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Chapter 8 Main Chapters Chapter 10

Chapter 9

Kaoru Hayase was startled out of slumber by a ringing phone. Groggily, she picked up the receiver, wondering what the trouble could be and what the call was about. The clock beside the bed read 1:57 A.M.

"Is that you?" the sharp and awake Ayuko Rara asked.

Ms. Hayase proved capable of stifling her yawn, but not of keeping tiredness from keeping into her voice. "Yes, ma'am. What's the problem?"

"Have there been any new satellite sightings of the rebels?" Ayuko inquired.

Ms. Hayase felt the intrigue slipping away. A yawn almost slipped out with it, but she barely caught it. "No, ma'am. No updates since the last report."

"The last report had them submerged in the ocean and evading the sonar of the world's navies. I was hoping for better news," Ayuko observed archly.

"I'm not aware of any new information," Ms. Hayase could not help punctuating that statement with a small yawn.

There was a pause on the line, then Ayuko commented, "Our family will be returning to the base soon. I expect better news then." She hung up.

Ms. Hayase collapsed back onto the pillow. That was it, then. Nothing about the condition of her future son-in-law, not even a realization that she had called across eight time zones to wake her up. Why was she not surprised?

The Earth Defense Force artifact carrier surged beneath the waters on pin-drop quiet running, though it was no longer necessary. There had been some close calls with destroyers, submarines, and anti-submarine nets, but they had finally managed to outfox the world and gotten away without the enemy knowing their direction.

"I'm so glad we're on schedule," Mitsuki Rara commented. "We almost missed Kazuki's return."

"There's still several days remaining," Commander Sanada reminded them all. "We'll be off the coast near the old base with more than a day to spare."

Dee requested, "I want to be sure we're there in time. Can we please move faster, Dad? I mean, can we please move faster, Commander?"

Akane Yamano smiled at her. "We are at top speed, Dee. You know that. You looked into the computers yourself."

The commander gasped and said, "She can do that?"

"She's been a great help with mastering this vessel's control systems," Lt. Schwael informed them. Lt. Schwael was going to say more, about Ms. Hayase upgrading their computer security. Instead she noticed Mitsuki Sanada was staring aimlessly into space. Everyone else noticed it at the same time. Mitsuki Sanada broke from her trance, blushing furiously and cantankerously demanding, "What? Am I not allowed to think anymore?"

"You've been thinking quite a bit lately," Ryla pleasantly posited. "What are you thinking about?"

"Lots of things," Mitsuki crossed her arms and walked away.

"She has been thinking a lot lately. I don't know what could be causing it," Cmdr. Sanada said with an alarming grin on his face. Akane knew that grin; it meant that he knew very well what was causing it.

Mitsuki Sanada's odd behavior reminded Lt. Schwael of her counterpart's actions lately. She had noticed her duplicate meticulously washing a uniform and saying something about a prince, but hadn't wanted to venture into that subject. Nor did she feel comfortable broaching it now. While her duplicate washed uniforms, she had a job to do. Not that a prince would be bad thing.

Kent Slade lay in bed in the hospital area of the RaRa faux island base. He reckoned that if he actually had been sick or injured, he wouldn't have been able to begin a proper recovery yet, because people kept visiting him. First the bodyguard trio had dropped in, then Ms. Hayase. The morning after the battle, the Raras finally returned to the base, and all of them visited him, accompanied by the bodyguard trio and Ms. Hayase for a repeat visit. Ms. Hayase seemed to be stifling a yawn, but Kent was more concerned with convincing his fiance that he was uninjured.

"That's good to hear. The doctors did say you could get up now." Chairman Rara beamed.

Kent made a few weak, patently false coughs and beseeched in a theatrically hoarse voice, "But Mom, I could infect the other kids at school!"

"If he doesn't get up soon, I think he won't be able to walk out," Alice commented. "He hasn't moved since yesterday! He hasn't even turned over!"

"That's the last time I order you not to move and get your rest!" the chairman laughed.

Kent laughed too. He sat up easily and moved to get out of bed.

"I'll help you," Mitsuki Rara offered, and he allowed her to, though he clearly needed no assistance.

"Maybe you can still pilot a robot if you're feeling this well," she commented. Kent wasn't quite sure why she seemed to only feign happiness at that idea. Chairman Rara agreed, "We do need to get that tested soon. We'll see how you do in Himc."

A grimace flashed across Kent's face, but he didn't let it stay. Fear of the pain Life Sympathy could produce would not rule him.

Everyone accompanied Slade to the red control room near Himc's hangar. Ayuko's gaze was the most intent, sweeping the pilot, robot, and computer readouts before her.

Ms. Hayase felt a great apprehension embroil her. To the outside world, she was just doing her job, analyzing data on everything from giant robots to military intelligence. Her concerns about the justification for her work she kept inside herself.

Kent Slade slowly seated himself in Himc's chair. Bracing himself for he knew not what, he breathed to heaven and slowly lowered his hands onto the sympathy orbs.

Without a moment's hesitation, they alit from within, light expanding from the center to fill the whole sphere with radiance. Kent let out his breath to heaven again, and smiled.

Kaoru Hayase swallowed back disappointment. The easy way was denied them.

"I'm never leaving my uberweapon again," Kent quipped, and for some reason everyone, even Ms. Hayase, laughed.

Chairman Rara could not restrain himself. Slade emerged from Himc with a ridiculous grin on his face, and found himself swept up in one of Hiroshi Rara's manly hugs. The others all gathered around for congratulations, and all too soon the party was broken up. Chairman Rara and Ayuko were called away by the public announcement system, and the bodyguard trio claimed to have duties elsewhere on the base. Kent finally found himself walking with Ms. Hayase and Ms. Rara.

"I haven't even asked how your trip went, before giant robots tried to cut it short," he realized.

"I suppose I should've enjoyed it more," she said sadly.

Kent's eyebrows went up in surprise, and decided to try a different tack. "Your mother seemed to enjoy it. She's been all smiles. How did she spend her time?"

"That's what we wanted to talk to you about," Ms. Hayase said suddenly. Kent nearly jumped in the air, he was so surprised at this unexpected comment. He chuckled nervously, "It was just an idle question."

He found they had arrived at a video room. Kent felt so nervous at the now pervasive silence and sad faces that he ventured a joke, "Hey, if you wanted to show me family videos, you could've just said so. I wouldn't have run away in fright or something."

"They aren't flattering," Mitsuki Rara murmured as Ms. Hayase queued up and played a recording made by a television crew showing Ayuko Rara shopping in the swank Parisian luxury store.

After a few minutes of listening to the newspeople gushing about Ayuko, and noticing that she seemed to be simply taking and taking and taking to the smiles of the world, Kent literally squirmed. He nervously chuckled again, "No wonder she was happy. What is this? A sickening and sordid shopping spree? I'd think your dad would to hit the roof over the credit card bill."

"There won't be any credit card bill," Ms. Hayase said suddenly.

Comprehension flashed over his face. "You're not kidding." He stood up and got closer to the images, and the comprehension calcified into anger. "She's not kidding," he nodded to the picture of Ayuko Rara.

Slade growled, turned his back on the image, and paced a moment. Then he barked, "I did not put in all this time and effort so that Ayuko could plunder the mall!"

He sighed and looked at the miserable Mitsuki Rara. "I'm sorry," he said more softly. She shook her head. "You're absolutely right. Father gives her too free a hand on indulging herself, but it's only a symptom of this whole organization's problems. It's just the same as what I told you that night."

Kent tried to take a step back but found he was already against the wall. He forced himself to relax. She had always trusted Ms. Hayase, so he supposed it was safe if Ms. Hayase knew about the time when Mitsuki had tried to tell him that the RaRa Army was evil and he hadn't listened. Kent had never realized until now this moment how deeply Mitsuki trusted Kaoru.

They were both looking at him expectantly, and he knew what they wanted. Both of them wanted his decision.

Slade shook his head. "I still think you're wrong. Well, about your dad, at least. You've convinced me on your mom." He turned a glare on the recording, which was still playing. "I'm not doing anything under her command." He turned his back on them and moved towards the door.

"She doesn't run the RaRa Army," Kaoru Hayase almost shouted.

Slade's laughter this time was more of a single bark. "We must pray that remains the case." Kent turned back to face them and said sincerely, "I need to leave this room now or someone might get suspicious. Let's all agree we were watching your vacation memories. After all," he craftily grinned at the footage still playing out, "that is what we were watching." With that, he made a melodramatic bow and walked out.

The room he had left was deathly silent for a moment. Ms. Hayase stopped the tape and sighed, "I didn't think he'd say that."

Mitsuki Rara shrugged. "Once he has an idea, he sticks to it."

"You always find the positive, Ms. Mitsuki," Ms. Hayase shook her head, half happily and half sadly.

"I didn't really expect him to change his mind," Mitsuki Rara said sadly. "I could read his decision in his eyes when he saw that tape. He's committed himself to the RaRa Army, and he thinks he has no choice but to stay the course until the end."

"This means that we have only one option," Ms. Hayase decided. "It seems incredible, but the Earth Defense Force is stronger than ever before. They can adequately defend the artifacts from exploitation by evil people."

"We'll need to be very careful when sabotaging Himc," Mitsuki Rara concurred. "Kent ought to be safe since no one tries to kill pilots, and it does have thick armor."

Ms. Hayase told her confidently, "Don't worry, Ms. Mitsuki. I've now got full access to your mother's network for controlling the robots. I can decrease Himc's powers to any level we choose. We'll just have to hope that the Earth Defense Force can defeat it before we're discovered and forced to stop interfering."

"If we wait for a convincing hit, Mother may not realize it's sabotage," Mitsuki Rara suggested. "After some fairly good blow, we can just shut it down completely. Whether or not we surrender, the Earth Defense Force will win, and we can take whatever action seems best to keep the war going in their favor."

Both women smiled at each other, though somewhat sadly.

Kent walked slowly through the halls on the way to his room. He muttered to himself, "I do not trust that Sladituss, he has a lean and hungry look." Kent began to laugh uncontrollably, his whole frame shaking. Pulling himself together again, he kept walking.

Ayuko conferred with Kumu, at the bottom of Himc's hangar.

"There is no data on the Earth Defense Force's new pilots," Kumu stated annoyedly.

"Perhaps they're keeping it on a different server," Ayuko suggested. "Widen your search and I imagine you'll find it."

"You do not understand. Their entire network has been more difficult to penetrate. When in the past I could enter the network, there was absolutely no data or information on their new pilots," Kumu told her.

"I'm not really surprised with Sanada in charge," Ayuko dismissed Kumu's concerns. "He has all the organizational skills of a tornado."

"Their new pilots are a grave danger to us," Kumu raved. "If that man should turn against us, their new pilots have the capability to defeat our robots. You should have identified a female pilot for Himc long ago."

Ayuko paid this no heed. "If he did turn against us, I could use the control network to run Himc myself. That's what I installed it for. As long as we don't make any mistakes, we can't lose the advantage of having the entire planet on our side."

Kumu fumed, "Males are unpredictable and dangerous. Your attempts to control men are commendable, but leaving them in positions of power while you control them is foolish."

Ayuko put an index finger to her chin. "Don't worry on that front, Kumu. This organization only needs a push to topple into my grasp. I'm just letting it run on autopilot for a short while. A pretense for taking over would make it smoother, and it's hard since my husband was on a winning streak until the last battle. I've planned this coup for a long time. Gaining power at the right moment will make the plan move quickly."

"Our goal is finally near," Kumu agreed, "so we must not let any interference arise." She teleported Ayuko back to the surface of the island.

Kent Slade stalked about in his quarters all evening. If you asked him, he would say he didn't know why, but he felt like he was wrestling with the darkness.

Chapter 8 Main Chapters Chapter 10