|Summary: Teletha Testarossa encounters Rachel Miu Athha in the Danaan's observation lounge. They talk about whatever comes to mind - the small Colonel, the frightened princess...and the grave deeds on the horizon.|
The Tuatha de Danaan is a clean ship - large, for a submarine, with halls a little wider than an average submarine vessel's. Still, it's also almost suffocating, compared to some space battleships. There are no windows to the outside; no cameras, no viewports. Only cold steel locking one inside. Tessa does what she can to alleviate this - periodically, as the ship travels, they'll stop out in the open sea and allow the crew to stretch their legs out on the flight deck, under open air, especially right now with crew from other ships filtering into the Danaan for the first time in months. But as time passes, as they pass through more and more dangerous areas, those stops begin to end. The Danaan is a stealth submarine, and they are leaving waters favored by Katharon. By now, they are diving deep using silent propulsion. Crew have been asked to keep things quiet, to avoid detection by any enemies that may be in the area.
The Captain does not need to be on the bridge for a simple voyage such as this; with Richard Mardukas on deck, Tessa Testarossa is able to take some time and slip off down to the observation lounge - where she is halfway hoping to run in to a certain someone.
Though it isn't the first time for the sixteen-year old girl to be on a military ship, it is her first time on a submarine. It's strange, perplexing, and yet all at the same time... vaguely metaphorical of her life, before coming to Katharon. Moving silently through the deep darkness, inside her own shell, with no real windows to the outside world. No views of what life is like beyond that perfect little bubble.
Hopefully, nothing will cause the literal bubble to burst.
She hasn't had a lot to do, lately. She's helped to repair the IWSP on Cagalli's Strike Rouge the best she can with the tools on-hand... and those are considerably useful and high-tech. She's had to deal with the sailors and soldiers on the submarine itself, which isn't so bad. She's also been in a small (relatively speaking) and confined area with someone like C.C. running around.
But now, in the comforts of the observation lounge, Rachel Miu Athha is sitting on one of the seats and watching the monitors not far behind her. Her arms are folded, propped on the top of the backing and chin at rest in the crook of her elbow. Turned halfway, one leg is folded on the cushion. The pose is very lazy-looking, and, well.
She looks kind of bored.
She has nothing to do.
She ... hates not having anything to help with.
Nobody will be bursting the Danaan. Her crew will see to that.
Sadly, Tessa does not really have the capacity to hand out duty to every pilot aboard; the duties of combat pilots during travel time is largely limited to talking about the mission, occasional briefings, simulation training using laptops, and...poker. Merida Island is a far more happening place; sadly it is also currently thousands of miles away.
The door opens, and Tessa walks in, finger lodged firmly under her collar and a tired expression on her face. She hums, tired, and wanders toward the refrigerator in the back - and then stops, smiling. "Ah!" she chirps. "Miss Rachel." She looks bored as hell, Tessa decides. "How have you been? I hope the crew's been treating you alright."
Her eye shifts slowly from monitor to monitor, trying to get a grip on how it's all set up. Clearly, Mithril's got an extensive intelligence network, and enough resources to have a submarine of this size. When it was surfaced, when they landed the Astray and Strike Rouge in the hangar, it was fairly apparent. Where are they getting their money from? How far into everyone's cookie jar are their fingers?
Just as her brain sends an initial surge of chemicals through her blood, just as her jaw drops and she yawns hard enough to take her attention off of the doorway, she doesn't notice Tessa's immediate entrance... but when her name is called, then she turns her head to look over. "Oh! Colonel Tessa..."
Immediately, she turns in her seat to face her and sit properly, hands on her knees. Her back is straight, and she does seem to be paying rapt attention to the young commander now. "I've been all right. Everyone's been making sure I don't get lost. It ... it isn't all that different than being on a space ship, except for..."
"... the noise, I suppose. Being on a submarine just ... it sounds and feels a little different." Her head lifts, and her expression is apologetic. "I'm not saying it's bad, but just... it's new."
Mithril is much like Celestial Being in a lot of ways - mysterious benefactors, intelligence that runs terrifyingly deep. Supertechnology the likes of which the world has never imagined. Money - ridiculous, enormous amounts of money.
Mithril just focuses on something...else. But what else? Are they sincere? Their goal is the same, isn't it? That insane, hypocritical goal of ending war by force...
"At ease," Tessa teases, with a little grin, seeing Rachel shoot ramrod straight at her presence. "And aboard ship, I'm Captain. Only the combat teams call me Colonel." It's a naval thing. "I'm glad," she adds, bobbing her head pleasantly as she reaches into the refrigerator and pulls out a...juice. ...she really is young, huh? "I was worried. We do everything we can to make the ship easy to navigate, but...even so, there's only so much that can be done."
She steps over to the couch, and neatly sits down on it, body folding in slightly in that small way of hers - she is such a petite person, and yet she has such a personal presence. She hums at Rachel's comment. "It's fine," she says. "Submarines are quiet - that's what you're noticing. It's the nature of the thing. Noise means other ships can find you easily, underwater. The Danaan can run completely silent, which is why we're able to do what we're doing now...passing through an EFA patrol region en route to the Atlantic."
She smiles, open and friendly. "I know it's strange. I guess for someone else it would be disorienting...but I find I'm most comfortable at sea."
Not long ago, Rachel wouldn't know how to take being teased like that. She'd probably sit there and relax just a little bit, even. Even now she doesn't entirely get the fact that she's being made fun of, but she does seem to relax a little bit. "Sorry... Captain."
"It's all right. I'm sure if I spend a little more time walking around here I'll eventually figure it out. Besides, I at least know how to get to the hangar, and... I guess that's one of the most important parts," she says, bringing her hand up to pull the long trail of hair along the side of her face back, tucking it over her ear.
"I see... I never realized that Mithril-- or even Katharon at large-- possessed technology of this level. Appearing out of nowhere, even in our..."
"... in the Federation's territories..."
The younger Athha sister props her elbows on her knees, leaning forward and fingers lacing together. "I suppose someone could get used to it..."
"For you?" Tessa hums, untwisting her juice lid. (It's Neue-Snapple, apparently) "That and the briefing rooms." A little grin. "And the vending machines." She's not even kidding, though for a sub to have a vending machine is slightly insane. And Rachel makes...an observation.
"Mithril has always been ahead of the curve in technology. Our frontline unit, the M9 Gernsback, is still working its way through the EFA's opeval process. We estimate it will be at least ten years before anyone is able to match the stealth capabilities of the Tuatha de Danaan." She hums, tipping her head. "Mithril is a home for technological marvels, you could say. For a goal as audacious as ours, I suppose it would be impossible otherwise."
She sips at her juice, thoughtfully. "Do you feel uncomfortable?" she murmurs.
After seeing it firsthand, there's no way that she can deny Tessa's claim about being ahead of the curve. Provided, the Federation's-- and the A-LAWS', by extension-- foray into the realm of GN Drives is not perfect, but damn well helped to put them ahead of some of their enemies, and help them level the playing field with Celestial Being. Ten years ahead? It ... it still, even now, seems like a hard pill to swallow.
When she's asked the most important question, Rachel looks again hesitant to answer. Her golden-colored eye turns downward, and she frowns just a bit. She can't deny the twitch in her left hand, as well, the slight ripple between the muscles in the palm of her hand related not only to the recent recovery of her hand, but to the young woman whom she's come to call her very own elder sister. Holding Cagalli's hand is a safety net, a reminder that she does have some kind of backup nearby.
She still has to understand Quatre holding her hand.
"I suppose I'm just... uneasy. I don't mean to sound rude, Captain Tessa, but of the people that know who I really am and the nature of this arrangement, you are the one I know the least. And that you command such extensive resources when you're barely older than me... i-it kind of scares me."
Her fingers weave together again, hands lifting. Her elbows remain on her knees, but now her chin rests on her thumbs. "But Cagalli trusts you a lot. I may not know her as well as you or someone like Mister Ambler, or anyone else in Katharon, but for the way she's bent over backwards at every turn for me... I... I can put my feelings aside." Slowly, she looks up to look at Tessa's eyes, honestly. "Especially with everything that you've done-- are doing-- for me, someone who you probably couldn't even dub a 'long term asset.'"
Rachel's eye shifts downward again, brow knitting. A bit of sadness enters her face, as though she realizes how cutting she may sound. "... I'm sorry. I'm... I'm still not used to this."
Tessa nods, slowly. "I've commanded the de Danaan since I was a little younger than you, actually," she says, glancing over.
Sip. Waits for Rachel to look up. "I'm under orders not to tell you the full scope of our operations," she says, plainly. She doesn't need to say why. "But..." She hums, fingers tapping at the edge of her juice bottle thoughtfully. "I do want you to trust me. Cagalli wants to believe in you more than I think she's ever wanted anything. And to do that...I guess I can break the rules a little, right?" Grin. She angles her seat on the couch - looking down it at Rachel.
"The short of it is that...in addition to our goals of limiting war on a global scale, there are those who need our help. People like you." She tips her head, offering a small, slightly bitter smile. "And me. I am...probably the number one expert in the world on the chemicals used to catalyze militaristically useful mental states." ...in addition to a colonel at age 18. /What/. "I can't say I know what you're going through, Miss Rachel. I have...been fortunate. But I have a good understanding...maybe better than Cagalli does. And that's why I want to make sure you feel as comfortable as possible."
Briefly, she thinks back to when she awoke in the care of Karaba, due to the efforts of Amuro, Beltorchika, and a boatload of on-site triage to keep her from dying in transit. There's not a doubt in her mind that Amuro put his own neck on the line to get her on the cruiser, that he more than likely broke a few dozen rules within Katharon to bring her, one of their worst enemies, to safety. Quattro certainly didn't seem to approve, and she still isn't sure if he had that talk with Amuro. Considering she was allowed to sortie recently, perhaps they have.
Cagalli committed herself to a lie that puts Rachel in grave danger should the truth ever come to light. No doubt, with the depth of the claims, the elder Athha would find her own neck on the chopping block at the hands of the more zealous members of even the Orb aristocracy. After all, even if it was the middle of an intense battle for both sides, her little sister is also a mass murderer.
The Butcher of the Kusanagi.
In her mind, three hundred souls released their death cry.
Teletha Testarossa may be breaking the rules for her like Amuro and Cagalli, but this is where Rachel Miu Athha feels doubt. Does she really know what it's like? Does she have any idea?
Her own thoughts cause her to draw in a breath; at it's peak and at the start of the exhale it sounds a bit ragged, as though those raw emotions are beginning to claw their way out. She's trying not to cry, thinking about it.
The corners of Rachel's mouth quirk upward a little bit. It isn't so much a smile as an attempt to keep herself from frowning any harder, breaking her woven fingers apart and shaking her head. "I'm comfortable, Captain Tessa. I-- I am, honestly." Her hands slowly come back together, though hanging lower. "I think that's... part of what scares me even more. I can't remember ever feeling like this in my whole life, and... and it's weird, isn't it? Like... like I should remember something like that, you know?"
"I just get really scared something's going to happen. To Amuro. To Cagalli. To you, and even my old teammates. To everyone that I've met, and everyone that's been so nice to me. I'm scared that if I-- if I get too comfortable, that something bad will happen. Does... does that make sense...?"
"I just ... I'm so scared, and I can't even tell Cagalli that..."
Tessa listens, quietly nodding - respectfully not even sipping at her juice while the vulnerable girl tries to talk out her fears a little.
She hums - her face grows clouded with doubt and worry, eyes falling away from Rachel's, toward the couch. "I've seen...people like me, so addled by drugs and by... ..." She stops herself, then picks up: "They want to claw out their own throats to make the voices stop. In a way, you're fortunate." She smiles, thinly, knowing it is no kind of comfort. "You can feel comfortable so soon." A moment's pause...and she decides to plunge in: "Mithril has programs for helping people like you, Miss Rachel - people who want to get away from the Federation's control. We have...ways, methods, to make you disappear entirely. Nobody would ever know. But you'd have to live a very quiet life. And you'd probably never see anyone you currently know again."
Her fingers curl around that can, uncomfortably. "I know that's not what you want. But it is the kind of extremity that will be needed if you want to get rid of that fear forever." She looks up at Rachel, then - a sorrowful, intent look. "I'm sorry, Miss Rachel. So long as you fight for Katharon your secret is not safe. I can promise you only...increments. Help, ideas. I have a few, but...it would be cruel of me to ask you now. Maybe it's selfish, but I would rather you not thought of me as a woman who keeps asking you painful things."
Eyes fall away, maybe embarrassed at her candor. "You asked me if it makes sense...I can't tell you that. But, the fact that you are feeling comfortable makes me glad. That kind of thing is why I keep doing what I do, despite...what it entails."
Her shoulders shift with a hard sniff, and she can already feel the welling up in her eye. The young girl's body language becomes evasive as she does her damndest to look away from Tessa, feeling her lips curl in over her teeth and closing her eye tight. It deals with the welling up in her eye, sure, but it does cause a few tears to fall from her face. She knows all about The Voices, in her own way.
Going into a program? Disappearing forever? The tiniest little hooks creep up into her mind and claw in, the thought of running away occuring to her for even a second. That, too, scares her-- a thought that's so unlike her, so unlike the willing and helpful person that she's trying to be.
Is that part of being human?
Rachel shakes her head again, slowly. "It's all right, Captain Tessa. You're doing so much for me, and... and if there's anything that I can ever do to help you, or anyone else on this ship... I really do, I want to help everyone. I don't... I don't want to feel useless."
"And as scary as this comfort feels, Captain, I... I want to protect it. I want to protect Cagalli, even if she really isn't my real sister. I really, really don't want something bad to happen. So... so if you have any ideas or anything I can help you with, please... j-just ask me."
Don't want to feel useless? No, Tessa thinks, with a certain cynical darkness. You don't want to feel responsible - more than that, you want to make up for your crimes. Right...? But there is a wall betwen her heart and Rachel's, an unscalable cliff. Newtypes resonate constantly - seeking out communion with other hearts. But Newtypes can always return to that center, most of them. Only the weak-hearted or the maddest of cyber-newtypes can lose their heart.
Tessa does not have such a luxury. To share her Resonance at all is to risk destruction entirely. She is an empathic, warm-hearted person...but there is always some part of her that refuses to open up. A part of her that is afraid - and more than that, knows that to open her heart in the way the Newtypes keep telling her it's OK to, could spell her doom.
Tessa nods, outwardly. "Just don't push yourself too hard. Comfort is best enjoyed, right?" A little grin. "Maybe I'll show you my pride and joy, when we're in safer waters."
An awkward moment, fidgeting uneasily. "Well, as I told you. You must get rid of any trace of yourself if you want to be safe. People are looking for you even now. Some of them just want to know what your condition is...possibly, some of them would even be understanding of your choice. Others..." She closes her eyes, tipping her head slowly to the side - refusing to admit aloud the cruelty of human beings. "I don't know who exactly is looking, or how. I can have some people check, if you want."
A moment's pause. Eyes crack open. "Intelligence tells me fabricating the paper trail will be no problem. But...there's still a hole." She tries to look Rachel dead on, if she's allowed. "You yourself. Not just the fact that you didn't really die. The fact that there is no body of 'that woman.' The little details - clues that say to an EFA search party that their target is still alive."
Slowly, she takes a deep breath, and says: "Miss Rachel, Intelligence has recommended to me that we falsify the death of Ralla Traln Triald."
The white-haired girl is a strange case in study, when it comes to the topic of Newtypes and variants thereof; it's undeniable that she has the "abilities" of one: Spatial awareness, a near-precognitive sense, empathy, and so on. At the same time, unless she'd been focusing on it or feeling the rigors of extreme stress, it was a bit more difficult. In the presense of a true Newtype or even a Cyber-Newtype, yes-- yes, there, those abilities seem to blossom. In the cockpit of her old Mobile Suit, even, they became more potent.
In the presence of Cagalli Yula Athha, they raged.
But then, as angry and violent as she became with the Princess of Orb-- with her own sister-- others were able to evoke a similar response, similar outbursts of her abilities and extreme emotions. Yazan Gable is the more obvious of them. She developed her own obsessions over time that she couldn't explain. She did terrible things.
Rachel nods slowly as Tessa explains the situation. People are looking for her, searches are organized. The first person that comes to mind-- no, the first two-- are Leo Stenbuck and Soma Peries. When the question is posed as to who's doing the searching... well... there, she becomes a little more torn. Does she want to know? Does she not want to know? What if her team isn't even looking for her? What if they really have just brought in a new Cyber-Newtype to replace her?
If what Yazan said was true, then ... she probably has been.
She sits a little more attentively when Tessa mentions the flaw in their plan, following the line of conversation with a slow nod. Worried, thinking about other things, perhaps, but attentive... until she makes one suggestion.
It's like a weight has been dropped on her shoulders and chest. Rachel slumps back in her seat a little bit, sliding her hands up to her face until they cover her eye and eyepatch, breathing in deeply through her nose. Tessa doesn't get a reply for almost two minutes. It feels more like hours, to Rachel.
Without moving her hands from her face, the younger Athha asks, "W... What are we going to do, then? H-How are w-we going to do it?"
She sounds uneasy. She sounds scared.
She wants Cagalli.
Tessa waits, patiently - sips from her juice because two minutes is a long time. Meditates - on what she has said. What she should not have said. What she wishes she had said. Meditates on calling Cagalli...but, at the same time, this decision should be made by Rachel alone. Not with Amuro, or Cagalli, or Quattro; it is a call she must make on her own choices.
Tessa wonders if it's right to ask her to do such a thing now, so soon after discovering that such a thing as her own choices even exist.
When Rachel does react, she lowers her head, tightens her grip on her juice bottle. "Frankly," she murmurs, "I wish you'd asked me about some of those hints I dropped. We could have had a discussion...about me, about you, about...my troubles with command or Cagalli's fashion sense, or...something. I want to get to know you, Miss Rachel, because you have become so important to one of my only friends. And maybe..." A small, slightly bitter smile. "I thought it might be nice to make you my friend, as well."
She doesn't drop into that stern, official look - she wants to reach out and comfort her, but she knows that people like Rachel can have difficulties with physical intimacy. So she sits there, looking and, to a degree feeling, guilty. "I can call Cagalli," she prompts. "Or we can just not talk about this now. This is...a choice that you have to make. With all the implications that may have. If you say the word I will tell them not to do it - the EFA will simply continue looking, and more than likely run into a dead end." Until something happens to kick the case back to life...but such a thing can happen even if they do go through with it.
She waits for confirmation.
She would say good-bye forever to that life, if she did it. The A-LAWS would never understand it as an organization, even if some in their ranks could understand it, or even pretend to sympathize with it in order to further their political careers. In her mind, the death of Ralla Traln Triald means the death of any chance of her being able to return to her old teammates-- an idea that she based her very decision to stay with Cagalli and Amuro on. She kept telling herself that, 'I can always go back.'
She can also always still run away.
The corners of her mouth quirk upward again. It's still not a smile.
Despite Tessa's admission to wanting to be her friend, she can still barely control the tone of her voice. "T-Th-- That'd be nice," she says, her scarred hands shifting a little as her fingers curl up a little bit against her face. She doesn't want to run away-- she doesn't deserve to be able to run away, not with the things she's done. She knows she's never going to be able to fully make up for the souls she carries behind her. She knows that if she really wants to make sense of her whole life, she won't be able to return to the A-LAWS. To the EFA.
Not like this. If they didn't forcably pry intelligence on Katharon from her mind before brainwashing her again, they'd kill her. In this one place with comfortable couches under the ocean waves, a total of sixteen years of memories. Cagalli's told her, as well as Amuro, it's her life. She has to make her own decisions. It's still hard. It still feels like 'murder.'
Ralla Traln Triald is going die.
"J-Just do it. I don't. I can't-- I-- I-I just--"
Rachel Miu Athha bends forward, nearly putting her forehead to her knees. It's not the first time Tessa has seen her like this, either, how she became flustered and upset at their first meeting, at the thought of the entire cover story falling apart. This time is different. Her hands slide up to the sides of her head, her fingers run through her hair. Her back shudders a little bit. Like a breaking seal, she draws in a single ragged breath.
Then she starts to cry. Really, really hard.
In her head, Tessa pulls facts together. Intelligence can knock over a couple servers and get the data distributed by noon tomorrow. That's the easy part. False leads...Mithril's GN-T drive should be tuned for A-LAWS' current particles in time for the de Danaan's return to Merida Island. That'll be a week at least. Falsify the body parts...that'll require her to get scrapings. Not that hard. But time-consuming. How much time? Call it a month at the outside. They'll need her original uniform - hopefully Amuro hasn't burned it. Death by drowning; muscular decomposition underwater leads to uneven distribution of body parts. By the time a foot or leg 'floats ashore' the rest could've been swept anywhere in the Pacific, or eaten by predators. Control the scenario as much as possible. Sweep up to Japan at 2300 local under full stealth. Deploy the package with a Ball. Won't even need to surface. Threat level - low. Threat of detection - minimum. Success is favorable. Odds of penetration are low, although they increase if EFA intelligence has called in heavyweights, like Subota or Yeager. But Yeager's been busy with a secret project for years. Subota's more likely. Might already be on it, considering her connections with Stenbuck. Subota's not a big threat, however; she has been extremely vocal about cyber-newtype rights. If there's any person in the EFA they can get to cover for this operation it's Subota and her entourage. Then it's just making sure Stenbuck and A-LAWS don't find out. Ever.
Rachel gives the order to kill herself, and then bursts into tears, and Tessa tips her head down and closes her eyes.
After one minute, unsure, her kindness crying out to reach out her heart to this weak, helpless girl even as she analytically knows it would be suicide, Teletha Testarossa scoots over, and awkwardly lays a hand on Rachel's back, gently rubbing along the spine, and stays there as long as it takes.
After one minute, she feels reassurance. She feels a warm hand. Even in her state, she knows who it is-- and while Cagalli Yula Athha has perpetually been the safety net for her social anxiety, while she has been the one whom she's confessed the majority of her budding feelings and emotions to, Tessa is the person there. Tessa is someone she knows she can trust.
The movement is nearly automatic. She leans against the Colonel-- Captain-- and seems to curl against her almost in the way a child would, bringing her heels up onto the surface of the couch. Her fingers curl into Tessa's jacket as if she could pull the Mithril commander closer. The sobs continue that way, loud and hard, while wild emotions slam across every surface of her own mind. The emotion is indescribable to her; sadness, perhaps, but something that she's never felt to such an extent.
It continues like this for almost six minutes, uninterrupted save hard, deep breaths. Rachel's mouth opens a few times to draw in more air, but it doesn't expel as loudly, as hard. Instead, all of the tension in her body seems to melt, and pass. Her hands slowly lower to her lap.
By the eighth minute, her body is slackened.
By the tenth minute, her head lulls a little against Teletha Testarossa, for the first time crying so hard that her body's first reaction is to make her go to sleep.