a painfully pink, frilly, girly party dress, with a cute little decorative hat sitting at a jaunty angle on her curls) intercepts Diego and Yuni, and introduces them to her parents, senhor & senhora Chryse. They turn out to be a very pleasant couple, if a bit concerned that the two of their three daughters that are still on Avalon are now both crazy about TAG-Soft. (Bianca was hard to keep up with when all she did was streak around on a skateboard - one shudders to think what she’ll be like roaring around in a TAG… At least they still have over two years to get ready for that.) Though, Minnie quickly find an excuse to escape when her mum switches over to fussing about her relationship with Ilya...

    Dominique is sad to inform, her mom wasn’t able to secure a day off to attend.

    Patricia happily announces that, though her grounding officially ends only on the coming Sunday, the Festival being technically a school function, she got a special dispensation from her mother to DJ one set today, so she’ll be dropping some beats, and invites everybody over later to her own dance floor.

    Even Morgan takes the opportunity for some dancing, though, true to form, she’ll spend about as much time napping in various chairs as twirling on the dance floors.

    Morgan and Dominique, seeing each other dressed in their full gala school uniforms (as many students did instead of anything more fancy for the semi-formal event), joking share a high-five and declare themselves the ones wearing the pants in this team (they both prefer the “unisex” pattern uniform, with pants instead of a skirt).

    Diego takes a moment to see if all of his students are dancing and not left alone. He’s especially concerned about ‘Nique and Alex - one is a new student with difficult social background, the other is a well-known troublemaker after all. Luckily, there seems to be no trouble on that front.

    Still, he asks Yuni’s excuse for one dance with Alex (which is granted, “ - Assuming you won’t mind either if I’ll take this one with Ken then, okay?”) just to make sure she’s okay. And make her feel appreciated.

    Minnie can later be seen with Ilya, gliding around in a slow, classic waltz. Mr. Malinin still doesn’t look too friendly, though his perpetual scowl is a little softer this time (well, his sister is not jumping around on his shoulders now!). Minuette herself seems over the moon. Alex can’t help herself from dropping a snarky comment: “ - They look like a cat waltzing with a bus!” Still, the mismatched-in-size pair is managing the dance with surprising grace.

    Another, even more curious sight in the same dance, is Evangeline (in an eye-catching little white dress), who apparently allowed herself to be persuaded to dance with Koi Rikoriko (in a snappy white modern-cut tux!). The love-struck squirt turns out a very respectable ballroom dancer, and an all-round gallant gentleman.

    Maybe this is really not as hopeless as it seems at first blush? Sure, for a relationship to have any kind of real chance, they’ll have to wait at least 7 years, preferably as much as 10, before the age difference stopped being an issue, but then… Of course, by that time, they’ll both probably be quite different people.

    Still, Nyree can’t but worry for her little brother, very likely setting himself up for a hard fall.

    On a slight tangent, seeing Eva’s hair, for once left loose and so falling almost to her knees, Yuni spends a moment wondering just how much time and money the girl must spend in maintaining that luxurious mane. Herself, she can’t imagine investing so much effort, being perfectly happy with her functional, slightly messy pageboy cut. Diego agrees it is a sight to behold, but pretty impractical and resource-heavy… And a deadly nuisance in null-G

    Well, finally it’s time. The entire membership and staff of the Angels of Stone gathers in the audience in the competition hall. Octavia and Fred come out, still in their sharp orchestra uniforms, all proper and serious-faced (though Fred is obviously working hard to suppress a grin) and proceed to their duet on cellos. Now that’s a much more lively performance on classical instruments, and a very non-traditional piece indeed [something very much like this]. Fred drops all pretense of seriousness almost instantly, lighting up with a mile-wide grin and putting on a show with wild, crazy movements. Octavia’s manner transforms much more slowly, but steadily, and, though she doesn’t join her partner in monkeying around, by the end of the performance she is also grinning happily with abandon. And what a performance it is! Frederic is obviously very good, but if one thought Octavia was good before, now she seems simply inspired. Boy and girl finally lose themselves completely in the music, and seem quite startled when, having finished and sitting there grinning at each other, they are met by thunderous applause (Diego and Yuni certainly join in with gusto!). Octy’s shyness returns with a vengeance, and she tries to hide behind her cello, but Fred is having none of it, pulling her up by the hand, and rising it up, like a boxing referee announcing a new champion, grinning like a maniac all the while. Whatever the final results of the competition will be, this certainly felt like a triumph!

    The competition is not over yet, and it’ll be some time after it is before the results are announced, so everyone moves off for another round of music and dancing.

    Later, they are treated to the sight of Lyra and Bonnie tearing up the dance floor in a fiery tango. The punky Lyra is holding a rose in her teeth, and being a total showoff. Bonnie is blushing and giggling like a schoolgirl - which she is, so it’s appropriate, right? Lyra ends the dance presenting the flower to her lover and sweeping her away. They look very much like they fully intend to continue with the dancing tonight, only perhaps in a more horizontal position...

    Minuette gushes over the pair, so very much in love. Diego comments gravely:

    - I’m sad to say, Minnie, but I’m completely ideologically opposed to such pairings.

    - Oh? Why’s that, Coach?” - Minnie inquires, face falling.

    - Well, for the sake of argument, let us ignore the age difference with that particular example, but see: Here are two gorgeous women… And I have no chance with either of them!” - he drops the pretended seriousness now for a big grin.

    - Oh you!” - giggles Minnie, relieved - “ - Well, what about two boys together, then?” - she teases. Without missing a beat, Diego replies:

    - Oh, I approve wholeheartedly! Less competition, you see?

    - My, my, Coach! A ladies man, are we? Well, you seem to be doing quite fine for yourself, no?” - she wiggles her eyebrows, indicating Yuni, who studiously fails to notice the byplay.

    Diego and Yuni, and most of the others, attend Patricia’s set, for some club-style free-form jumping around on the dance floor. Patty’s DJing is still excellent, even after the month of forced sabbatical. In fact, she’s chomping at the bit for a real, full performance. Soon as her sentence is over, there’s definitely another clubbing night in their immediate future!

    Later, they can observe Evangeline, attended to by another member of her security detail (this one a stocky man, bald as a cue-ball), themselves observing Roger Smith dancing with Dorothy Smith. They are a curious sight indeed, both in their black uniforms, both quite serious-faced, but they do seem to be enjoying themselves, in their own understated way.

    At last, the time has come for the results of the Academy Young Musician Competition to be announced. The team and friends gather around Octy and Fred, all on tenterhooks. Though, when the third, and then the second place winners are announced, still with no mention of Octavia and Fred, Octy’s face falls, and she seems to shut down in disappointment, as if she can’t even conceive of winning first place… So it takes quite a moment to register that this is exactly what happened!

    Now, if the Angels’ applause was loud after the performance, it’s positively deafening now! Octy seems to be in mild shock at first, laughing and crying, then unexpectedly throws herself at Fred in a very vigorous, happy hug. This takes him by surprise somewhat, but hey, when a pretty girl you apparently have a crush on hugs you, you’d be a complete moron not to hug her back, eh? Well, Fred Ulani is not a complete moron ;). In the background, senhora Moina can be seen deftly distracting her husband from glaring death at the boy daring to put paws on his Little Angel.

    This was a triumph. Making a note here: huge success.
    (^_^)

    Well, this calls for a celebration. Which involves toasts with alcohol-free champagne, but mostly even more music, and even more dancing.

    The revelry finally ends, at a reasonable evening hour.

    All in all, a good clean fun Friday.


    Saturday, November 16th

    The team goes for their weekly paintball practice against the Spiders.

    The Angels are doing really good today, seemingly energized by yesterday’s fun, winning far more than losing, typically with about 2 casualties per game. The Spiders, on the other hand, deliver a rather lacklustre performance, especially in the first game of the day where they can’t seem to catch a break.

    - Have you guys been drinking yesterday?” - inquires Diego jokingly.

    - No. Maybe that’s the problem?” - is Bolo’s rueful reply.

    Nyree and Alex, despite whatever difference they had on Monday, continue to respect the terms of their “peace treaty” and promises to Diego. Their interactions are calm and professional, except Nyree’s allotment of Alex’ general teasing - and, surprisingly, an occasional rejoinder.

    During the traditional after-game campfire party, Patty gets a message over the comlog that makes her pump her fist in triumph. As she reads aloud, it’s from an agent for a club, who noticed her at the Festival, and now wants to book her - for next week already! - for their employer. And said employer is the club Blue Moon… This last part first shuts Patty down in shock, then turns her completely inarticulate for a while as she jumps around in joy, babbling excitedly “Ohmygosh,ohmygosh,ohmygosh!”.

    Diego asks for an explanation. Several of those present, including, surprisingly, Evangeline, know of the Blue Moon. Apparently, it’s the most exclusive, high-class, “in” club in Belo Horizonte, quite possibly in the top three of the entire Avalon. It belongs to the Celeste family, the most powerful, wealthy corporate family on the planet - the Neves are one of their business partners. The Celestes control most, and have interests in most of the rest, of the various corporate lobbies of Avalon, and their influence reaches into politics and the media. And the Blue Moon is the pet project of one of the “Celeste Sisters” - the two daughters of the family, being groomed as the heirs, and themselves already influential figures, despite not being even 30 yet. The younger sister is quite the patron of the arts, with a considerable power-base in the local entertainment industry. Apparently she has promoted something like two-thirds of the current top-of-the-charts on Avalon.

    For Patricia, this could be the a chance to strike it big time! Playing the Blue Moon is already a badge of high honor in the DJing scene. If she could actually catch the ear of Luna Celeste herself… Oh, the possibilities!

    Well, looks like there’s a clubbing night to look forward to next week!


    Which sums up entry #9.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  11. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #10

    “Changing Tides”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #2 - starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed.
    A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is
    available under the link.
    Note #3 - the “#x” notes the episode in which given character made first appearance.


    “Anjos da Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working - so far, so good. Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but swapped for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (2. class, 16, Australian) Cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko.
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s).
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #6), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Joined the team in #7, initially Anaconda TAG, but swapped later for ‘Nique’s Lizard..
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    DeeDee “Ditzy” Alephsdottir - #9 (avatar looks ~20, Nordic) The Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, her duties include assisting Ken on monitoring, filing, and mail distribution. While methodical like a computer, she’s not too bright, and even outright scatterbrained at times (however, she was bright enough to note that Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with Aleph as such, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him… Or even make him aware of her existence).

    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Reactive to the surroundings.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35, Polynesian) TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Felipe Ramos - #9 (late 40s, Brazilian) Music teacher, head of the Academy music department, and conductor for the school orchestra.
    Ginevra Chennault - #1 (~90, Polynesian) School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. To-the-point and strict, but fair. Teaches literature.
    Isabell “Pills” Talho - #5 (looks to be in her middle 30s, South American) School’s medical officer (given the Academy’s size and high profile, she’s a fully qualified general practitioner with a lot of fancy tools), and likely a resurectee.
    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s, Hawaiian) Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow.
    Reksio - #1 Eric’s favourite Palbot, named after an obscure
    cartoon character.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had recently (entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”...


    Students:

    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her.


    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Gummy - #10 Chryse family’s pet spider, an Avalonian Emperor Tarantula. Roughly 20cm in diameter.

    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere:

    “Frankie” Chryse - #6 (mentioned only so far) (20, Australian) Minnie’s and Bia’s older sister. Graduated the Academy and went on to study environmental engineering and geology at the Bourak Institute of Planetology. Reputedly possessed of a stoic temperament similar to Morgan. “Frankie” is no doubt a diminutive nickname in the same style as her sisters’ and mother’s.


    Sunday, November 17th

    The standard Earth-based calendar may be winding down towards winter, but on Avalon, weather-wise, spring is ticking over into summer.

    Today sees Diego and Yuni again just hanging out together, in an out-of town day of running, climbing, and swimming.

    Considering the weather, and seeing as they already managed to make Diego a decently competent swimmer in the lake, Yuni proposes, once summer is in full swing, taking a trip to the ocean and the beaches there.

    Not a bad idea at all. And maybe, after the Knights match, they’ll also take the girls out to the ocean, for a celebration (or consolation, depending on the match result) beach party.


    Monday, November 18th

    As the team gathers for TAG practice today, something alive can be seen wiggling inside Minnie’s backpack.

    She’s quick to open it up and introduce everyone to Gummy, her family pet whom she took to school to socialize him a bit. As she says, the poor thing is often left a bit lonely nowadays, with the parents working, Frankie having left the planet, and Minuette and Bianca gone most of the day too, first at school, then at varied extracurricular activities and hobbies.

    Alex steps back, with disgust and a hint of fear mixed on her face, so Diego waves her further away.

    Gummy is an Avalonian Emperor Tarantula, a jumping spider species native to Avalon (That’s where the name came from - the spider, once having accustomed to the situation, starts bouncing from one team member to another in a manner that would make a rubber ball envious. This includes landing on Morgan’s face as she enters the hangar, in the best Facehugger style). Emperor Tarantulas aren’t venomous and do not build webs - they are active predators, ambushing and, if necessary, pursuing their prey. In fact, even the local venomous and poisonous species aren’t a big threat to a human - the biochemistries involved are far too different, and toxins that work on local lifeforms don’t have much effect on Terran life (and vice versa). Same goes for food (which stops Diego from asking how such a spider tastes), life from one planet unable to digest most of it coming from the other. And while many species (including Emperor Tarantulas, which, lacking venom, rely on their powerful “jaws” to kill their prey) can and do bite in a quite painful way, Gummy couldn’t bite anyone even if he wanted to. As Minnie explains, he lost most of his primary mouth apparatus to a fungal infection before falling in with the Chryses (they adopted him from an animal shelter) and has to be fed special formulated food he can chew into swallowable chunks with what’s left of his “teeth”. He’s also quite cat-like in his ways, tending to leave home for a few days - but always coming back (well, he couldn’t survive in the wild, relying on his keepers to provide him with sustenance, but he also seems to have some genuine affection for them - he seems quite intelligent).

    While Diego is a bit reserved towards Gummy, the furry, brightly-coloured, big eyed spider is almost universally considered to be the cutest thing around by the girls (save for Alex, who keeps a safe distance), each one willing to pet him for a moment before he jumps to another team member for more attention. The most surprising reaction is Morgan’s. The normally reserved girl positively melts in the face of the arachnid, cuddling and scritching it with abandon, making cooing noises, and generally showering Gummy with affection... And is left quite embarrassed when she realises everyone is watching.

    The little beastie also reveals a mischievous streak, as he suddenly manages to dive under Eva’s clothes, tickling her to tears and eventually forcing her on the ground with laughter, as Minnie frantically tries to catch her wayward pet. Rolling around and kicking, breathlessly pleading for mercy among hysterical giggles, Evangeline loses a shoe (sending it hurtling across the room, necessitation a dodge from Morgan), and is in fact in serious danger of losing bladder control, before Minuette finally manages to restrain her roguish spider.

    This incident seems to greatly rise Gummy’s stock with Alex - but not enough so for her to want to touch him, still.

    Time to get suited up. Minnie leaves Gummy in the briefing hall, with the doors and windows locked - she’s not afraid he’d escape or get lost, but the hangar and grounds would not be very safe for him, what with all the TAGs stomping around.

    Since the “kill town” is now available, Diego concentrates on building the urban warfare skills in his team, pitting two fireteams, led by Eva and Nyree, against each other.

    It’s also the second session of testing for the applique armor for the TAGs. By now, all the team’s machines are equipped with the armored jackets, and Eric started fabricating matching pants too. It’s a somewhat weird sight, TAGs dressed up like giant dolls (“ - Not dolls! Action figures!” insists Dominique
    ^_^), but it seems to be working, which is the important bit.

    Everything is going well, when suddenly an accident occurs.

    Minnie, out to hone her stealth skills and accustom herself to new weapons, manages to surprise Patty in her sniping position, and whack her with a well-placed Blitzen hit. The Szalamandra should register the hit with the minimum-yield EMP warhead and report as casualty to the game system, “pretending” to be fried and shut down. Instead, Patricia’s TAG and comm-feed drop dead for real.

    - Shit. Game stop, game stop! Minnie, get to her! Eva, you too! Quick! Get out of your TAGs and open her hatch manually!

    - How we do that, Coach?”

    “ - There are manual release handles on the upper edge of the plastron. Yellow ones in recessed bays. Pull those.”

    “ - What will happen then? Will the hatch get blown away or something?”

    “ - No, just the locks disengaged. It should open on its own, on piston pressure release. If not, you’ll have to pull it open and get to Patricia.”

    Patricia, who is now locked, completely immobilized, inside a disabled TAG. Suddenly in the dark and possibly with life support down, too (though that possibility is, luckily, small), she’s probably panicking.

    Octavia is almost panicked herself, setting off towards her friend at a dead sprint, smashing down smaller trees and walls in her way, interchangeably trying (unsuccessfully) to rise Patty on the comlog, and urging the others to hurry up and get her out, out, out! She obviously knows something.

    Given that, Diego’s wild guess is that Patty is either scotophobic, or some form of claustrophobic* (or both!), and nobody fuckin’ told him that!

    • i.e. either afraid of darkness or of being in small, enclosed spaces. Getting entombed in a shutdown TAG is likely to scare the living shit out of either case.
    “ - Alex, get to them, get out of your TAG and help them in case there’s need to pin Patricia down!”

    “ - Right, Eric, talk to me. What we got there…?”

    “ - Oh, damn, Diego. Sorry. My damn fault. That’s one of our refurbished Blitzen warheads. I must’ve messed up the power couple, or the limiter, gave it way too much juice. Really, really sorry.”

    “ - Send Reksio there, perhaps it’s just the fuses…”

    “ - On his way. It is surely just the fuses, those warheads are nowhere near the power to really fry a machine like that. And the missile is surely fried now itself. But it was enough to knock her comlog down...

    (Simulated EMP weapons do not use any of the fancy nanotech transmitter “paint” of other simunitions. They are instead real EMP devices, though very low-power ones. This makes it possible to save money by recovering, reseting, and reusing them, unlike most other simunition, which is one-shot. But it also means that things like this can sometimes happen...)

    Luckily, when Minnie opens the hatch (she has to put a leg to the TAG to apply enough strength!) Patricia is conscious. Panicked, in tears, pale and hyperventilating, but apart from that, mostly okay. No seizures or flailing, so Alex’ help is luckily not needed.

    Octavia plows her machine’s feet into the ground, skidding to a halt next to the fallen Szalamandra, and is out and by her friend before either hatch is quite done opening, heedless of the moving machinery around her.

    - Shh, shh, Patty. Everything’s fine. You’re okay. We’re with you. You’re safe.” - Octavia helps finish freeing Patricia form the armor, all the while keeping up a stream of comforting speech.

    - Octy, is she okay?

    - Y-yeah, I’ll manage. But I think I had enough for now. Octy, help me walk to the hangar, please?… My legs are jelly… Does anyone have headphones… Please...

    “ - OK, Octy, bring her in. Leave the TAGs there, I’ll get them here on remote control later. End of practice for today, chicas.”

    Reksio quickly makes it to the site, and checks up on the Szally - as suspected, the EM pulse burned the fuses, and Eric is able to get the TAG up and running as soon as these are replaced.

    As the team gathers back in the hangar, Patty is becoming visibly better. Especially once Minnie drops into the changing room and brings back Patty’s large headphones (the ear-plug ones she used to wear in the TAG apparently got fried). Dominique is checking on Patty’s comlog bracelet, initializing a reboot. Being a civilian-grade item, it went down after the EM pulse, although being shielded by the Szalamandra’s BTS suite and Faraday-cage effect managed to limit the losses. Otherwise, it would’ve been literal toast, complete with the smell of burned electronics. For now, Octy connects Patty’s headphones to her own comlog, piping in some cello suite. While not Patricia’s prefered tunes, it nevertheless has a visibly calming, curative effect.

    - Okay, chicas. We’re all back and well. Now, Patty, could you explain to me what went on with you…?

    She keeps her eyes down “ - I’m severely sedatephobic.

    - I see. Now could somebody explain to me what, by Lucifer’s beard, does that mean?

    Nyree raises a finger, entering her encyclopaedia mode, but ends up speaking stereo with Minnie. Latin is one of the languages Minnie has some knowledge of.

    - Fear of silence, Coach.”

    - Thank you. Now, Patty, I need to know what triggers it, and how it affects you. Damn, things like that should be on your file…” - he read the files carefully for medical conditions that could affect team members. Granted, he was looking primarily for epilepsy and heart conditions, but still...

    - I can’t… Stand it, if it is too quiet for too long. Not even completely silent, just quiet enough. It goes on for just a second too long, I quickly go into an all-out panic attack, curl-into-a-ball-and-scream like. Given the incident that originally broke me, one would think I’d be scared of the dark, or tight spaces, but no, I’m fine with these. Instead, my brain latched onto the silence... That’s why I always wear the headphones. They provide a constant level of background noise to keep me happy. Well, that, and I genuinely love music. But I found something with a good beat works best for my “medical” purposes. That’s actually how I got interested in music in the first place… Of course, that means I sometimes get lost in the tunes, and don’t pay enough attention… A couple more years, and I can get a corrective neural implant, but the docs say I’m still too young for one now...

    - We’ll have to watch out for that. Dominique, I need your expertise. Could you do something to keep Patricia’s comlog intact, should that happen again?

    - No can do, Coach. It would require building up a hardened comlog from scratch. And that was weapon-grade EM pulse that fried a TAG’s fuses. I guess it wouldn’t be comfortably man-portable if it was to withstand this… Not doable with our resources, anyway.”

    “ - Well, it was worth asking anyway…

    - One more thing, Patty. Why didn’t you tell us before? Just in case?

    She shrugs awkwardly:

    - Didn’t seem terribly important, did it? I usually have it well in hand with the headphones. Didn’t expect any trouble like this…

    Eric is very unhappy with himself.

    - I am terribly sorry, Ms. Summers. It’s my screw-up that caused this. I should have been more careful with the warheads.”

    “ - It’s all right, Mr. Wana, really. I’m fine. Shit happens. Please don’t beat yourself up over it…

    Eric, perfectionist he is, is probably unable to really do that. As self-assigned penance, he throws himself immediately into re-checking every remaining Blitzen missile they own, to make absolutely sure they are all put together and calibrated right, to avoid further accidents like that.

    As the team dismisses, Yuni catches up with Diablo “ - Hey, I just checked. There’s information on her sedatephobia in the main files. But not in those you got…?

    Conclusion seems obvious - Patty likely somehow intercepted and doctored the copy to be sent to Diego, fearing he wouldn't accept her into the team with her condition. “ - Well alright, I’ll chew on her on Wednesday…

    As the girls leave, Patricia throws back a glance, apparently feeling guilty - and knowing she got caught.


    Wednesday, November 20th

    As is customary, Diego is at the team’s base some time before practice, using that time for administrative work, discussing the state of the team’s equipment and possible upgrades with Eric, and working on assembling his motorcycle. Today, he also gets a visit from Ken. Having heard of Diego’s idea to form a teacher paintball team, the head bedel decided he want’s in on that action too - unless Diego is very attached to it being specifically a teacher team, as opposed to general Academy staff? No, that’s not a problem for Diego, a staff team is fine. Ken is quite welcome to join in, whenever the idea actually gets off the ground - it’s something of a side project, pretty back-burner currently. Especially as Diego, Yuni, Gerhard Oobleck, and now Ken, are the only prospective players for now.

    - You know, you may find more interested people if you advertised the thing a bit. Or at all, really. I only now found out from Yuni. Put up a notice in the Maya staff board? By the way, have you considered enlisting Ms. Chennault? And I’m only half-joking now…

    Suddenly, an emergency call goes off on Ken’s comlog.

    - Talk to me, DeeDee.

    A young blonde, Nordic looking woman Diego hasn’t seen before, but assumes is part of Ken’s staff, comes on. After the recent debacles, she has been instructed to increase her vigilance in monitoring the security feed, as pertaining to irregularities involving Alex Narahari (again).

    Now, the situation she’s concerned about here is somewhat peculiar: the system notices Nyree Rikoriko in some trouble with two other students, and Alex Narahari being in the area, but not actually all that close to the group…

    Whatever is going down is not far from the hangar, so, being the closest staff available, Ken moves out to investigate. Diego keeps him company, seeing as his charges are involved.

    On the way, Ken explains the nature of DeeDee to Diablo. Turns out, she’s the Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, in charge of its computer and drone systems. Apparently, she’s not all too bright, even outright scatterbrained. That led to the students giving her a nickname, “Ditzy” (Well, this is only the most widely accepted, humorous one - there is a host of other, much more mean, nasty ones, starting at “Derpy”, and going all the way to “Moron” and “Retard”). However, she does have her moments of brilliance: apparently she has decided Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with ALEPH, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him, as not to unnecessarily agitate him. Well, this is PanOceania, with their over-reliance on and total trust in the master AI. Diego should have known there’s somebody (or something) like her around...

    As they close in, they see Nyree on her knees, with her school possessions scattered around, and two other girls standing over her. The school’s AR tags them as Tiana Dimante and Samantha Silva, Evangeline’s (and now, Dominique’s) class-mates. both rich, upper-class girls. Tiana is visibly showing Nyree her place in the universe and / or pecking order, while Samantha nods to every word. Both bullies are far too much into their powertrip to notice that Nyree, far from being cowed, is actually looking more and more annoyed...

    Considering Nyree’s recent exploits with Alex, Diego is somewhat concerned as to what may happen if she decides to lash out.

    “ - Ken, let’s get them from behind. Don’t let these two see us on approach.”

    “ - Got it.”

    However, before they can intervene, Alex makes an entrance. She too choose an approach from outside of her target’s line-of-sight, but somehow didn’t notice Ken and Diego. She closes in, utilises the element of surprise, and with a move hinting at loads of practice grabs Dimante by the back of her underwear, and executes a vigorous “wedgie”. Then again, and again. The yanks are applied with enough vicious strength and leverage to lift the slightly-built girl a few centimeters off the ground. The end result is Tiana collapsing in a fetal position, with her hands between her thighs and tears streaming down her face. Alex stands over her with fists on hips.

    - Well, what do we have here? Two upper-class twats picking on my team-mate? Bad idea. Right, “ - Alex turns to Samantha with a nasty grin, “ - Your turn, four-eyes.

    Well, high time for the staff to appear on the scene.

    - Narahari, don’t kick the lady, you’ll get tired.” - Diego waves her down.

    - Oh, fuck!...” - mutters Alex, “ - I mean… Hi, Coach! “ - she grins awkwardly.

    - Now, miss Dimante, could you please explain to me what you were doing? And what are you doing lying down, hm? Please stand up when talking with a teacher.“ - which definitely isn’t going to be easy for her, Alex apparently put a lot of effort into these wedgies. But Tiana and Samantha targeted one of his team members, and they’re going to be taught that it doesn’t pay off.

    “ - Ow… we just… uh…”

    “ - Please express yourself in full, proper sentences, miss Dimante.

    Diego’s position is technically classified as being a teacher, which places him higher than Ken in the school’s hierarchy. As such, Ken yields the floor to Diablo in dealing with the incident. And deal with it he does, delivering a scathing, merciless dressing down on the two perpetrators (“ - Damn, Diego, you really do sound like you were a drill sergeant!”), though, of course, keeping to school-acceptable language.

    - Now let me explain something, you two. You were really, really lucky. Because Narahari got here before miss Rikoriko lost her temper and gave you what for. If I was nasty, I’d’ve held Narahari by the scruff of her neck and just watch what Rikoriko would be doing to you. And you wouldn’t be grateful for my choice of who to hold back. But you know, you wouldn’t be worth the paperwork I’d have to fill afterwards. Ken, they’re all yours. I guess you’ll find a suitable punishment for them - personally I wouldn’t mind throwin’ them on rags* along the whole main hall.

    • Diego refers to assigning someone to (floor) cleaning duty. In the army, some stuff never goes out of fashion, you know.
    As Ken leads Tiana and Samantha away (both rather shell-shocked, the first still duck-walking awkwardly with knees and feet inward) Alex can’t resist adding in her own parting shot:

    - And if I catch you again, or just find out you made trouble, for any of my team-mates, I’ll make you wish you were never born!

    - Right. Nyree, how are you doing?”

    “ - Not bad, Coach.” - she finishes gathering her possessions.

    - Good, ‘cause I was worrying you’re goin’ to pull your grandpa’s ol’ bayonet out of somewhere, and there would suddenly be one hell of a lot of cleaning up necessary.”

    “ - Oh... I don’t carry a bayonet with me.”

    “ - Glad to hear that. I’d still guess your grandfather told you exactly what to do with one…

    - Well, I remember the stories he used to tell during family dinners. They were, umm…”

    “ - ...Completely inappropriate for a family dinner, I get it. I guess the bedtime stories he told his grandchildren were equally inappropriate for kids meant to sleep tight.”

    “ - More or less like that, Coach… Though Koi seemed to enjoy himself fine… Anyway, no, I wasn’t planning anything quite so drastic, you needn't worry.

    Nyree turns to Alex with a frown, part annoyed but mostly puzzled.

    - The Coach may be overselling it a bit, but he’s right, I didn’t need your help.”

    “ - Well, you got it anyway.” - Alex shrugs, trying for nonchalance, but mostly looking awkward. “ - Seemed the right thing to do, you know? Team-mates and everything…”

    “ - Well… Thank you, then.” - Nyree obviously doesn’t know what to make of the whole thing. “ - Though, I’d be grateful if you didn’t use me as an excuse to practice your… Techniques.”

    “ - You’re welcome. And I’ll… Take it under consideration.”

    - Alex, that was an interesting technique. You ever thought about taking some judo classes?” - asks Diego.

    - That’s the one with all the clever leverage and flipping people, right? Eh, I’d prefer something more straightforward. Kicky and punchy, you know.”

    “ - Kickboxing, then.”

    “ - Hm. Know what, maybe I’ll think about it. Could be fun.”

    “ - Oh, and one more thing, Narahari.”

    “ - Yea, Coach?”

    “ - Boo. Consider yourself punished.”

    “ - Ooh, I certainly do! I mean, sheesh, I know I’ve been a bad girl and all, but there’s no need to be all cruel and unusual about it!”

    “ - Don’t push it.”

    What’s interesting, the proximity alert (due to the restraining order put on Alex because of her harassment of Nyree) didn’t activate the whole time. Apparently Rikoriko turned it off permanently instead of switching it off for team meetings only.

    As the three of them walk to the hangar, it’s obvious there’s something still on Alex’s mind. She’s fidgeting, shooting furtive glances at Nyree, and seems to be gathering her resolve for something. Finally, she decides to speak:

    “ - You know, ‘R-... Nyree. Considering all the old “bad blood” between us… I… Would not hold it against you, if you ever wanted to… I don’t know, even the scores a bit? That wouldn’t be unfair, I think…”

    Nyree blinks in confusion, and stares at Alex.

    - So what, exactly, are you saying? You mean, if I maybe felt like, let’s say, pulling you up the flagpole by your underwear… Or pushing you out of the PE dressing room to the corridor naked… Or dunking your head in a toilet… You’d be perfectly fine with that?

    “ - Ah… W-well... When you put it that way… That does sound totally dumb, doesn’t it?... Sorry. I’ll just shut up, then.”

    The rest of the walk passes in a somewhat awkward silence.

    As the team gathers for practice, Diego tells them about the incident and informs Evangeline about what her classmates did. She seems disgusted, but apparently her opinion about Dimante and Silva wasn’t high to begin with.

    Naturally, the news that it was Alex who came to Nyree’s aid is met with rather high scepticism at first.

    - Right. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.” - Morgan’s sarcasm is almost dripping to the floor.

    But with Nyree fully confirming the story, the other girls have no choice but believe it and maybe re-evaluate their view of Alex a bit.

    - Well, I’ll be…” - mutters Morgan.

    - Squeee!” - Minuette throws herself at Alex in a hug - “ - Now you’re feeling the team spirit! Yay!

    - That Tiana character certainly felt it.” - chuckles Patricia.

    Evangeline looks vaguely uncomfortable.

    Training time. Today’s agenda is paintball, and Diego divides the party into two fireteams - again one commanded by Eva, the other by Nyree (if she has to become the secondary commander, she has to practice!), with flexible membership otherwise.

    First turn sees Alex under Nyree’s command.

    - Right. Minuette, hit the left flank. Morgan, hold right. Alex, you’re back with me.”

    “ - Wait, what? I’m supposed to be your babysitter full-time now?”

    “ - No. But if you just rush in with guns blazing, you’ll be doing exactly what they are expecting of you. They know how you play. How many times have you been ambushed? Wouldn’t you like to turn it around? They’ll obviously want to come after me - I’m the most valuable target, being the commander, and having the weapon they can’t well hide from. So stick to me. I’ll be the bait. And you sit patiently… And mow them down as they come. They won’t be expecting that.

    - Huh. That does sound clever. Alright, let’s try this.

    And it works, much to Alex’ delight. Trigger-happy as she still is, it definitely looks like she’s starting to appreciate Nyree’s tactical expertise, and proper teamwork.

    Nyree for her part is really working on restraining her micro-managing, uncompromising perfectionist side.


    Patricia gets some extra “attention” from Diego, which she accepts with good grace, evidently considering it to be her (well-deserved) punishment for doctoring her files.

    After the practice, however, she’s ready to share the good news: all arrangements have been finalised, she’s playing at the Blue Moon on Friday night, and she got a package of free entry passes large enough to invite both the team, and the Spiders.

    “ - So, I guess we need to cancel the Saturday paintball, Coach?”

    “ - Oh, absolutely no need for that.”

    “ - But we’ll all be tired after the party…”

    “ - Exactly my point, chicas. You’ll see the difference in performance: how you behave when you are fresh after a night of good sleep - and how it goes when you are really tired. Consider it endurance training.“

    “ - Ouch…”


    Thursday, November 21st

    Diego did not intend to show up at school today, however, he gets an unexpected call from senhor Ramos, who apparently wants to discuss some matter in person.

    And boy, this guy doesn’t feel that putting things straight is his style…

    What Felipe has to say is that he was initially staunchly opposed to the TAG-Soft team project. Firstly, for cost reasons: as he points out, it already eats up a budget slightly larger than the much bigger football program, money that he felt could be much better spent - like on his music department (at least he’s honest...). Secondly, because he did not think a “proxy war” game would be appropriate for high school. He never served in the army himself, and, though he understands the sad necessity of having one and sometimes fighting wars, he still finds the entire thing slightly distasteful. However now, seeing how much one of his students - namely, miss Moina - has improved since she joined the TAG-Soft team made him reconsider.

    “ - She was always very, very good before. Her election as the first cello of our orchestra was no fluke. And yet, she seemed to lack some… What could I call it?”

    “ - The ‘spark’, senhor Ramos?

    - Well yes, that’s a good term for it, thank you. Did you know, she took part in our Young Musicians Competition every year since entering the Academy, and many other competitions besides, all over Avalon. And always she’d be in the top three… But never took first place. Until last Friday.”

    The “pretend war” obviously gave Octavia something she was lacking and couldn’t get elsewhere. There must be something more to it, then, than simply shooting at people. Perhaps there really is a place for such a team at the Academy...

    So here senhor Ramos finally comes to the point. As he has heard from senhor Kamehameha, the coach of the Angels is also intending to put together a paintball team of the teachers. Given all of the above, Felipe decided to re-evaluate his perspective, and so would like to respectfully put forward his application, if senhor Ibarrez wouldn’t mind?

    Sure, Diego doesn’t see a problem there. The more the merrier.


    Friday, November 22nd

    Party time!

    The Blue Moon is, indeed, a high-end club. Literally, too: it’s located on the top floor of the tallest skyscraper in Belo Horizonte. It has its own bank of (external, glass-walled) elevators. And, as Diego, attuned to gravity differences immediately notices upon entering, it also has installed gravitics that reduce the effective gravity within down by about 10% from Avalon’s already generous 0,92 G (better not ask how much power that consumes, or how much it costs, to run this permanently down here in a gravity well...). The lighting is low, and slightly blue-silvery. Plus, an AR projection hiding the floor, that makes it look like the guests are floating in a sea of stars, in a high orbit above a silvery moon. Wait… That’s not just any moon, it’s the Moon, venerable Terra’s good old companion, Luna.

    The club definitely lives up to its name.

    The team are all there, in their party finery.

    Diego’s biker outfit gets another spin.

    Yuni decided to once again go with the quirky deep-red set she wore for the Festival.

    This time Evangeline fits in much better, in much more relaxed, if still expensive, outfit, including her new high-heeled Converse boots and some color-coordinated neon glow accessories. She jokingly presents herself to Patricia for inspection, and is, equally in jest, pronounced “barely acceptable” by the DJ.

    Minuette is once again a cloud of neon lights. Also, with her general tendency to bounce around, she becomes practically buoyant in the club’s low gravity. :P

    Nyree is there (Alex - for once not being mean about it - expressed some doubt of her showing up, this seeming not her type of entertainment), in that eye-strain inducing violet pattern shirt. Or perhaps a different but similar one - the pattern is too confusing for Diego to be sure. The girl sure likes violet, anyway.

    Patty seems to be suffering from a (huge) bit of stage-fright. This is it, this is for real! She’s the main act at the Blue Moon! If she does good here, that could open many - all, even! - doors for her. If not… That could be a disaster!... Her end, crash and burn…

    Well, show time. Fortified by her team’s best wishes, Patty takes her place behind the consoles. She starts off a little tentatively, seemingly overwhelmed by the monumental consequences this gig could have for her, the prestige of the venue, the much bigger than she’s used to crowd… But then, as her blood starts pumping with the music, she finds her groove, exactly in her connection to said crowd. Hell with the doubts, Hell with her career, even! All those people, including her friends, came here to dance and have a good time, and she’ll be damned before she lets them down! And so DJ Scratch proceeds to lay down the beat and the law, shaking the house long into the night, in a performance possibly every bit as inspired and triumphant as the one Octy gave last week.

    Soon everyone looks to be having a blast. The team certainly do, dancing up a storm.

    Though, humorously, at one point Diego notices ‘Nique and Eva staging a little “intervention”, and dragging Nyree back to the dance floor from the club’s all-around, entire-wall windows, where she’s been lost in, apparently, star-gazing, an AR screen with a sky atlas open beside her! (The club certainly has a spectacular view, and the windows seem to include some tech to filter out the city’s light-pollution, the perfectly clear night sky outside smoothly blending with the projection inside.)

    At one point late into the night Diego finds himself taking a break by the bar, alone, Yuni having gone to “powder her nose”, when he notices he has company. Someone is standing at his side, mirroring Diego’s pose of leaning back with elbows on the counter, observing the dance floor, far enough not to be immediately rude, but close enough to register in his personal space.

    And what a someone. A young woman, perhaps in her mid 20s, of fair skin and elfin build… And her hair is amazing. An exquisite AR projection, almost certainly with some practical effects mixed in, makes her waist-long wavy mane look as if she wore a bit of living night on her head: a barely-translucent, shimmering jet-black and midnight-blue cloud, with the cold pinpoints of distant stars twinkling within, all gently flowing in a non-existent breeze, almost defying gravity. The rest of her seems almost pedestrian in comparison, with knee-high combat boots, skinny jeans with shredded knees, and a tiny biker jacket over a printed tee proclaiming cheekily “Blame my Sister!”, all in black and midnight blue, with lots of silver chrome buckles, studs and zippers.

    She favours Diego with a tiny, puckish smile.

    - She’s quite something, no?” - the motion of her head makes it clear she means Patty, as she reigns over the revelry.

    - Very talented.” - he agrees readily - “ - Has a real knack for feeling the crowd.

    - Yes. The best ones always do - that’s why they are the best… Say, you’re not from around here, are you?

    - A very recent arrival, yup. Good eye.”

    “ - M-hm. Say something more.” - she suddenly demands, closing her eyes and tilting her head at Diego.

    - Oh-ho! What would you like to hear, then?” - he smirks.

    - Hm... Corregidor. Am I right?”

    “ - You have a very good ear, as well.”

    “ - Comes in handy. And I’m kind of a fan, rarely as you hear that in PanO, of the Nomad Nations in general.”

    “ - Really?”

    “ - Yeah. When I was a kid, I’d use to dream of running away from the,” - a tiny self-mocking smirk - “ - soul-crushing drudgery of my life of privilege, and joining the Nomads. Eek out a living on the high frontier, make my fortune with adventure, free and independent …”

    “ - Good thing you didn’t. Most of such stories don’t end so well in real life.”

    “ - Yeah…” - a wistful sigh.

    “ - Anyway, I’m not sure how I personally feel about the idea of having fans...” - Diego muses.

    - It takes getting used to, yes. But it’s a rewarding experience, I find. Though humbling, too. You seem to be doing alright for yourself, no? All those girls with you.”

    “ - Perceptive. You have a great knack for pattern recognition, don’t you?”

    “ - My kind of life, no choice but to train it up. Very useful thing, certainly.”

    “ - Say, how is it we still don’t know each other’s names?”

    “ - Well, probably me liking to play all dark and mysterious, and you being gentleman enough not to force an introduction, but cheeky enough to play right back yourself.” - she grins.

    “ - Diego.”

    “ - Luna.”

    He suspected as much. And, like the club, the name somehow fits her down to a T.

    (Also, it quickly becomes apparent that her t-shirt is one of those animated affairs, periodically changing slogans. Except it must be a high-end model, with some really advanced expert program running the changes, because what it says seems to mostly fit the conversation, in some poetic, non-obvious - and sometimes vaguely eerie - way. During the conversation, it flashes through, among others, “The Fun has Been Doubled!”, “To Boldly Go!”, “I Am the Night!”, and “Half-Life 3: Soon™!”)

    - Well, seems your companion is coming back. Like my namesake, I think it’s time for me to vacate the scene.” - Luna smilingly nods towards the projected Moon, which is now late into waning, only a crescent left visible. “ - Please, convey my regards to miss Summers. And the rest of your troop. I’ve got a feeling she, and the “Anjos de Rocha” as a whole too, are someone to pay attention to. And my feelings are rarely wrong on such things. ‘Till next time.” - she flashes a last mischievous smile and wink (her shirt flashing “See Ya, Space Cowboy!”), and then she’s gone.

    - Who were you talking to?” - Yuni inquires upon her return.

    - Well, if I’m not mistaken, the owner of this establishment herself…

    Later, Patty will go absolutely ecstatic (“- Ohmygosh,ohmygosh,ohmygosh!”) at the news of Luna Celeste being favorably impressed with her performance.

    And her being interested in the “Angels of Stone” too? This could be an intriguing development, indeed.

    For now, there’s still some night left, and some dancing to be done, before the Moon goes dark completely.

    Tomorrow… Tomorrow will probably be painful.


    Saturday, November 23rd

    The team - or rather both teams, after all the Spiders were at the party, too - managed to catch a few hours of sleep, but not enough by far. They’re tired, bleary-eyed, and dragging their feet even before the action starts - with the notable exception of Diego himself, much more experienced and resilient as he is.

    “ - So, chicas, if you ever decide to have a party before a game, that’s how you’re going to feel the next day… Alright, let’s get to it, chop-chop!” - he grins evilly.

    With much moaning (and yawning), they do.


    Which sums up entry #10.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  12. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #11

    “Bridges Over Scars”


    Dramatis personae:
    Note #1 - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #2 - starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed.
    A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is
    available under the link.
    Note #3 - the “#x” notes the episode in which given character made first appearance.


    “Anjos da Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s).
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #6), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    DeeDee “Ditzy” Alephsdottir - #9 (avatar looks ~20, Nordic) The Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, her duties include assisting Ken on monitoring, filing, and mail distribution. While methodical like a computer, she’s not too bright, and even outright scatterbrained at times (however, she was bright enough to note that Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with Aleph as such, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him… or even make him aware of her existence).
    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Reactive to the surroundings.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35, Polynesian) TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s, Hawaiian) Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow.
    Reksio - #1 Eric’s favourite Palbot, named after an obscure
    cartoon character.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had recently (entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”...


    Students:

    Frederic (Fred) Ulani #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #7) (1. class, 16, Polynesian [genetically, Caucasian-Polynesian]) Another cello player in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate.
    Ilya Malinin - #5 (though mentioned earlier) (2nd class, 17, Russian) Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Mako Joyo - #1 (1. class, 15, Micronesian) Ex-team member (resigned in #5 - Gecko pilot, and for a time prospective 2IC) - turned out that combat sports weren’t really her thing, plus she was offered captaincy of the school’s basketball team (The Ramjets) once the current captain graduates at the end of current year. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person.
    Yekaterina (Katya / Katyusha) Malinin - #4 (3rd junior high school, 14, Russian) Sister of Ilya, plays drums in the school’s orchestra, and is in the junior division cheerleader squad. Minuette’s friend. Nobody actually uses her first name in full form. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her. Diego catched abusing Nyree, on time to stop it before Rikoriko striked back.


    “The Peanut Gallery”

    Caught in short glimpses, to be fleshed-out when / if they make a full appearance:
    Bonnie Rose - #5, (2. class, 16, English) Lyra’s girlfriend, always dragged in her wake, and embarrassed by the other’s manic antics. Cooking club star.
    Karra Avar - #11 (3. class, 18, Canadian, of predominantly Inuit origin) Captain of the Academy’s basketball team, The Ramjets. She’s going to graduate at the end of current year, leaving her position to Mako Joyo.
    Lyra Vidal - #5, (2. class, 16, Chilean) A harph player, another of Octavia’s orchestra mates. Somewhat maniacal, extreme sports enthusiast (she follows the Dog-Bowl league, among others!). Bonnie’s girlfriend.
    Kim #5 (3. class, 18) One of Minnie’s cheer-squad friends. Red-head. The squad’s captain, set to graduate this year. Minnie could have taken her place then, but she chose TAG-Soft.


    Team Members’ Parents:

    cpt. Reweti Rikoriko - #7 (middle 40s, Maori) Nyree and Koi’s mother. Active officer in the PanO military (Crocman Regiment), a very strict, hard, and to-the-point person (which probably does make her a pretty strict and demanding mother). The family has long-standing martial tradition - Nyree’s grandfather was a highly decorated soldier on Paradiso during the EI Conflict, though Diego has never seen the man there (again, gramps was a Crocman too, which may explain this a bit ;)).

    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere:

    Claudiu Dalca - #11 (as retrospection) (now should be in his late 60s, South-East European) Diego’s comrade-in-arms back in the day, Securitate combat hacker. Prone to philosophizing when a bit drunk. When a lot drunk, prone to being prone and unconscious ;).


    Saturday, November 23rd

    Both teams are really worn down after the party last night and way too little sleep, so performance is abysmal. The battles today sometimes look almost like slapstick movies, with people on both sides tripping and falling down, dropping weapons, missing obvious enemies, and being general fail-troopers. The Angels, with the unfair advantage of their combat controller being in much better condition than anyone, still manage to win slightly more often than not.

    Unsurprisingly, it is Morgan who fares best of them. Well, she’s able to grab a nap everywhere, anytime - on the ride there, in-between games, or actually during a game, if she isn’t being shot at, or after being shot down. But after a while, even she can’t keep up.

    The second best is Dominique. As she explains, she’s fairly used to pulling all-nighters, studying or working on her models, and the resulting lack of sleep. But her energy starts flagging really fast too.

    - Ough, Coach, enough. Please, pretty please. We understand the lesson… No party time before a game… Yawn…

    They managed to get through maybe two-thirds of their normal training time, but Diego figures it’s finally time to cut the teams some slack, before they mutiny, or, more likely, simply fall down asleep where they stand.

    Everyone’s so tired there isn’t much interest in the traditional campfire after the game - they’re just snoozing around it (save maybe for Yuni, who slept for most of the day in the Monster’s cab - but well, she’s the one driving it, auto-pilot assistance or not, she’d better be awake for it).

    Patty does check her comlog… And is revived for a moment into joyous excitement (“- Ohmygosh,ohmygosh,ohmygosh!”). She urges everybody to check their messages as well. And yes, turns out they have all received one - an unlimited time named VIP pass, for them and a “plus one”, to the “Blue Moon” (for the underage among them, valid only on nights with age-appropriate entertainment scheduled). Well. Looks like Patty’s performance was very well received indeed!

    Even that bit of excitement, however, isn’t enough to keep everybody awake much longer, so they adjourn for the day.

    The road back to school brings a reminiscence of what happened after the first paintball Saturday: the whole team falls asleep in the back of the cab, one propped against another. Or outright using the other as body-pillows, like Minnie is doing with Morgan. Wait, no, Alex is awake. Wide awake, and looking tense, nervous, and embarrassed. This has probably something to do with Nyree, who leaned over in her sleep, and is now firmly hugging Alex’ arm, snoring gently into her shoulder...

    Evangeline is of course going to get it easiest - there’s the limo waiting for her. The rest will have to get by with public transport… Save for Dominique, who goes for her bicycle.

    - Well, ‘Nique, I guess I'd better give you a lift. You shouldn’t be bicycling while asleep.”

    “ - I wouldn’t want to be a bother, Coach…”

    “ - You’d be a huge bother if you got ran over by a bus. C’mon, give me that bike and jump in.”

    Since he’s not going to leave the car even for a moment, he can give Dominique a lift to the very doorstep of her “project” block.

    And then it’s back to his place to finally grab some zzz-time himself!


    Sunday, November 24th

    Diego spends it mostly working on his cooking skills, but he also manages to finally post that memo about the paintball team on the teacher’s notice board.

    As Ken suggested, merely relying on word-of-mouth might be a little slow.


    Monday, November 25th

    Diego shows up at school a bit earlier. He has to put some more work into his bike - though now it’s mainly various bits of electrics and electronics that need to be installed. Y’know, those bits the Avalon Traffic Authority would be very, very unhappy not to find in a vehicle. Especially if the vehicle is meant to be street-legal. Starting with headlights.

    Ken shows up, accompanied by a cargo remote: another delivery for the team has arrived (ammo, some spare parts, various maintenance consumables), and even though it could make it there on its own, Ken is always happy to take a peek at whatever’s brewing in the hangar.

    He also admits he took Diego’s advice as for the punishment for Silva and Dimante. Everyday janitorial duties at the Academy are performed mostly by remotes, but the caretaker still has some old-fashioned cleaning tools and supplies available just in case. And also because the principal, coming, like Diego, from the Armed Forces background, believes in some of the old disciplinary methods never becoming really outdated as well.

    Even if students like these two spoiled princesses have to be actually instructed on how to operate a mop - like to not search for an on-off switch on it...

    “ - And I’ve seen that you finally posted a memo on the paintball team, Diego.”

    “ - I took your advice, yes.”

    “ - Well, we’ll see how it goes. I have to run, stuff to take care of. But there’s someone else who would want to talk to you, too…” - Ken gives the remote a little rap on the carapace, - “ - You’re up, kiddo. See you, Diego.

    - Mr. Ibarrez?” - the remote speaks up in DeeDee’s voice “ - I’m afraid we weren’t properly introduced, and… Would you mind me manifesting, or would you prefer to keep our contact via screen only?” - she sounds rather nervous.

    - I wouldn’t mind, please do.

    DeeDee’s avatar visualizes in the AR, with a rather whimsical visual effect - a brief whirling storm of opalescent soap bubbles. In this form, she’s a rather sporty, Nordic-looking blonde in her early 20s, though her visibly hesitant, shy manner makes her seem younger. Diego’s guess is she looks that way to play on the older sister stereotype for the students.

    - Pleased to meet you, I’m DeeDee Alephsdottir.” - she bows, or rather, nods to him, hands clasped before her. A handshake isn’t really an option when avatars are involved. “ - You may call me DeeDee. Or Ditzy. Or… Whatever you like.” - DeeDee’s self-esteem doesn’t seem to be all that high. Or at least, that’s how she sounds.

    - Diego Ibarrez. Glad to meet you, DeeDee.” - he nods back.

    - I feel I must apologize for my earlier behaviour. I thought I was being all clever, staying out of sight, because of your background… But chief Kamehameha pointed out it could also be seen as presumptuous, or rude… Or even worse, sinister...” - she wrings her hands worriedly, expression anxious. “ - Please believe, that was never my intention. But now that you know I’m here… Would you prefer I remain out of sight and limit our interactions to the impersonal interface?... I really don’t want to bother you...


    (Almost forty years earlier, in a Nomad cantina)

    - ‘Cause you know, Diego, there are a few theories on how Aleph works. Save, of course, all that Observance propaganda about it being the Satan embodied and so on, and so on.” - Claudiu takes a swig from his glass “ - Of course it would be wise not to ever mention that you don’t totally believe that one if there’s even a remote chance one of the witches might be within earshot…” - he takes a reflexive nervous glance around before continuing “ - See, what they tell us about it all being one, omnipresent entity, a single huge brain, controlled by Bureau Toth, might’ve been true. Back in the beginning. But now, with all these subpersonas… I mean, there’s too many of them, and as a result, it can’t work that way.

    - Jeez, Claudiu… guys, someone fill that man’s glass, ‘coz he’s starting to phila… pihilo… philopsizin’!

    - No, Diego, shut yer trap an’ listen to me. Aleph isn’t acting like a single entity. It ain’t that kind o’ behaviour. You could claim it is all just programmed that way, a masquerade, to keep us humans deceived about the nature of the Beast, yadda, yadda. But it simply doesn’t add up. Aleph behaves more like, I dunno… A corporation? There surely is an agenda, a personality, but various subpersonas seem to display different approaches to it, even… Different interpretations of it, and of various other things. They argue, even sometimes fight!

    - But what would that make them, Claudiu? Board members? Or, I dunno… a shareholders’ assembly?

    - Can’t really tell you… But folks who really get deep into the Aleph, like all those Posthumans… What are they? No doubt they were originally just humans, but are they now subpersonas of Aleph? Or a bit of this, a bit of that? If it really gets so deep into their brains, it’s impossible for it not to be influenced by them in kind...”

    “ - Y’know, Claudiu, I haven’t found me dick in a trash can to just get it deep into whatever stuff I encounter…”

    “ - Shit, you Corregidorians… You always get everything down to fuckin’. Either fuckin’ someone, or fuckin’ someone up… “

    “ - Well, at least we ain’t Bakunin...”

    “ - That I can drink to...” - Claudiu raises his tankard in a salute, trying to ignore two females in (partial) Bakunin uniforms sitting at the bar. They wear almost identical t-shirts, differing only in the text printed on them: “I kill everything I fuck” on one, and “I fuck everything I kill” on the other… “ - Anyway, Diego, the next time you meet a subpersona, think about it: Is it just Aleph putting on a mask? Or an actual person working for a boss they may or may not agree with?...



    - Let’s put it that way, DeeDee. Should I have any business with you, I’ll call you. Should you have any business you’d think I should be aware of, do not hesitate to call me. Apart from that, I don’t think we are going to need to bother each other much, right?

    - Right. I understand, Mr. Ibarrez. And whatever our respective backgrounds... You are a member of the Academy staff. And in that capacity, you will always have my full support and absolute loyalty. I’m unable to do anything less. Please remember that.

    The remote, which continued unloading as they were speaking, gives a happy warble, waving one manipulator.

    - Oh, you’re done? Good girl!” - DeeDee “pats” the machine’s head affectionately - “ - Well, I’ll be going then. Good day, Mr. Ibarrez!”

    As they leave, they make an interesting pair: the still-manifested AI, and a remote it’s running, but seems to treat like a pet… Wouldn’t that technically count as “playing with yourself”?...

    Patricia, who happens to be just arriving to the hangar, exchanges a warm greeting with the school AI, but then becomes troubled:

    - I hope the Coach wasn’t giving you a hard time, DeeDee? You know, about my personal files?...

    - No, not at all. Why would he?... Ms. Summers, have you been meddling again?” - DeeDee seems to space out for a moment, no doubt focused on the data-sphere, “ - Of course. Naughty!“ - she waggles an admonishing finger at Patty, though with a fond smile, “ - And I didn’t notice, again. You’re getting better every day.

    - You know, Coach,” - Patty speaks up once they’re alone, “ - All the lectures and what not on the subject - what you personally would probably call ‘propaganda’,” - she smirks, “ - Were never able to convince me that - or even really explain to my satisfaction why - the ‘Law of Single AI’ is supposedly so important and necessary. It already feels like there are more of them, anyway. Like DeeDee. She feels ‘real’, like a separate entity. What would be so different and bad if she really was, instead of a subpersona?

    - Like I once told miss Iskandar, Patty, I didn’t come here to criticize your country and how it handles its affairs. I’d have some choice words then, and most of PanOceanians, your parents and other teachers foremost, would probably not appreciate me sharing them.”

    “ - And I’d really like to hear your take on the subject anyway. Call it satisfying my rebellious, anti-authoritarian streak.”

    “ - Maybe some day later.”

    Significantly, Patricia is alone again. Even though they’re no longer practicing a performance, Octavia has once again stayed behind for some alone time with Fred…

    “ - I dunno, should I be happy for her, or jealous for her? What do you think, Coach?”

    Alex obviously still has something on her mind, and it obviously still involves Nyree. Alex is shooting glances at the other girl, biting her thumb nail, and muttering under her breath. But when Diego pulls her aside, she refuses to talk about it, declaring that it’s up to Nyree. Apparently, when they had their little private discussion two weeks ago, Alex has promised Nyree not to discuss whatever the issue is with anyone. And, though it’s causing her clear emotional distress, she intends to keep her word.

    “ - I’ve told you before, Coach. Whatever else I may be, I won’t be no liar!”

    Diego lets it go for now, but resolves to continue to keep an eye on them both.

    Dominique comes alone also. Usually, being in the same class, they arrived together with Evangeline. ‘Nique explains Eva stayed behind to talk with some friends.

    - You know, not my social class. Some of them aren’t too fond of me. Don’t want to make things awkward by hanging around.” - ‘Nique shrugs equably. There are obviously no hurt feelings on her part.

    When Eva finally comes in, she is somewhat down on her mood, but when inquired, she shrugs, “ - Politics, Coach…”

    - It stinks, chica, I know. It always stinks.” - though the context seems to imply that Neve had to deal with Silva and Dimante, who are - roughly - on the same social level as she. Well, the only thing more merciless and cut-throat than real politics is the high-school girl social scene kind...

    Octavia finally shows up, all happy. :)

    Evangeline reports she managed to finish her negotiations with the St. Florence Rorke Children's Hospital and set down the guidelines for their publicity stunt. Looks like, if they don’t want to wait until after New Year’s, it has to happen this Sunday. The limited area at the team’s disposal means they can take only five of the TAGs (one of each type is the obvious choice), and no dynamic display can be performed: no place to hold it, and the pavement won’t take it besides. Still, those kids who are allowed to walk out will surely want to get into the cockpits (no problem there - Diego and Eric are authorized to override pilot commands in the unlikely situation any of the kids have limbs long enough to actually reach the controls and be able to start a TAG), and the VR training sim could be ran for anyone interested.

    - Uh… How many children we’re talking about, Minnie?” - inquires Octavia.

    - Well, currently there are about a hundred of them at the hospital, even given the modern medical technologies, but naturally not all of them will be attending. Like, preterm babies in their isolettes, and other very small ones. Also, there are some older kids who are comatose” - a painful grimace crosses Alex’ face, “ - So, I’d say, maybe fifty or sixty of them.

    - Eeep. That’s a lot of people…”

    “ - You regularly deal with much bigger crowds, chicka, during your orchestra performances...”

    “ - But then I have my cello to hide behind…”

    “ - And now you’ll have your TAG.”

    “ - True…”

    “ - Looks good, chicas. So, Alex, what’s your call?”

    - OK... I’ll go with you. I’ll just stay with Eric and his guys, help keep an eye on the TAGs.

    Which, of course, causes another outburst of enthusiasm from Minuette.

    The time is set for early afternoon, because “some people do have some things on agenda on Sunday mornings”, as Morgan puts it.

    - Ah, you can’t get yourself out of bed early, can you, Lai?” - Alex, of course, can’t help herself.

    - Maybe. No reason why I should, even if that was any of your business, Narahari, which it isn’t. But since we’re at it, maybe some of us would like to attend the Sunday Mass, huh?

    - That’s enough, chicas. Thirteen hundred, we meet at the hangar. That’s a good time for that.

    - Evangeline, thank you. You did good work on this.”

    “ - I see you’re up to something, gang, Coach? Am I disturbing anything?” - a familiar voice rings out uncertainly from the hangar’s doorstep.

    - Mako!!!” - Minnie exclaims ecstatically, throwing herself at their ex-teammate, enveloping her in an enthusiastic hug, “ - Golly, I haven't seen you in ages! What were you up to?” - she chatters happily.

    - Minnie… We’re in the same class. You’ve seen me not half an hour ago.” - Mako rolls her eyes in fond exasperation, returning the hug readily.

    All the others extend their own, more restrained, but no less friendly, greetings.

    - What brings you here?

    - Well, for those of you not following the sports section of the school’s bulletin, my team,” - she indicates her basketball uniform, “ - Is playing a game on Friday afternoon. It’s the first league game since I joined the school team. I wanted to invite you all to watch... That is, if you don’t have anything more important to do?...”

    “ - Yeah, chica, and as I recall, we promised you some support, didn’t we?” - Diego smirks mischievously.

    - But, Coach, we can’t get the TAGs into the hoops court. The floor wouldn’t stand up to it...”

    “ - ...And we’d make a lot of people angry, I get it. But there should be no problem with having us AR projecting the TAGs inside, right? Looks like the next best thing.

    - And we could also stage a little display outside, before the game! I’ve been a bit out of touch with the current programme of the cheerleading team, not to mention out of practice… I must check with Kim… But can we get such huge pom-poms on time?” - ponders Minnie.

    - Hmm… Leave that to me.” - offers ‘Nique with a sly smile.

    - Okay girls, I’ll leave this in your hands then. So, Mako, you may count on us, eh, chicas?”

    - Absolutely!” - declares Evangeline firmly, “ - She’s one of the founding members, after all. I think we should consider Mako a honorary member of the Angels. Agreed?” - she turns to the others.

    The declaration is met with a resounding chorus of agreement.

    - She stood beside us in our first real game.”

    “ - Little good as it did...” - Mako looks to still be a bit ashamed of that performance.

    - Hey, I bit it just seconds later. You gave your all, no reason to fret!” - Minnie hugs Mako again.

    - So it’s decided. We’ll be there, cheering you on.

    Alex, of course, wouldn’t quite be herself without at least a little needling:

    - You know, Joyo, I always wondered…” - she takes a deliberate step closer to Mako, looking down at the much shorter girl, “ - You’re such a runt. I mean, even Moina has a few centimeters on you,” - and it’s true, Mako is definitely the shortest there, her height significantly below average for her age, “ - In basketball that’s practically a handicap. How can you do any good at all?” - Alex smirks.

    - Heh,” - Mako unexpectedly smirks right back, striking a cocky pose, “ - Come on Friday and see for yourself, Narahari.

    After Mako runs off for her own team practice, the Angels’ session goes by without noteworthy events. However, soon after they’re done and dismissed, Dominique calls in from the school’s parking lot. Someone has cut the tire on her bike’s front wheel. Diego invites her back to the hangar along with the bike, as Eric suggests he could fabricate her a new tire (just needs to download blueprints from the school’s bike club, bicycle tires are standardised designs after all).

    Eric inspects the slashed tire, and it’s clear someone definitely knew what they were doing. The tire is of modern, inner-tube-less, multi-pocket design (capable of simply ignoring a mere puncture), so it was virtually ripped open lengthwise, likely with a vibro-knife. Sure, school safety regulations prohibit carrying such dangerous utensils, but short, up to 2-inch blade length vibroblades are readily available in any tool store - and, in fact, several are in stock in the school’s tech classrooms.

    As a new set of tires is ready to print in their fabricator, Diego suggests having the individual air pockets within filled with a UV-reactive aerosol paint, police-style. It won’t harm anyone, but would make identification of an offender way easier. Unfortunately, modifying paintball simunition nanobots into remote trackers falls outside of Eric’s expertise, but such paint is easily obtainable from the school’s chemical supplies.

    - Oh, and one more thing, ‘Nique. Before you get on your bike, check if the brakes are OK.”

    “ - You think someone could tamper with them, Coach?”

    “ - If I wanted to harm someone who’s using a vehicle, the brakes are the first thing I’d tamper with. Someone could think that in a bicycle it is just a prank, but in reality, it can be deadly. Especially in city traffic. So keep checking them, chica.”

    - Yeah…” - the girl is clearly shaken by this idea.

    Diego calls Ken to inform him what happened, as he thinks there is a good chance the vandal will be having the tool on his/her person, and thus easy to detect when passing the gates. He also points out Dimante and Silva as likely suspects. The bedel is informed about the new tires for Torres’ bike, should that type of incident happen again.

    Ken, however, has a better idea. While the bicycle stands aren’t a high-surveillance area, he should be able to find out who was meddling with Dominique’s bike.

    Well, the offender was indeed caught on camera. He was covering his tracks (including comlog signature) in a pretty clever way (actually, more clever than he should, given the fact the chief of security has all the “usual suspects” on file, and knows their abilities regarding avoiding the attention of surveillance) so Ken can’t tell much more at the moment, apart from ruling Dimante and Silva out: the vandal was definitely male.

    Sure, not something the proper security software wouldn’t be able to crack, but Ken needs to do some paperwork on this to deal with red tape: justify using advanced-level surveillance tech to violate someone’s right to privacy due to well-based suspicion of intentional property damage. Or something to that effect. It will take a few days.

    Diego basically waves his hand at this. Sure, it wouldn’t harm to get the vandal, but he knows this was merely a pawn. He’s sure it is Dimante and Silva who are behind this.


    Tuesday, November 26th

    Diego decides it is a good moment to get a jump on his Christmas shopping - and spends a good while searching Arachne (and, to a lesser degree, Maya) for a suitable Christmas gift for Yuni. Sure, asking the system for “Christmas gift for a girlfriend ideas” brings up tons of results, but then you have to make a choice yourself. Diego goes through the nail polish section of Bakunin’s Vaudeville catalogue, looking for something adequately high-impact (as he remembers, Yuni owns a pretty extensive collection of nail polish, from low- to very high-profile ones)… And yet still able to make it legally through PanOceanian Customs on Avalon! With Bakunin-made stuff, it isn’t that obvious*...

    • ...Remember when Fio didn’t want to send Octy a picture of the Human Revolution guys in their homemade cheerleading uniform prototypes for their next meeting with the Angels? She wasn’t sure if it wouldn’t get Octy in trouble with the law. What is waved away in Bakunin as “just some kids goofin’ around” could just as well be classified as “underaged sexual content” in PanOceania. Not that PanO is overly puritan itself, as the commercial success of the (in)famous “Morat Weapons of Ass Destruction” adult feature attests… But it is, you know, pretty well-regulated in these matters. And don’t even start on Bakunin made porn. They cater to (almost) every taste - and you really don’t want to know what makes some of their customers tick. Not, if you value the very continued existence of whatever sex life you have.
    He finally settles for a nano-based, programmable nail polish. Not the stuff for everyday use, but could definitely be appropriate for those special occasions. And while the local Nomad Commercial Mission doesn’t have it in stock, they can get it on time.


    Wednesday, November 27th

    As the team gathers for practice (it’s VR Sim day today - Yuni excused herself, not much for her to really do), Alex heads for Diego with a grim expression and asks for a talk in private. Diablo orders the rest of the team to the “briefing room”, and leads Narahari to his office. She leans her back on his door, arms crossed protectively, looking down with a troubled expression.

    - I hate breaking my word on this… But I really think someone should know…

    Just when she gets together to explain it’s about Nyree and something she said during their talk two weeks ago (when Alex shouted a shocked “- T-that’s fucked up!”, remember?), the latter suddenly pulls the office’s door (on which Alex is still leaning) open and attempts to rush in. The girls collide as Alex falls backwards, but with a lot of stumbling manage to save themselves from falling over. Nyree is holding on to the door frame, panicked and breathless.

    - I’m really sorry about this! I didn’t know!…” - she manages to gasp out.

    Before Diego can ask for clarification, Eric calls in.

    - Diego, we have a guest. Bad news.”

    “ - Who? The Principal?”

    “ - No, worse…” - whispers Nyree, “ - My mother!...”

    “ - Decided to pay us a surprise visit?”

    “ - More like a visitation…”

    “ - Fine. I’ll be there right away. Just in case, get me a leaden pipe*, Eric!”

    “ - Leaden pipe? Diego, I have a frackin’ TAG Autocannon here and I’m still afraid!”

    “ - Well, I can’t lift that damn autocannon, so get me that pipe.”

    “ - Fine, just don’t blame me if she ties it around your neck…” - mutters Eric.

    “ - Chicas, get to the classroom and start the sim. Eric, could you oversee the session today?”

    “ - Sure, no problem, the scenario basically runs itself anyway.”

    • in Polish “gazrurka” (literally “gas-pipe”): usually made of lead, it was once a common instrument for bashing heads in unsavoury circles (being cheap and easily available; also, supposedly, it was difficult to take fingerprints off a lead surface, which added to the popularity). Now, a colloquial (if slightly archaic) term for any improvised club, especially if it was originally a length of metal piping. I guess if Diego was modern-day American, he’d be calling for a baseball bat. Then again, having worked maintenance in Corregidor’s workgangs as a kid and teenager, he’s surely familiar with the offensive potential and ready availability of plumbing supplies…
    Nyree and Alex head for the briefing room, one apprehensive, the other with a curiously dark, stormy expression.

    Awaiting Diego in front of the hangar is captain Reweti Rikoriko.

    - Good afternoon, warrant officer Ibarrez. I’ve came to take a look at your operation, if that’s not a problem? And ask how my daughter is doing.”

    “ - Good afternoon, captain Rikoriko. Please come inside, then.” - if she thinks she can frighten him with a ‘surprise inspection’, she’s seriously mistaken. Sure, she’s strict and intimidating (which she is in spades, much more impressive in person than on comlog - the woman is built like a brick outhouse!), but even if he was still in the force and this was a military installation, they’d be different units, different corps and even different nations’ militaries, for fuck’s sake. She wouldn’t be his superior unless specifically appointed so for a given operation. Therefore, she could drop acerbic comments, she could shout, spit and flail her arms all she wants, but she can’t really do jack shit. And whatever she says or does, will get caught on tape anyway.

    Besides, Diablo was already taking surprise inspections from bat-shit crazy Nomad high-brass bastards (outranking a mere captain by far) when this woman was still just a wet-behind-her-ears cadet.

    But, apparently, she’s aware of all that, too, and intends to behave herself. And is even perhaps somewhat pleasantly surprised by Diego’s refusal to be intimidated, as he gives her a tour of the facilities and machine park.

    - I see you are using applique armor vests on your TAGs? That’s an interesting solution, you don’t see it around much.”

    “ - Yes, an inexpensive method of improving survivability. We’re working on a tight budget.”

    “ - Ah, yes. Budget. I know what you mean.” - cpt. Rikoriko could’ve just as well spat on the floor. She obviously doesn’t have much sympathy for the bean-counters who cut military spending - and make her subordinates use less-than-the-very-best equipment. “ - You know, warrant officer, I always had much respect for the old guard - which, in our case, means the really, really old guard - who were taking the TAGs into the thick of things in person, alongside us grunts, instead of playing their VR games from afar, as they do now…

    - As for Nyree, she’s doing fine. I’ve put her in the position of prospective second-in-command, though she needs a bit more polishing in that department. She’s also an expert marksman, especially with a grenade launcher. You wouldn’t believe in how pin-point accurate she can be.

    - I wouldn’t have guessed…”

    “ - Let me tell you - when we got her in a TAG for the first time, we had to turn off her targeting program, because it wasn’t able to implement the minimal adjustments she needed it to. So she shot with no targeting assistance - and did better than with it. Naturally, we have the program rewritten for her since then.”

    “ - I must say I’m impressed. I would have never thought she would achieve much success here...” - the captain trails off, grimacing at herself.

    “ - That’s because you* never had any faith at all in her, have you?!” - somehow, Alex made it behind them unnoticed, and is standing there with fists clenched. She’s visibly furious.

    • note - while this is hard to represent in English (especially written English) Alex is using a singular “you” when addressing Reweti Rikoriko. It is a direct form of addressing someone (acceptable in informal conditions, or for an adult addressing a child) , and in this situation (teenager speaking to a parent of one’s school colleague, whom one met for the very first time) it is flat-out rude, not to mention Alex is voicing herself in a rather aggressive tone.
    - Excuse me?” - Reweti turns slowly to face Alex, with a raised eyebrow. That deceptively calm and gentle voice is sure to have reduced many a trooper to a blubbering puddle of terror. Alex is clearly not unaffected, quivering under the woman’s deadly gaze, but stands her ground, indignation giving her strength.

    - Dropping by to see ‘how my daughter is doing’? What farce! You make me sick!...”

    “ - You are Narahari, aren’t you?” - there’s enough tension in the air you could play it like a guitar, “ - Clearly the last person qualified to have a voice in the matter, given your own behaviour towards her.”

    Diego request the school’s system apply extra attention to the scene. Everything is going to be on tape anyway, but he anticipates things to go ballistic. Alex isn’t known for her mellow temper, and captain Rikoriko doesn’t look like it, either. A full-out brawl is sure to end in Narahari getting smeared into a puddle of gore on the hangar’s floor (Reweti is a Crocman, after all. Should SHTF, she’d most likely be able to handily wipe the floor with Diablo, too!) - and should that go any further, W/O Ibarrez wants to have all the evidence possible to protect everyone - including himself.

    - Alex, stop it! I didn’t ask you to meddle in my affairs!” - Nyree is behind Alex now, tugging on her arm, trying to drag the older girl away.

    - Yeah, but someone has to tell it for you if you’re not going to do it yourself!”

    “ - You promised you won’t! And you don’t understand!...” - Nyree is all panicked now, if she wasn’t already.

    - What is there to understand?!” - Alex ignores Nyree’s pleas and stares into Reweti’s eyes with naked fury and disgust “ - Y-your daughter… She tries to kill herself…”

    “ - Which was your fault…” - mutters Morgan.

    Her voice sounds almost like a klaxxon in the silence. As Diego looks that way, there are six heads peeking from the briefing room’s doors, three at each side of the doorframe.

    Morgan yelps suddenly. Minuette has just slugged her in the shoulder. Hard.

    - Morgan! Not! Helping!” - hisses Minnie, obviously distraught.

    When Minuette Diane Chryse gets violent with you, you know you fucked up.

    - I know, for fuck’s sake!” - Alex bursts out despairingly, as tears start rolling down her cheeks, “ - How do you think that makes me feel?! But her!... Your daughter tries to kill herself, and what do you say when you find out? ‘Sure, please do, I have no use for such a weakling of a child’! What kind of mother does that?! What kind of mother does that make you, huh?!” - she screams in the woman’s face, before her voice breaks down in an angry sob.

    Alex couldn’t have hit Reweti harder if she had worn her Anaconda and landed a punch with the TAG’s fist. Captain Rikoriko takes a shaky step back, suddenly deathly pale under her dark complexion.

    The horrified silence stretches brittle.

    - Um, girls… I think we really should go back to our sim. This is clearly none of our business…” - Evangeline tries to manage the rest of the team.

    - Well, you were the first at the door when the shouting started...” - mutters Patricia.

    Miss Neve has the good grace to blush.

    - Indeed you should, chicas. Off you go. Now, let’s go to my office where we can sit before anyone falls down. And where there will be a bit less of an audience, I hope. Alex, you too. You aren’t a family member, but you’re deep enough in all of that...

    He lets all of them in (the Devil, with a stony face, takes a measure off of everyone, in the best western-movie-undertaker style), and then sets up an electric kettle. A mug of tea for everyone definitely is going to be a good idea.

    - I see you are a practical man, warrant officer Ibarrez…

    Heavy silence reigns for a moment, Reweti staring off into space with a haunted look, Nyree fidgeting anxiously, Alex shaking and trying to control her tears.

    Diego decides to “break the ice” with a shocker:

    - If that’s what really happened, captain, then I must agree with my charge’s assessment,” - he declares calmly, glancing at Alex, “ - That is indeed fucked up.”

    “ - Thank you, warrant officer. It is indeed.” - Reweti answers calmly, with apparent heartfelt, if pained, sincerity. “ - I knew this would come back to bite me in the ass - and rightfully so. I could offer many excuses… But I don’t really have an excuse.”

    As captain Rikoriko explains, the peak of Nyree’s crisis was also the spark that caused things to come to a head between her parents, and in the family as a whole. For a long time, Reweti tended to mix up her job and her family, treating her husband (also a serviceman) and children as another band of subordinate soldiers. She took out her frustrations, with the sexism she apparently encountered during her service, on them. Not to mention her “slight” obsession with the family legacy of armed forces service. And Nyree, quiet, bookish, and not at all combative, tended to always be hit hardest, always such a “huge disappointment”. And then, under combined pressure of Alex and mother, she broke.

    Things exploded, a lot of unpleasant things were said (or screamed). Reweti and her husband nearly divorced. Yet they managed to somehow hold it together and patch it up, for the sake of the children if nothing else. Now, thanks to counseling (which still continues), the situation in the family is much better - though, Reweti admits, still far from perfect.

    Having to face what a terrible mother she was being, especially to Nyree, was the hardest, most heart-breaking thing in the captain’s life. But now she’s determined to make amends and fix herself, and her relation to her family.

    - It’s all right, moth-... Mom*. We’ll make it work.” - Nyree smiles shyly, squeezing Reweti’s hand reassuringly.

    • Nyree never talked about her parents much to date, especially not “in narration”, the most memorable mention of her father being made when telling Alex “not to call her ‘Ree”. But it’s obvious now, every time she did talk of them before, Nyree, significantly, referred to them as “dad” and “mother”.
    - A word of explanation, chicas. Bringin’ work home in a similar way seems to be a common problem in any force. I’m not trying to justify it, I’m not going to speak on that particular case, I’m merely saying I’ve seen it a lot among us CJC bunch back in my day, and I’ve heard it is likewise in other armies. Just so you know.

    “ - I’m so sorry, Alex!” - Nyree wrings her hands, “ - When you started asking about my… A-attempt… I got so angry again… I just threw that in your face to shock you, and then just refused to speak about it further or explain!”

    “ - What do you have to be sorry for?” - Alex, still sniffling a bit, is genuinely puzzled.

    - But I’ve seen how much this upset you…”

    “ - Hey, I wouldn’t have wanted to talk to me in your place either. We’re not exactly friends, are we? You were right, It wasn’t my place to meddle.”

    “ - But you had good intentions…”

    “ - Yeah, the kind Hell is paved with!” - Alex snorts self-deprecatingly, “ - And I went and caused a scene for nothing, upsetting everyone, scratching at old wounds. A fuck-up as always… If you all excuse me, I’m going to find the ladder to the roof of the hangar and go jump...”

    “ - Don’t even joke like that!” - Nyree screams, rounding on Alex.

    - Narahari, do you want a swift kick up the ass?” - growls Diego.

    - Heh, yeah, bad joke, especially given the company. Sorry…”

    “ - You thought I was being abused at home or something! You just didn’t have the full picture, and that was my fault. But you wanted to help. Thank you.” - Nyree places a hand on Alex’ own with an earnestly grateful look.

    - Y-you’re welcome…” - Alex awkwardly rubs at the back of her head, looking away and blushing.


    - What I’d really like to know now,” - speaks up captain Rikoriko, “ - Is why this has upset you so, miss Narahari. To put it bluntly, given your history with my daughter, why would you even care?” - her tone is not hostile (maybe a bit suspicious), but genuinely puzzled. Nyree also seems to be holding her breath for the answer.

    “ - B-because…” - Alex whispers, suddenly finding her beat-up combat boots very fascinating, “ - I know… I know what it’s like. To be in that dark hole of despair. So deep, that the only way out you can see… Is to end it all.” - she angrily wipes at her eyes again, “ - ...And what it’s like to have the person you thought would help you, would understand… Have them not give a fuck!” - Alex shakes her head, looking up,

    - And, well, Nyree made me face, really face, the kind of person I’ve become since… The way she kicked my ass… You should be proud.” - she smirks at Reweti.

    - Oh? How so?” - Nyree’s mother is obviously puzzled.

    - You mean she didn’t tell you?” - Alex quirks an eyebrow at Nyree, who now has her turn to blush and look away.

    - Not at all! Nyree, were you holding out on me?

    - Oh-ho, let me tell you! She finally had enough of my shit, so she destroyed me! When she was done, she left me there, broken, in a puddle of my own piss. All without really laying a single finger on me.” - there seems to be a bit of genuine admiration in Alex’ voice.

    - Well… The Coach helped a little…” - Nyree fidgets under Reweti’s amazed gaze.

    - Not that you needed much help, I’m sure. Whatever else I might have said back then, I never claimed you were stupid.” - Alex declares firmly.

    - Well. However much it pleases me to hear all that, let me make one thing clear,” - Reweti declares looking hard at Alex, “ - Should you ever again lay even a finger on my daughter... I will rip out your legs and shove ‘em right back up your ass until you choke on ‘em. And there will be nothing your father’s army of lawyers will be able to do to save you. Understood?

    - Mother!...” - Nyree is mortified.

    “ - Understood.” - Alex nods, gulping.

    - I must say, it is a little late for that, captain,” - Diego comments mildly.

    - Absolutely so, warrant officer, I agree. Still, late as it is… At least now I can say it and really mean it. That must count for something, at least?” - the captain sighs, shame and hope mixed in equal measure on her face.

    - Well, I don’t know about you, ladies, but I think that’s enough emotional upheaval for one day for me.

    As captain Rikoriko leaves, Diego escorts her back to the hangar’s door, leaving Nyree and Alex in the office (giving the adults the chance to exchange a few words without the teenagers listening, and the girls to also maybe talk and/or rebalance before returning to the rest of the team).

    - Well, I clearly wasn’t expecting that,” - Reweti shakes her head ruefully, “ - And Nyree going ballistic on Narahari like that…

    “ - Beware the anger of a patient man.” - quotes Diego.

    - Indeed. She really does take after her father, then. He’s like that. Same with Wakaru, our eldest. He’s attending the police academy now. And God help anyone who finally manages to piss him off. Of the three of them, only Koi seems to take after me, with the hot-blooded temper… But it was taking Nyree so long I was beginning to doubt… And that it actually seems to have made a difference in Narahari...”

    “ - When all's said and done, I guess you could invite Alex over for Sunday apple pie, or something, one day, Mrs. Rikoriko.”

    “ - Oh?”

    “ - I think it would do some good. For her, too.”

    “ - Well, maybe… Anyway, thank you, warrant officer. Seems you are doing a good job with these kids…”

    “ - Doing what I can, captain.”

    “ - Carry on, then. And next time I feel like dropping by, I’ll give you more advanced warning then none at all.” - she smiles, giving Diego a friendly salute in farewell.

    After she’s gone, the surveillance system (with DeeDee somewhere behind it, for sure) requests Diego’s decision on what to do with the extra material it gathered at his demand. Luckily, it won’t be needed as evidence, so Diablo orders security back to normal level, and the footage deleted according to standard procedure.

    Diego goes back to his office and knocks on the door.

    - The hell you knocking for, Coach?” - asks Alex as she opens it, “ - It’s your office.

    - Well, given what happened last time someone opened that door without knocking, I felt it prudent. Better safe than sorry… And what the hell do I know, you may have been making out in here or something…” - he smirks wickedly at the girls, who both blush furiously and sputter denials in reply, “ - Yea, I agree, that would be pretty fucked up, but then again, seems we do have a day of fucked up revelations today, after all…

    As they walk to join the rest, there’s silence between Nyree and Alex, but it’s a different kind of silence than ever before. Certainly not a hostile or tense one. Maybe even companionable?

    Entering the briefing room, Nyree and Alex get instantly hit with a desperate hug by Minuette, who manages to get her arms around both of them simultaneously, and, still obviously distraught, starts babbling worried inquiries too fast for anyone to really follow.

    - Easy there, Chryse. It’s okay. You can stop panicking now.” - Alex pats Minuette’s back awkwardly.

    - Really, Minnie, we’re all right. Everything’s fine. It was all just... A big misunderstanding.” - confirms Nyree stroking Minnie’s pink curls.

    Both Minnie and the rest of the girls still look uncertain and worried, so Diego puts in:

    - It’s fine, really, chicas. It’s all resolved, and nothing bad is happening with Nyree and her mum (‘anymore’, he doesn’t add). Nor with Alex (‘nope, there totally is‘, he doesn’t add again). Crisis over, you can all relax.”

    There’s a collective sigh of relief from the room.

    - Listen, Narahari…” - Morgan clears her throat anxiously under Minnie’s sudden unexpectedly stern gaze, still rubbing her shoulder, “ - Sorry, about the comment earlier.”

    “ - Well, you were right…” - Alex shrugs uncomfortably.

    - It was still uncalled for.”

    “ - S’ok, Lai, we’re cool. Can we do the sim now? After all that, I do feel like shooting something.” - Alex smirks, trying to lighten the mood.

    And so they finally get to it.


    Thursday, November 28th

    Ken calls to inform Diego that he found the guy who cut Dominique’s tire. It is one of his “usual suspects” - the boy has quite a rap sheet (still, not even close to Narahari’s), and already has a reputation of misbehaving towards kids from lower social classes who attend the school on these precious few scholarships (like the one ‘Nique originally aimed for). The vandal claims, of course, that it was his own idea, and that he was acting alone. Not at all likely, but there’s no way to prove otherwise, and therefore it would be a “word against word” case. Given the exact nature of the damage, not much can be done - the kid won’t get off with anything worse than paying the damage money, hearing a reprimand, and another citation in his file.

    Pressing the case would be definitely a bad move - the school board is very concerned with “Reputation”. As Ken comments, it is way better than in the old days, as he heard - before “Tesseum Chennault”, the Academy was perilously close to being just a diploma-stamping factory, (though a high-priced one, so to keep the rich kids from rubbing their elbows with proles), just claiming to be an elite educational facility. Most of the staff has changed since then, and the kids who were in Junior High are now at least half-way through Senior High. The standards are way higher these days (a grade from the Academy may be easily considered one higher than an equivalent one from most other schools), the rules way stricter - but still, the kids are gonna be kids, and the board is likely to sweep under a rug everything they can get away with doing so. Case in point - Narahari.

    Unfortunately, there was another incident today: someone hacked into Particia’s locker during her PE class and fed her favourite big earphones into a waste disposal disassembler (for PE, just like for TAG-Soft, she uses earplug headphones). Definitely not the same guy, as he was already Ken’s “guest” when that happened.

    Well. Seems someone is targeting the TAG-Soft team members…

    Oh, and by the way - Ken managed to dig up the footage on Nyree’s incident with Tiana and Samantha. Rikoriko simply walked into them absent-mindedly (given how many AR windows she kept running at the moment - cross-referencing textbooks and research papers - it’s almost a miracle she didn’t trip over her own feet) - and, despite Nyree apologising, quite profusely, they considered it necessary to put the “uncouth, inattentive plebeian” in her place.


    Friday, November 29th

    After classes are over for the day, the school (and visitors) gathers for the hoops game. The Belo Horizonte’s Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy’s female basketball team, The Ramjets*, are going against The Mantises of Porto Bello’s Ezequiel Diaz Preparatory Institute (or “E-Z Prep”, as the opposing school is derogatorily called by some at the Rocha Academy - seems there is some long-standing rivalry going on...).

    • Named after Ramjet Wasps - large (up to 10cm in length, and almost twice as much in wingspan) and very aggressive hornet-analog insects native to Avalon. They are known to be able to outrun a car, though a ramjet wasp’s “afterburner” burst of speed is of short duration (it is driven by hormones, analogous to adrenaline overdrive in Terran mammals).
    Ramjet wasps are also one of the few animals on Avalon potentially dangerous to humans. Normally, they actively avoid people when left alone, but are very easily provoked - and though a single sting is not likely to be fatal, enraged swarms have been known to kill a healthy adult human.

    Minnie had conspired with her cheerleading team friends, and the cheer squad (including, once again, little Katya Malinin) can be seen performing - very vigorously - in front of the sports hall. The opposing team, however, aren’t ready for the sight of a TAG (Minnie’s Gecko) dancing and jumping a few meters behind the Academy’s cheerleaders! They aren’t quite in perfect sync - a TAG is not quite as flexible as a human, its reflexes and balance are also off, not to mention that four days was not really enough for lapsed-cheerleader Minnie to get the squad’s current routine down pat… But Minuette is making the machine pull stunts Diego’s experienced pilot’s eye is telling him are on the edge of possibility, and they ride by on enthusiasm and shock value! Especially as the TAC (Tactical Armored Cheerleader!) is complete with appropriately-sized pom-poms (Dominique had “borrowed” and creatively repurposed some ribbons Eric was using for his “portable bush” concealment suite prototypes) and “re-painted” in Ramjets colors and insignia (courtesy of Patricia).

    ...Hopefully, the Gecko’s head designer is long dead already, or he would be in a serious risk of a heart failure, seeing all that!

    Both teams and the public are, however, duly impressed. And the morale boost seems to contribute to the Ramjets’ excellent performance. Especially after the cheerleaders repeat the show at halftime, this time with an AR projection of the TAG on the playing field. The opposing team’s cheer squad puts up a valiant fight, but they can’t really stand against such firepower!

    As they file into the spectator stands, a number of familiar faces can be spotted, of course.

    Lyra is there (though, as Minnie explained, Lyra’s tastes run more towards the extreme end of the sport’s spectrum - she’s an avid follower of the Ariadnan Dog-Bowl League, for example - she can always be counted on to lend her support to the Academy’s teams, no matter the discipline), with Bonnie in tow, as always.

    Minnie quickly runs off to join Ilya and a few of his football team-mates.

    Octavia beams as she sees Fred waving at her shyly, indicating the seat next to him with a hopeful look. She starts towards him, but then hesitates with an uncertain glance at the rest of the Angels. Patty gives her friend an impish grin and a playful shove in his direction. Thus encouraged, Octy joins Fred, both blushing prettily.

    Yuni sits with Diego. By the end of the match, she’s going to be pretty hoarse from all the cheering she’s done - she really gets into it.

    Mako proves without a doubt why she’s the Academy’s premiere sportsgirl, and that in basketball height is not everything - while she’s the smallest player on the field, she’s also the most effective one. She doesn’t score the most, but her passes, assists, set-ups, intercepts, and reversals are things to behold. The little twin-tailed brunette is just a blur in motion as she’s darting and dodging in between opponents in a manner befitting her team’s namesake. And until today, Diego was fairly sure it was impossible for a human without bionic augments to jump quite so high in relation to their own height…

    Not that her team-mates are slouches, either. All of them pull their weight, putting in a great performance, especially the tall, dusky girl the AR tags as Karra Avar, whose position as team captain Mako is set to inherit (and here’s something you don’t see everyday - Karra is of mixed race, of which an obviously significant component seems to be Inuit).

    The team work together like a well-oiled, well-tuned machine, and, even though she is a latecomer, Mako looks to be perfectly integrated, both in teamwork and interpersonal relations, respected, valued and liked as a team-mate - which is fully reciprocated on her side.

    The opponents, for their part, absolutely do not give the game up lightly - whatever the derogatory nickname for their school, the Mantises are anything but “easy” opposition.

    The match is hard-fought, with the lead changing hands several times, beautiful and exciting plays on both sides, the struggle raging full-bore to the last minute, the audience on the edge of their seats.

    Finally though, on this day, The Ramjets prove to be the better team. And the crowd goes wild.

    - So, now you know how ‘poor, runty, handicapped me’ manages on the playing field, Narahari,” - Mako says after the game, smirking at Alex, “ - Any more doubts?”

    “ - Yeah... As the Coach put it - ‘small, but crazy’*,” - Alex tries to play it cool, but she is obviously impressed.

    • Polish “mały, ale wariat”, a colloquial phrase used to describe someone or something making up (often in spades!) for unimpressive size (or the like) with other qualities, like speed, dexterity, toughness, stamina - or even sheer bravado and fighting spirit. Either way, a positive description. For example, it was recently used as marketing slogan for “The Ant-Man” movie.
    Well, the home team won - time for a celebration! Though the Angels, the painful lesson from last weekend fresh and bright in their minds, will be sure not to overdo it - there’s training to be done tomorrow morning, and the Coach will not be merciful!


    Saturday, November 30th

    As the team rides for their weekly paintball practice, Diego fills all the girls in on the situation - the “pranks” played on Dominique and Patricia.

    - So I wasn’t the only one…?” - Patty is surprised.

    - No, chica. And I’m afraid you won’t be last. So, chicas, keep your eyes open: we don’t know what they are going to pull next, and on whom. Even though I’m pretty sure I know who’s behind it.

    - Silva and Dimante, right?” - growls Alex, “ - You should’ve let me shred their asses last time…

    - Oh, you can bet I’d love to let you get your hands on them, Alex, but for a number of reasons that’s not something we should be doing.”

    “ - So what, we just roll over and let them get away with it?” - grumbles Morgan.

    - Not much else we can do for now. So watch your backs, chicas, and don’t do anything stupid that would get you in trouble,” - he gives Alex a significant look, “ - But sooner or later they’ll make a mistake. And I fully intend to show them that going after my troops is not something you can get away with.

    Everyone is properly rested this time, so today’s battles go much better, both teams back on form.

    Diego is satisfied to observe the progress his charges made in the two-odd months they have been in his care. Octavia’s mobility improved, and while she still remains the most effective single shooter, the others, especially Patricia and Morgan, and now Nyree, are slowly gaining on her. Minuette’s survivability and cunning have gone up. Evangeline is really shaping up as commander. While Dominique doesn’t yet significantly stand out in any area, she’s able to comfortably fill any role, and coordinate with anyone. And Alex’ teamwork, and as a result general effectiveness as a whole, has improved by leaps and bounds (her still somewhat abrasive personality notwithstanding). Definite improvement all around. He’ll make proper TAG-jocks of them yet!

    The Spiders have actually also improved. Though generally not very competitive, and, with the various other obligations in their lives, only able to get one day of practice a week on average - the Saturday with the Angels - they have nonetheless gotten better in the time they’ve known each other. Still, a day will come when the Angels will outstrip them too far for them to remain suitable training opponents.

    Bolo conferes with Diego on this very subject. While the majority of the local better “paintball” teams have initially regarded the Angels with amused disregard at best, and sneering contempt at worst, now, having been shown comlog-captured footage of the girls in action, a number of them seem to be rethinking their position. Seems that, should the Spiders ever need help, or total replacement, options should be available.

    That’s still in the future, though. Today, the Spiders provide a good challenge, though the Angels do very well. Alex and Nyree actually stick together and pull the baited ambush trick Nyree suggested last Wednesday practice again, this time on the Spiders, with renewed success.

    And tomorrow, it’s off to the hospital, for their little publicity stunt.


    Which sums up entry #11.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  13. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #12

    “Getting Busy”

    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #2 - starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed.
    A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is
    available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #3 - the “#x” notes the episode in which given character made first appearance.


    “Anjos de Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko.
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s).
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #6), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Almost never seen without headphones. Suffers from severe sedatephobia (fear of silence). Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    DeeDee “Ditzy” Alephsdottir - #9 (avatar looks ~20, Nordic) The Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, her duties include filing, mail distribution, drone operations, and assisting Ken on monitoring. While methodical like a computer, she’s not too bright, and even outright scatterbrained at times (however, she was bright enough to note that Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with Aleph as such, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him… or even make him aware of her existence).
    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Reactive to the surroundings.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG Soft team’s coach, retired CJC TAG combat instructor and once a war hero.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35, Polynesian) TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Ginevra Chennault - #1 (~90, Polynesian) School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. To-the-point and strict, but fair. Teaches literature.
    Isabell “Pills” Talho - #5 (looks to be in her middle 30s, South American) School’s medical officer (given the Academy’s size and high profile, she’s a fully qualified general practitioner with a lot of fancy tools) and likely a resurectee. Volunteered for the staff paintball team.
    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s, Hawaiian) Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow. Volunteered for the staff paintball team.
    Maximillian Largo - #12 (late 30s, Mexican). English teacher, and the coach of the Academy’s shooting club at the same time. Volunteered for the staff paintball team.
    Reksio - #1 Eric’s favourite Palbot, named after an obscure
    cartoon character.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had (in entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”... Volunteered for the staff paintball team.


    Students:

    Frederic “Fred” Ulani #5 (as Peanut Gallery, full appearance in #7) (1. class, 16, Polynesian [genetically, Caucasian-Polynesian]). Hardly anybody uses his name in full form - even on most school papers he’s listed as “Fred Ulani”. Another cello player in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate - and his prediction comes true, likely somewhen around #9.
    Koi Rikoriko - #7 (5th class elementary school, 11, Maori) Nyree’s younger brother, with some serious attitude. Despite being a kiddo, he’s very protective of his sister. Also, his first encounter with Eva seems to have resulted in a case of puppy love on his part…
    Mako Joyo - #1 (1. class, 15, Micronesian) Ex-team member (resigned in #5 - Gecko pilot, and for a time prospective 2IC) - turned out that combat sports weren’t really her thing, plus she was offered captaincy of the school’s basketball team (The Ramjets) once the current captain graduates at the end of current year. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person.
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her. Diego caught her abusing Nyree, on time to stop it - with some help from Alex - before Rikoriko striked back. As a result, she seems to carry a grudge against the Angels of Stone as a whole, and now engages in bullying by proxy against them.


    “The Peanut Gallery”

    Caught in short glimpses, to be fleshed-out when / if they make a full appearance:
    Karra Avar - #11 (3. class, 18, Canadian - of predominantly Inuit origin) Captain of the Academy’s basketball team, The Ramjets. She’s going to graduate at the end of current year, leaving her position to Mako Joyo.


    Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.


    Neve family security detail:

    Dorothy Smith - #9 (likely late 30s, might be Western European) Subordinate to Roger, doubles as the head maid. Peculiarly pale and deadpan. The name could suggest some relationship to Roger, but more likely is just a cover. Still, in #12, she reveals they actually are married.
    Roger Smith - #2 (early 40s, North American) Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard, and commander of Evangeline’s section of the detail.
    Nemo - #9 as unnamed bodyguard, full appearance in #12. Shortish, stocky, and bald. Definitely not
    a clownfish, nor an Indian prince.
    Shelke - #12 (mid 30s, Eastern European) Tall, with a body like a gymnast, and a smile like a knife.
    Dylan - #12 (early 30s, North American) The “rookie” of the detail. Boyishly handsome.
    Leonardo - #12 (early 40s, South American) Huge, square jawed, Schwarzenegger-type. The detail’s heavy weapons man.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Esteban Silva - #1 (~80, Brazilian) Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Gato” - #6 (probably in his 20s, ethnicity unknown). A peddler in the less-pleasant part of town where the Torreses live. Dominique’s friend, supplies her with made-to-order gunpla parts. Probably a black market contact, too.


    Knights of the Round Table:

    Avalon-based professional TAG-soft team. Note - Knights’ callsigns are attached to position / role in the team, not to a particular person.
    Sabra “Arthur” Ortiz - #8 (early 30s, Argentinian [of Central European descent]) Field commander of the Knights of the Round Table, and Joan of Arc’s lookalike. Takes (guilty) pleasure in confounding people with her looks, but apart from that, she’s apparently a pleasant person and a professional in her field.
    Ernest “Merlin” Mendoza - #8 (mentioned only) Knights’ combat controller.
    “Lancelot”, “Mordred”, “Gawain” - #8 / #12 (mentioned only) other members of the team. “Mordred” is the heavy / support position, “Gawain” is an assault position currently occupied by a player who advanced from the amateur leagues, “Lancelot” is the trooper (knight) position Sabra played at before the previous Arthur resigned.



    Sunday, December 1st

    Time for the publicity stunt at St. Florence’s. The team gathers as agreed, loads five TAGs and rolls the Monster out towards the hospital.

    After unloading, the Angels are quickly swarmed with the little patients. Soon, the kids are having a blast, though a crowd of overtly enthusiastic minors proves difficult to control (“ - Hey, chico! Don’t climb the TAG’s arm, it ain’t a ladder!”). Eventually only Minnie is still moving around in her Gecko, very, very carefully, as not to step on anyone. The TAGs are then seated open, and available if anyone wants to take a seat inside (most do!).

    The situation proves especially trying to Evangeline, with her love of order and proper behaviour, as her attempts at injecting organisation and control into the activities are frustrated at every turn. Finally, the Neve heiress is almost reduced to wailing and pulling at her hair in despair... Until she’s suddenly distracted by one of the little ones tugging on her sleeve:

    - Wow, you sooo pretty! Are ya a princess? Are ya?

    This disarms Eva completely. Luckily, Alex isn’t close enough to hear it, and ruin the moment with a snarky comment.

    Morgan’s recently revealed weakness for small cute critters doesn’t seem to extend to human children. She’s not resentful or anything of the sort, but it’s obvious she finds the event straining.

    Of the others, Nyree is really quite good with the children. Perhaps not surprising, being the one with a younger sibling of her own. Dominique, Patricia, and even Octavia (fortified with her clubbing shades - the kids actually find her somewhat intimidating!) each deal with the situation pretty well.

    And then, there is of course Minuette. She seems to know every kid by name, and is simply amazing as a chaperone/caretaker/playmate/big sister figure. The children certainly love her.

    As the charge nurse (overseeing the visit on the hospital’s part) puts it:

    “ - Senhor Ibarrez, I don’t know what we’d do without our Minnie. She seems to have so much positive energy she could power the whole hospital all on her own, you know? And I’m half convinced if we could just figure out how to bottle her good cheer and positivity, we’d have a miracle cure. We’d really love to have her with us full-time…

    - Well, that may be an option. I haven’t heard anything concrete about her career plans…

    Alex stays closed in her Anaconda: she’s not ready to face the crowd of little patients. She eventually comes out, once the party moves mostly inside, the rest of the team going to visit those who - for various medical reasons - remain bound to their beds. Morgan offers to keep Alex company, receiving awkward thanks in return.

    The head nurse nods sadly at Diego:

    - Miss Narahari. Right, I remember her. Can’t really blame her for not wanting to come in. I’m surprised you even managed to get her here. With all our medical knowledge, there are still hurts only time can heal, if at all...

    For the final part of the visit, a few VR training scenario-based games are ran for the kids, with the Angels providing instruction, help, or opposition.

    Of course, the hospital’s own spokesperson / media relations specialist is present, as well as an odd reporter from the local media. No much point in doing a publicity stunt without having someone to spread the news, right?

    The local reporter is a young woman, with the clear air of a junior operative who’s been handed a crap assignment nobody else wanted (might have something to do with the reputation the Rocha Academy’s previous attempt at a TAG-Soft team made for itself). Still, she’s pleasant, and handles herself very professionally. And by the end of the event, it’s clear a spark of interest has been awakened within her...

    All in all, a well spent afternoon. The Angels certainly brightened up the day for the little patients.


    Monday, December 2nd

    As usual, Diego comes in early. There’s stuff to take care of.

    First on the agenda, is finalising the arrangements for the game with the Knights of the Round Table next Monday. Diego spends some time in conference with Merlin and Arthur, confirming last details. The Knights will come to Belo Horizonte, to play on the Angels’ home turf (this will also mean the girls won’t have to miss about two days of school, like they would if they were the ones traveling to the Knight’s home field, which wouldn’t be a good idea so close to end of term). They will field only five of their eight players. Further, they will play up their “chivalrous” persona, demanding up-close, personal engagement with the enemy over long range shooting, by coming armed only with short ranged, low rate of fire firearms, like pistols, shotguns, and chain rifles (all TAG-scaled, of course) - and their swords and shields, naturally. All this should roughly balance out the chances for both teams.

    Merlin also lets Diego know that the Knights have decided on what cause the charity funding from this event will go towards. Seems principal Chennault, no doubt aiming to consolidate the good press generated by the Angels’ visit, has suggested directing the money to support the St. Florence Rorke Children's Hospital. Looks like a fine idea.

    Once that’s done, Diego’s new ride needs a few finishing touches. Really, really last ones. Yuni arrives to help - she often, if not always, lend Diego a hand with the bike project on Mondays, picking up some mechanics knowledge in the process.

    In fact, all of the girls have dropped by at least once during the construction, to lend some support. At the very least the moral kind, like Eva, who wasn’t really interested with the “dirty” technical work. Dominique, on the other hand, spend almost as much time on the motorcycle as with the TAGs.

    Well, after today, it’s finally done - Diego got himself his own two wheels (or three, with the sidecar).

    The bike got painted in utilitarian, drab green - mostly because it was the default colour in the blueprints Diablo downloaded, and never got the idea of changing it. The only personal accent is the Devil who gets applied (as a sticker) onto the fuel tank. Well, some of the girls have already expressed their desire to add some decorations to the bike (and, with the sidecar, it provides a lot of space for that!). Diego will have to think about it.

    Seeing as Diego doesn’t have to work tomorrow and she finishes early, Yuni suggests they should go shopping the next day - Diego has a bike, he has an appropriate outfit, but he still needs a motorcycle helmet (before, he always used either Yuni’s spare, or the complementary that came with the rented machine).

    That is, once he has dealt with the red tape: he needs to get the motorcycle to a certified workshop to have it officially declared street-legal. And apply for a driving license for it, too, as his current one cover cars only (when practising with Yuni, Diablo drove with a free learner’s licence under her supervision).

    Dominique arrives early, as she often does (literally running to the hangar as soon as her classes let out, no doubt), and throws herself into helping Eric and his team, and general tinkering. Actually, some bigger project seems to be on the agenda today, as ‘Nique can be seen building what looks like a full custom TAG optics array.

    - I had this idea of personalising the looks of our machines a bit,” - she explains to Diego, “ - Can’t do much for upgrades, but at least making the TAGs more “ours” would be good for morale, I think… This one,” - she indicates the assembly, featuring three pairs of camera-eyes, “ - Is for Octavia. Was the most obvious one. But I’m kind of stuck for ideas for the others,” - ‘Nique shrugs embarrassedly, “ - Well, not quite. Minnie’s also pretty obvious - a tail! But I’m afraid that’s still a little outside my abilities for now…

    Diego nods at that - the high speed mobility version of the Praxis refit package for Reptile-series TAGs does include a tail, but it actually needs it as a balancing mechanism, and involves a serious reworking of the machine’s movement system, much more difficult than what they’d be able to do on their own, not to mention expensive.

    As the rest of the team gathers for practice, Nyree causes a bit of a stir today, as she arrives wearing glasses.

    - Huh. Something we should know, chica? Eyesight problems?”

    “ - Not at all, Coach. They’re non-perscription, clear ones. Just a… Vanity thing,” - she seems a little embarrassed, “ - I just like how I look in them. Always did. I used to wear glasses all the time, back when.”

    “ - Hm, I can see why. They really do suit you,” - opines Evangeline.

    The rest of the Angels join in a chorus of general agreement (“ - Refined, - Smart, - Classy, - Cute!” - the last, of course, from Minnie), making Nyree blush.

    - So, why did you stop wearing glasses, then?”

    “ - That… Would be my fault,” - admits Alex, clearly uncomfortable, “ - She stopped after I broke six pairs in one month…”

    “ - Seven,” - Nyree corrects mildly, “- Well, mother used that as an excuse to make me stop, anyway - she never liked me wearing them either. Said it made me look weak…

    - I just thought you looked like a nerdy little snot desperately trying to look all grown up. Not any more, though!” - Alex hurriedly clarifies, “ - They’re right, you really do look good. Plus…” - she shifts embarrassedly, then forges ahead, “ - I… Kinda like what you did with your hair. Growing it out I mean. You look good with it long. And the dyed stripe* is cool, too. Adds a… Bold touch I wouldn’t expect, knowing you before.”

    - Yeah, I remember,” - muses Morgan, “ - When she transferred to our class, her hair was shoulder length. And she added the stripe a few months later.”

    “ - Back when… You know… Her hair was even shorter, she wore it in this ugly, sexless, military pageboy. It looks much better now. Really pretty. Totally suits you.”

    The rest of the Angels again express their agreement (with Minnie again exclaiming “ - Cute!”).

    - Wow, thank you, Alex, everyone…” - Nyree blushes harder, “ - Changing up my hairstyle, doing something I wanted with it, was actually part of our family therapy… The same for Koi’s dyejob and mohawk. I do like it much better this way. And it was actually mom who suggested I wear glasses again, if I’d like to.”

    - Good.” - whispers Alex, still blushing a bit herself.

    • Nyree wears her coal-black hair in a kind of “hime cut”, with a double violet and pink stripe dyed full length into it, from front to back.
    Well, it’s time to begin… But Octavia is still not here. Patty came alone, leaving Octy and Fred to have some time together - it’s tradition at this point. As the girls jokingly muse, maybe the lovebirds just lost track of time... Perhaps smooching... Or even doing something more naughty, as Alex implies with a lewd grin. But no, being late that way - fifteen minutes and counting, now - is simply not Octavia’s style. Patty is sure of it (scoffing at Alex as she suggests it’s just the DJ’s jealousy talking). Something’s fishy here…

    Diego sends the girls to get suited up and attempts to call Octy - and gets a “contact currently unavailable” message, the call getting redirected to voicemail, as if her comlog’s phone function was completely offline.

    - Okay… Well, actually, damn far from okay. DeeDee, would you mind giving me a moment of your time?

    A comm-window for the school’s AI subpersona projects into the hangar immediately, with her customary soap bubbles swirl effect.

    - Naturally, Mr. Ibarrez. What can I do for you?” - DeeDee is eager to help.

    - Octavia is late for practice, and I can’t raise her comlog, seems to be offline. We need to find her, fast. And check who’s with her.”

    “ - One moment, please. Standard report for Chief Kamehameha - sent. And tracking… I have Miss Moina’s comlog beacon, it is in the locker corridor, alone… Huh… Can’t see her on the security camera, though.” - DeeDee frowns for a moment, “ - Oh my, I think I know where she is! I’ll send someone over.” - a moment later, the closest member of the janitorial staff is on site and confirms DeeDee’s suspicion, “ - She’s inside of her locker! We can hear her calling for help. I can’t open it remotely, and the security physical override key isn’t working either. The lock is sabotaged good.”

    - Fine. Patricia, grab her jumpsuit, and come with me. The rest of you, get in gear. Yuni, take over and start without us. DeeDee, will you get that damn locker open by the time we get to it, or I should ask Minnie to just rip the door off?” - Minuette, in her Gecko, is the team member best suited to getting into the locker corridor. And the jumpsuit can come handy if whoever pulled the prank on Octy pushed her in there more or less undressed.

    The perspective of a TAG walking inside of the school building, cracking the floors, and demolishing lockers makes DeeDee visibly concerned “ - Oh no, that absolutely won’t be necessary! I just have to bring a remote with a proper set of tools over. Won’t be but a moment.

    - Good. Now, please check the footage back to the time when Octavia got there. Both video feed and comlog tracking. She didn’t put herself in that locker and jammed the lock all by herself.”

    “ - I’m on it! Uh… The feed’s doctored, somebody was covering their tracks…”

    “ - Again, huh? Fine, that’s enough proof for me. But please, keep working on it.”

    By the time Diablo and Patty reach the locker corridor, the door is just getting opened. Octavia, luckily, isn’t afraid of darkness or tight spaces, so apart from being somewhat cramped and uncomfortable from the tight fit, she’s okay. She wasn’t able to see her attacker (she got surprised from behind), but she’s pretty sure it was a girl. And the swiftness with which she got “packed” into her locker implies that whoever did it, had a lot of experience in such tricks.

    - Well, I guess I’ll have to ask Alex, then.”

    “ - Coach, I think Alex does, in fact, have a very good alibi… She was with us at the hangar.”

    “ - Oh, her alibi is absolutely airtight. No, I mean, there is a limited number of girls at the Academy who would have the skill and nerve to pull that off. And Alex will probably know who they are. But that’s still catching the hands, not the brains behind it all.”

    Patty checks Octavia’s comlog, and determines that it was hit with a virus, crashing its communications suite, preventing her from using it to call for help. Patty sets about purging it.

    - Finally something I can take ‘samples’ from. There’s not that many people in the school skilled enough to put this together… And most of them are in my advanced comp-sci course and club. Maybe I’ll be able to recognise the culprit by ‘handwriting’*.

    - All the incidents so far had hacker coverage, and since the last perpetrator wasn’t much of an infowar specialist, I don’t expect this one to be either. Means - someone’s protecting them. If we can find that hacker we may have a lead to crack this thing open.”

    “ - Unless they just shop for automated software on the inter-scholar student black market**, that is…”

    “ - Yeah, Patty, but it’s worth a try.”

    • Every programmer has their own style, recognisable with a big enough sample size. Of course pinning a given style on an actual person is rather hard without physical evidence or an inside source - given how concealing it is of vital importance to not getting caught in anything illicit. Luckily for them, Patricia is the inside source they need.
    • Where there’s demand, there’s gonna be supply. Seeing how, in this day and age, spoofing and disrupting comlog identification and security monitoring is indispensable even to pulling school pranks, you can bet those unskilled in doing it themselves would like to buy the means to do so. And, in turn, there would be hackers willing to provide such services - for a reasonable fee, of course… Patricia sheepishly admits to putting her own illicit creations up for sale from time to time, when she was in need of bolstering her allowance with additional Oceana...
    Once they get back to the hangar, Alex snickers a bit at Octavia having been stuffed in her locker.

    - Lucky for her, she’s so small! Wasn’t squashed too much…

    - Trust me, even if she were four years younger and smaller, it’s still not a pleasant thing to have done to you.” - Nyree chides gently but firmly. She’s obviously speaking from personal experience.

    Alex is once again left looking uncomfortable and embarrassed.

    Eager for a subject change, Alex readily agrees to look into possible culprits in the Academy’s female bully population, but says she can’t promise much:

    - I was never much of a - heh - team player. Never belonged to any clique or gang, preferred to keep to, and rely on, myself. So I can’t say I have many contacts or whatnot. But I do know of some possibilities. I’ll do what I can.”

    “ - That’s all we can ask for, chica.”

    Fortunately the rest of the day goes smoothly. It’s actually time for a new upgrade: Eric presents the team today with testing-ready items of the “portable concealment” device they discussed with Diego some time ago. They seem to work quite fine, unfolding in the blink of an eye, from a container about the size of a standard oil drum, into, depending on model, either a dome of artificial bush, or a fake metal crate, both hollow and big enough to, just barely, admit a crouched TAG. Quite a mechanical achievement, really. Each TAG will be able to comfortably carry one. Sadly, they are all single-use. Well, they can be re-packed, but it can’t be done in the field, requiring several minutes of work by a technician. So either way, in a match, they can be used only once. Still, deployed at the right moment, this disposable camouflage could provide the team with that crucial extra bit of advantage. The Angels spend most of the training session testing the new equipment in action. Looks like it’ll be ready for deployment in the match on Monday.


    Tuesday, December 3rd

    Before he sets off to meet Yuni, Diego receives a call from Maximilian Largo, an English teacher at the Academy and the staff member in charge of the shooting club. Having seen the ad Diego put up on the staff board, Maximilian is interested in joining the teacher’s paintball team Diego is putting together, if there are still free slots. As Largo half-jokingly admits, he’s kind of a spy: if a student paintball team gets started at the Academy, it will most likely be placed under his supervision, at least at first - and you can bet the kids will then want to have a shootout with the teachers, which will mean Maximilian will end up leading them against his own former team-mates.

    Nevertheless, Diablo is happy to have Maximilian on board.

    Being employed only part-time has its perks: Diablo has most of the day to rent a trailer, get his new ride to a tech check-up, and to apply and test for a driving license. Luckily, full sized motorcycles apparently aren’t very popular in Belo Horizonte (contrary to cars, citybikes, and scooters of all kinds), so the queue is pretty short. The convenience of VR simulations also makes the process pretty swift.

    After that, Diego and Yuni make a date out of it. They first visit a mall where Yuni’s favourite bike accessory shop is located. As they go about selecting a helmet (a pretty plain, utilitarian design, Diego isn’t much of a showoff…), they notice Octavia trying on a biker jacket.

    - Hey, look who’s here! Octy, you changin’ your style?”

    It is hard to miss that today she’s dressed the most casual they have ever seen her, outside of their clubbing excursions (and TAG-soft or paintball practice, or PE classes, of course). So far, Octy typically wore very docile skirts (often pleated, and at least knee-length, sometimes longer), dressy blouses, often with bow ties and/or blazers, knee-high socks, and loafers. Even at the parties, she kept a pretty conservative dress code, being the one to show the least skin (well, after ‘Nique, with her baggy sweater), preferring relaxed but classy jeans, blouses, and flats. But now, she wears a loose mini skirt (that is mid-thigh - sure, that’s still practically a nun’s habit if you were to apply Narahari’s standards, but Alex is well-known for being on the rather opposite end of the spectrum), with a pair of knee-length cycling shorts underneath*, a plain t-shirt, and slip-on Vans sneakers.

    • Diego is not aware of this - he’s no fashion historian - but that’s very 1960s: exactly where the term “hotpants” comes from… Of course nowadays “hotpants” refer to something much much shorter.
    - Or perhaps you intend to alter your mode of transportation?”

    “ - Oh! Hello, Coach, Miss Iskandar. Well… Frederic does have a motorbike, and he asked me to go for a ride with him.”

    Just then, Fred shows up too, brandishing a motorcycle helmet with a triumphant smile:

    - Hey, Tavi! Look what I’ve found! Not exactly your paintball helmet, but I think you’ll like it…” - indeed, it is not an exact copy of the Nisse replica helmet Octavia wears for paintball games, but with a fully closed, opaque faceplate and six cameras to provide video feed to the user, it keeps similar, high-tech stylistics. “ - Oh, hey, good afternoon, Miss Iskandar, Coach Ibarrez…

    - Hello, Fred. Octy tells us you’re taking her motorbiking.”

    “ - Yup! We gonna tear up some road! And if she likes it, I’ll totally teach her to drive, too.”

    “ - I’m still not sure about that, Frederic… And what if I’m not good at it?...”

    “ - You’ll be fine, Tavi! You rule in that TAG of yours! Compared to that behemoth, a bike will be child’s play! But hey…” - Fred gives Octavia a reassuring smile and a one-armed hug, making her blush and smile in return, “ - If you just don’t want to drive, that’s perfectly fine. I don’t want to force you into something you’re not comfortable with… I just thought you’d like having the option of taking control yourself, instead of being only a passenger.”

    Yuni gives Fred an approving grin and nod at that.

    - Well then, have fun. Though if I may offer an opinion… Not an expert myself, but for motorbiking, I think you might find full-length trousers to be more practical. What do you think, Yuni?”

    “ - Yup, definitely. Nothing like a good pair of leather pants when you hit an insect in mid-flight. Especially on Avalon - you know how big they get here!”

    “ - Well, I guess if I’ve started a fad,” - muses Diego, “ - I should be ready to share… So, Octavia, if you want the blueprints for my bike… Though I really don’t think that one would be to your liking…”

    “ - No, not really, Coach… If it was for myself, I think I’d rather go with something… More modern? And faster? More like a racing bike, perhaps?”

    “ - Aaah, a crotch rocket, Yu Jing style?” - Yuni grins at the idea, making Octy blush at that turn of phrase.

    - Well, I’ll have to learn to drive one first, anyway…”

    “ - Fine. Come on then, Yuni, let’s leave them to it. Last thing they need is a pair of old-timers crashing their date… See ya, kids! Have fun!”

    They part ways there. What Diego noticed during that conversation, apparently Octavia is on the very short list of people who call Fred by his full name. Wonder if that list includes his parents! And Fred himself seem to have his own little nickname for Octavia, different from what everybody else calls her.

    Before they proceed to dinner, Diego wants to visit a sports store, too - they’ve planned a beach party for the team, but he lacks appropriate beach wear (he goes for a pair of square-cut trunks). And, as he comments, he doesn’t think that taking the girls to a nude beach* would be seen as appropriate…

    Though, of course, the choice of beachwear among the team is likely to be an interesting sight: Diego expects at least one one-piece swimsuit, and there’s an open bet on how Alex is going to try and shock the group with her attire this time. It would seem she can’t really do much - you can only get that far with a skimpy two piece before it disappears completely**.

    - Oh, and besides, we much choose a beach. I mean, Yuni, I don’t know if you hold a Lifeguard’s Certificate, but we’re there for a party. You can hardly have fun while watching out all the time if none of the girls are drowning at any given moment…” - they know all the girls can swim - there are pool lessons at PE - but accidents can happen...

    - For your information - I do. I usually deal with the “dry” part of PE at school, but yes, I am a fully qualified lifeguard.”

    “ - I can’t say I didn’t expect that***.”

    “ - Anyway, don’t worry, I think I have a spot in mind. Should be perfect - nice place, good safety monitoring, but not very crowded this time of year. But it will be a bit of a drive. When are we doing it?”

    “ - I think Sunday after the match is our best bet. That will give us a whole day so we don’t have to hurry, and for the girls to wind down before finals week.”

    “ - Sounds good.

    • * These are aplenty on Avalon, and roughly as popular as the beaches where you are supposed to wear appropriate beachwear. Being a Nomad, Diego himself doesn’t have a nudity taboo - with scarce space and resources, separate changing rooms on Nomad ships practically do not exist. Of course, aggressively gazing at someone’s nudity in such a situation is considered bad manners, and a valid reason to be served a knuckle sandwich. Making comments is not unlikely to result in being thoroughly roughed up by everybody present, at least on Corregidor. And once you’ve spent a while on Bakunin, you’ve already seen it all anyway. And I do mean, all of it…
    • ** Unless Alex decides to go topless. In most areas of PanOceania, it is considered to be an acceptable fashion choice for female beachwear. Not that every woman feels comfortable in such an outfit (for cultural, moral or aesthetic reasons), but enough of them do - and therefore it no longer causes any uproar. You wear a one-piece, two-piece, or monokini - that’s your choice.
    • *** As Belo Horizonte is located on an oceanic shoreline, water sports (swimming, sailing, diving, board / wind / kite surfing, you name it) are a big thing here. There are several places where you get really decent waves for surfing. No wonder that Yuni - wanting to cover all her bases as a fully qualified PE teacher there - took a Lifeguard’s Course. Given how sporty she is, it was likely a piece of a cake for her anyway.

    As they sit down for dinner - at Silva’s, they haven’t been here together for a while - Yuni breaches another topic:

    “ - What are your plans for Christmas, Diego? You going back to Corregidor, spending it with your folks?”

    “ - No, I’m staying here, why?”

    “ - You’re not going to meet with your family?”

    “ - Not much family to meet, and none I really feel I want to see. What about you, going to NeoTerra for Christmas?”

    “ - Well, as a matter of fact… Yes. That’s the one time a year when we all get together. You know… I love my parents, I love my brother, and I know they all love me, but it’s a love that kinda works best long distance.”

    “ - Best place to be together with your family is on a photo, yes?”

    “ - Something like that. It’ll be great for a day or two, but too long and we start to get on each other’s nerves… You know, sorry I’m not taking you with me. I’ll have to introduce you to my parents, eventually, but…”

    “ - But not this time. Sure, no problem with that. All in due time. And Yuni… Don’t worry about me. I’ll manage, no problem. You go home, meet with your folks, have fun, okay?”

    “ - Thanks,” - Yuni smiles at Diego, sincerely grateful, “ - Not that it wouldn’t be loads of fun, seeing their reaction to you!” - she suddenly giggles, a bit evilly, “ - But yeah, I’m not quite ready for picking up the pieces from that trainwreck…


    Wednesday, December 4th

    As the girls gather for the training session, it’s obvious that Evangeline is again in a bit of a sour mood. Student politics still getting to her, no doubt.

    Aside, Dominique confides to Diego on the subject:

    - Yeah, it’s Dimante and Silva. I haven’t realised it was those two before - I”ve lived so long without the ability to activate the ‘name tag’ option on my comlog, I tend to forget to use it now. But Eva really hangs out, if you can call it that, a lot with them. No choice, I guess, being social peers and whatnot. But it obviously wears on her now. I hope she’ll be ok…

    Nyree and Dominique, as they’ve been doing on regular basis, sit together for a little student-to-student tutoring (‘Nique still has some more to catch up, though she’s doing better and better every day; there’s little, if any, danger of her flunking out anymore, but her grades could use some improvement - especially in her own eyes!).

    Evangeline usually joins them, too: she doesn’t consider herself to be above some extra repetition, especially if you have some of the best brains around doing the same (Nyree is a walking data bank and math savant, and Dominique is a tech prodigy… which makes her really good at hard science).

    Today however, Alex intercepts Eva before she can join the study group, and asks her for a little talk outside of the hangar first - she has some business with the “Princess”, and doesn’t want everybody to hear what it is...

    ...Which is not quite successful, because they soon become agitated enough to raise their voices and make at least part of the conversation heard:

    - ...Forget it! Come on, Neve, don’t play games. You know I have the money. I only need your contacts to make it happen. I’ll pay you back after it’s done, just name the price.

    - Alex, dear, of course I know you have money. But it seems you are forgetting that I do, too. I have no use for your Oceana, I have enough of my own. You ask me for a favour, you are going to owe me one. And I will tell you when and how I want to collect. That is my price. So, do we have an agreement?”

    “ - ...Ugh! Okay, deal. You drive a hard bargain, Princess…”

    A few moments of again inaudible talk later, they come back inside. Alex can’t help looking a little bit sullen. Eva, on the other hand, looks much happier than before, perhaps even a bit smug.

    - What were you chicas scheming out there?”

    “ - I am sworn to silence. But I can assure you, Coach, it is nothing bad,” - Eva gives Alex a curious little smile.

    Narahari just gives Diego a heavy look.

    - Well, if you won’t tell me, I won’t know. Okay, Alex, no problem.” - Diego shrugs, then smiles. “ - I think you know me that much already.

    As Eva finally joins Nyree and ‘Nique, Alex tags along after her.

    - Erm… Would you three be okay with me joining the ‘nerd coven’?...” - Narahari fidgets anxiously, “ - It’s just… My academic performance isn’t so stellar recently, especially in maths…

    The three - and everyone else, as a matter of fact - share a surprised look.

    - I never got the impression it bothered you before,” - Nyree comments mildly.

    - Yeah, well, it usually doesn’t… But lately I noticed I just don’t understand stuff. And I don’t like to not understand. Makes me feel stupid…” - grumbles Alex, obviously embarrassed.

    “ - Well, whatever your motivation is, chica, I approve of the idea.” - comments Diego. The normally unhealthily antisocial Alex feeling the need to socialize is definitely a good sign. Doubly so if it’s with girls in the team, and not some gang or other shady group. And her taking an interest in her schooling again is a cherry on top. Seems reforming her is definitely not a lost cause...

    Evangeline and Dominique are quite fine with Alex joining in, but look to Nyree, as the de facto leader of the study group, and the one most likely to rise an objection to Narahari’s inclusion.

    - Sure! The more, the merrier,” - decides Nyree brightly, “ - And I can totally understand - I hate not getting things too,” - she gives Alex a sympathetic look.

    - Thanks…” - Alex looks genuinely grateful, “ - And just so we’re clear: this is totally not some kind of ploy to get you to do my homework for me, okay? If you catch me doing that, you can totally slap me down! Right?”

    “ - No problem. And don’t worry, we will,” - Nyree grins at Alex.

    - Fine, chicas. Get yourself in gear, we have some practice to do. And as for the tutoring network, I think you gals could meet at home. It would be way better to learn over a mug of tea and some cookies, don’t you think? Now, time to get going.

    The practice - which is paintball this week - goes well and without any major incidents.

    Soon after they’re done, however, Diego’s comlog rings - it’s Bolo on the line, and he looks worried and apologetic.

    “ - Hola, Diablo. Listen, I’m terribly sorry to drop it on you so late, but we won’t be available for a game this Saturday...”

    “ - Hey, man. What happened?

    - If you can believe it, we’re out of town for a tournament. There’s always one nearby, around this time of year. You know us, we aren’t really a competitive, tournament team. But we always enter the selection matches anyway - for the change the pace, if nothing else. It’s a good occasion to socialize, rub elbows with better teams, meet new people, and play more games than we usually do…

    Normally, we never get too far. But it seems this year we were lucky. A couple better teams unexpectedly dropped out, a few others were not lucky enough, so there was a last minute major switch in the league table, and suddenly we’ve qualified for the semi-finals… We just found out today! I’ve tried finding a replacement opponent for you, but all the teams who don’t sneer at the Angels are going to the tournament too, or have other obligations. No luck. Really, really sorry about that… We could just drop out?...

    “ - Easy, Bolo, don’t fret. We’ll manage. You go for that tournament. Win it, I hope.

    - Wouldn’t count on that, Diego. Let’s be honest, we’ve improved recently, training with the Angels of Stone, but we’re still nowhere near that good.” - Bolo chuckles.

    - Well, have fun still, and see you around next week.”

    “ - Thanks, we will. And we’ll actually see you earlier - we’ll be back by Monday one way or another, so we’ll cheer for you at your game then!”

    “ - Great! See you then.

    Well, that does leave the Angels in a bit of a pickle. Nothing tragic, though, they’ll just have to play some games four on four, like they usually do at their regular after school training…

    - Something the matter, Coach?” - Evangeline inquires suddenly, pulling Diego out of his thoughts. As is often the case after paintball training, she’s the last one of the girls to leave, spending the most time in the shower afterwards. She does have all that hair to take care of...

    - Bolo just called. The Spiders can’t make it this week. And it seems there’s no replacement available.” - Diego shrugs, “ - Bit of a bummer, but we’ll make do.”

    “ - Hmph! No, that will not do,” - Eva frowns, “ - Not if I have anything to say about it! Don’t worry, Coach,” - she gives a decisive nod, “ - I’ll get us a replacement OpFor, no problem!”

    - You mean, your security personnel that you practice with at home, huh? That’s not a half bad idea, chica. Think you can talk them into playing against us on Saturday?

    - Absolutely. Roger and the others won't have anything against it. And the groundskeeper will be happy with us taking it elsewhere out of the garden for once,” - Eva suddenly breaks out into a sly smile, “ - Let’s make it a surprise! Please, don’t tell the girls. And don’t wait up for me at the hangar on Saturday morning, just drive to our usual field. I’ll join you all there, with my in-house opposition.”

    Evangeline almost skips out of the hangar, obviously restraining herself with thoughts of propriety. Whatever the deal she brokered earlier with Alex, and now solving this little crisis - and the perspective of showing off a bit - seem to have really lifted her mood for today.


    Thursday, December 5th

    Diego gets a brilliant idea regarding his cooking practice. You know, if you cook for yourself only, you can’t really cook that much. Not enough mouths to munch it all.

    So, as he drops by Silva’s today (he still visits for dinner at least twice a week, to invariably warm reception by owner and regulars) he asks senhor Esteban whether he would mind a helping hand, especially with ‘Nique “on sabbatical”. This would give Diablo a chance to do some serious cooking under a good tutor - basically, a form of apprenticeship.

    Senhor Silva is a bit surprised, but he doesn’t see a reason to not accept a student. A part-time deal is agreed upon (primarily, two days a week, with a possibility of extending it if needed. Diego is in that for the lesson, not the money after all). Of course, he’ll need to provide a health certificate before he’s allowed to work with food.

    Once he shares the news with Yuni later, she’s pretty surprised. She comments on how much Diego’s palette of skills is broadening - swimming, bike riding, cooking, and they still have the climbing on schedule… He’s becoming quite the “Renaissance Nomad”!

    While going around his business, Diablo receives a call - “Pills” together with Ken in a conference call. Which already sounds like bad news…

    - Hello, Diego. I have to inform you, I had the sad pleasure of a visit from Miss Rikoriko today,” - Isabel gives a little crooked smile - “ ‘Sad’ not because I don’t like the kids, quite the opposite, but, you know, usually If they visit me…

    - ...It means they got hurt somehow, right. I assume she wasn’t injured too bad, then. Otherwise you two would be starting this conversation in a different tone…”

    “ - Quite,” - Ken chimes in, “ - Somebody tripped Miss Rikoriko up in the cafeteria. She fell and hurt her knee.”

    “ - Nothing serious, a scrape, that’s all. I gave her a light dressing for it, should be fine in a couple days. It won’t affect her athletic performance in the interim, either.”

    “ - Good to hear.”

    “ - What really surprised me, though, was the escort she arrived at my office with. Her little brother was par for the course, I think. But they were also accompanied by none other than Miss Narahari. Who seemed just as agitated on Nyree’s behalf as little Koi. Talk about a reversal. Never thought I’d see the day.”

    “ - Yeah, our Alex is changing a lot these days. The girls resolved the bad blood between them, and even seem to be becoming friends.” - Diego is quite pleased with that development, “ - Now then, Ken, I guess you have full surveillance at the cafeteria?

    - Depends on what you call ‘full surveillance’. If somebody knows where the system’s viewpoints are, and chooses the right position and moment in the lunch-hour crowd, they can pull this, and other dirty tricks, and not get caught. It’s depressingly easy, actually. I had a word with Narahari afterwards, and she says it was a real pro job. She would know - she did the same thing to Rikoriko, and various others, quite a number of times herself… And she couldn’t tell who it was.”

    “ - Probably better this way. We’d have a brawl on our hands otherwise.”

    “ - Right. I scrutinized the footage later. I think I can tell the perp - by the too wide, too quick smile. But smiling won’t do as evidence. Especially as they weren't the only one laughing at Miss Rikoriko’s misfortune.”

    “ - Yeah, I get it. By the way, any news on the Monday incident with Miss Moina?”

    “ - Not yet. But I got the kid who fed Summers’ headphones into a disassembler. Another one of my usual suspects, though a pretty low-level one. Naturally, she claims it was her own idea, but she isn’t a good liar at all: it’s painfully obvious she was put up to this, and she got something in return...”

    “ - ...And you can’t press her, because that would be against the rules, and besides, any confession would be still a word versus a word. Got it. Well, nothing new here, I knew that you’re getting only the hands, not the brains behind it. I guess you now agree that it is something bigger?…”

    “ - Four incidents in two weeks? You’re right, somebody is up to something. I guess I’ll have to give your girls extra attention. And maybe little Joyo too. She may be targeted as a former team member.”

    - Oh, if they try to come after Mako, I expect they’ll soon learn they have upset a whole nest of Ramjets. Don’t think they will take it kindly if someone tries any funny stuff with their team member.”

    “ - You’ve got a point there, Diego - Karra Avar isn’t exactly known for her mild temper or meek personality… She actually used to be quite a bully herself, you know, though nowhere near Narahari’s caliber. But I hope our ‘mastermind’ realizes that too. I’d really hate this thing to escalate further...”

    “ - Well, then you better have some results, Ken, before Alex goes ballistic. Or Koi. He’s small, but he’s like a terrier. Easy to set off, and once he sinks his teeth in, he’s not going to let his prey loose. Neither of them need much provocation.”

    “ - I’ve noticed that young Mister Rikoriko is grooming himself for the role of his sister’s watchdog, yeah… I’ll see what I can do.”

    - Fine. But still, that’s only anticipating the opponent’s moves. Giving them all the initiative… I guess none of the incidents would qualify for anything more than a disciplinary meeting with the Principal: “And make it the last time, Miss Dimante, are we clear?” - kinda thing. Given what I’ve heard, with Tesseum Chennault it is way better than with the previous Principal. It would’ve been “penultimate time, Miss Dimante” back then…”

    “ - Uh-huh. You get how the board works. If all that Narahari did has not put her in anything worse than that, plus given Dimante and Silva are from an even higher social circle than Narahari… You can dream.”

    “ - Frack. I guess we’ll have to do something about them ourselves, then…”

    “ - Now, Diego, before this conversation gets too far…”

    “ - ...And you will be obliged to report me, I get it. Sure, that was kinda wishful thinking on my part.”

    “ - Enough of that for today, guys.” - Isabel speaks up again, “ - There’s one more thing. Diego, I’ve heard you’re putting together a staff paintball team. I must say I wasn’t encouraged by the idea of a war game - God knows I’ve seen enough of real war, and from its ugliest side*… But I talked it over with Felipe, and I guess he’s right, a change of perspective is not a bad idea. Worst case, I can be your paramedic… That is, if you are willing to accept me into the team, Diego.”

    “ - Sure thing, Isabel. Welcome on board! With you, there will be seven of us now. That should be enough to finally get this thing off the ground. Sometime soon after New Years, I think. I’ll let you all know.”

    With that, they say their good-byes.

    • GM Note: Isabel was civilian medical personnel on Paradiso during the EI war. Though Diego initially thought she was a combat medic.

    Friday, December 6th

    Diego sits down today to think the situation over, and is pretty convinced Ken won’t help much. Not that he doesn’t want to, but he simply has no means available. Therefore Diego has to fight this war without relying on the support of the school’s staff. And he must do it by proxy: he can’t do much by his own hands.

    Well, fine. Time to get the team involved. Not like they haven’t been involved already by the other side.

    After classes are over for the day, Diablo calls Patty and asks her to meet in town. He needs to have a word with the hacker (and miscreant with an anti-authoritarian streak) of the team. And these are not matters he’d like to discuss over comlog. Security reasons, you know.

    They sit down together in an outdoors cafe and get to scheming. Patty is tickled pink by the cloak and dagger routine, spy-show like.

    What Diego wants to know is whether Patricia could do something to hit Samantha and Tiana somewhere it would hurt them. Perhaps going after their academic performance? That’s what those upper class ladies would be concerned with.

    Patty assures, she could, of course, alter their grades. It is a pretty common practice among hackers. The problem is - it will come out. Not a matter of “if”, but “when”.

    - Well, and what about making materials go missing? Y’know, ‘my dracomon ate my homework’ - style?

    - You mean, ‘ALEPH ate my homework files’, right? That could work. Problem is, if it happens too often, it’ll be pretty obvious… So it’d have to be a long-term operation, with no immediate effect.”

    - Look into it anyway. And if you can get it done without getting yourself in trouble, go for it. If there’s a risk of discovery - abort, abort, abort. You really don’t need to get yourself caught.”

    - Kinda what my mom would have said, Coach.”

    “ - Well, as one clever general said long ago, war isn’t about dying for your country, Patty. It is about making the other guy die for his*…”

    “ - Definitely something my mom would’ve said.” - Patty grins.

    • That’s George S. Patton, obviously.
    - We could also use some dirt on Tiana. Or something she’s afraid of. Whatever we could use against her.”

    “ - I’ll snoop around. But it’ll be slow, again. Personal files aren’t easy to get to without proper authorisation, you know…”

    “ - I get the idea,” - well, Diego could probably check these pretty easily - he’s authorised to see student’s personal files as a teacher - but that would’ve been logged. As long as it is the kids picking on each other, it can be swept under a rug, according to the “kids being kids” approach. Once teacher picks on a student, especially given he has no legitimate interest in these particular students, it could mean trouble.

    - I guess Eva could know more here. She knows them better. I mean, we want to act clever. Just having them roughed up out of school… Well, if it comes to that, I guess it could be arranged, too. In a way that would be hard to pin on us,” - no doubt ‘Nique’s buddy Gato would be able to find a few up-to-no-gooders that will be perfectly willing to bloody a nose or two and scare the living shit out of some upper class gals. For an appropriate - and likely very reasonable - fee, of course.

    That might be not very elegant on Diego’s part - to consider hiring thugs for roughing up two teenage girls - but he’s a Corregidorian. He’d rather set them straight himself, and if he can’t (given the circumstances), he finds it acceptable to outsource this. Everything’s fair in love and war - and the Dimante & Silva duo have decided to wage a war against his team.

    Still, he considers that a very last resort option, not the preferred one.

    On reflection, it probably wouldn’t be quite so easy, anyway. Given their status, Dimante & Silva are sure to have their own bodyguard or two, just like Eva.

    After Patty leaves to initiate their info-warfare, it’s time to call in Evangeline.

    - We’re having those ‘incidents’, you know. I say, it’s time to stand up and swing back. Not at the hands who do it, but at the brain who’s behind it.”

    “ - Do you think it’s really Tiana and Samantha?” - Eva seems troubled.

    - I’m damn sure it’s them. No one else has a motive. Sure, we lack evidence, but they’re too clever - so far - to leave any. And even if we had some - what could we do? Therefore I think we shouldn’t bother with evidence, due process, and stuff. What we need, is some leverage we could use against them. Dunno. If, for example, we knew Dimante is afraid of frogs, it shouldn’t be so hard to smuggle one into her handbag when she’s looking the other way.”

    “ - Umm, Coach? Frogs aren’t exactly easy to catch on Avalon…”

    “ - Who’s talking about catching one? We’d have one sprang from the biology lab. You still do cut them up in bio classes, right? We’ll give that wannabe Shasvasti copycat their chance at a moment of glory, striking back against their tormentor.”

    “ - Nooo?...“ - drawls Eva, perplexed, “ - We’re a little more high-tech in PanO - we have VR simulations for that,” - she shivers a little - she’s obviously not a fan of those lessons, regardless.

    - Well, okay then, don’t you have pet stores here or something?

    “ - Yes, but… Buy one just to have it killed, most likely?…” - Eva apparently finds the idea disgusting.

    - Okay, Eva, fine. No problem. Still, you see what kind of stuff I have in mind. Any idea you may have is welcome.”

    “ - Right, Coach…” - she still seems vaguely uncomfortable with the entire situation for some reason, “ - I’ll have to think about it, investigate a bit... It is not like I know if Tiana wets her bed, like when she was five years old or something…”

    “ - Sure, I get it. Though… That one could actually work.”

    “ - If I knew it was actually true.”

    - No, it just needs to be even vaguely plausible. Then you just need to fire it at an appropriate moment. “Tiana, do you still pee your bed at night?” It ain’t a refined method, but it can really work. You know, it’s the age-honoured loaded question entrapment, “Sir, have you stopped beating your wife?”-style. You fire that one away, and let her prove she’s not a camel. No amount of claiming it is a false accusation is going to really work - that kind of stuff can stick pretty bad.”

    - Ugh, Coach, that’s a low blow…

    “ - Chica, we’re out of high ones. And if you haven’t noticed, they aren’t coming at us in a fair fight either. What can I say… It’s politics, Eva - it stinks. I’d thought you’d be familiar with the realities of public relations warfare.”

    “ - Right. I’ll see what I can dig up,” - she still doesn’t look very enthusiastic.

    - But, speaking of public relations…” - Evangeline eagerly grabs the chance to change the subject for now, “ - I’ve been thinking... We, the Anjos de Rocha that is, don’t have much of a media presence, don’t we? Obviously, the visit at the hospital, and now the match with the Knights, will put us out there a bit. But - aside the art competition for our colors, that was a nice touch, Coach - we still haven’t really taken any interest in promoting ourselves in the Academy itself, right? We haven’t reached out to the school bulletin’s sports column, for the obvious thing. And they haven’t exactly jumped at reporting on us - it’s still the rotten reputation of the previous team at work. It’s been so many years, but it still pervades the Academy’s - the city’s, Avalon’s, even! - culture and meme-space! Our first match helped a bit, but not that much - we did better than expected, sure, but still lost, after all. For most people that’s enough to dismiss us still as more of the same. I think it’s time we did something about that!”

    “ - Good points, Eva. You obviously thought about this. What do you propose, then?”

    “ - Like I said, the Academy’s Maya channel sports column is the obvious starting place. Right now, their ‘reports’ on us are just those few, short, dry, facts-only notes and announcements. Win or lose, they’re running lots of promo and color material on all the other sports teams all the time - why not us? We’re doing ‘live’ TAG warfare, for goodness sake - that should be at least as interesting as twenty-odd beefy males running around chasing a football, no?! Not to mention, we’re better looking. So, if they’re apathetic and won’t come to us, let us be pushy and go to them!”

    “ - Stir the pot up - show them there is material to be had on us, and show everybody we won’t lie down in a corner somewhere and be dismissed?”

    “ - Exactly! Reporters want views, so they want new material. We have it. And we want to be visible, build up some ‘hype’, as the crude expression goes. So a win-win situation for everybody involved, right? We just have to seize initiative.”

    - Always a good thing to do. I like the way you think about this, Eva. Let’s go for it. You want to handle this? Have anybody concrete in mind for our media contact?”

    “ - I may. It will take some time - with the match, end of term coming, then Christmas and New Year, we’ll have enough on our plates right now. But come next term, I’ll see about staging us our own little media coup.” - Eva grins, obviously much more enthusiastic about this scheme than the bullying war with Dimante and Silva.

    - Great. That’ll give us something positive to look forward to. Well, I guess that’s all for today, then.

    Diego and Evangeline say their goodbyes until tomorrow.


    Saturday, December 7th

    As the team meets for their weekly paintball game, Evangeline’s absence is soon noticed. Diego, however, waves the issue away:

    - She’ll meet us on-site.”

    “ - What, the Princess is suddenly too good to ride with us proles, eh?” - Alex finds it an appropriate moment to bicker. Not that she qualifies as a “prole” herself, of course. Save for Dominique, none of the girls do.

    - Alex, shut up and get on the truck, you poor abused prole, you.” - snarks Morgan, deadpan. She’s obviously thinking the same thing.

    The team reach their standard paintball grounds by Monster, where the girls are pretty surprised to see no sign of the Spiders.

    - Well, chicas, Bolo called me on Wednesday, saying they’ll be out of town today.

    - Huh… I guess this means we’ll be doing a four on four routine, yes?” - Nyree takes the initiative as the team’s second-in-command; not that she sounds too enthusiastic, though “ - Or four on three, until Eva shows up… Or will Miss Iskandar be joining us?

    “ - No, it won’t be necessary,” - Diego can hear inbound vehicles already, “ - Eva’ll be here in a moment... And she’s bringing reinforcements.

    A pair of cars show up - sleek but rugged SUVs, glossy black. They come in fast, raising a cloud of dust. Diego notices that, while stylish like hell (and probably outfitted to provide a limousine-like level of comfort), the vehicles are apparently armored. Nothing obvious - it’s a high-end job, not some punks (or Alguaciles) exercising their ingenuousness, welding sheet metal onto a 4WD ride - but a trained eye can see they handle like vehicles heavier than their size suggests*. So, think armored variants of Hummer H3, or something similar.

    • You can offset the mass increase with a more powerful engine, brakes and adjusted shock absorbers, but the mass is still there. As any TAG pilot can tell you, physics is not a science you can fool… Well, maybe nowadays you can, a little, with the gravitics tech, but those are hellishly expensive devices, and way too bulky to fit on something the size of a mere car or TAG.

    “ - Chicas, meet our opposition for today.

    The mini-convoy pulls up next to the Monster, and disgorges six intimidating individuals in black field gear and sunglasses.

    Two of those are Roger and Dorothy, of course. They are joined today by Nemo, Shelke, Leonardo, and Dylan.

    As the rest spread out, making an obvious production of securing the site, Roger opens the car door for Evangeline, who steps out wearing the same model of narrow, sharp shades as her bodyguards, and a wide grin, obviously enjoying the impression their entrance made.

    “ - Showoff,” - mutter Alex and Morgan in stereo.

    As Eva officially introduces everyone, Minnie is quick to pick up interest in Dorothy and Roger sharing the same name:

    - Are you two siblings, then?”

    “ - Married, actually.”

    “ - Oh, how sweet! Congratulations! How long?”

    “ - Ten years already.”

    Well, the Angels have their OpFor for today. Alex quickly dubs them “The Princess Guard”, a name they apparently take a liking to. Professional and slightly intimidating (and no doubt capable of switching to hella intimidating if needed) as they are, all of them seem to have genuine affection for Evangeline. Dorothy, whom the Angels’ resident stoic Morgan dubs “hardcore” in her apparent emotionlessness, is, in her own way, quite motherly towards Eva. Shelke, with the eerie smile easily cowing even Alex*, seems to treat her employer more like a little sister than anything else. All the men are not far behind, being a seeming collection of - mostly gruff and a little distant, but genuinely caring - uncles and big brothers. Such loyalty in the security personnel speaks well of the Neve family.

    • “Shy” Emeri intimidated Alex. Diego is quite sure Shelke terrifies her. He himself finds the woman slightly troubling. There is something undeniably uncanny about her. A tiny spark of sheer paranoia would like Diego to suspect her of being a Speculo… But one of those should be better at pretending to be human… Right?
    The Guard are appropriately armed - with a boarding shotgun (Dorothy), a submachinegun (Shelke), akimbo pistols (Nemo), a chain rifle (Dylan), and a truly monstrous heavy shotgun (wielded with frightening ease by Leonardo). With Roger as the team’s combat controller, they'll have five players in the field, Dorothy acting as field commander (none of the others seem to mind that bit of apparent marital favoritism). Apparently Eva took some effort to make them perform in a similar manner the Knights of the round Table are expected to. The Guard are ready to go as soon as the Angels finish their own preparations.

    Despite being outnumbered and outranged, they prove to be a formidable opponent. They are consummate professionals, and they excel in defensive tactics. A measurement of their professionalism is the fact they can as easily apply maneuver defense, set up ambushes, or man a perimeter - though offensive actions are performed very competently, too. And, contrary to the Knights, Diego has no data on their earlier performance, making him work against a completely unknown opponent. Though he learns quickly.

    As a few games show, the Neve security team doesn’t take their chances. And the range & numbers advantages aren’t enough to tip the scales decisively in the Angels’ favour. Sure, if they manage to take a few of the Guard down thanks to their combined numbers and firepower, without taking many losses themselves, they can then wear the opposition down. Otherwise, the odds quickly start stacking against them. And even when it seems the Angels have the game in the bag, they can’t ever afford to take their guard down for even a moment, as the Princess Guard show themselves capable of performing a breathtaking comeback, snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat. One of those, an especially devastating counterattack at the last possible moment, manages to surprise even them! Dorothy later attributes it to luck, and Diego can agree - it was really a result of a truckload of sheer luck, even with all the Guard’s training and experience. But still: if your opponent is lucky often enough, and you’re not, you’re in trouble just as if they were better. And if they already are better too, you’re in for a whole world of pain...

    Well, that’s a taste of how the Monday game is likely to look like. In a word: Intense. Still, the Angels should actually have a better chance of winning than they did against the Human Revolution. But they’ll definitely have to work for it.


    Which sums up entry #12.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  14. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #13


    “Chivalry is Dead”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - Starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed. A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #2 - Wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #3 - The “#x” notes the episode in which given character made their first appearance.
    Note #4 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s
    DeviantART Page.

    “Anjos de Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s).
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 / #6 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Almost never seen without headphones. Suffers from severe sedatephobia (fear of silence). Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG-Soft team coach, retired CJC TAG pilot, later TAG combat instructor. Died in the EI war and was granted a resurrection thanks to his minor war hero status.

    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and AR digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Run by a simple pseudo-intelligence, it’s aware of, and can react to its surroundings - usually with comedic effects.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35, Polynesian) TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Ginevra Chennault - #1 (~90, Polynesian) School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. To-the-point and strict, but fair. Teaches literature.
    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s, Hawaiian) Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow. Volunteered for the staff paintball team.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had (in entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”... Volunteered for the staff paintball team.


    Students:

    Bianca (Bia) Irene Chryse - #6 (1 class junior high, 13, Australian) Minnie’s younger sister. Fiery red hair, uncouth mouth and a talent for stepping on other people’s toes, which often gets her into trouble - as Diego said, “she’s as sweet as a candied chili pepper”. A total tomboy and skateboard riding thrill-junkie. Is fascinated with TAGs now, but has to wait till she gets to senior high before she can apply for the team.
    Frederic “Fred” Ulani - #5 / #7 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance) (1. class, 16, Polynesian [genetically, Caucasian-Polynesian]). Hardly anybody uses his name in full form - even on most school papers he’s listed as “Fred Ulani”. Another cello player in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate - and his prediction comes true, likely somewhen around #9.
    Gema Larasati - #12 (2. class, 17, Indonesian) Troublemaking skater girl, leader of a small clique of bullies. She and her gang have apparently been persuaded into doing strong-arm jobs for Dimante, starting with going after Octavia and Alex (and possibly other Angels, too).
    Ilya Malinin - #5 (though mentioned earlier) (2nd class, 17, Russian) Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her. Diego caught her abusing Nyree, in time to stop it - with some help from Alex - before Rikoriko striked back. As a result, she seems to carry a grudge against the Angels of Stone as a whole, and now engages in bullying by proxy against them.


    “The Peanut Gallery”

    Caught in short glimpses, to be fleshed-out when / if they make a full appearance:
    Bonnie Rose - #5, (2. class, 16, English) Lyra’s girlfriend, always dragged in her wake, and embarrassed by the other’s manic antics. Cooking club star.
    Karra Avar - #11 (3. class, 18, Canadian - of predominantly Inuit origin) Captain of the Academy’s basketball team, The Ramjets. She’s going to graduate at the end of current year, leaving her position to Mako Joyo.
    Lupe Ramirez - #5 (2. class, 17, Argentine) Trombone player in the school’s orchestra (which makes him Octavia’s colleague). Seems to be a silent, reserved type. Goth styling.
    Lyra Vidal - #5, (2. class, 16, Chilean) A harph player, another of Octavia’s orchestra mates. Somewhat maniacal, extreme sports enthusiast (she follows the Dog-Bowl league, among others!). Bonnie’s girlfriend.
    Kim #5 (3. class, 18) One of Minnie’s cheer-squad friends. Red-head. The squad’s captain, set to graduate this year. Minnie could have taken her place then, but chose TAG-Soft.
    Tara #5 (blonde), Amanda #5 (blonde), Clarissa #5 (brunette) - Minnie’s cheer-squad friends (maybe not so much in Clarissa’s case - she’s very happy Minnie quit, as that gives her a shot at team captaincy next year).


    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Senores Anzamble, Ral and Trowa - #1 (~80, Central American [various]) Veterans of the First NeoColonial War (Fusiliers), now elderly retirees and regular guests at “Silva’s”.
    Esteban Silva - #1 (~80, Brazilian) Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Gabriel Navarro - #5 (late 50s, Argentine) League-certified TAG-soft referee. A solid, calm, to-the-point man.
    Gato” - #6 (~20, Latinoamerican). A peddler in the less-pleasant part of town where the Torreses live. Dominique’s friend, supplies her with made-to-order gunpla parts. Probably a black market contact, too.
    Lisa Vanette - #12 (though named in #13) (early 20s, French-African) Reporter for a local news service - judging from her age, she’s an intern, or a student moonlighting as a reporter (apparently running errands, given she gets such shitty assignments as covering the ill-reputed Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy’s TAG-soft team). Bright and enthusiastic about her job.
    Luna Celeste - #9 / #10 (mentioned / full appearance) (mid 20s, Latinoamerican) The younger of the two “Celeste Sisters”, scions of the Celeste family, the most powerful, wealthy corporate family of Avalon. Patron of the arts, with a considerable power-base in the local entertainment industry. Owns the Blue Moon, the most exclusive, high-class, “in” club in Belo Horizonte. Seems rather puckish. Has taken something of an interest in the Angels of Stone.


    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere:

    Lt. Loyian N’dele - #3 (29, Maasai) Once Diego’s favourite student (and attempted romantic interest, but she turned him down. Very gracefully in fact: they still are friends) in one of his last TAG classes. She was re-trained for remote TAGs, and remains in active service (CJC).

    “Human Revolution”:

    Bakunin-based high-school TAG-Soft team.
    Victor “Cinderblock” Stone - #4 (mid 50s, USA) Coach and combat controller of the “Human Revolution” TAG-soft team, retired Bakunin Jurisdictional Command TAG pilot and former Morlock. Exotic mod: charcoal, stone-like skin, silver wire-like hair, and burning orange eyes. A self-assured, cocky, but quite friendly fellow.
    Fio “Shy” Emeri - #5 (18, South American) Line player, and their “bad apple”, never seen without her trademark balisong knife. Her demeanor seems to hint some connection to the Observance. Gecko TAG armed with an assault pistol and a balisong sword. Exotic mod: pink hair. In actuality, her callsign is not ironic: she’s really very shy, and uses a slightly deranged, intimidating appearance and attitude as a way to avoid unwanted interaction.


    Knights of the Round Table:

    Avalon-based professional TAG-Soft team. Note - the Knights’ callsigns are attached to position / role in the team, not to a particular person.
    The team uses heavily modified, late-series Ramhorn TAGs, stylized to look like mecha versions of medieval-fantasy knights, swords and shields included.
    Ajit Suresh - “Mordred” - #8 / #13 (mentioned / full appearance) (early 30s, Indian). A handsome guy who handles himself with the good grace of a consummate gentleman (including a healthy dose of autoirony), even when confronted by squealing, teenage fangirls (and he seems to have a legion of these!). Plays the “heavy support” position.
    Arana Peloni - “Gawain” - #8 / #13 (mentioned / full appearance) (late 20s, Oceanian). Came to the team from the amateur league, and the graduation to professional went to his head. He now looks down on amateur teams, and acts like a spoiled diva in general. Even Arthur apparently considers him an asshole that should be reminded he’s not the end-all, be all. Plays in “assault” position.
    Ernest Mendoza - “Merlin” - #8 / #13 (mentioned / full appearance) (early 60s, Brazilian) Knights’ coach and combat controller. He came to TAG-soft after a career in a mercenary TAG squadron on the corporate contract market.
    Leo Hale - “Tristan” - #13 (early 30s, Indonesian) The team’s “mysterious loner”. Quiet, socially reserved, even a little cold, but polite and level-headed. Plays in “assault” position.
    Jeffrey Hancock - “Galahad” - #13 (early 30s, North American). Handsome and a total ladies man, but once you get over that (he knows where the line is, and won’t cross it - without invitation!), he’s a really nice, level-headed fellow. Diego considers him to be pretty similar to himself (if younger, and prettier than Diego was at the time) - a guy he would most likely befriend, should they meet more often. Plays in “trooper” position.
    Martin Ricardo - “Bedevere” - #13 (late 20s, Hispanic North American). Observant and intelligent, he seems to be the “brainiac” of the outfit. He’s also the resident “party animal”, following Avalon’s club scene with a passion. Plays in “scout” position.
    Risa Ferreira - “Percival” - #13 (late 20s, Latinoamerican). A lady from a jet-set family, classy and well-mannered, nevertheless she has a real devil under her skin. But she can keep said devil from prancing around. Well, unless she fancies otherwise… Plays in “scout” position.
    Sabra Ortiz - “Arthur” - #8 (early 30s, Argentine [of Central European descent]) Field commander of the Knights of the Round Table, and Joan of Arc’s lookalike. Takes (guilty) pleasure in confounding people with her looks, but apart from that, she’s apparently a pleasant person and a professional in her field. Played as the team’s previous “Lancelot” for several years before the previous “Arthur” retired.
    Loves sweets, and food in general, leading to her team-mates teasing about her weight (which is still perfectly fine, thank you!).
    Samuel Rojas - “Lancelot” - #8 / #13 (mentioned / full appearance) (early 30s, Latinoamerican) Sabra’s second-in-command and right-hand man. Laid back, funny, sometimes even a little silly, but all that hides a serious, deep competence. The media are having a field day with speculation on the exact nature of his and Sabra’s relationship. Certainly, there seem to be hints of a deeper attachment. Plays in “trooper” position.



    Sunday, December 8th

    With not much else requiring his immediate attention, Diego spends Sunday with Yuni, test-driving his new motorbike. On the road it naturally cannot keep pace with Yuni’s Beast… But once off the beaten path, the oldtimer (remember, it’s roots are two centuries old!) does compete successfully with the modern Diryat Fatih design.

    Diego takes a mental note to get a bicycle frame for it (being essentially a three-wheeled setup, with a powered sidecar wheel, his machine does have a regular towing hook you can mount stuff to, including a bike hanger). Should he again need to give Dominique a lift, it’d be good to have a method to transport her bicycle.

    Hearing him muse on it, Yuni gets another idea:

    - Hmm… I guess you can’t ride a bicycle?”

    “ - No, why?”

    “ - I’ll teach you, given how quick you caught handling a motorcycle, this should be a breeze. We can then try some cross-country biking.”

    Ah. Make it a two-bicycle hanger, then…


    Monday, December 9th

    Once the classes are over for the day, it is time for the big game. The team gathers at the hangar, where the Knights already await them. They came by a suborbital flight earlier that day, and made themselves comfortable (the Angels’ hangar has guest facilities to host a visiting team and their equipment). The TAGs are still undergoing the pre-match league certification checkup, but it won’t be long now.

    The Angels line up to greet their opponents. The gathering is a little more formal and initially awkward than before the last match, the Knights being adults and not fellow high-schoolers like the Revolution, but things are generally going well…

    Until Arana Peloni whines at Sabra: “ - I thought you said we were playing against an all-female team?”

    Diego instantly has an appropriate response on his tongue (“ - Oh, I can jump into a skirt in a minute if that makes so much of a difference to you, sweetie!”), but he notices Gawain doesn’t seem to have Diablo in mind: his eyes are on the other end of the line - on Dominique. Well, true - she’s waifish and clad in baggy, unisex clothes, poor thing. Miss Torres does indeed look somewhat androgynous, and at sufficient distance, in poor lighting - or with enough ill will, apparently - she could be mistaken for a boy. Now, Dominique is quite aware of the way she looks, and doesn’t generally seem very hung up on it - she endured Alex’s occasional barbs about her “ANT Syndrome” before, with barely a shrug. But Diego knows her well enough to notice a slight slump of her shoulders this time: ‘Nique has just taken a blow to her self-esteem.

    Well, true or not, he’s not going to let that slide. It’d be real bad for team morale, even if he was willing to overlook the simple petty cattiness of the comment - which he’s not.

    A point in their favor, Peloni’s teammates all do exhibit various degrees of disapproval and/or embarrassment at his uncouthness.

    - Ssssh, Arana!” - Galahad discretely nudges Gawain with an elbow, “ - Cut it, man, she is a girl...”

    Percival, on the other hand, (herself somewhat slight and boyishly built, if undeniably female still) looks like she can barely refrain from walloping Gawain over the head in exasperation.

    - Oh, I see, Sir Gawain. You’re afraid that my team could have more cojones than you - an unfair advantage, eh?” - Diego delivers with a wicked smile.

    This does it’s job marvelously, both dissolving the tension and putting the offender in his place, as most everyone is left discretely snickering (or not so discretely in the case of Alex), and Peloni flushed and grumbling. Gawain will spend the rest of the gathering sulking.

    Once the official introductions are over, the teams are left to mingle some until senhor Navarro declares the machines league-legal.

    Risa quickly hits it off with Eva, the two classy, high-society young women discussing finer things in life (or, as Alex derisively comments behind their back, “Two Princesses being all princess-y together”).

    ‘Nique is quick to forget whatever bad first impression was made, once she catches sight of the Knights’ TAGs being readied for deployment by their tech crew. Simply put, the technically-minded teen goes starry-eyed and suffers a total geek-out, waxing lyrical on the TAGs’ specifications and capabilities to anyone who will listen. Which ends up as mostly Octavia, who gets caught in the initial blast, and is too polite to try and ditch her team-mate, even if she can’t understand more than 25% of ‘Nique’s very enthusiastic and highly-detailed technobabble. Still, it’s pleasant to see Dominique so animated and happy. And she obviously did her research (not surprising, her being a huge TAG enthusiast and the Knights being the only local TAG-Soft team until recently). She explains how the Knights’ machines actually started life as late-iteration Ramhorns, though you can’t really tell now by the way they look, stylized as they are into high-tech plate-armored knights in white and gold. Their insides - drivetrain, interface, electronics, the works - were also heavily rebuilt and upgraded. As a result, the TAGs are now almost completely different machines, and easily approximate Praxis-refitted Reptiles in performance. ‘Nique goes into detail especially over one of them, the heavy-support unit belonging to Mordred (actually, the TAG itself is called “Mordred” as well, as the Knights TAGs and call-signs are assigned based on team role). A true monster, broad, squat, and heavy-set, and wreathed in prodigiously thick armor plate, it’s more-or-less equal to a refitted Szalamandra. Which means the Angels may have trouble trying to hurt it, especially with the additional shields it carries. All the Knights’ TAGs, in keeping with their theme, come equipped with a shield and sword in addition to their ranged weapon. But Mordred carries two heavy shields, strapped to the forearms. He can do this, because his ranged weapons are actually carried on shoulder mounts instead of by hand. Mordred’s normal loadout is twin-linked missile launchers, but, per agreed handicap, for this match those have been replaced by short ranged, but no less terrifying, twin chain cannons*. Any Angel caught in their blast is guaranteed to be shredded. In total, a very scary and dangerous opponent all by himself. At least he’s somewhat slow, on account of the mass.

    • Think chain rifles, but scaled and designed for fighting - and killing - TAGs. The sheer, nightmarish carnage those can wreak in one shot on platoon-sized groups of non-TAG-armored personnel beggars belief.
    ‘Nique’s on the spot analysis of the Mordred TAG, performed in excruciating technical detail, is quite impressive… And attracts the attention of the machine’s pilot himself.

    - Bravo, miss Torres. You have an impressive breadth of knowledge on the subject.” - Ajit “Mordred” Suresh offers his sincere compliments, obviously surprised at Dominique’s expertise “ - Actually, you seem to know more about that TAG than I do.” - he admits with a playfully self-deprecating grin.

    - Oh!... Umm… It’s no big deal… Just a hobby… You know?...” - ‘Nique, full of confidence and fire a second ago, instantly turns bashful and awkward,

    - One you are impressively dedicated to. Don’t sell yourself short.”

    “ - T-thank you!... Umm…” - ‘Nique fidgets and starts playing with her hair, embarrassedly avoiding eye contact.

    It’s obvious she has something on her mind. Mordred patiently waits for her to gather up the courage to speak up, offering an encouraging smile.

    - I was wondering… Could I maybe?... G-get your a-autograph?!...” - ‘Nique finally blurts out, face burning.

    Luckily, Mordred doesn’t mind - he’s likely to have not mere cohorts, but virtual legions of fans, and he’s able to handle them all (even if they’re obviously infatuated teenage girls) with a sympathetic smile and grace of a consummate social animal. Or, if you prefer, with chivalry befitting a knight. ‘Nique, still sporting a furious blush, quickly escapes with her autograph to hide behind Morgan.

    Dominique’s predicament does not remain unnoticed by the rest of the gathering.

    - Well! Looks like our ‘Nique has herself a bit of a celebrity crush.” - Yuni whispers to Diego.

    - Awww!” - coos Minuette.

    Alex, under Morgan’s watchful gaze, restrains herself to quiet chuckling at this time, but her smirk promises much teasing later.

    - And he strikes again!” - Lancelot, meanwhile, chuckles in Mordred’s direction.

    Soon, it is time to mount up and move out.

    The five Knights that will take to the field today are Arthur, Gawain, Percival, Galahad, and Mordred - a balanced team with one of each of commander, assault, scout, trooper, and support. The remaining three (well, two - Tristan, as seems to be his way, keeps aloof and silent) express some disappointment at not being able to join the fun, but the handicap has to be observed. Maybe next time.

    Everyone suits up and proceeds to the small parade while moving to the playing field.

    The spectators are aplenty, much more numerous than last time - not surprising, considering who the opposition are. The physical audience stands are jam-packed, and the Maya transmission viewership ticks higher by the second. Familiar faces abound (the orchestra troupe, Mako with several of her basketball team friends, Illya and his guys, the cheerleaders, parents, siblings, teachers, the complete team of Bolo’s Jumpin’ Spiders...), with some new additions, including the three Fusilier vets and senhor Silva (filling in for ‘Nique’s mom, who once again couldn’t be present because of work). The media section of the stands is considerably fuller than last time too, again mostly because of the Knights’ presence. Diego notices the young reporter trainee that covered the Angels’ visit to St. Florence’s hospital at the forefront of that group.

    Diego, however, is concerned with the game, not the spectators. The Knights are, one on one, deadly opponents, and Diablo doesn’t want to take chances with them, handicap or not. After all, this is a wargame. And in war, everything’s fair. He can be chivalrous towards his enemy once the game is over… But not before that.

    With the kill-town restored, the Angels now have significantly more potential playing area available for use than the size of a standard match field, allowing for a choice of terrain. Still, for this match Diego chose to keep the boundaries of the simulated war zone in the same area as they were in the fight against the Revolution, when they were the only choice. This makes most of the battlefield forested and slightly hilly, with a strip of sea shore. This gives the Angels a little more open area, and longer lines of sight than the urban terrain would, providing - hopefully - an advantage over the Knights, who are armed only with short-ranged weaponry..


    Diego takes his place at the command console, with Eric at the technical station, and Yuni once again at medical. Show time.

    “ - Focus, chicas. We have to hit them fast and hit them hard. If we manage to do so, we will stand a chance.”

    “ - Understood, Coach. What’s the plan?

    Ha, a good question. The Knights wouldn’t likely be fool enough to come charging across the open field in a death-or-glory attempt, even though they tend to be fond of assault tactics. Well…

    “ - Set up an ambush, chicas. Deploy your portable camouflage - have to use every advantage while we still have it. And Minnie, get that Blitzen prepped. Use it or lose it, I guess… Ok, Eva, take it away.”

    “ - Right! Everyone ready? And no,” - Evangeline, obviously recalling the last time she asked that question in this situation, glares at Minuette over the comm, just as Minnie opens her mouth, “ - We don’t need to know!”

    Minnie giggles, but stays otherwise silent.

    With both teams reporting full readiness, senhor Navarro gives the signal to begin the match.

    The Angels of Stone scramble to set up their ambush. They quickly advance to an appropriate spot, and proceed to camouflage themselves in attack positions. Eric’s one-use concealment devices (all in the wilderness variants) work flawlessly, and in few minutes seemingly not a trace of the eight TAGs remains among the trees. Now to play the waiting game.

    The Knights don’t let the Angels wait too long. They come in, advancing cautiously in perfect order. Yet, despite keeping their eyes and sensors peeled, today they fail to spot the ambush waiting for them. The trap is sprung as the Angels open fire with everything they got.

    The Knights react instantly and avoid being cut down by the surprise attack. Diego can but admire their tactical acumen - reacting to an ambush is a difficult skill, yet the Knights manage it under the Angels’ hurricane-like canonade. Excellent reflexes and awareness, use of terrain, expertly wielded shields, and, admittedly, the Angels’ own imperfect aim, let the Knights survive the encounter... But they don’t quite make it without casualties.

    Minnie’s Blitzen sends one projectile right into a tree… And the other finds its mark. A custom-Ramhorn TAG jerks to a stop in a shower of sparks and, unbalanced mid-stride, slowly topples to the ground.

    While the rest of the Knights fall back fast but in excellent order, the Angels are extremely lucky. The disabled TAG that got left behind - their first “kill” of the day - is no-one else but Arthur herself.

    Understandably, the team gets pretty enthusiastic.

    - Weee! That was awesome! We’ve got them on the run!” - celebrates Minnie.

    - Yeah! What’re you waiting for?! Let’s go get ‘em!” - Alex in particular is chomping at the bit to go tearing after the retreating enemy, but it doesn’t look like the rest would be that far behind her today.

    - Easy, chicas. Mindless chargin’ ain’t gonna get us nowhere. Eva, take the team through the left flank. We have a pretty good idea where they are, and they will know we’ll be coming for them. But I bet they expect us to come in pretty gung-ho…

    Diego’s prediction comes true. The Knights quickly stop their retreat, digging their heels in and forming a defensive perimeter (setting up an ambush would be unchivalrous, y’know?): they need to shake off LoL.

    Problem is, the Angels aren’t going to let them do so. Diablo’s instruction is starting to bear fruit, flanking maneuvers quickly becoming the Angels’ forte. And today, the girls really outdo themselves. The Anjos de Rocha come in hard and fast, falling upon the Knights of the Round Table from an unexpected angle in a masterfully executed, lightning fast flank attack.

    Nyree opens the engagement with high arcing grenade fire. She’s not able to score a kill, but her shots, exploding on the opposite side of the Knights’ defensive positions to the one the Angels are coming from, provide a nice distraction.

    Percival falls first, failing to fire back even once, gunned down with grim precision by Octavia.

    Morgan scores the next kill, taking out Galahad. A rare grin lighting up her face, Morgan turns, acquires a new target, and lets her shotgun speak again… And her grin wilts as she watches the slugs harmlessly shatter on the intimidating bulk of Mordred. A split second later, she barely escapes being shredded, frantically diving for solid cover, as Mordred lowers his shields and unleashes the chain cannons, blasting what looks like close to an acre of thin forest to smithereens!

    The Angels scramble to converge fire on the knightly behemoth, but, just as ‘Nique was afraid of during her technical analysis, they just can’t seem to score a good enough hit to get through his thick plating and expertly handled shields.

    Well, the shields are degrading under the hail of bullets, and the volume of fire directed at him makes it difficult for Mordred to fire back, at least. He’s pressed back, trying to avoid the Angels encircling him… And steps right into Patty’s line of fire. Patricia, who’s been frantically looking for a good position all this time, doesn’t waste the opportunity. Even Mordred’s prodigious armor is no match for the autocannon-turned-sniper-rifle, as Patty proceeds to blow the Knight TAG’s head clean off!

    The only survivor is Gawain, who obviously decides discretion is the better part of valor, turns tail and runs like hell. Unfortunately, none of the girls manage to hit him before he disappears between the trees.

    Well now! That went amazingly. The match is pretty much over… Or is it? One against eight are not good odds for Eloni, but, all his bluster and self-aggrandizing aside, he is still a good fighter, and he still has Merlin on his side. In a similar situation, in that one exercise they did, Diego was able to clean house on his entire team. Gawain may not be quite Diablo’s caliber, but the girls definitely shouldn’t relax just yet, all the same... Which is not quite easy to get through their heads right now! If the Angels were enthusiastic after the ambush, they’re close to ecstatic now, with everything going so well, and the match practically in the bag!

    Still, with Diego’s stern direction, cooler heads manage to prevail, just barely, and the Angels commence a mop-up operation for Gawain. Diego expects the lonely Knight to attempt an ambush - chivalry or not, his read on the situation suggests that to be Gawain’s best option.

    Turns out Diego is correct again. Things come to a head roughly at the same spot where the Knights were ambushed in the beginning. After successfully avoiding detection by the Angels (seems he made use of one of the Angels’ own discarded portable camouflage suites!), and waiting for the main bulk of their force to pass his position, Gawain springs from hiding, charging into point-blank range at a lone straggler - Evangeline! He’s upon Eva with his sword before the other girls even notice anything amiss. Eva reacts, just barely, and manages to block Gawain’s first swing with her shotgun, but loses the weapon in the process. Her Iguana loses footing and falls, and she back-pedals in a panic, crawling backwards until her back bumps into Arthur’s fallen TAG. Gawain lunges at Eva again, determined to at least have the satisfaction of taking the enemy lieutenant down with him. Eva, in an attempt to save herself from his next sword stroke, instinctively grabs whatever is under her hand… Which turns out to be Arthur’s sword lying next to her! Fueled by pure desperate instinct and adrenaline, Eva manages to get the sword up and sloppily knocks Gawain’s swing away! The Knight is completely unprepared for this turn of events, and send off balance by the parry - for just a second, but it’s enough. Evangeline, still operating on adrenal overdrive, lunges to her feet, sword first, and, while the recovering Knight’s own weapon bites into her shoulder, rams it into - and right through - Gawain’s plastron!

    Bah. Shish-kabob. Game over.

    The Angels of Stone beat the Knights of the Round Table with no casualties on their side, and in barely more than a quarter of an hour…

    The girls break out into a little celebration, with cheering, back slapping, and fist bumps all around (Minuette actually attempts to give out hugs, which is certainly a memorable sight). In the command center, Yuni initiates her own round of cheering and hugs (those work much better, without TAGs in the way).

    The simulation ends, “regenerating” all “damage”, and both teams move back to the hangar.

    - That was impressive. And I had a front-row seat and everything. Well done, miss Neve. Your first time handling a sword?” - Sabra addresses Evangeline, “ - And by the way, could I have it back now?” - she finishes with a smile.

    - Oh! Of course. Sorry,” - Eva realises she’s been clutching the weapon all the while, “ - And thank you. I can’t take much credit. As you say, first time. To be perfectly honest, I was pretty much flailing around in a panic,” - she admits sheepishly.

    - Hmm, that, and Arana was underestimating you and not putting in near his best effort… Still, don’t sell yourself short. That were some very good instincts and reflexes you showed. Definitely some talent there, I’d say.

    Eva manages not to preen too much at the compliment.

    As they come in, the home crowd is going wild (almost literally in some cases - it looks like Bonnie has to keep a restraining hold on the back of Lyra’s belt to prevent the latter from storming the tarmac in her enthusiasm), having witnessed their team’s first victory, and in most impressive style. The Knights’ fans are being good sports, especially since their team is, but Diego has no doubt some are having less than charitable thoughts about the match. Eva apparently thinks so too:

    - Do you think we did maybe a little too well? Now there will be talk they just let us win…”

    “ - Yeah. But you know, Eva, there would be disparaging gossip whatever the result was. So don’t worry about it.”

    Everyone dismounts, leaving their machines in the expert hands of their tech crews, and gets cleaned up and dressed

    The excitement isn’t quite over for today, however, because here come the media. Well, an important part of the purpose of this event was gaining more media attention, and the Angels certainly get just that now. It’s honestly a little intimidating and stressful for most of them, but they face it with (mostly) good grace. Evangeline, for one, certainly seems to love the attention, posing and smiling confidently for the reporters. The Knights get their lion’s share of spotlight, of course, and having much more experience in handling media attention, graciously help moderate the pressure on the Angels. Even Gawain is pretty well behaved, grinning brilliantly and hamming it up - obviously, he also loves the cameras. He is being a little petty still, dismissing his defeat to Eva as sheer “beginner’s luck”, but he does manage to congratulate her on it all the same without looking too insincere and sulky.

    At the head of the media charge comes the familiar dark-skinned blonde girl. This time, Diego catches her name: Lisa Vanette, and she’s indeed a trainee at one of the main local Maya media outfits. Looks like her bosses made a mistake. She was assigned to the Angels’ hospital visit as a crap assignment none of the “real” reporters wanted. But her interest was piqued, her instincts telling her the Angels may not be the joke they were sold as. And now, when it looks like they may indeed be worth watching, Lisa is not about the let a story about them go to anyone else if she can help it. More than that, it seems the Angels may have found a new fan in her. She’s certainly very professional and dedicated, but also enthusiastic and friendly. And, young as she is, less intimidating and more relatable to the girls than most other media types around. The team can certainly expect to see miss Vanette again.

    The working part of the day is not over yet. Next, as the game was also intended as a charity-raising event, the Knights and Angels pay a small visit to St. Florence Rorke Children's Hospital (with another accompanying media session, though mercifully short), without the TAGs this time. The teams officially sign over the funds raised from Maya pay-per-view sales of the match to the hospital, which will certainly be appreciated, visit with the kids, and pose for some picts.

    Finally, all that over with (after prying the kids from Minnie - or maybe the other way around...), the teams get to get away and relax. As tradition dictates, the losers buy dinner - which again brings the team to one of the Chryse family’s restaurants.

    The Knights don’t seem to mind their defeat, save perhaps for Gawain, whose ego was hurt by the fact a bunch of “amateur children” kicked his butt. The mood is generally light and pleasant, and far less awkward than at the meeting before the match, proving once again that common interests, “mortal” combat, and good food serve as excellent ice-breakers.

    Seems like the rest of the girls formed a little conspiracy, and as a result, Dominique is seated next to Mordred. The poor girl is initially all blushy and stammery, but Ajit’s unassuming, honestly pleasant and tactful manner does a lot to finally put ‘Nique at ease. By the end of dinner, they are having a nice chat about TAG models (of course ‘Nique built a gunpla of Mordred’s machine...).

    Evangeline and Percival continue their “princessy bonding”, discussing high fashion and exchanging tips on favourite local places to acquire same.

    Morgan and Tristan also seem to have hit it off in their own understated way, exchanging monosyllabic repartee to their apparent satisfaction and everyone else’s confusion.

    Turns out Bedevere has heard of Patty. Being the youngest DJ to ever be the main act at the Blue Moon has got her quite some notoriety in the club scene. Martin certainly thinks her positive reputation is deserved, having nothing but compliments for her “sick beats”. He certainly wouldn’t mind catching DJ Scratch live. Patty promises that, if she’s only able, she’ll let him know about her next gig, so he can attend if possible.

    Alex amuses herself with (rather gently, really) goading and taunting Gawain. She’s momentarily distracted from tormenting Eloni by Nyree, who seems a little down.

    “ - Hey, what’s up, nerd?” - the barb somehow lacks most of its usual bite, “ - Why the long face? We kicked their assess!”

    “ - Yeah… But wasn’t I rather useless? It was my first deployment, I really wanted to do well. But I got no kills…”

    “ - Feh! Me neither, and it does piss me off a bit, but what can you do? There just wasn’t enough of them for all of us!” - Alex smirks, then turns serious again, “ - But what’s with this ‘useless’ stuff? We totally did our part! You especially! You helped the Coach and Eva keep us in line, and that barrage was a perfect distraction! So you didn’t hit anybody, but you had no FO marks to work with… Listen, this isn’t still about, you know, your mom?…” - Alex lowers her voice, concern flashing across her face.

    - No, no! Not at all! Not anymore,” - Nyree hastens to reassure her… Former enemy? New friend? Let’s go with ‘teammate’, “ - In fact, she’ll probably tell me the same thing you just did. I’m just a bit… Disappointed, in myself, you know?...”

    - Heh,” - Alex can only snort in amusement, “ - An overachiever as always. Relax, Nyree. You’ll get your official frags. Though I hope I get mine first! Hey, we can start a competition! (Though I doubt either of us will ever beat Moina...)

    - Yeah. You’re right. Thank you.” - Nyree gives Alex a sincere, grateful smile.

    - Yeah, yeah, don’t mention it, nerd,” - Alex waves Nyree off, suddenly distinctly awkward, and hastily goes back to snarking at Gawain.

    Galahad - shamelessly, but never crudely - flirts with Yuni (he’s very nice with all the team, but being teenagers, they are off-limits, and honestly not his target group). She - equally shamelessly but tastefully - flirts right back. It’s obvious both of them remain aware this is a social matter only and Yuni isn’t interested in anything more than a nice chat at dinner, so Diego doesn’t feel an urge to be jealous and mess things up.

    Arthur shows a huge sweet tooth, to the point where Lancelot jokingly teases her:

    - One more piece of that cake, and we’ll have to rebuild your TAG’s cockpit to fit the new you!”

    “ - Shaddup, Sam. I’ve paid for all of it, so I intend to eat all of it. Waste not, want not. Also, that’s delicious strawberry cheesecake, miss Chryse, my compliments to the chef.”

    “ - That’s my mom’s piece de resistance,” - Minuette beams proudly around her own spoonful, “ - Or piece irresistible, if you prefer.

    Diego and Merlin talk shop, with the others commenting at various points.

    - The ambush was very well prepared, especially those one-use camouflage devices - very inventive. But the execution was a tad weak. You were very lucky that the only casualty you inflicted was our lieutenant.

    Diego is inclined to agree with that analysis.

    (“ - Yeah, Arthur, you should really try to restrain your heroic impulse of taking a bullet for a teammate. That’s my job,” - teases Lancelot. Sabra sticks her tongue out at him.)

    - Still, having a bit of a lucky break, and knowing how to properly capitalise on it, are two distinct things. And you managed to do the latter perfectly. That flanking attack was beautiful.”

    “ - Yeah, the girls are getting very good at oblique approaches. I’m quite proud of that. And they really nailed this one.”

    (“ - We do have a good teacher,” - puts in Octavia modestly. “ - Kiss-up,” - smirks Alex. Octy sticks her tongue out at her.)

    “ - You had some trouble with Mordred, but after that - good shot by the way, miss Summers - well, I’m call-signed after a wizard, but there wasn’t all that much I could do. Set up our own ambush and hope for the best.

    - Using our own abandoned equipment was unexpected, we’ll have to remember to watch out for it in the future. And Gawain did very well - looked like we were going to lose our own lieutenant, and he would have the time to fade again…

    - ...Until you had another lucky break and miss Neve happened upon Excalibur,” - Merlin grins at Evangeline.

    (“ - Lucky it wasn’t stuck in stone at this time,” - giggles Minnie, “ - Thought that means Eva’s not gonna be Queen of England, then,” - she adds thoughtfully.

    “ - Considering it’s way back in the boonies on Old Earth, and a bit of a dump nowadays, really, I can’t say I’m all that disappointed,” - opines Eva, a bit haughtily.

    - Sure, offer the Princess a kingdom, she’ll complain it’s not fancy enough,” - Alex rolls her eyes. Eva sticks her tongue out at her.)

    - Definitely a lot of luck on our side,” - Diego brings the discussion back on track.

    - But that’s just part of warfare, as you surely know, Diablo. And you made excellent use of it. A great performance, overall. The Angels of Stone are definitely a team to watch out for. I have a feeling your kids will go far.”

    “ - You heard the man, chicas. Praise from a defeated opponent is a high compliment indeed. There will surely be some talk about how we won because of nothing but luck, or that the Knights let us win. Let them talk - as you say ‘haters gonna hate’. We all know what really happened. And what happened is, you did really good.”

    (The Devil sticks his tongue out. At everyone. About two feet of it.)

    Some others certainly think so too. During the dinner, Diego receives two comlog messages.

    The first is from the principal. Ms. Chennault is very pleased with the team’s performance and wishes Diego to pass on her congratulations to the girls. Just like after the last match, she’s planning a meeting with the school board promptly tomorrow, to discuss the fate of the TAG-Soft project in the light of the Angels’ performance. She asks Diego to come in early on Wednesday, before team practice, to discuss their decisions, and she fully expects to have good news this time (her grim smile seems to add an “ - Or else!” addressed to the Academy trustees...).

    The second…

    - Salutations from the Moon. That was quite the exciting show, really fun to watch. I’m glad my gut feeling was correct about you. Give all your Angels my regards and best wishes, and See You, Space Cowboy. (-_^)

    There’s much more talk and food, but all good things have to eventually come to an end. Late in the evening the teams, with promises to keep in touch, part ways - the Angels go home (there’s school tomorrow, no excuses!), and the Knights to their hotel (they have a return suborbital booked for next afternoon - some of them are definitely planning to hit the town for a bit, since they’re already here, and unlike the Revolution earlier, they are lucky in not having a starship to chase!).


    Tuesday, December 10th

    After yesterday’s excitement, nothing big to do today. Diego puts in his first day as senhor Silva’s cooking apprentice. It goes fairly well - nobody ends up poisoned
    (^_^). Though it’s good that Diego had some prior practice, as not to be completely lost. Luckily, business at Silva’s moves at a pretty sedate pace, even in the lunch hour rush, and the clientele are mostly laid back and friendly sort. Senhor Esteban sees no reason to regret their little arrangement, and thinks Diego shows definite promise as a cook.

    The Three Fusiliers add their congratulations for Monday’s match. Full TAG warfare may not be entirely their thing, but they can appreciate the squad tactics and teamwork involved.

    There are also a couple more congratulatory messages arriving for Diego and the girls, this time from Loyian and Victor.


    Wednesday, December 11th

    As Diego rides his bike to school (he switched almost entirely to it for commuting, weather willing), he receives a call from Alex. Curiously, the connection is sound only.

    “ - Hi there, Coach. Do I remember correctly, that you’re coming to school a little earlier than usual today, to talk to the principal?” - her tone is supposed to be casual. She isn’t quite successful, “ - Are you on your way over now, maybe?”

    - Well yes, Alex... What’s the problem?

    - Do you have something sharp with you? A knife, perhaps?”

    “ - What have you got yourself into, chica? Should I bring a shovel, too?” - even with one, disposing of a body would be a major problem…

    - No, a cutting tool will be enough, thank you. Though, Coach, if you could be at the main sports hall ‘D’ exit in five, I think we could be spared a potential problem… I would certainly appreciate it, anyway.”

    “ - Got it, chica. On my way.”

    Luckily he’s not that far away from the school by now, and his bike can actually go faster. Diego puts a boot to it, drives directly to the hangar, grabs a pair of heavy-duty scissors (who knows what will be more handy, scissors or his knife… After all, he’s not carrying a big-ass fighting knife, more like a Swiss Army knife) and runs toward the sports hall.

    The “D” exit is situated at the back of the sports building, with a small set of concrete steps leading from the building down a shallow slope to the track field, and is - what else - just out of the monitoring system’s field of view (Alex later reveals some of the kids, herself included, use it to sneak out for a smoke...). Well, he finds Alex there, as advertised. And she’s certainly in a predicament… Narahari’s hands are secured together (with an ample dose of adhesive packing tape) behind the stair’s handrail post, preventing her from going anywhere, or doing anything about the rest of her problem. Which is that her uniform skirt is pulled down around her ankles, while her panties are pulled up her back and stretched right over her head, the waistband secured low on Alex’s forehead. Wedgie to an extreme.

    - Go right ahead, Coach. Laugh if you need to,” - Alex sighs when she sees Diego approach, blushing in embarrassment. She squirms in obvious discomfort.

    - My, my, Alex... OK, quick call, hands or head first?”

    “ - Head, please…” - once her head is free from her underwear, she breathes with relief. “ - Now, we still have two minutes before the athletics club appears out of these doors for their practice.”

    “ - Yes, I kinda got we were in a hurry.” - Diablo cuts her hands free, “ - Now sort yourself out and let’s be outta here.”

    They manage to disappear from the “D” exit area before anyone can see them.

    As Alex informs Diego, she managed to find out who pulled the latest “pranks” on the team (stuffing Octavia in her locker and tripping up Nyree). The culprits are Gema Larasati and her gang, a small, tight-knit clique of notorious school bullies and troublemakers. They were who taped Alex to the handrail and provided her new choice of headwear for her trouble, too (she hadn’t exactly made it easy for them, but the numerical advantage - 5:1 - was decisive, and, Alex grudgingly admits, they have excellent teamwork). Apparently, they were recently tapped by Dimante for cheap, unsubtle muscle for her campaign against the Angels - she wouldn’t have to bribe them much to do what they’d normally do anyway, just against her specific choice of targets. Now, they haven’t mentioned Tiana by name - it’s actually likely they don’t even know the identity of their “benefactor”, the rich brat not being quite so dumb as to handle their “alliance” above-board - but the gang apparently had no sensible restraint from bragging to Narahari about being paid off by someone, and their plans of making life unpleasant for all of the Angels (unfortunately, without any concrete details that could be used to create a defense plan or catch them in the act). Still, one potentially useful piece of intel here: Larasati & company are skaters. This makes the wheels spin in Diego’s head: It shouldn’t be that difficult to determine their preferred hangouts outside school - it’s highly likely little Bia Chryse, for example, could readily supply that info. And Diego may then apply Gato to the problem, to... Discourage... Gema and her gal-pals from further involvement in the conflict. It wouldn’t work for Dimante, but here, it could do.

    Diego calls Ken and informs him that the extra awareness he applied to his team isn’t exactly working (well, Gema and her clique may not be exactly smart, but they’re cunning)... He describes the incident in very general terms; Alex doesn’t want anyone to know what happened to her, though that’s probably just delaying the inevitable - though she avoided being seen by the athletics club thanks to Diego’s quick action, Larasati’s gang is sure to have recorded Alex’s humiliation, so one can expect it to soon surface on the Maya regardless.

    Diego thanks Alex for her sacrifice (“ - Yeah, it was a pain in the ass - literally! Also, I need a new pair of panties - those are too stretched out to amount to much...”) and sends her on her way - there’s still most of a class period before their team practice, and she’s late enough already.

    Also, he makes a mental note to speak with Karra Avar the next day - the basketball team captain should be at least aware the situation may backfire at Mako - Larasati & friends seem like the types who may just be gung-ho enough not to be afraid of antagonizing the hoops team if it lets them ruin someone’s day.

    Finally, Diablo attends the meeting with the principal.

    She compliments him and the girls again, praising their definite progress and performance increase from last match, in her typical hard but fair way. As predicted, she has already heard some voices of discontent (“ - The Knights just let them win, clearly a setup…”), but Ms. Chennault is far too experienced to believe this.

    Anyway, she went through the battle with the school board, and, like she expected, there are good news for Diego & the Angels: not only is the program to be continued, but they also get a nice budget increase! Still not enough by far to send all the TAGs for a Praxis refit, but they can definitely do some shopping for extra equipment and upgrades (even if Diego doesn’t have many ideas right now, save for the recon REMs), spend more training time in TAGs (every second Wednesday can now be upgraded to armored training), and also, most importantly really, go off-planet for a game every so often.

    After all, as Diego puts it, there is little point in being the best amateur TAG-Soft team on Avalon if they can’t get a match with anybody. He’s therefore not going to spend a significant part of the budget elsewhere, as it would jeopardize the team’s “force projection capability”. Sure, extraplanetary games aren’t going to be a weekly activity (especially as, even if they could afford it, it would interfere with the girls’ normal schooling), but an away match once every two months or so should be just about perfect.

    The training session arrives, and Diego gives the good news to his team, to much rejoicing.

    Eric promises to prepare a list of potential ideas for their increased funds as quickly as possible. Sure, no full refit for them, but with the estimated budget Diego delivers, chief engineer Wana is sure they can afford one solid upgrade to all the team’s machines.

    Before they suit up and go out to the training grounds - they decide to celebrate by making this their first TAG Wednesday - Octavia has some correspondence to share. Fio “Shy” Emeri of the Human Revolution, being Octy’s Maya-pen-friend, of course send hers, and her teammates, congratulations on Monday’s match. Her coach, Victor “Cinderblock” Stone, has already send his own well-wishes to Diego, but it seems that, knowing his charge was in communication with one of Diego’s, he decided to play a bit coy. As Fio now reveals through Octy, after the Revolution’s last match, Victor decided to pay a little PR favor to the Angels of Stone, and mentioned them in his after-action interview - in pretty glowing terms! This led to the media in Human Edge (where Bakunin - and so the Revolution - is still currently residing) taking a bit of an interest in the Angels, doing a small piece on them, complete with bite-sized interviews with all the Revolution players on the subject. A link to all of that is included in Fio’s mail (all the Revolution kids are quite positive about the Angels, even though Fio, in her public “deranged bad apple” persona, declaring “ - Oooh, they were sooo much fun to kill! I hope I get to do it again soon!,” is a little unnerving).

    Well, that was certainly nice of them.

    Training goes well, without noteworthy events, though in a decidedly celebratory mood, the Angels in high spirits after the week so far, full of successes and not marred by another bullying incident (Alex keeps quiet about her own misadventure).

    The mood only improves when, at the end of the day, Yuni & Diego inform the team about the beach party planned for Sunday, all the girls positively jubilant at the prospect (even Morgan - apparently, she dreams about nothing but a nap in the sun). :)

    Now, if only nothing comes along to ruin it until Sunday, this will be a damn good week indeed...


    Which sums up entry #13.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  15. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #14

    “Angels of Summer”

    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - Starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed. A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #2 - Wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #3 - The “#x” notes the episode in which given character made their first appearance.
    Note #4 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s
    DeviantART Page.

    “Anjos de Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s).
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 / #6 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Almost never seen without headphones. Suffers from severe sedatephobia (fear of silence). Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    DeeDee “Ditzy” Alephsdottir - #9 (avatar looks ~20, Nordic) The Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, her duties include filing, mail distribution, drone operations, and assisting Ken on monitoring. While methodical like a computer, she’s not too bright, and even outright scatterbrained at times (however, she was bright enough to note that Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with Aleph as such, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him… or even make him aware of her existence).
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG-Soft team coach, retired CJC TAG pilot, later TAG combat instructor. Died in the EI war and was granted a resurrection thanks to his minor war hero status.
    Ginevra Chennault - #1 (~90, Polynesian) School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. To-the-point and strict, but fair. Teaches literature.
    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s, Hawaiian) Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow. Volunteered for the staff paintball team.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had (in entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”... Volunteered for the staff paintball team.


    Students:

    Amar Lal - #1 (1. class, 16, Indian) The only boy who was interested in joining the TAG Soft team, but stormed out of the initial meeting, immediately gaining Diego’s antipathy.
    Bianca (Bia) Irene Chryse - #6 (1 class junior high, 13, Australian) Minnie’s younger sister. Fiery red hair, uncouth mouth and a talent for stepping on other people’s toes, which often gets her into trouble - as Diego said, “she’s as sweet as a candied chili pepper”. A total tomboy and skateboard riding thrill-junkie. Is fascinated with TAGs now, but has to wait till she gets to senior high before she can apply for the team.
    Frederic “Fred” Ulani - #5 / #7 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance) (1. class, 16, Polynesian [genetically, Caucasian-Polynesian]). Hardly anybody uses his name in full form - even on most school papers he’s listed as “Fred Ulani”. Another cello player in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate - and his prediction comes true, likely somewhen around #9.
    Gema Larasati - #12 (2. class, 17, Indonesian) Troublemaking skater girl, leader of a small clique of bullies. She and her gang have apparently been persuaded into doing strong-arm jobs for Dimante, starting with going after Octavia and Alex (and possibly other Angels, too).
    Ilya Malinin - #5 (though mentioned earlier) (2nd class, 17, Russian) Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Karra Avar - #11 (3. class, 18, Canadian - of predominantly Inuit origin) Captain of the Academy’s basketball team, The Ramjets. She’s going to graduate at the end of current year, leaving her position to Mako Joyo.
    Koi Rikoriko - #7 (5th class elementary school, 11, Maori) Nyree’s younger brother, with some serious attitude. Despite being a kiddo, he’s very protective of his sister. Also, his first encounter with Eva seems to have resulted in a case of puppy love on his part…
    Mako Joyo - #1 (1. class, 15, Micronesian) Ex-team member (resigned in #5 - Gecko pilot, and for a time prospective 2IC) - turned out that combat sports weren’t really her thing, plus she was offered captaincy of the school’s basketball team (The Ramjets) once the current captain graduates at the end of current year. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person.
    Scott “Scoot” Löwe - #6, (2 class junior high, 14, German) Another skater kid. Bia Chryse’s classmate, skating buddy, and “absolutely-not-boyfriend!”
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her. Diego caught her abusing Nyree, in time to stop it - with some help from Alex - before Rikoriko striked back. As a result, she seems to carry a grudge against the Angels of Stone as a whole, and now engages in bullying by proxy against them.


    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Needle” - #14 (mid-late 20s). Scythe’s older sister. Captain of the “Heart Piercers”, a paintball team with more competitive inclinations (and higher in the league table) than the “Spiders”. She turned up for a guest performance with her sister’s outfit.

    Neve family security detail:

    Dorothy Smith - #9 (likely late 30s, might be Western European) Subordinate to Roger, doubles as the head maid. Peculiarly pale and deadpan. The name could suggest some relationship to Roger, but more likely is just a cover. Still, in #12, she reveals they actually are married.
    Roger Smith - #2 (early 40s, North American) Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard, and commander of Evangeline’s section of the detail.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Esteban Silva - #1 (~80, Brazilian) Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Gato” - #6 (~20, Latinoamerican). A peddler in the less-pleasant part of town where the Torreses live. Dominique’s friend, supplies her with made-to-order gunpla parts. Probably a black market contact, too.



    Wednesday, December 11th

    The idea of a Sunday on the beach is accepted enthusiastically. But first, there are a few details that need to be worked out.

    As Yuni explains, the beach she had chosen - an old favourite of hers - though still an official, public one, with full security and safety monitoring and a lifeguard station, is otherwise a very bare, “close to nature” place. That means almost no public utility facilities and services - dressing rooms, lounges, gear rentals, shops, or concessions stands; only a small parking lot and one tiny bathroom and shower stall, both a not quite convenient distance from the beach proper and each other. Plus, the entire thing is a bit out of the way of Belo Horizonte, compared to other nearby beaches. All of this serves to make it a not very popular destination choice. This early in the season, it is most likely the team won’t have to share it with many people, if at all. Which is kind of the point. But it does rise a few logistical issues.

    All the accessories and, most importantly, food and drink they’ll need, they’ll have to pack and bring along themselves (“ - Minnie, please try to restrain yourself to only a single packing crate of ice-cream…”).

    Getting there will be a two-hour drive (“ - Well, when I go myself, it usually only takes me about an hour, but that’s just me, riding the Beast. Somehow, I don’t think this kind of driving will fly here,” - grins Yuni). That’s far too long to be comfortable in the Monster’s cab (especially given all the paraphernalia they are going to be hauling). Besides, the road, not being a main one, might be ill-prepared to support such a big vehicle (Minnie makes a sad face, apparently again thinking on how the Monster is going to feel lonely, sitting in the hangar).

    All that means they’ll need a different mode of transport. One of the school’s mini-buses will do nicely here. They are intended to take an entire class - up to 20 kids, with accompanying teachers - on school trips. Plus, given the Academy’s status, they are super-comfy, with big luggage space, spacious pantry, a kitchenette, and full refresher rig, including a shower. Yuni will just have to request one for Sunday, won’t be a problem.

    Next on the agenda: this will technically be an official school-club trip. Which means, the girls will need official parent permissions to participate. Though this should be merely a formality, with no trouble predicted…

    - ...Right, Octy?”

    “ - Yes, Coach,” - Octavia blushes a bit, “ - Patty’s help won’t be necessary this time. Dad is much better at restraining his over-protectiveness nowadays. Though, I’m sure it will help that it’s a team-only outing…” - she gives a little frown. Is that disappointment?

    Alex notices the opportunity for some teasing, and won’t let it pass by:

    - What’s that? Our little Octavia is sad because she’s gonna miss an opportunity to strut around in a bikini in front of her boyfriend?” - she asks, grinning widely.

    This, predictably, makes Octavia blush furiously and stammer embarrassed denials.

    - That’s a really unfair accusation! If you really knew Octy, like I do, you’d know it’s absolutely untrue,” - Patty puts her arm comfortingly around Octy’s shoulders, jumping to her BFF’s “aid”... “ - You’d know then, that what she’s really disappointed about is the lost opportunity to admire Fred in his swimming trunks!” - she finishes with an equally big teasing grin.

    Octavia blushes harder and glares at Patricia, betrayal, embarrassment, and amusement fighting for control of her face.

    - C’mon, Octy, spill, have you two lovebirds at least kissed already, huh?” - Alex continues to needle (apparently baseball isn’t too popular on Avalon, and the “baseball bases” analogy didn’t catch on).

    - Hmm, Alex, do remind me... “ - Diego chimes in, “ - When exactly have you caught Octavia sticking her nose into what’s going on in your bedroom?” - Alex shrugs, wilting a little. Unsurprisingly, that was never the case. “ - Then be so kind and don’t stick your nose into what she gets up to in hers. Or in the school restroom. Or on a park bench, or wherever - you kids don’t think you’ve invented anything new, do you?” - Diego smirks, “ - Besides, if they want to go to a beach together, I’m sure they’ll find a way...” - especially given the fact Fred has a motorcycle, right?

    Octavia once again is left torn between smiling gratitude at being defended, and red-faced mortification at Diego’s suggested list of places she could be “getting up to stuff” with Fred. Minuette on the other hand had sprouted a happy little grin and blush which only grew with every place he mentioned (Well... She was already accused of having all the subtlety of a weasel on acid. Especially in the matter of relationships). Now, spotting an opportunity for some cross-cultural studies, she asks:

    - Coach? Do you have park benches on Corregidor?”

    “ - Hmm, not exactly*. But we do have emergency airlocks. Those are seldom used.”

    • They do, but given the extreme scarcity of free space on the Motherships, parks are a valuable commodity, and therefore under meticulous surveillance. Not to mention, often quite crowded. Definitely not a good place to try anything, even if you have some exhibitionist tendencies...
    - Isn’t that dangerous?”

    “ - No, why? That is, unless there’s an alert - practice or otherwise - and you get caught inside. Still, more potentially embarrassing than deadly, at least with drills, and those are - fortunately - much more common than real emergencies. There are those for whom it spices things up, tho.”

    - Uhmm… Say, Coach, do these airlocks have artificial gravity…?”

    “ - Depends, Minnie. But I see what you’re going for. Let me tell you, not a good idea. Making love in null-g is so damn awkward you wouldn’t believe. Still, not that it would stop the kids from trying it. No one ever seems to believe it when told, they must always try it anyway…

    That fascinating tangent over, the last topic to cover is their departure time. Two hours to get there, two hours to come back - it is going to eat a pretty big chunk of the day, right?

    The initial idea is to depart at eight in the morning, so as to be on the beach at ten. Morgan, however, protests, asking for a later hour. Alex rolls her eyes, groaning:

    - C’mon, Lai! Don’t tell us you can’t get up that ‘early’. You’ll sleep all the way to the seaside, anyway. And all the way back. And I bet all day there too, if we let you...

    - It’s not that, Narahari. We’ve been over this once already,” - Morgan’s normally level gaze betrays a tiny spark of irritation.

    - Yeah, yeah, I know! Your Sunday mass.” - Alex rolls her eyes harder, “ - Can’t you skip it, just this once? Nothing bad’ll happen. It’s not like we’re on Neoterra, with old man Pope breathing down your neck… Just go to confession later, or something. Can’t believe you want to hold us all back for this crap...” - she snorts derisively.

    - Narahari, be so kind as to shut your hole!” - Morgan interrupts with a growl. For the second time since they known her, she looks genuinely angry, in her own menacingly restrained way.

    - Indeed, Alex. If Morgan feels the need to go to church Sunday morning, that’s not your business.” - no-one would call Diego a devout Christian (or a devout of any other religion, actually), but, as the saying goes, there are no atheists in the trenches. And making fun of someone’s religious beliefs is very, very impolite. Basically begging for a knuckle sandwich.

    Alex actually takes a step back, blinking in shock.

    - You’re… Really serious about this, aren’t you? It’s genuinely important to you.

    Morgan gives a sharp nod.

    - Oh. I… I’m sorry, Morgan,” - Alex, shockingly, looks honestly contrite and embarrassed, “ - You won’t hear a peep about it out of me again, I promise.”

    “ - It’s… Okay, Alex,” - Morgan gives Alex a hard look for a moment, as if judging her sincerity, then sighs, relaxing, “ - And I’d appreciate that.” - she nods.

    - Yay! Crisis between friends over!” - Minuette claps happily, “ - Now hug!”

    That suggestion earns her two crooked stares.

    - Worth a try!” - grins Minnie, shrugging.


    - So. Ten o’clock would mean we’ll be there at noon. That’s a bit late. Nine o’clock, Morgan?”

    “ - That would be fine, Coach.”

    “ - Looks like we’re all set, then.”


    As the team leaves for home, Diego holds ‘Nique back for a moment.

    - One thing, chica. Could you get me in contact with that fixer pal of yours, Gato?”

    “ - Sure! No problem, Coach. I’ll let you know when and where.

    It’s obvious Dominique is curious as to what Diego might want with her friend. It’s equally obvious she’s aware of at least some of Gato’s shadier dealings. So she doesn’t ask any questions. Smart girl. But we knew that already.


    Thursday, December 12th

    Today will be Diego’s second day of cooking at Silva’s. But before he sets out for work, Diego, like he planned yesterday, calls up Karra Avar.

    “ - Coach Ibarrez?” - the girl rises her eyebrows, surprised, “ - How may I help you?

    - Captain, ma’am,” - Diego greets, somewhat tongue-in-cheek “ - Well, it’s kind of the other way around. You may have heard, we’re having a little trouble - someone is bent upon making my team’s life difficult.

    - Yeah, I’ve noticed there’s a series of unfortunate ‘accidents’ happening to your girls...”

    “ - Nothing we can’t deal with, but I’m afraid it could affect Mako, as a former Angel.”

    “ - Ah. Anyone concrete we should watch out for?”

    “ - We have no evidence solid enough to bother the Principal with, but I’m sure it’s Dimante and Silva who are behind this. Of course, they don’t want to get their own hands dirty, so, my intelligence says, they got Larasati and her gang to do their dirty work.”

    “ - Oh yeah, those clowns. I can believe it. Don’t worry, me and the girls will be keeping an eye on Mako.”

    “ - That’s what I’m asking for.”

    “ - You don’t have to ask. We take care of our own. They try anything, they’ll learn not to poke a Ramjet nest!” - Karra grins, quite evilly. Diego can absolutely believe she used to be a feared bully and troublemaker. “ - And, Coach, the Ramjets are grateful to your team. We ‘inherited’ Mako from you. And the cheerleading ‘fire-support’ you lent us last game was ace! So, should you ever need anything from us… For example, if you’d maybe like to arrange some ‘counter-accidents’ to happen to some people...” - she waggles her eyebrows conspiratorially.

    - I appreciate the offer, truly I do, but I don’t want you potentially getting in trouble for our sake. We’ll handle this on our own.”

    “ - Well, if you’re sure. Offer still stands, though.”

    “ - And likewise, we’ll try to lend you our brand of cheerleading as often as we can. And, well, that would be it. Keep up the good work, Captain Avar.”

    “ - Sure, you too, Coach Ibarrez. Goodbye!”

    Diego makes another quick call, to Minuette this time. He’d like to arrange a talk with Minnie’s younger sister Bianca - time to find out where to best find Gama Larasati’s gang. Just like when he schemed earlier with Patty and Eva, preferably face to face instead of a comlog call, for security reasons. No problem there. After a few minutes, Minnie calls back to pass on her sister’s directions to meet Bia after school at one of her favorite skate park hang-outs.

    Kitchen work with senhor Esteban goes quite well again. The day is pretty uneventful… Until Diego receives a call from Ken.

    - Hi, Diego. There’s good news, and there’s bad news.“

    “ - Okay, then, Ken. Hit me with the bad news first.”

    “ - Bad news is, there’s been another incident targeting the Angels. Kind of a repeat of one that went down once already, except this perpetrator tried to one-up the previous one. They used the time when the class miss Lai and miss Rikoriko are in was having their PE period, to break into their lockers, swipe all of the two ladies’ day clothes, and went to feed them into the waste disposal disassembler.”

    - And yet, you don’t look particularly concerned. What’s the good news, then?”

    “ - Good news is, I’ve caught the young lady responsible red-handed. A shame miss Lai lost her tie, and miss Rikoriko her shoes, but I didn’t want to order DeeDee to shut the disassembler down before I arrived on the scene - the offender would have realised we were onto her, maybe have time to escape. Instead, we got her, dead to rights. Just like you told me: one of the Larasati gang. Thanks to your warning we had an eye on them. Plus DeeDee seems to be getting better at dealing with their masking software. Looks like it’s getting out of date. Together, it let us detect and deal with the situation in time.“

    - Good news indeed. What happened then?”

    “ - Well, since we had rock-solid proof, she got a disciplinary hearing, and, apart from repaying the cost of what she destroyed, she got suspended for a week. Given we’re facing end-of-term test week, she’ll have to really sweat to keep up.”

    “ - Especially if, as I suspect, none of Larasati’s cronies is exactly a genius… Thanks for the news Ken. Score one for the good guys, finally.“


    After finishing up his day at Silva’s, Diego heads for his meeting with Bianca Chryse, at the “imaginatively” named “Park East”. As she spots Diablo coming, Bia rolls up on her board. Quite predictably, she’s not here alone - her “absolutely-not-boyfriend” Scoot is riding wingman.

    “ - Hola, kids.”

    - Coach Ibarrez! What’s up? Why did you want to see me? Did… Did you come to tell me I can join the team after all!?...” - Bia gets a little over-excited in her speculation.

    - Sorry, Bia, that’s not the case, and you know it…”

    “ - But… It’s so unfair! Nyree Rikoriko is just a year older than me! And the acceptance rules don’t even specify age, just being a senior high student!

    - Exactly, Bia. Perhaps you should give some thought to the idea of skipping a couple grades, too?”

    “ - Fat chance of me managing that…” - sulks Bia. Scoot just pats her on the shoulder comfortingly.

    - Now, the matter I actually wanted to speak with you about. So, you’re skaters.”

    “ - Well, duh!” - doubting it would be, likely, perceived as a mortal insult.

    - You would know Gema Larasati and her bunch, then? They’re skaters too, I’ve heard?

    Bia and Scoot’s disgusted faces are an affirmative all by themselves.

    - Oh yeah, we know those bi-...!” - Bia checks her tongue at the last second. She obviously thinks Diablo is pretty cool, but prefers to not risk him not being cool enough to overlook such language from her.

    - ‘Those big jerks‘ you wanted to say?” - smirks Diego conspiratorially, making the kids chuckle, “ - So, since you do, and there’s obviously no love lost between you, I hoped you might have an idea which skatepark they prefer to hang out at?

    - Yeah. Their favourite haunt is the skater grounds at ‘Parque Mora’. Which is a real bummer, ‘cause that’s the best skatepark in town!” - Bia complains. Scoot nods agreement: “ - ‘East’ is very fine, but it’s just not quite the same. And we make a point to beat it every time they show up - better safe than sorry! And they’re there almost every day…” - Bia and Scoot share another sour look. “ - So, why did you want to know, Coach?”

    “ - Oh, just idle curiosity…” - no way will those two believe that, of course, but Diego has no intention of publicizing his plans…

    He manages to deflect their questions and take his leave.


    Some time later that evening, Dominique contacts Diego. He can see the simple joy of being able to freely call people on the comlog hasn’t quite faded for her yet. Anyway, she passes on Gato’s proposition of an appointment for Diego - tomorrow, an hour or so after lunch, if that’s convenient? Sure, that’ll be fine.


    Friday, December 13th

    Not much to do today before the meeting with Gato. Diego mostly occupies himself designing some new simulated scenarios for the Angels. However, soon after lunch, shortly before he needs to set out, Diego gets another call from Ken. The bedel/chief of security wears a strange face, about halfway between despairing disapproval and guilty amusement.

    - Hey, Diego... “ - Ken sigs, pinching the bridge of his nose, “ - I really wish your merry band of Angels wouldn’t insist on making my day exciting…”

    “ - What did my girls got themselves into this time?”

    “ - One of them anyway - one guess as to which. And, as to what, well… It’ll be easier to just show you.”

    Ken launches a vid. It’s a recording from the security cameras at the Academy’s cafeteria during today’s lunch break.

    In the line at the serving counter, Dimante and Silva are queued up - with Narahari just behind them. While the two snobs don’t seem to notice her, too busy with their gossip and food, Alex looks to be watching them closely. It’s hard to say for sure - she’s very discreet about it - but Narahari seems to be quite interested with what the two are putting on their trays. As Tiana and Samantha walk away, she quickly fills her tray too and turns to leave - and there’s a brief moment when her back hides her tray and hands from the view of all the cameras...

    Alex leaves the counter and waves a smiling greeting to Nyree Rikoriko, sitting a few rows of tables away with her brother Koi. Nyree looks maybe a bit unsure, but gamely returns the smile and wave. Alex then proceeds to cross the cafeteria floor at a quick pace, heading for Nyree’s table - which just happens to be in the same general direction as Dimante and Silva are heading, at a much more sedate speed... And just as she’s overtaking Dimante, Narahari trips a cup off of the shorter girl’s tray with her elbow. Purely by accident, of course! The alleys between the tables are rather narrow, don’t you see?

    Given Tiana’s personality, it is obvious she’s not gonna take that lightly. And she doesn’t:

    - Watch how you’re walking, plebeian!” - Tiana whirls (as much as she can while not spilling the rest of the tray in her hands) towards the offender.

    But seeing said offender is Narahari, Dimante flinches a bit, a flicker of fear flitting over her face. She obviously remembers their previous encounter very well. The hesitation is momentary, however. In public like that, with full surveillance, Tiana obviously (if, knowing Alex, not entirely justifiably) feels safe from retaliation of the physical kind. Plus, she can’t afford to lose face in front of, more or less, the entire student body, right?

    But even before Dimante can regain the momentum of her tirade, Narahari unexpectedly folds completely:

    - Oh man, I’m so, so sorry! All my fault. I’m such a clutz today! Sorry...” - hearing Narahari apologize, face full of remorse and voice meek, catches Dimante completely off-guard, leaving her gaping and letting Alex continue her apologetic babbling: “ - I’ll take care of this, don’t worry! DeeDee? Ditzy!?... Derpy!” - Alex shouts out demandingly, “ - Get a cleaning remote here, on the double!” - indeed, a mini-bot is already rolling in to clean the spilled drink. “ - Now, lemme see, Tiana dear, what were you having? Ah, good ol’ O.J.? Shiny, same as me! Please, have mine!…” - she takes the cup of orange juice off of her tray and places it on Tiana’s. “ - No need for you to waste your time getting a replacement, when it’s all my fault! So… We good, right?” - Alex grins ingratiatingly.

    Dimante and Silva exchange a stunned, but increasingly pleased look.

    - Hmph! See that it doesn’t happen again, plebe.” - looks like Dimante has just scored a complete, crushing moral victory over Narahari in front of everyone. So, she can point her nose to the sky and strut towards her table, proud as a peacock.

    Alex watches them go, her apologetic face morphing into a mocking smirk. She then quickly goes back to the counter, expertly cuts in line ignoring any protests, and gets herself a new cup of juice. Next, Narahari almost skips to the Rikorikos’ table and plops down next to Nyree and Koi, offering a jovial greeting. Koi still looks at Alex with some wariness, but no open hostility as he used to. Alex messes up his hair again, though restrains herself from completely destroying his mohawk this time. Before long, all three appear to be having a normal, pleasant chat. Well, normal for them. Judging by Nyree’s blush at one time, there’s definitely some teasing still going on from Alex, but Koi is actually chuckling too, so it can’t be anything bad.


    Tiana and Samantha, meanwhile, are now sitting at their own table and eating their lunch - in what looks like the unofficial “high society” sector of the cafeteria. They’re actually sharing the table with Evangeline! And chatting with her, quite amicably! Seems appearances between social peers must be maintained…

    As Tiana takes the first swig of the orange juice she got as compensation from Alex, she makes a strange face and gives the cup a puzzled look. However, after a second, Dimante just shrugs, takes another drink, and continues with her meal.

    And Diego winces. He’s now quite sure where exactly this is all going...


    For a while things are quiet, and Ken fast-forwards through a few minutes of kids just having lunch and hanging out.

    Diego manages to notice some of his other charges in there.

    Octavia and Patricia are together with the orchestra troupe. Patty might not be into classical music very much, but the others aren’t going to shun her for that. Looks like a shared love for music (
    and opportunity to jointly tease Octy and Fred ^_^) transcends genre boundaries.

    Miss Chryse proves her reputation for lack of subtlety, sprawled and draped as she is on her boyfriend’s lap and chest. Looks like Minuette and Ilya are sharing a dessert… And Minnie is insisting on cutely spoon-feeding it to her partner, to the great amusement of some of the onlookers, and the disgust of some others. Ilya himself is scowling hard… Yet doesn’t seem to be making any effort to dissuade the girl.


    After several minutes, however, events inevitably take their course.

    Dimante is making faces again, and Silva and Neve are looking at her with surprise (and a bit of distaste). The microphones aren’t sensitive enough to catch the exact sound at first, but Dimante’s hands pressed to her belly betray what’s happening. And before long the sounds of Tiana’s gastric problems are loud enough to be caught not only by the surveillance system’s microphones, but also most of the students in the vicinity. Tiana, red faced, suddenly jumps to her feet (knocking her cup to the floor in the process) and hunched, holding her stomach, runs towards the nearest door, apparently hoping to make it to the toilet before the worst becomes true. Well, she tries to run anyway, but her rebelling digestive tract staggers her time and again. Her sudden move, and the increasingly obvious auditory (and likely olfactory) effects she’s trailing in her wake, gather more and more attention from those present. In a chain reaction, an increasing number of heads are turning in her direction…


    Dimante doesn’t really notice. She’s too occupied with her unsteady escape attempt. Too occupied also to notice Morgan Lai entering the cafeteria through the very door she’s heading for. Tiana runs smack into Morgan, and, since Lai is a big and stable girl (in more ways than one!), Dimante bounces back and lands on her back. She even manages to start another furious tirade from ground level, about uncouth, dirty neanderthals getting in her way, but her bowels interrupt and remind her - in a loud and unmistakable fashion - that she has much bigger problems now.

    Tiana shoots to her feet again, ready to run out of the cafeteria... But it is too late. Tiana spasms and almost doubles over, clutching her stomach for dear life, face contorting in pain and horror. And something gives. While the pearlescent white leggings Dimante wears today under her not-exactly-regulation extra-short uniform skirt do remain white (yay for modern fabrics!), they become visibly wet and bulged in a very obvious way. The too-short skirt isn’t doing Tiana any favours, as, bend as she now is, it provides no viewing impediment whatsoever. The accompanying sounds (and smell, judging by the reactions of those sitting closest) remove any doubts as to what could’ve possibly happened… Her face ablaze, humiliated tears in her eyes, Tiana Dimante escapes the cafeteria in a hurry, but the damage is already done.


    The room explodes with laughter and excited chatter. Alex and Koi Rikoriko strike a high-five, then proceed to almost roll on the floor laughing… Not that they’re the only ones. Nyree looks torn between disapproval and guilty amusement. Eva just looks shocked. Samantha quickly leaves the cafeteria, to check on her friend/liege.

    Morgan is still standing next to the entrance, blinking slowly, apparently not quite sure what exactly happened. She then heads for Narahari and Rikoriko, whereupon Alex insists on sharing a high-five, apparently only confusing Lai further.

    That’s the end of the recording.


    - Oh my... I guess this incident will be the hottest gossip for at least a week.”

    “ - Possibly longer. Not a few of the kids, once they caught wind of what was happening, of course started filming with their comlogs. The videos are going viral. We’re running damage control, but they’re going up faster than we can delete, and that’s just the Academy’s Maya-sphere...”

    “ - A shitty situation for miss Dimante, indeed…”

    - And, of course, we can’t actually prove a thing. Alex knows the blind fields no worse than any other miscreant in the Academy, and she got lucky Dimante spilled that juice. Got cleaned up and disposed of by a drone. So we have no sample of what it was…”

    “ - Damn. I gotta have a word with her…


    Well, regardless if it’s right or not, Diablo is in pretty high spirits as he sets out for his meeting with Gato.The meeting spot is in the seedier part of town, but one still safe enough not to worry about his bike. At least as long as he can keep an eye on it. They meet in a Yu Jing style street booth restaurant. Gato arrives, still moving using his crutches.

    “ - Ola, Gato.”

    “ - Bom dia, senhor. You wanted to see me?

    - Indeed. I think there’s something you could help me with. See, Gato, since when I first met you, I thought you are a person who... Knows people. Lots of different people. Am I wrong?

    - Well, it depends, senhor. Mostly, on what kind of people you have in mind…” - he grins, “ - But I understand what you mean. So, that in mind, what could I, and the people I know, help you with, senhor?”

    “ - See, I got somebody stepping on my toes. And need them... Pointedly informed… That I’m not gonna stand for it. I’d sincerely prefer to handle that myself. The problem is, they’re some punks from the Academy. So I hope you understand why I really can’t.

    “ - Indeed. That’d get way too messy.”

    “ - Therefore, I need it done with, let’s say, some finesse. They’re teenagers, so I think it would only be proper if some other teenagers roughed them up. However - moderation should be observed, if you know what I mean. A black eye is okay. A bloodied nose is acceptable. Scared shitless - even literally - is quite fine. Knocked out teeth or broken bones are out of bounds. Keep it within the limits of a kid brawl, nothing the cops would feel they should pay any real attention to. Especially given our targets are avid skaters.

    - So, a brawl between skaters, and the target group thoroughly roughed up, but with no lasting injuries? I think that could be arranged, senhor, not much trouble at all.

    “ - Bueno. But in the meantime, I’d like you to consider what you are going to bill me for. Officially, that is. What could’ve I possibly wanted? I expect - hope - it won’t come to that, but should things get complicated and someone starts asking questions, we need to have an answer ready.”

    - Oh, I guess you could always order some gunpla parts. For Dominique.”

    “ - Let’s keep ‘Nique out of this, shall we? We wouldn’t want to get her in trouble accidentally. And somebody could start asking questions if I started making her gifts all out of sudden. I’m her teacher, officially at least.”

    “ - Good point.”

    “ - Perhaps I’d ask you to provide me with something slightly illegal?”

    “ - Again, possible, senhor… But wouldn’t that get you in trouble?”

    “ - Nothing muy illegal, Gato. Just enough to make me come to you, as I couldn’t get it on the open market. You know, if they suspect you of a sin, confess of a small one to hide the big one.

    “ - Well, you’re a Nomad, senhor. I’d guess you could came to me because you’re missing some ‘flavours of home’. You could, of course, surely go directly to the local trade mission for that… But you wanted to be a good citizen and support the local economy and middle-men?”

    “ - Sounds good. And if anyone asks why you charged me that much more than the local price… I am a newcomer here, I don’t know the local prices, so you just grabbed an opportunity and... Gauged me a bit. Guess that’d be believable enough?”

    “ - Seems you aren’t doing this for the first time, senhor! Always a pleasure doing business with people who know what they’re doing. So looks like we’re set. I’ll need the profiles of our… Clients… And a location they may be best found at, and then I’ll contact you - personally this time, no need to get ‘Nique mixed up in this any more - with details for payment and delivery date.”

    “ - Excellent. Pleasure doing business with you, Gato.” - they shake hands.

    - By the way, senhor: congratulations on the Monday game. That was some spectacle. The vid is wildly popular around here, selling like hotcakes. Outside of the official distribution channels, of course… Which is, honestly, a bit of a shame, if you ask me, given what the fundraising was for. Honestly, makes me feel a bit guilty.”

    “ - Let it be, Gato. We’re not going to change the world, you and me. Such cards were dealt to us, so that’s the hand we have to play with.

    - How is our ‘Little Spark’ doing, by the way? When I talked to her last, she seemed a little panicky, with the finals week looming...”

    “ - I see no reason to worry. Dominique’s doing very well, especially considering all the factors making trouble for her. She’ll be fine, it’s just nerves talking.”

    “ - Yeah, that’s what I figured. She gets like that, so demanding with herself. But she’s a smart girl. I always knew she’ll make it, if she just got her foot in the door to the wider world. Which we have you to thank for. I’ll be damned, but, bad for business as that would be, I’m sorely tempted to actually give you a discount…” - Gato grins at Diablo.

    On that note, Diego passess the details about the Larasati gang over to Gato, and the two go their ways.


    Saturday, December 14th

    The team meets for the Saturday game of paintball. Of course, yesterday’s antics at the cafeteria are a hot topic of debate…

    - Seems you’re in excellent shape, Alex. You pulled that expertly. But please, don’t do it again.”

    “ - Who, me, Coach? But I’m such a nice girl these days! Turned my life around, and stuff! How could you possibly try to pin anything on me…?” - she bats her eyes at Diego.

    “ - Don’t be cute, Alex. The fact it can’t be proven doesn’t mean I - or Chief Kamehameha - don’t know who did it. So make it the last, ultimate prank, ok?”

    “ - Why not the penultimate?”

    “ - Because the previous one was to be the penultimate.


    - Well, Eva, seems you just got a bucket-load of ammunition to use against Dimante.

    (“ - Or a pants-load, if you will.” - sniggers Patty. Octy gives her a reproachful look.)

    - Coach, but… That would be completely undignified. The whole situation was disgusting, and now you suggest I should capitalize on it?… Isn’t Tiana humiliated enough?

    - They aren’t pulling their punches, either. An eye for an eye, Eva, and besides - we have to make them get off our backs. If what it takes is to make Dimante change schools to avoid being reminded of the incident every day, so be it.“

    “ - But… We shouldn’t be doing it this way! I’m sure the teachers… The principal… They should do something about it!” - Evangeline is distressed. Seems her sense of propriety and order is getting seriously challenged here.

    - Eva, face the facts. What would you want to go to the principal with? We know what’s going on - but having knowledge isn’t the same as having evidence. Given whom we’re against, it would have to be really rock-solid evidence to spur a disciplinary action against Dimante. Besides… Can you recall anyone getting drummed out of the Academy on disciplinary grounds? And what they have done to warrant such an action?

    For a moment, everyone is thinking hard. Then, all eyes turn to Narahari. Alex shrugs, smirking.

    - You see my point now? The principal has to work within the margins that reality allows her. Even if she wanted to do something - and I’m sure she would - the board would shut her down. The Academy may not be a diploma factory anymore, but big money still talks loudest. And Dimante is big money - not much smaller than you, as I’m given to understand.

    Evangeline nods glumly.

    - Or did you maybe find out anything else we could use against her?”

    “ - No, I still got nothing…” - Eva fidgets nervously, looking away. She suddenly perks up a bit. “ - But I did hear her later on Friday, raging at someone over comlog. Sounded like she was mad at them for not doing their ‘job’ properly. And blaming them for not doing something she apparently herself ordered them not to do earlier… What was it? Something about a recording, I think…

    - I think I know.” - Alex grins smugly. “ - I bet she was talking to Larasati, about what they tried to pull with me on Wednesday.” - she winks at Diego.

    The others express surprise - they haven’t heard about it yet.

    - Yeah, I didn’t want to ruin the mood. Plus, it was totes embarrassing. Luckily, I was able to get the Coach to spoil their plans. So nobody saw me. But I was wondering why they haven’t publicized their own recording instead, then. Looks like dear Tiana forbade them from making one, to make extra sure there was no evidence… And looks like she’s regretting that decision now!” - Alex grins even wider.

    - So, what exactly did they do to you?” - wonders Morgan.

    - Wouldn’t you like to know?” - smirks Alex in reply.


    - Since we’re talking about recordings. Patty, what’s the resolution of the security system’s cameras?”

    “ - Not enough to read AR screens, Coach, why?”

    “ - I was interested rather in how small an object they can’t see. Been thinking centibots, y’know.”

    “ - But we don’t have any centibots, Coach.”

    “ - Oh, I’m sure ‘Nique could cook us up something to that effect.”


    As the team makes it to the paintball field, they are greeted by the Spiders - accompanied by one more player today. Scythe introduces her as Needle, her older sister (indeed, the family resemblance is quite noticeable), and leader of a different paintball outfit, the “Heart Piercers”. They are apparently more serious and competitive, and a stronger, more skilled team than the Spiders.

    Needle has heard a lot about the Angels from her sister - not to mention them becoming pretty famous recently - and wanted to assess them personally, as a potential opponent. To that end, she’ll be joining the Spiders today (outfitted as a sniper), bringing the opposition to 9 players in the field.


    - By the way, Bolo, how have you fared in the tournament?”

    “ - Well, we were eliminated in the second semi-final round, Diablo.”

    “ - That’s not bad, I’d say.”

    “ - Better than I’d expected, especially considering us getting into the semi-finals was mostly a result of several big-time teams not showing up at all, y’know…”


    The games on this day turn out to be fewer in number than usual, but instead mostly very long and hard-fought.

    The very first engagement of the day is a perfect example. Initially, both teams maintain a balance of power, no side being able to gain an advantage, and with only minimal casualties suffered (although at least once Scythe has to call up all her experience as lieutenant - and luck - to avoid a massacre). This continues for almost an hour of battling from one end of the field to the other, until Nyree manages to land a grenade on Scythe, taking her out. The Angels aren’t going to waste such an opportunity. Not ten minutes later, there are no Spiders left standing. All in all, at a little over an hour, this is the longest match the Angels have ever fought.

    Today’s standouts are Morgan, who’s really having a bad day, almost always eliminated first and early, with nothing to show for it; and Minuette, who’s just on fire, zipping around and slaying left and right, scoring the most kills today.


    Needle is certainly favourably impressed by what she’s seen. Like many other local higher-end teams, the Heart Piercers have initially dismissed the Angels of Stone as a joke. Now, with Scythe’s stories and the evidence of her own eyes, Needle is sure they were too hasty in that judgment. She declares, if the Angles ever want a game, the Heart Piercers will be happy to oblige.


    The after-action campfire is spent in a decidedly celebratory mood, the Spiders congratulating and toasting (with alcohol-free beverages, still) the Angels for their victory on Monday. The Angels’ plan for a beach trip tomorrow are shared, and, rightly, greatly envied.


    Sunday, December 15th

    The team gathers for their departure at 9:00 AM from the school’s parking lot. Yuni brings round the bus she secured from the motor pool. Of course, the girls make use of the ample luggage space provided, and the pantry is soon full of soda, snacks, ice-cream and what-not.


    Evangeline, as always, comes in the limo, chauffeured by Roger.

    Unlike always, today Mr. Smith accompanies his charge to the hangar and asks Diego for a moment in private.

    “ - Senhor Ibarrez. I have to inform you - the trip you’ve planned is too far out of town and too long for me to let Miss Neve go alone. I hope you understand?”

    “ - Yea, I dig it. You have your procedures, that’s understandable.”

    “ - I’ll go by our car, and will do my best to keep out of the way. I guess there’s no point in moving Miss Neve’s luggage over to the bus.”

    “ - Sure, no problem.”

    “ - I’m glad to hear that. I hope there’s a lifeguard posted on that beach?”

    “ - Yuin says that there’s one, yes. Plus, she’s a certified lifeguard herself.”

    “ - Excellent. I must admit lifeguard duty was never my forte. Dorothy is better in those kind of situations…” - he glances at the girls chatting, “ - You know… I think this TAG-Soft thing is really good for my charge. Seems she has genuine friends now, where before she had just…”

    “ - Social peers?”

    “ - Something to that effect. It’s not my place to comment on Miss Neve’s choice of companions, but… Some of said ‘peers’ don’t seem to have a very healthy attitude. Anyway, this trip should do her good. She’s been somewhat stressed lately...”

    “ - Yeah, we are having a spot of trouble, with ‘social peers’ exactly.”

    “ - Shame. And shame I can’t do anything about it. Someone starts shooting at her, then sure. With school stuff she’s on her own, I’m afraid.”


    Soon, the merry band of Angels sets out in their bus, followed by Roger in the limousine. As predicted, Morgan spends most of the trip asleep. The others entertain themselves in various ways, like giving in for a while to Minuette’s cajoling to play “I Spy” with the scenery passing by the windows.


    Once they make it to the beach, Mr. Smith quickly unloads Evangeline’s gear, and fades away to take an unobtrusive lookout position on a dune.

    Eva - naturally assuming the position of the spokesperson for the group - asks Diego to kindly step out of the vehicle, so the ladies can change into their beachwear. The bus is apparently to be turned into makeshift changing room (with the shower cabin providing solitary privacy for those preferring it to the communal experience).

    Diablo shrugs, and tramps behind the dunes to change into his swimming trunks. He’s a Nomad, he doesn’t have much in the way of a nudity taboo… And if somebody is absolutely, positively bent on following him to peek at his naked butt, that’s their problem.


    It takes some time for all the ladies to change, but finally the team is ready for their beach party. Their selection of garments is pretty eclectic, though:

    • Alex, as expected, wears an ultra-skimpy bikini - basically three small, triangular pieces of cloth held up in strategic places by some string. Less expected, though not out of character, are it’s woodland camouflage pattern and colours.
    • Dominique sports a modest set, of mid-thigh swim trunks and semi-longsleeve swim shirt - curiously, though perhaps unsurprisingly for the TAG-enthusiast that she is, bearing colours and logo of one of the PanOceanian regiments - the Tikbalangs in this case.
    • Eva shows off a pretty conventionally cut two-piece, except adorned with decorative lace valances and bows - and a distinctive translucent half-skirt hanging from her waist (hopefully she’s going to take this off for swimming!), all in whites and light blues. Indeed, very princessy.
    • Minnie’s beachwear is a one-piece swimming suit with a decorative pleated “mini-skirt”. It is patterned in red-and-white diagonal stripes, making Miss Chryse look a bit like a (somewhat plump) candy cane. Cute and sweet, very her.
    • Morgan wears a very conventional bikini, in rich orange, and a matching floppy sun hat. Curiously enough, she decided to keep on her religious emblem - a silver cross on a chain - even on the beach.
    • Nyree has a one-piece swimsuit, colored - what else - violet, with a decorative pink and white starburst low on one hip, pretty conventional and modest in design. She has her hair done in low twintails.
    • Octavia chose a one-piece swimsuit, in a jet-black, slightly shimmery hexagon pattern, again pretty conventionally cut - though with a quite daringly open back. She also tied her hair back with a pink ribbon.
    • Patty rocks a strapless one-piece with a trunk-like bottom, white with a splash of two-tone blue digi-camo across one side and front, plus a wide headband to keep her spiky tresses under control. She also kept on her leather collar (apparently containing her comlog), and has appropriate earplug headphones, certified water-proof. They’ll also keep water out of her ears, which, with her particular ailment, could prove unpleasant (more than normal).
    • Yuni apparently took a liking to animal patterns, for her suit - a semi-turtleneck one-piece, with cutouts on hips and a large keyhole neckline cut - is in a leopard skin pattern. Which really suits her :)
    • Diego? He sports simple black swimming trunks.

    Alex can’t stop from eyeing Yuni’s figure, and holding her own shapes up to comparison… And is hardly satisfied with the result.


    As they go out onto the beach, Yuni exchanges a friendly greeting with the lifeguard on duty on his outpost tower - they’re both regulars of this place, after all. Aside from the guard, the beach is, in fact, empty, so the Angels pretty much take it over.


    The girls are quite eager to get into the water, so they rush through unpacking their gear: placing down blankets (only Eva has brought herself a beach-chair), setting up umbrellas, pumping up balls (Alex teases Minnie and Nyree a bit for bringing along such “childish” beach toys, yet she won’t put up much resistance later to playing a bit...), strategically placing beverage containers and - Diego and Yuni make sure - applying sunscreen and lotions. Well, Morgan and Nyree hardly need any, given their naturally dark complexion. Same, though perhaps to a lesser degree, applies to Alex and Yuni. Patty, on the other hand, makes a lot of fuss about it - then again, with her extremely light, almost milky, complexion, that’s understandable.


    Soon, it is finally time to swim in the sea. The only one to be less than thrilled at the prospect is Morgan, who - unsurprisingly - seems intent on spending the entire day napping in the sun. The others manage to cajole and drag her into the water anyway. She mostly gets into the spirit of things, participating in the fun, but still takes several breaks - and yes, it looks like she is in fact fully capable of safely napping while floating...

    The lifeguard on duty means she can mostly relax, but Yuni keeps a watchful eye open nevertheless. Though her attention is mostly on Diego - it’s his first time in such a big and turbulent body of water. Still, he manages very well.

    Nyree, Patricia and Yuni herself have brought swimming boards (the small ones used to assist floatation). This is not really the place one could get a decent surfing wave, so no surfboards, but a bit of bodyboarding is possible. And Yuni quickly gives hers up to Dominique, who, while able to swim, lacks much experience, and so was feeling a little unsure in the water.

    Alex can’t help herself commenting that Minuette (who’s an avid and very proficient swimmer) looks like a whale in the water, given her figure. Minnie pouts, then suddenly grins devilishly:

    - A whale, you say? Yes - a killer whale!” - Minnie swims towards the other girl, trying to look menacing, orca-style, before suddenly diving below the surface (Patty starts humming a tune similar to the Jaws theme...). A moment later Alex makes a surprised face, then shrieks and starts beating the water around her, frantically trying to catch Chryse. Minnie surfaces some distance away, a naughty grin splitting her face ear to ear, waving triumphantly. It’s hard to see what she’s holding and waving with at first - Narahari’s bikini bottoms are a bit too skimpy to look like a valid trophy.

    - Hey! Give it back!”

    “ - Ha! Come and get them! Well, Alex? I’m waiting just here!” - teases Minuette, coming ashore. Alex just glares and blushes - seems her exhibitionist tendencies do have limits… Minnie is finally persuaded to return the stolen piece of wardrobe, mollified by Alex admitting Minnie is, in fact, a pretty good killer whale.

    There’s more swimming, a splashing war, races, a spot of cheerfully chaotic, free-for-all beach ball water polo, and before they know it, two hours have gone by.


    As they are coming ashore, they encounter an example of the local fauna - a Drummer Crab. Naturally, this gives Nyree an opportunity to demonstrate her encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much everything, and deliver a small lecture on the animal’s biology (given Avalon’s biosphere tendencies, a Drummer Crab is not a crustacean at all, but actually a marine-adapted arachnid, so perhaps closer to a scorpion than a crab… But it sports impressive pincers, anyway), The beastie scuttles away, spurning Minnie’s attempts at making friends.


    Time for lunch - and snacks! (Minnie apparently took that “one crate limit on your ice cream” at face value…) And then sunbathing. Morgan happily puts her hat over her face and is gone.


    Of course, after half an hour or so, Minnie can no longer sit still, and proceeds to building sand castles. Dominique and Nyree are quickly drawn in, the first trying to practice some structural engineering, the second trying to inject some historical accuracy into the designs. The effects are mixed.


    Alex finally grows bored and starts flinging loose ice cubes (from the tourist fridge that holds the remaining drinks) at other team members. This doesn’t prove too satisfying, as there’s no much reaction apart from some grumbling. So Alex takes careful aim, and lobs her next shot into Yuni’s swimsuit neckline window. Time for the coach to intervene, and put the rowdiest team member in line. Diego takes the fridge away from Miss Narahari, carefully removes all the bottles... Then turns it upside down on her. All the ice cubes and icy water she wants.

    - Yikes! Okay, okay, Coach, you made your point! I’ll be good!” - not really a big sacrifice on her part, as the ice cubes are now melting down on and around her towel “ - Jeez, that’s cold like hell! When you put your foot down, you don’t do halfway, eh?”

    “ - Well, I could’ve put you over my knee” - Diablo shrugs “ - But I figured some folks could possibly misunderstand my intentions then. Plus, I’d worry you might actually take a liking to it…” - which pronouncement results in some giggles and blushes among the rest of the team, “ - Now, get over there, on dry sand, and warm up...”


    Alex dries quickly in the sun, but she won’t stay so for long, as everyone soon decides on another round of swimming, though a shorter one this time.


    After that it is time for a game of volleyball. Yuni came prepared, having packed the necessary equipment*, and a “court” is quickly set up. There’s too many of them for a proper beach volleyball setup, but too few for full-sized volleyball… But who cares? Let’s just have fun!

    The Angels divide up, with Diego and Yuni serving as team captains, and snagging Alex, Patty, ‘Nique, and Nyree; and Minnie, Morgan, Octy and Eva, respectively, for their sides.

    Diego’s team manages to - barely! - win the first match, after a protracted and bitter struggle. In the second match, Yuni’s team totally owns the opposition, scoring a quick and crushing victory. Everyone then decides that a 1-1 draw in matches won is the perfect place to leave the games on, with neither side feeling defeated (though there is some joking needling from Yuni’s side, that their victory was of a decidedly better quality, so it should be closer to 1-1,5...).

    • Volleyball (and presumably other team sports) in this era is as high-tech as everything else. The entirety of the portable ball court consists of the net poles. The “net” itself and the playing field boundaries are holographic/AG projections. Triangulating, range-finding, and other sensors and expert systems in the poles and the ball itself automatically keep track of points, offsides, nets, double contacts, etc, and report them directly to all the player’s and spectator’s comlogs.

    As the sun starts a slow descend towards the horizon, the Angels sit down to soak up the last good rays, rest up, and deal with the last of the snacks and drinks.


    Yuni, with a mischievous smile, makes a quick trip to the bus and comes back with a surprise - a case of malt beverage. They’re definitely skirting all regulations here, but Yuni thinks the girls deserve a little celebratory drink, and Diego is inclined to agree. This brew is the closest thing to beer they’ll be able to get away with - it’s so weak, there should be no trouble even for the least alcohol-resistant girls.

    - Still, it’ll probably be better if none of us advertize having had this little toast!” - Yuni winks.

    Of course, Diego and Yuni also make it clear that participation in this little indulgence is absolutely not mandatory. If any of the girls do not feel comfortable with this, for whatever reason, it’s perfectly fine for them to abstain. Nobody will think less of them for it, give them a hard time, or pressure them into going against their conscience. Understood (for both sides of this equation)?

    Well, no need to worry here, as it seems none of the Angels can quite resist this tiny act of rebellion anyway. All quite eagerly accept their share, even Nyree.

    In the interest of being proper neighbourly, Yuni walks to the dunes to offer a bottle to Roger also* - and to make sure they won’t get Eva in trouble.

    • And is he even allowed a drink, being on duty and all? Turns out yes, no problem at all - his nano-enhanced liver and digestive system gives him full knowledge of the chemical makeup of everything he ingests, as well as full control over being affected by it. It could break down pure ethanol - or nerve toxin - in seconds, a mere malt drink is no issue.

    As predicted, the brew is much too impotent to get anybody drunk, least of all on a single bottle, though Nyree, Octy, and ‘Nique, being of the lowest body mass (and quite probably least experienced...) do get just a bit brighter-eyed.


    Having downed her drink the fastest (and giving a loud belch), Minnie looks around and suggests a game of “Truth or Dare”:

    - Since we already have a bottle to spin, and all…”

    “ - ‘Truth or Dare’? Try ‘Interrogation or Humiliation’ instead...” - grumbles Patricia.

    - Aww, come on, Patty! We’re all friends here, right? It’ll be fun! And if anyone is really worried, we can agree on a forfeit! Like, if, after hearing the question or dare, one wants to pass, they have to buy a round of candy for the rest!… What do you say?

    There’s some amused eye-rolls at Minnie’s forfeit idea, because of course she’d make it about candy. Still, not a bad way to handle it, all in all. Everybody is on board, even if still a bit reluctantly in Patty’s case, and the game starts. Evangeline, as team leader, gets the honor of spinning the bottle first.


    Diego and Yuni, as boring, old people, apparently, are excluded from the proceedings. Not that they mind terribly. They sit a few paces away, engage in small talk, and generally just enjoy each-other’s company, slowly sipping on their drinks.


    Some highlights Diego was paying attention to include:


    Eva’s first spin points to Patty, who sighs resignedly.

    - Right. Lay it on me, Eva. Truth, please.”

    “ - Well… I always kind of wondered: What’s your real hair color?”

    “ - I could get evasively technical, and say that this,” - Patricia combs her fingers through her two-tone blue tresses, “ - Is my real hair colour. I don’t dye, see. It’s a really good biocosmetic job, and so that’s how they grow now.” - she catches Narahari’s gaze “ - And before you think to ask, Alex, yes, everywhere. But I guess that wouldn’t do it for you, right? Okay, okay - I was originally a redhead.”

    - Could’ve figured that out…” - Diego murmurs under his breath. Not quietly enough…

    - Because of my skintone, Coach?”

    “ - No. Your attitude.” - Diablo smirks, among some giggling and Patty’s pout.


    Dominique’s first spin points to Morgan.

    - Truth.”

    “ - Um, okay... Tell us... Something about yourself the rest of us don’t already know?”

    “ - Going all-out, I see.” - Morgan rises an amused eyebrow.

    - Doesn’t have to be any big, embarrassing secret, or anything like that! Just something that maybe hasn’t come up yet?...” - ‘Nique is quick to clarify, blushing.

    - Something you don’t all know?... Well, okay, how about this: I sing.” - this pronouncement is met with a lot of surprised faces, “ - Yup it’s true, I really like singing. Just for myself. Got it from my dad, I guess. Guy’s liable to break out into song at the drop of a hat - Mom calls him a ‘Disney movie refugee’.” - Morgan gives a little fond smile, ” - But for me it’s kind of a private thing, so no wonder none of you ever heard me. But I do perform in public in one place - at my church. I’m in the choir.”

    Now that was certainly a revelation.


    A few rounds later, Morgan is targeted again, this time by Octavia.

    - Dare.” - Morgan is quite sure what Octy’s challenge will be and seems resigned to get it over with.

    - So, could you sing something for us? Just this once? Pretty please?”

    “ - Okay, but really just this once. Don’t ask me to sing you lot any battle songs during matches, or marching cadences for training, or stuff. This really is kind of a personal thing. Allright?”

    Everyone quickly agrees to those terms (with Alex in particular giving a thoughtful, serious nod), and so Morgan cues up an audio track on her comlog, and sings. She selected a real classic here - a variation on “The Sound of Silence”. Well now, Morgan Lai’s singing voice is certainly impressive - very well trained, powerful, and quite deep. What’s most surprising to her audience, is the amount of emotion the normally impassive and dry Morgan puts into her singing (especially shocking is the quite genuine sounding anger in the “ - And the people bowed and prayed - To the neon god they made” line...). A moving experience, and the Angels offer a round of heartfelt applause. Diego is sure he isn’t the only one left contemplating maybe visiting Morgan’s church sometime, to hear her choir work… But, per Morgan’s request, they stop making a fuss about it and move on with the game.


    A few rounds later, ‘Nique, spun to by Alex, apparently loses her discretion a bit, and boldly goes for a “dare”. Alex, grinning devilishly, is quick to make ‘Nique pay for it:

    - I dare you to… Kiss someone!”

    “ - W-w-what?!”

    “ - Kiss someone. Anyone here - you’ve got the whole beach to choose from! Whoever you like.” - thought, seeing real panic in Dominique’s eyes - and some reproachful stares - Alex quickly amends “ - Oh all right, doesn’t even have to be a full kiss! On the cheek will do.

    For a moment, is looks like ‘Nique will surely go for the forfeit anyway… But then Miss Torres jumps to her feet, resolutely marches towards the teachers, and pecks Diego on the cheek. Then, furious blush burning her face, she scampers back to her place in the circle, among giggles, catcalls, and applause from the rest of the girls - including Yuni.

    - My, my…” - grins Diablo, “ - Nice to know one hadn’t got too old to catch a young lady’s eye…


    At one moment, the bottle, spun by Minuette this time, stops pointing right between the girls sitting in a circle - and towards Yuni.

    - Hey, what the hell, why not. Truth.” - Yuni gets into the spirit of things (she could have chosen a dare, and likely completed it without breaking a sweat - Minnie has been mostly daring everyone into attempting various athletic activities all game - but that would be boring, so where’s the fun in that?).

    Minnie doesn’t waste the opportunity - and, as it’s widely known, isn’t much for subtlety:

    - So, Miss Iskandar… Are you and Coach Ibarrez together or not? Officially?

    Judging by all the looks, Minuette isn’t the only one interested in the answer. No surprise there, really. Yuni looks at Diego. He shrugs: it was never classified information, just not widely advertised. He certainly won’t be trying to deny it when directly asked, as if ashamed.

    - Depends on what you consider official, Minnie. I haven’t introduced him to my parents yet, if that’s what you’re asking. Other than that?” - Yuni winks, “ - I’d say we’re together, quite a bit!”

    Well, by some of the reactions, looks like some Oceana will be changing hands in the near future...


    When Minnie’s next turn comes around, the bottle points to Evangeline.

    - Hmm, I feel a bit bold. Let’s go for a dare.” - decides Eva. “ - First, however, excuse me for just one moment, please. I do need to use the ladies’ room.” - she rises from the circle. Minnie suddenly sprouts a naughty grin:

    - Oh, oh! I have a dare for you right now! Don’t use the bathroom - go pee in the ocean, instead!

    To say this draws some shocked reactions would be an understatement.

    - Minnie! Really?!”

    “ - Seriously, Chryse?”

    “ - Ewww!... Just… Ewww!...”

    “ - What?” - Minnie bats her eyes innocently. “ - Come on, everybody does it!”

    “ - No, Minnie. I can assure you, not everybody.” - deadpans Morgan.

    - Gawd, do you do it in the pool at school, too?” - wonders Alex, than blanches a bit, “ - On the other hand, no, I don’t want to know…”

    “ - Seriously, Minuette, what is it with you and… This stuff?” - groans Eva, rubbing her temples.

    “ - Sooo… You gonna do it?” - Minnie waggles her eyebrows.

    - ...No. Just no. You’ll get your sweets, Chryse. Because no.” - declares Evangeline flatly, turning on her heel and marching for the bus and it’s lavatory.

    - Admit it, Pinks, you always knew the Princess wasn’t going to go for it. You just really wanted the candy.” - demands Alex.

    “ - Maaaybe…” - grins Minuette.


    Finally, it is time to pack up and head back to Belo Horizonte.

    Before getting behind the wheel, Yuni swallows some oxidizer pills (the malt drink doesn’t have enough alcohol in it to be legally considered an alcoholic beverage, and the car really drives itself anyway, but she wants to be extra sure all the same).


    During the ride home, Patricia has an announcement. She scored another club gig, for next saturday, December 21st. Anyone who’s interested in attending is, as always, welcome, with complimentary VIP pass provided. Only problem, they’d have to cut their paintball practice a bit short to have time to prepare, would that be alright? Sure, Diego sees no problem. A spot of clubbing again will not go unwelcome. Anyway, Patty will surely play at least one more gig, possibly more, during the break, after Christmas. She’s quite happy indeed with her DJ career opportunities lately - the performance at the Blue Moon has really opened some doors for her. She’s getting many more offers now. Most of those she has to reject, because of school taking priority, but now she also actually has the freedom to do so. A little fame goes a long way.


    As the end-of-term test week starts tomorrow, Yuni asks Diego whether he’d like to help her as assistant PE teacher again. After all, he has made a number of fans the previous time.

    - Sure. Can’t disappoint my fans, right? And my ani-fans, either.”

    “ - So, will you be giving your special attention to Amar Lal again?”

    “ - Actually, no. He got his share last time, and hasn’t stepped on my toes since then. I’d call the matter between us settled.”

    “ - Well, at this point he’s probably already regretting not having joined the team, anyway…”


    Having brought the team back to Belo Horizonte, sent them off towards their homes, and returned the bus to the school’s motor pool, Yuni and Diego are left alone in the Academy’s parking lot.

    - Mmm. That was fun! A good day, definitely.” - opines Yuni, stretching.

    - Yup. Even Alex wasn’t too bad, with a correction or two.” - smirks Diego. Yuni giggles.

    - And have you noticed? She didn’t smoke once the whole day. I saw her taking some pills.”

    “ - Heh, you’re right! Looks like her plan to quit is finally on track. Good.”

    “ - You know... I’m tired, but not too much. Like, I could go for a lie down, but not to sleep yet. Know what I mean?” - Yuni grins suggestively.

    - Indeed, I think I do.” - Diego returns the smile.

    And so, Diego and Yuni ride away on their bikes to spend some quality time together, as a fine ending to a fine day.



    Which sums up entry #14.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  16. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Joined:
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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #15

    “Breaking Points”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - Starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed. A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #2 - Wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #3 - The “#x” notes the episode in which given character made their first appearance.
    Note #4 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s
    DeviantART Page.

    “Anjos de Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “
    Gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s). Practising Christian, she sings in a church choir, too.
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 / #6 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Almost never seen without headphones. Suffers from severe sedatephobia (fear of silence). Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    DeeDee “Ditzy” Alephsdottir - #9 (avatar looks ~20, Nordic) The Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, her duties include filing, mail distribution, drone operations, and assisting Ken on monitoring. While methodical like a computer, she’s not too bright, and even outright scatterbrained at times (however, she was bright enough to note that Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with Aleph as such, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him… or even make him aware of her existence).

    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and AR digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Run by a simple pseudo-intelligence, it’s aware of, and can react to its surroundings - usually with comedic effects.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG-Soft team coach, retired CJC TAG pilot, later TAG combat instructor. Died in the EI war and was granted a resurrection thanks to his minor war hero status.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35, Polynesian) TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Ginevra Chennault - #1 (~90, Polynesian) School’s principal, once a Bagh Mari officer. To-the-point and strict, but fair. Teaches literature.
    Isabell “Pills” Talho - #5 (looks to be in her middle 30s, South American) School’s medical officer (given the Academy’s size and high profile, she’s a fully qualified general practitioner with a lot of fancy tools) and likely a resurectee. Volunteered for the staff paintball team.
    Ken Kamehameha - #3 (undetermined, apparently in his late 20s or early 30s, Hawaiian) Officially, he’s the school’s head caretaker / bedel, which in fact means he’s the chief of security. A nice, laid-back fellow. Volunteered for the staff paintball team.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had (in entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”... Volunteered for the staff paintball team.


    Students:

    Amar Lal - #1 (1. class, 16, Indian) The only boy who was interested in joining the TAG Soft team, but stormed out of the initial meeting, immediately gaining Diego’s antipathy.
    Bianca (Bia) Irene Chryse - #6 (1 class junior high, 13, Australian) Minnie’s younger sister. Fiery red hair, uncouth mouth and a talent for stepping on other people’s toes, which often gets her into trouble - as Diego said, “she’s as sweet as a candied chili pepper”. A total tomboy and skateboard riding thrill-junkie. Is fascinated with TAGs now, but has to wait till she gets to senior high before she can apply for the team.
    Gema Larasati - #12 (2. class, 17, Indonesian) Troublemaking skater girl, leader of a small clique of bullies. She and her gang have apparently been persuaded into doing strong-arm jobs for Dimante, starting with going after Octavia and Alex (and possibly other Angels, too).
    Ilya Malinin - #5 (though mentioned earlier) (2nd class, 17, Russian) Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Mako Joyo - #1 (1. class, 15, Micronesian) Ex-team member (resigned in #5 - Gecko pilot, and for a time prospective 2IC) - turned out that combat sports weren’t really her thing, plus she was offered captaincy of the school’s basketball team (The Ramjets) once the current captain graduates at the end of current year. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person.
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her. Diego caught her abusing Nyree, in time to stop it - with some help from Alex - before Rikoriko striked back. As a result, she seems to carry a grudge against the Angels of Stone as a whole, and now engages in bullying by proxy against them.


    Team Members’ Parents:

    Clyde Chryse - #9 (middle 40s, Australian) Minnie’s (and Bia’s, and Frankie’s) father. Very tall and gaunt. Severe and humourless-looking but surprisingly nice. A food technologist, with managerial specialty.
    Vivian (Vivi) Maybel Chryse - #9 (late 40s, Australian) Minnie’s (and Bia’s, and Frankie’s) mother. Short, plump, and energetic. She visibly vibrates with positive energy (looks like we know where Minnie got her style…). Somewhat fussy. By trade a chef, specialized in pastries.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Esteban Silva - #1 (~80, Brazilian) Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Gato” - #6 (~20, Latinoamerican) A peddler in the less-pleasant part of town where the Torreses live. Dominique’s friend, supplies her with made-to-order gunpla parts. Probably a black market contact, too.
    Rama Sloan - #15 (likely 50+, mixed ethnicity with a strong Hindu component) Inspector for the Avalon Board of Education. Stiff, thorough, professional, and humorless, but surprisingly effective and level-headed for a, more or less, government official.


    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere:

    “Frankie” Chryse - #6 (mentioned only so far) (20, Australian) Minnie’s and Bia’s older sister. Graduated the Academy and went on to study environmental engineering and geology at the Bourak Institute of Planetology. Reputedly possessed of a stoic temperament similar to Morgan. “Frankie” is no doubt a diminutive nickname in the same style as her sisters’ and mother’s.


    Monday, December 16th

    Since he had agreed to help yuni with end-of-term PE tests this week, Diego brings out his CJC field uniform again. Anticipated by some, and dreaded by others, the “Nomad Drill Sergeant From Hell” is back, definitely adding some colour to the PE testing. While Amar Lal happens to be in one of the first groups on Monday morning, Diego keeps to his earlier word and doesn’t give the lad any of the “extra attention” he was getting last time, to the boy’s visible relief.

    Yuni and Diego sit down in the early afternoon, to compare notes after the next-to-last set of today’s classes, when DeeDee calls in, urgency in her voice:

    “ - Senhor Ibarrez, Miss Iskandar? I think there’s trouble.”

    “ - Speak up, DeeDee. What’s happening?”

    - It’s about Miss Narahari. I can locate her in a bathroom nearby, and I’m pretty sure there are several other students in there with her. But I can’t get a visual confirmation from inside, nor any kind of useful connection to the room, really. There’s masking software at work - a familiar one. Still can’t quite punch through that, but at least now I notice when it’s in use. So I suspect Miss Larasati and her friends.

    “ - Carramba!” - Diego jumps to his feet, so does Yuni, “ - Show us the way. Have you notified Chief Kamehameha already?”

    “ - He’s on his way, but you are the closest staff.” - DeeDee informs politely as both teachers start running, following her AR direction arrows.

    - Right. Can you send a recording drone over, too?

    - Naturally. On it’s way. I have to warn you - the door is locked, though it shouldn’t be, and I can’t override it.”

    “ - Understood. Do you have a fire locker nearby? We might need a fire axe, a crowbar or something to that effect…”

    “ - Diego,” - Yuni chimes in, “ - Those are lightweight internal doors. You could probably just kick them open!”

    “ - Sure, Yuni. But I’d hate to be caught unprepared if it turns out otherwise. A pity I can’t have Minnie fire up her Gecko and get in there, but that’d’ve taken too long.” - not to mention be somewhat over the top.

    Well, since it is a ground floor bathroom they are heading for, Minnie could just as well enter it from outside the building. A TAG ripping through the wall would definitely be effective! Though it certainly wouldn’t win Diego any favour with building maintenance...

    - Okay, I know where the fire locker is. We’ll meet at the door!” - Yuni peels off down another corridor.


    Yuni needs only a few more seconds to show up with a hefty fireman’s axe. Diablo surveyed the door in the meantime: indeed, a lightweight model, with the simple lock engaged and an AR plaque claiming the restroom is closed “for maintenance”.

    - Thanks.” - he takes over the axe. “ - DeeDee, am I justified in assuming a student’s health or even life could be endangered inside of that room?”

    DeeDee’s avatar conveys her considering things for a moment. “ - Yes, Coach Ibarrez, under the circumstances, I do believe it is a warranted assumption.”

    “ - Thank you. Yuni, take the left side, I’ll take right. On the count of three, we kick the door. If it opens, I come in first, you follow. If not, I’ll axe it open. DeeDee, where’s that drone?!”

    “ - Arriving momentarily.” - indeed, a small camera bot hovers into the corridor and quickly takes position over Diego’s shoulder. “ - Just in case, I’ll switch it over to ‘autistic’ mode, so there’s no chance of the masking software possibly jumping to it and corrupting the recording.”

    “ - Okay. Ready? One... Two... Three!”


    The door is a lightweight model, but still, luckily, one of quality - the twin kicks do not pierce through. The lock and hinges, however, easily give way under the impact. The door lands on the floor with a bang. Diego is not an expert on house-to-house fighting, but he did enough boarding actions, and the principles are similar enough: a doorframe is a chokepoint, you need to maneuver your unit through it and to the other side as fast as possible.

    Diablo jumps inside and performs a split-second tactical evaluation of the situation. One girl next to the sinks, facing the mirrors with hands to her face (ignore), one farther to the right, apparently just watching (ignore), and two more standing crowded in the door of a toilet stall over a fifth one, who has her arms wrung behind her, and her face shoved into the toilet bowl by a foot on her back by said two (targets acquired).

    The gang - Larasati and her cronies, as predicted - are taken completely by surprise. Well, they fell victim of a typically PanOceanian tendency for excessive reliance on technology. They trusted the software to keep them unnoticed. Lucifer’s beard, on Corregidor - in addition to all the tech gizmos available - there would be at least one of them standing on lookout.

    Diego is upon them before they can as much as blink at the broken door. He did storm in with an axe in his hand, but he doesn’t intend to use it on them… Probably. The girl standing on the victim’s back gets a hefty kick, sending her flying to the floor. The other one, an equally hefty push, compacting her into the corner of the stall. Then it is time to grab their victim - Alex, as suspected - by the collar and pull her head out of the toilet.


    Diego might look like a madman with that axe, but his thinking is clear - and he’s well-aware of the camera bot that followed him inside.

    - What do we have here, then? Torture and attempted murder?

    There’s no answer but shocked silence. Alex, at least, seems happy to be able to breathe again. Though she doesn’t look too good - hair soaked and limp, the bruises evidence that she put up quite the resistance to the gang. And, to add insult to injury, the toilet bowl the bullies chose to use has not been flushed after it’s last use...

    The red-headed girl at the sinks was actually making paper tissues into makeshift tampons to stop her nosebleed (Alex’s handiwork, no doubt). She was also able to think on her feet, intending to slip away once the teachers had their backs turned, busy with the rest of the room’s occupants. But she’s not quick enough to avoid Yuni, who whirls around and catches her by the ear mid-sprint.

    - Is the young lady going somewhere, hmm?!”

    “ - Ouch! Ow, ow, ow!…

    The girl to the right of the stall - whom Diego considered to not be currently actively participating in the scene - is still there. Though she’s now sitting, cowering on the floor, staring with eyes the size of saucers at the axe-wielding maniac who charged in like a hurricane and mercilessly obliterated her friends. Apparently it happened so fast she didn’t notice that he didn’t actually use the axe on them, the lack of blood slipping her perception in her shock. It’s just too much for her, as she’s whimpering in terror, a puddle spreading on the floor beneath her.

    The one Diego kicked out of his way and off of Alex’s back turns out to be Gema Larasati herself. Sure, she’s tall and athletic - but still a teenage girl, while Diego is a fully-grown, and quite powerfully-built man… And he’s had enough hand-to-hand training to know how to kick. It wasn’t an all-out kick, sure - he couldn’t get away with accidentally snapping her spine, no matter the situation - but it still blasted Gema back like a D-Charge. She’s slowly picking herself up off the floor, groaning, with a potentially magnificent black eye ripening on her face (a gift from Narahari), and now likely an equally magnificent bruise to come somewhere under her clothes. Diablo isn’t completely sure if he hasn’t broken any bones on her, even if he considers that unlikely. Or worth pitying.

    The fourth member of the Larasati gang is still in the toilet stall corner, where Diego’s push has sent her. She looks pretty well compressed into that tight space… And pretending with all her heart she isn’t around, thank you, sir, no, not at all!...


    In the silence you can hear the rapidly closing footsteps: Chief Kamehameha and his men arrive on the scene.

    - Jeez, Diego…” - Ken shakes his head in disbelief, surveying the carnage, “ - The devil happened in here?!”

    “ - The Devil sure did, alright!…” - mutters Yuni under her breath, with morbid amusement. She appears a bit shocked herself with Diego’s violent intervention.

    - Good to see you, Ken. The situation is yours… Oh, and I guess you’d like to have this, too.” - Diablo passes the fireman’s axe to the Chief Bedel. Which is accepted with some relief - did Ken really think Diego was just waiting to get apeshit crazy with it, and start chopping up everyone?… “ - DeeDee has all the evidence material we’ll need, I think. I’m taking Miss Narahari to Isabel. I hope you’ll handle the rest?

    - Yeah, we’ll take this mess from here. But I have a feeling the Principal will want a word with you soon.“ - Ken sighs.

    - I figure.

    Yuni passes the redhead’s ear to one of Ken’s subordinates as they move to collect the shell-shocked bullies.


    - Thanks for the save, Coach, but I’m fine now.” - Alex, having gathered the remaining shreds of her dignity, tries to wriggle out, but Diablo isn’t ready to just let her go, with a firm grip on her elbow. “ - Really, no reason to take up more of your time…

    “ - Chica, stop it. You need that face cleaned and disinfected, and I mean, professionally.” - getting a nice set of cuts and bruises, then diving face-first in an un-flushed toilet bowl is, as far as Diego is concerned, a pretty effective way to get some nasty infection. Therefore Alex is left under Pills’ care, with a request to show up for a talk with Diego once she’s done there.


    - Wow, Diego. That was… Brutal.” - Yuni speaks up as they’re walking back. “ - Not that I’d have coddled them or anything, but...” - she shakes her head, half amazed, half troubled.

    “ - ...But you think a loco axe-murderer laying into bullies with roundhouse kicks is going a little far?

    - Yeah. You are one crazy Devil when you get going, aren’t you?” - the Devil takes the opportunity to do an impression of Taz from Diego’s shoulder, making Yuni giggle.

    - Well, I guess my cultural baggage is showing. Back home on Corregidor? You can bet they would be trying to drown her for real. Hell, we’d be very lucky if, instead of screwing around with swirlies, they didn’t go straight for switchblades. I keep forgetting this is PanOceania… But you must admit, the situation did look pretty bad in there. Maybe in hindsight it was a tad overkill, but I figured, better safe than sorry.“

    “ - Plus, you were pissed?” - Yuni raises her eyebrow at Diego.

    “ - Yeah, that too.” - he smirks in response.

    “ - Can’t rightly blame you, I guess,” - Yuni sighs, “ - I just hope you won’t get into too much trouble…


    Diego and Yuni complete their last period of PE classes for the day with minimal excitement, but immediately after that, Diego’s expected summons to the Principal’s office arrives. Yuni sees him off with the mock solemnity of saying farewell to a lover heading for the firing squad.


    Miss Chennault does not look particularly happy, though at least she’s not breathing fire.

    - What am I supposed to do with you, senhor Ibarrez?” - she sighs.

    - Give me a medal, then have me court-martialed?” - Diego offers with what he hopes is a disarming smile.

    - Tempting.” - the Principal gives a miniscule smirk. “ - Unfortunately, replacing you at this juncture would pose a number of problems, time and cost being the least of them. You are doing a very good job with the project so far, and by all accounts you built a good rapport with your staff. And with the students as well. The girls seem to like you a lot - and respect you, also. Neraka, you managed to get our most difficult case to not only toe the line - more or less - but actually clean-up her act, if but a little. Three months ago, I would not have believed it possible for Miss Narahari to keep from expanding her disciplinary record for such a long time, never mind ever being on friendly terms with Miss Rikoriko. So yes, you’ve proven yourself a valuable asset, Coach Ibarrez, and I’d be loath to lose you. But you put yourself - and me along with you - in a precarious position here. What were you thinking?“

    - Well, as I’ve already told Miss Iskandar, it was mostly a case of cultural bias. Ware we on Corregidor, we’d be fortunate if the kids didn’t decide to settle the matter once and for all - with knives. As it was, the situation looked plenty potentially fatal enough.”

    - Yes, I suspected as much.” - Miss Chennault nods glumly. “ - I’ve seen the video - good thinking on making sure you got that evidence - and I have to agree, it did look very bad… But still, this is Avalon, Coach Ibarrez, not Corregidor, and you’ll do well to remember that in the future!” - she gives Diego a stern look, “ - I’m happy you take the safety of your charges seriously. But what you engaged in was still an abuse of force, and make no mistake, there will be consequences. An inspector for the Board of Education will be arriving tomorrow, to perform an official investigation on the incident. Now, you did cover your ass pretty well… Oh yes, that was absolutely what you were doing, with the recording, and your statement for the camera.” - Ginevra rises an un-amused eyebrow at Diego, as if challenging him to deny her assessment, which he wisely declines to do, “ - But the fact you had a generally valid point will work in your favour. Together with the cultural dissonance angle, we should be able to spin it in such a way as to not have this end with your dismissal. But you should absolutely expect some disciplinary measures nonetheless.

    - Yes, Ma'am.” - Diego nods solemnly.

    Miss Chennault frowns. “ - I must say, I’m... Disappointed, Coach Ibarrez. Disappointed that you’d not see fit to come to me with the problems your team is having lately, of which this incident is only the most recent example. I hope you didn’t think that I didn’t know what’s going on?”

    “ - Chief Kamehameha and Miss Alephsdottir report to you.” - Diego shrugs, “ - It’s part of their job. But, with all due respect, Ma’am, if I did personally come to you, could you have helped any better? Lacking evidence, and with the School Board’s position being as it is?”

    “ - Perhaps not.” - the Principal admits, her expression sour, “ - That’s the other thing I’m disappointed in: Myself. You’ve heard all the stories by now. I managed to do a Hell of a job cleaning this place up… But it’s rather obvious it’s still not enough. However,” - she turns another stern glare on Diego, “ - Be that as it may, I still take a dim view of my staff persecuting their private little wars, on my turf, without the courtesy to at least inform me of them personally. Am I clear?”

    “ - Understood, Ma’am.”

    - Good. I’ll be expecting a little more open communication in the future. Because even if I can’t really help right now, that doesn’t mean I’m not actively looking for ways to do so. And having all the pertinent facts, first hand, may help me spot and realise an opportunity if it presents itself.” - Diego nods thoughtfully. “ - Your escapade today, unfortunate as it was, may actually still work out in our favour. It got us the BoE’s attention, which our own Board is typically quite skillful at avoiding with student-only trouble. And as long as the inspector is here, I fully intend to grab the chance to put a bug in his ear - a Cascuda, preferably - about our… Difficulties… In exerting effective discipline on the upper crust students, and the source of same.”

    - Speaking of which, Ma’am, what of Miss Larasati and her little helpers?”

    “ - I already levied on them the harshest punishment I could. Permanent marks on their records, to add to their existing collections, and four weeks suspension - with the holidays not counted in.”

    “ - Well, that should at least inconvenience them, even if I doubt it’s effectiveness in correcting their attitudes. But they’ll be out of our hair for the interim, which is not unwelcome.”

    “ - Quite. And you will do good to keep yourself and your Angels from causing any further trouble, too.”

    “ - And if someone decides to cause trouble for us?”

    “ - I would hope it went without saying: if you stay within the limits of reasonable self-defense, I won’t punish you for something that isn’t your fault… Unless I don’t have any other choice. Please understand, Coach Ibarrez. I am on your side, and I may even like you… But my main concern is, and will always be, the school as a whole, and the students. So, if the choice is ever between sacrificing you, and doing what’s right for the Academy…”

    “ - ...Then you will sacrifice me without a second thought. I understand, Ma’am. Them’s the breaks. Not unlike military service all over again. I can at least appreciate the honesty.”

    - Glad to hear that. Well, you should probably get back to work now. Be ready for the summons for the interview with the Board of Education inspector tomorrow. For now, dismissed.”

    Diego, and the Devil on his shoulder, give the Principal a salute, only half-mock, which she returns with an infinitesimal smirk, and leave the office.


    There’s still some time before their training is scheduled to start. Fortunate, since Eric, as promised, has prepared projections and ideas for the Angels’ newly increased budget. Talking this over will at least let Diego take his mind off his other problems for a while.

    First and foremost, they can finally afford a new upgrade to their TAGs, and without resorting to budget options, like the applique armor. So what to go for? After some deliberation, Diego decides the priority should be increasing the Angels’ accuracy and firepower. Effective attack is the area they seem to currently struggle in the most, the ambush in the recent match a perfect example. So, better fire control computers and software, targeting sensors and rangefinders, recoil compensators, and similar, all go on the shopping list. Sure, with the money they have available, they won’t be able to make a jump straight to Praxis Refit performance for the machines, but it’ll go a long way towards closing the gap.

    One exception, though. Diego decides to skip Evangeline’s TAG with that upgrade. Instead, as their command unit that tries to avoid front-line combat, the Iguana will get a full C3 (Command, Control, Communication) systems refit, to better fit into its designated role. And this will actually place it at Praxis-level in this area. Excellent.

    Obtaining all the parts and software, and then performing the upgrades, will take some time, of course. Luckily, today will be their last live TAG practice before the holidays. So Eric should be able to get some good work done, without inconveniencing the team by keeping some of the machines off of the field while they’re being worked on. Still, that’s ultimately unavoidable - he definitely won’t be able to finish upgrading all of the TAGs this week…

    - And next week,” - Eric chuckles ruefully, “ - My sister arrives to drag me away from the workshop and make sure I don’t spend the entire holiday working.”

    Taking that into account, the upgrades should be done about two weeks after the end of the Christmas/New Year break. An acceptable timeframe.

    After that, they will still have some free funds available. Looks like they should be able to finally get the pair of recon drones they planned some time ago, but decided to put off in the face of more pressing needs. This will take some shopping around. As previously discussed, obtaining the hardware shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s the software - a semi-autonomous piloting expert system able to effectively function as a unit in the high-demand environment of a battlefield - that will pose some problems. Unlike piloted TAGs, drone combat units have not become obsolete - in fact, their relevance only increased - so they’re under much stricter control, and so expensive and difficult to legally acquire, even outdated ones. Neither Eric nor Diego have the kind of high-level corporate connections that would get them easy and/or cheap access to such wares. But Diego has an idea: why not try asking Merlin for help? The Knights of the Round Table have corporate sponsorship, and even before that, their coach made his name in the corporate mercenary market. He could definitely have some ins in the right places. Maybe he could help the Angels out here. If nothing else, maybe some merc outfit would be interested in making some easy cash by parting with a couple of old combat remotes? Definitely worth a try.

    A much smaller, easier thing to spend some leftover funds on, would be up-gunning Alex a bit. Now that she’s learned some trigger discipline and teamwork, she’s not doing at all bad in their paintball training as the team’s Spitfire operator. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea after all to make her one in TAG-Soft also. So that means exchanging her TAGs old model “Combi Rifle” (which would be an HMG for a normal trooper) for a TAG-sized Spitfire equivalent. A proper modern MULTI HMG would work, with higher ammo count, better sustained fire capability, and specialist projectiles available as needed, and still light enough that an Anaconda can use it. Alex will surely like the idea of some more dakka.

    One more thing that needs to be addressed, is finding a way to prevent an enemy from using the Angels’ own discarded camouflage devices, like Gawain did last match. Eric apologizes for not thinking about it immediately when developing the things. A simple friend-or-foe tag reader and a transponder to inform friendly forces of unauthorized access should do nicely and be easy to implement. Diego, however, has an idea for a devious addition: why not also include an E/M charge triggered by unauthorized use? A nasty surprise for any opponent trying to pull what Gawain did. They should be able to spare some Blitzen warheads for this purpose. Definitely doable.

    Finally, Eric mentions he’s also working on a new idea for a cheap, last-ditch defensive system: one-shot, point-blank range smoke grenade launchers, similar to the ones still used on tanks, or included as part of the escape system on some TAG models, like Praxis-refitted Anacondas. A one-use smokescreen deployed at the right moment could certainly provide some defensive or tactical advantage. And such an upgrade could be done really simple and inexpensive. Diego’s all for it.

    Which reminds Diego to see about extending Nyree’s GL tactical utility, by also getting her some smoke rounds.

    Any other serious purchases will have to wait until they manage to save up a usable amount of money again, though with their new budget this at least shouldn’t take over half a year, like it would before.

    That covers the technical topics, and just in time for the girls to start arriving for practice.


    Alex is early, as requested. She looks much better now, clean, dry, the wonders of modern medical technology significantly reducing the marks on her face.

    - Yeah, told you I was fine, Coach. Nothing some soap and light nanomeds couldn’t fix. Takes more than a dunking in a shitty toilet to take me down.”

    “ - You seem awfully chipper about the whole thing, considering.”

    “ - Well, I’ve managed to sneak a look at the recording Ditzy made, of you coming to my rescue. And let me tell you, seeing Larasati eat that kick? True balm for the soul. Shame I can’t get a copy of that vid… Beautiful work, Coach. But you’ll be no doubt very happy to know,” - Alex gives a sarcastic grin, “ - That you didn’t do any permanent damage. Pills fixed Gema and her cronies right up.”

    “ - Ecstatic.” - smirks Diego. He then turns serious, leveling a stern look at Alex:

    - One thing, chica. Don’t escalate this any further. You got Dimante good, she - by proxy, but still - got you back. The direct perpetrators got slapped down. Call it even. We don’t need this to turn any more messy. Certainly not by our hand.”

    - Come on, Coach,” - Alex pleads playfully, “ - Just one more? Sure, we can say Dimante got hers. But what of her yes-girl, Silva? She’s guilty too, at least by association, and so far she’s getting off scot-free! Surely I at least owe her one good wedgie, for that first time they picked on Nyree!…”

    Diablo’s unamused stare is all the answer she needs.

    - Oh, all right! Fine, Coach. I promise to let it go, for all the good that’ll do us…” - Alex grumbles, crossing her arms with a grumpy pout.


    Morgan and Nyree arrive next, and it doesn’t take them long to spot the bruises on Alex.

    - Busting heads again?” - Morgan is deadpan as per usual, but is that a shade of concern in her voice?

    - Oh my! Are you alright?” - Nyree, on the other hand, wears her concern openly.

    - Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” - Alex waves them off, markedly awkward. “ - Obviously, Dimante blamed me for her little potty accident on Friday, so she had Gema and her gang try to give me a brown swirlie. No big.” - Nyree winces, and Diego is left wondering, how many times Alex herself has inflicted that particular treatment on others, Nyree included. “ - Don’t worry about it, they came off much worse in the end.

    - Oh? You beat them all to a pulp?” - Morgan lifts a slightly dubious eyebrow.

    - While your faith in me is rewording, no.” - Alex smirks. “ - The Coach did.”

    This, of course, elicits surprised exclamations from the other girls (well, from Nyree, Morgan makes do with a wide stare), and demands for explanations.

    - You know, chicas, to avoid unnecessary repetitions, we should wait until everybody gets here.”


    The others show up by ones and twos. Some of them have already heard some rumors. Patricia (and by association Octavia) turns out to be the best informed of the bunch - she managed to partly cajole, partly bypass DeeDee, into getting access to the recording (though not into making a copy, to Alex’s disappointment).


    Soon everyone is brought up to speed. And while everyone is glad Alex is alright, and her attackers got thoroughly busted and won’t be bothering the Angels for quite a while, reactions to Diego’s intervention methods are a bit mixed. Especially since they obviously got him in trouble. The girls are warned they might be interviewed by the Board of Education inspector in his investigation into Diego’s behaviour. At least, however uncomfortably his use of violence might sit with them, none of them intend to denounce and turn against him.


    - This is all just so… Ugly.” - sighs Evangeline. “ - And it seems it’s only getting worse. And it will surely get worse if we keep escalating…” - she glances at Alex.

    “ - You digging at me, Princess? Easy for you to talk, they haven’t done a thing to you yet.”

    - Oh, so you think it’s easy having to deal with Tiana and Samantha every day? Having to make nice, while knowing that if looks could kill, I’d be a smoldering pile of bones on the floor?

    “ - Sure, because that’s so much worse than having your face showed into a full crapper?! Well ex-cuuuse me, Princess! And why the Hell do you even have to ‘make nice’ with them, exactly? While they’re gunning for all the rest of us?

    - Well, maybe if you-!”

    “ - That’s enough, chicas. Cool it.” - the others are starting to look concerned, and Diego intervenes before the girls can start to seriously tear into each other.

    - Yes, please, please don’t fight!” - Minuette is most distraught.

    - Okay, so, throwing around blame will do us no good... But is there actually any way we could de-escalate?” - Morgan tries to steer the discussion to more reasonable ground.

    “ - Maybe just try to talk to them?” - Eva offers tentatively.

    - Try to broker a peace treaty?” - Alex scowls dubiously. “ - Well, they did get in some solid shots, especially against me, who - arguably,” - she glances askance at Eva, “ - Kicked the whole thing off.

    - So what, we ask them nicely to be satisfied with that and not drag this out any further?” - Dominique also doesn’t look too convinced.

    - Well, they didn’t go after Minuette yet, too…” - points out Octy.

    - And that’s a sign that ‘there’s still good in them’?” - Patty teases lightly.

    - Maybe?” - Minnie perks up. “ - I’ll do it, I’ll talk to them! It would be nice if we could end this whole silly feud. Maybe asking nicely is all it will take? Wouldn’t it be so much better if we could all be friends, anyway?

    - From morale officer to goodwill ambassador, Minnie?” - Diego can’t help smiling at her enthusiasm, even if (like Alex and Patty, apparently) he finds the naive optimism a bit eye-rolly at the same time. “ - It can’t hurt to at least try, I guess. And if it doesn’t work, then our conscience is clear - we can say we tried to be the better side and sincerely offered peace, and they rejected it, so it’s not us who are to blame for what happens later. I say go for it, chica.”

    - Yay! Ambassador Chryse is on the case! I’ll try getting in touch with Tiana and Samantha first thing tomorrow.”

    “ - I guess if anyone is able to sweet-talk those two, it’ll be Minnie…” - opines Patty.

    Evangeline nods, somewhat glumly. “ - I guess so. They certainly don’t want to talk to me. Not about making peace, at least…


    With that plan made, it’s time to get to TAG practice, which goes pretty well. The girls, understandably, welcome the opportunity to let off some steam. Eva and Alex especially, though they do manage to restrain any further fighting strictly to shooting it out when on opposite teams.


    Tuesday, December 17th

    In the morning, as Diego is on his way to the Academy, Gato calls in. The connection quality is low, and it’s obvious the fixer is using some pretty dated (and probably illicit) means to access the network, but if it works it works.

    “ - Ola, senhor Ibarrez. The thing we talked about? It’s ready for you. Would today be a good day for delivery?

    “ - Ola, Gato. Excellent. Today would be just fine. I can drop by to pick it up late afternoon.

    They quickly agree on a meeting spot.

    Larasati and gang had already gotten a pretty effective lesson in not messing with the Angels, delivered by Diego himself afterall. Well, they did provide him with a perfect opportunity for it. But it surely won’t hurt to reinforce their attitude adjustment, which the “people Gato knows” are about to do. Diego wouldn’t be surprised at all if Gema and friends quickly renounced their service to Dimante, however good she’s paying, and, after they finally return from their suspension, steer well clear of the Angels from then on. Or at least he hopes so. Hell, maybe they’ll even have some good sense shaken into them, and stop being bullies altogether? Hey, one can dream, no?...

    Oh, and Diego is going to get his “taste of home” delivered, too. Not a big thing, but one has to appreciate the little pleasures in life.

    Since he wasn’t actually suspended… Yet… Diego joins Yuni for the morning set of classes. But then it’s time to meet the Board of Education inspector. Said individual is a somewhat peculiar, mixed-race man of undetermined middle age, the name of Rama Sloan. Principal Chennault seems to have had opportunity to meet him before:

    - Good. I was hoping we’d get him. We can work with him. His personal foibles aside, the case is in good hands.

    Indeed, inspector Sloan is a rather stiff and pompous individual, seemingly devoid of any humour whatsoever. Yet at the same time he’s highly professional, treating the matter at hand with all due seriousness, and being highly expeditious and effective. Markedly, he shows not a shade of prejudice against Diego (as a “dirty, uncouth Nomad, disturbing the sanctity of the PanOceanian education system with his barbaric ways”), which was somewhat of a concern.

    The inspector interviews Diego, getting his perspective on the whole story, in grueling detail. Digging into the background of the incident leads to Diego narrating the entire history of the grudge “somebody” has for the Angels, for the record (the Principal advised Diablo to stick only to things asked for, but to take an opportunity to bring the larger problem to the inspector’s attention if only one presents itself). Mr. Sloan informs Diego he’ll also be interviewing Diego’s direct associates in the TAG-Soft project, as well as the girls in the team. Additionally, he orders a repeat psychological evaluation for Diego (he had to have one done when he accepted the Academy’s job offer). Luckily, in this age of total and instant connectivity, that can be done totally through Maya, saving much time. An appointment is made for Diego for tomorrow morning. Finally, the inspector advises Coach Ibarrez that, having studied Diego’s record to date, while he currently sees no need to suspend Diego from his normal duties as TAG-Soft coach, he’s going to insist Diego limit his interaction with the rest of the student body for the duration of the investigation. That means no helping Yuni, sadly. But Mr. Sloan is optimistic that resolving the matter shouldn’t take long, and should, in fact, be done before the end of this week. And there’s no reason to doubt him, seeing the pace at which he’s working.


    Well, this didn’t really take nearly as much time as it felt like. And since he can’t go back to doing PE testing with Yuni for the time being, Diego heads for Silva’s, to get in an afternoon shift of cooking practice under senhor Esteban.


    Back home in the evening - after picking up his cover story delivery from Gato, paying much too much for it, as planned - Diego receives another call:

    - Hii-iii, Coach!” - Minuette beams so wide Diego’s afraid the top of her head might pop off, flashing a v-for-victory with both hands, “ - Guess what, guess what?” - she’s practically vibrating with excitement.

    “ - Ola, Minnie. Judging from your mood, I’d guess your attempt at a peace conference went well?”

    - Yuppers! Was a bit rocky at first, but there’s nothing like shared candy to break the ice! Or shared ice cream to break the rocks, that’s always good too!” - she giggles giddily. “ - Anyway, we sat down and had a nice chat, and I think it went real swell! Tiana was a bit cool still, but polite, and Samantha was very nice! We talked over the situation, and well, they seem to agree there was maybe enough unpleasantness. We may not have peace yet, but they agreed to a cease-fire for now, while they think the whole commotion over. So yay!”

    Minnie’s so happy Diego doesn’t quite have the heart to offer a reality-check, and point out that agreeing to a cease-fire currently costs Dimante and Silva practically nothing, as they’ve just lost access to their main muscle, and the coming holidays mean they won’t have contact with the Angels for a while anyway. Still, they at least being open to talking things out may be good sign...

    - Good job, Ambassador Chryse. At the very least, some more breathing space won’t go amiss while we deal with the latest crisis. Keep it up - but don’t be pushy. Peace talks need a subtle touch.” - Diego winks to take any potential sting out of the admonition.

    - Ooh, I can totally be subtle if I have to! You just watch!” - Minnie makes a cutely determined face. “ - And soon, all this badness will be forgotten, and we’ll all be the bestest friends!” - she declares grandly.

    Diego can’t help chuckling. Naive or no, one can’t deny Minuette has tons of determination and positivity.

    - Here’s hoping. But there’s another thing, Minnie. Do I remember correctly, your older sister went to study abroad, at the Bourak Institute of Planetology?”

    “ - Yup! Frankie is double-majoring in environmental engineering and geology. And she’s thinking about maybe going for a doctorate after that! She’s sooo smart! We’re all so proud of her!” - Minnie gushes, bright-eyed.

    - I’m asking, because we should slowly start thinking about our next match. And it occurs to me, the Bourak IoP has their own TAG-Soft team…”

    “ - Ooh, it would be so awesome if we could go to Bourak! It’s such a cool place! Well, actually, it’s very hot, but you know what I mean!”

    “ - Well, could you ask Frankie to maybe see if they would be interested in playing with us in some near future? I’d like to feel them out on it before asking them directly. Don’t want to appear too desperate, now.”

    “ - Okey-dokey, Coachey! No problem at all. I’ll get in touch with Frankie today - I still have to write her this week, anyway.”

    “ - Thank you.”

    “ - No big! Oh, one more thing before I go! Bia just told me before I called, it seems Gema and her friends run into some trouble at the skatepark today!”

    “ - Oh?” - Diego plays at being surprised.

    - Yeah! Some other group of skaters showed up, all Ateks, I think she said. Don’t know what it was about, but they all apparently got into a big scuffle! The new guys totally owned Gema and her gang - nothing really drastic or bloody, but humiliating - and chased them away! And at first Bia was like: ‘Yayers! Take that you meanies!’ But then it looked like the new gang was intending to seriously take over Larasati’s turf, so wouldn’t that mean they would kick out Bia, Scoot, and the rest of the young'uns too, like Gema used to? But no, the Atek crew turned out to be pretty cool peeps! They don’t mind sharing the park with others, as long as they’re not Gema & Co. So Bia is just pleased as punch!

    - Well, what do you know! Miss Larasati and her friends seem to be having just the worst of luck this week.” - Diego smirks viciously. Looks like Gato delivered good on the main part of their little deal.

    - Maybe it’s their karma finally catching up to them?” - muses Minnie.

    - Maybe. Anyway, we don’t have to worry about them for a while. So, that’d be it, then?”

    “ - Yupperooni! See ya tomorrow, Coach!”

    “ - Hasta luego, Minnie.”


    Wednesday, December 18th

    In the morning, Diego connects for his virtual psych evaluation session. It’s of course not the first or second such examination that Diego has endured in his career. The military just used somewhat different questions, as it was interested in different aspects of his personality. Anyway, the entire thing is mostly just tedious, but luckily over pretty fast. The Board of Education psychologist seems satisfied with the results, so it doesn’t look like Diego has to be too worried.

    As always, Diego heads to the Academy early, to get some miscellaneous work done before practice.

    Today though, Dominique beat him there. She’s already changed into a mechanic’s overall, and diving into one of the Lizards, which Eric and his people opened up for upgrades. While Eric is dealing with the electronics, ‘Nique heads the work on the machine’s mechanics, replacing the servos and myomers in its shoulders and arms with more hold-steady and precise-twitch models, to improve the TAG’s physical gun-handling.

    - Yeah, have to let off some steam, Coach. The end-of-term tests are seriously hard if you’re aiming for the kind of scores I need to secure my future schooling. And a big one is coming up tomorrow! Advanced Math, very important grade. But I can’t study all the time, or I’ll crash and burn! I already feel my head about to explode. Need some fun in my system…

    “ - ...And this is the best fun you could ever have.” - Diego chuckles, observing the girl, disheveled, sweaty, smeared with machine grease, elbows-deep in military hardware, and grinning beatifically. “ - And I agree, pushing yourself too far, without giving yourself a chance to relax, never ends well. It certainly isn’t effective long term. Good that you’re aware of it. Well, I’ll leave you to it then…”


    Just as Diego turns away to head to his office, Minuette enters the hangar.

    Now, the young Miss Chryse may be a bit on the plump side, but underneath that she’s still the most generally athletic of all the (active) Angels. So when she runs, she runs fast. But they have never seen her run quite like this. She goes streaking by like a bat out of Hell, through the main gate, across the hangar floor, and out again, into the door to the “living spaces” of the hangar, where they hear another door slam, probably the bathroom. She went by so fast, it would be hard to tell for sure it was really her, if it weren’t for the smear of dark raspberry pink that her mane of wild curls left in the afterimage. What’s really distressing, though, is the sound she was making as she went by, and that they all can, in fact, still hear her making in the shock-stilled hangar, muffled by distance and bathroom door: miserable, pitiful, wailing sobs.

    - Whoa!” - Eric does a double-take, “ - Was that... Minnie?

    - The Hell? What happened? Why’s she crying?” - ‘Nique disentangles from the Lizard.

    - No idea, but it can’t be good. Could you check on her, please?”

    “ - Sure thing, Coach!”

    But before ‘Nique can take more than a step, her comlog, along with the comlogs of Diego, Eric, and all the tech team, all chime at once with their “new message” tones. They have all received a media file, apparently sent by Minuette…

    - No! Stop! Nobody open that!” - Mako Joyo screams in panic, sprinting into the hangar, Patricia and Octavia (almost) keeping up behind her.

    Diego recoils from the file. A virus? None of his (admittedly old, but mil-spec) firewalls triggered…

    Unfortunately, the warning came a split second too late for one of the tech team, who, quick on the draw, pressed “play” on the message.


    Oh. That’s why she’s crying. Oh damn.


    The poor techie is left to frantically try to shut off the video, as it’s attached spam-like code makes his comlog display it for everyone to see, in huge screen external holo-projection mode, max volume, and resists all attempts at turning it off before it can play in its entirety*.

    • Like those annoying pop-up advertisements that run away from your mouse cursor, to make it more difficult to hit the “close” button.
    It is, of course, porn.

    For a moment, all anyone in the hangar can do is stare in mute horror.

    Now, Diego is no prude. He’s seen a ton of different stuff (and likely participated in quite a bit of it, though nowadays his own tastes run pretty vanilla). Hey, he spend time on Bakunin. And it is his considered opinion, that even hardcore porn can be done well, in a tasteful manner, respectful of the performers.

    But this porn? This is not it. It’s pretty hardcore, alright. But “tasteful” and “respectful” are right out. In fact, it’s close to the most tasteless, degrading, sexist piece of filth Diablo ever laid eyes on.

    And it “stars” Minuette Chryse.

    According to the voice-and-text over, it’s an advertisement for a Maya channel-cum-real life “service agency”, supposedly owned, operated, and, well, “serviced”, by young Miss Chryse…

    Hell.

    The technician, face burning, finally succeeds at shutting the disgusting thing down, after it managed to play about 2/3rds of the way.

    The uncomfortable, shocked silence is broken by another round of Minnie’s distant grief.

    - Right. Girls, I think you should definitely go see to Minnie.”

    “ - Right!” - Mako once again springs into action, and, joined by ‘Nique, they head for the bathroom where Minuette is crying her eyes out.

    Patty and Octy decide not to crowd the poor girl right now, and are left standing around awkwardly, blushing slightly, no doubt trying to scrub that ghastly vid from their minds (probably for the second time).

    Diego walks up to Patricia, mind racing.

    - So, it’s fake.” - he doesn’t really make it a question.

    - Oh, God, yes! High quality, and well put together technically, but it’s actually a late gen ‘Poser” animation, built from pre-made assets. They likely complied a model of Minnie’s face from a composite pict. It’s all rather obvious if you know what to look for, and even if you don’t, you might notice it… If you’re not too distracted by the shock and revulsion... Or too busy enjoying yourself, like some of the pigs out there right now!” - Patty is starting to look more and more pissed off. What’s scary, is Octavia looking the same.

    “ - Focus, chicas. Now’s not the time to go tearing off on a rampage of revenge.” - both girls nod tersely. “ - It was sent from Minnie’s address. I’m guessing she go hit by a virus, tailored to spread it through her account?”

    “ - My guess too. I’ll know more once I get a look at her comlog.”

    Okay. And speaking of tearing off on a rampage of revenge…

    “ - DeeDee!”

    “ - Yes, Coach Ibarrez?” - she looks really worried.

    - Can you locate Ilya Malinin?”

    “ - Yes, sir. I see him now. He seems to be heading your way, actually.”

    “ - Good. Keep an eye on him please, make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish.”

    “ - Understood. I’ll do my best.” - DeeDee asks no questions. She obviously knows what’s going on.

    “ - Thank you, DeeDee.”


    Soon, Mako and ‘Nique manage to calm Minnie down somewhat and coax her out of the bathroom, though she’s still obviously very distressed, sniffing, hiccuping, and lightly sobbing, tears rolling down her cheeks.

    A moment later, Yuni and the rest of the girls arrive en masse. By the looks on their faces, they have all received that vid…

    Diego ushers the Angels to the hangar’s briefing room.

    - Alright, you lot! Nothing we can do about it right now, so delete that dreck, and let’s get back to work!” - Eric orders to his team. He nods to Diego: “ - We’ll keep watch out here…


    In the briefing room, the girls sit Minnie down, enfolded into a three-sides hug by Mako, ‘Nique, and Octy, while Patty dives into her comlog. Yuni, Eva and Nyree are hovering nearby, anxious. Morgan leans against a wall, arms crossed, outwardly calm and indifferent as always, but Diego can see her jaw clenching. Alex is stalking around like a caged tiger. A rabid one.

    - That’s it,” - she growls, eyes flashing murder, “ - I’m going after Dimante. No wedgies, no swirlies, no laxatives. This time, I’m simply going to kill her. Nothing fancy, nothing interesting. I’m just gonna keep hitting her until she stops moving!”

    “ - I might just join you this time…” - husks Morgan darkly.

    - Stow it, chicas!” - barks Diego harshly, “ - This is not helping.”

    At a look from him, Yuni nods and moves to the door, to make sure the two don’t try to leave anyway, and starts to reason with them in a low voice, trying to calm them down. After a moment of hesitation, Nyree joins their little huddle.


    - Patty, talk to me.”

    “ - Yeah, it’s a virus. Very well done, really. It brought the vid along, and then took over her messenger and started sending the thing out, working down her contact list, though it prioritises those it can see nearby, and public links.

    - Can you contain it?”

    “ - Already done. I’ve isolated Minnie’s social network link. But it already went out to over a hundred people…”

    “ - Oh no!... Ilya! Did he get it too?!” - whimpers Minnie.

    - ...Yeah. One of the first to go out. Sorry.” - confirms Patty, miserable.

    Minnie wails despairingly.

    - And Mr. Malinin is approaching the hangar right now, Coach Ibarrez.” - DeeDee speaks up.

    - I see him.” - Eric chimes in. “ - He’s coming on like a Svaralheima snow storm. Should we let him in?” - he asks, dubious.

    - DeeDee? Any trouble on his way here?” - she shakes her avatar head, no. “ - Let the boy in for now. But be ready in case there’s trouble.


    A moment later, Ilya Malinin enters the room.

    Every time Diego has seen Ilya before, the guy’s been scowling. None of those scowls have anything on the one Ilya’s wearing now. And it’s also Diego’s first time seeing Ilya so up close. He’s seriously huge - at seventeen years old, he’s actually slightly bigger than Yuni. Diego is really hoping this doesn’t turn ugly. Damn, he should have had somebody fire up the Gecko…

    Minuette catapults out of her seat to meet Ilya at the door, and launches into a barely coherent string of desperate apologies, explanations, and pleading, in sob-choked Russian, looking up (and up, and up) at him with teary, fearful eyes.

    Everyone holds their breath as Malinin slowly blinks down at his girlfriend.

    The scowl slides off of Ilya’s face, and for a moment he looks utterly confused. Confusion turns to pained disbelief, as if he can’t believe Minnie would actually think this is necessary, but thinks it’s his fault that she does.

    Ilya goes down on one knee and places a gentle finger on Minnie’s lips, silencing her increasingly frantic, tearful babbling.

    “ - Shh, Klubinochka*. It is alright.” - he assures her gently. “ - I am not angry. Not at you. And I am sorry you thought I would be. That awful, hurtful thing? I know it is not real. I know you.” - Ilya cups Minnie’s tear-streaked cheek with one palm, gently stroking it with his thumb. “ - I believe in you, Klubinochka. Minuette. I love you. We’ll get through this. You have nothing to fear.” - he smiles at her. It’s a tiny smile, hesitant and shaky, as if he hadn’t had a lot of practice with it yet, but it speaks volumes.

    Minnie throws herself at Ilya in an around the neck hug, choking back another sob - a happy one this time. Malinin wraps his arms around the girl, stroking her hair. Then he casually stands up, lifting her up with him, eliciting a sniffling giggle from Minnie, as she starts to kick her feet a bit as they dangle half a meter above the floor.

    Everyone breathes a sigh of relief… Then turns away embarrassedly to let them have their moment, as the loving embrace quickly morphs into a loving kiss, which only turns more involved by the second.

    Well, most of them turn away. Octavia, face stern, looks to be restraining a grinning Patricia from doing a playful wolf whistle. And Alex is also sneaking looks in, a strange expression on her face, half scowl, half… Longing?

    • Diminutive from “klubnika”, the Russian word for “strawberry”.
    - Right. That’s one crisis resolved, at least.” - breathes Yuni.

    Diego nods, turning to Patricia again:

    - Patty, can you and DeeDee secure samples of the virus? The kind and quality that will fly as evidence in court?”

    “ - Samples nothing! We have the whole thing, virus and prime copy of the vid, locked away on her comlog.” - Patty grins fiercely

    - I’m afraid I can’t do much more than Miss Summers - it’s just not my area of expertise. I have a copy of the video stored - yes, one was sent to me too. I can only suggest that we make a quarantined copy of the virus too, in case it has a some kind of kill-switch built in.” - offers DeeDee.

    - Right! Good thinking, Dee!” - Patty quickly goes through the required operations.

    - Good. Now, Patty, could this have been made by one of the Academy’s hacker population?”

    “ - Yes. Yes it could.” - she nods grimly. “ - I could do it, of course, and I can think of at least two others that have the required skills…” - she suddenly looks troubled. “ - Of course, they could have just bought it on the black market…

    - But you have reason to suspect it really was one of the locals.”

    “ - Yeah… I’ll have to dissect the code, to properly assess the ‘hand-writing’ and make sure... Gonna take a few days. But yeah.”

    - Please do that then. Having a primary suspect to point to would be very helpful. Because? I’m not a law expert, but I figure this meets the criteria for defamation, sexual harrasment, and spreading underaged pornographic content. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I guess at least some of these are serious criminal, or at least civil, charges here*…?” - DeeDee’s avatar nods. These aren’t trifle affairs. “ - Right. So I’m pretty sure that Minuette’s parents will want to take this to court.”

    • Well, in the general Nomad jurisdiction, the “underaged” wouldn’t exactly be the case (Minnie’s sixteen, so legally a “junior adult”), but the rest would be enough to bring some serious heat on the perpetrator’s head.
    - Oh God!…” - gasps Minnie, surfacing from Ilya’s embrace, “ - Mom and dad! Did they get it already?

    - ‘Fraid so… They were pretty high on the list…” - nods Patty glumly.

    - Oh no…” - cringes Minnie, close to tears again.

    - I’ve met them, Minnie, remember? I can’t imagine they would believe this crap was real any sooner than Mr. Malinin would.” - declares Diego firmly. “ - I’d like to call them now, if that’s okay with you?” - he offers.

    Minnie nods meekly.


    Diego dials Clyde Chryse’s comlog. Minuette’s dad receives the call almost immediately. Mr. Chryse looks even more severe and cold than when Diego met him before, and this time there’s no easy humour under that surface.

    - Coach Ibarrez?”

    “ - Mr. Chryse. I take it you and your wife have already seen the video?”

    “ - Indeed.” - his eyes flash dangerously.

    “ - I strongly suspect I don’t have to tell you that it is absolutely fake?”

    “ - You would be right.” - Clyde sighs, visibly forcing himself to calm. “ - How is Minnie? We couldn’t reach her a moment ago.”

    “ - Sorry about that, we had to cut off her comm to stop the thing spreading. And she’s shaken up, honestly. But she’s calming down, and I think she’ll be alright. The girls are all with her, giving support.” - well, it is true even of Alex, in her own violent way. “ - Mr. Malinin as well.”

    - She’s got good friends in there, that’s true. And the young Malinin…” - Mr. Chryse sighs again, “ - As a parent, I can’t help but worry. But Ilya seems like a good man. Please give them all my thanks, for taking care of my daughter. Now, what are you doing about that… Piece of filth?

    - We stopped it from spreading further, though I’m afraid it went out to over a hundred people already, and it’s hard to say how many others may have seen it when played. And to be honest, that’s pretty much all we can do right now. For anything else, including finding the culprit, we’re going to need a serious investigation. And the Academy’s means of that are somewhat limited. If I may suggest something?” - Mr. Chryse nods. “ - I’d advise you to report this straight to the authorities. That’s a pretty obvious case of sexual harassment, not to mention defamation, and - for your legal experts - I guess producing and distributing underaged pornography. Call in experts for a criminal and civil investigation - perhaps even privately hire some professionals, just to make doubly sure - and pursue this to the full extent of the law.”

    - Pretty much my thoughts on the matter.” - agrees Clyde grimly. “ - This cannot stand.”

    “ - Agreed, Mr. Chryse. For what it’s worth, you will have the Academy’s full support in this.” - Diego’s feeling pretty confident he can make that promise, as he can’t imagine the Principal will feel any differently on the matter. Here’s just hoping the School Board won’t try to be stupid about it…

    - Thank you. Could I talk to Minuette for a moment now?”

    Diego switches the call to an external, public window, so that Minnie can share it with him - her own comlog must remain isolated from the social part of the network, until an expert can secure the evidence from it before purging the virus.

    “ - Hi, daddy…” - Minnie waves weakly, her smile still a bit watery.

    - Hi, Cupcake. How are you holding up?”

    “ - I’m getting better. Everyone’s been so great! How are you and mommy?”

    “ - Vivi took it pretty hard, but she’s bouncing back quickly. You’re both made from the same dough.” - judging by their smiles, this is obviously a family inside joke. “ - I’m mostly furious. Not at you, never at you, Cupcake.” - he adds gently. “ - We didn’t buy this trash for a second.”

    “ - God, what about Bia?” - Minnie turns pale at the sudden realization.

    “ - Your mom called her just a second ago. Looks like she didn’t get sent one before it was blocked.”

    Minnie breathes a sigh of relief.

    - Now, Cupcake, do you want us to pick you up, take you home?”

    “ - I… I think I’d like to stay for our practice, despite everything. It’s simulation time today… We’re still doing that, right?” - she turns a questioning, worried look to Diego, then the rest of the Angels.

    “ - Hell yeah, we better be!” - growls Alex, “ - After all that, if I don’t get to shoot something, even in VR, there’s gonna be trouble!”

    The other Angels quickly add their own affirmatives. If Minnie still wants to do it, they’re all for it. Also, what Alex said. They are now all looking to Diego.

    “ - Well, who am I to blow against the wind? Let’s do it.” - Diablo nods.

    “ - Yay! It’ll let me take my mind off of this… And after that, you will pick me up?”

    “ - Alright, Cupcake, if that’s what you really want.” - Minnie nods firmly. “ - That’s settled, then. Have fun, honey, and see you soon. Coach Ibarrez, thank you.”

    “ - Goodbye, Mr. Chryse.”


    The Angels set up for their VR training.

    Ilya Malinin excuses himself, as not to intrude on their girl combat bonding time, with words of encouragement and a promise to meet Minnie again soon (and another tender, lingering kiss).

    Mako asks if she could stay and spectate for a bit, her own training be screwed today. Her team will understand. Diego does one better, and finds a scenario he can incorporate her into - one advantage of VR training is not being limited by the number of physical machines they possess. Seems even Mako feels like shooting things today.


    As the girls are running through their simulation, Diego confers with Principal Chennault. He doesn’t have to explain much - DeeDee has obviously kept the Principal in the loop. Miss Chennault agrees with Diablo’s assessment of the situation, and commends his handling of it. And yes, the Chryses will have the Academy’s full support in the investigation and taking this to court, if she has anything to say about it. Which, depending on who the perpetrator turns out to be, it may turn out she hasn’t… But they’ll have that fight when it happens. Certainly, Miss Chennault thinks inspector Sloan will be interested in what’s happening here…


    After the training, with all the girls headed home (Minnie picked up by her parents as planned), Diego and Yuni head into town for a bit of winding down of their own. They need to be at their best again early tomorrow, so they can’t make this very long, and certainly can’t drink quite as much as they’d want to, meds or no, but they make the best of it. Afterwards, they end up at Yuni’s, though they don’t feel like making it a “horizontal dancing” night. A night of simple companionship, however, is just what they need.


    Thursday, December 19th

    As there’s nothing to really do for him but wait, Diego takes the morning shift at Silva’s today. It’s the early afternoon when the Principal calls Diego in to the Academy. Looks like the inspector has concluded his investigation and made his decisions. Luckily, senhor Esteban is an understanding and flexible boss. And it’s pretty close to the end of Diego’s shift anyway.

    Diego makes haste to the school, and meets with the Principal and inspector Sloan to hear the judgement passed on himself.

    The inspector has determined to his satisfaction that Diego is fit to continue his employment as coach at the Academy, though not without some caveats.

    While there definitely exist justifications and extenuating circumstances, Diego’s exact handling of the intervention in the Alex vs. Gema & Co. incident is deemed to have indeed been performed with excessive force, vide the kick delivered to Miss Larasati.

    As such, a disciplinary citation will be placed in Coach Ibarrez’s permanent record. Such a citation will make it more difficult for him to find other employment in the PanOceanian education system in the future, should he seek such after ending his contract with the Rocha Academy. Not that Diego really cares about that. What is more important, is that another such citation will result in his permanent removal from academic employment, current or prospective. And that having such a black mark on record will place him under increased scrutiny from this time onward, with the eye towards repeated offenses.

    Here, inspector Sloan mentions that he also reviewed the complaint against Diego put on record by the Lals, regarding Diego’s treatment of their son Amar during the previous term’s PE finals. The inspector agrees with the Principal's past assessment - Coach Ibarrez did not cross any real lines back then. The complaints were insubstantiate, likely generated blindly at the urging of a petulant, spoiled child. And this past behaviour will not be judged any harsher in the light of the current disciplinary issue. As long as Diego makes sure to stay within those bounds, his “drill sergeant” persona should definitely not be grounds for censure under the new scrutiny he’ll be under in the future. This is a disciplinary measure ultimately aimed at ensuring the safety of the students, not a witch hunt looking for a “gotcha”.

    Further on the case at hand, Diego will as well be required to pay a hefty penalty sum to the wronged parties (Gema Larasati, and the one girl he terrified to the point of soiling herself) for physical and psychological damages suffered, subtracted in installments from his paycheck over the following three months. This will be inconvenient, but will not put Diego’s finances under the red line for the duration, if just barely, so it’s all good. This is a settlement negotiated by the Board of Education and the Academy in Diego’s name as their employee. He could, should he so wish, reject it. But that would mean going to court against the claimants as a private person, and that could get messy, so Principal Chennault strongly discourages Diego from this course of action.

    Now, Gema Larasati’s parents did make some noises to the effect of privately taking Diego to court regardless. Said noises were not very loud or convincing, however, and stilled quickly. It’s rather hard to fish for sympathy from the court when the main evidence material shows your “poor, abused daughter” do a convincing show of trying to drown another girl in a feces-and-urine-filled toilet, in glorious HD (and you have already taken the BoE money, to boot). And Alex herself fired the killing shot on the case, by simply declaring that, should the Larasatis, or any of the others, attempt to sue Diego, Alex would then in turn sue all of them, which she wasn’t really going to bother with otherwise.

    So that’s that.

    All in all, given the PanO typical ”oversensitivity”, it’s as good a result as Diego could have reasonably hoped for.

    Well, that’s one crisis over.

    With the case concluded, inspector Rama Sloan departs - for now. Principal Chennault has done what she could behind the lines, and it seems some of it did stick. She informs Diego that the inspector did resolve to bring the larger systemic problem at the Academy to the Board of Education’s renewed attention. As well as keep an one eye on the school’s own Board handling of Miss Chryse’s case, as related to the above. It’s not a win yet, but it’s progress. Time will tell what comes of it.


    Speaking of Minuette’s case, it has been officially opened. Experts have secured the evidence from her comlog, then cleaned it out, and investigation is underway, though, like all cases involving quantronic programming and hacking, it’s going to be tough. The Academy will do all it can to assist.

    Meanwhile, damage control on Minnie’s image is being run, as much as it can, starting on hunting down as many copies of the horrid “sex-vid” as possible. Sadly, once such defamation is out there, it will in most cases never completely go away. Luckily, Minnie has very supportive friends, family, and boyfriend, to help her weather this unpleasantness. Diego certainly intends to do his best to assist.

    In the meantime, looks like Diego will be able to go back to assisting Yuni tomorrow. Just in time for...


    Friday, December 20th

    ...For the lone girl from Larasati’s gang that was absent from Monday’s excitement, because she was suspended a week earlier (for trying to play a “prank” on Morgan and Nyree, by destroying their clothes), to return to school. And guess whose PE class she turns out to be in?

    The Nomad Drill Sergeant From Hell will feast on fresh meat today, oh yes... }:-E

    All within the limits of professional educator’s conduct, of course!

    From the way she’s shaking in her sneakers before the period even starts, it’s obvious the freckled skater knows what’s coming her way. Gema and friends are sure to have shared all the horror stories about the axe-swinging maniac. Diablo has to actually go a bit easy on the pescada. Somewhat disappointing, but it wouldn’t look good, especially with the new scrutiny upon him, to inadvertently make the girl wet herself in fright. But even so, after it’s all over, he’s pretty satisfied that that’s one girl who’ll remember her lesson.


    Other than that bit of excitement, the day passes quietly.


    And so, with the term concluded, all finals over, grades given, and Christmas/New Year break around the corner, at the end of the day the students and teachers leave the Academy for the last time this year. Well, most of them.


    Saturday, December 21st

    The Angels of Stone meet for their last training of the year.

    The mood is as celebratory and light as possible under the circumstances. Diego’s crisis is resolved, despite all the distractions everybody has passed their final examinations with quite satisfactory results (“ - How’d that Math final go?” - Diego asks Dominique. She grins happily, flashing a thumbs-up: “ - Aced it!”), and they can look forward to two weeks of sweet freedom, including Christmas and New Year, with all their associated fun.


    Minnie’s situation casts a shadow over the gathering, though, at Minnie’s own insistence, it’s not an overwhelming one. She certainly doesn’t want everybody else to feel bad because she does. And she’s feeling much better already. It seems there’s no danger of Minuette permanently losing her optimistic, friendly, open outlook on life. Her support network just wouldn’t stand for that, after all!


    - I tried talking to Tiana and Samantha again yesterday.” - Minnie sadly confides to Diego. “ - They snubbed me. Tiana said now that I ‘showed my true, obscene colors to the world, she wouldn’t be caught dead associating with someone of such regretfully low morality and indecent conduct’, end quote. Samantha just turned up her nose.” - Minnie sighs miserably. “ - I don’t believe-... I don’t want to believe that they’d do that to me, not after they seemed so nice… That they’d be so duplicitous and mean...”

    - ...But it seems a pretty obvious conclusion, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, chica,” - Diego ruffles Minnie’s curls (not that one can tell he did so afterwards, the way her hair looks, anyway), eliciting a giggle “ - You still have tons of real friends around here.”


    As agreed upon last Sunday, today’s traditional “paintball” session with Bolo’s Barking Spiders will be cut short somewhat. This will give everyone in both teams ample time to get rested and ready for the evening, when they all intend to attend the gig Patty will be DJing today.


    Diego finally sends the message to Merlin, asking if he could help procure a couple recon REMs for the Angels, which, in all the excitement, had slipped his mind until now.


    They are still waiting for Evangeline, who’s running a bit late today.


    Patricia pulls Diego aside.

    - So, I took apart the virus and took a look at the ‘hand-writing’... And yeah, I know who made it.” - she looks troubled.

    - What’s the matter, chica?”

    - Well, you see, Coach… You know how difficult it is to conclusively pin something like this on a physical person if they’re careful, without insider knowledge. If I testify, the people working on the Chryses’ case could have him in the bag instantly. If I don’t, there’s a chance - a small one, he’s still a schoolkid-level hacker, if a very good one, and they’re professionals, but still - that he’ll get away with it. Or at least the investigation will take much longer and won’t build such a strong case…”

    - The choice seems clear, then, doesn’t it?”

    - Yeah, except… If I blow the whistle on him… I’ll be breaking the covenant, so to speak. We’re both a part of the larger hacker community of Avalon, the Sphere beyond it, even if we’re very low on the totem pole for now. But denouncing one of ‘our own’... Things could possibly get difficult for me from then on. Having the label of ‘snitch’ attached is not a pleasant experience among the netjocks…

    - That is a bit of a pickle. Can’t really help you there, chica, nor push you into anything. You’ll have to decide for yourself. I won’t judge you either way.”

    “ - Thanks, Coach. But that’s not even the real issue here. I am going to turn him in. Minnie’s my friend, and what he did to her places him with the lowest of scum. If I can make sure he faces justice, I’ll do it. And it’s not like all of the net will shun me. Many will understand, I’m sure, especially among the girls. But… Well, when I say I know him… I mean that I know him…

    - You used to date.” - Diego’s not dense.

    - Yeah…” - Patty nods glumly. “ - He seemed cool for a while. And he was close to my level. We could make out and talk shop at the same time!” - she giggles, somewhat wistfully, then sighs with disgust. “ - But he quickly turned out to be a real creep. See, I know for sure he not only made the virus, he’s also the one that made that vid. ‘Cause he’s really into that. Built tons of the stuff, mostly of celebrities, like Go-Go, and that Yu Jing Recreation retro-idol, Miku Hatsune. Well, the reason I broke up with him - very loudly - was, I found out he got tired of waiting for me to finally ‘put out’ for him, so he made one of me to tie him over!” - Patty cringes, an angry blush on her cheeks.

    - ...Ouch.” - if that one was even just half as bad as the one with Minnie, Diego thinks Patty showed remarkable restraint in just breaking up with the little slime, instead of also breaking some bones on him, too. “ - And so now you’re worried your testimony could be dismissed, or at least it’s strength undermined by the defense, as ‘a scornful ex-girlfriend looking for revenge’, I get it. How long ago was it?”

    “ - A few months before you showed up, end of last school year.”

    - I’m no expert here, but I think that’s long enough ago that trying to spin it as you just being out to get him in trouble out of spite will not be very believable. And I’m sure any prosecutor worth his salt will know how to deal with this. Especially when real IT experts take apart the virus code and other of his works, and confirm your allegations. But if you’re really worried… One idea I can offer is to, instead of getting involved directly, you could make the investigators some kind of an anonymous tip instead. And this could also solve your problem with being labeled a trade traitor. Are you the only one who knows about those vids of his?”

    - No, no I’m not. Sure, his disgusting porn vids are far from the only ones out there, but… Hmm, that could work… They surely will be looking at all the school hackers regardless. A tip like that would make them prioritize him over others…”

    “ - ...Which would be good, because we’d like them to get to his stuff fast, I imagine, before he can think of trying to get rid of it. Going after Minnie, he must know you’d get involved in some way.”

    - Yeah, especially if he did it working for Dimante. Just… Would they take a tip like that seriously? And would it be defensible in court?”

    “ - Those are professionals, chica. They’d have to look into it, I believe. And let them worry about the court after that.”

    “ - Yeah… Yeah, you’re right, Coach. The priority is getting him under scrutiny ASAP, and the evidence should speak for itself. And if this somehow doesn’t work out, I can still step out openly later.”

    “ - Exactly.”

    - And hey, depending on how she dealt with him, we could finally get to Tiana too! This stuff feels rushed, as if he was working on a tight deadline. If she was in a hurry - probably because she was pissed at Alex and you - she could have slipped up and showed him her face!”

    “ - And when he hears the charges and possible penalties, he should sing like a birdie. Anything to show himself cooperative and reduce the prospective sentence.”

    “ - Yup! Okay, that’s settled then! I’ll get on prepping a clue for the investigators right away!”


    Evangeline’s limousine finally arrives at the nearby parking lot, and Eva comes to join the team.

    Except, she doesn’t look so good...

    She has clearly invested effort into masking it. Expertly applied makeup, and quite possibly some stimulants, take the edge off. Yet it’s still possible to see Evangeline has not slept well, perhaps even at all, and is under heavy stress to boot.

    The others make various noises of concerned inquiry, but Eva asks for silence.

    - Please, everyone, I… I have something to tell you. An announcement.” - she gulps, pauses to gather herself, and continues in a dead voice: “ - I… I resign. I resign my position as team leader, and... I quit TAG-Soft.


    ...What?!


    Which concludes entry #15.
     
    Danger Rose, Section9 and Golem2God like this.
  17. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #16

    “It Never Rains On Avalon...”


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - Starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed. A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #2 - Wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #3 - The “#x” notes the episode in which given character made their first appearance.
    Note #4 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s
    DeviantART Page.

    “Anjos de Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “
    Gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s). Practising Christian, she sings in a church choir, too.
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 / #6 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Almost never seen without headphones. Suffers from severe sedatephobia (fear of silence). Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    DeeDee “Ditzy” Alephsdottir - #9 (avatar looks ~20, Nordic) The Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, her duties include filing, mail distribution, drone operations, and assisting Ken on monitoring. While methodical like a computer, she’s not too bright, and even outright scatterbrained at times (however, she was bright enough to note that Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with Aleph as such, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him… or even make him aware of her existence).
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG-Soft team coach, retired CJC TAG pilot, later TAG combat instructor. Died in the EI war and was granted a resurrection thanks to his minor war hero status.
    Eric Wana - #1 (~35, Polynesian) TAG Soft team’s chief mechanic. Pedantic and perfectionist (and, oddly enough, somewhat superstitious). Has a Palbot he calls
    Reksio.
    Reksio - #1 Eric’s favourite Palbot, named after an obscure
    cartoon character.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had (in entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”... Volunteered for the staff paintball team.


    Students:

    Bianca (Bia) Irene Chryse - #6 (1 class junior high, 13, Australian) Minnie’s younger sister. Fiery red hair, uncouth mouth and a talent for stepping on other people’s toes, which often gets her into trouble - as Diego said, “she’s as sweet as a candied chili pepper”. A total tomboy and skateboard riding thrill-junkie. Is fascinated with TAGs now, but has to wait till she gets to senior high before she can apply for the team.
    Frederic “Fred” Ulani - #5 / #7 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance) (1. class, 16, Polynesian [genetically, Caucasian-Polynesian]). Hardly anybody uses his name in full form - even on most school papers he’s listed as “Fred Ulani”. Another cello player in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate - and his prediction comes true, likely somewhen around #9.
    Ilya Malinin - #5 (though mentioned earlier) (2nd class, 17, Russian) Star guard on the football team, and Minuette’s boyfriend. 2nd generation immigrant from Ariadna.
    Mako Joyo - #1 (1. class, 15, Micronesian) Ex-team member (resigned in #5 - Gecko pilot, and for a time prospective 2IC) - turned out that combat sports weren’t really her thing, plus she was offered captaincy of the school’s basketball team (The Ramjets) once the current captain graduates at the end of current year. School sportsgirl. Very sporty, very active - and thus extremely busy person.
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her. Diego caught her abusing Nyree, in time to stop it - with some help from Alex - before Rikoriko striked back. As a result, she seems to carry a grudge against the Angels of Stone as a whole, and now engages in bullying by proxy against them.


    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.
    Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander.
    Other team members include “Tiger”, “Hunter”, “Ape”, “Widow”, “Spectre”, “Mook”, and “Wookie” the Spitfire gunner. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.


    Neve family security detail:

    Dorothy Smith - #9 (likely late 30s, might be Western European) Subordinate to Roger, doubles as the head maid. Peculiarly pale and deadpan. The name could suggest some relationship to Roger, but more likely is just a cover. Still, in #12, she reveals they actually are married.
    Roger Smith - #2 (early 40s, North American) Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard, and commander of Evangeline’s section of the detail.
    Belladonna (Bell) Shelke - #12 (mid 30s, Eastern European) Tall, with a body like a gymnast, and a smile like a knife.


    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Senores Anzamble, Ral and Trowa - #1 (~80, Central American [various]) Veterans of the First NeoColonial War (Fusiliers), now elderly retirees and regular guests at “Silva’s”.
    Esteban Silva - #1 (~80, Brazilian) Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, old-fashioned eatery with human touch (and spicy South American cuisine).
    Gato” - #6 (~20, Latinoamerican). A peddler in the less-pleasant part of town where the Torreses live. Dominique’s friend, supplies her with made-to-order gunpla parts. Probably a black market contact, too.


    Knights of the Round Table:

    Avalon-based professional TAG-Soft team. Note - the Knights’ callsigns are attached to position / role in the team, not to a particular person.
    The team uses heavily modified, late-series Ramhorn TAGs, stylized to look like mecha versions of medieval-fantasy knights, swords and shields included.
    Martin Ricardo - “Bedevere” - #13 (late 20s, Hispanic North American). Observant and intelligent, he seems to be the “brainiac” of the outfit. He’s also the resident “party animal”, following Avalon’s club scene with a passion. Plays in “scout” position.
    Risa Ferreira - “Percival” - #13 (late 20s, Latinoamerican). A lady from a jet-set family, classy and well-mannered, nevertheless she has a real devil under her skin. But she can keep said devil from prancing around. Well, unless she fancies otherwise… Plays in “scout” position.



    Saturday, December 21st


    - Please, everyone, I… I have something to tell you. An announcement.” - Eva gulps, pauses to gather herself, and continues in a dead voice: “ - I… I resign. I resign my position as team leader, and... I quit TAG-Soft.”

    ...What?!

    It takes a moment of dumbstruck silence for it to process, but then the girls erupt in a clamor of surprised exclamations, questions, and outright denials.

    Eva for her part just stands there, head hanging, utterly miserable, close to tears.


    - Alright, chicas, settle down, give her some space. Eva?” - Diego asks gently when the others reluctantly quiet down, “ - What did those two cucarachas spring on you?” - there’s no doubt in his mind Dimante and Silva are somehow responsible.

    - Please, I… Don’t want to talk about it.” - she squirms under their gazes. “ - Not now, not here. Could we go now? …If I may still come to the practice, this once?” - she asks, hope and fear mixed in her voice.

    - Okay, if that’s the way you want it, but I would be lying if I said curiosity wasn’t killing me. Same for the girls, I’m sure. But I get it.” - it’s obvious Eva doesn’t want to discuss a sensitive topic in a place under constant surveillance. “ - And of course you may come. Though I guess Nyree will be taking command if you’re resigning?” - Eva nods meekly. “ - Right, chicas, mount up. We’ll have to practice restraint for now. Eva’ll explain when and where she’s ready.”


    There’s some grumbling from the rest of the Angels, but everyone’s quickly loaded into the Monster, and they set out towards their usual paintball field.

    In the cab, Evangeline is seated squeezed in between Minuette and Patricia. She’s still silent, looking down and avoiding everybody’s eyes, and seems shrunken into herself with sadness and anxiety. The others are exchanging distressed looks and shifting uncomfortably, the atmosphere heavy and oppressive with worry. Minnie especially looks close to tears, while Alex is definitely pissed-off again.


    - Huh.” - Yuni quietly gets Diego’s attention. ” - Looks like Roger is following us today.” - indeed, Evangeline’s big black Griffon limousine, driven by Mr. Smith, is keeping pace with the Monster a little ways behind.

    - Eva’s probably expecting having to return straight home...


    After what seems an eternity of awkward silence, Eva heaves a heavy sigh, seems to gather herself, and, still not looking up, finally speaks, voice timid and anxious:

    - I… I need to confess something to you all. Something I should have admitted much earlier… But I was afraid of how you’d react. You see… Tiana and Samantha?… They’re my friends. (…Or at least I thought they were…)” - she adds the last part in a miserable whisper.

    There are some distressed noises from the others, but they don’t otherwise interrupt. Well, Alex looks ready to go off on an angry rant, but a hard look (coupled with a hand on her shoulder giving an equally hard squeeze) from Morgan stops her and lets Eva continue.

    - They were my first, and for a long time only, friends. Before TAG-Soft, I didn’t really have much contact with anyone not in my immediate social circle. There’s enough of us top-wealth kids at the Academy that we can keep only to ourselves if we want to…

    “ - Yeah, I remember.” - muses Morgan, “ - I was pretty surprised to see you apply for the team. Not as surprised as when ‘mega-nerd’ ‘Ree did,” - she flashes a tiny fond smile at Nyree, which is returned, “ - But to see you descend from your ivory tower to actually interact with us was pretty unusual.”

    “ - Well, since I’m confessing ugly truths already? That wasn’t exactly my idea in the first place…”

    - Oh? Whose was it, then?” - inquires Diego.

    - My dad’s. He and mom actually had an argument about it. Nothing really bad, but… My mother was always a little... Elitist. It’s only recently that I started noticing how much, really. And how her thinking influenced me. I guess I was always a bit of a momma’s girl…” - the rest of the Angels have to good grace not to snigger or make mean comments at Eva, upset as she already is (though in Alex’s case it’s probably due more to Morgan’s hand still on her shoulder). ” - Father was always more open and principled. N-not that mom is a bad person, or anything!” - she hastily adds, “ - She’s just a little, well…”

    “ - Stuck up?” - Octavia offers gently.

    “ - Yes.” - sighs Eva.

    - Hey, you’re a little stuck up too, sometimes, but we still love you anyway!” - declares Minnie, enveloping Evangeline in a sideways hug. The rest chorus agreement, with some amusement. Leaved it to Minuette to inject some levity into the heavy mood.

    - Thank you, I guess…” - Eva clearly doesn’t quite know how to take this. “ - Well, anyway, dad finally put his foot down. He said: ‘Those are not some unwashed, ignorant masses. Those are the people who made our success possible with their work. We may be its architects, but they are the ones who built it with their hands. And they deserve our respect.’” - well, he’s not gonna get any arguments here. “ - So, even though it was already over a month into the school year, and I was already in the Economics Club, I was supposed to join another club or extracurricular activity, with people of other than our own, highest of the high social status, learn to relate to and respect them, and make new friends. I was… Not happy. Not at all. Still, I knew dad ment business, and trying to play for time would do me no good. But none of the school clubs and teams really appealed… I, of course, vented about the situation to Tiana and Samantha, at length. I was really silently hoping that, as my friends, they would offer to join me in whatever club I was forced to decide upon. Having them there would make the situation easier to take…”

    “ - But wouldn’t having them there to fall back on when you didn’t want to interact with others undermine the purpose of this whole exercise?” - wonders Nyree.

    - I guess. It’s completely academic, anyway. Because, while they were of course ‘very sympathetic’, they, again of course, didn’t offer to share in my misery. Why would they? And I would never stoop so low as to just ask them. That’d be like begging! Breaking decorum like that? In our circles it just isn’t done!” - Eva scowls bitterly at herself, “ - So I was on my own... And then, a week later, the school announced reviving the TAG-Soft program. And on the one hand, it sounded a little ridiculous. Not to mention how disastrous the previous attempt was. But on the other hand, it didn’t really sound any worse than any of the other choices - a bit better, actually. One, it would be a small team, so less new, ‘lower class’ people for me to deal with. Two, all of them would be new to it as well, instead of already close knit and cliqued up, resistant to strangers. And three, in a newly formed team, perhaps I could put my natural skill in organization and leadership to use, and secure the captain’s position!” - Eva flashes a self-mocking smirk. “ - Being able to order everybody around would make the whole thing so much more bearable…”

    - ...And then you met us all, and instantly realised what wonderful people we all were, and that you had nothing to fear, and we all became the greatest friends and have tons of fun ever since!” - Minnie bubbles happily, redoubling the enthusiasm of the hug she continued to keep Eva in.

    Evangeline looks a little choked up, then gives a very un-ladylike, self-depreciating snort: “ - Right! Not quite, I’m afraid. After our first few meetings? I really didn’t have anything at all flattering to say about you all… The opposite, in fact. And I did say it, to Tiana and Samantha, loudly and in detail.”

    - Oh ho! Any juicy samples of your, no doubt very insightful, first impressions you could share?” - grins Patty, gently ribbing.

    Eva cringes and sinks lower in Minnie’s hug, blushing hard. “ - I’d rather not repeat any of that. It really wasn’t very pleasant... Suffice it to say, you were all exactly what I feared - what I expected - from people ‘beneath’ me… And don’t even get me started on the Coach!” - Diego smirks at that. “ - Though his stock at least rose quickly, as he immediately recognized my obvious leadership potential!”

    - If you really disdained us so, you were pretty good at hiding it, the few flares of temper aside…” - muses Octy.

    - I guess. Keeping up appearances is important in our circles, after all. And I did have my ‘real’ friends to vent to afterwards…”

    “ - So… When did you change your mind on us? ...Because you did, right?” - asks Minnie timidly, suddenly worried again.

    - Yes! Yes, of course I did!” - Eva desperately assures, looking up for the first time in this talk, her eyes begging them to believe her, “ - It wasn’t instant, but I was warming up to you fast. I didn’t even notice at first! I think the moment I truly realized I was already thinking of you as real friends, was after the match with the Revolution. When Mako announced her resignation… I was upset, and not just because losing a player would mean difficulty for the team. I was sad, because it meant we couldn’t see and hang out with her as often... And then I realized I would probably feel the same about any of you! From then on, everything was clear. Dad was absolutely right. You weren’t some alien creatures, weird and slightly icky, nor some lesser type of person, beneath my notice.” - Eva cringes in renewed embarrassment. “ - You were, are, people, just like me. People worthy of respect, people that I like, that I enjoy the company of. People I want to be friends with.” - she glances a Dominique with shame and regret, “ - And on that note, I never really apologised for my initial reaction to you, have I?”

    - Pshah, it’s okay, really!” - ‘Nique waves Eva off with some embarrassment of her own, “ - No big, forgiven and forgotten. I guess I was just an even bigger shock to the system than the others.” - she shrugs equably.

    - Quite. Luckily, Patricia was there to administer some much needed attitude adjustment.” - Eva sends a small, grateful smile to Patty, who grins in return. “ - I really mean it, you know? We may not be very close yet, and you all may have your… Quirks… Some of which I enjoy less… But Minuette is right: God knows I have my own share of faults for you to put up with... And call me on if need be. And I’m fine with that. I really do consider all of you my friends... And I hope you could me, as well…

    - Awww!” - Minnie coos, leaning into the continuing hug and smooshing her cheek into Eva’s. “ - Sure we do!”

    Patty places a hand on Eva’s shoulder unoccupied by Minnie, Octy and Nyree reach across to squeeze one of her hands each. All the Angels make various noises of agreement. Well, all but one of them…

    Evangeline is left looking very emotional again and takes a moment to gather herself. Then she looks up at the one person who didn’t join the chorus. Alex returns her look, face dubious.

    - I really do mean all of you. So this includes you too, Alex.” - Eva says quietly. “ - Sure, we’re definitely the least close of the team, and we’re the most likely to get on each other’s nerves.” - Alex’s eye roll clearly spells “no shit”, which actually elicits a tiny smile from Eva, “ - But you’re not really as bad as you want everybody to think. And I don’t think I’m the only one who noticed, either. What you did to Nyree was awful, yes. But you got served your comeuppance, and you took it. And then, when it looked like she had trouble with her family, you tried to do the right thing. It would be so easy to look the other way. And to stay the course, continue being a despicable reprobate - after all, you never really suffered any serious consequences for it, didn’t you? But no, you actually tried - are still trying - to be a better person, and I think that’s an admirable-”

    - Alright, sheesh! You made your point, Princess!” - Alex interrupts, obviously fighting a blush. Well, it was established some time ago that she doesn’t really know how to take a compliment... “ - Fine, I believe you, okay? We can be friends if you want... But, while it’s all very heartwarming, hearing how you got over yourself and learned to see us ‘poor proles’ as actual people, and how we’re all such great BFFs, could we maybe get back to the point now?” - Alex’s tone belies the harshness of her words. It’s obvious she’s mostly just embarrassed and wants to change the subject - and is actually apprehensive of what she might hear when they do at the same time.

    Evangeline heaves another big sigh, the mood turning somber again. “ - Yes, I think we should.”

    “ - So, like, all this time, you really were friends with Dimante and Silva?” - asks Patty. Her tone is gentle, even though the unvoiced “while they were tormenting us“ is clear.

    - I’m afraid so… Or I thought so, anyway. Because… Once I actually started to appreciate you all? I also started noticing how different what I had with them was to what I had with you. And not in a ‘different, but just as good’ way… I realized that, in the three months I knew you, you became better friends to me than Tiana and Samantha were after years of acquaintance. In fact, I think I was never really friends with them at all... Well, maybe once, long ago, at the very start. But we somehow lost it along the way. For the longest time now, we were just… Allies? Social peers? Whatever it was, it always felt so cool, calculated, opportunistic, and superficial. It took the difference I felt with you for me to realize that. And I’m not even going to pretend it wasn’t my fault as much as theirs... Nowadays, we never really shared anything positive. When we ‘hung out’, it was always backbiting our other peers, ranting and venting about whatever arouse our ire at the time, and insincere compliments and sympathy. And always keeping up appearances, with a wary eye on our backs, careful not to expose any weakness that would mean losing face. The study group we have with Nyree, Dominique, and now Alex? That would never fly with Tiana and Samantha. Admitting one couldn’t manage it on their own? Unthinkable. And giving support without receiving anything tangible in return? A sucker’s game. Thinking about it now… It was all just... Sad.”

    - But then… Why did you continue to be ‘friends’ with them? Especially after they started going after us?” - ‘Nique gives voice to all their puzzlement.

    - In a way… I felt indebted to them. However shallow and insincere our ‘friendship’ was… They were the first people I ever called friends. We went back so long, for whatever that was worth… Turning my back on them now just didn’t feel right! Even as their plans for the Angels became more and more mean and hurtful, I couldn’t bare to ‘betray’ Tiana and Samantha… Even when it effectively meant I was betraying your trust instead.” - Eva hangs her head in shame again.

    - Your classic conflict of loyalties, girls.” - summarizes Diego. “ - That’s also why you were so unenthusiastic when we talked about waging PR warfare on them, wasn’t it, Eva?”

    “ - Yes… Even if one of those loyalties wasn’t really deserved. I didn’t really have anything good with them… Yet I was so afraid of losing even that, that I risked losing the real good that I did have with the team. I never actually helped them against you… But I didn’t exactly truly try to stop them, either. I tried broaching the subject of you being my friends too, and maybe laying the whole thing to rest a couple of times… But I was so afraid of antagonizing them, I couldn’t make any headway. Especially the second time, after Alex scored her big ‘hit’ on Tiana. She was so furious! I was just so relieved that, for whatever reason, she didn’t demand my help in getting back at you, that I meekly backpedalled, buried my head in the sand, and stayed silent... I’m so, so sorry, girls!” - Eva sniffles a bit, “ - Here I was just now, going on about how I valued you and your friendship, but I really wasn’t being a good friend to you at all!...”

    Over Eva’s hanging head, Minuette makes eye contact with everyone in turn, to make sure she can really speak for all of them. Satisfied with what she sees, Minnie gently lifts Evangeline’s face to look her in the eyes:

    - Eva? It’s okay. We forgive you. All of us.” - the rest - all of them this time - chorus agreement.

    - But… Why?” - Eva meekly asks, as if not daring to really hope yet.

    - Because we’re friends, silly! I mean, du-uh! That’s what real friends do!” - declares Minnie brightly, as if it was the simplest thing in the world.

    “ - T-thank you…” - this time, Eva is really choked up, a few tears escaping down her cheeks, and she finally returns Minnie’s hug. It takes her a longer moment to gather her composure again. Minuette is happy to give Eva all the time she needs.

    - You had your reasons,” - chimes in Patty, “ - Sure, your reasons stank,” - she smirks, “ - But if you’re telling the truth, which I have no reason to doubt, you had good intentions, however misguided. You were certainly being a better friend to Dimante and Silva than they were to you. Better than they deserved!”

    - You know,” - muses Evangeline, melancholy, “ - The saddest part is probably that they didn’t use to be so bad. We may have actually been real friends, once. Maybe I held out hope we could be again. That I could do better with them now that I knew how? But Tiana… I think both her parents are like my mom, only much worse… And Samantha? She’s really not that bad at all, even now. But they were friends with Tiana even before we met, and she basically worships the ground Tiana walks on…

    - And lacks the willpower to say ‘no’ to anything Dimante dreams up.” - finishes Diego, nodding. “ - Makes for a very one-sided ‘friendship’, but hella convenient for the privileged side, alright.” - Eva nods sadly.

    Evangeline sighs and shakes her head a little, putting thoughts of her two ‘friends’ aside. Surfacing from Minnie’s arms, she looks around at everyone, still a bit anxious, but at least no longer despondent.

    - Thank you, girls. Thank you so much, for showing me what real friends are like.” - she gives a little laugh, a bit shaky but sincere. “ - It’s all a bit melodramatic and cliche, isn’t it? The ‘power of true friendship’? But you know what? I don’t care. I’m just happy to have met you.”

    “ - Yeah, sure. Remember that the next time one of us does something to piss you off.” - snarks Alex, though she’s obviously fighting hard to suppress a laugh. The others, including Eva, don’t even bother.

    - So…” - Nyree hesitates, afraid to spoil the mood, but feeling she has to ask, “ - Was that what was wrong? You were afraid we’d be angry when we found out about you, Tiana, and Samantha? So now that we’re okay, does that mean you won’t be quitting after all?...” - she asks hopefully. “ - O-oh no…” - Nyree’s face falls, as Evangeline’s mood, greatly improved a second before, takes an instant dive back into the dark hole it was in before they started.

    “ - N-no. I’m sorry…” - Eva chokes out miserably, head hanging again. “ - I’m still resigning…”

    Minuette redoubles her hugging efforts, as the others exchange newly worried looks.

    “ - But what could be so bad?” - Octavia tries gently.

    “ - Yeah, spit it out already, Princess!” - demands Alex.

    “ - Eva, please, tell us. We want to help!” - urges ‘Nique.

    Eva shakes her head weakly: “ - I can’t. And you can’t. Please, I… Not now?...”

    Alex sighs in obvious frustration, but otherwise bites her tongue. The others shift anxiously, but also don’t press for now.


    Well, the Monster is an academy vehicle. That means DeeDee does have a direct line to it - it’s as if she was there with them the whole time… Not wanting ALEPH, in any of its numerous personas and guises, to know about something they’re discussing or doing is obviously a very new, and even alien, concept to the girls (with the possible exception of Patricia and Alex… And, it now seems, Eva herself...).


    “ - Well, we’re here, anyway.” - chimes in Yuni a few moments later, guiding the Monster to a stop. They have arrived at the paintball field. Maybe now they’ll get some answers?

    As everyone unloads from the truck, the Spiders, who come to meet them as usual, quickly notice the Angels’ subdued, distressed mood.

    “ - Something seriously wrong, Diego?” - inquires Bolo quietly.

    “ - ‘Fraid so. We’re having some trouble.”

    “ - Anything we can do?”

    “ - Not really, but I appreciate the offer. For now, we need to discuss something delicate before we can join you.”

    - Got ya. I’ll take my merry band through our warm-ups, then. Maybe do a round or two of the field. You take your time and holler when you’re ready.”

    “ - Gracias, man. We’ll try not to keep you waiting too long.


    “ - So, Eva. Ready?” - asks Diego, once Bolo and his Spiders are again out of earshot.

    “ - Yes…” - truthfully, she doesn’t look too ready, but resigned, no longer able to delay the inevitable. “ - Could we step away? Just with you, Coach?...”

    The other girls are not happy at being left out of the loop, but Diego sternly waves them off. “ - If she’s not yet comfortable talking about it with everybody present, there’s nothing you can do but give her space.”

    - Right. Come on girls!” - Yuni gets their attention, putting on her PE teacher persona. “ - Time for some warm-ups! Let’s join the Spiders. Nyree, as current team leader, you’re setting the pace! Now go-go-go!”

    Evangeline watches them depart, eyes wistful, then sighs and turns to Diego.

    “ - Right. Let’s do this…”


    They walk a little ways away, among the trees. Looks like they’re not going to be quite alone, though. Roger Smith, Evangeline’s prime chauffeur/bodyguard, hung back after parking the limousine next to the Monster, but now joins Eva and Diego for their little talk.

    - Alright, Young Miss.” - what of his expression Diego can read beneath Roger’s professionally calm face and sunglasses, seems to be at once stern and concerned, “ - Will you explain now, please? What’s wrong?” - looks like Diego wasn’t the only one awaiting this moment.

    Evangeline fidgets uncomfortably under the concerned eyes of the two men. It takes her a moment to find her voice. In the momentary silence, the rustle and creak of some tree branches, just above and behind them, seems unnaturally loud. Curious, Diego can’t feel or hear any wind…

    - You were right, Coach.” - Eva finally admits, “ - It’s about Tiana and Samantha. They… What they did to Minuette? That was the last straw. I just couldn’t take it anymore... Took me long enough.” - she grimaces disgustedly at herself. “ - So yesterday, I finally gathered up my courage and confronted them, really confronted them about their war on the Angels, all the awful things they were doing… Told them I couldn’t keep silent anymore. I’d take everything to the Principal, testify in Minuette’s case, expose them for everything! I don’t care if I get in trouble for knowing and not speaking up earlier. Our ‘friendship’, such as it was, was naturally over... I expected Tiana - it’s her we have to be really concerned about, Samantha is just her crony with no initiative, if an eager one - would be furious… But I never expected this… Tiana… She has a recording…” - Eva gulps.

    “ - Blackmail?” - asks Diego, Roger just a second behind him, both scowling hard.

    - Yes… You see… Before this school year started, just at the end of ‘summer’ break… Me, Tiana, and Samantha, we had ourselves a trip into town… Hit the mall, some cafes, a club or two. It was the most fun, friendly thing we did in what felt like forever, and never since. The memory of us as real friends that I was so desperately holding on to… Except… That evening, we also engaged in a bit of, well… Slumming. Hit up the seedier part of town. Not a club but a dive. Being only sixteen, we shouldn’t have been able to get in, but big piles of money open doors, afterall. Felt so ‘daring, rebellious teenager’...” - Eva smiles sadly at her memories “ - And we didn’t stop there. We…” - she gulps, sending a fearful glance at Diego and Roger, then avoiding their eyes again, “ - We purchased… Intoxicants.”

    “ - Alcohol?” - Roger is calm, but there’s a clear edge of reproach in his voice.

    Diego just shrugs. At Eva’s age, he was putting away beer like water*, and booze like nobody’s business**. Not his place to judge, even if he had the inclination.

    • * It wasn’t even illegal for a junior adult on Corregidor.
    • ** Which wasn’t that non-illegal, actually...
    “ - At first.” - Eva wilts under Roger’s gaze. “ - But then… To cap the night off in style… We got our hands on… I believe the common name is ‘Liquid Starlight’.” - she finishes meekly, not daring to look up.

    Diego can’t recall this particular drug, but he doesn’t indulge much or often nowadays, and never in anything markedly stronger than good old weed, or equivalent. It’s probably too new for Diablo to remember it from his younger, more adventurous days*.

    • And, hey, he was on detached duty on Bakunin for a time. You don’t do drugs on Bakunin, you’re considered kinda oddball. Something like being in Matr and never ever touching vodka.
    Roger, on the other hand, seems to know exactly what substance Eva is talking about. And it doesn’t make him happy, not at all.

    “ - ‘Liquid Starlight’, Evangeline?” - he asks slowly, voice and face stone. “ - ‘Liquid Starlight’, as in a third-stage derivative of Nitrocaine?”

    “ - I… I b-believe so, y-yes…” - sniffles Eva, miserable.

    Now, this Diego can understand. Nitrocaine is, of course, the famous prime Silk-derivative drug, as incredibly potent as it is devilishly addictive - and, thanks to its Silk-based nature, enormously expensive. Even a third-stage derivative, or D3, of that would be enough for one Hell of a ride through bio-chemically-induced Heaven. Diego was never really able to afford even Nitrocaine-D4 - and even in his adventurous years he had more common sense than to try a D5...

    - Nitrocaine-D3.” - as Roger slowly removes his shades, Diego notices the bodyguard’s hand shake a little. “ - Nitrocaine. My God, Evangeline! My dear child, do you realize how monumentally, stupendously stupid what you three did was?” - Roger doesn’t really raise his voice, but the reprove, disappointment - and desperate concern - in his tone lashes Eva like a physical blow. The girl is biting her lip, barely holding together, head hung low. “ - How lucky you are not to have gotten addicted? You’re not addicted, are you? ...No,” - he muses, aside, “ - Even a D3 is expensive as all Hell, Dorothy would have noticed such a drain on your allowance… But what if someone found you an easy mark, and slipped you a higher grade, just to get you hooked? Or some sicko dealer fed you the sewage that a D5 is instead? Evangeline, you could have ended up brain-dead, or worse! God, if I thought it would be of any use, I’d put you over my knee right now and give you a solid, bare-bottom belting! And I can’t guarantee Dorothy won’t do it anyway once she finds out. Oh, Eva…” - Roger goes down on one knee in front of his charge, putting his hands on her shoulders. “ - Evangeline, please, look at me.” - he asks gently. Eva rises her head, choking back sobs. “ - Young Miss. Evangeline. Please, please promise me you’ll never do anything so stupid again?” - Roger begs.

    Eva breaks down in tears, sobbing out desperate apologies and promises. Roger pulls her into a comforting hug and lets her cry into his shoulder, stroking Eva’s hair and making gentle, reassuring noises.

    Diego gives them as much time as needed. Though he muses that Roger is certainly not your standard hired bodyguard.


    Eva finally cries herself out, though she stays in Roger’s arms a moment longer, before disentangling herself with a quiet, heart-felt “ - Thank you”. She takes a moment to gather herself again, and tidy up a bit (thank modern technology for tears-resistant make-up!). She looks ashamed, and still worried about the situation in general, but also relieved.

    “ - So, Young Miss.” - Roger re-assumes the guise of calm, cool professionalism, “ - The recording Miss Diamante is in possession of?”

    “ - Easy to guess, surely. She made it on that night. It clearly shows me when I’m, well… Indulging in the drug.” - Eva cringes and blushes. “ - I was so stupid. Never even noticed she recorded me. It’s been months, and I never suspected she had something like this. To hold on to it for so long - to even make it in the first place - just in case it could be useful to blackmail someone you were paying lip-service to as your friend… It’s just so… Devious. Cold.” - Eva hugs herself, distressed.

    Roger, in his subdued way of course, looks agitated again. And this time it’s with anger: “ - When exactly was this, Young Miss?”

    “ - July 28th. The last Sunday of summer break.”

    “ - Yes, I remember. The one night me and Dorothy were off duty. And who was your designated ‘shadow’ that night?...” - a few quick eye-flickers show Roger accessing a private AR screen. He scowls thunderously. “ - Shelke!” - he barks in a voice of sharp command.

    “ - Yes, Boss?” - responds a sheepish voice from directly behind Diego’s shoulder. From where, he was absolutely sure, there was nothing but thin air. Luckily, Diablo is not easily startled! He turns slowly. The tall, lithe form of Shelke, clad in her black field gear, is hanging head-down from a tree branch above, her slightly too-wide smile a little tense. So that’s what made that noise earlier. Still, she’s damn good!

    Evangeline, unlike Diego, jumps and whirls around with a startled “ - Whoa!”. She does a double-take at Shelke, who waves at her. “ - How?... Why?...”

    “ - Please, Yung Miss. You are smarter than this.” - scolds Roger gently, “ - You are the scion of the Neve family, one of the wealthiest, most powerful clans on Avalon, second tier only to the Celestes. You couldn’t really believe we’d let you go anywhere without protection?”

    Shelke drops from her branch, twisting in mid-air and landing upright with the casual grace of an olympic gymnast. “ - We’re always near, should you need us.” - she grins at Eva. A thermo-optic camouflage distortion band silently flickers across Shelke’s silhouette, momentarily revealing the trees behind her. Elite skill and state of the art gear - and almost parental dedication to their charge - yeah, Evangeline’s protection detail don’t futz around.

    “ - But… Always? Everywhere?!” - Eva blushes suddenly, clearly somewhat distressed by the idea.

    “ - Well, no, we don’t literally follow you everywhere.” - Shelke scratches at the back of her head in an awkward gesture, “ - That would be kinda creepy. But we are just outside the door, and we know what goes on inside, just in case!”

    Roger clears his throat pointedly. “ - We are getting distracted.” - his scowl is back, restrained, but no less fierce. “ - This should not have been allowed to happen. Even leaving aside allowing Miss Evangeline to gain access to a D3. Such a recording should have never been made, or if it was, it shouldn’t have survived the night. This is an inexcusable neglect of duty, Shelke, and you know it! I won’t even mention that you were her ‘shadow’ yesterday too, when she had that no doubt delightful talk with her two ‘friends’, but don’t for a second think I missed it.”

    Shelke wilts, a small blush of shame coloring her cheeks. “ - I’m sorry, Boss…”

    “ - I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.”

    “ - Yea... Little Miss, the Boss Man is right. I screwed up, big time. We’re not only supposed to guard you from physical harm. Your integrity and image are also in our care. I shouldn’t have let my guard down. I’m sorry I failed you…”

    Evangeline sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “ - It would be so easy to shift the blame for the consequences of my own stupidity on to you… And I feel like I should be angry, but, honestly? I just don’t have the energy. This day has been an emotional roller-coaster, and the few previous ones didn’t help...” - she does look tired and wrung-out. “ - Just… Why did you let me do it, then? And why the lapse of attention?”

    “ - I know it’s no excuse, not for someone with my responsibility… But I guess, at that moment, I saw too much of my old self in you.” - Shelke smiles sadly. “ - Nostalgia clouded my judgement. I wanted you to have that moment of dumb teenage rebellion, just for yourself. Hell, I was kinda, perversely, proud of you! And as to looking the other way… Well… Nitrocaine, even D3, is potent stuff. First reactions can be rather… Intense. So it was one of those times where I thought skulking in the same room as you would be a bit... Awkward. Know what I mean?” - despite the situation, Shelke flashes a tiny, naughty, teasing grin at Eva. In response, Eva blushes hard. Obviously, she does know. “ - Plus, well, you were together with people who were supposedly your friends, who you trusted... “ - Shelke sighs. “ - A stupid mistake on my part. And one it’s now my responsibility to fix, or go down trying. Right, Boss?” - she turns to Roger.

    “ - Precisely. We’ll need to perform a shadow run on the Dimante compound, trace and nuke all copies of the vid. A one person, suicide job.“

    “ - ‘Suicide’?!” - demands, Eva, alarmed.

    “ - Oh, not literally. Probably.” - assures Shelke, unable to resist a grin, “ - But the agent in question - that being me - is going in with a ‘burn notice’. If I screw up and get caught, the entire thing is on my head, the Neves disavow all connection or knowledge. A real black op. Hmm, it’s like the war all over again...” - she muses with an alarming amount of nostalgia.

    “ - Far be it from me to dismiss your obvious concern for Eva’s good name,” - speaks up Diego, “ - But I must admit I don’t quite get what the big deal is? So, a girl from a prominent family got high as a kite on some expensive stuff. From the byplay, I’m guessing high enough that she made an R-rated spectacle of herself. And she got filmed in the act. Oh, sure, the paparazzi will have a field day, maybe week. Then a new scandal comes along to grab everyone’s attention, and the whole thing blows over. No doubt it won’t be very pleasant for her, so it’s absolutely worth avoiding if possible... But at such high risk of an even bigger scandal if the op goes badly south and is traced to her despite all the precautions, and the whole thing gets out anyway? It’s just a dumb kid mistake. Not something that’ll ruin her life and her family forever, is it? Or is that another one of those cultural things in PanO I’m missing?”

    “ - Definitely a cultural thing.” - confirms Roger. “ - I think you may have missed it, senhor Ibarrez, because it fell within the time you were KIA. But in the years immediately following the war, PanOceania almost lost an entire generation of youth to Nitrocaine abuse. The problem was escalating for years before that, and a virtual plague of high-profile deaths was the last straw. The purges were maybe not quite on the level of the Gentle Dragon’s war on the Triads - less secret prisons and disappearances, I’m sure - but we did have ourselves a merry little crusade. We were always more sensitive about drugs than the Nomad Nations - no judgments, just facts. But nowadays? Nitrocaine carries a stigma all it’s own. Oh, people still use it alright, and everyone knows it. You’re just not supposed to let yourself be caught. If you do, everyone’s against you - for reminding them of the problem as much as anything else. A one-time, childish mistake, with no resulting addiction, will not destroy the Young Miss, true. But it may very well end up branding her for life anyway, and being very bad for continuing family business. We’d rather avoid that entirely. It’s a risk, yes. But if we play it right, even if we blunder, it will not affect the Young Miss or the family.”

    - Ideally, I won’t get caught before I manage to carry out the deed. And then I’ll just take the fall for the op, with no one the wiser what it was really about. A win-win for the Boss Man, really. After this monumental fuck-up, we’d probably have to re-negotiate the conditions of my employment anyway.” - Shelke shrugs philosophically.

    Evangeline looks saddened by this, but can’t really find a way to argue.

    “ - Right. Okay, not my place to judge. If them’s the breaks here, then them’s the breaks.” - Diego shrugs. “ - Though I could offer some scathing social commentary...”

    “ - ‘Scathing social commentary’, eh? You Nomads don’t think much of civilised society’s stance on drugs?” - teases Shelke.

    “ - So who do you PanO folk consider ‘civilized’?” - smirks Diego in response, “ - Yourself, obviously,” - he gives an exaggerated eye-roll, making Shelke giggle, “ - And maybe Yu Jing, if they don’t happen to be eating cats at the moment?”

    “ - Hey, man, don’t knock it until you try it!”

    “ - Oh, I assure you, I’ve tried a great many things in my time. Some of them would turn even your stomach, I’m sure.”

    “ - Yea? Try me.”

    “ - Well, there was this time on the Paradiso frontline, one Bakunin quartermaster treated us to a Shas Infusion. You know, those Tequilas with a snake or centipede inside? Like those, only with a Shasvastii spawn embryo. Let me tell you, one of the foulest, turn-your-mouth-inside-out, knock-your-boots-off brews I’ve ever got shit-faced on.” - Diego grins ear-to-ear.

    Evangeline turns a little green, and even Roger looks somewhat disturbed. Shelke is very silent all of a sudden, and perhaps a little pale.

    “ - We all do what we must to survive.” - she intones gravely, face very carefully blank. She gives a little shudder, pulling together with some obvious effort. “ - Okay, your win, Coach. All the win.” - she smiles again, smaller, but with some real respect in it.

    Roger clears his throat again. “ - Please focus. You can compare scores later.”

    “ - Right, Boss.”

    “ - Alright. So, coming back to Nitrocaine, then…” - muses Diego. “ - Eva, are you the only one in the recording?”

    “ - Yes… But it was obviously edited to cut out some parts…” - Eva frowns in thought.

    - Ha. So it’s possible that the little vibora originally recorded the entire thing, whole comlog surround suite. She obviously showed you only the parts with you in it… But the full original may well include Dimante’s own Nitrocaine-fueled performance as well. And if senorita Shelke could also secure that for us during her run…” - he waggles his eyebrows.

    - ...We could turn the tables on Dimante with some juicy dirt of our own!” - Shelke lets loose her toothy, slightly creepy smile. “ - I like the way you think, Coach Ibarrez, I like it a lot…” - she extends a hand to Diego. “ - We haven’t really been formally introduced, have we? Belladonna Shelke. Call me Bell.”

    “ - Diego Ibarrez. You may call me Diablo.” - Diego returns the smile and shakes.

    - Coach Ibarrez’s idea is a good one, though it’s doubtful Dimante would be quite so stupid as to keep an unedited copy. Not impossible, but not likely, I’d say. We’ll keep it in mind for a secondary objective.” - decides Roger. ” - Now, we will need to gather intelligence on the Dimante House and their security. This will take some time to do properly and, most importantly, covertly. I don’t expect for us to be ready to move until after New Year, two weeks from now, give or take.”

    “ - Wouldn’t Christmas or New Year be an advantageous time to move?” - inquires Diego. “ - If they’re holding some kind of party, with lots of guests, the commotion might be a good opportunity to slip in.”

    “ - Yes, for the outer layers of security. But without some solid intel on the ones deeper in the compound, the private parts where we need to go, that advantage would be more than cancelled out. And we need time to get that. Young Miss.” - Roger turns to Evangeline, “ - Do you know of your ‘friend’s’ family’s plans for the holidays?”

    “ - They will be having a party on Christmas Day. Tiana would surely expect me to attend,” - Eva scowls, “ - Luckily we’re leaving the planet.” - she looks to Diego. “ - We’re travelling to Acontecimento for Christmas. And I think the Dimantes are leaving for New Year, while we’ll be staying here.”

    “ - Not good, then.” - decides Roger. “ - Christmas will be too early for us. And Dimante leaving on New Year will mean all the copies of the video will not be on site, since she’s probably carrying one on her comlog. This would complicate things. Especially if Shelke succeeded but got caught. And even if not, we’d have to hit Dimante immediately as she arrives back, before she has a chance to get home and find out the local copies got wiped. That means getting to her comlog on the move. Technically easier, but conditions may be wildly unpredictable. I’d rather we not risk it if not absolutely necessary.”

    “ - Well, you are the experts here. I just bash faces in.” - Diego smirks. “ - I guess, given Eva family’s status, you do have a spin doctor on staff? Will probably want to alert him, so he has time to prepare in case worst comes to worst and the whole thing blows up.”

    “ - Yes, forewarned is forearmed, afterall. Giving our PR expert time to prepare, instead of forcing them to react live, is only good sense. Though we’d have to be discreet about it, not to worry the Mr and Mrs.”

    “ - Wait… You’re not going to tell dad and mom?” - Eva asks, at once hopeful and ashamed for it.

    “ - We will, but only if it’s unavoidable. Otherwise, I hope to spare them the stress. And disappointment.” - Roger explains, voice stern, though not unkind. Eva nods meekly. “ - Right. I think we kept the Young Miss and Coach Ibarrez long enough. Me and Shelke will discuss some more, but you should get back to your team. Thank you for your help, senhor Ibarrez.”

    “ - You’re welcome. Let me know if there’s something else I can do. Right, then. Come on, Eva. I’m sure the others are getting worried. Well, more worried. Senhor Smith. Bell.” - Diego nods goodbye to them. Roger returns the nod, Shelke wayes.


    Once they see Diego and Eva coming back, the team immediately gather around them, with renewed concerned inquiries.

    - Okay, girls,” - Diego speaks up, “ - The short version is, Dimante’s got some bad dirt on Eva. It’s probably better you don’t know what it is exactly.”

    “ - The less we know, the shorter the interrogation will be.” - quips Patty.

    - Exactly. Anyway, our sweet Miss Dimante and her crony now have a hold on Evangeline.”

    “ - Tiana ordered me to quit the team,” - Eva frowns unhappily, “ - And to stop meeting with any of you at all…” - this is met with dismayed exclamations.

    - And I expect those will not be her last demands, either.” - cautions Diego. “ - That’s the way it tends to go with blackmail. Once they realize they do have an effective sword to hold over your head, they’ll keep waving it to get more and more concessions. Why wouldn’t they? It’s not like you can do anything about it.”

    The girls all look disgusted, angry, and sad. Minnie hugs Eva again.

    “ - So this means you won’t be coming to the club today?” - she asks, disheartened.

    - I’d probably better not.” - confirms Eva glumly. “ - Tiana knows about Patty’s gig - you do advertise in Maya. And she can easily follow all of our social streams. So it’ll be easy for her to check on me.”

    “ - We could easily edit those. And ask everybody we know to do the same…” - muses Octavia.

    - But there will be tons of people from the school there.” - Nyree shakes her head. “ - We don’t know them all. And even if, one slip up could mean the whole thing crashing down with one custom search on CaraLibro.”

    - This suuucks.” - Patty pouts. “ - Martin - Bedevere - is coming, I’ve sent him an invitation as promised. And he said Risa wanted to come as well.”

    “ - Oh. It would have been nice to see her again…” - Eva sighs in disappointment.

    - What do you say we send her your way?” - asks Morgan. “ - She could visit you at home. Even if Dimante finds out, so what, she can’t blame you for a surprise visit by a friend from a different team, right?”

    - And you said yourself, keeping up appearances is important in your high-and-mighty circles.” - smirks Alex.

    “ - Exactly. And Miss Ferreira is part of that. You can’t exactly turn her away at the door, now can you?” - ‘Nique chimes in.

    - That… That would work. Thank you, girls.” - Eva’s eyes are a little watery again. She quickly pulls herself together, making a brave, determined face. “ - Alright. The Princess Guard,” - she smirks at Alex, who grins in return, “ - Are on the case. I’m confident they’ll be able to sort this mess out in no time, and I’ll be able to join you again. In the meantime… Don’t let this get you down. You go to the party and have fun. You hear? Minuette? Make sure of it. This is my last order to you as our morale officer, before my forced retirement as commander.” - Evangeline pulls on her best officious, pompous Princess manner.

    “ - Oui, M’dame! Entendu!” - Minuette snaps to attention and salutes smartly, though she can’t keep the wide grin off of her face. “ - I’ll do my damnest!


    “ - Alright, girls. I think our practice got delayed enough already. Let’s not keep the Spiders waiting any longer. Get ready to begin.” - orders Diego.

    The Angels move to get their gear.

    - You’re staying for the training, right?” - Nyree asks Eva, concerned.

    - Yes, just this once more.” - sighs Eva.

    - Would you like to maybe still be in command, then?”

    “ - Thank you...” - Eva gives a sincere but tired smile, “ - But, honestly? I’m too wrung out to be an effective first-in-command today. You take the lead, like the Coach said. But I can be your second?”

    Nyree nods, smiling.


    Shelke’s presence, conspiring with Roger, is quickly noted.

    - Where did she come from?” - Patty raises her eyebrows. Evangeline just smiles.

    “ - Jeez, her again.” - Alex shivers a little.

    - Come now, chica. She’s not that bad.” - Diego smiles.

    - Sure, to you maybe! You’re a Nomad, you’re used to weirdos! She really gives me the creeps… I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something wrong with the broad!...” - insists Alex.

    - ...She doesn’t blink.” - concludes Nyree slowly.

    - What!?”

    “ - Pay attention - really pay attention - to her face for a while. She never blinks.”

    “ - ...Damn. You’re right! Always knew you were perceptive, Nyree.” - Nyree looks embarrassed at the praise. “ - She really doesn’t blink. Like, at all. And that smile is way too wide… Cree-pee…” - Alex looks properly unnerved.

    And it’s true. There are, of course, several possible explanations Diablo can think of, starting with a pair of cybernetic eyes that just don’t need it. Though even such prosthesis/augments should include an appropriate reflex program to do it anyway, exactly to avoid such a “creepy” effect. Maybe Bell deactivated it, because she just enjoys creeping people out? On reflection, this is highly probable...


    The Angels definitely underperform in the training matches today. It’s obvious the latest developments lay heavy on their minds. Still, they do manage a fairly respectable showing at least, and are not a complete walkover for the Spiders.

    - Take it as part of the exercise. As you had to experience playing while exhausted, now you get to train going into action while emotionally shaken. A battle will not always wait for you to be at your best, after all.” - advises Diego.


    As agreed, the games end early today.

    The girls say their subdued but hopeful goodbyes with Evangeline. Minnie gets emotional again and calls for a group hug. The others don’t let her ask twice (though for Alex it’s - mostly - because of Morgan’s firm hand on her forearm, pulling her in; she looks markedly awkward and embarrassed about the whole thing, especially since her position in the group leaves her squeezed into Nyree...).

    Minnie once again vows to honor the Princess’ “last command” and make sure the others have fun in Eva’s absence (well, it should also help keep her mind off of her own troubles).

    Eva leaves directly for home with Roger (Shelke disappeared into thin air sometime earlier), while the rest load into the Monster and head for school first, to scatter from there.


    The evening comes, and the Angels of Stone, minus Evangeline, meet at the club Patricia will be DJing at today, the whimsically named “Round Square”.


    Patty starts the party with a little announcement. Which, as far as Diego can tell from the few of her gigs he attended, is not typical. In her DJ Scratch persona, Patty usually stays mostly silent, while still managing to communicate with the crowd quite effectively using only music. Not today, though. Patty leans to the mike, the lights reflected in her shades turning her eyes into mirror pools of sharp neon glare:

    - Alright, you peeps. A little warning. Me and my friends are going through some shit lately. Bad enough that one of them can’t be here with us tonight. And it makes me pissed! So, tonight you gonna get a rare treat: you get to listen to the Angry Scratch. I’ve got to work out some stress. So brace yourselves!

    She says noting more, just starts her set, the music definitely angrier, sharper, and darker than usual. Still makes for damn good dancing, though, and the crowd wastes no time in getting into it.


    There are quite a lot of familiar faces in attendance. Markedly, the boyfriends of both Angels that have same are here with them.

    Minuette managed to finally get Ilya to agree to come with her to one of Patty’s parties. Ho boy. We already knew Mr. Malinin knows his classical dances, but hopping around to Patty’s kind of music? Seeing how happy his attendance makes Minnie, everyone is prepared to risk it really bringing the ceiling down, as she once predicted… Luckily, he manages to avoid doing that, though he’s definitely a sight to behold on the dancefloor!

    Fred is here too, to Octavia’s blushing delight. He’s quite the party animal, and his presence also manages to draw out a little more of Octy’s wild side. Not that she had very big problems letting loose at Patty’s gigs before, but it was always kinda controlled still, if earnest. This time, she’s definitely bolder - and managing to do that without hiding behind her dark glasses all the time, as well! Octy’s dressed in that shorts-under-skirt casual outfit Diego and Yuni saw her in when shopping for biking gear, this time with a printed tee stating: “All About That Bass, No Treble”.

    “ - It’s a present from Frederic.” - she blushingly admits. “ - I don’t quite get the joke, but I like it…

    Bolo’s Barking Spiders are all here, as well as Octy’s and Fred’s troupe of orchestra friends and their hangers on. Ilya’s sister, tiny Katya, joins that group to Minnie’s cheerleader friends. Mako and the full roster of the Ramjets are in attendance. The Angels’ tech crew make an appearance as well - including Eric himself(!), as they jokingly boast: “ - Dragged kicking and screaming!” from the workshop. As announced by Patty earlier, Martin Ricardo - Bedevere of the Knights of the Round Table - hopped a suborbital flight from Morgana to catch DJ Scratch live. Risa Ferreira, Percival, comes with him. She stays long enough to sample the music, but leaves quickly as the girls explain Eva’s situation, the Knight going on a quest to cheer her younger friend up at least a little.


    Minuette does her best to make good on her promise to Evangeline, turning into a real whirlwind of enthusiasm and good cheer, to make sure the girls are having fun despite the dark pall hanging over another one of their own. Minnie’s efforts are mostly successful in that regard, and a genuinely good time is had by all, spirits definitely raised. But it’s still generally agreed that it’s not quite the same without Eva there.


    Late at night - or early in the morning, really! - Diego and Yuni leave the club together, having seen the girls and various other acquaintances off, heading for Yuni’s flat. A little together fun time will not go amiss, after today.


    The day at least ends much better than it begun.


    Sunday, December 22nd

    Diego and Yuni treat themselves to a morning of lazing around in bed… Though they can’t keep it up for too long, both being active people used to rising early.

    After breakfast (in which’s preparation Diego has become much more helpful since the first time, having had quite a bit cooking practice now), they decide to make a day out of it with a trip to their usual spot out of town. They have a nice motorcycle ride there, and then spend their time running, climbing, exercising, and swimming. They also take along two rented bicycles, for a first cycling lesson Yuni proposed some time ago. As predicted, Diego doesn’t have that much of a hard time with that activity either, though some more practice certainly won’t go amiss.

    The evening sees them back at Yuni’s, for some more good food, and some additional activities, less mobile, but no less athletic or fun. They do turn in early today, though, for they must rise very early tomorrow.


    Monday, December 23rd

    In the wee hours of the morning, Yuni and Diego rise, eat a much quicker and less elaborate breakfast, and head out to the Belo Horizonte astroport. Today, Yuni leaves for Neoterra, to spend Christmas with her parents and brother. She must leave very early, to catch the Circular through Acontecimento, and get there in time for tomorrow evening*.

    • GM Note: You might notice, the interplanetary travel times in “TAGs of Avalon” are very short. I’m sure, once we get some canon numbers, it’ll turn out the actual travel times should be on the order of weeks, instead of the 24 to 48 hours they’re gonna be in this game. This is a deliberate and conscious choice on my part. The deviation from canon (with some accompanying technobabble explanations) allows for the kind of game we wanted to have, which wouldn't really be possible with the suspected canon travel times. Then again, you could explain it with a major leap in starship technologies in the post-EI War era, likely having to do with some retro-engineered voodoo tech...
    Yuni is travelling relatively light, so there’s no problem for Diego to give her a ride in his motorcycle sidecar.

    As they say their goodbyes by the shuttle boarding gate, Diego hands Yuni her Christmas gift (the fancy, high-tech, programmable nano-nail-polish he purchased some time ago through the Nomad trade mission), with strict instructions to be a good girl and not to open it before tomorrow evening.

    - I’ll try to restrain myself.” - she winks. “ - Sorry I haven’t got anything for you yet… I’ll bring you something fun back from Neoterra. Maybe some snow in a cooler, so we can have a single-snowball fight.” - she grins. “ - Anyway, try to hold down the fort, and not have too much fun without me. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” - Yuni winks again.

    - Have a good trip, and a good Christmas with your family. Try not to fight too much.” - Diego returns the wink.

    A proper goodbye kiss later, Yuni boards, and Diego heads home. He doesn’t watch the shuttle depart - some in the Nation believe doing that is bad luck…


    After going back to sleep for a bit, and then his morning workout, Diego spends much of today pursuing information on the Angels’ next prospective opponent, the Bourak Institute of Planetology TAG-Soft team.

    Said team is jokingly named Rahat al-Hulqum - after the name of a peculiar sugar and starch gel confection, literally “Comfort for the throat” in Arabic*, though more commonly the team’s name is translated as “Heaven on the tongue”. And it looks like they could prove an interesting opponent.

    • While the English term for this kind of sweets is “Turkish Delight”, it isn’t actually a Turkish invention, being present in Arab culture long before the Ottoman Empire.
    The team’s coach is an Arabian individual named Sabri bin Basara, known as the “Turtle”, or even “The Genius Turtle”. Diego has never met him personally, though he does believe their units did at least once co-operate on Paradiso, in one of Diablo’s few dirtside tours. He has certainly heard of the “Turtle”, however. One of the big names of the Al-Medinat’s renown Maghariba Guard, an ace TAG pilot and keen commander, famous for his fighting style combining flawless defence and rapid mobility, his “Turtle” nickname at once fitting and ironic. He and his men always seemed to be just where they were most needed, and almost impossible to dislodge once there. Even back then, bin Basara has been slowly getting on in years, though it never seemed to affect his battlefield performance, and he was nowhere near ready for retirement. Now, almost thirty years later, the “Turtle”, having survived the war, looks quite old, if not ancient yet, and has apparently retired from the military and active piloting, but not quite from command and training, going into TAG-Soft. Though it’s interesting he chose the Shahate, and an amateur team at that... However that happened, Sabri seems to have brought with him his distinct piloting and fighting philosophy and style, forging a team excelling in maneuver warfare and staying power.

    All the “Heaven” players are older than the Angels, being college-aged, so eighteen plus. But they aren’t really much different, skill-level-wise, from the Human Revolution, as none of the current lineup actually played TAG-Soft in high-school. The team are solid mid league table level contenders. And they will be different opponents to the Revolution for sure. While Cinderblock’s team were pretty much generalists, though with a penchant for close assault, the Turtle’s kids are definitely focused on mobility and defense, with a solid mix of ranged and assault options - no surprise, with their coach’s preferences.

    The Institute of Planetology being what it is, the Rahat is also quite a rich, well equipped team. Their roster includes no less than four Magharibas (two Mk.I-s and two Mk.V-s), an Iguana (though not used as a command unit, but a sniper), two Geckos, and, a peculiar curiosity, a Tachikoma*. And their armament looks a bit worrying. The Geckos are both sporting Panzerfausts and FO suites, the sniper rifle is typically loaded with viral ammo, they have a heavy grenade launcher and a missile launcher (unguided, thank the gods!), one of the Mk.I Maghis had its weapon arms rebuilt into brutal looking CCW pincer claws - with built-in plasma carbines(!), and… Lucifer’s Beard, the Tachikoma is toting an E/Marat and a set of E/Maulers. Those people are crazy! Oh, and at least half their TAGs are loaded up with over-clocked ECM and point defense suites. This is gonna be fun, alright...

    • Most commonly, if inaccurately, known in the other nations of the Sphere as the Wolf Spider, the Tachikoma is a ”failed” Yu Jing design, built on an arachnid, instead of humanoid, body plan. Created by one of the Japanese armament corporations, it was designed and marketed as “combining the unique design and mobility advantages of the Maghariba with the Gecko’s compact package”. Basically, a mini-Maghi. The State Empire military was not impressed. They saw it mostly as combining the flaws of a Maghariba (awkward shape requiring dedicated berthing facilities and clumsy in boarding actions, a mechanically over-complicated and maintenance-intensive drivetrain, and a control scheme completely different from the standard exo-skeleton-based TAGs necessitating specialist pilot training) with those of a Gecko (little armor, low durability, limited endurance, ability to carry only light armament), to little gain. All the roles for such a TAG could be easily and more cheaply fulfilled by the already available wealth of specialized heavy infantry. Even the ability to easily mount “climbing plus” gear on the lightweight machine was not convincing enough. Of course, though the Chinese would never say so openly, the fact that it was a Japanese product was also certainly a factor... So the State Empire did not purchase the Tachikoma for its army. The Japanese didn’t give up immediately, and the machine saw some limited use, and even a bit of popularity, in police work, emergency services, industry, and on the corporate mercenary market. But the sales were way too low to justify the expense, so production was quickly discontinued, and the Tachikoma became a tiny footnote in TAG history… Until many years later some TAG-Soft enthusiast dug out the blueprints. There’s no rule in TAG-Soft requiring the machines used to have ever seen mainline military service in any army of the Human Sphere - as long as it’s a piloted TAG, it’s fair game. So now, one can occasionally meet a Tachikoma on the sporting field, especially in Japanese Yu Jing teams.
    Of the players themselves, three in particular catch Diablo’s eye.

    Their lieutenant, a Persian-descent boy known as “Clockwork”, seems to already have made a bit of a name for himself. As a pilot, he seems pretty mediocre, and is not quite too brilliant as a tactician. However, he seemingly excels in facilitating his team’s teamwork. He knows his people perfectly, and is always able to select the perfect person for each task. Under his command the team mesh together like well-oiled cogs in a fine-tuned clock’s mechanism - hence the call-sign.

    The other one instantly stands out in all the picts and videos - because of her size. The girl’s callsign is “Titan”, and boy, does it fit her! The young Arabian woman is huge, taller and broader than Yuni, and at least equal to Ilya Malinin. And her countenance, though not as directly scowling as Ilya’s, is similarly foreboding, in a stony, callous way. According to the media, “Titan’s” father was an elite in the Caliphate forces, and one of the recipients of the famous Runihura super-soldier gene-therapy. And, seemingly though a freak genetic accident (because by the treatment’s design it definitely shouldn’t have happened), at least some of the genetic modifications passed down to his daughter… She’s the team’s premiere heavy assault element, riding the plasma-clawed Maghariba. And in that role, she’s absolutely ruthless and shockingly brutal, often leaving opponent she can get to grips with violently dismembered. It’s all simulated with the magic of Augmented Reality, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less gruesome to watch...

    The third one couldn’t be more physically different. Average-height and build, though seemingly smaller, because she’s the shortest person on the Heaven team, the Persian girl callsigned “Trickster”. Or, as many opponents seem to have hatefully dubbed her behind her back, “That Bitch”. She’s the pilot of the EM-weapons loaded Tachikoma, and apparently has a way of pulling really nasty tricks on her opponents, ending in their humiliating “demise”. Though, out of her TAG, she seems to be an energetic, cheerful, and sweet individual, if with a liking for pranks. A Haqqislamite version of Minuette, if you will.

    One other minor curiosity in the Rahat roster, the North American-descended pilots of the twin Geckos look to themselves be a set of twins, seemingly identical except for gender.


    Diego does some thorough research on Rahat al-Hulqum, anticipating a difficult fight. Depending on how things go with Evangeline, the Angels may have to go against the Haqqislam team with only seven players...


    Tuesday, December 24th

    Christmas Eve dawns bright and clear, but the weather forecast for today predicts heavy rain in the evening. With that in mind, when Diego sets out today, it’s in his car, seldom used since the motorcycle was completed.

    Diego spends the day at Silva’s, first working, and when evening comes, simply keeping company with senhor Esteban and the Three Fusiliers.

    Dominique of course did not forget her “grandpa” Esteban, and actually works a shift in the eatery today too. Her presence definitely brightens the old-timers’ day. But in the late afternoon, she returns home, to spend Christmas Eve with her mother, and senhor Silva and the others wouldn’t have it any other way.

    So, at closing time, the five men make a slightly nostalgic “veterans” (of war, or simply life) evening out of it, sipping beer and just talking about whatever. Seems none of them have any other place to be, nor anybody else to be with, on Christmas Eve.

    As Diego finally says goodbye and sets out home in the late evening, rain is coming down hard on Belo Horizonte, the sky a solid mass of dark cloud.


    The way home from Silva’s actually skirts a back corner of the Academy. This part of the grounds is fenced off with simple chain-link, instead of the fancy wall they’ve got up front. Thanks to that, as Diego dutifully waits for the lights to change at an empty intersection (Damn you, ALEPH! There’s no one there, and you know it! Why isn’t it green?!), he can see a part of the main parking lot behind the fence, with the Angels’ own hangar in the far distance, barely visible through the downpour and gloom...

    And he can also see the person climbing and jumping the fence! (No barbed wire on top! Silly PanO...)

    The fence jumper quickly checks their sides and front - but not to the back, so they don’t notice Diablo in his car! - for any possible witnesses, then sets out across the parking lot at a run, splashing through the rain. It looks like they’re heading for the hangar…

    Having been a piloting instructor for years, Diego has developed a very good eye and memory for body language. And the way the intruder moves, athletic and brash - as well as the abundant flashes of bare, if darker, skin, indicating a rather skimpy mode of dress - sets off bells of recognition in Diego’s mind. Of course, with this downpour and darkness limiting visibility, he can’t be really sure… But he can easily check.

    Diego has his comlog dial Alex’s number, keeping his eyes on the running figure all the while.

    And as the first dial tone sounds, the intruder stumbles in surprise, slips on the grass strip between the parking lot and hangar grounds they were just crossing, and takes an inelegant spill facefirst to the muddy ground. Ouch. Good timing, that would have hurt much more on the concrete!

    The dial tone sounds out thrice more (and the intruder slowly turns on their back on the ground) before Alex picks up the call - audio only.

    - Yeah, Coach? What do you want at this hour?” - she sounds a bit disgruntled.

    - Oh, just thought I’ll check up on you,” - Diego answers casually, “ - Make sure you’re not lying somewhere out in the rain. And to remind you to always check everywhere, including behind you, for witnesses when attempting trespass and break-in.

    His answer is a muffled curse. The intruder - Alex - rises her head from the ground to look through the fence. Diego flashes his car’s high beam lights. Alex’s head falls back down, and more muffled invective can be heard. Alex enables the video part of the connection. She’s lying on her back in the mud, staring up into the pouring rain.

    “ - Dammit. Waste of a good masking soft...”

    - You PanOceanians and you over-reliance on tech.” - Diego shakes his head sadly. “ - The same thing sunk Larasati and her cronies. Tech is helpful, but you gotta think for yourself first, chica.”

    “ - Yeah, yeah. Rub it in, why don’t you?” - she sighs.

    “ - So what, pray tell, were you doing, when I so rudely interrupted you?”

    Alex shrugs. “ - Killing time, I guess? Nowhere else to be today. I thought I’d drop in, re-arrange Eric’s tools a bit for a prank…” - she doesn’t really sound too enthusiastic, or even convinced.

    “ - Right. How about you get up, come on over here? Shitty weather we’re having.”

    - No shit.” - Alex snorts. She gathers herself up and splashes back to the fence.

    - Need any help? We could call DeeDee, let you out through the gate...”

    “ - Nah, I got this.” - Alex starts to climb. As she clambers over the top of the fence, in the still open connection, Diego can hear the sound of ripping fabric and tearing seams. “ - ...Shit. I liked those shorts…” - Alex mutters glumly.

    Diego guides the car over, and lets Alex get in. She looks like a drowned rat, splashed with mud and utterly soaked, hair and clothes a mess. The low-riding, high-cut jean short-shorts she favours for casual wear - little more than denim panties, if you ask Diego - are ripped and split down the middle of their (limited area) back. Alex is shivering a bit in the seat, hugging her arms for warmth. Diego turns up the car’s heater, then reaches back, opens the car’s first aid kit, and unpacks the compact anti-shock blanket.

    - Okay, chica, let’s get you somewhere warm and something dry to wear, before you catch a cold…”

    - I’m not that cold-” - she tries to deny stubbornly, but interrupts herself with a powerful sneeze, liberally spraying snot on herself and the dash. She favours Diego with a belligerent stare, noisily snorting a string of mucus hanging down almost to her chin back up her nostril.

    “ - Obviously.” - Diego deadpans, helping the grumbling girl wrap herself up in the blanket. He puts the car in gear. “ - I have a feeling proposing to take you home is not an option?”

    “ - Yeah, don’t bother. There’s no-one there anyway…” - Alex answers in a dead voice, looking away through the window.

    Diego nods thoughtfully, and turns the car back to the way home.


    He makes one stop on the way, at a convenience-mart.

    At this hour on Christmas Eve, all people have finished work long ago, if they even worked today at all. Pseudo-intelligent, automated systems are a different matter. So there’s no problem with making a few emergency purchases, an unfailingly polite and helpful ER shop attendant and their remote assistants on duty even at this day and hour.


    Soon, they arrive at Diego’s residential block. Alex is sullenly silent throughout the entire ride, staring out the window.

    Diego leads the way to his flat, Alex following silently, soaked boots squishing all the way. Diego notes that, still wrapped in that blanket, and with the air of gloom and resignation she seems to carry about herself, Alex looks very much like the refugees he’s seen in their thousands on Paradiso…

    Once inside, she does perks up a tiny bit, looking around with some curiosity at the place her Coach lives*.

    • Not that there’s much to look at. Even after retiring and going civilian, Diego hasn’t shaken the military habit of traveling and living light. There’s almost no personal style to the place, no decorations or mementos - it’s more like a hotel room or barracks quarters. Diego could be packed and out of here in ten minutes flat, and that probably only if he took the time to empty the fridge first...

    Diego directs Alex to the bathroom.

    - Sightseeing later, warm and dry first.” - he hands Alex the things he bought: a pretty generic two-piece sweatsuit, in PanO Patriotic Blue, and equally bland sports bra, unisex sports briefs, and tube socks, all in white. He had to eyeball the sizes, but they should fit. Nothing fancy or particularly flattering, but it’ll keep her warm. “ - Towels in the cabinet, soap, shampoo, etc, on the shelf. Throw your stuff into the dryer, take a hot shower and get dressed. Yell if you need anything.”

    - What if I need you?” - she asks with a naughty smile. Diego can see her heart isn’t really in it, but she obviously feels she can’t let the opportunity pass by, and has to make the effort at maintaining at least some of her “image”.

    - Then you’re truly out of luck, chica, ‘cause we’re not doing that.” - he deadpans.

    - Aww, why not?” - she mock-pouts, again without much conviction.

    - ‘Cause it wouldn’t be fair to Yuni, to name just one reason.” - Diego replies evenly

    - Oh. Right.” - Alex mumbles. Obviously not the reply she was expecting, and one she apparently can’t argue against, even if she was actually inclined to do so.

    Alex goes into the bathroom, and Diego heads for the kitchenette.


    Some time later, Alex pads into the small kitchen, looking much better, at least physically. Diego direct her to sit down and hands her a mug of steaming, dark liquid.

    - Whoa. Strong stuff.” - she shudders a bit after the first sip.

    - Hot chocolate with chili. Will warm you right up. A bit of a ‘taste of home’ - the legal kind. ‘Course, back on Corregidor, it was a rare treat to get it made with the real stuff, instead of all synthetic… Too strong?” - Diego himself likes it hot like Lucifer’s own breath, but he’s pretty sure he lowered the proportions enough to account for a more delicate palate.

    - No, it’s fine...” - Alex quickly gulps down half the mug, then slows to savour the second half.


    Silence descends again, as Alex gazes into her mug, as if trying to divine the answer to life, the universe, and everything, from the dark chocolate depths.


    - So,” - Diego prods carefully when he’s sure Alex won’t speak first, “ - No one home?”

    “ - ...Nope.” - Alex sighs, “ - Old man’s holed up in his office downtown.

    “ - At Christmas Eve?”

    “ - And Christmas Day. And Easter. And Halloween. And Rama Navami. And Sunday. Any damn day of the year.” - she drones sullenly. “ - Important work to do. Always.” - she falls silent again, and Diego starts suspecting she’ll stay silent, but Alex finally continues, voice heavy with weariness: “ - ...How? How am I supposed to compete, Coach?” - she looks at Diego, and he can see unshed tears, held back by stubborn pride, in her eyes. “ - How am I supposed to compete with someone who’s gone?”

    - ...That’s a tall order, chica.” - he nods gravely.

    - And I’ve tried. Shiva’s third hand on the left, I’ve tried.” - the floodgates are open now, and Alex keeps talking, glum monotone. “ - He drowns his pain in incessant work… And me, and my pain, could just as well not exist. I’m just another part of the world he wants nothing to do with, ‘cause it took them away. I’ve tried getting his attention, for years now. Being a good girl, just trying to be his daughter, the last thing he got left, didn’t work. So then I’ve thought if I became a problem, an embarrassment, caused a big enough disturbance, he’d at least have to acknowledge me then, right? Fat load of good that did. I just got addicted to the power trip. Bianca Chryse, annoying little shit she is, she was basically right about me. Remember what she said, that one time? ‘The sad, lonely girl that tries to rise her self-esteem by trampling others’? Pretty spot on. Hurting others, making them feel miserable? Was a great way to forget how hurt and miserable I was myself… But I can’t really do that anymore… And he doesn’t care anyway. Not enough to deal with it, with me, personally… He doesn’t want a scandal, sure. But he has people to take care of it for him. And if that’s not enough, he’ll just throw money at the problem until it goes away. Until I go away...”

    - Sounds like there’s some serious issues at play that were never worked through… Did you two ever get any counseling?

    - Oh, he pushed me on to the damn headshrinkers. I guess I should be thankful. I… It’s somewhat possible I wouldn’t be here, weren’t for that.” - Alex shifts uncomfortably. “ - I still hated them. Stopped going as soon as I could. They didn’t care, he was lining their pockets anyway. He didn’t care either. He never went, not as far as I know. Certainly not with me. Too busy, of course. And a strong, prideful man should deal with stuff himself, anyway.” - she snorts derisively. “ - So that’s the last five years of my life, and where we are today. And I hate it. I hate it, because… I loved them too. I still love them. But it’s, he’s, making me hate them too. Because I can never compare, never compete, with the perfect memories. I don’t want to forget them. I don’t want to replace them. Never. But I’d just wish he’d see me too…”

    “ - Well…” - Diego hesitates. This is heavy stuff, and a mis-step could be disastrous. But he can’t well do nothing either… “ - Seems like you tried doing quite a bit… But when was the last time you tried talking?”

    “ - ...Years ago. I can’t even remember. Somewhere shortly after… You know.” - Alex favours Diego with a very sceptical look. “ - You really think it’d be that easy? Just talk to him?”

    - Never said it would be easy, no. But you tried everything else, it seems. What do you have to lose?” - Alex furrows her brow in thought. “ - Today is too late already. But tomorrow, take your old man out to breakfast. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Drag him out of the office if you must. It’s Christmas Day, dammit, he can damn well have a meal with his daughter! Dress up a bit for the occasion. Let him see this is serious. Last time you tried talking, you were just a kid. You’re practically an adult now. He can’t dismiss you so easily. Make him see it. Make him listen. And just tell him. Everything you told me now. See what he makes of it then.”

    - …Huh. Of all the crazy plans… Alright.” - Alex nods decisively. She doesn’t look quite convinced, but that won’t stop her, it seems. “ - Alright. I’ll try that. You’re kinda right, I’ve tried everything else already… Talking it is then. But, dress up for it?” - she rises an eyebrow.

    “ - Well, chica, your usual mode of dress isn’t quite ‘family meal with serious talk, on Christmas’ material, flattering as it is to your figure…

    Alex chuckles a bit. “ - Yeah, guess you’re right again. Started dressing like that as part of the ‘bad girl’ image, but it’s honestly grown on me… And it is summer. But alright, something more serious is in order, true.“ - she makes a long exhale, as if letting out tension. She does look quite a bit better now, no longer so despondent and hopeless, having finally shared her troubles with someone, and with a goal in mind. Alex finishes the last of the cooling chocolate, fidgets with the mug a bit. “ - I… Thanks, Coach…” - she mumbles awkwardly but sincerely.

    - You’re welcome, chica.”

    - So, Coach?... Do you have a couch I could borrow for tonight?”

    “ - An armchair only, I’m afraid. We’ll work something out.”


    In all seriousness, Diego acts the gentleman, and parks himself in the armchair for the night, giving the bed to Alex.


    (continued below)
     
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  18. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    (entry #16, continued)

    Wednesday, December 25th



    After yesterday’s downpour, Christmas Day morning promises beautiful weather, Avalon summer in full swing.


    Diego and Alex are up early.

    Alex just has a quick cup of coffee and gets ready to leave. Big day today… She throws her dried normal clothes into the shopping bag her current ersatz attire came in yesterday and goes on to pull on her shoes.

    - Tsk, boots are still damp…” - she grumbles. Modern combat boots are made to dry very quickly, but it seems the flooding her pair received yesterday was a little too much for them, and the dryer can’t do shoes.

    - Sorry, chica, didn’t think to get you a pair yesterday.” - Diego silently muses that, aside from the sandals she wore on Halloween as part of the predatory angel statue costume, and the TAG pilot suit of course, he can’t really recall ever seeing Alex in a different pair of shoes. Those boots must have some serious sentimental value to her, for all that she doesn’t seem to take all that good care of them… Or she just really doesn’t care for deciding what shoes to wear each morning.

    - No matter, I’ll be home in half an hour… Welp, that’s it, I guess… Wish me luck, Coach.” - she fidgets a bit in the doorway.

    “ - Take care, chica. Best of luck. Do call later, let me know how it went.” - Diego tries for an encouraging smile.

    Alex nods decisively and sets out.

    Diego watches her go. He did all he could for now. Nothing to do but wait. But it sure is another FUBAR family situation...


    Diego takes care of his breakfast and morning workout, then decides he needs to clear his head and unwind a bit. To that end, he takes full advantage of the improved weather and takes his motorcycle out. He spends the entire morning driving - nothing really aggressive, his is not that kind of machine anyway. Just a fairly leisurely ride around the many roads around Belo Horizonte.


    Close to noon, Diego finally guides the machine back home.

    And as he climbs the stairs to his flat, he sees there’s someone waiting for him.

    Alex (dressed in casual but nice - and pretty conservative - blouse, skirt, and ankle boots) is sitting with her back against his door, arms crossed on drawn up knees, face lowered and hidden within them. This doesn’t look too good...

    “ - Chica?”

    Alex rises her head. She isn’t crying now, but it’s easy to see she did not long ago. Definitely not good.

    - It didn’t go well?” - Diego inquires gently.

    “ - No.” - Alex shakes her head, sniffling a bit. “ - It did not go well at all.” - she looks away, staring into space. “ - Started promising. I certainly made an impression. Should have seen his face when I crashed into the office.” - a ghost of a smile flits over her face, dies instantly. She goes on in a dead voice: “ - He was too flabbergasted to resist, let me drag him to a cafe - would be nicer if it was home-made, but I’m not much for cooking breakfast food, and anyway, there wasn’t time to get home. But we sat. And I talked. Told him everything, like you said. And, well, maybe I got a little emotional. Maybe I even stood up, started shouting. And when I didn’t have words anymore… Then he started talking…

    - He told you some things too, I’m guessing.” - Diego nods sadly. “ - Maybe got a ‘little emotional’ also?”

    “ - Yeah… And, then, well… I thought, if telling him how I felt was not enough… Maybe I should show him instead?” - Alex absently rubs the knuckles of her right hand. They seem a little bruised…

    - You fed your old man a knuckle sandwich for breakfast?”

    “ - Yeah… Didn’t go down too well. And that was it for our little father-daughter talk. I run out. He’s back at the office by now. And I don’t think we’ll be talking again any time soon.” - she finishes, miserable.

    - I’m sorry, Alex.”

    “ - Not your fault, Coach. I thought it was the best idea I had to work with in a while…”

    “ - So. Gonna come in?”

    “ - If I may. Don’t really feel like being alone right now… Do you have anything strong on tap?” - Alex hauls herself to her feet, unblocking the door, and Diego lets them in.

    ” - You wanna try to drink the troubles away, chica?”

    “ - What else do I have to do?” - Alex shrugs despondently.


    They enter the kitchenette. Alex sits at the table, and Diego rummages for some glasses, playing for time a bit.

    - So, what are you going to do now?”

    - I’m out of ideas, Coach.” - Alex sighs, the thousand-yard stare back again. “ - Tapped out. And I don’t really got the strength anymore. Well, at least we both know exactly where we stand… And I don’t see how it could change. Maybe… Maybe if I went and disappeared… Maybe he’d feel something then…” - she mumbles darkly.

    “ - ‘Disappeared’, chica?” - answers Diego, uneasy, but speaking as calm as he’s able. “ - Doesn’t sound like the best idea. Maybe it’d work on him, maybe not. But it sure as Hell would affect others, and not in a good way.” - he shakes his head.

    - Others? Like who?”

    “ - The Angels, not to look far.”

    “ - Yeah, right. I’m so sure they’d really miss me. All good girls like that, I’m sure they’d be so sorry to see scum like me go…” - Alex sniffles miserably.

    - I’m sorry, ‘good girls’?” - Diego smirks at her. “ - Which ones, exactly?”

    - Er…” - Alex blinks at him, surprised straight out of her funk. “ - Octavia?” - she points out in a “duh” tone.

    - Yes, little, shy Octy. Who went behind her parent’s back to join, forged permit and all. Is still the most dangerous thing on the team. And is apparently fond of taking rides, burning road on the back of Fred’s motorcycle, all snuggled up. And who knows what they get up to afterwards.” - Diego waggles his eyebrows. He may be colorizing a bit, but honestly? He really doesn’t think so.

    - Um. Morgan?” - Alex is less sure now.

    - Mmm, yes, Morgan. The devout Christian. Sings in her church choir, and all. And offered to come help you, when you declared intention of going to hit Dimante until she stopped moving. ‘Thou shalt not kill’? Which commandment was it, again?”

    “ - Nyree?” - Alex tries weakly.

    “ - Seriously?” - Diego rises an amused eyebrow. “ - Do I even have to explain? Four words: sniper rifle, wet pants.”

    - Surely, Minuette…” - Alex quickly moves on, blushing a bit.

    - Sweet, huggable Minnie. No subtlety whatsoever. No shame either. Way she carries on with that giant of a boyfriend of hers? If she wanted to, I’m sure she could make her own porn vid to make your ears burst into flames, and have tons of fun doing it, too.”

    “ - Dominique?” - Alex seems morbidly curious now.

    - Innocent little gearhead, isn’t she? I’ve met some of her Atek friends. Neck-deep in shady business and black-market dealings. And she knows all about it, but is smart enough not to ask uncomfortable questions. Certainly doesn’t seem to disapprove any.”

    “ - Ah, well… Evangeline, then?” - Alex’s really grasping now.

    - Ah yes, let’s not forget Eva the Oh-So-Proper Princess. ‘My enemy is trying to blackmail me. Instead of going to the police, I’ll have my personal black-ops squad break into their house and destroy the evidence’.” - he chuckles. “ - What, not gonna ask about Patricia, the promising DJ with a sideline in cyber-crime?” - he teases after it’s clear Alex has nothing more to say. “ - So, chica, got any more unexamined preconceptions that need tearing down?”

    “ - ...Alright, you made your point, Coach.” - Alex shakes her head. “ - But still… What else is there to do?” - she asks with some desperation.

    - I’m sorry I can’t offer you a solution. I’d really like to. But going and... ‘Disappearing’... Really isn’t it, of that I’m sure.” - Diego states firmly. “ - Worst comes to worst? You’ll be eighteen soon. Then you can walk away and not look back. Live your life well - the best possible revenge.” - Diego shrugs. “ - You know, for now, instead of sitting holed up here with decrepit old me, wallowing in gloom, maybe you should try for some positive experience. Call up one of the girls, talk for a bit, get a different perspective?”

    “ - Yeah, well… I wouldn’t want to dump this pile of crap on one of them…” - Alex is obviously conflicted about the idea.

    “ - But it’s okay to dump it on me?” - Diego’s gentle, if crooked, smile makes it absolutely clear he means it as a joke. “ - Besides, I’m sure Minnie, for example, would give you a piece of her mind, if she found out you were in trouble and didn’t ask her for help.”

    “ - Well, miss ‘power of True Friendship’ isn’t exactly the one I’d like to talk to…” - Alex mumbles under her breath.

    It wasn’t meant for Diego, but he hears and answers anyway:

    “ - And why am I absolutely sure it’s Nyree instead?” - he gives Alex a knowing, slightly sad smile.

    - What?!... But… How?!... I… Umm…” - she sputters, lighting up with a furious blush.

    - Come now, chica. I’m neither blind, deaf, nor stupid. And I’m sure I’m not the only one, either. I won’t lie, it is a bit fucked up, yes, considering. But for better or worse, seems she is the one you’re trying to be best friends with. With some success even.”

    “ - Yeah, friends…” - Alex sighs, looking down embarrassedly.

    - Go on then. Give her a call. Sure, may turn out she doesn’t want to talk to you… But somehow, I doubt that.”

    “ - Right. Okay.” - Alex gathers her courage and has her comlog dial Nyree.


    Nyree Rikoriko, as always, answers the call promptly on the second signal, all composed and polite. It’s a good thing Alex and Diego did not start drinking anything after all, because Nyree is wearing her fiendishly eye-bending violet pattern shirt again. There’d be a serious chance of vomit induction…

    The Maori girl’s calm does slip a bit when she sees Alex.

    - H-hi, Nyree…” - Alex waves weakly.

    - Alex? What... Were you crying? What happened?” - Nyree looks concerned.

    - Yeah… Listen… There’s some stuff… Could we talk, maybe?” - Alex gulps, nervous.

    - Of course!” - Nyree nods, smiling encouragingly.



    Diego silently slips out of the kitchen.




    Which concludes entry #16.
     
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  19. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    TAG-Soft in the Sphere


    Currently, there are about a 100 TAG-Soft teams in the Human Sphere, split roughly half-and-half between professional and amateur.
    Most amateur outfits are youth teams maintained by institutes of learning, at highschool and university level.
    At least half of the professional teams are run directly by various military branches.

    Nomads - 12 teams total:
    • 2 amateur and 2 professional per Mothership.
    Ariadna - 4 teams total:
    • Matr: 1 professional;
    • USAriadna: 1 amateur, 1 professional;
    • Merovingia: 1 amateur;
    • Caledonia: don’t care about TAG-Soft, we have DogBowl!
    Haqqislam - 11 teams total:
    • 6 amateur, all on Bourak;
    • 5 professional, 4 on Bourak, 1 on Paradiso.
    PanOceania - 33 teams total:
    • 15 amateur,
    • 18 professional.
    Yu Jing - 35 teams total:
    • 19 amateur (most are heavily state-sponsored and -controlled),
    • 16 professional.
    O-12/Aleph - 2 teams total:
    • 1 amateur,
    • 1 professional;
    (Those are not part of the official leagues, but exhibition and promotion teams, with membership heavily populated with Post-Humans and even Aspects, and player and gear performance carefully curated to be top-tier, but not overmatch human opponents.)

    Independents - 5 teams total:
    • 2 amateur,
    • 3 professional.
    (The bulk of Earth-based TAG-Soft teams represent their component nations within PanO and YJ. But a few countries* not incorporated in the main Sphere powers run their own teams, though interest is rather low.)

    • GM Note: Initially, I wanted to provide a detailed list. However, I realised it’s not really terribly important (not like any of this is ;) ). More importantly, lacking detailed information on the status of most of Earth's nations, any list I would provide is in serious danger of being Jossed should such info larter appear. And I don’t feel like dealing with that if I don’t have to. ;) So, should it at some point become important for the story (and there are currently no plans for such) to specify one or more of those countries, that’s when I’ll do so, no sooner.
     
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  20. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

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    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #17

    “Parenting 101”


    Disclaimer: Be warned, this one contains quite a bit of profanity.


    Dramatis personae:

    Note #1 - Starting with entry #5, only the characters making an appearance (or, in some cases, referred to) in a given episode are listed. A complete list of all the characters appearing in the Avalon Chronicles is available under the link. Beware of spoilers, though, especially if you’re coming in late.
    Note #2 - Wherever a nationality / country of origin is mentioned, it describes dominant “cultural / ethnical background trace” rather than actual country / nation of origin (for example, Yuni was born and raised on Neo Terra, but her background trace is Malaysian).
    Note #3 - The “#x” notes the episode in which given character made their first appearance.
    Note #4 - We now have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s
    DeviantART Page.

    “Anjos de Rocha” (Angels of Stone), The Team:

    Alex Narahari - #1 (2. class, 17, Indian) “Bad apple”, school’s bully assigned to the team as a method of correcting her ways (which seems to be working, if slowly - Alex, as it turns out, has her own host of demons). Her father tends to solve any problems (including those caused by Alex) by throwing money at them. Alex is an aggressive, reckless player who shoots too much, and doesn’t think enough. Anaconda TAG.
    Dominique (‘Nique) Torres - #1 (1. class, 16, Argentine) Atek and waitress as “Silva’s”, former student of St. John’s High School (a Church-run school for the poor), transferred to the Academy on sports scholarship for the TAG-soft team in #6. A mechanical and electrical engineering prodigy, she is fascinated with TAGs and does “
    Gunpla” kits of them in her free time. Turned out into the same class as Eva. Initially Lizard TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Ree’s Anaconda.
    Evangeline (Eva) Neve - #1 (1. class, 16, Italian) “Princess”, the wealthiest kid in school. Craves for proper behaviour and organized affairs, though the rest of the team are working on her. Team’s captain. Iguana TAG.
    Minuette (Minnie) Diane Chryse - #1 (1. class, 16, Australian) Former cheerleader and team’s self-proclaimed “morale officer”. Cheerful and energetic, though sometimes not the quickest mind in the team, definitely (though she speaks a stunning array of languages, at least 5 fluent and several others with lesser proficiency). The only team member (before ‘Ree joined in) to have a sibling (two in fact, both sisters). Her parents own a chain of restaurants. Solid team player. Initially Lizard TAG, in #6 takes over Mako’s Gecko..
    Morgan Lai - #1 (2. class, 17, Polynesian) “Sleepy”. Chronically asleep, pathologically lazy and way laid back person. Still, a solid player, calm and precise. Seems to have taken it upon herself to help temper and restrain Alex’ baser impulses - physically if need be. Szalamandra TAG until #7, then swaps for Lizard (formerly Patty’s). Practising Christian, she sings in a church choir, too.
    Nyree (‘Ree) Rikoriko - #5 / #6 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance), (2nd class, 14 - she started school a year early, and then skipped a grade in junior high, Maori) Girl from Morgan’s class, apparently the school’s polymath genius and “mega-nerd” (in Morgan’s opinion). Excellent student but with a troubled past (she was bullied real bad - by Alex as it turned out...). Has two brothers. Joined the team in #7, initially on Anaconda TAG, but in #8 swaps it for ‘Nique’s Lizard.
    Octavia (Octy) Moina - #1 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Successful and gifted musician (cello), but shy and prone to panic when not currently playing. She’s also a very effective player, as long as nobody can see her face (in a TAG or under her paintball mask). Patricia’s best mate. Highest “kill”-count so far. Lizard TAG.
    Patricia (Patty) Summers - #1 (1. class, 16, North American) Gifted DJ and known hacker (of a school caliber, like upgrading her grades and the like). Octavia’s best mate. Almost never seen without headphones. Suffers from severe sedatephobia (fear of silence). Average player. Lizard TAG until #7, then swaps for Szalamandra (formerly Morgan’s).


    Other characters at Roberto Rocha Preparatory Academy:

    Staff:

    DeeDee “Ditzy” Alephsdottir - #9 (avatar looks ~20, Nordic) The Academy’s low-level ALEPH subpersona, her duties include filing, mail distribution, drone operations, and assisting Ken on monitoring. While methodical like a computer, she’s not too bright, and even outright scatterbrained at times (however, she was bright enough to note that Diego, as a Nomad, is likely to be at odds with Aleph as such, and therefore she made an effort not to interact with him… or even make him aware of her existence).
    Devil - #3 Diego’s “desktop animal” and AR digital pet (leftover from his CJC days), a cheerful animated devil with all the paraphernalia. Run by a simple pseudo-intelligence, it’s aware of, and can react to its surroundings - usually with comedic effects.
    Diego “Diablo” Ibarrez - #1 (~60y, looks ~40, Latinoamerican) The protagonist - TAG-Soft team coach, retired CJC TAG pilot, later TAG combat instructor. Died in the EI war and was granted a resurrection thanks to his minor war hero status.
    Yuni Iskandar - #1 (29, Malaysian) PE teacher and TAG Soft coach’s assistant. Very sporty and attractive, goes pretty well along with Diego since they met on day one. Well enough, actually, that their relation had (in entry #4) progressed to “friends with benefits”... Volunteered for the staff paintball team.


    Students:

    Bianca (Bia) Irene Chryse - #6 (1 class junior high, 13, Australian) Minnie’s younger sister. Fiery red hair, uncouth mouth and a talent for stepping on other people’s toes, which often gets her into trouble - as Diego said, “she’s as sweet as a candied chili pepper”. A total tomboy and skateboard riding thrill-junkie. Is fascinated with TAGs now, but has to wait till she gets to senior high before she can apply for the team.
    Frederic “Fred” Ulani - #5 / #7 (as Peanut Gallery / full appearance) (1. class, 16, Polynesian [genetically, Caucasian-Polynesian]). Hardly anybody uses his name in full form - even on most school papers he’s listed as “Fred Ulani”. Another cello player in the school’s orchestra with Octavia. He’s on excellent terms with her, and in Diego’s private opinion, a likely boyfriend candidate - and his prediction comes true, likely somewhen around #9.
    Koi Rikoriko - #7 (5th class elementary school, 11, Maori) Nyree’s younger brother, with some serious attitude. Despite being a kiddo, he’s very protective of his sister. Also, his first encounter with Eva seems to have resulted in a case of puppy love on his part…
    Samantha Silva - #10 (1. class, 16, Brazilian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Dimante’s cronie, meaning whatever applies to Dimante, applies to her as well. Wears (purely decorative) glasses.
    Tiana Dimante - #10 (1. class, 16, Latvian) Same class as Evangeline and Dominique. Rich upper class spoiled brat, and a bully who likes showing her “lessers” their place in the school’s social ladder. Eva apparently doesn’t think too highly of her. Diego caught her abusing Nyree, in time to stop it - with some help from Alex - before Rikoriko striked back. As a result, she seems to carry a grudge against the Angels of Stone as a whole, and now engages in bullying by proxy against them.


    Team Members’ Parents:

    cpt. Reweti Rikoriko - #7 (middle 40s, Maori) Nyree and Koi’s mother. Active officer in the PanO military (Crocman Regiment), a very strict, hard, and to-the-point person (which probably does make her a pretty strict and demanding mother). The family has long-standing martial tradition - Nyree’s grandfather was a highly decorated soldier on Paradiso during the EI Conflict, though Diego has never seen the man there (again, gramps was a Crocman too, which may explain this a bit ;)).
    Ganesh Narahari - #17 (43, Indian) Alex’s father. Senior partner in the Martinez-Narahari-Menzel law firm, and one of the most expensive - and effective - criminal lawyers on the planet. Uses work as an escape after his wife’s and son’s death, neglecting Alex in the process. Solves outside-work problems by throwing money at them and treats his daughter mainly as a problem to solve.


    “Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders”:

    One of the local paintball teams. The “Spiders” are experienced, but not a top-tier team in Belo Horizonte - they play for fun, and are not seriously competitive. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk.
    Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate.

    “Heart Piercers”:

    One of the local paintball teams. More competitive inclinations and higher in the league table than the “Spiders”.
    Needle” - #14 (mid-late 20s). Team captain and sniper. Scythe’s older sister. Turned up for a guest performance with her sister’s outfit, to judge the Angels firsthand as potential opponents.


    Neve family security detail:

    Dorothy Smith - #9 (likely late 30s, might be Western European) Head maid of Neve House, and second-in-command to Roger in Evangeline's security detail. Peculiarly pale and deadpan. Quite motherly towards Evangeline. Roger's wife.
    Roger Smith - #2 (early 40s, North American) Evangeline’s chauffeur… Officially. In reality, he’s a high-end bodyguard, and commander of Evangeline’s section of the detail. Very devoted to his charge. Dorothy's husband.
    Nemo - #9 / #12 (as unnamed bodyguard / full appearance) (early 40s, Italian) Shortish, stocky, and bald. Definitely not
    a clownfish, nor an Indian prince. Neve security’s cyber-warfare specialist.

    Other characters in Belo Horizonte:

    Esteban Silva - #1 (~80, Brazilian) Owner, cook and host at “Silva’s”, an old-fashioned eatery with a human touch and spicy South American cuisine. A widower, and lost both his children with their families during the war. Dominique’s "grandpa Esteban", and very fond of the girl.
    Rita Wanagi - #17 (37, Japanese-Indonesian) Ganesh Narahari’s senior assistant. Bleached-blonde ice-queen. Very devoted to her boss - in a very inappropriate way, according to Alex...
    Wakaru Rikoriko - #11 (mentioned only so far) (21, Maori) Nyree’s and Koi’s older brother. Very close with and doting on his siblings. Currently attending the police academy.


    Elsewhere in the Human Sphere:

    Lt. Loyian N’dele - #3 (29, Maasai) Once Diego’s favourite student (and attempted romantic interest, but she turned him down. Very gracefully in fact: they still are friends) in one of his last TAG classes. She was re-trained for remote TAGs, and remains in active service (CJC).
    “Frankie” Chryse - #6 (mentioned only so far) (20, Australian) Minnie’s and Bia’s older sister. Graduated the Academy and went on to study environmental engineering and geology at the Bourak Institute of Planetology. Reputedly possessed of a stoic temperament similar to Morgan. “Frankie” is no doubt a diminutive nickname in the same style as her sisters’ and mother’s.

    “Human Revolution”:

    Bakunin-based high-school TAG-Soft team.
    Victor “Cinderblock” Stone - #4 (mid 50s, USA) Coach and combat controller of the “Human Revolution” TAG-soft team, retired Bakunin Jurisdictional Command TAG pilot and former Morlock. Exotic mod: charcoal, stone-like skin, silver wire-like hair, and burning orange eyes. A self-assured, cocky, but quite friendly fellow.


    Knights of the Round Table:

    Avalon-based professional TAG-Soft team.
    The team uses heavily modified, late-series Ramhorn TAGs, stylized to look like mecha versions of medieval-fantasy knights, swords and shields included.
    Ernest Mendoza - “Merlin” - #8 / #13 (mentioned / full appearance) (early 60s, Brazilian) Knights’ coach and combat controller. He came to TAG-soft after a career in a mercenary TAG squadron on the corporate contract market.



    Wednesday, December 25th

    Diego silently slips out of the kitchen, leaving Alex to her comlog conversation with Nyree. That there’s a very unexpected, and frankly somewhat fucked-up, friendship. But hey, if it’s stupid, but it works…

    In the meantime, Diego sits down to deal with his Christmas correspondence. And there’s more of it this year than ever before, looks like.

    There’s a message from Yuni on Neoterra. She got home alright and managed to beat the wormhole-lag. So now she can look forward to a wonderful week with her family… Yeah, right. This year they’re having a family skiing trip. And on the one hand, Yuni likes skiing, and she doesn’t have all that many opportunities for it on Avalon - no mountains worthy of the name anywhere near Belo Horizonte. But on the other, she can already feel the strain - her mom is in one of her moods again, nagging the kids about maybe finally getting her some grandchildren… And Yuni’s younger brother brought home a girlfriend (traitor!). This’ll get him his share of parental attention, of course, but it also means the pressure is seriously up on Yuni, 29 and still single (as far as they’re aware)… It also doesn’t help that Yuni is quickly finding she doesn’t much care for her prospective sister-in-law, a rather shallow and vapid individual. Anyway, she’ll be back on Avalon late evening on Monday - unless stuff blows up and she has to escape earlier...

    All of the Angels have sent in their Christmas greetings. Well, all except Alex, seeing as Diego had the pleasure of her company most of this time anyway.

    Evangeline, as announced earlier, sends hers in from Acontecimento.

    Of the others, the stand-out is Minuette, who’s E-card comes from Bourak! Seems this year the family elected to go visit the eldest daughter at her current place of residence, instead of her coming home for Christmas. In the attached pict - the three Chryse sisters posing with the Dar el Funduq space elevator in the far background, Minnie beaming, squeezing one sister under each arm, cheeks all smooshed together in the middle - Diego has the first opportunity to behold Minnie’s older sister, the famed Frankie Chryse. She’s predictably dark-skinned - pretty much a must for any resident of Bourak* - and, unlike her siblings, dark-haired; taller than Minnie and quite solidly built. And yeah, Diego can definitely see the resemblance in attitude to Morgan. Frankie has the same calm, disinterested, almost blank look going. Yet, probably thanks to his experience reading Morgan, Diego can spot the tiny shadow of a smile tugging at the corners of Frankie’s lips, directed at her sisters - one of mild annoyance but great fondness.

    • Chemically-induced melanin boost if you’re just transient, or (reversible) gene therapy recommended if you want to stay there for any significant period of time. Haqqis had way too many problems with sunburns to not address this issue.
    Eric sends his regards from Varuna, where his closest family resides.

    Some of the other Academy staff - mostly the prospective members of the paintball team - also chime in with their Christmas greetings.

    Cinderblock relays all his team’s best wishes, from Bakunin-over-Fenghuang - looks like the mothership finally moved on from Human Edge. He also sends Diego a reminder (not that it’s really needed, Diego isn’t that long out of the Motherships yet) that the next Krug falls this coming year, and is planned to take place in the Paradiso system in April. So it’s pretty near, both in time and space. And it could be a great opportunity for the Angels of Stone to have their rematch against the Human Revolution, and maybe catch a few more games with some other Nomad teams. Diego will definitely have to look into getting his team there.

    The Knights of the Round Table likewise send the Angels a friendly Christmas E-card. Aside, Merlin let’s Diablo know he’s looking into some options for acquiring the recon remotes Diablo asked about, and he should be able to help. That’s good news.

    There’s one from Loyian too. It’s a pict of an artistic rendition of the entirety of the Human Sphere, showing a map of the relative positions of all the systems and the web of wormhole connections between them, accompanied by a teasing “Wish you were here!” and grinning smiley face. It’s an old military joke, signifying the person sending the message is on active deployment, the location of which is classified down to the planet. Loyian’s last communique was at least a little less vague, as she sent her greetings from “sunny Svaralheima”... Hopefully she’ll be okay.

    Then there are a few more Christmas wishes from some assorted acquaintances, mostly from Diego’s time in the CJC.

    Just as Diego is finishing with the messages, having sent replies as necessary, Alex comes out of the kitchen. That was a short talk… Alex is wearing a peculiar look, seemingly at once apprehensive and excited.

    “ - Finished already, chica?”

    - Yeah… We talked a bit, but Nyree thinks this isn’t really a topic for a comlog call. She proposed we meet up and talk about it in person. And then her mom came in, asking what she was up to. So Nyree told her we were planning to meet... And her mom invited me over for Christmas dinner!” - Alex exclaims, in a bit of a panic.

    - Ah, good. When we last talked, I suggested she might want to do that sometime. You didn’t turn her down, did you?”

    “ - You did?! And no, I didn’t turn her down - I was too scared to!”

    “ - Great. And yeah, I did - I thought it might do some good, for you and her both.”

    - Wonderful, Coach.” - Alex sigs. “ - You know they’ll all be there, right? Nyree’s mom, her dad, and her older brother.”

    “ - Don’t forget, her grandfather may have dropped by for Christmas...” - Diego smirks.

    - The one who taught Nyree how to use a bayonet? Great. Just great. They’ll kill me and hide the body!” - despairs Alex, not entirely serious.

    - At least little Koi won’t help them, I don’t think.”

    “ - Yeah, sure. He’s far less hostile nowadays. But I don’t imagine he’ll complain all that much if they decide to get rid of me…” - Alex shakes her head. “ - Well, I better get going. Wouldn’t want to be late. They might take offense, and instead of dinner guest I’ll end up as the main course...”

    “ - Yup. Need a ride, chica? Air out your head a bit in my sidecar?”

    “ - No, thanks, Coach. I’ll just take the bus. Will give me a bit more time to get mentally ready for this. Gonna be an adventure… At least you know where I’m going, so if I disappear you’ll know where to look.” - she smirks.

    “ - Good luck, chica.”

    - Thanks, Coach. And, you know… For everything.”

    “ - Don’t mention it.


    After Alex sets out for her dinner date with destiny, Diego spends most of the day tinkering with the game/simulation software they use for training, designing some new scenarios for the Angels, including simulated opposition based on the Rahat al-Hulqum team.


    Thursday, December 26th

    After dealing with his morning routine, Diego takes a ride to his and Yuni’s usual spot out of town. This time though, what’s on the agenda is not athletic pursuits, but rather a much more leisurely and relaxed stroll through the woods. There are still paths and places to discover here - a marked change from Corregidor, where Diego lived for so long, he pretty much knows every nook and cranny (that are accessible to someone with his security clearance, anyway - and a few that aren’t...). Despite the colossal size of the Motherships, after fifty-odd years one can pretty much say one had seen all there is to see.


    As he’s taking in the sights, Diego receives a short call.

    Despite the holidays, some people are still working. In this case, it’s the inspector in charge of the Chryse investigation. He’d like to have a preliminary witness hearing with Coach Ibarrez, tomorrow if possible? Would be done over Maya of course.

    Sure, Diego has no proble