|Witness Protection Program|
|Summary: Colonel Tessa Testarossa returns from months away to deliver a report about the mysteries of A-LAWS...and something else that's been bugging her.|
The Princess of Orb sits in an office on Onogoro, presently leaving the lights a little dimmed and the windows shut in the hopes of keeping the noise level to a bare minimum. She has moved past the level of actively having a hangover, but is still not exactly feeling stellar; Rachel probably had it much, much worse.
Rubbing the bridge of her nose and groaning a little, she makes a valiant (if unsuccessful) attempt at reviewing her notes on the European campaign. This is going precisely nowhere, so an interruption is probably preferable to anything that is presently happening.
A helicopter touches down in the Katharon-controlled region. Katharon's forces are known for being a little bit...rag-tag; their military discipline varies somewhere between 'just about acceptable' and 'lolwut'. So when an unmarked black helicopter that hadn't been there ten minute sago appears on scanners and disgorges a group of men in clean military olives, armed with pistols and shining rank bars, there can be only one person they are escorting.
Ten minutes later, which is to say, right now, the door to Cagalli's office receives a pair of firm knocks, and a soft voice that hasn't been heard for a while announces, "Cagalli, I'd like a word with you."
Only one person can say those words and not sound like it's going to end the universe.
For all of the things that Katharon does not have, and all of the things the combined efforts of the Earth Federation and the A-LAWS have taken from them, there are more than a few creature comforts still left to the people. In such a case, in an office in Onogoro, it's a short and stylish leather couch, the seats made with black leather and packed to be soft and comfortable, the armrests a minimalistic steel with the smallest of pads on it. It's on the back wall, where you wouldn't see it unless you looked over there intentionally.
When she woke up, Rachel Miu Athha was in the one place that she never expected to be in the entirety of her teenaged life: Not in her own bed, but Cagalli's, her arms thrown around the blonde and huddled to her side like a small child. Despite the depth of her sleep and how long she was out, she didn't feel good.
She felt awful.
The feeling passed to some other empathically-sensitive people whenever she walked by them, like an aura of pain and aggrivation that could not be explained. All of the asprin in the world, the coffee offered to her, even now the glass of water that sits on the floor next to the low couch, do nothing to fix the pain that threatens to split the front of her skull open like someone going to town on her with a steel switchstick.
The mass on the couch shifts with a groan; her black t-shirt shows the stylized Morgenroete logo across the chest, the lower half of her body wearing a light-colored jumpsuit unzipped and stripped to the waist, the sleeves tied around her waist. Short boots are worn on her feet, and a tuft of white hair pokes out from underneath the hoodie draped over her head.
When Tessa knocks on the door, the pile of teenaged girl lets out a short "nnh," as she sits up a little bit, the garment falling slowly off her face. Tessa Testarossa may be the most non-threatening girl in the world, but right now, her voice sounds like thunderclaps.
"Cag'li," she mumbles, the barest hints of the English accent she's been suppressing for over a week showing through in her moment of weakness. "Door."
This is not the most opportune time to have Tessa over, Cagalli reflects, as she glances over toward Rachel's prone form; in hindsight, she thinks, she should probably have stayed with her rather than briefly absconding to go... ... be irresponsible herself. Then again -- how could she know that a partially-cybernetic enhanced human would have problems holding her liquor?
Of course, she doesn't feel great either; those sharp knocks are absolute agony. Screwing her eyes shut for a moment, Cagalli attempts to muster the mental wherewithal to respond. Eventually, she manages, turning her attention to Rachel well before the door itself.
"I've got it," Cagalli whispers, moving toward the door. She slowly slides it open, gesturing for Tessa to come inside; she whispers, "Keep it a little on the quiet side... last night, Quatre threw a party, and..."
That's really all the words that need to be spent on that sentence.
The door swings open. It's been six months or so; Tessa's 18, now. She looks more like an adult, with slimmer cheeks and a more adult cast to her features.
Well, she couldn't look like she was twelve forever.
Still, some things never change; the girl offers that small, sincere but professional smile, tipping her head. "Cagalli," she says, and then eyes tick over toward the side of the room, briefly frowning. "Ah," she murmurs, at Cagalli's explanation. "Yes, I've heard about the Maganacs and their parties. I can come back later, if you need..."
But her pale eyes narrow, fractionally. "But, I would like to speak as soon as possible."
Perhaps Cagalli overestimated her? Then again, Rachel's childhood was certainly not your average sort. Or even above-average, for as unusual and strange their world is these days! Still, as she sits upright, as silent as she is, the couch underneath her shifts as her weight does. Her boots hit the floor with a couple of light clicks.
The hoodie sweatshirt falls into her lap; her right hand closes around it while her bandaged left picks up the glass of water left on the floor. It takes her a second to make sure her grip is steady on it, more from recovering injuries than her hangover, and then she lifts it up.
Standing up slowly, turning her attention from Tessa, and toward Cagalli, she speaks. "If this is about work," she says, voice returning to what's normal-- if a little quiet-- for Rachel Miu Athha, "I can leave you two alone."
The Princess considers her situation here; on the one hand, Tessa might have wanted to talk about something sensitive. On the other hand... she /really/ wants to extend the olive branch to Rachel, as best she can. Sometimes that means taking a risk; sometimes that means making a situation a little more awkward.
"It's fine -- both of you, it's fine," Cagalli says, after a few seconds of thought. "You might actually have some insight on some of this stuff, I imagine, Rach." Cagalli does not say why. She has no idea how much Tessa knows or does not know.
"So, uh, where should we start? Do you want to sit down? I guess we could sit on the couch..." This doesn't need to be formal, Cagalli thinks. Besides, the couch might be more comfortable for herself and Rachel, which is of course the most important thing.
Tessa's eyes land on Rachel, briefly examining the girl; the lights are dimmed, so she can't really get a good look. She senses, distantly, the pangs of her pain dancing off the edge of her mind, but Tessa closes the hole quickly; resonance is dangerous to the Whispered in a way Newtypes are not so misfortunate as to fear. Tessa has become very good at hardening her heart. She offers that small, harmless smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Rachel," Tessa says, tipping her head in greeting. "I'm sorry to have to bring work to your door in this condition."
She lets Cagalli make the call, and Cagalli makes the call that includes Rachel in the proceedings. OK, Tessa decides, and her mind spins off infinitely, processing what that means. While she's doing that, she also says, "I've finally received word back from Intelligence regarding A-LAWS. Since my duties have become more manageable, I thought you would want to hear my findings in person, Cagalli. Some of them are..." She tips her head, and murmurs, "Troubling."
She starts running over things to do in her mind, something to take her mind of the throbbing of the unbalanced old Earth-style charcoal locomotive wobbling around the inner curves of her head. She could always help with Mobile Suit maintenance, and getting to learn the inner workings of the Murasame a little better. Speaking of that, was it her imagination, or when she stuck her head into the hangar this morning there was a Haro in a small docking pod with pink paint?
In either case, she's given the okay to remain in the room while the two of them speak. In the dim light, prematurely white hair is the most telling of characteristics; though her hairstyle is cropped in a similar style as Cagalli's own, a bit of hair covers the large eyepatch splayed over the left side of her face, covering a good deal of the scar tissue that webs across her cheek and forehead. "It's nice to meet you too, Miss Tessa," she adds, not with a free hand to offer a proper handshake.
Then, Rachel looks a little uncomfortable. Insight? Intelligence? ... Ah yeah, the A-LAWS. Stepping back, the younger Athha rests her glass on top of a filing cabinet just long enough to slip the hoodie on, fetching the drink before she sits down on one end of the couch.
"Is... is there a problem?"
There are Haros /everywhere/, as God intended.
Deciding to seat herself in the middle of the couch, the Princess stretches out a bit; it helps distract her from the fact that her head still kind of stings. It's nowhere /near/ as bad as Rachel's, but that doesn't say much, as Rachel looks like she is about to explode. "All right," Cagalli says, looking up toward Tessa and gesturing for her to sit down at the end of the couch, opposite Rachel. "Let's hear it."
She taps behind her ear twice, mumbles something, and then resumes paying attention again; Colonel Testarossa is a surprisingly commanding presence when she wants to be, and is almost certainly managing to take up more social 'space' than either of the hung-over Athhas.
Listing slightly toward Rachel once the other girl is more fully situated, she says, "This is pretty, uh, typical... I mean -- I haven't seen Tessa in a while, but these kinds of meetings are pretty normal. There's no problem." Turning back to Tessa, Cagalli says, "At least -- God, I hope not."
Tessa dips a small bow, substituting for the handshake to occupied Rachel. A badly wounded girl, huh...
Rachel asks a question, so Tessa glances at her, momentarily. "Sorry, I guess you wouldn't know?" she offers that little smile, and straightens a little - she's taller than she ever was before, her shoulders a little bit broader. Perhaps inevitable, given she always had that power to command a room, if she wanted. "I'm Teletha Testarossa, Colonel of Mithril's West Pacific Ocean fleet. Mithril's Intelligence bureau does a lot of the intelligence work for Katharon. A-LAWS has presented us with some great difficulties, and some curious riddles, so I've had people looking into it more-or-less from its inception."
Explanations made, Tessa finds Cagalli motioning for her to sit, and... she hesitates, momentarily. She's so used to speaking to a crew from the front; she needs to get used to Katharon's less formal methods again. She nods, eventually, though still clutching a folder full of hard-copy notes in hand even as she sits down.
...and then produces a pair of reading glasses from her pocket, sliding them on with one hand with practiced ease. Since when does she--
"I'll start," she says, "with the major command figures."
Looking up at Tessa from her position, Rachel wants to stand up when Tessa introduces herself properly. She wants to stand up with her back straight and throw up her arm in a crisp salute. She wants to present herself properly, even if her attire right now is a far cry from what it is. To cut a long story short, she wants to present herself as a soldier.
It's no different than when Quattro Bajeena surprised her in the hangar of the Argama, but given the more relaxed surroundings, her arm doesn't start doing things without her knowledge. Instead, she takes it all in with a nod.
As Tessa begins to describe the nature of her work and her investigations into the A-LAWS, the young pilot nods slowly, watching as the utterly professional young woman sits herself down. Colonel... at her age?
Sitting a little straighter, somehow Rachel Miu Athha is able to forget about her hangover and the pains related to it. Instead, there's a little bit of a knot forming in her stomach; she wants to help. She really does want to-- but there are things that cause her to hesitate. What happened at La Vie en Rose... that was different. There was a reason for that, and it dominantly boiled down to wanting to end the battle as quickly and safely as possible.
Things that only Cagalli and Amuro would know, or understand.
Taking a long drink of her water, the lost little sister brings the glass back down to her lap and holds it between both hands, waiting to hear what's around the corner for them all. A-LAWS, their command structure...
Cagalli believes in formality; she believes in hunting it down and murdering it. Indeed, it is probably more her specific style than a broad commentary on Katharon; there are certainly organizations with more military discipline within Katharon, but Cagalli herself would just as soon conduct all business over lunch.
God lunch sounds amazing to her right now. Then again, sitting in her office with the windows closed and the lights dimmed seems to have been working out so far...
"I've been looking into some stuff too, though I bet I'm not nearly as, uh, methodical as Mithril's intelligence team," Cagalli says, which is a nice way of saying 'I went up to Ribbons's bedroom and narrowly evaded becoming a permanent fixture.'
She glances at Rachel, a little nervous. How will /she/ take this? Even over La Vie En Rose, the specifics of the fight were not all that apparent to those still inside a ship... how is she going to feel about her friends being referred to as 'the enemy'?
Tessa is 18, making it a whole two years less preposterous for her to be a Colonel than it was before.
Just twenty to go!
Tessa gives Cagalli another one of those teensy smiles, but it is warmer than before, and she sounds amused when she says, "I should hope so, we pay them quite a bit."
She flips her notes open, tabbing to a pile of papers containing dossiers; she leans forward and sets it down on the coffee table, which apparently exists. She recites it as if it were in front of her: "Councilman Gilbert Durandal of the PLANT supreme council, General Homer Katagiri of the Federation, and field command is in the hands of Admiral Paptimus Scirocco." She frowns, murmuring, "Of course, Scirocco's intentions are as mysterious as they have ever been, and Durandal doesn't seem to have any secrets you can't find on a gossip blog. Fairly upright person, overall." Which is code for 'Tessa's player hasn't been able to contact Durandal's player for a quick run-down.' She angles herself to look down the couch at the other two, offering further, "Katagiri is a new factor, but also nothing especially alarming on his own. Hardline Federalist; strongly anti-rebel force, stood by the Federation throughout the Bloody Valentine conflict. Despises Katharon." She says it neutrally; this is not a new phenomenon. "Homer's nephew, Billy Katagiri, is in charge of R&D and particularly the A-LAWS' GN research program."
She produces another file, setting it down. "Which is quite advanced, although it still seems incapable of matching the drives possessed by Celestial Being. The new drives have changed the color of their particles, to a burnt orange from the previous bloody red. It seems to herald some change in their energy state which reduces their toxicity to humans." She raises her eyes, peering over the glasses' rims, gravely. "Although it does not cause the immediate...'reverse-cancer' effect that previous generations demonstrated, I'm quite confident they have not done studies to test the effects of long-term exposure. Care should be taken with anyone with heavy exposure we may find."
Yet, for all that the Mithril intelligence team has gathered, there's a wealth of information sitting right next to Cagalli and being scattered across the coffee table in front of them, as well as what Tessa has yet to show them. Homer Katagiri... she's heard his name before, but never met the man herself. Gilbert Durandal, she'd met at the party no more than a few months ago. And Billy Katagiri...
Well, you're more apt to see him in the presence of a certain man.
She starts thinking about things, in the off-hand. Rachel has flashbacks to her first encounter with any of the Gundam Meisters of Celestial Being that she remembers... and it was at the Giga-Float. Those serene green particles, the white and blue machine. The way it glowed red like an angel of vengeance and wrath, before disappearing into the sky.
And... GN exposure...
Rachel brings one of her hands up to her face, lips closing over the tip of her thumb as her teeth close over the fingernail. She doesn't bite down hard or chew, but there's a degree of worry there that she never thought about before, aside from the most obvious of cosmetic differences...
"Durandal was actually kinda helpful during the battle over Jachin Due," Cagalli says to Tessa, when the topic of Durandal comes up; of all the people involved in the A-LAWS, he's the one that Cagalli is most likely to say she'd actually trust. Paptimus has done her a few good turns but has also proven out to be a poisonous individual; Katagiri, of course, hates her, probably personally as well as in general.
Leaning over the coffee table, Cagalli looks at the dossiers -- just skimming for now, deep reading seems like an awful idea. "There's another name you need to add to your list," Cagalli says, starting with the thing she knows the best. "Ribbons Almark. The little green-haired guy who used to work for Alejandro." There's a certain bile in the way she says that name, Alejandro, though it's mitigated somewhat by time; it has, after all, been nearly a year. "Apparently, he's the one behind..." God, how much of it? All of it? "... at least some of it," she affirms.
The topic of GN exposure is next on the list, and it is at this point that Cagalli just gets really quiet, really fast. "... well..." she starts, twiddling her thumbs, looking for all the world like she wants to say something -- or perhaps just wants /Rachel/ to say something.
Tessa remains noncomittal about Scirocco because he presents as an incredibly kind person and yet some people insist he is Turbo Satan Mk. II: Satan Gear. So she just leaves it at 'nobody knows what he is up to.'
Tessa continues, blithely, "They seem to have also developed a reasonable facsimile of the Celestial Being Gundams' Trans-Am mode, which given the difference in power output the Trans-Am produces, is troubling." A pause, to glance over her glasses all librarianly when Rachel and Cagalli both get awkward.
Strike two, she thinks.
She doesn't push it, instead just thumbing through her notes until she finds another dossier, pulling it forward and setting it down. It is very thin. It is about Ribbons Almark. These are probably related facts. "I wasn't going to mention him now," Tessa says, "But since you brought it up...yes, we've confirmed that Ribbons Almark was heavily involved in the talks that formed A-LAWS. We've also found traces of evidence pointing to his involvement in the organization itself, but nothing conclusive yet." She nods at Cagalli, gives a small, sad smile, and adds, "But I'd bet on it. Particularly given...some of the other abnormalities."
Another file placed down. "As you probably know, A-LAWS' support structure seems to have all bet leapt out of the ground. Much of it is acquired assets, including our own research stations." Which Tessa is most assuredly not happy about, "But still...to get a unit of this scale operating so quickly is difficult to imagine. Particularly given the irregularity of the GNZ Team. They've received most of the top-tier GN research units - development codes beginning GNZ, hence the name. But..." She frowns, letting Cagalli flip through for a moment. Healing Care. Bring Stability. How did Tessa even get these documents? "Most of the GNZ Team pilots are registered in Federation documents as Cyber-Newtypes, but we've not been able to determine the facility or caretakers overseeing them. What's more, they have quite significant levels of rank. It's possible they are some new breed that passed inspections without us knowing." She says it, but with a skeptical tone of voice, because Mithril would be looking for exactly that kind of development.
In her mind, she's thinking about things for a long time. Or it could just be that her thought process runs on a faster track than others; it may just be the secret to her ability to multitask to a level that some cannot, and keep information straight that others cannot. While she's being observed by Tessa, Cagalli left unsure, the thumb leaves the firm grip of her teeth and comes back down to her lap.
"I should probably mention that I've been exposed to an extremely high dose of those GN particles." It's a long story. Breathing in, Rachel finishes her glass of water and reaches forward, putting it on the table. "I feel okay right now, but I guess it's part of why my sister's been keeping such a close eye on me."
Drawing in a sigh, her mind shifts gears a little bit. She lets her hands curl up into a little fists, one bandaged from the first digits to the wrist and one marked with fresh scar tissue near the thumb. "I'm sorry, I hope it doesn't make you uncomfortable."
Ribbons Almark... she hasn't met him, but the name is familiar. It was rarely tossed around, especially after that one Gundam had arrived... then there was the GNZ Team. And the Trans-Am system, wasn't that what she saw when the Captain had gotten that new machine...?
The Princess peruses the documents, starting to regain a little more of her coherence; she can actually hold a conversation now, she thinks, and actually engage the material seriously. Clearly all she needed to get her focus back was a challenge. "Yeah... something about the way A-LAWS got set up is just -- too easy, too clean, too fast. I don't like it," Cagalli says; then again, many of the structures were already in place... hmm.
When Rachel volunteers herself, Cagalli is a little surprised, but -- in her heart -- glad. That took a lot of trust to say, she realizes; she gently puts a hand over the Newtype's, rubbing at one of the non-bandaged areas gently. "It's fine -- I think saying stuff like that might actually kinda... help," Cagalli says to her younger sister, with a small smile.
She then moves onto Tessa's other information, saying, "Cyber-Newtypes, but with no handlers...? They wouldn't do that -- not normally, not from what I can figure. There's gotta be something else -- maybe they're just Newtypes and don't want to tip their hands...?" How the distinction would tip their hands she doesn't know, but it sounded good in her head.
Tessa is good at thinking, in that her thoughts operate on a level closer to a computer than a woman. Little tips, little clues - A-LAWS is not the only conspicuous element Tessa has been investigating, lately. She's almost entirely certain, but chooses not to burst the bubble yet.
Tessa looks at Rachel, nods. "I see. As I said, the immediate danger of heavy exposure seems to have been phased out of the current models; you should be fine, other than..." She just tips her head, respectfully, not calling Rachel's scars to attention by name. "Still, I'd suggest frequent check-ups, preferably with a physician familiar with the signs of GN poisoning. I can get you an appointment with Doctor Goldberry, but I'm sure the Athhas have a family physician more familiar with your medical history than my ship's medic would be." Guileless smile.
Incidentally, Tessa is slightly unpleasant from a Newtype perspective - her heart hardened, impenetrable, a wall that cannot be scaled, keeping others out.
And perhaps, something else in.
"No, they wouldn't," Tessa confirms. "Even if they somehow earned trust I doubt they would truly abandon them to operate autonomously. Many of them were around for some time before A-LAWS formed, but...they were immediately shuffled to high ranks within the organization. Whatever they may be - and truthfully the answer could be anything - I suspect their sudden rise to prominence has something to do with the secret to A-LAWS' rapid formation." She hums, closing her eyes momentarily. "And that secret may just reside with Ribbons Almark."
A momentary sigh. "Three other points," Tessa says, pulling out another dossier. "A-LAWS' funding comes from a number of sources, of course - military, industrial, grants. But the greatest contributor of all is..." On the table: "Louise Halevy. You may remember her, Cagalli; she is the sole survivor of the unfortunate Trinity incident in Spain." 'Unfortunate' may be the understatement of human history, but Tessa doesn't have time for rambling dialogues about a minor detail. "Halevy funding can be found in virtually every A-LAWS project that didn't come from the DC, especially mobile suit development. Miss Halevy is also a pilot in the GNX Squad, rank of Warrant Officer." Tessa does not say the words 'we may wish to consider eliminating her', because that is not how Tessa rolls. However, she knows for a fact Admiral Borda is thinking about it pretty hard.
"Other projects...despite AEUG propaganda, A-LAWS has most of their capital in space at the moment, including colony development. All of it military, of course." She frowns particularly heavily, and taps her slender fingers against her knee. "Including the Orbital Ring. I don't have to tell you how dangerous it would be if they gained Orbital Ring response capability. With just one base they'd gain the ability to respond to anywhere on an entire hemisphere in under ten minutes."
Volunteering the small amount of information may help her in the long run; while so much of her life is wrapped up in a whirlwind of chaos-- Amuro being overprotective, Quattro being overly cautious-- Cagalli provides an outlet for her emotions, especially the ones that she isn't sure how to handle. The physical contact seems to catch her off-guard a little, much like Quatre's attentions last night.
She doesn't pull her hand away, either. It just takes her a second to process it, and the smile. With her mind running laps as it is, it's no surprise that when the emotions stir up a little bit inside of her, the process also brings her to feeling-- not just Cagalli and the warmth, but the coolness behind Tessa's polite-yet-professional exterior.
In some ways, it almost feels hauntingly familiar.
Of course, three small letters and a single word cause her thumb to lift up a little bit, to hold over her elder sister's hand as the blood in her veins seems to run cold. Warrant Officer Louise Halevy, and ... the... GNX Squad...
For a moment, her mind wanders to thoughts of a very scant few amount of people in the world.
For a moment, she feels extremely guilty.
It results in a slight frown, and she looks a bit openly upset. Goddamned emotions-- why were they so hard to get wrangled up?
"I-- um. ... T-That Healing Care, I-- I think I've heard of her," Rachel says, trying to find her voice.
Emotions are a tricky thing; Cagalli's are certainly kind of a mess at times lately. Up and down, up and down -- sometimes even side to side. Her emotions take a sharp, precipitous drop at the mention of Louise Halevy; she remembers the one time she tried to talk to that poor young woman. Even as she is, she hasn't mustered up the nerve to make a second attempt, and at this rate, might never.
She takes the information in, not quite finding too much to talk about regarding it; some of it is things she already knows, and the others are more or less just incontrovertible facts. As such, her focus is more on the reactions -- on the way Tessa approaches the topics, on the way Rachel does. When she starts to get awkward about the GN-X team, about Louise, about Healing, she starts to wonder if letting her in on this discussion wasn't a mistake.
"... if you know anything, it might help us," she whispers. "But we can talk about it later, if you're not cool with it." She keeps that hand there, trying to be reassuring, as much to herself as to Rachel -- she's trying, she's trying /very hard/, but it's hard to approach this situation with the love that she knows she needs to.
Perhaps because of that, she tries to divert the topic back to business a little. "Tessa, you said there were three things -- what was the third?
Tessa's hands continue to clutch her little folder. It still has some documents in it, which Tessa has not shown yet. She watches Rachel meditate on...things. Tessa is really quite a nice person, but in the end, that measured, kind professionalism has its uses in the hands of less moral people.
She notices the reaction to her mention of Halevy, of GNX Team. That narrows things down quite a bit, she thinks.
"Oh?" Tessa prompts, nodding. She does not touch, but leans in, slightly, for sincerity. "...yes, of course, please. I'll be around more often, my duties have let up on Merida Island. I'll be happy to speak with you any time." Smile, tipping her head.
A glance past, toward Cagalli, and Tessa slips back in the couch, fingers still around her not-empty folder.
"I'd rather Miss Rachel take a moment to ease her worries before we continue," Tessa says.
Could it even be 'strike three?'
Talking about Healing was mostly a diversion for herself, a way to check her own emotions into thinking about other things. Still, as Cagalli suggests talking to her about it later, the younger Athha nods slowly and tries to swallow back the lump in her throat. In some small ways, even if she still looks like hell, she's not focusing on how badly her head hurts right now.
Rachel's gaze remains averted from Tessa's, instead looking to the file on the table with eyes that are almost absent, as if she's not just looking at the Mithril intelligence, but putting together her own thoughts based on what's both right in front of her and what she can remember.
"It's all right, Colonel Testarossa. Y-You can keep going, it's no big deal."
Tessa hums, nodding slowly. "In that case," Tessa says, quietly, flipping open her folder one more time. "Miss Rachel," she says, turning to look directly at the girl. Fingers rise up; she pulls the (fake) glasses off, to look Rachel square on, if she'll allow it. "I haven't taken the opportunity to welcome you yet. I've been good friends with Cagalli for some time now. I trust her implicitly. The fact that she has such faith in you speaks volumes. I should inform you, Mithril has a certain specialty in rehabilitating and if necessary relocating individuals who require it. Please, if you've any questions, call me at any time." She smiles - broadly, sincerely.
And then she tilts her eyes a little past, toward Cagalli, and says, "However, Cagalli, we really must talk about the flimsy cover story you've devised for this poor woman."
The final file hits the table. It is not a dossier, per se - rather, a collection of thumbnail pictures of cross-factional casualties that came up over the course of the weeks leading up to Rachel's appearance in Katharon. Ralla Traln Triald's picture is on the first page, slightly above a simple yellow post-it note.
The note reads,
Cagalli recoils as if struck.
"It's not /that/ flimsy," Cagalli murmurs under her breath, before taking a deep breath and admitting, "I, uh... I mean, I see your point, but --" She looks down at the post-it note, trying to figure out how to even respond to this one. She feels kind of dumb, which is the worst part about hanging out with Tessa -- it almost /always/ makes her feel dumb.
"It wouldn't be the first time a kid appeared out of nowhere in one family or another," Cagalli points out, which is true; almost all the families of Orb have at least one instance in their 200 year history of a surprise kid. It's how nobility... works, really. "And... and..." Cagalli tries to find words here, for a moment.
"... I want to protect her -- and... I want to forgive her," she adds; Tessa no doubt knows about the Kusanagi by now. What Cagalli does not admit is that she isn't sure she /can/ forgive her without bringing her in that close, not yet -- she isn't sure she's got the emotional maturity. Though she usually doesn't think the worst of her thoughts when she's /with/ Rachel, more than once she's sat up in bed, feeling as though somewhere, 300 ghosts are disappointed in her for not pulling the trigger.
"We're committed to it now, either way -- so why don't you help us strengthen it? I mean, that's what Mithril Intelligence can do, right?" She feels like she has earned this favor, if only through the considerable time frame in which Katharon had almost /no/ Mithril help.
Buried somewhere deep inside of her, there's a terrible feeling welled up inside of her. Buried all the way, deep down, and clawing it's way up through her chest, clambering up her spine, and taking root in her mind. Tessa addresses her directly, and Rachel looks up to her. Intelligence this thorough rarely leaves a stone unturned, and the moment the GNX Team came up, she had a feeling it would come to this.
A photograph of Ralla Traln Triald. Her face doesn't have any of the scarring, and her hair has a different tone to it-- while the photograph may not have color, it was clearly not white when it was taken. It's been straightened. It's been cut. She's wearing a color contact lens.
In the photograph, she looks like an emotionless doll.
Her mouth bunches up into a smaller line. Regardless of Cagalli there, regardless of whatever look Tessa may give her, the sixteen-year old seems to immediately retreat in on herself, her shoulders hunching forward and her head lowering to stare at the floor just beyond her knees. One hand wraps around the other.
More than once, even with the addition of painkillers, Ralla-- Rachel-- has awakened screaming, sobbing into her pillow as all of those suppressed emotions have caught up with her. The names burned into her mind by Cagalli in her moment of rage. The people she left behind; Leo, Soma, Michael, and Louise, and if they've looked for her-- if they've even thought of her.
More than once, the day she stood on the deck of the Kusanagi and slowly dragged the GN-Psycommu Sword through every command level of the ship and then some has returned to her mind. Even more than that, what happened afterward, something that she still hasn't been able to talk to Cagalli about.
Uncontrollably, her eye waters up. But she keeps it in. She so tries her hardest to keep it in.
When Cagalli admits wanting to protect her, she almost loses it.
Today's been the first time since awakening in the care of Katharon that she's ever seen a photograph of herself. She can't look at it again-- she doesn't want to.
"I just-- I-- I don't want go back... even if everyone here knows who I am, a-a-- and even if they all hate me, I just--"
Her voice catches in her throat.
Tessa is unfairly smart and Cagalli has taken the liberty of becoming her friend. She's got to let the smartypants condescension out somewhere, or she'd just explode!!
Tessa doesn't really respond to Cagalli's floundering; just maintaining that reserved expression, a small smile, wanting to tease out the heart of the matter before she proceeds. She already understands quite a bit, but...
But for all the power locked away in her mind, the heart is a machine she does not understand so intuitively. That kind of sharing is something she cannot do lightly - to open her heart to others, even just to understand them, is to invite her own destruction. She is kind, she has charisma, but...
But she has such difficulties with true bonding.
"I never said I'd make you go back," Tessa says, simply, with warmth in her voice and that small smile. "People like you, people who need someone to help them...that is why I am still here, still fighting. I don't have to. They ask me not to, in fact." She gives a small, meaningful smile. "But every time I can help someone find happiness they didn't think they'd ever have, I remember why I go through it all."
Ralla Traln Triald, she decided ten minutes ago. Probability ninety percent and rising. Crimes against Katharon: Numerous casualties, most notably sinking the Kusanagi along with most of her crew. Odds of her being accepted easily into the ranks: Essentially nonexistent. And given her team-mates, concealing her identity will be a bigger problem than it might otherwise be.
An ordinary commander would rebuke Cagalli for her betrayal and then cart Ralla off to the guillotine. Cagalli probably wouldn't even be able to muster herself much to resist - her heart has not forgiven her. Not yet.
Tessa knows why that emotion is in her heart, but...kindness. Kindness and affection. Sisters. Yes, now it makes sense.
Tessa reaches up, subconsciously, finds the ash blonde braid and sweeps it up toward her mouth - playing the tips across her lips, thinking deeply. Her eyes hood, peering off into another place. "If we wanted to," Tessa asserts, "Mithril Intelligence could insert a false history directly into the mainframe of Riksent." Gavin Hunter is a slightly terrifying man. "However, at the moment it will be harder than usual. Miss Rachel's former team mates include someone who has proved to be dogged of her pursuit of retrieved individuals in the past...if we're not careful, an attempt to bolster the story will instead give away the whole thing."
...Her eyes track over to Rachel, barely containing herself, and Tessa sees those scars. She reaches over, toward the file, and quietly flips it on its back - so she does not have to see that face.
"We will not make you leave," Tessa says again, firm and sincere. "Not ever. This," and now her smile grows into a confident, hopefully reassuring grin, "is what Mithril exists for."
The same thoughts went through Cagalli's mind when she was about to pull the trigger. Katharon's rejection of Ralla. The likelihood that she'd even be /lauded/ for pulling the trigger. The fact that even Katharon -- even she herself -- is not above the dancing the dance of attack, defeat, and retaliation. But in that instant -- the very instant she felt her finger tense -- she remembered Uzumi's last lesson.
Even thinking about it now, so close to Ralla, not a Newtype like she is but definitely able to sense her pain and fear and shame and all the other emotions whirling in her head, in her voice if nothing else, Cagalli feels like /she/ wants to cry. To lament her own weakness and indecision -- to miss her father, who'd taught her so much and left her with so many gaps in her lessons that she still can't sort through this situation on her own.
Cagalli, rather than dwelling on the practical side, keeps her hand on Rachel's, giving it a gentle squeeze. There's almost no doubt that it hurts, with the state Rachel's hands are still in; Cagalli is a clumsy human being with clumsy human methods of expressing clumsy human emotions. But the intent isn't to hurt. "We won't let them treat you like a weapon ever again," she whispers, quietly. "I promise. I -- I promise."
It is only after that that she turns her attention to Tessa. "Father already adopted one child from a colony with no records," Cagalli says, quietly. "Maybe we don't need to start at Riksent...?" The implication, of course, is clear -- she thinks they can get away with sneaking her into a shipment of 'recovered documents' from somewhere damaged. Maybe 30 Bunch. Maybe even Orb.
That exact fear is one that she confronts every waking minute of the time that she's been associating with Katharon. Someone will find out who she is. Someone will attack her, or shoot her dead on the spot. Someone will not accept the idea of forgiving someone in the hopes of making them better.
Even the party. Would someone like Quatre, someone that was so nice to her, ever be able to look at her in the same way again?
Cagalli reaches out to hold her bandaged hand and squeeze. She doesn't seem to mind the pain. It's like a reminder that she's alive, that she can think and feel all by herself-- all for herself. Warmth on the white gauze, warmth on her hand, pressure...
Her shoulders shift a few times with ragged breaths, but the idea of her whole new world not crumbling away so quickly is able to keep her from breaking out into full-on wracking sobs. Instead, the heel of her hand lifts up to her face, wiping those welled-up tears away while she tries to collect herself.
She also doesn't have to look at herself in that photograph again.
Picking her head up, she doesn't quite make contact with either Cagalli or Tessa just yet.
Tessa doesn't step into that personal space. She wants to, some part of her...But while Tessa can be insightful, does her level best to seek out and help others...Cagalli has this one, and might just need Rachel as much as Rachel needs her.
Tessa cannot claim that she needs the help now any more than she ever has.
So Tessa stands, instead - to give the girls room, stop herself from feeling sorry for herself. She is what she is because she chooses to be. Helping people like Ralla...no, rather, like Rachel. That's what the whole thing is about. There's no time for weakness now.
"That makes it simpler," Tessa concedes. "Given the war environment of the last few decades, we can probably slip the documents in almost anywhere...backups for municipal documents and data security in general was unreliable before the new UN took charge after the Second Impact Wars..." She hums, finding the desk and leaning against it - facing inward, toward the other women, her braid tracing the edges of her lips. "We can do it. We've done it for years. And the sooner we do it, the better." Her eyes narrow. But EFA intelligence has individuals like Latooni Subota and Gilliam Yeager on their side. If they really, really want to find her, that document could be a smoking gun. "If nothing else..." she muses. "We can probably even go so far as to simply claim she was off the grid entirely until her adpotion. As you say, there's precedent for it. But then comes fabricating adoption documents, and that means altering Orb Union databases directly." Her braid glides across dry lips. "Will they be looking for that," she murmurs, not entirely to the people in this room.
A similar fear plays in Cagalli's mind. If someone were to simply shoot Rachel dead -- one of her own -- how would Cagalli react? Right now, she can't even be sure herself -- and that's scary. Would she discipline them? Would she fire back? Perhaps most horrifying -- would part of her be happy, on some level? Would part of her call it justice?
Letting go of Ralla's hands to let her wipe at her face, Cagalli decides that she has had enough thinking about logistics for the moment. That's for hunched over men in glasses at computers, people who invent a dozen new lives a day, people who spirit children away from the horrors of war.
Turning her eyes to Tessa, Cagalli gives her two simple words -- important ones for what she's asking of the woman. It's been months -- a year, maybe? Cagalli can't be sure, it feels like eternity -- and the first thing she's doing is asking for a favor. A /difficult/ favor, at that.
Her eyes mist up a little; she doesn't cry, nor does she get anywhere near as close as Rachel... but she does tense up just a touch. Just a little.
As she listens to the conspiracy between the two young women, it sends Rachel's mind reeling. Cagalli has resources like this at her disposal? She's had someone like this working for her all along? Maybe this is how Katharon's managed to keep their collective heads above water, people like this young Colonel whom even now she has a hard time believing her rank. Maybe it's her cute looks and the way she toys with her own hair.
Trying, trying, and slowly getting a grip of herself, the white-haired pilot turns her hand away from her eye and brings it back down to her lap. After a few shorter, slightly ragged breaths, the Newtype additionally nods. "I... y-yes, thank you, Colonel Testarossa..."
The unbandaged hand, the hand not in Cagalli's hand, shifts to drag a little bit of her hair back away from her eye, to tuck it behind her ear for the time being. "I don't know how much use I can be to you, too, Colonel, but I... I might be able to give you some information, depending on what you already have on file."
Mithril is a massive portion of why EFA intelligence is useless where Katharon is concerned. They are a whisper and a warning - practically a myth, even though not so long ago they were appearing frequently on the field. Their military forces aren't THAT big, certainly not compared to AEUG and the like...but when it comes to intelligence and counter-intelligence, Mithril is terrifying.
And for some reason, their liaison to Katharon is an 18-year-old colonel. There's a story there. Perhaps it will be told - but not now.
Tessa sighs, with a little grin, releasing her braid to nod. "I told you, didn't I? This is what I'm in this gig for," she says, with an actual laugh, relaxing a bit. "Leave the logistics to us. We'll ask you if anything needs confirmation." She glances, then, at Rachel speaking.
"My friends," she says, tipping her head. "Call me Tessa." A little grin, a little looser than before. She does like her work, even if the crying faces were a little too much for her. "And anything you can tell me would be helpful. I'm in the business of saving lives, whenever I can...every bit of information I can get lets me plan to better minimize hurting people."
A sudden frown, and leaning back to check a clock on the desk. "Oh. I have to go. The Danaan is undergoing final checks, I need to be there to oversee launch." She straightens up, glancing at the two women. "The Tuatha de Danaan will be returning to Katharon service after today. You'll both be welcome aboard whenever you wish." She bows, again, familiar with the Japanese custom apparently, and then turns on her heels and walks for the door, brisk, quick steps, poise and control. She slides the door open, then catches her foot on the door frame and falls to the ground with a shrill "WAAAAU" and a painful THUMP.
The door slides closed on its own.