Avalon Chronicles entry #18 “Change of Year, Change of Heart” 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: 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). 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. Despite the pompous nicknames, they’re all laid back, friendly folk. “Bolo” - #2 (mid 20s). Team captain, Academy’s graduate. “Scythe” - #2 (mid 20s). Field commander. “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. “Horizon Watch”: One of the local paintball teams. Located somewhere in the middle of the local league table. Initially dubious of the Angels worth as an opponent, but convinced to give them a chance by the Spiders and Heart Piercers. “Whistler” - #18 (mid 20s). Team captain. Neve family security detail: 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. Belladonna (Bell) Shelke - #12 (looks to be in her mid 30s, Eastern European) Tall, with a body like a gymnast, and a smile like a knife. There’s something uncanny and unsettling about her. Seems she fought in the EI War - the question being, on which side?... Monday, December 30th “ - What’s going on, chicas?” “ - Oh, hey, Coach. Look what we caught!” - declares Alex with a nasty grin, looking at him over her shoulder. “ - A dirty, four-eyed rat!” With that, she turns fully around, dragging the person she’s holding onto - by the back of their underwear, stretched up almost to the back of their neck in a vicious wedgie - into view. Alex’s victim - another girl - is definitely not enjoying their experience. She’s stretched up onto her tiptoes, hands showed between her thighs, all in a desperate attempt to relieve the discomfort. Her face is screwed up, tears of pain and humiliation in the eyes behind her stylish spectacles. Despite that, Diego can still easily recognize her, even without the AR student name tag which helpfully pops up. It’s Samantha Silva. Oh, bother. So much for a trouble-free Monday, it seems. “ - Alex, don’t kick the lady, you’ll get tired.” “ - Aww, Coach, five more minutes? You know I don’t tire easily...” - she grins ingratiatingly. Unlike Samantha, Alex is obviously highly enjoying every second. The other girls look on with mixed expressions, but none of them seem to have all that much sympathy for Silva’s predicament. Morgan, who in the past was usually the first to try curb Alex’s meaner side, often physically, makes no such move this time, face rather deliberately set in her usual blank, slightly sleepy expression. Dominique and Nyree are mostly anxious for what Silva’s presence might mean for Eva. Their expressions make it clear though, that they consider Samantha to be getting her just desserts. Minuette keeps back behind the others. She seems the least hostile of the bunch, but looks to be mostly sad instead, regarding Samantha with some genuine hurt. Patricia is openly hostile and rather gleeful at Silva’s suffering. If Alex hadn’t gotten to Samantha first, it would quite probably be Patty administering the wedgie right now. Octavia, as one would typically expect when meeting someone she’s not very familiar with - not to mention not very fond of - is kinda hiding behind Patty’s back. Her expression is not typical, however. It’s restrained and mostly masked by anxiety, but Octy’s eyes hold a surprising amount of hard, cold resentment... Evangeline looks to be dreading the repercussions from Samantha catching her here. She’s also obviously still uncomfortable with the treatment her former friend is receiving, but makes no move to stop it either. “ - Alex…” - Diego frowns warningly. Not that he really cares about Silva’s discomfort. Avoiding getting Alex in trouble is a better use of his time. “ - Oh, all right!” - Alex mock-pouts. She releases Silva, though she can’t resist one last tiny bit of abuse. Instead of setting Samantha down gently, Alex suddenly lets go, making Silva’s underwear elastic waistband snap against her backside, eliciting a startled, pained squeak. Silva manages to keep standing, barely, knock-kneed and pigeon-toed, gasping in relief. “ - So, now that that’s out of the way… Would Miss Silva be so kind as to explain her business at our extra-curricular gathering?” - Diego rises a challenging eyebrow. It may be petty, or even wrong of him, as a teacher, but he has no intention of coddling the stuck-up brat in the least. There is a flash of outrage under Silva’s pained, uncomfortable expression, as she realises that Diego doesn’t seem to intend to exact any discipline on Alex, or at least let Silva herself recover from the forced wardrobe malfunction before apparently grilling her over, like it was her in the wrong here… Well, tough. Samantha herself seems to be well aware she can’t expect any sympathy here. That, plus she seems to find Diego quite intimidating. Either way, her brief flash of temper turns into another pained wince. “ - I… Just wanted to talk with Evangeline.” - Silva declares shakily. “ - Of course. That’s why, in the age of the comlog, you had to stalk her, skulking in the proverbial bushes.” - Diego lifts a mocking eyebrow, making no effort to hide his extreme scepticism. “ - I was not skulking!” - Silva scowls. “ - I was… Waiting for the right moment to step forward! But then Narahari noticed and jumped me before I could do anything...” “ - Yeah, ‘cause I noticed you skulking, four-eyes!” - Alex grins nastily. “ - Whatever…” - Silva grumbles. She turns to Eva. “ - I thought it would be better to talk in person, instead of calling… Because I wanted to talk about the…” - she hesitates, obviously fumbling for a less ugly word, then gives up with a sigh, “ - ...Blackmail.” - she finishes, looking away uncomfortably. “ - Right, so you could give her more demands from your bitch-queen? Get lost!” - Patty scowls fiercely, taking a threatening step towards Samantha, fists clenching. “ - That’s not it!” - Silva insists, somewhat despairingly. “ - Tiana has no idea I’m here! And I’m not going to tell her, about Evangeline meeting you all, nothing! But I must speak to Evangeline.” The girls share a round of surprised, suspicious looks. “ - Well, Eva? It’s your call. Will you talk to her?” - inquires Diego. Evangeline wavers, uncertain, giving Samantha a long, searching look. Silva shifts uncomfortably. “ - ...Alright.” - Eva declares finally. “ - I’ll hear you out. But let’s move somewhere more private.” The others scowl or shake their heads, obviously not liking the idea. “ - I’d suggest including senhor Smith in that talk.” - advises Diego. “ - He’s already on his way.” - nods Eva. Indeed, Roger is approaching the hangar at a brisk walk. “ - And, actually… Could I ask you to come as well, Coach?...” “ - Me?” “ - As completely off the record as this talk is going to be, I’d still like to have an Academy staff representative along, just in case. Also, you were involved in the matter pretty much from the start, and, well… I’d just like to still have your support. Please?” “ - Ah. Alright, then, chica. You can count on me.” Eva gives Diego a grateful smile. “ - Coach Ibarrez. Ladies.” - Roger Smith nods in greeting as he arrives. “ - Right. I already took the liberty of having Nemo make us ‘dark’. Miss Alephsdottir definitely doesn’t need to know about all this.” “ - She wouldn’t be too happy, hearing you say that.” - smirks Diego. Harmless as DeeDee seems, there’s no forgetting she’s an extension of ALEPH, and he definitely doesn’t mind tweaking it’s nose a bit. “ - Undoubtedly. Luckily, however, right now she’s very busy, frantically trying to remember what it was she was doing a few minutes ago.” - Roger gives a thin smile. “ - Now then, we should move somewhere less public. Could we use your office, Coach Ibarrez?” “ - Let’s go, then. Wait here chicas. We’ll try not to take too long.” With that, Diego, Eva, Samantha, and Roger move to Diego’s office in the hangar. As they enter Diego’s office, Roger does a deliberate show of walking around the room and very thoroughly checking it over for any possible taps or other security risks. He finishes by opening the window and leaning out to carefully check outside. Diego half-expects Roger to reach down beneath the sill, and pull up one of the Angels, attempting to listen in, by their ear. But it looks like none of the girls decided to try. Roger finishes his sweep by taking position where he can easily keep the entire room, everyone in it, and all the entryways, in sight. Curiously, he left the window open… With that little ritual done, Samantha Silva finds herself once more the focus of everyone’s attention. Standing in the center of the room, she throws a slightly unnerved glance over her shoulder, at Roger, looming behind her like a silent sentinel. “ - Well, then, Samantha?” - Eva, face carefully neutral, brings Silva’s focus back to herself. “ - What is it that you wanted to say?” Diego himself is content to sit behind his desk and watch for now. The Devil, on the other hand, gleefully stokes the fire beneath his bubbling cauldron of tar, throwing anticipatory glances at Silva. “ - Right.” - Samantha sighs, seeming to brace herself. “ - See, I am not as dumb, nor as passive and slavishly devoted as everyone thinks.” - she declares resolutely. “ - I can see when antagonizing someone is a bad idea.” - she turns to look at Diego. “ - I know what happened to Larasati and her gang, both officially… And not.” - it’s quite clear what she’s implying here. Diego maintains a neutral expression, not confirming - but also not denying! - anything. “ - I can add two and two together to realize for myself which way the wind is blowing. And, following that… I can see when maintaining old loyalties might not be the best idea.” - Samantha shifts uncomfortably. “ - So wait. Are you saying?...” - Eva’s eyes go wide in surprise. “ - Yes. I… I want to change sides, so to speak.” - confirms Samantha. “ - I know your security detachment must be planning some move against Tiana,” - she turns to Eva again, “ - To try seize and neutralize that recording. And I believe I can help. You undoubtedly have your own ways of obtaining info on the security at Dimante House. But every little bit helps, and I was much closer to Tiana than you, for a long time now. I was a guest there quite often. And, inexperienced as I undoubtedly am at intelligence gathering, I do have an eye for detail. There must be things I can tell your people that they don’t know yet. If nothing else, even if you could eventually get this info through your own means, receiving it now could speed up the operation, and the sooner the blackmail threat is neutralized, the better, right?” - she shrugs. “ - The obvious question now, of course, is: what is it that you want in return, miss Silva?” - asks Diego. Eva is still staring in astonishment. “ - Right. It would be useless to try to tell you that I don’t want anything, that it’s because I had some big change of heart, and realized how wrong what we were doing was… Nobody would believe that anyway, seeing what reputation we made for ourselves…” - Samantha sighs again, somewhat glumly. “ - Especially since I very much do want something in return. See, destroying Tiana’s recording is entirely in my interest as well… Because I know for a fact that she also has one of me, from the same incident.” “ - She- She does?!” - Eva is obviously scandalized. “ - Yes. She doesn’t know that I know, but I was able to check. Couldn’t delete it myself, not without her knowing… I only saw one copy, anyway.” “ - But why? She hates me now, but you have always been her most loyal friend. Why would she do that to you?” “ - I was always her friend, yes. Just like you.” - Samantha points out, shrugging. “ - I doubt she expects to ever have to use it… But she’s keeping it just in case. Just like she did with you. And now it looks like she will have a use for it after all, once she finds out I took your side. And I have no doubt she’d do it… So I’d rather not give her the chance. That’s the main thing I want in return. Plus, well, protection. Once she finds out I betrayed her, I’m going to have a target painted on my back, just like you and your team. But I know you all take care of your own, protecting them... Or avenging, if that doesn’t work.” - she gives Diego another pointed glance, obviously not for a moment believing his saintly expression. “ - If nothing else, there’s strength in numbers. I will need someone to watch my back.” “ - Well, if nothing else, you should be congratulated on your sober evaluation of your situation, senhorita Silva.” - Diego gives a thin but honestly appreciative smile. “ - The question remains, of course, can we trust you?” - ponders Roger, looking Samantha up and down with hard, judging eyes. “ - That is a good question.” - admits Samantha, fidgeting uncomfortably under his gaze. “ - One that I don’t have a good answer to, I’m afraid. It certainly doesn’t look good, considering what I’m doing here…” “ - Well, espionage and counterespionage loyalty games are obviously not my area of expertise…” - puts in Diego. “ - Right, Coach, your expertise lies in much less subtle games, of the ‘shoot them in the face’ variety.” - Eva can’t resist a little smirk. “ - Quite.” - Diego returns the smile. “ - Still, I bumped elbows with enough clandestine types over the years to pick up a thing or two. So, taking this logically? Seems to me that, trust her or no, she’s a source. A potentially valuable one, that we can’t afford to simply dismiss because of trust issues. Let’s see what she can give us, and then come back to the question of trust based on verifying that.” “ - Agreed, Coach Ibarrez.” - Roger nods at Diablo. “ - I’ll have miss Silva debriefed in full. Then we’ll see how well what she tells us aligns with information we already obtained through our own channels, and what she can add to it.” “ - That’s fine by me. Not that I really have a choice, do I?” - Silva shrugs. “ - One thing I can tell you on the quick that may be most useful… I’m sure you considered moving this week, to take advantage of the lessened security at Dimante House, while the whole family is away? It may be a good idea. Because I can tell you that the only copies of the blackmail vid are stored on site. Tiana does not carry a copy with her, on comlog or otherwise. She was advised,” - Samantha fixes her glasses meaningly, “ - Not to take it along. There are malicious hackers out there, there are accidents, and unforeseen circumstances... If, for whatever reason, it came out that she was in possession of this vid…” “ - It would create a lot of inconvenient questions for her.” - nods Diego. “ - Exactly. So she left it all behind, to keep herself clean, just in case.” “ - That would indeed simplify matters for us.” - muses Roger. “ - Plus, there’s the fact that Tiana… Does not exactly enjoy the same level of personal familiarity and devotion from her own security detachment as Evangeline does from hers.” - Silva goes on. “ - They obviously know about Tiana’s grudge, and that she’s somehow leaning on Evangeline. But if they knew exactly what she had and was doing, they’d go straight to her parents, and things would get messy. So she went to some lengths to conceal the exact nature of our conflict and the vid. As far as her people are concerned, it’s just some straightforward schoolyard tiff… “ - Which means they are not guarding the objective with the vigilance due it’s true nature. I see. Highly fortuitous.” - Roger frowns down at Samantha. “ - One thing to consider, however, miss Silva. What are the chances that miss Dimante could be expecting the loss of your loyalty, and having prepared accordingly, setting some kind of trap for you, and us?” “ - As low as to be insignificant.” - Samantha declares with supreme assurance. “ - Tiana is not stupid, of course… But she does have her blind spots. Ones which I happen to know quite well. Especially one, the most glaring of them all. Which I know very intimately, because I have spent the last several years carefully cultivating it ...” - her glasses glint dramatically as she fixes them with a confident gesture. “ - And that is myself.” “ - ...Touché.” - murmurs Diego, somewhat impressed despite himself. “ - Though, this is definitely not the kind of situation I was ever thinking about when building Tiana’s trust in me…” - Samantha, confidence fleeing, shifts uneasily. “ - I may be quite high in the local social hierarchy… Certainly higher than all of Evangeline’s teammates… But I’m definitely not in the same league as Evangeline herself, or Tiana. And, well, for someone of my social position, it’s quite advantageous - advisable, even - to be able to… Attach and work oneself into the graces of a higher-placed companion.” “ - Chica does have a point.” - Diego admits. “ - And it’s certainly not a new idea.” “ - But lately it’s been becoming more and more clear, that I chose the wrong person to attach to…” - Samantha looks away, troubled. “ - So now you’d like to ‘attach’ to me instead?” - Evangeline finally speaks up again, face unreadable. “ - I’m afraid there’s no prettier way to put it, really...” - Samantha fidgets anxiously. “ - Alright. We’ll see about getting you protection from Tiana. But beyond that?” - Evangeline captures Samantha’s eyes with her own, “ - The kind of relation you had with Tiana does not interest me. I don’t need, nor do I want, no nice way to say it, a crony. But… I might want a friend. Do you remember, Sam?” - Eva smiles nostalgically. “ - The ‘ancient times’, back in elementary school, when we first met? We were friends then, real ones, I think. But we lost it, somewhere along the way. But we could maybe… Try again? If you want to?...” - she gives Samantha a hesitant, hopeful smile. “ - I…” - Samantha wavers, obviously honestly astonished and touched. “ - But what about your other friends on the team? I don’t expect them to welcome me with open arms…” “ - They are less than fond of you, true, and we can’t expect that to change anytime soon… But I don’t expect them to be your friends too, and I know they won’t turn on me for being friends with you. We’ll make it work, somehow. But I’d like to try.” - Eva sighs sadly. “ - In truth, I’d like it to be all three of us again… But I don’t think that’s in any way possible now. Nyree could reach out to Alex, even after all the ugly things that happened between them. One day, I hope I could be as noble a person as her, and reach out to Tiana… But that won’t be anyway soon.” - she finishes glumly. “ - Not that Tiana herself would accept it if you did, now...” “ - I figure. But we could try?” - Eva renews the smile. “ - I… I think I’d like that, yes…” - Samantha finally smiles back, shy and a bit shaky, but genuine. It looks like the girls might have a real moment here… But it’s quickly ruined. “ - Awww! That’s sooo sweet!” - a new voice declares with amusement, startling the girls. “ - So touching! Don’t you think, Diablo?” “ - Bell, don’t sit there in the draft, you’ll catch a cold.” - Diego grins. Belladonna Shelke hops down from her perch on the windowsill where she has just materialized out of thin air, grinning back. Evangeline manages to mostly keep her composure, with only a mild jump. She seems to have quickly adjusted to the idea of her guards possibly appearing out of nowhere any second. For Samantha, however, this seems to be a first, judging by her distressed little shriek and the way she spins towards the new voice violently enough to be left flailing to regain balance... “ - Hi-iii!” - Shelke chirps, waving a greeting. She then turns to Samantha, grin stretching too wide and too toothy. “ - And hello there, little missy. We didn’t have occasion to truly meet yet, but I had ample opportunity to observe and form an opinion on you…” - Shelke declares, voice amused, but with a clear note of menace. Pinned by Shelke’s unblinking gaze, Samantha slowly turns white as a sheet, her only answer a squeaky stammer. “ - So, Boss, a full debriefing, eh?” “ - Yes. Let’s pick miss Silva’s brain in detail, and see how she can help us.“ - Roger confirms. “ - Ah, brain-picking. Such fun! At least when you’re not the one on the receiving end…” - Shelke waggles her eyebrows. “ - Care if we borrow your office for a little longer, Diablo?” “ - Knock yourself out. Just don’t make a mess, please.” - replies Diego, amused. “ - Pshah! A mess? Of course not! Just tell me where you’re keeping the garbage bags…” - it shouldn’t be possible, but Bell’s grin seems to be getting wider and wider. “ - Just there, in the supply closet. But I’ve only got 40-liter ones, my trashcan is on the small side.” “ - We’ll make do, don’t you worry.” “ - Help yourself, then.” - Diego really shouldn’t be so amused by the whole conversation, and the terrifying effect it’s having on Silva, but he just can’t help himself. It’s obvious Shelke has not made a positive impression on the girl. But then, that’s not what she’s getting paid for, is it? And she certainly made an impression. One that should assure Samantha’s full, honest, unquestioning cooperation… “ - Um, Shelke?” - Eva decides to voice a bit of concern. “ - All joking aside, I still would like to be able to talk to Sam again, and try rebuild our friendship. I really mean that…” “ - Oh, Little Miss, no worries! I’m sure everything will be just fine. Once we’re done here, we’re all going to be the best of friends!” - Shelke assures pleasantly, throwing an arm around Samantha’s trembling shoulders. “ - Of course, I’m sure I don’t have to explain this by now,” - she looks down at Samantha again, voice lowering into a warm purr, “ - That, in the - highly unlikely and totally unbelievable - event of all this being some kind of elaborate setup or scheme, to try to get my Little Miss Eva into more trouble? We definitely won’t be friends then. I will, however, introduce you to some of my other friends. Like this one.” - Shelke grins her most toothy grin, indicating the combat knife holster, affixed, commando style, at her left collarbone. “ - My trusty, long-time companion, mr. mono-knife...” “ - Lucifer’s Beard, Shelke…” - Diego’s grimace mixes equal measures of amusement and despair, “ - You promised, no mess. Don’t tell me you don’t know what happens in a room when somebody uses a mono-blade…” “ - Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it! I do know, very well indeed. Kinda miss it, actually… If you do it right, you can imbue the scene with a certain artistry…” - Shelke sighs with a nostalgic, dreamy little grin. Rather disturbing… “ - Hm. Hexahedron?” - Diego, eyebrow cocked, takes a stab at Shelke’s possible past. “ - Oh, those guys are pretty good, too.” - she grins back, declining to reveal much of anything. “ - I think we should all get to work.” - puts in Roger seriously. “ - You two are getting sidetracked again…” “ - Yeah, any more of this, we’ll end up on culinary topics again.” - smirks Diego. “ - Well, I could go for a bite right about now…” - Shelke amuses herself by suggestively running her tongue over the tip of a-bit-too-pointy incisor and observing Samantha’s unnerved reaction. “ - Sorry, no snacks in the office. There’s tea, though. Help yourself.” - Diego indicates his kettle. “ - Don’t mind if we do.” “ - And all that talk of food, one of those days, I’m gonna have to invite you to dinner.” - declares Diego, smirking wider. “ - That a threat, or a promise?” - Shelke smirks back. “ - And I thought you were pretty serious with a girl already? Not that I mind! I’m open to all propositions - and geometric figures...” - she waggles her eyebrows at Diego. “ - Alright.” - Roger firmly puts his foot down. “ - Please stop trying to scandalize the young ladies. And trying to scare miss Silva, else you’ll end up having to clean up anyway, and it won’t be gore you’ll be mopping up…” Diego glances at Evangeline. She doesn’t seem all that scandalized. Maybe a little shocked, yes. But mostly, Diego thinks she’s trying not to giggle at their antics. That would surely constitute a serious breach of decorum for a young lady of her position. Samantha, on the other hand, does really look perilously close to losing control of her bowels at one more sufficiently scary look from Shelke... “ - Maybe we really should get going, Coach.” - Eva speaks up. “ - We don’t want to be late.” “ - Guess you’re right, chica.” “ - Have fun, Young Miss. Don’t worry about miss Silva. And we’re still keeping you covered, of course. Nemo remains on watch. Coach Ibarrez, thank you again for the use of your place.” - Roger nods. “ - My pleasure, senhor Smith. Though, Bell, I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t tell you to feel right at home.” - Diego gives Shelke one last grin. “ - It’ll be alright, Sam.” - Eva assures Samantha. “ - I’ll see you later. When we’re all done, let’s get together and talk?” “ - Alright…” - Samantha doesn’t look quite convinced she’ll survive her present company to hang out with Eva later, but tries on a hopeful smile. She does seem genuinely grateful for Evangeline giving her a chance. Their goodbyes made, Diego and Eva move out to rejoin the team. “ - Well! I can honestly say, I didn’t expect that.” - muses Eva. “ - Hoped, maybe, but not with much faith…” “ - I was pretty sure this was what was going on, the moment I saw Silva.” - admits Diego. “ - Really?” “ - Just a feeling I had.” “ - Huh. Well, expected or no, I really hope we can make it work. I do like my new friends, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to get one of the old ones back…” “ - Those kind of predictions are rather outside my ability, chica. But I wish you all the best with it.” When Diego and Evangeline return, alone, the rest of the girls of course beset them with questions. Eva gives them a quick overview of the new situation. “ - So Dimante’s slimy little crony grew a conscience?” - Patty scoffs. “ - I’d say more like she finally heard the voice of common sense.” - opines Diego. “ - And you want us to leave her alone now?” - Alex frowns. “ - Please do. I don’t expect you all to instantly be her best friends now,-” (“ - Good.” - Octavia mutters under her breath.) “ - -But please, at least don’t attack her. She is helping me, and she’s going to be as much a target for Tiana now as any one of us. And I’d really like to try being friends with her again…” - Eva implores. “ - ...Okay.” - Minnie puts a hand on Eva’s shoulder. “ - If that’s what you wish for, as our friend, then that’s what we’ll do.” - she gives the others a determined look. They all nod in agreement, though some are obviously more unhappy about it than others. “ - And I for one am happy for you, for getting her back.” - Minnie declares with conviction, giving Eva a smile - though it’s still a slightly sad one. “ - Thank you. It means a lot.” - Eva returns the smile, relieved. “ - Alright, chicas. Now that’s done with, we should really get going. We’ll barely make it on time as it is. Hop onboard.” - orders Diego. Diego manages to pilot the Monster to their destination without incident. Autopilot or no, the monstrous truck certainly takes a bit more attention, just in case, than any other vehicle Diablo ever handled before, on account of the sheer power and size. He still manages it just fine. As they were previously distracted by the business with Silva, Alex uses their travel time to finally clue in the rest of the Angels on her new civil status and housing situation (in an abbreviated form, sparing them the details of her father’s “charming” personality...). Understandably, the news of her being disowned cause some concern (Minuette envelopes her in a teary hug). Alex, embarrassed (and annoyed, though in a rather fond way), waves them off, downplaying it as much as she can. As she assures, yes, things will be somewhat more difficult now - most importantly perhaps, she’ll have to watch out for her delinquent tendencies, there no longer being anyone to buy her way out of trouble - but she’ll manage on her own. She’s been practically doing that anyway, it’s now just been formalized. She has her college fund waiting, so she’ll be alright for money, if she’s thrifty. She’s even got a part-time job to help with that! And the Coach took her in, so it’s not like she’s homeless and has no one to look after her at all... The girls (though the emotional Minnie takes some cajoling) understand and respect Alex’s wish of not making a big deal out of it. The Angels of Stone just make it to their paintball appointment on time. The three other teams are already waiting. The Angels regular opponents, Bolo’s Barking Spiders, as always greet them enthusiastically. Then it’s time to meet the new people. The Angels already know Needle, the captain of the Heart Piercers. Now she introduces the rest of her team. They seem to have quite high expectations of the Angels, based on their captain’s observations. Last but not least, are the Horizon Watch, led by Whistler. One of the teams dubious, but at least not completely dismissive of the Angels’ worth, they are still ready to take Bolo and Needle at their word and give the “new girls” a chance. Time for some action! The four teams are going to have themselves a simple round-robin tournament. With everybody playing against everybody else once, that means six matches. The location they’re using (a different one to the field the Angels and Spiders make use of in their Saturday meetings, offering much more simulated urban terrain in addition to the forest) is spacious enough that two matches can be conducted in parallel, so that nobody has to sit on the sidelines getting bored. The grand prize is simply bragging rights - but hey, what’s the use of winning, if you can’t brag about it a bit, right? One thing to note, the commanders of all the opposing teams will be entering the field today, in a classic paintball setup, instead of commanding from behind the lines, TAG-Soft style, like Diablo. This gives all of them an initial numbers advantage over the Angels, but does expose their entire command structure to potential attack. After a quick randomizer use, it’s determined that the Angels’ first opponent of the day will be the Piercers, while the Spiders are going to fight the Watch. Diego did a bit of homework, and conducted some Maya research on the Heart Piercers. They seem a well-rounded team, with a good mix of long range and assault options, employing two snipers, a light grenade launcher, two forward observers, a spitfire, two shotguns, and a chain rifle. A couple of them have grenades, and one of the FOs also carries a set of mines. As the match begins, Diego decides to open up with hit and run tactics, to probe the unfamiliar opponent. As it turns out, Needle has the same idea. Several brief, mobile firefights result, leaving both teams with one casualty. Unfortunately for the Angels, Octavia is the first to fall. The Piercers attempt to set up an ambush next, but Diego anticipates their move, directing the girls into full defensive mode. Forced to attack well-prepared positions, the Piercers fumble their maneuver, with painful results, losing three of their number, including the LGL gunner. Scrambling to salvage the situation, they attempt to outflank the Angels next. Diablo anticipates them again, sending the Angels on a cautious push to meet the opponent face to face. Despite the Angels numerical advantage, this clash ends in a stalemate. The Angels then try to break contact and spring an ambush of their own. Needle sees through it, however, reversing the earlier situation, and luring the Angels out to attack a solidly dug-in defence. Morgan and Minnie fall to the Piercers’ guns and mines. Diego orders a switch back to hit and run harassment, but Needle gains the upper hand again, attempting to crush the Angels with an all-out assault. The girls offer a fierce resistance though, and the result is one casualty on each side, in a curious double elimination - Dominique gunning down an opponent just as he shoots her. Next, the Heart Piercers go for hit and run themselves. But Diego gains back initiative, having the Angels respond with a slow but relentless advance, beating back the Piercers’ blows and hounding their retreats. The opponent loses another fighter, with no casualties for the Angels. With only four Angels to three enemies remaining, Diego orders the team into another full defensive maneuver, hoping to force the other team to come to them in a predictable manner. The Heart Piercers oblige, but maintain the hit and run tactics. Well-executed, this is a serious danger to the Angels’ static defense, yet the girls manage it with brilliant aplomb, picking the enemy thrusts apart one by one. In short order, all three remaining Piercers fall, Needle going down last. Game over. Definitely not an easy opponent and match. The Heart Piercers are left suitably impressed with the Angels of Stone fighting abilities and spirit. When this was going on, the Horizon Watch defeated Bolo’s Spiders, just barely, after a hard-fought match. The Angels will be going against the Spiders next, while the Watch takes on the Heart Piercers. Despite being, league table-wise, the weakest of the Angels’ opponents today, Bolo and his Spiders do have one significant advantage over the others. After three months of weekly gaming, they know Diablo and his Angels, their strengths, weaknesses, fighting style and abilities, quite well. Though, of course, that goes both ways… Still, in this match the Barking Spiders use their knowledge to the utmost of their ability. Bolo certainly gives his all today, giving Diego a serious hard time with predicting his team’s maneuvers and tactics. The fighting is tooth and nail, many clashes ending in bitter stalemates. Initially, the Angels are slowly beaten into a disadvantage, losing three members one by one, including Octy again, while only inflicting one casualty in return. Finally, though, the Angels bounce back, slowly gaining the upper hand, and the Spiders start hemorrhaging fighting bodies by ones and twos. The match concludes after almost a full hour of hard-fought, highly mobile action, with the Spiders wiped out, the Angels not having suffered any more casualties beyond the initial three. At the same time, the Heart Piercers pretty handily won their match against the Horizon Watch. The last matches of the tournament will then be Angels vs Horizon Watch, and Heart Piercers vs Bolo’s Spiders. Diego, of course, red up a bit about the Watch, too. They look to be focused on mid- to long-range fighting, and preferring either a solid defence, or a decisive, committed attack, with little frills. Might seem a little basic, but a well executed straightforward tactic will still beat a clever, but poorly executed one any day… The Watch’s equipment has a lot of rifles, including three marksmen, two spitfires, and a heavy machine gun(!). This match turns out to be fairly short. Initially, both teams turtle, going full defensive, forming a miniature front line. The Watch, however, fumbles their deployment, some expert last-second scrambling from their lieutenant saving the team from disaster as the Angels concentrate fire to exploit their error. It still costs the Watch one casualty. Whistler decides to keep his team dug-in. Diego anticipates this, and sends the Angels into a flanking maneuver. The girls hit hard, putting down another two of the Watch. The Watch surge into a sudden all-out attack, trying to break the Angels’ momentum. But Diablo outplays Whistler once again, as the Angels shift into full defensive mode once more. It’s close, but the girls stand fast, shattering the enemy charge, inflicting another two casualties, still with no losses on their side. Even worse for the Watch, Whistler is one of the fallen. It’s 8 vs 3 in favour of the Anjos de Rocha now, and the enemy in loss of command, and Diego throws caution to the wind, ordering a full-on offensive. The remains of the Horizon Watch fight doggedly and valiantly, conducting hit and run actions, but it just isn’t enough. The Angels, feeling victory near, fight as if inspired, and quickly sweep the last three opponents aside. The Watch are left a little shell-shocked, and duly impressed. Meanwhile, the Heart Piercers beat the Spiders in good style, though Bolo’s team have certainly made the opponent work for it. So that’s the mini-tournament over. The win-loss scores being as follows: Angels of Stone: 3-0, Heart Piercers: 2-1, Horizon Watch: 1-2, Barking Spiders: 0-3. No tie-breakers needed. The Spiders lost all three of their matches, but they don’t seem too disheartened. All the opponents were stronger, and none of the fights were anything like one sided, Bolo and his team always making the enemy feel they’ve been in a fight. The Angels are hailed as the undisputed victors. And to the victor, the spoils. In this case, the occasion to mercilessly brag, which Diablo and his team take full advantage of, though in a very friendly, jocular fashion. The girls certainly made quite an impression on the two new opponents. Both the Heart Piercers and the Horizon Watch will have no problem whatsoever with playing the Angels of Stone again. The Angels continue their history of punching above their weight. As Eva relates, she studied the team’s collected stats from their matches, TAG and paintball, and found the Angels pretty consistently perform above what one might expect from their raw ability estimates and statistical analysis. Diego’s leadership plays a definite role here, of course, especially in paintball games - having a professional, experienced officer command the team certainly doesn’t hurt - but even the best commander can only compensate for so much if his soldiers are lacking in ability. The girls are definitely not lacking. They still have a ways to go, but considering how well they’re doing even now with Diablo’s guidance, they seem set to go far indeed. After the fighting, it’s time for the traditional bonfire and picnic, this time with a much bigger, but no less jovial crowd. Toasts are made (with non-alcoholic beverages... mostly), replays watched, particularly memorable actions and plays lauded (or playfully booed), and the bragging continues. Among the Angels, the one with most fuel for her personal bragging is Alex. This turned out to be a really good day for her, and she scored quite a few “kills”, usually multiple per game! She’s quite understandable pleased with herself. Everyone did quite good today, really, pretty much every one of the Angels having some memorable moment, and at least one downed opponent to their name. The one who had the worst day today is perhaps Octavia. In two of the three matches, she was taken out before she managed to score any “kills” herself. Octy does seem a little bit distracted, and Diego notices a little frown settling over her face when she thinks no one is looking… At least Nyree deftly distracts Alex from lording her awesome performance too much over the normally highly efficient and deadly Octy. Though admittedly not without a little help from Morgan, and her patented “slap Alex in the back of the head for acting like an asshole” maneuver. Which actually hasn’t happened in quite a while! Even Alex herself comments on it with a bit of tongue-in-cheek nostalgia… The girls have come quite a long way already, haven’t they? Speaking of which, there’s another piece of big news today. Some time ago, Patty gave them all a heads-up that she’d likely be playing at least one gig after Christmas, possibly on New Year’s Eve. Now she has confirmation. It’s a bit last minute, but she will indeed play tomorrow night, helping usher in the new year in style… And it will be nowhere else, but at the Blue Moon again! This time, Patty will not be top-billing, but will actually share the evening with at least two other DJs, both of them quite famous… Still, the Blue Moon! The Celeste family will be holding their annual New Year Gala at their (spectacular beach mansion) summer residence near Avalon’s planetary capitol. But apparently the younger heiress decided to blow off that stiff party, and instead host her own, much more loud and fun gala, at her pet project club in Belo Horizonte. And she wants DJ Scratch to help with the entertainment. There’s no way Patty could ever resist agreeing! And, as previously, Patricia is provided with a whole slew of invitations to give out to whomever she pleases. It is rather last minute, but it turns out all of the Angels have kept their party options for New Year’s Eve cautiously open, anticipating a Patty-party to be incoming. Well, all of them except Evangeline. Aside even the blackmail situation (which, luckily looks set to get cleared up soon), the Neves, being valued business partners, were obviously invited to the Celeste gala. So Eva planned - was very much expected - to attend that with her parents. Now, however, she decides to change plans. What use is being heiress if one can’t misbehave a bit once in awhile, after all? And it’s not like she’ll be in any way slumming. It’s still a Celeste party they’ll be all attending. One can expect quite a slice of the jet-set to be present (plus all the attendant media attention and security presence of course). So Eva’s parents shouldn’t mind too much. That’s settled, then. Tomorrow, the Angels will be rubbing elbows with high society! The younger, more rebellious - and fun! - part of it, at least. And of course they are free to pass Patty’s invitations along and bring companions. Though, predictably, not all their friends will be able to attend, some having other plans already. Luna has ordained her party a semi-formal affair, so they don’t have to worry too much over their clothes. Still, at least some of the guests are quite likely to show up in some spectacular attire. Dressing down too much could well make an embarrassing spectacle out of someone. A school uniform probably won’t cut it. ‘Nique looks a bit worried... All this causes Diego to muse to himself, that the Anjos de Rocha seem to be well on their way to becoming minor celebrities in their own right. The first, and so far only, amateur TAG-Soft team on Avalon; with so far impressive performance; able to soundly trounce a professional team (with a handicap, but still); with increasing media coverage; one of them the heiress to one of the planet’s premier families; another an up-and-coming DJ that won the attention of the planet’s biggest media trend-setter; all now attending said trend-setter’s private New Year’s Eve gala… Yup, the girls may well be on their way to teen stardom. Here’s hoping it won’t go to their heads too much... Finally, it’s time to head home. Diego drives the Angels back to the Academy, from whence they scatter. He and Alex of course head home together. Before that, Diego checks his office. All of Bell’s cruel joking at Samantha’s expense aside, he doesn’t really expect anything drastic to have happened (though, if it did happen, he’s sure he wouldn’t be able to tell anyway, Shelke and Roger being far too professional to leave any evidence...). Diego finds the office in perfect order, as expected. Though some tea has definitely been consumed. He’s sure he’ll find out about the results of Silva’s debriefing soon enough, no use in concerning himself with it now. Late evening, it’s time for Diego to set out for the astroport, to meet Yuni. He rides out on his motorcycle, alone, Alex having declined coming with in the name of, as she smirkingly put it, “giving the two lovebirds some space”. Yuni debarks the shuttle, looking somewhat tired, both physically (thanks to the trip) and mentally (thanks to her dear family :) - which looks set to expand by a sister-in-law soon). Doesn’t stop her from giving Diego a big, happy grin. “ - Well, well. Been having fun in my absence, I hear. I leave you alone for a week, and you almost end up a father overnight.” - Yuni teases. “ - And with the daughter almost all grown up already.” - Diego grins back. “ - Highly convenient, eh, skipping diapers and all the other ‘joys’ of raising an offspring?” - Yuni turns a bit serious then. “ - I hope she didn’t take it too hard, you not going through with it?” “ - Well, she wasn’t exactly overjoyed, understandably. But I think she’ll be okay.” “ - You’re definitely not ready for a step like that?” “ - No, not at all, I’m afraid.” - Diego shakes his head ruefully. “ - I can understand that. Definitely not ready myself.” - Yuni smiles again. “ - Be that as it may, you have a housemate now. Guess we’ll have to change some of our habits, eh?” - she winks. “ - Or at least change the place we indulge them in.” - nods Diego. ” - Just to not embarrass the girl.” - Yuni snorts in amusement at that. “ - Yeah, yeah, I know - can you even embarrass today’s youth? Especially Alex?” - Diego laughs. “ - Yup. I remember all too well what I was like at that age…” - chuckles Yuni. She sighs. “ - It’s good to be back. Oh, and I got you a little something.” “ - Oh?” “ - Yeah... I suck at choosing gifts for people. And all the obvious things I could have got you, like motorcycle stuff, is already long taken care of… And you’re not the kind of person to be interested in fun but ultimately useless knick-knacks… So I finally raided my dad’s ‘collection’.” “ - Collection?” - Diego raises his eyebrows. “ - Yup. See, he’s kind of, how to call it, an alcohol snob. Likes to acquire only the best, and/or most expensive liquor he can afford… And then usually just sticks it in a cellar forever, instead of drinking it, like the good God intended.” - Yuni shakes her head in mock despair. “ - Totally nuts, I tell you. So, I took the opportunity of liberating this one from his wasteful clutches.” - she presents Diego with a bottle. “ - I thought it might meet with your approval.” Diego looks the bottle over. Apparently, it’s tequila, a fully authentic, traditional one, straight from Mexico on Earth. “ - Huh. Nice!” - he nods appreciatively. “ - Glad you like it. Enjoy in good health.” “ - I do hope you’ll join me in that.” “ - Oh, gladly!” “ - You know, I thought of getting one with some ‘insert’, but dad went on a huge rant, on how those are ‘untraditional’, ‘substandard’, and ‘low sort’... I’d hate to hear what he’d think about that shas infusion you mentioned once…” - Yuni giggles. “ - Well, to be completely fair, that one was a rather extreme case.” “ - So even among Nomads, some things are considered extreme, huh?” - she teases. “ - I’d shudder to imagine what Bakunin would sink in a booze bottle, except I know they wouldn't bother with such down-to-earth half-measures.” - Diego shakes his head. “ - It’s straight to the source with them, huh?” “ - You know it. Hard chemistry all the way.” “ - And no ‘middle-men’ methods of consumption, I assume, all straight intravenous?” “ - Oh, if just that. They have many fun methods of bypassing the liver.” “ - Sounds interesting.” - she muses jokingly. “ - You think so? Would you really like to sit your bare ass into a basin of contact drug solution?” - Diego smirks wickedly. This causes Yuni to dissolve into a fit a helpless giggles. “ - Woo, man.” - she’s finally able to catch her breath a few minutes later. “ - That doesn’t sound so bad, really.” - she opines with some residual chuckles. “ - I was expecting an enema or something…” “ - Oh, I’m sure you can get that done, too.” - Diego chuckles. “ - ...Damn, I missed you.” - Yuni puts one arm around Diego in an affectionate half-hug, leaning into his side with a content sigh. “ - Would you believe me if I said I missed you, too?” - replies Diego playfully, slipping an arm round her waist. “ - Shouldn’t I?” - Yuni chuckles, touching heads. “ - So… You think Alex would be very worried if you didn’t come home tonight?” - she purrs, a definite frisky spark in her eye. “ - I expect she’ll just wish us fun.” - Diego grins back. “ - Let’s go, then. A week was definitely too long…” “ - Let’s go, indeed.” And so they set out from the astroport in the direction of Yuni’s apartment. Diego does send a quick message to Alex (with a grinning Yuni leaning into the frame for a quick wave), giving her a heads up not to wait up. Exactly as predicted, Alex comes back with a saucily grinning “Have fun, guys!”. And so they do. Which concludes entry 18#.