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Fata Morgana
Summary: Leo Stenbuck makes a new friend, which is sort of a shame, if one looks at the grand scheme of things.
Who: Leo Stenbuck, "Kristin Tsery" (NPCed by Sumeragi Lee Noriega)
When: 18 April NCA 120
Where: Shirogane, Space


SOME TIME AGO

A brunette young woman in an A-LAWS uniform sits down in one of the few empty seats on the cramped shuttle. Next to her is a young man with longish, dark purple hair.

The two exchange looks.

"Nice sunglasses," Alex Dino says.

"You too," Kristin Tsery replies.

Both of them return to looking straight ahead. They say nothing for the rest of the flight, but every now and then they self-consciously adjust their sunglasses.


NOW

One advantage to the uniform is that it's easy to blend in with the crowd. In an army where people have glowing eyes, bizarre samurai fetishwear, green skin, and god knows what else, a pair of Zeta-Ban Wayfarers isn't really enough to be considered 'strange' in terms of personal dress. Certainly, the Shirogane is used to wilder violations of dress code. The records department aboard the ship largely exists in the service of its tactical forecasters and other intelligence-related needs -- while they do pull files for use in planning military operations, a lot of it is also just stuff like forwarding star charts to the navigators, or digging up the exact specs some engineer needs to complete a complicated repair job, or making sure that the database is free of corrupt files.

Kristin Tsery has been at the gig for a month now, more or less. She's a nobody -- an Ensign amongst a sea of them, with only her glasses to set her apart. Which maybe they would, if she wasn't down in the records department all the time, doing the sort of menial grunt work that keeps the Shirogane moving smoothly. It's a quiet job, and she rather likes it, even if she doesn't smile much. Long hours but low stress.

And with just about every information request filed and completed electronically, it's not like anyone would ever /need/ to come down there and talk to the clerks.

Right?


Leo Stenbuck's month keeps getting worse and worse.

On the bright side, he was shoved almost immediately into cellular regeneration therapy after his exchange with Revive Revival, a side effect of his rank and the skeletal frailty that he got as a racial trait instead of something radical, like darkvision, or Stonecunning.

On the... not bright side, he's been in a foul mood ever since he came out of therapy a few hours ago. He's hungry - both like the wolf and otherwise, and Velveeta and rice isn't much of a salve for either - he's sore, and he's depressed. He's too full of agitated energy to even sit around in his room and mope. So he's been moving around the ship, getting things done - or at least trying to - that he meant to do awhile ago.

The most recent of these things is acquiring a crew manifest from a civilian ship that went down a week or so ago, on behalf of Arado Balanga. And so, Leo shuffles into the records department ('department' - more like 'closet') of the Shirogane, and beelines across the room for where Brough Grabbs, jack of all trades, is currently sitting at a desk, typing away at something.

About halfway through the room, Leo has one of those slow-motion head-turning moments, when he spots, out of the corner of his eye, Kristin Tsery; an attractive woman with a huge pair of--

--sunglasses.

Leo pulls an immediate U-turn, strides right up to Kristin's desk, and raps his knuckles against the surface to get her attention. "Hey, you got a second?" he asks, flashing the woman the brightest smile he can manage. Given the situation, it is surprisingly bright.


Kristin Tsery is currently batch converting personnel files into a more readily Haro-usable format. Why a Haro would ever need a personnel database, no one is really sure. But, you know, just in case. Most of Kristin's work is 'just in case' work, though.

The young woman's chin rests on her palm, elbow propped up on her desk, watching meters tick along. When Leo enters, she happens to break from that position, putting her arms up, behind her head, stretching in a silent yawn -- and, well, next thing she knows, suddenly he's at her desk, banging on it. Near his hand: a flowery, girly nameplate that says 'KRISTIN.' Also, a mug, recently used, with 'I Went to Jupiter and All I Got Was This Lousy Mug' printed on it. It's the worst kind of crappy tourist merchandise. Previously, it was in Sumeragi Lee Noriega's quarters. Even before that, it had been a crappy gift given by Ian Vashti.

"Huh-- uh-- oh!" Kristin straightens up, her face tightening from a look of surprise to one of -- someone trying not to look so surprised. "Captain Stenbuck!" Of course she knows who Leo is; she's doing this job precisely for that reason. "I, uh... Yeah, yeah, I have a second. What's u-- What can I do for you? Sir?"

Christina -- that is, Kristin -- squints behind her sunglasses. That big smile Leo flashes. Barging in on her while she's trying to do work. No one's done that since... And even his /name/, it sounds like...

Kristin decides she'll stick to 'Captain Stenbuck.'


"Just 'Leo' is fine, ahhh..." Leo glances down, shifting his hand to tilt the flowery nameplate upwards so he can read it. "... Kristin." He sets the nameplate back down, and then pushes it aside to take a seat on the edge of the woman's desk, turned to face her. "But, uh..."

He pauses for a moment, and his smile falters; when he next speaks, his voice is much more serious. "About a week ago, there was a pirate attack on a convoy of freighters. A buddy of mine was there, and, ah... one of the ships went down, and..."

Leo pauses again. He probably shouldn't air out Arado's dirty laundry, so to speak... "... well, long story short, he asked me to get him a crew manifest for the ship, so he could send some letters off to the families and stuff. Do you think you could do some digging and pull that down for me?"

He puts on another smile - albeit a weaker one than the first - and adds, "You'd be doing me a /huge/ favor."


Kristin watches Leo sit on her desk without much of a change of expression.


SOME TIME AGO

Lichtendal Tsery sits on the edge of Christina Sierra's console as she commits some light treason by way of hacking into the records of various Earth Federation-owned colony construction companies. "Hey, would you mind doing me a /huge/ favor?"

"Huh?" Christina tugs the earbuds of her Neo iPod out and looks up. "Sorry, what?"

Lichty's shoulders slump a bit. "Uh... nothing, I was just--"

Off-camera, Feldt calls over: "Lichty, who's piloting the ship?"

Lichtendal rolls his eyes and calls back: "Lasse!"

Pause. Feldt replies, "Lasse went on break five minutes ago!"

Christina and Lichtendal exchange a glance. Both frown. Suddenly, warning lights go off because the Ptolemaios is starting to drift onto a course that is technically known as 'towards a star.' "Shit!" Lichty cries, hopping up and running over to his station.

Christina holds in a giggle, but can't quite keep the smile off her face as she puts her earbuds back in.


NOW

Kristin Tsery realizes she's just spent about six seconds looking dazed and stupid. "Uh, whatever you say... Leo. And... you can call me... Kris. I guess." Christina draws in a breath and begins punching keys, minimizing the Haro conversion stuff and bringing up a database search form. She types deftly and precisely.

Clearly, she's good with her hands.

"Did you have a name of the ship? Because I kind of... need... you know." Kristin frowns very slightly, and brushes some of her hair back over her shoulder self-consciously when Leo smiles at her. "I... uh." Small talk, she thinks. Small talk.

"I was doing the weekly backup of the medical records this morning and I saw you were in gene therapy," Christina says, somewhat awkwardly. "I mean... did that... go... good? Uh, I mean, are you okay?" That frown increases as she realizes she sounds like a complete space retard. "I mean, that was... way too personal, sorry."


Leo has been exposed to enough fictionalized representations of high school life to recognize - or at least think he recognizes - when a girl is nervous because she's talking to, to use the generic archetype name, The Quarterback... which, he supposes, he sort of is, being the ship's CAG.

Unless, he realizes, Revive's little power play has stripped him of that title, too. Well... it'll probably be fine. Revival's an asshole, but Lee Linjun is an even /bigger/ asshole, and he probably hates Cyber-Newtypes enough that if Revive got too greedy Linjun would tell him to go fuck himself.

Leo's brief moment of revenge fantasy makes his smile broaden, and he assures Kristin, "It's fine. Don't worry about it." The fact that she's nervous talking to him provides a much-needed ego boost, and Leo shifts slightly on the desk and sits up a little straighter.

"It was just... a live-fire training accident," he explains, after a moment. He doesn't use the explanation he gave to the doctors, mostly because the explanation he gave to the doctors was to claim that he fell, and then throw up blood on their shoes. "I'm alright. Just a little scratch, is all."

Leo can't help but feel like he's forgetting something, all of a sudden. Oh well, it's probably not important!


The sunglasses are just dark enough to obscure Kristin's eyes rather totally, but the raising of a single eyebrow is still quite visible. Her frown doesn't exactly deepen in any meaningful way, but it does shift a bit -- from self-pity at how she bungled that just now, to... who knows, concern, maybe? "Oh," Kristin replies. "Well, that's good. I mean, not the... accident, but that it was..."

Christina trails off, and turns to look at her computer screen. The database search form sits in front of her, all fields blank. There are a few long, long seconds of awkwardness as she waits to see if Leo is going to dictate anything. Her hands drum a rhythmless pattern on the desktop. Finally, Kristin looks back over:

"Hey, listen, I'm not usually such a social retard," the Ensign protests, perhaps a bit too defensively. Is she trying to impress Leo? Or... what? "I mean, it's just, you know, sitting... in here, in front of..." She waves a hand at the computer. "Like I don't think I talked to /anyone/ yesterday. I don't think I spoke once. I just e-mailed people. So, uh, please don't think I'm some kind of... you know."

Christina rubs the back of her neck. "I kind of don't really know where I'm going with this," she notes, looking down, cheeks a little flush. Her first meaningful conversation in weeks -- her first conversation that she could even deem /this/ meaningful in weeks -- and this is how she spends it. Christina Sierra wonders when she lost part of her brain. Then she remembers, and her frown turns grave.


Leo is content to sit in (admittedly awkward) silence while Christina stares at her computer monitor. As much as he likes Louise, he seems to be fighting with her constantly lately; it is refreshing to be around a girl who... well, to be uncharitable, who isn't currently being kind of a bitch.

Nothing soothes a teenage male's wounded pride like his mere presence turning pretty girls into babbling retards.

"Relax," Leo laughs. "I don't bite." Mercifully, he deems from adding something like 'unless you ask me to' or 'take your top off' to the end of the sentence... possibly because he's just noticed 'Kristin's' dour look.

"Hey, uh..." he begins uncertainly, his smile faltering. "Are you okay? You look kind of..." He hesitates, unsure of what word to use, and after a moment gestures vaguely and settles for, "... bummed. What's up?"


Inside, Christina Sierra kicks herself in the brain. Way to go, ace super-spy, she thinks -- you spend all day wallowing in your memories at this dumb desk behind these dumb glasses and now you have a chance to actually maybe /get/ somewhere with this /insane/ mission objective, and you blow it because you can't put the pity party on hold.

Outside, Kristin Tsery is quick to snap out of it, as if Leo had just woken her up from a nap. "Huh? Oh -- nothing, just... I dunno, thinking about... getting this ship's manifest so that all the families..." Kristin ends her sentence with a vague, awkward hand gesture that seems to mean absolutely nothing.

"No, seriously, though, I'm okay." Kristin pauses a beat, and then reaches over for her mug. "So, you know, I heard you were from Jupiter," she says, tentatively sliding the conversation down a different path. Screw the ship manifest, she thinks. She can get it later and it'll take two seconds. This guy's a Captain. He might... might something. "Because I went to Jupiter once."

Kristin looks at Leo through her glasses, which give her face a somewhat more mysterious dimension -- if the eyes are the gateway to the soul, that path is currently denied. "And all I got was this lousy mug." Kristin holds the mug up slowly so that that exact text can be seen next to her face, which begins to reshape into a small, goofy smile.


Oh, right, the ship. /That's/ what he was forgetting. Leo frowns thoughtfully at the recollection, and frowns even further at Kristin's assurances that she's alright. She doesn't really /seem/ alright... but, well, maybe that's just part of the nervousness.

And then she starts talking about Jupiter.

Leo just stares at Kristin and the mug for a good three seconds, his eyes slightly narrowed, his lips pursed. Oh, God, what if she's found some sort of terrible rage button, and now he's going to smack her around, or ravish her, or something? What if--

After, indeed, exactly three seconds, Leo bursts into laughter. "Apparently," he agrees with 'Kristin' once the laughter dies down, grinning broadly. "But, uh, yeah. Yeah, I'm from Jupiter. You're lucky, you don't get the mug if you're born there."

The young Captain pauses a beat, shifts his weight again, and then asks, "So... how'd /that/ happen? The visit, I mean. The Jupiter Sphere isn't exactly a popular vacation spot." The ship manifest is, of course, totally forgotten again.


Kristin sets the mug back down. She doesn't laugh as hard as Leo, but she does giggle a bit. When Leo's laughter starts to die down, she bites her lip gently, to silence her own. "Uh, actually, I've never been to Jupiter," she says, sheepishly, looking away for a moment. A finger curls in her hair as she turns back to regard Leo: "I just wanted to sound cool."

Kristin pushes the mug away from her. "That was a gift from someone. I don't know where they got it. Probably Hong Kong, or something. Because yeah, I hear Jupiter's..." Leo can probably almost /hear/ the search for the right word going on in Kristin's head. "...pretty rough. I mean. It seems like the sort of place you have to..."

Kristin stops playing with her hair, and begins playing with her sunglasses, adjusting them as if they were somehow suddenly sitting uncomfortably. She looks at Leo while she does this. "Well, I mean, look at you, sir. I was gonna say you probably have to be really tough to survive there, but... I dunno, is that..." A gentle purse of her lips, before: "Is that too much stating the obvious?"


As Kristin's rambling goes on, Leo crosses his arms over his chest, raises an eyebrow, and puts on his best - and most obviously fake - 'what do you mean, /you people?' look. When he replies to her question, his voice is full of (also obviously fake) sternness... but his eyes are sparkling. "Why, Ensign," he scolds. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to flatter me."

He pauses for a beat, and then his face morphs back into a broad grin. "Honestly, though, it's not that much different from a space colony here," he admits. "There's not as much sunlight, and any meat that isn't synethsized is zetta expensive, but other than that..."

"It's nice, though," Leo assures Kristin, after another pause. "You should go sometime, if you get the chance. Lots of good sightseeing, and stuff. Jupiter's /gorgeous/, and you really get a sense of how much bigger it is than Earth, you know?"


A smile is partially, but not completely, buttoned down by Kristin very gently biting her lip. She tries not to giggle, and succeeds, although she fails at making the effort subtle. She glances around, making sure no one is, you know, halting their work to watch the pair chat. "Well, this is the first time I've ever had a guy come park himself on my desk like this," she says, lying through her teeth and doing a pretty fine job of it, "so... yeah, maybe a little."

There's a silent moment that would maybe be more meaningful if Kristin's eyes were not masked by her dark glasses. "You make it sound pretty cool," she replies to his description of Jupiter. "But, uh, I don't think I really have any time off enough to take a trip for the next..." Kristin clicks the calendar icon on her screen. "...billion years." She giggles, very quietly, as if embarassed.

"But, um." Kristin sounds like someone who doesn't want their play date to end, but knows they have to go home before dinner. "As much fun as this is, Capt-- Llleo, this stuff really piles up if you let it, and I've got... six hours left on my shift, and... I mean, I'm not trying to get /rid/ of you, I just... gotta..." Kristin mimes something with her hand, but god knows what. "...work. So, uh, if you get the name of that ship, I can send the manifest to your mailbox as soon as I get a chance..."


Oh, shit, the manifest!

Leo's grin suddenly vanishes, at the (second) reminder of what he actually came here to do. "Oh," he blurts, obviously embarrassed. "I, uh... I totally forgot about that. Uh, right, the, uh, the name..." Does he know the name? He grimaces thoughtfully, and after about a second and a half of thought, realizes that he doesn't.

"It... well, uh, I don't remember the /exact/ name, but..." Leo stammers, unsure of what to say. He is saved by the metaphorical bell when Brough Grabbs, passing by with a stack of folders in his arms, offers, casually, "EFS Handle With Care."

"What- how did-" Leo blurts, whipping his head around to squint at Brough.

"I already sent your little playmate the manifest," Brough explains, stopping briefly to shoot a look at Leo that positively screams '/obviously./'

"I never even asked you to do that," Leo protests, scowling. "How did you know that-"

Brough interrupts Leo's protest by leaning closer to him, and stage whispering, "/I know everything./" And then he turns and strolls merrily on his way.

Leo squints after him for a few seconds, and then turns back to Kristin. "Uh... false alarm, I guess?" he explains, beaming sheepishly.


Kristin's sunglasses are useful for many things (including keeping her eyes from dissolving within her skull from how long she has to spend in front of her computer screen at a time). Right now, they are useful for hiding much of the absolute confusion at watching the exchange between Leo and Brough. Her lips part a bit, and she kind of frowns, but most of the 'wh-what' she's feeling is kept to herself.

Then suddenly Leo's facing her again, and talking to her, and oh ha ha yeah false alarm. "Ha ha... yeah, false alarm," Kristin repeats, sounding just as sheepish, herself. "Well... okay, uh, if you need anything else, though, don't be a stranger." Now, it's Kristin's turn to beam sheepishly, looking as cute as she can manage. It's been a long time since she's really tried. It's not like riding a bike, but maybe it's like riding a unicycle.


Judging by the way Leo's sheepish expression morphs back into a grin somewhere between confident and cocky, Kristin succeeds - at least moderately - in her goal of 'looking cute.'

"Yeah, uh, totally," he agrees, slipping off of her desk and back onto his feet. "It was nice to meet you, though! Even if..." He unfolds his arms to gesture broadly in the direction Brough got off in, and shrugs. "We should... you know, hang out sometime. I can show you around the hangar, or something, if you want...?"

Girls like MS, right? Or... is it that they just like pilots? Leo can't remember that particular one of Isamu's 'lessons' very well. After a beat, he decides to cover all of his bases... just in case. "Hell, keep up the flattery and maybe I'll take you out for a spin, or something," he teases.


Bingo, Christina Sierra thinks.

"Really?" Kristin Tsery gushes, sounding a little too excited-- before quickly blushing and reining herself in, complete with a hand to her mouth. "I mean, uh, that... sounds... like it might be nice," she says, grinning. "And, y'know, it's not flattery if..." She might wink, if she weren't aware that her eyes were hidden.

Kristin gives Leo a girly little finger-waggling wave goodbye, and then turns back to face her work.

It's about ten minutes before Kristin can get anything done, though. Because she feels kind of sick. Like something pulsing in the pit of her stomach -- it's some kind of /guilt/, she realizes, as she dives back into the cold water of self-pity. She wonders if this is how adulterers feel.

Or widows.


It's not flattery if...? Leo can finish the sentence easily enough on his own; he files a note in the back of his mind to wear something that shows off his physique better next time he comes down to the Records Department, and admits, "Guess that's true."

God help him, he actually /does/ wink.

And then he gives his own little half-wave and departs, obviously in a much better mood than when he arrived; there's a slight spring in his step, and he's humming 'Emotion', Lacus Clyne's most recent #1 hit single, under his breath.

He, for the record, doesn't feel guilty at all.

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