|Meditation on the End of Human Life|
|Summary: Haman Karn tells Puru Two the new deal.|
Haman Karn's meeting room has seen better days.
The room is still decidedly austere and regal, but there are a few minor changes made within the last couple of days that affect the tone of the place. First is that one of the plush, grand chairs circling the small table has had 'GABLE + KARN: BFF' carved into it. Second, and more immediately noticeable, is that the plushest, grandest seat of them all -- Lady Haman's -- is conspicuously missing, replaced by a hasty construction that matches its predecessor in size but certainly not in splendor. It's like trading a bejeweled throne for an electric chair. Certainly, when Haman Karn sits in it, there's an equal sense of foreboding.
A small holographic projector sits on the table in front of the Regent, who leans forward, fingers steepled, face furrowed in an expression of what is either worry, contempt, or just general agitation. Next to her, in a finer but smaller chair, Princess Mineva Lao Zabi is reading a hardbound and rather ancient looking book titled 'The Insignificant Blue Speck: A Philosophical Treatise on Earth,' her own face bent into a gentle frown of concentration as she scans the pages.
In short, this is not a happy room that Puru Two has been summoned to. Especially since no actual explanation for the summons was offered.
Puru Two's been busy as of late, partying hard with her new best buddies over at the Earth Cradle. Except that it's all a sham and she's really just milking the whole situation for all it's worth. Getting to pilot units with building-vaporizing guns is an immediate advantage that she's quite fond of. Meanwhile she's keeping her eyes and ears open for anything she can learn about this mysterious force from Another Place. Who knows when it might come in handy? Anything that may increase her worth to those watching from afar.
Unfortunately, this summons was a bit earlier than she would have liked. If it's even about her recent activities. It's not like you ask any questions when Haman Karn asks for you, you just drop everything and go. And so it was this time. Puru Two didn't even take the time to change into something more official; she didn't have that change of clothes handy, so her usual flight suit will have to do.
Two knocks on the door, and it is opened, revealing the familiar all-business expression on a face more common than it should be. "Lady Haman." A quick but respectful bow later, the young Newtype notices the state of the room. It doesn't seem... typical, to put it mildly. No pointless chatter from her, however, if she has an opinion on this at all she's keeping it wisely to herself. Mineva is noticed only after that, offered a "Lady Mineva" and a quick bow of her own. Also, a slight narrowing of the eyes. Puru Two always seems to do that when looking at Mineva.
After that formality, full attention is returned to Haman, Puru Two remaining standing upright at the entrance, awaiting further instructions. Obviously these situations are not the right time for taking too much initiative.
Haman Karn is not actually looking when Puru Two enters -- nor does she look. Her head tilts downward and to one side, as if she were examining an invisible spot on the tabletop. The faraway look in her eyes makes it clear that nothing about that spot holds any true interest, though. She's a million light years away. She seems tired, in addition to agitated.
Mineva, meanwhile, looks up from her book immediately. Upon the Meanest Puru's entrance, the Princess is quick to wave excitedly and chirp, "Hello!"
Haman Karn draws a breath in through her nose just sharply enough to make the faintest bit of noise. Mineva's eyes widen and she looks over. Haman still hasn't looked up, but the signal of displeasure has been made clear. Mineva buttons her lips into a regal, neutral look, and clears her throat quietly. "Um, hello," she says again, with more, shall we say, gravity.
And that concludes the small talk, apparently. Haman, still not looking up, separates her hands, elbows still resting on the table. Slowly and languidly, one hand moves, aiming at one of the seats and pointing at it with her index finger. Yet another mysterious summons.
It's hard not to notice the oppressive atmosphere in the room, one doesn't have to be a Newtype to notice that much. This puts Puru Two ill at ease, but she does a well enough job hiding it, remaining at attention near the entrance, waiting patiently for however long it might take for her presence to be acknowledged.
Quite possibly the most disturbing part of it is that she's being addressed by Mineva. Puru Two has a perfect 'deer in the headlights' expression when she regards the other little girl. She's completely unsure how to respond to that, if at all. It's only after the more insistent 'hello' that she finally reacts verbally, "...I apologise for the intrusion."
The attention is quickly returned to Haman, where it really belongs. What's going on here? It's like someone died. And Haman suddenly started caring about people dying. While she doesn't seem to have the regent's full attention, to put it mildly, she remains perfectly attentive, and reacts immediately to the handmotion. Stepping briskly over to the the indicated seat, she sits herself down, and waits for whatever might follow. The only thing giving away how nervous this makes her is the fact that she avoids looking straight at Haman, her eyes wandering on their own accord.
Once Puru's eyes start wandering, of /course/ Haman chooses that moment to turn her head and look right at the child soldier. There's a moment of silence -- not a long one, but a definite pause. The Regent's expression is stony and cold, as if her face had had its measurements changed and she was trying to hide her discomfort with it. Mineva glances over, but returns to her book, peeking up over it like a tiny spy every now and then.
"Puru Two," Haman says, her voice low, as if she were preparing to accuse the girl of something (her face would seem to support this theory). "I want you to look at this -- and tell me what you think."
The Regent turns again, to face the hologram projector in front of her. She presses a button on it, then sinks back into her chair somewhat, gripping the armrests and looking like a jaded, burnt-out husk of a ruler. The hologram that ensues is a series of purple boxes stacked in such a way that they resemble a Gundam -- or, well, it's just a really, really boxy Gundam, all squares and right angles.
It is also recognizably a Psyco Gundam.
Haman just has this knack for catching one completely unaware. Just when your attention weakens, she's suddenly /right there/. Upon hearing her name spoken, Puru Two does her very best to mask her startle as some kind of... really abrupt form of straightening up her posture. It probably doesn't work very well, but at least she managed to stay silent and not do anything really embarassing like yelping in surprise. The matter seems grave, and the girl can't help but mentally go over everything she's been doing lately to try and figure out how she might have displeased the Regent.
Thankfully, this moment of dread isn't left hanging too long. It's quickly replaced by surprise, because she was asked for an opinion. People /never/ ask for her opinion, she just offers it whenever she thinks she can get away with it. Haman Karn asking for her opinion on anything whatsoever seems... well, it seems like this could only be some kind of test. She'll have to think this over carefully, and watch what she says.
That plan goes right out the window pretty much instantly when the holo-projector comes on. It's not identical to the one she is all too familiar with, but the shape is unmistakable. Immediately, her expression darkens, as does her mind. "Psyco Gundam... the perfect man-machine interface. Better than psycommu, it's as if the suit and pilot are one and the same. I don't understand how it's possible. Why do they have something like this, they don't deserve such...!"
Puru Two catches herself in mid-sentence, that was a little more than she was planning on saying. Regaining composure, and hoping dearly that outburst will be overlooked, she concludes her thought more professionally: "...it is my belief that action should be taken to acquire this technology for ourselves. If its full potential can be realized, we stand to benefit greatly from employing it in the war effort."
Haman watches the hologram, and only when Puru Two begins to get carried away does her gaze creep over toward the young warrior. (Mineva continues to steal glances every so often; it's obvious when she's looking, because afterward she always ducks down while pulling her book up. Princessly education clearly does not cover stakeouts.) Haman nods, once, very slowly. The hologram continues to play through -- cutting away sections of the armor, showing, well, an inordinate amount of detail in describing the construction of the thing. It slowly revolves in its three-dimensional display.
The Regent of Axis leans forward again, eyes fixed on Puru Two. Her speech is still cold, but calm and collected, contrasting the generally weary expression on her face -- Haman looks as if she was conducting this meeting in the aftermath of a boxing match. Though she's not wounded, she still seems inordinately fatigued. "If this technology were indeed ours," Haman says, her tone carefully neutral, "what do you think would be the best use for it?"
The shadow ruler of Neo Zeon tilts back onto one elbow, curling the fingers on one hand and resting them against her chin, thoughtfully waiting for the young one's answer.
Mineva is the least of Puru Two's concerns right now, so that little stakeout is at the very least succeeding this time. The princess is ignored in the face of far more intriguing matters. It's not hard to tell how personally involved the most aggressive of the Purus feels in all this.
SEVERAL MONTHS AGO
Puru Two lets out a scream of frustration, slamming down a fist on the unresponsive controls of her Qubeley Mk. II. "Damn it... damn it all! How could this happen?! If only... if only I had more power...!" Her mobile suit's main camera, its image interspersed with static, is centered on the Psyco Gundam, witnessing its continuing rampage in the vicinity. She can't but conclude, "...I want one."
Haman is asking what the best use for it would be. Needless to say, she's mentally just about screaming 'ME, ME, GIVE IT TO ME'. The pilots she's seen using that machine were all trashy, second-rate Newtypes. If it her in there, she'd become completely invincible, able to crush everything in her way, she's absolutely convinced of this.
But that's not how she phrases it out loud. Even if she had been less disciplined and thus tempted to, Haman's general disposition is sucking all the energy out of the room. "It should be fielded by the most powerful Newtype soldiers we have available, of course," she responds with a completely straight face. This is /also/ her, at least in her mind, but it sounds better that way.
Without missing a beat, she continues, "But it would be prudent to have a test pilot thoroughly evaluate its performance beforehand, so that the technology may be properly tuned and perfected, in the original suit as well as future generation designs." This is /also/ herself she is talking about. It's getting to be more and more difficult not to speak out of line and nominate herself directly. But she manages it, expression still business-like without any visible change in her rigid posture. Not that she really has to voice her true desires, with her mind giving away what she wants loud and clear.
Haman Karn is, at best, only barely listening to Puru Two's words. The dignified and measured responses are all well and good, but as they're delivered, the Regent goes from staring at Puru to staring /through/ Puru, as if she could see through the girl's face, all the way to the back of her skull. Haman smiles languidly when she hears what she wants.
And that would be Puru Two's greed. The selfish insistence that she's the best, the /only/ choice. That entitlement and desire radiates loud and clear, like electricity crackling in open air. Haman's quiet smile spreads into a mean, exhausted grin, like she was about to try and lure Puru Two into a van.
Which is maybe not so far-fetched an analogy.
"Puru Two," Haman says, lifting her chin, "Tell me." The Regent reaches over for the hologram projector, and pushes it across the tabletop, toward the clone soldier. It's as if to say 'here, look, want.' Mineva watches but quickly tries to pretend she isn't. "Tell me... do you believe that loyalty should be rewarded?"
This is the best thing about Newtypes having a conversation. You can talk for hours with all the nuances, exaggerations or flat out lies you want, and yet have your exact true meanings perfectly understood. Protocol calls for Puru Two to not be directly greedy, but Haman can see the mental grabby hands just fine. She in turn can tell that Haman's picked up on her true motivations, and is pleased by this.
Finally the girl relaxes a bit in her seat, taking on a more natural posture. Some might find that grin disquieting, but not Puru Two. She briefly allows herself a hint of a grin herself, which quickly vanishes again when the holo-projector is brought over to her side of the table. Just when she started to understand something about Haman's intentions, another curveball comes her way. While a bit specific, this all still seemed hypothetical, until now. This gesture makes her consider another possibility, causing her eyes to widen in surprise.
Slowly, Puru Two's right hand is raised above the table, and brought closer to the image being displayed, until it finally comes to rest within the holographic image itself. This makes it appear as if she has the Psyco Gundam Mk. II in the palm of her hand. A smile spreads across her features, a more visible, honest way of displaying her greed. "A loyal soldier's duty is its own reward... but any reward that makes a loyal soldier more effective pays for itself."
Haman Karn's creepy grin remains even as she breathes in and draws herself up -- the tired ruler seems to find the brazen desire of this most violent of Purus invigorating, which is but one of many reasons that Haman Karn is a profoundly damaged being. The grin settles into a smile, but that stare remains, focused as tightly as a laser beam and yet -- not quite all there.
"The thing about rewarding people for loyalty," Haman begins, before pausing and restarting on an entirely new sentence. "There's a catch, my dear Puru Two. My dear, efficient, loyal, murderous Puru Two. To reward someone for their loyalty breeds entitlement. As if doing what was expected of them was enough to earn more than their keep." Haman glances over at Mineva, as if to point out to the girl that yes, she knows she's being watched. Mineva ducks behind her book again. She hasn't turned a page in some time.
Haman's gaze returns to Puru Two, watching the young girl interact with the hologram. "But those who go above and beyond the call of duty... to fail to reward them... well, that breeds resentment. But in any event, it needs to be a cycle. If a ruler does something for their servant, the servant must continue to serve as best they can -- and so on, and so on, as it repeats itself. Do you understand, Puru Two?"
Haman leans forward, reaching out, gripping the soldier's slim shoulder, squeezing the padded material of the normal suit. "Do you understand the pact being made here?"
Whatever small sense of comfort Puru Two had managed to gain quickly fades when Haman starts.... well, /speaking/ to her. She's used to an aloof Haman. Not so much the lethargic kind of aloofness that's been prominent today, but either way, there isn't that much in the way of talking, not to to the likes of her. This lengthy address, this... detailed expression of appreciation of her personality traits, that's new. It's surprising enough to make one start to worry all over again.
Puru Two raises her eyes from the hologram, giving Haman her full attention again. She's clearly confused. Trying to piece together the puzzle of Haman Karn, and what she's trying to say. At face value, it seems to be a simple matter, that only makes logical sense. She was never planning on resting on her laurels: she's always seeking to do better, become stronger, increase her value by excelling at her assigned tasks.
But when Haman Karn is speaking in this way, it feels like there's a lot more being implied than what's actually spoken. Puru Two knew all along that failure wasn't an option, but this somehow feels several times more frightening than a direct death threat. It's more correct to say at this point that rather than simply pay attention, she's completely frozen, unable to look away if she tried.
When her shoulder is grabbed, it's like a spell is broken, and the girl's posture immediately goes rigid once more. Nothing else will leave her lips but, "Yes, Lady Haman!" Really, what more needs to be said at this point that she hasn't already clearly given away?
Whatever Haman Karn's intentions are, she keeps them to herself. Her emotions are at once fatally easy and spectacularly difficult to read -- she's a complicated woman, and no one understands her but her Captain Char, as the song goes. Still, there's a lot abuzz in the air around her: a certain sense of dread, but also of... pride, maybe, and pleasure, as if there were indeed some benevolence within the Regent, some side of her that delights in giving a mobile death factory to a young girl who will hurt many, many people with it.
When Puru Two replies, Haman lets go, and slouches back into her chair. Her gaze sharpens -- her eyes tighten -- and her lips twist and lock into a cruel, particularly evil smirk. For a few long moments, Haman says nothing. But really, she doesn't need to. The pact, as she put it, was already made before the conversation started, probably.
Haman then stands up, reaching out and gently grazing her fingertips against Mineva's arm. The young royalty carefully marks her place and closes her book, and stands up next to her Regent. The two of them make for an exceptionally odd pair on the best days, but now, moreso: Mineva, dressed functionally and modestly, looking enthusiastic and bright; Haman, dressed in an ostentatious black and gold thing better suited to a fairy princess, looking drained and weathered. "You know, Puru Two," she says, casting a stray glance toward the girl.
"There's an old saying that followed humanity into space. As much as I detest such a thing, this one... has its merit." Haman runs the tip of her tongue over her lips before speaking further. "You are what you pretend to be. So -- you must be very careful with what you pretend to be."
That's it. Haman turns and begins to walk away, with book-clutching Mineva at her side. No 'you'll get the keys on Friday,' no celebration, no congratulations. Just that remark and a slow, dignified exit, leaving Puru Two alone with the hologram, alone with her future.