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Interlude 8 Main Chapters Interlude 9

Chapter 9

The leader of the RaRa Army, Pres. Rara, had reviewed the results of the last battle with some dissatisfaction: only natural since it was a battle his army had lost. Now, some days later, he had finally come up with a new plan.

"You know, dear," he said to Ayuko, "our current robots really are powerful. I've been thinking, though, that some of our future models show more promise than others."

Ayuko looked nonplussed. "We've managed to conquer nearly all the world with the robots we've been using. You could consider deploying more of them at once."

"The huge ones are terribly expensive to transport. And someone must've finally told stupid Sanada how to use his robot's agility against our huge robots' slowness," objected Pres. Rara. "The new robots we ought to build should be the ones with the jewel cannons in their shoulders; they have agility and a powerful ranged attack. They can counter the Core Robots. I agree that big robots have worked in our favor, but I also want to use one of the incredibly powerful and large robots we excavated directly from the artifact. The big robots we make ourselves based on that technology are good, but they'll never be as good as what that civilization did. That's why I think we ought to devote the rest of our resources to the restoration of Himc."

Perhaps he was right, and Himc was one of the projects Ayuko had been championing for some time. "That is true, dear. You do best with these sorts of bold policies," she told him.

Pres. Rara seemed puffed up by this flattery, and continued on his way.

Kent Slade had not been fired; he had been designated the pilot for Himc. One reason was, as the only male pilot, he didn't seem to fit in anywhere else in the RaRa Army. The other reason was that Kent seemed to respond very well to Himc, and preliminary tests had indicated that its complex systems might be difficult and even dangerous to pilot. When it was learned that Kent could control it well and without danger, they decided not to bother testing anyone else.

A great relief for Slade was that he and Mitsuki Rara had both instinctively acted as though their conversation had never occurred.

He was finding it easier and easier to move Himc around, though as yet, to keep it secret, Pres. Rara had only allowed him to practice maneuvers either on the island or in a simulator. His time on the island's surface was very strictly limited because of Pres. Rara's worries about spy satellites detecting Himc. Pres. Rara was determined that it would be a secret weapon, and a very good one.

Another major simulation had been scheduled for Kent, with Ms. Hayase, Mitsuki Rara, and Pres. Rara in attendance. Pres. Rara was looking forward to this one, because hadn't been able to see most of Kent's simulations. This test would attempt to evaluate the completed Himc. It hadn't yet been built, but the hope was that the imitation experience would help Kent gain piloting experience and help the design team see what needed to be fixed. This prompted Kent's comment that it was "just like NASA flight simulators," though he was aware of significant differences.

Kent was granted access to top secret drawings of what the completed Himc would look like, so he could have an idea of what he was supposed to be piloting in the simulator. It had the same huge cone and crowned head of the Himc he had piloted earlier, but now most of its form was ensheathed in a huge golden cocoon. Out of this cocoon emerged several long and golden tentacles with articulated digits which constituted hands. The old model had only one such tentacle coming out of the top of the cone. Like the earlier Himc, the golden Himc had no legs, and moved by floating a short distance off the ground.

Inside the simulator, Slade attempted strafing and dodging maneuvers with this new Himc. "We never imagined it being able to do that," muttered Pres. Rara to himself. Himc had always been slow, but Slade had set himself to working around that with those tactics. It still dodged and darted slowly, but it performed better than one would expect looking at its titanic form.

"Now use the high-energy bullet," ordered Mitsuki Rara, following the test script.

"Yes, Commander," affirmed Slade. An actual live-fire test of the high-energy bullet had been performed with the old Himc some weeks ago. Slade had been irritated by the fact that before it fired, the bullet formed in front of Himc for several seconds while it gathered power, and had requested that it take less time in any future upgrades. Unfortunately, it took about the same length of time here in the simulation of the new Himc.

Slade made a faint clicking noise in disapproval and bemoaned, "Still too slow."

"It can't get any faster," shrugged Pres. Rara.

"Hm," vocalized Slade as he considered what to do about it.

"Fire beam!" Mitsuki Rara commanded.

"Yes, Commander," was Slade's response. He was more enthusiastic about the beam. It fired instantaneously, which in his mind made up for the fact that it was only about medium range. "Feels like the beam's distance is longer on this one," he commented.

"We were able to get that done," chuckled Pres. Rara with only slight unease.

"Himc, grapple the enemy!" If Mitsuki Rara were in Ms. Rah garb, that would've been a shout, but as she was not, it was only forceful.

Slade shot out one of Himc's tentacles to its full length, then each in succession, then two at a time, and several other configurations as they had discussed before the test. "You lengthened these too?"

Ms. Hayase shook her head. "It only seems like it," she informed him.

"That's all the scripted maneuvers. You can play around now," Mitsuki Rara commanded with a smile.

"Thank you," Slade replied wryly. He simulated extending two of the tentacles at once, then four of them. "Hm, cent, cent, cent,,no, it's Medusa, Gorgon, close but- hydra!" he mumbled.

"What are you talking about?" Mitsuki Rara asked in some confusion.

Slade talked as he flexed the tentacles about. "I was trying to remember what this new Himc reminded me of in Greek mythology. It's a little like Medusa, but since the tentacles don't come out of Himc's head, it's more like a Hydra. Except," he began mumbling again, "its tentacles don't have heads on them. Not really like either."

"That's an interesting way to think of Himc," she laughed softly.

This went unheard by Slade; he was concentrating on moving the six tentacles independently of each other, and finding it very difficult. His mind had always been trained to command a four-limbed organism, with two limbs for walking and two for manipulating. Now he had to walk by floating and use six limbs to manipulate things. The tentacles repeatedly escaped his control.

Slade decided to start from the beginning. He retracted five of the tentacles and left only one, and began to move it about like a snake, making a hissing sound of his own to emphasize the point. Pres. Rara and Mitsuki Rara laughed, while Ms. Hayase shook her head.

As the test proceeded, Slade extended another tentacle and flexed it about. With concentration, he was now able to move them synchronously, both rhythmically swaying in the same direction, like a huge metronome. Slade then retracted the tentacles and concentrated on firing the beam and high-energy bullet, working on his aim.

Ms. Hayase was glad that they were at least testing this, but its destructive powers were confirming her worst fears. She rechecked his Life Sympathy figures, and shook her head. The figures weren't perfectly stable, but he was not anywhere near a danger zone. This robot would work, and nothing could stand against it.

It was some weeks after this test that Mitsuki Rara approached Slade. She firmly told him, "Slade, I'm impressed with how well you've been doing in the simulators lately. Still, that much solo training may not be good for you. You need better enemies than what our artificial intelligence programs can come up with."

Slade sensed that this wasn't an idle conversation, but an order. "Of course, Commander," he responded.

She frowned, and her voice was pained. "I'm not in uniform. I'm Mitsuki now. Not Ms. Rah."

This particular dialogue had occurred several times now, which was probably why she seemed irritated by it. Fortunately for the young lady, this conversation finally hammered it into Kent's brain that he ought to call her Mitsuki. Her reasoning for this differentiation of modes of address was opaque to him, and he was determined to observe this aspect of RaRa Army honorifics more closely in the future. "Of course, Mitsuki," Kent attempted.

"That's better," she sighed in relief. "You'll be simulating a battle against myself and Alice, Mena, and Ryla in about half an hour."

If Mitsuki Rara wanted to handle this informally, Kent decided the time was right to venture a joke. "That should give me enough time to polish your trophy," was his extemporaneous crack.

"I'm giving you a simulated golden Himc: the outcome isn't that certain!" she chuckled.

Mitsuki Rara reappraised him. Her parents had claimed he had some liveliness, but whenever she had been able to observe Slade, he'd been rather dour. Perhaps it was the strain of being cut off from familiar things.

"Mitsuki," Slade voiced, "I'm sorry about calling you Commander. You are my commanding officer; it just seemed disrespectful to call you anything but Commander."

She frowned again, saying softly yet accusingly, "I did mention it to you several times." It just wasn't right to ignore people's requests, as though they'd never been made.

"That was my fault, not accepting that," Slade fidgeted, his inflection rife with embarrassment.

"It's all right," Mitsuki Rara told him, "I appreciate your calling me Commander when I'm Ms. Rah. When I'm not Ms. Rah, though, please think of me as Mitsuki."

Slade still didn't understand, but wanted to make the situation right. "Of course, Mitsuki," he nodded to her.

She smiled and thanked him. Both she and Slade were relieved that the question of her nomenclature and the situation was finally resolved.

In half an hour's time, Slade found himself in a rather larger simulator room than he was used to: one which contained multiple simulators.

"We won't go easy on you just because you're new," warned Ryla, attempting to keep up a serious front, but grinning uncontrollably. She and Mena broke down and giggled.

"You're goin' down!" yelled Alice in English, who seemed to be the most bloodthirsty of his opponents.

Several weeks ago, Slade had been unsurprised to learn that the trio was trained synchronously: all three of them simultaneously piloted one robot. It was a new innovation that would be included in the new model of RaRa robots, the jewel-cannons. Kent supposed their job was really tough, having to have all three of them not interfere with each other.

"Everyone, please do your best. This is important training," were Mitsuki Rara's final words before Ms. Hayase began the simulation.

As they had all been informed, Slade would be in a simulated Himc, Mitsuki Rara would be in a virtual Earth Defense Force Core Robot, and the trio would pilot a single simulacrum of a RaRa Army jewel-cannon robot. Mitsuki and the trio were allied against Slade, which again impressed itself onto his mind as he caught sight of their robots opposing him. He only took a moment to appreciate the well-rendered cityscape that was their battleground.

He carefully observed the movements of the jewel-cannon robot. It was humanoid, a distinct departure for the RaRa Army. Its popular name was derived from two purple orbs mounted on the front of its shoulders, which could discharge powerful purple beams at foes. Slade wasn't certain of most of its other capabilities.

Mitsuki Rara had for some reason been placed inside the white Core Robot, the one Slade had briefly piloted. He wondered if it was fate or a joke. It carried a machine gun in its right hand.

Slade made the first move, firing the high-energy bullet at the jewel-cannon robot. Unfortunately, it was agile, and managed to evade the shot. As this failure occurred, the simulacrum of the white robot sprinted forward and opened fire as soon as it was in range.

The bullets were largely absorbed by the golden sheath encapsulating Himc, but he noted with distress that one of the tentacles was damaged, for they were mounted on the outside of the sheath and constituted part of it.

Ms. Hayase was surprised at what had just occurred, rechecking several data sources. Both Himcs were equipped with defensive shields, the power of which could easily repel far stronger hits than that. How did that hit occur? Ms. Hayase then noted that Himc's shields were offline. "Did you forget to raise your shields, Slade?" Ms. Hayase asked teasingly.

"Oh yeah," was the guilty response Slade offered through the comm system. "Thanks."

"Uhoh, she's on his side!" remarked Mena. "We're doomed: you're running the simulation!" she mockingly accused.

Slade was strafing to evade the white core robot's machine gun and returning fire with his own beam weapon. Unfortunately, the stress of the combined action made him lose concentration on his shields, which tended to get turned off for several awkward seconds.

In the meantime, the jewel-cannon robot had flanked Himc. It tore into him with sustained purple beams.

"Boo-yah!" exclaimed Alice triumphantly, causing Slade to double over with laughter. Such self-aggrandizing invective was the antithesis of that slip of a girl.

Distractions such as these had finally resulted in damage to Himc's cocoon, and one of its arms was nearly severed. Slade's strafing was of limited effect, for he was simply too big a target. He had to move a vast distance to strafe, where Mitsuki Rara or the trio had only to move their weapons a small amount to retarget him. Himc was the broadside of a barn as far as target area was concerned: it needed those shields for protection. Slade was certain that strafing could still help, but it wouldn't help all the time.

Slade now had a plan, and he only hoped the damage he had sustained was not too great. He concentrated on maintaining his shields, which easily repulsed their fire, but intentionally flickered them to create the illusion he still couldn't remember them. Both robots had drawn relatively close to Himc. Slade began to strafe until the jewel-cannon robot was at his back and the Core Robot was at his front, then darted to the side of the Core Robot. Both robots reacted with admirable swiftness, ceasing their attack to prevent friendly fire. Slade fired his beam twice, exactly decapitating and halving the Core Robot, leaving its simulated cockpit intact but the rest of the robot ruined.

That was the moment when the jewel-cannon robot leapt atop Himc and fired at point-blank range. Slade had totally forgotten his shields during his attack, allowing the trio this perch. Slade flailed the uninjured tentacles of Himc, but thinking his enemy was standing behind his back, struck there first. By the time his tentacles reached the enemy, Himc had been disabled. As Slade's robot simulated a great fall, the trio's robot leapt to the skyscraper it had used as a stepladder to reach the heights of Himc.

"Hooray! Eat my dust!" rejoiced Alice, resulting in yet another bellyful of laughter for Slade.

"Congratulations, Slade. I suppose I'll be polishing your trophy," proffered Mitsuki Rara.

"After he polishes our trophy! Girls rule and boys drool!" insisted Alice.

"Your trash-talk is worse than your bite!" Slade reparteed. Everyone descended into uncontrollable hilarity.

"As you can see, I was totally fair in that match," Ms. Hayase told them as she wiped away a tear born of mirth.

"Only joking!" hastily replied Mena.

"I know," reassured Ms. Hayase. "I was too."

Ryla was elated at their victory. She had loved the jewel-cannon robot as soon as they had begun to train in its simulator, and now they had managed their first victory in it, albeit virtual. It had a lot of good qualities, and Ryla was more sure than ever before that it would be among the best robots the RaRa Army ever used. Even better, she figured that Mrs. Nanjyoin and Cmdr. Sanada probably couldn't come up with anything to counter the jewel-cannon robot.

Mrs. Nanjyoin looked about her at the Core Robot armory in the base of the Earth Defense Force, nodding to herself. The commander was right to be proud of the new armaments that had been delivered, but as usual, he was more proud than a normal human being: he was agog over the technological capabilities of the weapons. She did her best to make allowances for him, and so said nothing.

Cmdr. Sanada allowed himself a brief peal of maniacal laughter before he remarked to Mrs. Nanjyoin and Inspector Akane Yamano, "The RaRa Army has no idea what they'll be up against next time." Inspector Yamano looked askance at him. Dr. Sanada continued talking to himself, "They won't know what to do when we counterattack with our new weapons," and began to laugh again.

Inspector Yamano wondered what was the matter with him. The new weapons were just grenade launchers, after all. It wasn't something worth behaving so dramatically about.

Interlude 8 Main Chapters Interlude 9