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Interlude 10 Main Chapters Interlude 11

Chapter 11

The martial music ended, and Ms. Rah's image had faded from the screen, her announcement of a battle in two days' time completed.

Cmdr. Sanada cackled as he finished watching the trailer. "A whole month of nothing! You've gone soft and scared, Rara!" The commander tossed his insults at the blank screen. Lt. Yayoi Schwael had grown used to his moods, and waited patiently, thinking through the strategic considerations of the announced attack point.

"Your drills have been great, Yayoi," Cmdr. Sanada commented as he turned to her. He cackled again. "I can't wait until they break themselves on your students!"

"Thank you, sir. I share your confidence in our pilots," Yayoi saluted.

Ms. Rah hurriedly left the studio, and released herself from her trance as she returned to civilian clothing. Mitsuki Rara quickly removed the last of the makeup and proceeded to the beach, expecting to find Slade there.

Slade needed to be briefed, for things were moving quickly. Only this morning had her father decided upon this battle, because only last night was the first shipment of jewel-cannon robots delivered at long last. In the month since the first multiple-person battle simulation, Slade had been integrated with the group, and all of them became better pilots through continued virtual battles with each other. Slade would not be able to participate in the fight, since Himc was still undergoing final repairs, but he ought to know what was occurring; he was part of the team.

She knew she'd find Slade on the beach because that was where he said he'd be. He had mentioned that yesterday, just after he asked her for a break.

The beach, as Slade had been warned, was somewhat euphemistic. The artificial island had no sandy beaches; vegetation ran right down to the waterline. Here on the shore, Slade noted, was a massive group of mangroves. The climate was probably not proper for their growth, and he speculated that they had somehow been modified to withstand it. Kent Slade's wet and recumbent form was upon a shady patch of ground without upthrusting roots.

He was glad that he had been able to find swim trunks in the store on base, but was surprised by the fact that they were RaRa Army swim trunks, with the logo and color scheme of his uniform. Kent wondered whether such branding was weird or common to many modern armies.

Kent observed the horizon through the non-prescription lenses of his sunglasses from his original world, while the contact lenses he had bought in this world constantly bent light so he could see properly. He checked himself, but his sunscreen had properly shielded him from radiation.

It had taken Mitsuki Rara some minutes to find Slade in the mangrove forest, but now she had located him. Slade heard her moving through the loose earth and raised himself upon his elbows, then stood up, hailing her.

She called across to him in return, and a short time later was within conversational range.

"Did you enjoy your swim?" she asked, seeing some water still remaining upon him.

"Yes, thank you," Slade replied, "it was good to be able to do that after so long. It felt so good I was surprised more people don't do it!"

"It's a little cold for most people," Mitsuki Rara told him, "including me."

"Too bad," sighed Slade as he shook his head, "I thought you were going to join me!"

"Sorry to disappoint you," and she genuinely was sorry. "I thought you ought to know. My father has just announced that most of the other pilots will be fighting in two days."

"Two days," repeated Slade as he leaned back against a tree, his bare feet sliding a moment before they were able to brace him. "That is big news. And good news." He paused a moment as he both waited for her to say something and considered the ramifications of this news. As neither words nor thoughts of his own were forthcoming, he spoke, "Thanks for coming all this way to tell me about it."

"You're very welcome," she smiled. She looked to her left, through the last few mangroves and across the wide ocean. "It's really quite beautiful here. I don't come to this place very often. Usually I'm too busy with my duties. And with trailers." She examined the ground.

"I suppose you were doing one just now? For the battle that's soon?" Slade was trying to inquire carefully in what he suspected was a sensitive subject.

"As Ms. Rah, I was." She looked out to sea, clearly pained.

Slade thought it disturbing to have her confide doubts in him, again, even when they were unspoken. He spoke to assuage her fears, "That's war for you. Even the best of them have their setbacks and truly awful and evil actions, and just plain uncomfortable situations." Her eyes had swung back to look at him, but she seemed far from comfort. Slade felt inadequate to any further attempts at pep talks. He also successfully concealed his irritation that he had to be the one supplying them.

"I missed a perfect opportunity. Since you were busy with the trailer all morning, then I could've just snuck off and had my break without you knowing," Slade lamented in mock ruefulness.

This unexpected gag had a profound effect upon Mitsuki Rara, for she laughed profusely. Her eyes full of cheer, she bade him goodbye: "I'd better get back to the base. There's always so much work to be done before a battle."

"I'll stop slacking off in a while," said Slade, and they both laughed. She returned to the base.

Kent went for another swim.

Pres. Rara settled into his thronelike chair in his war room, two days later. He watched and listened with delight. Today, one of his secret weapons, the jewel-cannon robots, would be revealed. He had thrown them all into the battle today. A war that involved surrenders of territory and long pauses for both sides to repair their robots made holding forces in reserve largely useless. This way, he'd have that stupid Sanada outnumbered ten to one. If only Himc was ready, he'd have sent it into the fray as well. What force he had ought to be able to definitively crush Sanada despite its absence.

In the remote control piloting area, all three of the pilots controlling any given jewel-cannon robot sat back-to-back. All thirty such seating arrangements were lowered into cavities, until only a red light for each robot was above floor level. So long as that red light was on, that group's robot was active.

A mighty company of thirty jewel-cannon robots strode forward at the appointed hour. They searched the horizon for the enemy, peering both at the skyscrapers and the nearby dock area.

In the pilot's room, Kent lounged upon the couch. The screen in there was attuned to the vision of the robot the trio controlled, since they were the pilots Kent knew best apart from his own commander. There hadn't been time to install thirty screens in the room, even if seeing through the eyes of thirty robots at once would've been comprehensible.

"Rara's never used humanoids before this," Cmdr. Sanada muttered to himself as he watched the giant screen in his control room. "But, I bet it won't impact your strategy, will it, Yayoi?"

"I doubt it, sir," Lt. Yayoi Schwael responded with a shake of her head.

"Even if the strategy fails, your training will get them through the battle," Inspector Akane Yamano told Lt. Schwael.

"Thank you, ma'am," Lt. Schwael grinned tightly, thinking about how the combat to come might unfold, and what precautions to take and orders to give.

"Core Robots," ordered Cmdr. Sanada, "be careful of these new things, but get that battle won! Move in!"

What happened next happened very quickly, and was very hard to understand for everyone involved. Such is the nature of battle.

Core Robot Units 1, 2 and 3 broke from cover behind different skyscrapers. Units 1 and 2 dashed forward in wide arcs, around the company of RaRa robots. Simultaneously, Unit 3 ran directly ahead, towards the van of the jewel-cannon robots, firing while in motion. The jewel-cannon robots opened fire on the unit, causing some damage, but Unit 3 took shelter behind another skyscraper.

"We're taking terrible losses already!" Pres. Rara gaped at the screen.

"Those weapons-" gasped Mena from her seat, "they've never used them before!"

"Since when did Sanada get grenade launchers!" bellowed Ayuko beside her husband. He winced slightly, from both the sudden losses his tightly grouped forces were taking as Units 1 and 2 now ran forward and fired, and from the loudness in his ear.

Ms. Rah, from her position on the roof of a skyscraper very close to the battle zone, ordered the remaining RaRa robots to split into four groups. Each group would try to simultaneously hit the flanks of the Core Robots. They would use against the Core Robots the tactics used against them only minutes before.

Three jewel-cannon robots charged at Unit 1 down a relatively narrow street between two skyscrapers, while on Unit 1's other side a group of five jewel-cannon robots appeared. Unit 1 was trapped in that small street, but did not give up- it jumped in the air and fired its grenade launcher twice at the group of five RaRa robots. Unit 1 was pierced by a multiplicity of beams, disabled before it hit the ground with an awkward thud. The group of five robots, however, had been destroyed.

Five lights all over the remote control piloting area turned off.

Unit 2 had been pursued into the dock area by the groups of jewel-cannon robots assigned to it. The Core Robot was dodging around warehouses, firing and moving. It had taken severe damage to its arms, part of its head had been blown open, but its legs had not yet been touched. It ran nimbly and dealt destruction. Unit 3 came up to support Unit 2, and Ms. Rah had only seconds to turn around one group of her robots and send them to Unit 3's new destination.

Kent winced as he saw Unit 2 blow the right arm off of Ryla, Mena, and Alice's robot. His dismay at the fight's prospects found voice in a small moan.

"Twenty robots lost so far," Pres. Rara muttered to himself. "They can't manage another shipment for another three weeks at least."

Ayuko leaned towards her husband's ear and hissed, "Things can still turn around. Whatever else happens, we managed to disable that white robot. We may be able to get at least one more."

"He'll need some time to recoup his losses after this battle," remarked Inspector Yamano, with some satisfaction, but also some worry.

Yayoi knew what she meant, and completed the thought for her, "So he's going to try to hurt us and force us to spend a long time doing repairs." She ordered the Core Robots, "Fight your way to the pier! Once you're both there, cover each other."

"YAAH!" yelled Alice as the trio's robot attempted to both leap upon and shoot with beams the red Core Robot, Unit 2. They managed to score its shoulder deeply and nick its foot, but the Core Robot dodged before they could do more. It moved towards the pier, the damage to its foot slowing it down some. Some jewel-cannon robots attempted to hit it, but Unit 3 had already reached the pier and had a clear shot at the jewel cannon robots. D caused Unit 3's grenade launcher to fire with precision and eliminate three enemies as Ryla, Mena, and Alice took cover behind a warehouse. When Unit 3 had stopped firing, they poked their shoulders out and managed to strike Unit 2's legs again. The trio was forced to dash for different cover as D fired upon the warehouse.

D would've continued to attack them, but there were two jewel-cannon robots wading towards the pier. D evaded their beams and fired into the water. In the water, they were unable to dodge as well as they could on land, and they were destroyed. Unit 2 limped up to the pier and shot at other RaRa robots running towards them from the other direction, destroying one and damaging others. Those remaining dashed for cover.

"We're so close!" Cmdr. Sanada slammed his fist upon the console. "That idiot's only got four of his pretty new robots left!"

"The red one's done for!" Pres. Rara shouted. "Why can't we get it already! They can't last for long, exposed on that pier! Ms. Rah, order our units to attack while keeping their heads down!"

Ms. Rah faithfully relayed the order, "Fire on the enemy from cover!"

"Okay, Mitsuki," acknowledged Ryla. Alice, Mena, and Ryla all moved their robot so its head and shoulders just barely popped out from behind a building and fired on Unit 3's grenade launcher. It exploded, taking Unit 3's right hand and knocking the robot to the ground. "Take that!" yelled Mena. "You stole my line! What am I going to say now?" Alice pouted in frustration.

Other RaRa robots popped their heads up, but Unit 2 had seen where they were hiding and dispatched two robots when they did so. Sparks flared from its scored arms as the red robot turned in an attempt to aim at the targets on its left.

Pres. Rara hit the surrender button and said to himself, "Stupid Sanada."

Cmdr. Sanada rose out of his seat and shouted, "Ha ha! That idiot couldn't even beat me with his shiny new toys! My incredible new weapons triumphed!" He briefly recovered from this delirium of joy to say to Yayoi, "And I've got the best people too. You've really been a good instructor."

"Thank you, sir," Yayoi grinned.

Cmdr. Sanada turned to the main screen again, which showed Unit 2 pulling Unit 3 to its feet, and the last two jewel-cannon robots standing staggering away, and laughed.

Kent held his head in one hand while he shook his head. It was awful to be unable to do anything about the images he was seeing. He sat a few moments more, then raised himself to his feet.

"I guess we survived," said a deflated Mena.

Kent found a communications line, and told the trio, "You did your best." Stunned, they managed a "Thank you." This was an unexpected kindness.

Several hours later, Mitsuki Rara walked the halls of the RaRa base with a forlorn expression. Slade found her in this state, and told her, "You did your best." She said, "I should've done better."

Slade shook his head. "Like I said, in wars sometimes there are setbacks. No matter how good you are, it doesn't always go quite right. We were hurt badly, but we hurt them badly, too. They're tough opponents, and your skills helped us to fight our best against them."

A wan smile was the best she could manage. "Thank you, Slade."

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