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Interlude 12 Main Chapters Interlude 13

Chapter 13

The video lounge part of the party had been concluded. In attendance now were Kent Slade, Pres. Rara, his wife Ayuko, their daughter Mitsuki Rara, her bodyguards Ryla, Mena, and Alice, and their friend and coworker Ms. Kaoru Hayase.

Now they had all retired to a finely appointed dining room. Slade assumed they were going to eat here, perhaps some chips and soda, or some similar junk food fare in the Japanese style. His expectations were wildly exceeded by what was to come: a veritable banquet. That Mitsuki Rara was largely responsible for the cuisine came as no surprise to him, for as he put it, he and the other pilots did oft "stuff their craws at her expense." Kent had of course, put it this way only to himself, and in mildly arcane English for good measure and for encryption. He didn't want anyone to know he thought that.

Amazement really only came to him when he saw that the general intent of the party was in fact to honor him. Protested Kent, "But all of you helped me out so much. I'd still be in handcuffs if it wasn't for you," he said, gesturing to Pres. Rara, "I'd never have gotten this uniform right if it wasn't for you," pointing now to Ayuko, "I rely upon your guidance and cooking," he motioned toward Mitsuki Rara, "Without you, we'd be flying rusty heaps of junk," he stretched out an open palm to Ms. Hayase, "and you three and the other pilots held off that blue robot for me," he concluded his speech by indicating the bodyguard trio with a sweeping gesture.

The response to this outburst was general gratitude towards Slade, cheers and high-spirited toasts, and then returning quite naturally to singling him out for accolades. At this point he decided to simply go with the flow. After all, shouldn't he also be grateful to them for honoring him in this way?

Good cheer infused the group, binding it together in happiness. To the end of his days Kent would remember the scene, a time when during his exile from his native world, he was able to forget all his troubles, and rejoice with good friends.

Perhaps Ayuko was not a friend, but it was close enough.

Forever would he see them as he did there, Pres. Rara making a chopping motion with his hand in imitation of the limb removal of the Core Robots, Ayuko resting her chin on her interlaced fingers and watching her husband with that odd cat's grin, Mitsuki Rara's countenance alight with everyone's compliments upon her food, Ms. Hayase beside her, honest delight obscuring the troubles her mind often held, Alice shrieking with delight at Pres. Rara's retelling of the battle, and Ryla and Mena in hysterics from all the amusement.

Could Slade have seen himself as all these others saw him, he would've seen himself having just as much fun. His attempts at modesty were appreciated and made them rise in their estimation, making only more worthy of more honor. He would've seen his humor sally forth with wit at its lancepoint. If perhaps black flashes of pride were to erupt from him, he did attempt to suppress them.

A revelation which was general and almost unconscious, but one which was delivered to all present, was how Kent seemed to be going out of his way to praise Mitsuki Rara, and how her eyes sparkled at each such compliment. It was mostly lost upon everyone, even those two, but there were three persons present who slowly, but with gathering certainty, recognized it.

At the Earth Defense Force base, Lt. Yayoi Schwael looked up from the diagrams of the new Core Robots. "Is there any possibility of getting any upgrades in these new units, Commander?"

Cmdr. Sanada shook his head gravely. "Afraid not, Yayoi. If I had actually gotten this scheme underway when I thought of it, maybe. As it is, though, we need those units as fast as possible. They'll have to be exactly the same as the Core Robots we've got; there's simply no time for the industrialists to get new designs done or tests performed."

"We have good robots and good pilots, sir," Lt. Schwael told him. "Simply having more robots should increase our combat abilities greatly."

"But our pool of pilot candidates is growing a little empty," sighed Cmdr. Sanada. Dismay suddenly struck across his face.

"Don't worry, Commander," Inspector Akane Yamano told him as she walked into the room. "I delivered the message about stepping up our recruitment efforts."

Cmdr. Sanada relaxed and grinned lazily. "Thanks. I really appreciate it."

She was suspicious of his attitude, and replied with a slight tightness, "You're welcome." The commander's grin didn't appear to have changed in the least. She realized she had fallen into another trap; he only wanted to make her think his attitude deserved suspicion. Was there no end to his inventiveness in making mischief?

Yayoi decided to divert her commander's attention from tormenting Inspector Yamano to more weighty matters. "I've prepared a new tactic that may be able to defeat Himc, sir. I've been running simulations and drills on it. The scientists admit that it may be possible, and the drills are proceeding well."

Inspector Yamano turned to Yayoi. "How much of a chance does it have?"

"It's fairly possible, since its shield isn't an Isolation Weapon." Cmdr. Sanada was referring to one of the more potent technologies unearthed from the artifact. "Your idea will probably breach that hulk's shield," he told Yayoi.

"Excellent," pronounced Akane.

The next day found Kent in a strangely morose humor. He had just realized that he had not received a single email message in all the months he had been in this universe. This was unsurprising, as he had not bothered to establish an email account, and in any case, since he technically didn't exist here, none of his friends he knew from his original world were going to email him. It still bothered him to have remembered how much he had lost: his friends, his family, his home, his job.

Three women in RaRa Army Uniforms peeked out, and sprang out in front of Kent from a nearby doorway. Kent's mood was so distracted that he didn't even register surprise at the sudden appearance of Mitsuki Rara's bodyguards, sans Mitsuki herself. They fanned out slightly to impede his forward progress. Recovering himself somewhat, Kent greeted them absently.

"Ask her out," they simultaneously demanded of him.

This time Kent was startled. He regarded them quizzically.

"Who?" he finally asked. His mind was still mostly elsewhere.

"The woman you love?" Mena suggested helpfully.

"Who, why, what are you talking about?" muttered Kent. "Eh, look, I ought to be getting on to-"

"Come on, just ask Mitsuki out!" Alice snapped, growing impatient at his remaining wrapped in his own thoughts.

Finally the fog was lifted from around Kent. His first emotion was panic at the reef he suddenly spotted ahead. Fear filled his eyes as he frantically waved his hands and said softly, "Hey, ladies, the walls have ears!"

"What does that have to do with it?" Now Alice was quizzical.

"I'm saying this could start rumors that could destroy this organization! Now, I really have to get going!" Kent was seriously alarmed.

"Where to?" smiled Ryla mischievously. "Our simulation isn't for a while yet. There's nothing you need to do but stay here and tell us that-"

"Okay, okay!" Kent blurted in English before remembering himself and returning to Japanese, "Look, I'll meet with you someplace else. One of the deserted areas on the island where no one can overhear us. Just stop talking about it here before anyone gets any ideas!" he barked fiercely.

One of the patrols walked down the hall, and Kent was mortified. The trio wondered what on earth could be the matter with Kent, and tried to act natural, but it was hard when Kent was silent and paralyzed with an agonized visage of shame. The patrol gave Kent a second glance, and the trio tried to smile to indicate nothing was amiss.

"What is so hard about this?" wondered Ryla at Slade when the guard had gone.

Kent leaned forward, angry now. "Rumor! Scandal! Did you not think about that before you went and talked about such inflammatory things here in the hallway where everyone can hear!"

Taken aback but determined, Mena said, "But you are going to talk about it with us elsewhere. In an hour."

"All right," Kent agreed through gritted teeth, and the four persons agreed upon a place.

Kent scowled now as he walked through the hallway. Why didn't they realize the sort of crippling effect that rumors like the ones they had nearly started could have on the morale and authority of their friend, or even her parents?

"I didn't expect that," murmured Ryla.

"Our guess wasn't wrong, but it looks like it'll be tough to get him to ask her," said Mena.

A devious look stole across Alice's face.

Kent found an hour later the result of that devious look when he walked to the meeting place and found his commander there instead of the trio. He didn't doubt that the trio was observing them surreptitiously. They were clever, he'd give them that; he hadn't even anticipated this possibility. Kent had calmed down in the intervening hour, though Mitsuki Rara detected in him some unease.

"I was just admiring the view," she said. They were indeed upon a height from which an excellent view could be obtained. Kent therefore agreed with her.

A sudden thought struck him: under what pretenses had her bodyguards lured her out here?

"I'm glad I let Ryla and the others convince me to do this, though I'm not sure why they were so insistent," Mitsuki Rara mentioned casually.

Kent wasn't sure whether or not he heard a snicker from nearby bushes; in any case, he himself rolled his eyes and laughed nervously. At least they hadn't said anything of their conjectures to her.

Mitsuki Rara noticed him glancing about in some trepidation, and asked what was the matter. "I have an eerie feeling that we're being watched," admitted Slade.

"Oh, it's just my bodyguards," said Mitsuki Rara very softly, so they wouldn't overhear her. "They're behind that large tree there."

Slade swiveled to face her, amazed. She was facing away from the tree, and as far as Slade could tell, she had not actually looked in its direction at any time.

"I just know how they think," she explained in the same quiet voice.

"Do you want to call them out?" Slade asked in a mischievous whisper.

"Not really. They're fine where they are, I don't mind," Mitsuki Rara whispered accommodatingly.

Slade was disappointed. Those three had been embarrassing him an awful lot today, and he wanted some of his own back.

"I wonder what'll happen after the war's over," she said in a voice only slightly louder, her eyes full of mournful thoughts.

"I was hoping to be able to go home," Slade answered immediately.

Her pupils dilated in surprise, then returned to normal as Slade continued. "If, of course, I can convince your father to build a transporter. We may be able to just build a signaler, though. That might be faster."

"Do you miss your old world?" Mitsuki Rara inquired.

Kent nodded, unable to speak for a moment. "My family probably thinks I'm dead," he managed finally.

"That must be awful," she sympathized.

He could only nod again. A moment passed, and then he looked at his watch. Kent mentioned that it was about time for the group simulation, and he and Mitsuki Rara returned to the base. Mitsuki Rara knew that the trio was returning to base as well, by devious means and double-timing so it'd appear they had never left. They were good friends to watch out for her every day.

The next battle had been scheduled within a short time of the first. The RaRa Army hoped to keep the Earth Defense Force off balance, and so was pressing ahead. Ms. Rah was present upon the battlefield, standing atop a skyscraper. The two jewel-cannon robots flanked Himc. This time, the Earth Defense Force was not in a battle line to face them- in fact, they appeared to be entirely absent.

Slade recognized this situation: "This is just like when they ambushed one of our previous robots. They're probably ducking behind buildings so we can't see them, and already have us surrounded."

"That won't help them against Himc's power," muttered one of the pilots of the second jewel-cannon robot to herself.

"Himc, find the foolish enemies of our wonderful Pres. Rara wherever they skulk!" Ms. Rah commanded.

"Affirmative, Commander," Slade acknowledged, and propelled himself forward, on a course towards the rear of what he thought was a likely hiding place for a Core Robot.

"Large unit has begun to move!" reported an officer in the control room of the Earth Defense Force.

"It'll never get better than this, sir," Lt. Schwael told Cmdr. Sanada as they both studied the map, which showed the RaRa robots roughly, but not exactly, in the middle of a triangle formed by the three Earth Defense Force robots. Cmdr. Sanada nodded slightly, and Lt. Schwael ordered the pilots to attack according to the new plan she had made.

All three Core Robots simultaneously stood up, took aim upon Himc, and fired. Their three shots hit Himc simultaneously, detonating against its shields. They fired again and again, each volley being fired so as to hit Himc at the same moment as every other grenade in the volley.

The two jewel-cannon robots had been tossed to the ground by the concussions and taken severe damage. The trio's robot had lost the right arm and most of the right torso, while the second one had landed upon its front and lost nearly all of its armor on its back, so that its circuitry was now exposed there.

"Scatter!" Ms. Rah ordered the jewel-cannon robots. They moved away from the constant explosions as best as they could. Ms. Rah now ordered them to charge the Core Robots. Slade had begun to attempt dodging the blasts on his own, which meant that now several grenades missed or impacted at different times from the others.

"Shields can't withstand simultaneous hits for so long!" Inspector Yamano protested.

"But this one has," sighed Cmdr. Sanada. He noticed an indicator on his console; Rara was calling him on the hotline. Cmdr. Sanada answered his call, and he saw upon the screen the RaRa war room, where Pres. Rara's form sat elegantly upon the throne. Ayuko leaned on the chair's high back, smiling devilishly. Cmdr. Sanada listened to Hiroshi gloat.

"Stupid Sanada! Didn't you think I'd reinforce Himc's shields! Why, we've even got special additions to the shield generators to stop that tactic!"

Cmdr. Sanada glared at the screen, then quoth mildly, "Well, I'd expect someone who isn't really a scientist to think that way. I am a man of method, who tests everything, and takes nothing for granted, unlike you, who just assumes he'll take over the world!"

Now Pres. Rara was riled, but he returned gamely: "And you assume you're going to save it. That makes us even."

"No, that makes me much smarter," fired back Cmdr. Sanada.

As usual, Yayoi and Mrs. Nanjyoin filtered out both of them and kept their eyes on the battle.

The jewel-cannon robots were each very close to the Core Robot they had picked as a target. Yayoi ordered the targeted Core Robots to shift their attention from firing on Himc to the jewel-cannon robots.

Himc was attacking the red Core Robot, which was jumping about before him, intermittently firing its grenade launcher to no avail. Slade occasionally fired his medium range beam to corral it within an area directly in front of him. He would've hit it directly if it wasn't so good at evasive maneuvers. That situation, however, could only last so long. Unit 2 attempted to leap again, but its foot slipped on some rubble, and it began to trip instead. Slade's beam disassociated Unit 2 before it hit the ground, without harm to Unit 2's pilot.

"Himc, you must join our attack against the white unit!" commanded Ms. Rah, making a wide gesture towards it.

"Yes, Commander," Slade told her, and swiveled to face in Unit 1's direction. He saw the jewel-cannon robot with its back armor destroyed was engaged with Unit 1. The white robot had managed to get behind the jewel-cannon robot without its knowledge, and was preparing to fire on it from cover. Ms. Rah was trying to warn the robot's pilots in time.

For a moment, a bright ball of light hung in the air in front of Himc- then it streaked toward Unit 1 and struck it in the legs. Unit 1 pitched forward, sprawling awkwardly beyond the building where it had been hiding behind. The jewel-cannon robot, warned by Ms. Rah, turned around, and saw the white robot feebly attempting to use its legs. The jewel-cannon robot fired upon it, and it lay still. The RaRa robot then toppled.

"Unit 1 is damaged beyond ability to fight, sir, but no backwash or drop in life signs," someone reported to Cmdr. Sanada.

The commander huffed at this news, and then asked, "Have you got any analysis on that weapon the big one just used?"

"It seems to be some sort of high-energy bullet, sir," an officer supplied. "We got some data that the scientists can read, but I don't know how to interpret it; it doesn't look like any earthly power source could generate that much energy in so short a time."

"At least Unit 3 seems to be doing well in its battle," commented Inspector Yamano.

"Unit 3 has engaged one enemy unit, the one missing its right arm. They are trading fire," another officer appraised them.

"This time we'll get that blue one!" declared Ryla.

D slipped Unit 3 behind a building and prepared to duck out again to shoot the jewel-cannon robot. Every previous battle indicated that a direct hit would knock a jewel-cannon robot out of the fight permanently.

Pres. Rara had ceased his taunting communications with Cmdr. Sanada to determine how badly the other jewel-cannon robot was malfunctioning. "Ms. Rah, can the other jewel-cannon robot move at all?"

Ms. Rah informed him, "No sir, it's fallen to the ground, and the pilots report they can't make in any way."

Pres. Rara overlaid on his war room's screen the Life Sympathy readings of its pilots. "Their Life Sympathy is fine," he grumbled, "so I guess their robot must've taken too much damage. Your bodyguards and Slade are on their own."

As soon as Unit 1 was dispatched, Slade had begun to move towards Unit 3. All of his weapons were out of range except for the high-energy bullet. His eventual workaround to its slow firing speed was simple; he only charged it to a small amount of its true capability before releasing the bullet. Slade held this one before him for less than two seconds, then released it at the building he had seen the blue robot duck behind.

A massive hole appeared in the building before D, and her blue robot caught some of the flying debris and undissipated destructive energy. Unit 3 was not catastrophically injured, but its cover was now destroyed. D knew she needed to move quickly. Her intuition was justified as the bodyguard trio shot beams upon her through new hole in the edifice. Unit 3 had already bounded away, and the beams missed. The blue Core Robot dashed about, abruptly changing direction several times. D knew this served to frustrate the few bullets Himc was able to send at it. Having fought Himc before, she knew as well as Slade that even if its time from bullet formation to firing was decreased, its reloading time was very long.

Cmdr. Sanada punched the callsign button. "There's no point to prolonging the inevitable," he explained. He turned to Yayoi, "I don't care what that idiot says, your idea was brilliant."

"Thank you, sir. If only it had turned out better," Yayoi bowed slightly to him, as a traditional sign of respect. The commander returned it. As he straightened, he noticed a call on the hotline.

Upon this occasion, Pres. Rara did not even invoke words to humiliate Cmdr. Sanada, he simply stuck out his tongue and pulled at his eye. Cmdr. Sanada repeated the gesture exactly, to defy and mock him. Both of them remained frozen in this position for some time, humming derisively at each other. Grunting in impatience and irritation, Inspector Yamano cut the connection.

When finally Slade had returned to base, he found the trio waiting for him in a corridor. Slade was now not alarmed by their obvious desire to discuss sensitive subjects in public. He figured they were going to gossip to everyone in any case, so he might as well simply talk with them in public.

"You didn't ask her out!" complained Mena.

Craftiness crept across Slade's face. He would no longer panic; he would tease.

"Females," Slade chuckled, "you think that parties result in romance as lightning results in thunder."

"Males," said Alice, faking a bass tone in an imitation of Slade's voice, "you think we haven't got eyes in our heads. We know what you're thinking. You think she's pretty and nice and a good cook."

"I'm sure she likes you too," said Mena in a falsetto imitation of Mitsuki Rara's voice.

Slade rolled his eyes, but couldn't stop a few chuckles from escaping his throat.

"I didn't think people who refused to admit to their love actually existed," Ryla said in disbelief. "Whatever is the matter with you?"

"Assuming that what you say is true," explained Slade, "she is my commanding officer, which makes a romantic relationship a bad idea for a whole host of reasons."

"No it doesn't!" Alice contradicted him.

"It could lead to accusations of favoritism," Slade pointed out. "It could subvert our judgment. It could lead to resentment among the other members of the RaRa Army. And what would it be like for everybody if we quarreled? Things could get bad. Or, even worse, if we were to break up? That would be a very bad situation."

"No it doesn't!" Alice contradicted him again.

Continuing, Kent ignored this, "Perhaps the biggest reason is that I was planning on leaving this whole world, and I wasn't planning on coming back. It wouldn't be fair of me to force her to choose between two worlds like that."

"Well then, change your mind and stay here!" suggested Mena.

"You forget that I do not exist in this world," Kent replied tightly. He sighed, releasing the sudden tension. "That's how it is. Not much can really be done about it. I'll see you around." He walked away, glad this had finally gotten straightened out.

Some hours earlier, after Inspector Yamano had cut the connection and Cmdr. Sanada had retracted his tongue into his mouth, the commander had grinned fiercely.

"Oh well," Cmdr. Sanada had said. "We'll be taking delivery of the new Core Robots in a few weeks. Maybe things will be better once we get them. No, I'm sure things will go better for us. Much, much better!" He began to laugh maniacally once again. Inspector Yamano just bowed slightly in farewell and left the control room silently.

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