“Ha, I knew I’d find you here.”
“Oh man, you managed to spot me from clear across the cafeteria,” Davídrius drawled. “What an accomplishment.”
“Oh, be quiet,” Christeané retorted as he dropped his tray of food on the table across from Davídrius and took a seat. “You’re always sitting over here, by yourself.”
“Has it not occurred to you that I might actually want to be by myself?”
“’Course it has.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Hard to talk to you if I’m not.”
“…Keh.” Davídrius smirked despite himself, and then shook his head wearily. “You’re fuckin’ ridiculous, you know?”
“That’s what they all say,” Christeané responded around a mouthful of food. “Better than being an asshole, I’d say.”
“Blunt as ever, I see.”
“Eh, you’re getting better. I heard you actually apologized to Kevérin yesterday.”
“Oh, so you actually were talkin’ about me when you said ‘asshole,’ tch. …Wait, you heard about that? How—?”
“He told me. He actually asked me if you were okay; he seemed to think something had happened to your head, heheheh.”
“Of course he did,” Davídrius deadpanned. “Aight, so, yeah. The whole thing with the Dark Ayas made me realize I wasn’t really bein’ too friendly, so I decided to try an’ change that.”
“Aww, that’s adorable.”
“…And this is why I keep to myself. I get mocked no matter what I do.”
“I’m not mocking you, I’m applauding your progress!”
“Uh huh. Sure ya are.”
“Though,” Christeané began again after swallowing, “if you’re gonna apologize to Kevérin, I think you should apologize to Rebehka and Kaoné, too.”
“…I’ll think about Kaoné. She still has a worldview that I fundamentally disagree with, so we’ll have to see. What’d I do to Rebehka, though? Haven’t said much to her since… since, uh…”
“And that’s exactly the problem. Weren’t you supposed to be practicing fencing or something with her? According to Siyuakén, you’ve been blowing her off.”
“Well… I guess, yeah. I guess I have been wastin’ her time, huh…”
“It doesn’t have to be a whole thing, just say sorry. I’m sure she’ll forgive you. She’s great like that.”
“And you’d know, because…?”
“Aside from the fact that I’ve known her and Siyuakén for longer than you have, I think it’s probably safe to say that I can read people better than you can.”
“Bullshit, I can read people just fine.”
“Ha! I have to agree with Christeané here.”
“Huh?” Davídrius and Christeané both turned their attention to the end of the table, where Rebehka was standing, food tray in hand.
“Mind if I sit with you guys?” she asked.
“Sure,” Christeané replied, patting the stool next to him.
“I’m surprised to see you here without Siyuakén,” Davídrius remarked.
“Well, I was going to have lunch with her,” the Cryotechnic responded as she took a seat, “but when I went back to the office to get her, she and Kaoné were in the middle of… a much-needed conversation, let’s call it. I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“’Much-needed conversation?’” Davídrius echoed incredulously, “about what?”
Rebehka shook her head. “It’s nothing. You don’t need to worry about it. What were you talking about before, though?”
“Oh, you mean why I mentioned you and Siyuakén?” Christeané smirked.
“Wasn’t anythin’,” Davídrius declared stubbornly, “nothin’ at— agh?!” He suddenly flinched and then glared at Christeané, who had just kicked him in the shins.
“The two of you are getting along just as well as ever, I see,” Rebehka remarked amusedly.
“Hell of an idea, kicking a Velocitechnic in the shins,” Davídrius deadpanned, his scornful gaze set directly on Christeané.
“Oh, get over yourself,” the Forcetechnic replied.
Davídrius sighed wearily. “Fine, fine, alright.” He then turned to Rebehka. “I’m… sorry, for skippin’ out on our swordplay practice.”
“So that’s what this was about, huh?” Rebehka raised an incredulous eyebrow, passing Christeané a glance before returning her attention to Davídrius. “You do know how much of my time you’ve wasted, right?”
“I know, I know. That’s why I’m apologizin’.”
“Heh. Apology accepted. I’d prefer we not have to have this discussion again, though. So do you want to keep up with the lessons?” The Cryotechnic adopted a taunting smirk. “Or were they just too much for you?”
“Hmph, ‘too much’ my ass,” Davídrius retorted. “But if you’re still up to it, then sure, I guess. I’m back to usin’ swords anyways, might as well learn to use ‘em.”
“You know what this means, then, right?”
“Uh…” Davídrius hesitated, unsure of what to make of Rebehka’s question. “…What do you mean… ‘what this means?’”
Rebehka grinned and laughed quietly to herself in response. “Meet me in the practice room after work.” She then glanced over at Christeané. “You too.”
Christeané offered a brief nod in acknowledgment.
“Just what are you tryin’ to get at, here…?” Davídrius questioned uneasily.
“Don’t worry,” Rebehka chirped, her expression dialed back from a grin to a mere smirk. “I’m sure some of the lesson will have actual practical value.”
“Hey, it’s Siyuakén and Kaoné!” The Cryotechnic spontaneously changed the subject as she began waving over the two Chaotics who had just entered the lunchroom.
“…Bah.” Davídrius scowled. “More people. I mean, it’s not like I sat way over here by myself because I wanted to be alone. Psh. That’d just be silly.”
“You’re right it would,” Christeané remarked, “c’mon, who’d want to avoid friends like us?”
“’Friends like us.’ Ha, right. Who would…”
“I’d like you to share less information with Hero Machina from now on.”
“What?” Kievkenalis paused, glancing between Archoné Culana and General Rantéin in confusion. “…Why?”
“If your compatriots are anything to go by, the NSD is nowhere near as secure an organization as I first expected,” Rantéin explained, ignoring the Archoné as he gleefully dived into the sandwich he was holding. “I find it increasingly difficult to trust this international endeavor.”
“Well, okay, but why sabotage it, then?” Kievkenalis questioned, “don’t you want it to do better?”
“I do, but not if it costs me confidential RPF information.”
“But… that information has led to two of our most important missions.”
“Missions that Hero Machina handled remarkably poorly. If Nikéyin chooses to continue to put her trust into such a group, then I’m not sure I can trust her.”
“She actually shares many of your concerns, Sulan,” Culana interjected.
“…What?” The General turned to give Culana a confused look. “Then why—?”
“I convinced her to give them one more chance.”
Rantéin facepalmed and sighed audibly. “Damn it, Pallan, is it too much to ask that you tell me these things?”
“I’m the Archoné. I don’t have to tell anyone anything,” Culana declared, though the faintest tone of cheekiness could be detected in his voice.
“So…” Kievkenalis spoke up uneasily, “am I—?”
“I’d still like you to be wary of what you share, Captain,” Rantéin insisted, “if what Pallan says is true, then perhaps my loss of trust in Nikéyin herself is unwarranted. But I still don’t trust the NSD — in the least, I don’t trust your little ‘Hero Machina’ group.”
“But I do,” the Chaostechnic countered.
“That’s… fantastic, Captain, but your opinion doesn’t matter here.”
“If I think you’re being unreasonable, it does. There’s precedent for RPF officers sharing information with third parties if it’s mutually beneficial, and those officers not being punished. Remember the Kai’dan incident? That was only two years ago—”
“Captain,” Rantéin interrupted, “those cases don’t apply to this situation. Those were about direct, immediate threats to the third party. The information you’re sharing, on the other hand—”
“Is directly related to the well-being of the entire galaxy,” Culana cut in.
The General paused for a second before hanging his head in exasperation. “…Is this something in the Oraculm?” he asked wearily, glancing over at Culana.
The Archoné nodded. “It is indeed.”
“…How many times are you going to allow me to make a fool of myself?”
“As many times as it remains to be amusing,” Culana replied while bearing a cheeky smile.
“Sometimes I wonder how I ever became friends with you.” Rantéin shook his head wearily. “You’re insufferable now, I can’t imagine how you’ll be in twenty years when you’re a crotchety old man without a care in the world.”
“I’m sure you’ll be just the same, Sulan.”
“Aye, but I plan to retire by then. You can’t say the same.”
“Oh? You’re telling me you’re just going to abandon the RPF at some point in the future?”
“I jest, I jest.”
“Um…” Kievkenalis spoke up quietly, “What’s the final verdict…?”
Rantéin sighed again and wiped his brow before turning his attention back to the Captain. “…Fine. Continue as you have been. But I still want you to think about what you’re doing. If you ever begin to suspect that your fellow members of Hero Machina are no longer trustworthy, begin withholding information accordingly. Understand?”
Kievkenalis nodded. “Not sure if that will be necessary, but yes, I understand.”
“Alright, then. You can go.” The General watched as Kievkenalis stood up and left the room before turning to Culana. “Is it really too much to ask that you share these things with me?”
The Archoné shrugged. “How am I to know what information you need to know if you don’t tell me?”
“I can’t know what to ask you for if I don’t even know you have the information!”
“Quite the predicament, then, hmm.”
“Oi oi… alright, at least tell me this, Pallan: how significant is the information the Captain is sharing — the task that Hero Machina is carrying out?”
“…I honestly cannot say, Sulan,” Culana responded quietly. “The tasks they perform are indeed important. How important, well… only time will tell.”
6 Hours Later
“Alright, what’ve we got here… huh? Siyuakén?”
“Don’t ask me,” the Electrotechnic replied as she leaned against the practice room wall, observing Davídrius and Christeané as they entered. “Rebehka told me not to tell you what we’re doing. She wanted it to be a surprise.”
“Oh boy, a surprise,” Davídrius deadpanned. “I love surprises.”
“Relax,” Christeané remarked, stepping further into the room after removing his shoes and poking the mats with his toes, “I’m sure she has a great idea.” He glanced around curiously, inspecting the sizable sparring room. “…Huh, this is actually a pretty mediocre setup.”
“Well of course you’d say that, coming from East Nimaliaka,” Siyuakén retorted. “…Wait, have you never been in any of the recreational facilities here?”
“Just the gym… and that Chaotic Range over at the western base.” Christeané shrugged. “Never much reason to come to one of the practice rooms. I always practice with my hammer in a proper, Chaos Energy-rich environment. …Wait a minute—!”
“Ah, so you’ve figured it out.”
The three Chaotics in the room turned toward the entrance, where Rebehka was standing, holding a bag of staffs over her shoulder.
“So, that’s what we’re doing.” Christeané smirked knowingly. “CENT field training, huh?”
“Exactly.” Rebehka nodded, stepping into the room and depositing the bag to the side of the doorway. She glanced between Siyuakén, Christeané, and Davídrius, with her gaze lingering on the latter. “Given what’s happened on the past couple missions, especially back on Teghica, I figured we could all benefit from some refreshers about fighting in a CENT field. I’ve already turned on the room’s generator.”
“You activated a CENT field?!” Davídrius growled, reflexively tensing his muscles and stepping back defensively. “The fuck? Why the hell didn’t you tell me you wanted to just strip away all our powers?!”
“…It’s just a CENT field,” Rebehka responded uneasily, “you’ve seen them before, it’s not permanent. And it won’t harm you—”
“Won’t harm me my ass. The only thing CENT fields are good for is disablin’ Chaotics so you can trap or kill them. They ain’t trainin’ tools!”
“Relax!” Christeané insisted, “they can totally be training tools. We’re in the middle of a fortified military base anyways; we’re in no danger here. Not to mention that any attack on the base would automatically shut the CENT fields off.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that you turned that shit on without askin’ first,” Davídrius snarled at Rebehka. “Maybe if you’d’ve asked, but this is just—! …”
“…Davídrius?” Rebehka replied wearily after the Velocitechnic trailed off, his gaze averted as he held a hand to his forehead. “I… I can turn the generator off, if that’s—”
“No!” He scowled. “You already did it. We’re here. I’ll go along with your stupid plan. But only today!”
Rebehka glanced toward Siyuakén uneasily, who responded with a shrug. “…Are you sure?” the Cryotechnic questioned as Davídrius approached the bag of staffs. “If it’s really that much of an issue, then we can do something else—”
“No. I’ll be fine,” he responded stubbornly before snatching up two of the staffs and crossing to the opposite side of the room. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“If you say so,” Rebehka replied uneasily, and then glanced down at the two staffs in his hands. “…Hmm, are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“What?” The Velocitechnic glared at her, and then down at his hands. “…Dual wieldin’? I do it all the time.”
Christeané snorted. “No, what you do is wave two swords around at high speeds. Calling it ‘dual wielding’ would imply a level of skill.”
“Thanks for your resoundin’ endorsement.”
“He’s right, though,” Siyuakén added, “actually using two weapons at once is really difficult. You manage to make up for your lack of skill with your speed, but—”
“I’ll be fine,” Davídrius declared. “Don’t tell me you turned on the CENT fields just so you can make fun of me.”
“Then shut up! I know what I’m doin’. CENT fields don’t change that much about melee fightin’.”
Rebehka smirked. “Are you sure about that?”
“Enough with the damn questions!” The Velocitechnic’s scowl deepened as he dropped into a fighting stance. “C’mon, let’s do this already!”
“Well, if you say so.” The Cryotechnic backed into a fighting stance herself. “Ready… mark!”
5 Minutes Later
“Ow… oooowww… ow ow ow…”
Rebehka stepped back and straightened her posture as she glanced down at Davídrius, who was lying on his back. “That’s ten to zero, my favor. Still sure about everything you said?”
“CENT fields won’t harm me my ass,” the Velocitechnic groaned. “This is why you wanted to do CENT field sparrin’, innit? You ain’t tryin’ to teach me shit, you just wanted to beat me up.”
“I didn’t ‘beat you up,’ I simply… showed you the error of your ways.”
“Like hell you did. And after springin’ the damn fields on me, too. I should be the one beatin’ you up.” Davídrius scowled. “…Dammit, help me up.”
Rebehka stepped over and grabbed his hand before yanking him to his feet. “I am sorry about that,” she apologized, “if I had known—”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever…” He waved her off, and then grimaced and held his back in pain. “Damn, why does that hurt so fuckin’ much…”
“That was quite the show, Davídrius,” Christeané remarked, “CENT field fighting is just like regular fighting, huh? Does this mean Rebehka can kick your ass on a regular basis?”
“Shut up, asshole.”
“I hope you at least see now that there’s a significant difference between fighting with your abilities and without them,” Rebehka commented.
“…I guess,” Davídrius muttered. “But even then — I’m bigger than you, and I’ve got longer reach! How the fuck did you take me down so easily?”
“It’s because you don’t have any proper skill.” Christeané marched forward and snatched one of the staffs from Davídrius. “That, combined with the fact that you weren’t expecting to be slowed down as much as you were. CENT field fighting is completely different from regular fighting for us Introtechnics — you have to keep in mind that the strength, speed, reflexes, and durability that you’re used to, are no longer there. Like, for a Velocitechnic such as yourself, you probably feel like you’re moving in slow motion right now, right?”
“Uh, sorta.” Davídrius looked down at his arms as he slowly moved them around. “Feels more like I’m movin’ through syrup, or somethin’. I want to move, but my body can’t keep up… not to mention it feels like I can’t think as fast as usual…” He scowled. “See, this is why I don’t like—!”
“Yeah yeah, we know you don’t like CENT fields.” Christeané rolled his eyes. “It’s not just you, buddy. I feel like my arms and legs are made out of glass, without the strength I’m used to. But you don’t see me complaining.”
“But this handicap you’re feeling is my entire point. We Introtechnics are more handicapped by CENT fields than other Chaotics, because our powers are entirely internal. Your body just isn’t going to respond the way you expect it to, and the difference between what you expect and what actually happens can actually kill you if you aren’t careful. That’s how Rebehka beat you. She’s just fine without her ice powers, her body responds exactly the same way as she’s used to. So she doesn’t have to spend time or brainpower adjusting.” Christeané then turned toward Rebehka and waved Davídrius away. “Don’t worry though, I’ve had a lot of training in CENT fields. I’ll show you the correct way to fight!”
“You’re pretty confident, I see,” Rebehka replied.
“I’m from East Nimaliaka, of course I’d be confident.” Christeané smirked. “Even our Introtechnics are better than the average Chaotic anywhere else!”
“Oh, is that right?” Siyuakén grabbed a staff of her own and approached Rebehka, gesturing for her friend to back away. “You seem to know a lot about CENT field fighting, but let’s see if your body can actually keep up.”
“Ha! You have no idea how much I’ve trained, both in and out of CENT fields,” the Master Lieutenant replied, “buuut, if you think you can beat me, well, feel free to try!”
“I’ll do more than that,” Siyuakén taunted, “I’ll have you on the floor, just like Davídrius!”
“…You know, in another context—”
“Ready, mark!” Siyuakén lunged toward Christeané, her staff stretched forward. He immediately dodged to the left before swinging his staff laterally. Siyuakén quickly whipped her staff to the side, blocking Christeané’s blow and immediately following through to swing the staff down on top of his head — which he instinctively blocked by grabbing the staff with his free hand.
Siyuakén smirked. “That counts.”
“Bah…” Christeané scowled. “…I haven’t done this in a while. You have to give me some time to warm up.”
“Ha! You want to take a moment to do that?”
“No, that last point was fine.” Christeané backed into a fighting stance. “C’mon! Ready, mark!”
This time Christeané lunged forwards, the sheer power behind his move knocking away Siyuakén’s staff when she tried to block. He immediately swung his staff to the side in an effort to hit her, but she bent over backwards just far enough to evade the swipe and then followed through the motion into a full back flip, landing on her feet just in time to block another attack from Christeané. She then moved to counter-attack, but Christeané dropped into a crouch and swung out with his leg, knocking Siyuakén off of her feet. He lightly tapped her with his staff as she lay on the ground.
“You’d knock me to the ground?” Christeané grinned.
“…Shut up,” Siyuakén muttered as she jumped back to her feet. “Alright, next round wins! Ready, mark!”
Christeané lunged forwards again, but instead of blocking, Siyuakén stepped backward. The moment Christeané’s lunge came to a stop, she whacked away his staff and jumped forward and to the left while swinging her own staff to the right. Christeané threw himself to the floor to evade the staff, rolling once before leaping back to his feet just in time to block a blow from Siyuakén. He then allowed her to start several more attacks, easily blocking each of them, before he started a lunge to the left. Siyuakén immediately swung her staff down on the location, but as she did so, Christeané slammed his foot into the ground, stopping his left-ward lunge and sending him instead to the right as he smacked the staff out of Siyuakén’s hand. He then swung his staff back toward himself for the point, hitting Siyuakén’s left side, just below her armpit — only for his staff to rebound violently with an audible metallic clang.
Siyuakén quickly stumbled back as Christeané stared at her in confusion. His expression then changed to one of disappointment. “Body armor? Really?”
“…Well, yeah,” the Electrotechnic replied uneasily. She then straightened up and crossed her arms as she glared back at Christeané. “We may be in a CENT field, but I’m not stupid; you’re still really strong. I didn’t want to get hurt. Good thing, too — if I didn’t have the armor, that blow would’ve cracked a rib!”
“She’s right.” Rebehka shook her head in disapproval. “You should be more careful. The last thing we need is a preventable injury due to sparring.”
“I—!” he started, but stopped himself and sighed in resignation. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry.” He then grinned. “I did win, though.”
“…This won’t be the last I hear of it, will it,” Siyuakén deadpanned.
“Nah, I’m not as petty as Davídrius.”
“Hey, I’m right here, ya know!”
“I’m going to leave before I actually get hurt.” Siyuakén turned toward the exit. “Have fun, guys. Rebehka, I’ll meet you at our apartment.”
“…Aww, I wasn’t that bad about it, was I?” Christeané frowned and glanced over at Rebehka as Siyuakén disappeared.
She shrugged. “You were a little over-the-top with that last attack. I don’t know, though. I’ll talk to her later.”
“I guess I’ll take my leave then, too,” the Forcetechnic declared, and then turned to Davídrius. “Remember what I said. Don’t take CENT fields lightly and you won’t end up on your back.”
“’Lightly?’ Who the hell was the one who turned on the CENT fields for a bit of sparring?!”
“Yeah, yeah. You know what I meant. Well, ‘night guys.”
Davídrius watched Christeané leave before glaring at Rebehka resentfully. “…How much more abuse am I gonna have to take?”
Rebehka shook her head. “Don’t worry, it’ll be a normal lesson from here on out. I’ve made my point. Now, first things first, your stance was terrible…”