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The Avalon Chronicles

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

  1. Section9

    Section9 Well-Known Member

    Nov 24, 2017
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    Can't wait to read about it!
    Danger Rose and Golem2God like this.
  2. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
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    Well, the next episode report is finally on the way, though it will be some time yet - a week or so probably.
    And it is getting kinda long. Seems I can't resist writing it down in a little more detail again, even as I despair over the amount of work that generates... :P
    Danger Rose, jherazob and Golem2God like this.
  3. Danger Rose

    Danger Rose Sand Cats Tactical Security LLC

    Nov 23, 2017
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    The quality of your work is perfectly worth the wait!
    jherazob and Golem2God like this.
  4. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
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    Welp, ladies and gentlemen, here it is, finally!
    Notice the lack of "(abridged)" tag. This thing ended up long and detailed enough to be a full episode, like we used to have. Don't get used to it. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: But it may still happen from time to time.
    Enjoy the ride!

    Avalon Chronicles
    entry #23

    “Making and Breaking”

    Note #1 - 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 - We have official character art for the series, collected for your viewing convenience on the GM’s DeviantART Page. The same spoiler warning as above applies!

    Monday, January 20

    Thinking of Nyree’s birthday this week, Diego takes a moment to review other closest upcoming birthdays for the team.

    The next one will be their honorary member, Mako, on the 6th of February, her 16th. Then there will be two in March, Samantha on the 9th, and Octy on the 18th, both turning seventeen. And on the 20th of April, Yuni will celebrate her 30th! Now that’ll be a momentous occasion!… :D

    Diego also receives a short message from Merlin, informing that the two recon drones, complete with software, should be arriving next Monday. That won’t be much time for the girls to practice working with them live before the Crimson Gale match, but Diablo is already supplementing their “homework” simulations with drone companions. And, well, at worst the drones will be quick casualties in the game, while they may still come in handy. Call the match more practice, is all.

    Time for the standard Monday live training!

    As promised by Eric and his crew, all the team’s TAGs have now been upgraded - software and hardware aimed at increasing their accuracy and gun handling, except for the Iguana, which got an improved Command & Communications package.

    With his time now free except for standard maintenance, Chief Wana can start work on prototyping the one-shot smoke grenade launchers they had an idea for some time ago.

    The upgrades to the machines also include some cosmetic stuff this time. It’s mostly through Dominique’s work, the girl wanting to offer her friends some personalization to their machines.

    To that end, Octavia’s Lizard now sports a new head, with a new optics configuration - the six eyes in three vertically stacked pairs, Nysse-helmet-style, that became somewhat of a trademark for the cellist’s more bold persona.
    Patty’s Szalamandra gets a head with a single, wide-angle visor and bulky comm and rangefinder fittings on the sides, so it now looks somewhat like it’s wearing big, high-tech shades and headphones.
    Morgan’s Lizard is another new head, this one modified purely for looks, with thick cable strands trailing from it’s metal scalp, quite cunningly simulating the dark girl’s own dreadlocks!
    Minuette’s Gecko’s customization is, alas, purely an AG projection, the team not owning the parts or having the money for the extensive refit it would require in real life (it’s normally part of the Praxis high-mobility package, which is usually not applied to Geckos anyway), but the hyper girl is still overjoyed with it - it’s a fully mobile, lizard-like tail! Minnie expresses her happiness by wagging it energetically. :P
    The rest get only minor cosmetic paint and/or AG details, usually connected to their new callsigns - now with logos incorporated into the team “parade” colors - but they do not mind. Eva’s Iguana for example now has a small AG crown floating over it’s head, Alex’ Anaconda’s breastplate now sports the Spitfire-like tiger-teeth decal, while Nyree’s Lizard’s chest, shoulders, and upper arms feature some vaguely tribal, spiral designs. The only machine ‘Nique seems to have neglected is her own… She’s quite embarrassed when called on it.

    Today, it’s decided to try Samantha, who is proving to be quite a good shot, in the sniper role, going out in Patty’s heavy sniper/autocannon Szalamandra. Patty has no problem with riding the practice out through simulated presence.

    Once again her performance seems to confirm that Sam is really destined for a medium, line machine, the Szalamandra’s mass and somewhat ponderous, slow reactions not entirely agreeing with the girl. Though she does better in it than she did when they tried her in the Gecko, which caused her much bigger problems with its speed and twitch reflexes. Still, a Lizard, Anaconda, Iguana, or similar class of TAG looks like the best choice for Miss Silva. The Szalamandra’s gun on the other hand, Samantha handles quite well, though it’s also obvious she’d do better with something lighter. Hmm… It could be a good idea to look into getting Sam a proper standard TAG sniper rifle that could be used to re-arm any machine she’d be called to use in her capacity as reserve player (barring the Gecko, which can’t handle a weapon that big...). It’s not in the budget for now, alas, but they will be able to afford it much sooner than they will a whole TAG for her...
    For now, Diego resolves to make such armament Silva’s loadout in simulations.

    Mindful of the Angels having trouble inflicting casualties on opponents, Diablo has been working the girls on their accuracy and attack focus. And, together with the new upgrades, it seems to be working well, at least in training.

    Training aside, the main topic of conversation is Nyree’s birthday on Wednesday. All the Angels are, of course, invited to the party, as well as Coach Diablo and Miss Iskandar (Eric and his crew as well, though they’ll be hard to dislodge from the workshop, as per usual...). Well, other than Nyree’s parents and siblings, they will pretty much BE the party - before joining up, Rikoriko did not develop any really meaningful friendships with classmates, factors of her own academic focus, family trouble, and yes, Alex’ bullying, all playing a role in that regrettable development. But thanks to the team, that has now changed!

    Nyree also warns them firmly, that she does not expect any presents. Them coming will be gift enough. Though it doesn’t seem like the girls intend to follow that particular request.

    And then, Alex approaches Nyree. There’s obviously something on her mind. In fact, Narahari looks downright nervous.
    “ - Hm, wouldn't you rather handle this privately? We could leave...” offers Eva diplomatically.
    “ - Thanks, Princess, but no.” Alex shakes her head decisively. “ - I think it’s better to do this in the open, really. Right… Nyree? There’s something I’d like to say… That I really should have long ago. And, well, practicing on others went… So-so, thus far…”
    Alex fidgets awkwardly, while Nyree, curious, waits patiently, with an encouraging smile.
    “ - I know… That a single word can’t undo it all… But it is really high time for you to hear it from me. What you’ll do with it is up to you… So…” Alex swallows nervously, then looks Nyree in the eye with a solemn expression. “ - Nyree… I’m… Sorry. For everything. All that I’ve done to you. Really sorry. And… And that’s all, really. I can’t offer you anything more, I’m afraid… Except a sincere apology. I’m sorry.”
    Nyree returns Alex’ look, equally solemnly, silent for several long seconds. “ - I’ll be honest, Alex. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to really forget all that happened. All that you’ve done.” she states seriously. Alex visibly shrinks a bit, glum, but nods in sad understanding and acceptance. “ - But…” Nyree continues, a small, tender smile forming on her face, “ - But now, today, especially after the last few weeks? I think… No, I’m sure! That, though I may not be able to forget... I can, and WILL… Forgive you.” Nyree reaches over to gently squeeze Alex’ hand. “ - I forgive you, Alex. So yes, apology accepted. ...Just don’t let it happen again!” the Maori bookworm warns, smile turning impish.
    Alex chuckles, happy relief lighting up her face. “ - Yeah, I think I can promise you that! So...” she hedges with a tiny joking smirk of her own, “ - I’m guessing I’m invited to the party too?...”
    “ - Just you try not to show up!”
    Nyree protests, mock-dangerously. Then she turns gentle again. “ - One more thing. I think it’s time for it as well. Alex… If you want to? You may call me ‘Ree?” she offers with an inviting smile.
    Alex actually beams at that, obviously really touched now. “ - Yeah… I think I’d like that… Ree.”

    Minnie can no longer contain herself, cooing in delighted happiness and rushing in to envelop Alex and Nyree in a huge hug!

    All the others are obviously happy with this development as well.
    Eva especially seems to be rather moved, though she tries to hide it behind her usual cloak of dignity. This probably gives her hope for, perhaps, one day being able to patch things up with Tiana?...
    Morgan, passing by, gives Alex an approving clap on the shoulder.

    When everyone is leaving for home or other destinations later, Diego prepares to give Alex a ride to Silva’s for another shift, which she takes almost every day now. But Alex first asks Evangeline for a moment, aside.
    “ - Be right with you, Coach!”
    “ - Let me guess, gonna ask Eva for another favor? About Nyree’s birthday present?”
    “ - Ah, well, yeah, a favor, but not for that, actually…”
    she’s somewhat embarrassed again.
    “ - Good, ‘cause concerning the present? I’ve got an idea.” Diego declares.
    “ - Oh? Great! We’ll have to discuss it, then!... Right, Princess, if you would?...”

    The girls move a bit away, but not far enough, and they don’t actually make it so strictly secret, that Diego doesn’t catch the gist of it.
    “ - …So you see, I’ve left IT home… And then, well, you know…” Alex confesses sheepishly.
    “ - Ah. Shame.” Eva tutts, disapproving, though definitely not of Alex. “ - Still, that gives us an opportunity to do it better this time!...” Miss Neve sighs, a bit embarrassed herself. “ - Last time, I confess, was more of me allowing myself a smidge of a joke at your expanse… Not that it didn’t work out quite well, still! But this time, I’ll take it seriously!” she declares firmly.
    “ - Don’t know whether to be hopeful or scared…” mutters Alex, smirking. Then shifts awkwardly again. “ - What about, um, you know… Makeup, and stuff?...”
    “ - No worries! We’ll take care of everything! Tomorrow, after classes, you’re coming with me! We’re gonna tackle the matter of your image and presence with all due gravitas! I like to think I have a discerning eye and a deft hand in such matters myself, and if need be? I’ll call in one or more of my private expert staff!...”
    Evangeline is actually rather excited now!
    “ - Alright, Princess. I’ll trust you on this…”
    Wonder what she’ll have Alex wear this time?...

    As they’re driving to Silva’s, Alex inquires about Diego’s idea for ‘Ree’s gift.
    Well, since they already established that a live dracomon wouldn’t be a good idea… How about a virtual one? An AG interactive pet, like Diablo’s own little Devil? (Who takes the opportunity to manifest and make faces at the idea of anything being equal to his tiny infernal grandeur!) Shouldn’t be difficult to come by one, even on short notice. Such toys don’t seem particularly fashionable in PanOceania these days, but Diego can always ask in the Nomad Trade Mission...

    Alex is intrigued and enthusiastic about the idea.

    Tuesday, January 21

    Linna “Dancer” Yamazaki, the coach of the Crimson Gale, initiates a Maya-mail exchange with Diablo today, to discuss their choice of playing field. As she says, it’s only polite to give the visitors the choice of venue.

    Just like the Angels, the Gale of course owns a training/playing ground, with choice of urban, rural, and jungle terrain, depending on what slice of it is delineated as the actual match area (though theirs is bigger). But Dancer offers, should Diablo be interested, to use some of her contacts, to get them a match on the field (one of several) belonging to the local Yu Jing TAG-Soft professionals, one specially constructed and equipped to simulate a spaceship boarding action, complete with areas of reduced gravity!

    It’s an intriguing idea, but... The Gale are actually much better equipped and trained to handle such close-quarters fighting, while the indoors terrain would severely hamper the best of the Angels’ advantages, like Nyree’s indirect fire and Patty’s heavy anti-material sniper. Not to mention his girls pretty much lacking any relevant experience. So while he himself is an old hand at such engagements, after consideration Diego ultimately politely declines, asking instead to play on the opponent’s standard outdoors field… Specifically, an all-jungle part. Paradiso’s jungle is another theater he knows all too well (the best place to view it from, in his opinion, being from the window… of an orbiting spacecraft!), and one he feels he can leverage better in this case.

    Miss Yamazaki graciously bows to his wish and sends over the appropriate “intel” data on their intended playing field.

    As they planned, after school lets out, Alex sets out with Evangeline today, to work on her “image and presence”, apparently…

    She’s back much later, carrying a couple shopping bags, and a mixture of embarrassment, excitement, and some discomfort on her face.
    “ - The Princess of course insisted on paying for it all. Seeing the state of my finances, I didn’t really have arguments against that. But it still doesn’t sit entirely well with me...” she explains the last one at least. Diego can understand that. And it’s good that she’s not getting used to mooching off of a rich friend.
    As to the other emotions? “ - Well, I’ll show you, Coach, see what you think…”

    Alex spends several long minutes in her room, getting changed, and emerges dressed in the new ensemble, that Eva put together for her.
    “ - So, what do you think? Too much?...” she asks with some trepidation, though with a pleased if somewhat shy grin. “ - Does it look ridiculous? The last time the Princess forced that dress on me, at the New Year’s party, was the first time I wore one since I was, like, ten years old… And this is the second!”

    The main element is indeed a dress again, a half-thigh, wide pleated number in a dark plum color with white trim, with a quite daring neckline. It’s sleeveless, though that’s not obvious, seeing as a stylish, midriff-length black suede jacket with full sleeves and a wide open collar serves as the top. The outfit is filled out with a black beret, choker with gold pendant, two-tone golden yellow decorative belt hanging loosely over her hips at a rakish angle, and black, “wide-eyed” fishnet stockings. Well, and her immortal combat boots. Once again some light makeup adornes Alex’ face, and her hair is brushed much neater than usual. The customary ponytail actually had been exchanged for a thick braid, secured with a small golden bow…

    [They say a picture i worth a thousand words... But that was only 130 or so. :smile:]

    [Sigh... And of course the shitty forum, just like the last one, does not support the bbcode for resizing images, so it ends up huge... Or at least I have no idea how to use it. If anyone knows how to make the image smaller, please let me know.]

    It’s certainly different, and Diego pronounces it as such. Not bad, definitely, but seeing her looking like that definitely throws him. Much better color-coordinated than last time... And, yeah, the sharp, bold style, vaguely martial, with definite “bad-girl” elements, was not a bad fit for her. And seeing as, while obviously somewhat worried about others’ opinions, Alex herself seemed to like it? There’s no reason she couldn’t make it work for her!

    As the conversation moves on, Alex changing back, Diego proposes an idea - just a suggestion for consideration - on Alex’ further schooling, continuing on what they talked about back then. She obviously likes to and finds satisfaction in cooking, and seems not too shabby at it, if Diego’s own experience with her culinary craft, and Senhor Esteban’s judgement is to be trusted… Perhaps she’d like to consider going in that direction, attending a culinary school of some sort? Food technician, or even restaurant management? Maybe Alex could ask Minnie someday, if the hyper girl’s parents couldn’t let Alex take a peek at how things work behind the scenes in their business?
    Hey, it may be the future, but people still need to eat! And despite ALEPH’s attempts to infiltrate that area of life as well, they still prefer food prepared by other people...
    Alex definitely considered this an idea to ponder on.

    Next, they look into AR pets, looking for a suitable dragon for Nyree. Like Diego expected, there is a modest selection almost readily available. Some of them look quite good for their purposes…

    But Alex is being picky. She doesn’t seem entirely satisfied with any of the choices, scrutinizing the virtual beasties, for looks, programmed behaviour, and even technical stats, and finds them all wanting in some way. ‘Ree’s gift need to be perfect!...
    “ - Right, Coach, this is all crap… Can we maybe get a ‘Do It Yourself’-kit, or something?” she finally asks.

    Diablo does in fact need to reach out to the Nomad Trade Mission for that. They find several there, of several levels of advancement, and Alex almost instantly latches onto the most complex one. An older program, it lets one build their virtual pet from the ground up, starting with composing it’s looks (GM’s Note: probably using and editor similar to the one in the game Spore), and then defining and programming its personality and behavioral patterns (a simplified system, no serious programming skill required, based on preference sliders and building flowcharts from predefined blocks of basic behaviours). Still capable of pretty impressive performance, but requiring much more work than a typical person feels like doing just for a toy… But Alex’ eyes light up with determination.

    “ - Oh yes! We’re getting this one! Let me at it, and I’ll make a PROPER dragon!”

    Fortunately, it’s not painfully expensive… Alex is still embarrassed, having finally looked at the price, and mumbles about maybe getting one of the ready-made ones instead? It would be cheaper… Diego shrugs it off easily. Splitting the cost between them, it shouldn't be disastrous for their budgets. And it seems really important to her, so he doesn’t mind the money…

    Alright! The purchase made, Alex throws herself at creating the perfect dragon! She’s into it to the point of needing to be reminded to eat… And to finally go to bed, it being a normal school day tomorrow! Even if that reminder doesn’t prove too effective…

    Next morning, Alex is gonna need a BIG mug of coffee!

    Wednesday, January 22

    Diego looks into organizing the weekend’s paintball. Sadly, the staff team won’t be able to play this Sunday, some of them otherwise engaged. They COULD assemble on Saturday… But that’s the Angels’ day. Well, Alex may have been joking a bit, but the idea of pitching the girls against their teachers is a tempting one… But who would command them if Diablo led the Anjos?

    The team training - it’s the turn for live TAGs again - goes without any major upsets. This time it’s Octavia again, lending her Lizard to Samantha and joining in through simulation.

    And in the afternoon, as planned, they all meet again, this time at the Rikoriko residence. A nice, big, modern, two-story affair of a suburban family home, with a big, grassy backyard shaded with a few trees.

    And said backyard, seeing the nice weather, is mostly where Nyree’s party is held.

    Nyree did insist on it being an informal affair… But Evangeline for one wouldn’t miss an opportunity to dress up! Even if her outfit is definitely on what counts as the casual side for her, closer to her party style that Patty helped develop.

    And then there’s of course Alex, who came in the new dress ensemble. That turns a few heads, and, to her relief, not in a bad way at all! Especially Nyree’s, who is reduced to blushing stammering for a few moments, before she can get out a bashful but sincere compliment for the Indian girl, making Alex blush in turn…The other Angels exchange grins behind the pair’s backs.

    The party’s an opportunity for Diego to re-acquaint, and the others to finally really meet, Nyree’s mom, the intimidating of build and temperament captain Reweti Rikoriko. Though the woman is making strides to suppress that side of herself and act appropriately motherly. She’ll need to leave tomorrow - she’s being deployed, though luckily this time it’s only a training and evaluation trip where she’ll be playing drill and field instructor, not actual combat. Technically, she should be gone already, but she did pull some strings that her position and distinguished service afford her, to not miss her daughter’s birthday.

    They also get to meet Nyree’s dad, one Tamati Rikoriko. A Fusilier officer in Avalon’s corps, he cuts an impressive figure himself, though it pales next to his wife. A calm, quietly good-humored man, he seems content to playing “second-in-command” in the household company (at least now, when his wife is actively working to fix the last of her issues), and being a calming, stabilising influence.

    Nyree’s two brothers are there, of course, too. Little, energetic, irreverent Koi is a mostly known quantity… As such, he of course almost instantly latches onto and tries smoothly chatting up Evangeline, causing her the usual mixture of slight embarrassment, perplexity, and fond amusement. Eva muses she really should introduce the little guy to her younger cousin, Bella. That would probably be healthier for the boy... The older Wakaru is a pleasant enough fellow, but he tends to hover, fretting, over his siblings, especially Nyree. Especially when Alex is close…

    And there’s one more member of the Rikoriko clan in attendance. Nyree’s grizzled Crockman veteran granddad, Reweti’s father, Wero “Sting” Rikoriko, has also made an appearance! A man in his apparent late 70’s (he was an officer in his 40’s during the EI War), of bald head (mostly just shaved, actually) but sporting a big, bristly moustache, with lined face largely covered in Ta Moko, he’s a remarkably spry and spirited fellow, even taking modern medicine into account.

    Introduced to Diablo, Wero scowls fiercely. “ - A Nomad! I know your kind, boy! One big, dirty den of malcontents, terrorists, and perverts!” His tone is properly condemning, but there’s an obvious twinkle in his eye. ” - Why, I know from a good source, if it weren’t for that perverted terrorist boarding group you guys sent to defend the Lazarus, at least two of my good drinking buddies wouldn’t have made it out, having been cooling their heels up there, having the Hospitaliers sew them back together! A damn good piece of perverted terrorism, that action, I must say!” Wero claps Diablo on the back.
    “ - Glad to be of service…” Diego smirks. “ - But why ‘perverts’? It was a fully Corregidorran combat group…”
    “ - You get most of your field medics from Bakunin still, don’t ya? Most of them have TAILS! Perversion, I tell you!...”
    Sting thunders, but now with a definite grin hiding beneath the ‘stach.
    “ - Heh. Why do I get the feelings you loved pulling some cat tails in your youth?” Diego chuckles.

    Of course, they said the magic word. “ - Oh, oh!” Minuette jumps into the conversation excitedly, materialising as if equipped with a TO cammo suite herself. “ - You fought the aliens too, just like the Coach, right, sir?”
    “ - Oh yeah, girlie, that I did! Fought and won!”
    Wero grins.
    “ - But some of them had tails too, right?” the hyper girl grins back.
    “ - Hmmm, not so much, really, not most… Some of the Shas toads had tentacles, though!” he supplies in a sensational tone.
    “ - Tentacles?” Minnie blinks, astounded.
    “ - Yup! Slimy, writhing things, on their heads, and some even in their mouths! The Striga would jump you, cram a tongue-tentacle down your throat, and eat your liver right out!” Wero gleefully provides the gristly details. “ - Some would sometimes use the, ahem, back door for that as well!...”
    “ - Oooohhh!...”
    Minnie is clearly deeply disturbed… But also deeply fascinated!

    Diego doesn’t know whether to facepalm or burst out laughing. All he knows, he’s definitely not gonna inquire into Minnie and Illia’s sex life (not that he was inclined to do so before, either) after that particular image has been planted in the girl’s head!...

    Wero Rikoriko is definitely a highly colorful persona! He likes sharing stories from his younger days, military and not, exaggerating as obviously as entertainingly. But Diego is pretty sure, Wero is largely over-acting. He’s definitely much less uninhibited and careless than he presents himself as, but simply loves playing the “grizzled, slightly crazy veteran grandpa” for his grandkids… And any friends they care to bring over!

    And one of Diego’s suspicions gets confirmed, as Wero asks after the success of his “peanut butter recipe”. Samantha goes a bit green, still, remembering that. Minuette on the other hand cheerfully praises its deliciousness!... Oh yeah, it has been successful alright. Diego muses he’ll have to properly teach the other girls how to make it… Good, Wero declares, such valuable knowledge should be passed on to the younger generation!
    “ - Lucifer’s beard, Eva, I can just imagine you in a decade, pulling that stunt at a boardroom meeting on some corpo who pised you off!...” Diablo chuckles. The Angels, evan Sam, and Eva herself, have a good laugh at that image!

    The party in full swing. There’s - of course! - a birthday cake for ‘Ree, with (real, not AR!) candles, decorated in, what else, violet frosting, Minnie leading everyone in an enthusiastic rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. There’s other sweets, drinks, games, some dancing, Patty more than happy to play an improvised set in honor of the party girl… And presents!

    Despite Nyree’s protestations, all of the Angels have got her something. The most popular and obvious are, no surprise, books! Mostly in electronic format, though Eva wouldn’t be herself if she didn’t go for flashy and expensive, presenting ‘Ree with a physical book, a heavy, handsome, leather-bound tome - of a mythological bestiary! There are also various Maya channel subscriptions, of various educational and information outlets - though one of those, given by Patty with a conspiratorial smile, might actually be an Arachne one, of a decidedly independent (read: “rebel and anti-establishment”) bent… And Minnie, grinning widely, gifts Nyree with an extensive collection of (electronic, again) Yu Jing-Japanese Manga, with plots of an obviously romance-focused nature. Yuri romance, specifically…

    Alex dawdles as everyone else takes their turn, nervous and embarrassed. Everyone else got something at least vaguely practical, or at least with an entertainment value of a cerebral nature, while hers is a pure toy. It takes Diego’s and Nyree’s combined urging and reassurance for her to finally dare presenting her offering.

    In Alex’ hands rests an Augmented Reality object - an egg, about the size of, but very obviously not a chicken’s. It’s leathery, glossy, colored violet and flecked gold. The others crowd around, intrigued, as Alex transfers it into Nyree’s hands, their comlogs transferring files.

    “ - Okay… So, should I sit on it?” Nyree asks with a mischievous smile.
    “ - Let us not… Egg-saggerate.” Diego quips.
    Alex giggles. “ - Just give it a second of warmth in your hands…”

    The egg stirs. Shakes. Cracks. And burst open with a dramatic little cloud of steam. From within unfolds… A dragon! About 20 centimeters long; a western-style imagining of one; deep violet, gold-flecked scales with a metallic sheen (and when observed against the light, it can be seen that the violet is actually two-tone, the creature’s whole body covered with an intricate, almost tribal design of deeper violet swirls and spirals); long, sinuous body with a twisting neck and sneaking tail; a row of spines on its back and horns on its head; narrow muzzle full of gleaming white fangs; gold, reptilian eyes, with a keen, intelligent look in them; strong, clawed limbs; and a pair of leathery wings large enough to be as anatomically correct as a fantasy creature can get. It rears up, wings unfolding, and gives an impressive screech, spitting sparks of brilliant green flame! Then sits in Nyree’s palms, regarding her expectantly. And as the girl leans in, fascinated, for a closer look, it extends its neck and flicks out a forked tongue to give her a quick lick on the nose.

    A deep, drawn out “ - Ooooohhh…” of admiration and delight goes through the little crowd. ‘Ree herself is just speechless in enchantment.

    The dragon springs up, climbs up Nyree’s arm in a flash, traverses to her other shoulder over the back of her neck, causing the girl to eep and giggle, and climbs over her ear and to the top of her head. There it hunches down, snaps open its wings, and springs into flight! More appreciative noises follow it as it does a few lazy orbits around the yard, finally alighting, with all the dignity it’s tiny body can contain, on Nyree’s shoulder, where it sits proudly, proclaiming its new master and her domain with a loud hiss.

    “ - Wow!… It’s… Beautiful!” Nyree declares reverently. “ - Where did you get something like this?”
    “ - Aw, you know, the Coach dug it up on the net… It was his idea, anyway...”
    Alex bashfully dismisses.
    “ - I thought of it, yes, and dug up a do-it-yourself AG creature set.” Diego specifies. “ - It was Alex who burned the midnight oil to actually turn it into this little fellow.”
    “ - Just arranging some pre-programmed assets, with a bit of customization…”
    Alex tries to modestly downplay it again. “ - Like playing LEGO…”

    “ - It’s damn impressive work!” Patty whistles, trying to pet the dragon and having her fingers playfully snapped at. “ - Could I see the code? Won’t fiddle with it, promise!”
    Nyree looks questioningly to Alex, who shrugs equably.

    Patty spends a few moments going over the software “guts” of the dragon.
    “ - REALLY nice. It may be a building blocks set, but the sheer amount of intricate work it took to get it all composed like that… The pseudo-AI’s behavioral flowcharts are really advanced, you seem to have thought of everything!… And the icon itself! Seems our Alex is really quite artistically talented!” the hacker praises earnestly.
    “ - My art grades beg to differ…” Alex chuckles, embarrassed.
    “ - Maybe you just didn’t try the right medium yet?” suggests Octavia.

    “ - It’s tame… Mostly.” Alex explained. “ - Will need some acclimatization. And it will learn behaviours as you train it. You are its master now. It even has a bit of a protective instinct for you, though it obviously can’t do much…”

    “ - It’s wonderful.” Nyree sighs, scritching the beastie under its chin, which makes it emit a contented rumble. “ - I love it! Thank you so much!” Grinning widely and blushing a bit, she steps up to give a still bashful but happy Alex a warm hug.

    Then Nyree’s grin turns impish, and she repeats the hug on Diego. Seeing as it is partially his gift as well.

    Everybody is properly impressed. Koi is almost mesmerized by the virtual creature, enough so to even be distracted from his crush on Evangeline!

    Diablo’s little devil manifests too, and stares at the beast. He tries stabbing his pitchfork at the dragon, and gets its tip set on fire for his trouble… The devil instantly tries to use the green flame to light up under his cauldron of tar, and is rewarded with a raging inferno as the tar itself ignites! He stares, impressed, then cackles gleefully, giving the dragon a little bow, like one professional acknowledging another.

    Just for kicks, Diablo does mention to Reweti that their first thought was getting Nyree a real dracomon. Her half-horrified, half-incensed face at the thought (that makes both her husband and father chuckle) fully justifies his earlier reservations about this idea.

    “ - Well, what do ya know.” Wero, much more serious among just the adults, comments quietly to Diego, observing the kids having fun. “ - Things look to have changed significantly since the last time I visited.” He’s specifically eyeing Alex, and how close she seems with Nyree, both as friends, and in proximity… “ - Not proud of such thoughts, but was a time, I was seriously considering maybe one beautiful day finding that girl and shoving a bayonet under her rib…”
    “ - Can’t say I blame you.”
    Diego nods seriously.
    “ - Well, glad I didn’t. Of course, not everyone is as eager to accept Narahari’s change of heart…” and now he’s looking at Wakaru, standing a bit apart, and giving Alex’ back a cold, hard stare (Koi for his part seems to have by now fully embraced the reformed Alex as his big sister’s, and even his own, friend, the two as gleefully as good-naturedly trash-talking each other over a game).
    “ - Again, can’t say I blame him.” Diego shrugs. “ - Let’s give him time.”
    “ - True. San Pietro wasn’t built in a day, and all. Just hope he won’t do something stupid…”
    “ - I think if he was inclined to do so, he’d have already done it…”
    “ - Well, not violent-stupid, like my own past musings. Among my three grandkids, he’s least the type, actually… But at their age, a few poorly chosen, strong words still hold a lot of power to hurt… And if he got the well-meaning but ill-conceived idea of trying to keep those two apart? There could be a lot of tears.”
    grandfather Rikoriko sighs. “ - Like you say, can’t really blame the boy. Narahari’s transformation is quite dramatic. Don’t know the details, of course, but… Those two? The look in their eyes? I’ve seen the like, and I’m sure you’ve too. Like veterans of the same campaign, wouldn’t you say?”
    “ - There’s definitely something to that, yes.”
    Diego agrees solemnly.
    “ - Can’t say I’ve been particularly proud of my own efforts as parent, for little Reweti to end up like she did… Fortunately, as close a shave as it was, it all seems to have ended well.”

    Wero next takes interest in the simulation wargames the team uses for exercise - and sometimes just fun, like now, when they roll it out as another round of party entertainment. His experience and perspective could make for some interesting scenarios (“ - There’s nothing that cures constipation quite as quickly as a Sphinx uncloaking behind your back!”). And when both Nyree’s parents are drawn into planning the scenario and commanding the op-for, things get really creatively hairy for the Angels!...

    Koi and Wakaru, and Yuni as well, eagerly join in on the girls’ side. Diego gets to personally observe the two Rikoriko brothers in simulated combat, and confirm what he’s heard from Alex before: little Koi seems really quite talented as a (simulated, at least) TAG pilot… While Wakaru is really quite hopeless!

    In the evening, the party winds down and the guests slowly leave, with one last round of best wishes for the birthday girl. ‘Ree gives everyone a hug goodbye… Though the one Alex receives is definitely longer and warmer (with Wakaru still glaring in the near background)...

    “ - That went well, Coach, no?” Alex smiles happily on their way home.
    - Quite. Do try not to get on Nyree’s big brother’s bad side, though, just in case.” Diego warns.
    “ - Heh. I’m afraid me approaching ‘Ree closer than ten meters or so is already doing that…” Alex muses wryly. ” - But I’ll try not to antagonize him intentionally.” she promises.

    Thursday, January 23 - Friday, January 24

    Diego gets a surprise call - from principal Chennault! Turns out, she has heard about his little problem, lacking a force commander for the staff them to take on the Angles… And she volunteers! Well now, this should be interesting! Diego is happy to accept.

    She’s been retired for a long time now, much longer than Diego himself, so she warns him not to be too disappointed if she turns out too rusty to be quite impressive in the role. But some things are hard to forget, and she does know her people well, if not quite in this context…

    Ginevra expresses some regret about not being able to participate more fully, but her job keeps her rather too busy, and, well, the years are slowly catching up to her.

    Still, she should be good for one go! Though she’ll command from entirely behind lines, not joining them all at the field, instead connecting through Maya… Partially, it’s probably about not wanting to make things too formal and awkward, especially for the kids, with her presence on the weekend.

    Diego contacts Bolo as well. The primary focus of the meeting must, as always, be the Angels, they need the training. So they’ll do just one match with the teachers, and resume their normal routine then. The Spiders will be more than happy to spectate that one match, though!

    Saturday, January 25

    Both teams assemble by the hangar. With that many people to transport, today they’ll need to use both trucks! The Angels go by their Monster, while the staff use the other, still unnamed hauler. The sight of two of the huge vehicles rolling by this time does no doubt cause some consternation in people used to seeing the Angels driving to their paintball practice every Saturday!

    At the field, everyone is greeted by Bolo’s Barkin’ Spiders, making for a big, cheerful gathering.

    Time for the students to test their mettle against the teachers (plus bedel, nurse, and school AI-aspect!), commanded, as promised, remotely by the principal.

    The principal decides to make Yuni her field commander. Makes sense - Miss Iskandar’s intimate knowledge of the girls’ and Diego’s capabilities and tactical preferences should prove a valuable asset.

    Some opponents square off in joking “nemesis” fashion: Morgan and Nyree against Gerhard, Octavia against Felipe with very different instruments than usual, Patty eager to see what DeeDee can do, Alex and Ken mock-glaring at each other, Minnie and Yuni sharing a friendly competitive grin, Evangeline nodding coolly at Helga, while Dominique shakes Maximilian’s hand in joking solemnity. The only ones without an immediate opponent are Samantha and Isabell, both observing the going-ons with some amusement.

    Alright! The match begins! The Spiders make sure to cheer on both teams equally.

    It quickly becomes apparent that this battle will be much different than usual for the Angels. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite of what often happens during their paintball skirmishes! Typically, Diego dominates the far less experienced amateur opponent commanders tactically, but the girls in their own relative inexperience often struggle to make full use of that, pitted against better combatants. But this time, Diablo goes against principal Chennault… And gets to feel a bit of what it’s usually like for Bolo to stand against him! Looks like Ginevra’s protestations of rustiness may have been a ruse! Or at least severely overstated. The retired officer turns out to still be a hell of a tactician and commander. She doesn't quite run rings around him, but she is making Diablo seriously sweat! Her troops, however, experience lots of trouble, running up against the Angels’ better teamwork and battle experience.

    The Angels open with an ambush attempt, and though the cautiously advancing staff avoid the worst of it, they still suffer the first casualty of the game, Helga gunned down by Octy.
    The next clash had Diego direct the Angels into a hit-and-run maneuver, but the staff keeps up their steady, well-covered advance, and actually manage to inflict a casualty of their own. ‘Nique goes down to Max’ fire. This however will be the last time the grown-ups manage to score a kill…
    In rapid succession, Diego orders an all-out attack, that the opponent endures through digging in into a well-executed all-out defence, then another hit-and-run, with Ginevra’s team evading and attempting a flanking maneuver. Lots of fire is exchanged, but no casualties fall on either side.
    Another ambush attempt by the Angels almost goes disastrously wrong, as the principal directs her troops into their own hit-and-run attack… But in the end, it is the girls who emerge victorious, Samantha claiming a kill on Max!
    Another close call follows, Diablo’s attempt at a new all-out assault falling into the staff’s ambush, but the Angels scrape by, escaping with no losses.
    The tables turn rapidly then, the emboldened staff going into their own all-out attack… Only to fall into the Angels’ ambush in turn! And the Angels do better, Octavia taking down Felipe!
    Things wrap up relatively quickly then, a series of relentless hit and run strikes by the girls overpowering the staff’s attempts to dig in and then flank, Sam taking out Gerhard, Alex downing Ken, Octy claiming her third kill, on DeeDee, Patty sniping Yuni, and finally Nyree nailing Isabel with a counter-sniper grenade lob (spotted for by Minnie).

    The “old guard” definitely didn’t sell their skins lightly, the match long and hard thought, but the Angels are the very clear winners!

    Of the girls, the standouts today are Octy, of course, back on form, Sam, doing very well all around, and Minnie, who did not score any frags, but was a marvel of a harassing skirmisher nonetheless.
    Of the staff, DeeDee did much better today than last time, with still no kills to her name, but her suppression fire saving the team’s bacon a few times, and Yuni really milked every last drop of her knowledge of the opponents for last-second saves.

    That was fun! They’d definitely need to do it again sometime.

    They play a few matches more, Angels going against the Spiders, most of the staff sticking around to spectate and cheer (the principal says goodbye and disconnects, not to cramp their style). They end the day with the traditional campfire picnic, a larger but just as congenial a gathering than usual (though with the girls present, they again can’t bust out the beer, like last Sunday).

    Sunday, January 26

    Sunday being otherwise free, Diego and Yuni do in their customary motorcycle trip out of town, for a pleasant ride and a spot of outdoors athletics, like running, climbing, jumping, swimming… And maybe even some other fun activities, of the ostensibly horizontal nature, though the two of them have no trouble making it vertical as well! Yuni knows one or two cozy little nooks where they can delight in such while outdoors, without the worry of being caught…

    As they are driving back into Belo Horizonte in the late afternoon, they come upon a little spot of excitement, as they hear police sirens in the distance. Their comlogs provide the appropriate local Maya news-channel coverage, to reveal a highway chase in progress not too far from them!

    Traffic cops, represented mostly by ground and some aerial drones, are in hot pursuit of a biker - a mostly black-clad, most probably female lawbreaker, on a mostly black racing motorcycle of some description… The camera footage of the fugitive isn’t of the greatest quality, with the speed and distance they are managing to maintain on the chasers, but the brief flash of worry Diego experienced is quickly put to rest, as he’s rather sure the rider’s outfit does not feature a skirt, nor pink accents, and both her and her steed are rather obviously too large for it to be Octavia Moina.

    All of the delinquent’s personal and vehicle ID tags are not only switched to private mode, but outright hacked to ignore lawful police queries, which should bring them up anyway. And they have some illegal stealth soft running besides, other attempts at identification, like rider biometric and vehicle silhouette matches, also sliding off or throwing up errors. This of course adds several more obstruction and resisting charges to their already impressive record of offenses, all of those centered on blatant disregard for traffic laws.

    And before Diego’s and Yuni’s eyes on live coverage, the lawbreaker gives the cops a slip! And with a truly daredevil maneuver too, a hair-raising bootlegger’s turn-like skid to reverse direction almost instantly, and slip right through the middle of the stunned pursuers to speed off down the highway’s exit ramp! The chasers fail to deal with it, tires squealing and composites screaming and cracking as several of the drones crash spectacularly, their operators and expert systems startled violently into disastrous skids (fortunately, the one car with a human crew just spins out across the open road and comes to a halt safely).

    By the time most of the pursuit can recover, their quarry loses the aerial drones, meandering lightning quick to disappear in the tangle of suburban streets, their masking software no doubt spoofing city surveillance.

    Yuni whistles, impressed.
    “ - Not one of ours, fortunately, I don’t think.” Diego states with some relief.
    “ - Well, if I didn’t know better, you mentioning she wasn’t too impressed by motorcycles, I could have thought you managed to be a bad influence on Alex, introducing them to her...” Yuni jokes.

    A few minutes later, as they are waiting at a red light, they hear a deep basso rumble of a powerful engine behind them. On the opposite side of Diego to Yuni, a new rider rolls up - a slender woman in a black skin-suit with sparse red accents, on a concept racing bike (a beast of one, easily matching Yuni’s own, low-slung on “empty”, spokeless wheels) colored to match. A glittering, flowing silver script of AR graffitti blooms into sight on its flank, revealing what is apparently its name: “Nightmare”.

    And the back of the rider’s sleek helmet leaves free a flowing mane, a dark, AR-enhanced ethereal storm of hair, like a living piece of a star-studded night sky...

    “ - Well, well.” Diego smirks, as the dark rider unseals her helmet, the faceplate sliding back to reveal the grinning visage of Luna Celeste.
    “ - Hi-ii!” the heiress sing-songs happily. “ - Diego! Yuni! Nice to see you guys! Out for a little couple cruise?”
    “ - Miss Celeste! What an… Intriguing surprise!”
    Yuni is still at once guarded of and fascinated by the younger woman.
    “ - I didn’t know you were a biker, Luna… But I should have suspected such energetic pastimes would be right up your alley.” Diego chuckles.
    “ - I do enjoy a good ride now and then.” Luna nods.
    “ - You sure did ride real good just now, right over the cops’ asses.” Diablo grins.
    “ - Why, Diego, I have absolutely no idea what you mean!” Luna protests with a cutely innocent face, eyes sparkling with mischief.
    “ - I’m sure!” Yuni giggles. “ - Family fortune must be an invaluable help in paying traffic tickets, eh?”
    “ - I’m sure it will be, if I’m ever tagged with any!”
    Luna giggles back, smile now properly roguish.

    “ - So, how are our dear Anjos?” Celeste asks next. “ - Ready for their next big match?”
    “ - I think they’re in good shape. Of course, I wouldn’t quite expect another spectacular miracle like they pulled on the Knights…”
    “ - Expect, maybe not, but we can always hope, no? All of us here on Avalon will be cheering for you!”
    Luna declares, smiling. “ - And how are things, equipment-wise, if I may ask?” she inquired idly, eyes glinting again.
    “ - Quite good, thank you.” Diego nods. “ - Especially for the things I’m sure you know absolutely nothing about.” he smirks, giving the rebellious heiress a knowing look, while she pretends really hard that she really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Yeah, no doubt about it, she’s behind the sweet drone deal. “ - They should come in really handy.”
    “ - Glad to hear it! And I of course can’t - shouldn’t, anyway - promise anything…”
    Luna smirks impishly, “ - But if there’s ever anything specific you might need, I could maybe see what… Someone that I know nothing about… Could do.”
    “ - Right now? What we could use most, would be a second Diego.”
    Yuni chuckles. “ - Our usual op-for commanders are struggling to match his experience…”
    “ - You sure you could bare having two of me around, Yuni?”
    Diablo teases.
    “ - Well, if I couldn’t, I could think about sharing then…” she gives Luna a wink, causing the younger woman to laugh delightedly.
    “ - Well, the only option that would be both legal and affordable that I can think of for something at all close to that... Would be a command-assistance expert soft.” Luna muses. “ - Won’t replace a human officer, but could help a less experienced one close the gap somewhat to someone like Coach Diablo… Who knows? Maybe someone could arrange something for you.” that cute, innocent face again. “ - Surely not me, though. I’m just a silly girl from a rich family, after all, wasting all my time on expensive foolishness…”

    Speaking of expensive foolishness, they can now hear a police siren somewhere behind them. It’s not close yet, but getting closer… Luna quickly checks something on her comlog.
    “ - Gotta run?” Diego smirks.
    “ - Yeah, unfortunately. You know how it is. Paparazzi and stuff… Who’d have thought, an Oxyd reporter could have better optics and counter-countermeasure software than the police?” Luna shakes her head, exasperated and amused in equal measure. “ - Welp, it’s been fun chatting! Drop by the Blue Moon again soon, eh? Say hi to the girls for me! All the love! See ya!” Her helmet seals again, and with a last little wave, the delinquent heiress guns her crotch rocket and zooms off, tires squealing.

    A few seconds later, two flying drones, a police and a private news agency one, whizz by in hot pursuit.

    Well. That was interesting!...

    Monday, January 27

    As promised, a package arrives today for the Anjos de Rocha, just in time for the training. A pretty big package, or two packages, actually. Ken oversees the delivery personally, as is often the case, curious to see what new destructive toy the team got themselves this time!

    Well, per agreement, the transport crates contain two ready to go Haqqislamite Murafeq-class remotes, in Rafiq scouting config. Or at least what started out as them…

    A secure Maya file transfer accompanies the physical delivery, containing all the necessary technical documentation, authorization codes, and certificates. And as Diego pursues the manuals, and DeeDee is authorized to bring the drones online, coaxing them out of their packing bays (rather comically treating the chirping, chicken-legged machines like young, anxious birds), everyone crowding to get a look, it becomes clear that Merlin’s mention of the previous owners being a bit of tinkerers was kinda understated.

    Each of the two machines looks a bit like a drunk Kum rider, speeding along on a Diriath Armale gyrocycle, crashed disastrously into a Rafiq remote, and the mechanic that got handed the wrecks was equally drunk and unable to sort the parts, so they just put it all together in a single mecha. The results really do resemble a bastard chick of a remote and motorcycle, the Murafeq chassis mated and mutated with a uni-wheeled bike!

    “ - Lucifer’s beard,” Diablo shakes his head, “ - If those are really Armale engines and drive trains? Those things should be hideously overpowered!...”

    To prove the point, DeeDee, in chibi form, sits atop one of the drones, makes it fold up its legs to rest on the wheel sticking out of its belly (perfect balance, the gyros Diriath-made as well), and roars into a circuit of the hangar, completed in record time, breaking hard, legs sparking on the concrete as they quickly reach down again to keep the machine from flipping ass over teakettle.

    “ - Whoah…” the AI aspect gasps.
    “ - Can… Can WE ride them?...” asks Octavia shyly, a rare spark in her eye.
    “ - Wouldn’t recommend that.” Diego has to shoot the idea down. “ - Sure, their gyros are great, but there’s no proper seat or handholds and legrests, and if you fell off at the speeds those things can reach? Wouldn’t be much left to pick up…”

    Eric and ‘Nique eagerly pour over the tech documents. The drones are really a piece of work. The Armale suspension gives them pretty good off-road capability even at speed, and any terrain the motorcycle part can’t handle, the legs usually can. So they have great mobility, and the equipment they carry - sensors with deployable sniffers, forward observer suites with sat-lock capability, and even deactivators - should prove valuable in enhancing the team’s battlefield awareness and control.

    Diego considers disarming them completely - their personal-scale rifles and shotguns won’t be much use against TAGs… But Eric argues one cannot underestimate the psychological effect of being shot at, even if the target knows intellectually that the attack can’t really hurt them. And some lucky shots could always disable sensors and equipment, or even inflict mobility damage on enemy machines. It’s not like the remotes really need the weight saving, and the ammo will be cheap, compared to the team’s other weapons. And flash pulse blinding is nothing to sneer at either. So in the end, they decide to only dismantle the drones’ repeater relays, those won’t be of use, with no hacker on the roster.

    Eric thinks about maybe having the “biker-chicks”, as the drones seem to become nicknamed quickly, carry the deployable camouflage suites the TAGs got, or maybe even a Blitzen, at least as spare ammo for Minnie, but that would really play against their intended role of fast, expendable scouts and harassers. Now, a set of the one-shot smokescreen generators currently in development would be a better idea. They decide to go for that, once those are ready.

    Still, if they could afford to load them up with AP ammo, that could give the drones enough bite for enemy TAGs to really think twice before walking into their line of fire...

    Alright, time for the first live training with the remotes. Let’s see how Evangeline handles commanding them.

    The answer is, not too bad, with the earlier simulated exercises using REMs definitely helping. Though their unexpected speed and mobility takes some serious getting used to. Eva, and the others too, are also still obviously struggling a bit with getting used to the idea of the drones being completely expendable assets, to use before inevitably losing (and they are expected to be lost fast, with the caliber of weapons usually carried by TAGs, and the remotes’ very limited armor...). If, for example, they fall as casualties in the first minutes of a match while triggering an ambush instead of actual players, then they will have already served their purpose.

    Other than the two training sessions they have left until then, Diego will be spending the rest of the week finalizing the arrangements for their trip to Paradiso.
    The girls will need official parental permissions, as well as dispensations from the school, seeing as they’ll be absent from Friday’s classes.

    Tuesday, January 28

    Things have been going pretty well for a while, haven’t they? So it seems it’s high time for a new headache to materialise…

    Diego takes a morning shift at Silva’s today, just so as not to lose his touch, when he receives a call. It’s principal Chennault. And her displeased expression (not with Diablo, more with the situation) makes it clear it’s not a social one...

    “ - Let me guess, ma’am, Alex was overdue for some trouble?” Diego sighs.
    “ - It’s about one of our Angels, and Miss Narahari IS in fact involved, but it’s not her that’s in trouble this time, Coach Ibarrez.”
    Diablo raises a surprised eyebrow. “ - Alright, if you didn’t before, now you certainly have my attention!…”

    Seems the trouble started with Vaughn’s interview with Alex. The boy’s been hard at work, gathering material and developing the team’s media presence. Diego didn’t actually watch any of the interviews the junior reporter did with the team. His comlog did bookmark them for Diablo, but he declined, not feeling the need or desire to look the girls over their shoulders. All he knew, was that Alex has dallied for some reason, only actually letting Vaughn have the interview last Tuesday (before the shopping trip with Eva, most likely)...

    Watching a fragment of the media piece now, Diego guesses he can see why Alex stalled - she was gathering confidence to say what she apparently thought she needed to say. And her Monday talk with Nyree, with the successful apology, gave the former bully what she required. Alex had made some efforts to apologize to her former victims before approaching Rikoriko. But now she used the interview to make the apologies “official” and school-wide!

    “ - ...Yeah, one last thing I want to say… I’m sorry. If you’re one of the people who don’t know what I need to say sorry for, well, good. But for all the others, those who do know? I know you may never forgive me, and I won’t blame you one bit. I was a terrible person, and I’ve made mistakes. The team gave me a chance to fix myself. But the things I’ve done to some of you, I might never be able to fix… And an apology is the only thing I can say for myself. So, whether you believe me or not… I’m sorry. And… That’s kinda it. Thanks, Vaughn…”

    Well now. That’s another excellent, grown-up step on Alex’ reformation journey.
    But, as could be predicted, just like with the personal apologies, not everyone was satisfied with it…

    As the principal now explains, one such person was one Joel Vargas, one of Alex’ former targets, of course, a boy one year below her in the Academy. And today, Senhor Vargas finally decided to make his displeasure known to Miss Narahari personally. Blinded by festering hurt and anger, sensing what he believed to be weakness from his once-tormentor (and backed up by a few “buddies” who’s insensitive teasing over being abused by a girl wasn’t exactly healthy for him), the boy decided to extract a spot of “righteous” vengeance on the bully. With his fists.

    Was such an extreme action justified? Some would surely argue for a “yes”. And it seemed Alex was actually among them! The surveillance recording Ginevra plays for Diego shows Alex took the punch as her due - not the first one she received in similar circumstances, Diego remembers. Her resolve did seem to waver, as kneeling on the ground, folded over from the fist in the gut, she looked up to see Joel very much resolved to continue, rising his fist again, aiming for her face this time…

    But then, some people who very much disagreed with his actions showed up.
    A teacher was already racing to the scene, alerted by Miss Alephsdottir… But the first to arrive were Patricia Summers and Octavia Moina!

    Patty was obviously going to do something involving Joel’s comlog - she later admitted to hacking hid audio-visual feed and getting ready to hit him with a “flashbang” (far from real paramilitary strength, the technique is usually used as a prank, but can still startle and disorient) to halt his assault...

    But Octy was faster! The slight cellist all but teleported the distance between where the two friends arrived and Joel standing over Alex, and seized him roughly by the wrist! This stopped his punch, more with surprise than strength, the boy being of average build, but still larger than the relatively tiny Octy.

    And everything might have ended then, with no further trouble, the called staff member just arriving… Except Senhorita Moina didn’t stop there. Instead, she used a clever bit of leverage (thought the move didn’t look practiced to Diego, who hadn’t heard anything about Octy picking up martial arts, more just relying on good instincts and fueled by rage) to brutally twist the boy’s wrist… And dislocate it violently, with an ugly crunch!

    This of course put to rest any further violent intentions by Senhor Vargas - he was too busy screaming…

    Octavia, her face the steely, merciless one she usually only wears on the battlefield, punctuated the incident by announcing to the crying Joel Vargas (in a voice whose resemblance to a knife would no doubt make Shelke proud), that should he ever dare rise his hand against one of her friends again, he wouldn’t be getting it back again!

    So now, it’s an ugly situation all around. All sides have extenuating circumstances working for them, certainly, but disciplinary measures must be taken. Joel Vargas (whose wrist should be fine in a couple days with proper treatment, nurse Talho assures) got his…

    “ - …And I needed to levy some against Octavia Moina, which is, again, not something I ever expected to have to do. Saying the last months changed a lot is becoming a cliche by now…” the principal sighs.
    “ - What did you decide on, ma’am?”
    “ - Well, I needed to be consequent… As such? Miss Moina is suspended from her extracurricular activities, orchestra and TAG-Soft alike, until next Tuesday.”
    “ -
    Chica is inconsolable, I suspect.”
    “ - Indeed. It’s highly regrettable, especially as it needs to happen now, with the match coming. But I feel it’s fair, and should be an effective measure.”
    principal Chennault states with finality. Not that Diego can really argue with her reasoning or judgement.
    “ - Welp. Time to test out our rookie reserve player, it looks like. Won’t lie, I’d highly prefer having Octavia in the team for the first away game, but this are the cards I’ve got to play with. Fortunate we have a substitute available…” Diablo sighs.

    At least, the principal adds, Senhor Moina took the news fairly calmly. Probably another strong argument for his “Little Angel” not needing quite as much protection and coddling as he was forcing upon her not so long ago…
    Though Diego still wouldn’t be surprised if they found Vargas next week, wearing concrete shoes at the bottom of the Belo Horizonte bay, on sheer principle! :P

    Wednesday, January 29

    The team meets for their last practice before the match.

    Octavia can’t participate, but she drops by for a moment, coming in early with Patricia. She’s obviously sad and unhappy, with the world… And herself.

    “ - I’m sorry, Coach. I got… Carried away.” Octy hangs her head, ashamed.
    “ - I saw, Chica.” Diablo nods.
    Patty pats Octy on the shoulder smiling. “ - Carried away, my ass! That was serious restraint! Guy is lucky you’re not a bit larger!...” she teases a bit. “ - I bet your dad was proud!”
    “ - Yeah, I was going to say, judging by your face? What you really wanted to do, was rip his arm off and shove it where the sun don’t shine, deep enough for him to fondle his tonsils…”
    Diego chuckles.
    Octavia blushes hard… But does not protest. “ - I blew it…”
    “ - Ya blew it, alright.”
    Alex chimes in. “ - I see no-one ever gave you the advice the Coach and the Principal gave me - wait for them to get the first hit in… Then hit back, good enough so that they won’t get up again! And for gawd’s sake, know where the cameras are!” she smirks. “ - I think I’ll have to give some lessons to all of you…”
    “ - Not a bad idea.”
    Diego agrees, smirking himself. “ - Cold come in handy.”
    Evangeline pinches the bridge of her nose, exasperated. “ - I won’t even bother to comment…”
    “ - Good. Less talk, more learning the trade.”
    Diablo grins, making the Princess slump with a long-suffering sigh. “ - And as to Senhor Vargas… Well, I hope the boy has someone… Because with his right hand in a cast for a while? Things could get… Lonely… For him otherwise.”

    As the others chuckle, blush, or both, Morgan shakes her head with disapproval, though she can’t entirely resist a tiny smirk. Eva just staunchly pretends she heard nothing.

    “ - Seriously though, I’ll have have a word with little Joel…” Diablo muses, not quite kindly.
    “ - Um, Coach?…” Alex protests. “ - We kinda know what ‘a word’ from you looks like in such cases… And you know, I don’t exactly blame the guy…”
    “ - Alex.”
    Nyree demands firmly. “ - You have to stop that.”
    “ - Wha?...”
    “ - We know that you’re sorry, and that you want to change, okay? But you’ve got to stop this kind of… Martyrdom crap.”
    ‘Ree, face stern with concern, lays a gentle hand on Narahari’s shoulder, making her blush.
    “ - Nyree’s got a point. It’s starting to look a bit like masochism by now…” Diego muses. Then grins. “ - But if you really feel like being punished, I’m sure we can find someone willing to give you a lashing, on naked buttocks with a wet leek!...”

    THIS particular image garners some amusing reactions, with Alex and Nyree blushing heavily, Octavia following suit, Morgan’s shoulders jumping with miniscule shudders, like she’s restraining giggles, Minnie and Patty not bothering and falling down amids hysterical laughter, ‘Nique blushing and chuckling, Sam not sure what to make of it, and Eva just throwing her hands up and leaving the hangar for a while, refusing to deal with this shit.

    “ - Interesting idea… Should I know something about your preferences after all?...”
    Yuni, likewise chuckling, inquires jokingly.
    “ - No, you don’t have to make any special purchases at the grocers today, but thank you.” Diego grins.
    “ - I don’t know… I suddenly feel a craving for a leek salad…” Yuni muses playfully, setting off another round of laughter.

    “ - Are we done yet?” inquires Evangeline cautiously, leaning in around the doorframe.
    “ - With the topic of vegetables? Yes, for the moment.” Diego reassures.
    “ - Good.” Eva deigns to return.

    The tension and looming gloom thoroughly broken, Octavia sighs. “ - Still feel bad about having to abandon the team when you need me…”
    “ - You didn’t abandon us!”
    protests Minnie.
    “ - Yeah, kinda the opposite, really, no?” muses ‘Nique. “ - You stepped up when a teammate needed help.”
    “ - Even if you went a bit overboard.”
    Patty bumps Octy’s shoulder again.
    “ - Yeah, Moina. Thank you.” Alex nods seriously.
    Nyree too gives Octy a grateful smile.

    “ - And besides, talk like that could make Sam think we don’t want her!” Minnie continues. “ - Whereas nothing could be further from the truth!” she declares brightly, hugging Samantha, who gives a long-suffering sigh at the incessant affection from her least favorite teammate… Though her scowl might not be as hard as it was not long ago. “ - It’s sad that Octy’s not coming with, but now YOU get to play a real match with us for the first time! This is your moment, Sam! Your big debut! You get to show everyone what you can do!” the hyper teen cheers.
    “ - Chryse, is that supposed to raise my morale?” Silva grumbles. “ - ‘Cause all it’s doing, is making me even more nervous! I’ve been on the team, what, not quite four weeks now? And I already have to play an official league match?” she shakes her head helplessly.
    “ - That’s actually perfectly fitting!” Patricia points out, grinning.
    “ - Quite. Pretty much the same thing happened to us.” Eva gives Diablo a bit of a playful glare.
    “ - And if a pep-talk isn’t helping, I have other ways!” Minuette grins. “ - Bonbon?” she offers Sam a candy bag. Silva sighs again and takes some.

    “ - Well, I’ll be cheering for you.” promises Octavia.
    “ - We’re counting on it, chica.” Diablo nods.

    Octavia leaves, as she must, and the team proceeds to the training. Because of the match coming up, Diego decides to break their usual rotating exercise schedule, and makes this session a live one again. Samantha goes out in Octavia’s Lizard.

    Diablo runs the girls through full team drills against simulated opponents based on the official stats of the Crimson Gale. The Yu Jing teens specialise in mobility, assault, and close range fighting, and are well equipped. And their league table position places them as definitely tougher opponents than the Human Revolution were.

    The training is a tough one, and the real match is sure to be as well.

    Thursday, January 30

    The day of the Angels’ first interplanetary trip has come!

    From the early morning, Diego, chief Wana, and the tech crew are busy with packing up and transporting the equipment. All eight TAGs, two remotes, and all the necessary supplies are transferred, for the first time, into the truck-towed mobile hangars, and the two monstrous vehicles driven to the starport ahead of time, for loading onto the rented shuttle.

    Despite the trip being a short one, just one Circular jump (“clockwise” on the C9 line*), compared to the two they’ll need to get to Bourak to play against the Rahat al-Hulkum, it will actually be more expensive, barely within their travel budget! That’s because they need to move fast, and so can’t use the slower, economy options, like renting a non-atmospheric-only shuttle and getting to orbit and back on the elevators on both ends. At least they’re lucky, in that they can actually catch a Circular exactly when they need it, instead of having to wait a day and miss the date.

    • After the EI War and the discovery and settling of the two new planets, some of the existing Circular routes were modified to accommodate them (C3 and C5 to include Fenhuang, and C2 and C6 for Avalon), and one whole new route, C9, was created. Nicknamed “The Grand Tour”, C9 connects all the settled systems of the Human Sphere.

    The trip will take, from the moment of boarding on Avalon to disembarking on Paradiso - in the Xiangu City starport, in Yu Jing’s Daheng province on the Serpentria continent, where they’re going - just upwards of 24 hours. And about 20 of those hours will be spent in the shuttle, en route from planet to Circular and back. They are scheduled for lift-off at 3 PM, Belo Horizonte time, and will be touching down at Xiangu 12 PM local time on Friday, January 31, with the match scheduled for 3 PM local. Meaning they will probably try to ride out the long day until after the jump (the girls will want to disembark on the Circular and at least hit the duty-free-zone shops, surely!), and use the transfer towards Paradiso for sleep. Fortunately, modern pharmaceutical aids make it relatively easy to beat the jump-lag…

    They will make their way back at a just slightly more relaxed pace, boarding in the late afternoon on Saturday, to arrive back on Avalon with some Sunday to spare.

    Sadly, the Gale won’t be able to hang out on Saturday, having their own schedule to keep - they’re going on a training field trip for the weekend.

    Of course, the students will receive all the school material they’ll miss on Friday via comlog, and Nyree for one will likely insist on reviewing it, quite rightly… But she probably can be persuaded by the others to at least wait until Saturday and the trip back.

    The shuttle that will be their primary mode of transport and habitation doesn’t offer particularly luxurious accommodations, but it’s not quite the cramped XXI-century airline economy class either, with a 20-person main sitting compartment comparable to the school’s activities busses, actually, plus 4-person sleeping cabins with bunk beds. Plus kitchenette and bathroom, of course.

    The Angels gather at the hangar after classes are over, their luggage dropped off there in the morning (except for Evangeline’s of course, Roger brings that over with the limousine). And mercifully, the Princess limited herself to just a single, if rather large, suitcase… Well, more of a trunk, really…

    Everyone: the girls, Diego and Yuni will drive to the starport in one of the Academy’s buses, like they did to the beach (Eric and the three members of the abridged tech crew they’re taking along are already on site, supervising the last loading arrangements and formalities). Joining them will be also Roger and Dorothy. As expected, Eva can’t leave the planet unattended! Whether Shelke will be lurking somewhere as well is hard to tell… Anyway, the Smiths’ presence in the chaperone detachment will likely assuage the apprehension of some of the parents about letting their daughters go on an interplanetary trip “all alone”.

    For a few of the Angels, this will be their first time travelling in space! Evangeline, Samantha, Minuette, Nyree, Patty, and Alex all have made trips to other planets before with their families (though the last time was quite a long time ago, for Nyree and Alex). ‘Nique, of course, and Morgan (and the absent Octy, for future reference), on the other hand, have never left Avalon... Well, ‘Nique did make an interplanetary trip with her mom, but she wasn’t born then yet, so it doesn’t quite count. :P

    Regardless, Diego makes sure anti-motion sickness medicine and sick bags are on hand, just in case. With the modern artificial gravity and inertial compensators, they won’t experience any 0-G and the highest G-spikes will be much eased, but better safe than sorry. This will not be a simple bus ride, after all.

    Of course, even among those who did travel, not all did ever cross the national and cultural borders of PanOceania, like they will now. Hopefully, the Angels can get along with the Gale kids… Though the REAL heavy culture shock is quite a ways ahead of them. Diego can’t wait to introduce them to the Nomad Motherships. Especially Bakunin where they will surely visit for their rematch with Human Revolution. The Angels handled the Revolution themselves quite well, but that was just a small sample… Diablo grins evilly, thinking he should definitely have someone record Eva’s reactions! And Chryse will probably go spare! Diego seriously considers performing a “pre-emptive strike”, and just buying Minnie a comlog-controlled fasten-on tail prosthetic. Otherwise, the hyper girl may just slip away to a Bouboutique and come back with the real thing!

    It’s quite the excited bunch that takes care of the last formalities and baggage stowing and finally boards the shuttle and straps in. Minnie started bouncing in her seat on the bus and is continuing it on the shuttle. Eva tries maintaining the proper, princess-y poise, Sam trying to copy her, but both are obviously excited as well.

    Now, all their belongings are secured, everyone is strapped in, and the shuttle is cleared for launch.

    The engines roar to life… And the Anjos de Rocha head for the sky, off to a new adventure!...

    This concludes entry #23.​

    The Angels of Stone will return,
    In entry #24:
    “Konya wa Hurricane!”​

    Now let's see, how many months it'll be until the next one!... :sweat_smile:
    #64 Kathara_Khan, Mar 13, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
    Section9, Danger Rose and Errhile like this.
  5. Danger Rose

    Danger Rose Sand Cats Tactical Security LLC

    Nov 23, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Section9 and Kathara_Khan like this.
  6. Dark Mage

    Dark Mage Member

    Mar 1, 2018
    Likes Received:
    @Kathara_Khan, I like this story but I have noticed the repeated use of the wrong word:

    I believe the word you mean to use is whether.

    Any way, can not wait for the next update!
    Kathara_Khan likes this.
  7. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Well, the Crimson Gale's coach is Linna, and their chief engineer is dr. Raven, so it's just fitting, you know? :sunglasses:

    Ah, thanks. I always get the two confused. :blush:

    Glad you enjoy our efforts! Believe me, I can't wait either... Sadly it will take a while. :sweat_smile:
    Danger Rose likes this.
  8. Section9

    Section9 Well-Known Member

    Nov 24, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Update!!!!!!!!!eleventyone!!! (Where's that :squeeee: emoticon?)

    I'm surprised you couldn't power the rocket with as much as Minnie is bouncing around...

    Man, now I need to re-watch Bubblegum Crisis (and Crash).

    I know, right?
    Danger Rose and Kathara_Khan like this.
  9. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Glad you're excited! :blush:

    That's the next level of Voodotech the Human Sphere's powers are working on. Unfortunately, it's not going so well. No storage medium tried so far was able to contain all the energy produced without blowing up... :sweat_smile:

    It was one of my first ever anime, and, warts and all (and trust me, I'm well aware of how numerous those are :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:), it's still one of my absolute favorites...

    Danger Rose likes this.
  10. Section9

    Section9 Well-Known Member

    Nov 24, 2017
    Likes Received:
    About like the stupidity-powered generators that catastrophically fail when you bring them close to any national center of government...

    Errhile likes this.
  11. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Good news, everyone! (Well, I'm assuming... :stuck_out_tongue:)

    We're slowly gearing up to play the next episode (in two weeks, if all goes well)!
    And of course after that, it shouldn't be more than, oh, two months again before the report from it is ready! :laughing:

    In the mean time, have a bit of useless (for now, at least...) fluff / world-building.
    The Nomad nation has few enough TAG-Soft teams, that we're actually able to name them all! So here goes:

    TAGs of Avalon Data Files:
    TAG-Soft Teams of the Nomad Nation

    - The Blood-Red Raiders
    - El Presidium Presidentes
    - Team Rocket*
    - The Vent Rats

    - The Praxis Rejects
    - Bio-Riot
    - Human Revolution
    - The Test Tube Babies

    - The Ghouls**
    - Kombinat
    - Squadra Nostra
    - The Shadowrunners

    * Referencing an obscure XX-XXI century video game… :P
    ** Loosely referencing the Tunguska data-crypt; One of the few TAG-Soft teams to have a hacker on their roster - two, in fact!
    jherazob, Section9, Golem2God and 2 others like this.
  12. Golem2God

    Golem2God Just a Kooky Kumotail serving others.

    Nov 25, 2017
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    Looks like they are blasting off again!!
    Kathara_Khan and jherazob like this.
  13. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Well, we've played the episode #24, "Konya wa Hurricane!", and, boy, a hurricane it was!

    Now, it'll take a while to write it all down, but to give you a spoiler:
    • Anjos da Rocha square off against Crimson Gale (and their ridiculously high-end toys*) in the steamy jungle of Paradiso,
    • Samantha earns her spurs,
    • Luna earns a kiss... and a swift kick to the butt!
    * I didn't told that to @Kathara_Khan yesterday, but yes, what the Gale brought into the match was, in my opinion, jaw dropping.
    Danger Rose, jherazob and Golem2God like this.
  14. Danger Rose

    Danger Rose Sand Cats Tactical Security LLC

    Nov 23, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Wooohoooo!!!! Can't wait to read all about it! Knight Sabers 4ever!
  15. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    The Crimson Gale ARE Japanese after all, and everyone knows the Japanese have the best mecha! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
    jherazob likes this.
  16. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
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    And way too deep pockets! :P
  17. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Beside the couch's own contacts and ruthless business sense? The captain's mother being the CO of one of the biggest Japanese megacorps, and taking a bit of personal interest, is surely of no detriment to the team's finances and access to equipment... :sunglasses:
  18. Errhile

    Errhile A traveller on the Silk Road

    Nov 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Yea... and they say PanO are the TAG faction... seems the Angels should get themselves a seminar or three on Corregidor.

    On the topic of "How to fight overwhelming odds with muy grande cojones and not much else. Regardless of one's actual sex. The seminar's program includes growing a pair. Or two, just to be sure."

    Danger Rose likes this.
  19. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    You mean GIVE a seminar, right?

    And in the words of the great Betty White:
    "Why do people say "grow some balls"? Balls are weak and sensitive! If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina! Those things can take a pounding!"

    And the Angels have THAT covered quite well... :sunglasses:
    Danger Rose, Deltervees and Errhile like this.
  20. Kathara_Khan

    Kathara_Khan Capricious and Whimsical

    Dec 31, 2017
    Likes Received:
    She rules, and she reigns!


    Made for me by the amazing talented Omegalife (warning, gallery with NSFW content!).
    #80 Kathara_Khan, Jul 21, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2018
    Section9, jherazob, Golem2God and 3 others like this.
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