Title: Helvetian Hospitality
Fandom: Gundam Iscariot
Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profit gained. This is a fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Aeon/Purity/Mercado, Shelby Claire, Lucinda, etc.
Summary: Aeon and his team were sent to Helvetios for a reason, of course. However, Helvetios isn't at all what they're expecting.
"I've never been to Helvetios," Aeon said as he settled into his seat on the bridge of the Hesperides. Mercado held in a sigh. He knew what was coming.
"Once when I was little, but I don't really remember it," Purity admitted. Mercado had long since given up on getting her not to put her feet up on the control panels. It was hopeless.
"Nope," Mercado offered. He changed a few settings with his controls and sent a pre-set message to Helvetios that they were on course.
Aeon flipped his datapad up from his side and fussed around for a minute. Because this was how it always was.
"Helvetios," Aeon read aloud. "An independent colony named for and formerly owned by Helvetica Interstellar Corporation. Currently maintained by a combination of appointed and elected officials. Helvetica still owns ninety-five percent of all businesses on the colony, along with almost all private residences."
"Yeah, no way that could get ugly," Mercado commented. He couldn't help himself. Sure, there were colonies set up with even less pleasant infrastructures. All sorts. But this was their chance to speak openly. Possibly their last one for a bit.
"For Helvetios, it seems to work," Aeon replied, shrugging. "Says here that the crime rate is virtually zero, unemployment is microscopic... and generally, the colony is quite wealthy."
"And they have a crap military," Purity added.
"Yeah..." Aeon sighed. "Which is why we're here. Well, why they asked NIN-ANA for assistance. And please don't say that to anyone."
"We're mostly here to pick up mobile suits and data," Mercado corrected. "I'm sure there's something Commander Varuna didn't tell us."
"Probably..." Purity commented. She looked at her nails and then stretched. "Will I get thrown off the ship if I ask if we're there yet?"
Mercado watched as a swarm of dots suddenly appeared from the far left side of his screen. "Yes," he said quickly. "Both of you. Get out there."
"Wait, what?" Purity looked over at him, eyes wide.
"Helvetios has a bad, bad pirate problem," Aeon said as he got to his feet and nodded to Purity and Mercado. "Which means now we do, too."
Purity didn't hesitate to open fire as soon as she got Lachesis launched. The Hesperides had been hit twice already - well, likely more. Twice she'd felt. At least the pirates had mostly Safphirs and Emeraldes. They'd be easy to pick off.
"You picked the wrong ship to fuck with," she said, grinning as she watched the explosions following behind her shots. While she was far from a sharpshooter, she at least was fast.
"Cover this side," Aeon's voice echoed in her head. "I'll cover the other."
Anaplekte was a beast compared to Lachesis - big and silver and purple and green. Not as fast, but it could take a beating.
Purity refrained from reminding Aeon that space doesn't have sides. A good twenty dots were still on her screen, swarming, but at least the pirates looked like they were trying to size up the pair of Gundams before rushing in to join their comrades in a certain doom.
"Okay, they're not shooting," Purity said after a long, too-quiet moment. "We've won?"
"No," Aeon replied. "They're just regrouping. They're going to try to get us away from Mercado and attack in swarms."
"How do you know that?" Purity questioned.
Aeon laughed. "That's what I'd do."
Purity swore and watched as Anaplekte took off towards the largest clump. She wasn't terribly surprised, though. Better to catch them off guard.
And then they came for her. There were too many to bother shooting. Instead she stowed her rifle and grabbed for a pair of beam sabers. Anaplekte was the one with the swords, but Purity knew her sabers would be enough for this bunch.
The first Safphir in range was neatly quartered, yet the others still attacked. And dammit, there was another group still after the Hesperides.
"A little help, guys?" Edison called.
"A little busy," Purity replied sharply, dodging a saber and countering with enough fast slices to decimate the attacker. "Let me line these fuckers up, get them dead and then we'll talk help."
"I love you too," Edison deadpanned. Purity smiled, quickly looking around. She was completely surrounded.
Taking a deep breath, she feinted Lachesis left, spun, and pushed the thrusters as hard as she could. The following explosions rocked Lachesis, setting off all sorts of warnings that she really didn't have time to deal with.
Aeon was already back to the Hesperides, swords still ready, when Purity got there. The pirates - what was left of them - were retreating.
"I lost count," Purity commented, snuffing the sabers and stowing them.
Their comms crackled a moment later, before Purity had even thought to get Lachesis back into the ship.
"This is Helvetios Military Commander General Brice Steadman - NIN-ANA ship, please respond--"
"This is the NIN-ANA ship Hesperides," Edison quickly replied. "I don't think I like your welcoming committee."
"Neither do we," Steadman replied. "We're sending final docking instructions now. Please feel free to bring your mobile suits in separately for energy and repairs."
"This is Aeon Jester in Gundam Anaplekte - we copy."
"NIN-ANA's fabled Gundams." There was an almost whimsical tone in Steadman's voice. Purity wasn't entirely sure she liked it. But, with Helvetios looming ahead, she didn't really have much of a choice.
"Most of the damage is cosmetic," Aeon insisted to the overly-friendly dock workers and mechanics that swarmed the two Gundams and ship as soon as the airlock system had cleared. "No need to really do anything, I promise. If you give me the basics, I can pull maintenance myself."
"But you're our guest," one of the mechanics insisted. His stitched name badge identified him as 'Edric', Aeon noted before beginning another round of protests. While Commander Varuna always asked his subordinates to limit the number of hands on NIN-ANA's Gundams, Aeon also really just thought he could do it himself. Lachesis had a few more dings, but it wasn't bad either. And despite looking rough, the Hesperides was fine. It would need paint, definitely, but the giant burned spots weren't anywhere near as bad as they looked.
"A mission," Aeon countered. "I am a collaborator, not a guest." He kept his tone firm, but friendly.
Aeon winced as he turned. There, in what he supposed was a full Helvetian military uniform, stood a middle-aged man looking him over cautiously.
"General Steadman?" Aeon questioned. The man nodded, offering a hand.
"Please, call me Aeon," Aeon said as he accepted. "If you need to add something ridiculous in front, Team Leader would be the most appropriate."
Steadman's handshake was firm. "No disrespect intended. I do, however, wish you hadn't been introduced to our problem so early in your visit."
Aeon nodded. "I'm guessing they're staying too far out of range for Space Forces to step in, for all the good they usually do."
"We don't have a large military," Steadman replied, nodding. "I'm the only general. The military numbers in the low hundreds and most of that is volunteers. We've lost most of our mobile suits and while we have orders in with quite a few factories, we have neither pilots nor do we want this to be a permanent solution."
"We could take out the pirates," Purity piped up as she stepped in. She had her pilot-suit unzipped to her waist, sleeves tied. All she had on underneath was a white sports-bra that didn't leave too terribly much to the imagination.
"Allow me to introduce Purity Albion," Aeon said, gesturing. "She pilots Lachesis. Purity, this is General Steadman."
"A pleasure," Steadman said quickly, before taking Purity's hand.
"Forgive our appearance," Aeon said quickly. He suddenly felt a tiny bit self-conscious in his own suit.
"It's to be expected," Steadman replied. He shook his head. "You had a rough trip in, after all. I'm sure you'd rather get cleaned up and relax instead of listening to me rattle on."
"With all respect, sir--"
"Would we ever," Purity interrupted. She smiled. "Though after you tell us why we can't just go kill the pirates."
"Helvetios has no interest in aggression, only defense," Steadman explained.
"That's not a viable option," Aeon replied. "Unless you want this pattern to continue."
"We called you in for a reason." Steadman shifted, reaching up to rake a hand through his close-cut blond hair. It was a sharp contrast to his skin, which was nearly as dark as Purity's, but it didn't look strange. Aeon could only guess that he was trying to hide a bit of early grey.
"We've got time to talk," Aeon said. He saw Mercado talking to another couple of mechanics and gesturing at the Hesperides. "I think my team does need a chance to regroup, to be honest."
Steadman nodded. "A guest residence has been prepared for you," he said. "I'll have--"
He glanced back and then around.
"Where is that girl? Shelby!"
"Sir?" a squeaky voice called from over near Anaplekte. A moment later, a short young woman skittered over to the group. She didn't look up at anyone, instead looking at the hangar floor as she clutched a datapad to her chest.
"Shelby, this is Aeon Jester and Purity Albion." Steadman clearly looked frustrated with her, but Shelby just nodded before finally glancing up ever so slightly. Aeon was a little surprised by the thick glasses she wore. Only about three percent of poor eyesight couldn't be entirely corrected and for the remaining group, few couldn't be corrected to at least some type of thinner lens.
"It's nice to meet you," Aeon said softly.
Shelby just nodded.
Aeon glanced to Purity, who was giving him a very strange look in response. Definitely, something was already odd.
"Shelby, could you show Aeon and his team to the executive guest residence?" Steadman tried.
Finally, Shelby looked up. Her eyes were a sharp purple - a surprising contrast to the almost colorless silvery-white of her hair.
"Of course, sir," she said, nodding.
"Thank you," Aeon tried. "If you'll just follow us over to the Hesperides, we'll get changed and get our bags."
Shelby nodded, and Aeon glanced to Steadman. The general looked like he was about to cry. Obviously, Helvetios needed more help than Aeon had even considered.
Mercado drew close to Aeon while they stripped out of their suits.
"This place is weird," he commented. "Not bad, just..."
"NIN-ANA is weird to anyone who hasn't been there for three years," Aeon reminded him.
Mercado sighed. "You know what I mean."
"I do. But I need to spend more time talking to Steadman before I can say what's really going on here."
"You two whispering sweet nothings?" Purity questioned as she shimmied the rest of her suit off. "I'm jealous over here."
"Tactical planning," Mercado noted. "We'll be doing a lot of it. Get dressed."
"Yeah, I know," Purity replied. "Though a proper shower sounds so much better."
"A nap, once I wind down," Mercado said. He stretched, reaching for his uniform pants. It would take a little while for the adrenaline to clear his system, he knew, but he figured he could jog a little, or just explore. While he knew Purity and Aeon were likely concerned with strange hands on their machines, the Hesperides was a fairly standard shuttle and anything it needed, he trusted the dock crew to handle. Besides, he'd check it all before leaving anyway.
He didn't think this was an ambush. But it was something. They'd just have to puzzle it out. At least they'd be able to contact Varuna and try to wrangle a few more details from him. Mercado wondered just how much Varuna actually knew. Though Varuna always seemed to know far more than he ever let on.
"I want to start making notes for what I want to discuss with Steadman," Aeon said after a moment. He'd already peeled off his suit and gotten his lower half covered.
"I want to know what's up with that girlie," Purity said as she pinned her hair up. It still looked a bit like a deep blue waterfall as the ends trailed down, but it wasn't everywhere, at least.
While Mercado quite liked Purity's hair - and Aeon's, too - he couldn't do it himself. Anything longer than a few inches and he marched down to get it chopped off. So much easier. Wait--
"Girlie?" Mercado questioned.
"You probably looked right over her," Purity replied. "Short, quiet, pretending to be invisible."
"She seems to be our liaison," Aeon added. "I think she's just shy. And that she hasn't met anyone like us before."
"Oh." Mercado tugged on a t-shirt and then his uniform jacket to cover the tattoos that trailed down both arms. "Okay."
He could handle shy, he supposed. Though why a quiet girl would be their liaison, he wasn't sure.
"I think she'll be okay." Aeon pulled on his own shirt and grabbed his jacket. He smiled. "Mission start."
"May I drive?" Edison asked as soon as they were within a few meters of a dark electri-car marked with the Helvetios government emblem.
"Huh? Oh... Um..." Shelby fidgeted. "I suppose."
"Don't worry," Aeon offered. "Mercado is a very safe driver and it'll be helpful for him to know the way between our quarters and the dock."
Shelby nodded. "Okay."
Purity meandered along behind them, looking around as she walked. For a main dock, everything was really quiet. Too quiet. If Helvetios had lost most of its traffic out of fear of the pirates, it was going to be in trouble fairly quickly.
"Hey, Shelby?" she called. "What's Helvetios's main export?"
"Low grav microchips," Shelby replied quickly. "Though, ah... Helvetios is also a resort colony."
Purity shot a look to Aeon, who was stowing bags into the electri-car's trunk.
"What?" he asked. "We got attacked by pirates before I could finish reading."
Edison slid into the driver's seat and Shelby quickly threw herself in beside him as if she'd otherwise lose her spot.
Aeon shrugged at Purity, who only tossed her bag in his direction and then climbed into the car herself.
For a backseat, she thought, it wasn't bad on leg-room. Definitely resort-quality.
The trunk closed a moment later and Aeon slid in, carefully making sure his hair was also in before he closed the door.
"Onward," Edison said, starting the car and checking gauges. Purity peered forward. For as much skill as she had in mobile suits, she'd never bothered to learn to drive. But, she supposed, that was where Edison shone. He could master just about anything he wanted.
As they rolled away from the dock area and into the colony proper, Purity could only stare. The colony was beautiful. There were flowers and trees everywhere, and everything looked clean and bright.
"It looks almost like Earth," Edison half-mumbled.
"Really?" Shelby questioned.
"Yeah," Edison said. Purity could see him smile and she had to fight not to roll her eyes. Before she could comment, though, Aeon had reached over to pat her hand.
Purity exhaled and flipped her hand around, taking Aeon's and squeezing.
"It's really nice," Purity agreed.
"Very colorful," Aeon noted before leaning up towards the front seat. "Shelby, what's your favorite color?"
"Huh?" Shelby reached to push her glasses up as she turned to look at him. "Ah... I like orange."
"I like green," Aeon replied. "So seeing this much of it is a pleasure. It's definitely worth protecting."
Shelby nodded and then glanced back towards the road. "Ah... Mister Mercado, can you please turn at the next flashing light. Um, left."
"Of course," Edison replied, chuckling. "And just 'Mercado', please."
"There's no need for formality right now," Aeon explained. "Though you're doing well. Is this your first assignment?"
There was a pause and then Shelby nodded. "My first doing something like this, yes. I've been a secretary for General Steadman for a year, but I'm new to... what I'm doing."
Finally, Purity figured it was time to say a few things.
"You need to look up and smile more," she said firmly. "Be more sure of yourself. Even if we're a little different from the folks you're used to, we don't bite."
Purity winced as she watched Shelby sort of pull into herself. Edison turned the car, onto a quieter street. There was more green as they passed a bright, empty park.
"Purity bites," Edison noted. "But she's otherwise correct."
"You were looking at Anaplekte, weren't you?" Aeon interjected. "Are you nervous because we were in battle before coming in? It's just a job. We're not vicious killers -- we're not pirates."
"I know," Shelby said softly. "But you're so young and so... amazing."
"And strangers in a strange place," Aeon countered. "We're relying on you, since you've got one up on us at present."
"He's right," Edison added. "Also, directions?"
"Ah... Um... Just take this street to the end," Shelby said, her voice firming up a bit. "There'll be a gate, but I have a fob to open it."
Purity slid her fingers up Aeon's arm to trace the edge of his silver NIN-ANA bracelet. He smiled at her.
Aeon started up at the guest house. He'd been expecting something closer to a cottage or townhouse, not... a relative mansion. It even seemed to have a full yard.
"We're staying here?" Purity questioned as she slid out of the car and stretched. Aeon had thought the electri-car had been good for leg room, at least. But Purity had her ever-present heels to contend with as well.
"Yes," Shelby replied quickly. "You're guests of the government, after all. This is the very best we can offer."
Mercado popped the trunk and unloading their bags onto the pavement.
"It's a change from the Hesperides," he commented as Purity circled around to grab both her bag and Aeon's. Aeon smiled. That was a wise decision. He'd been doing his best to figure out Shelby, after all, and having his hands free would help.
She seemed to be wholly genuine. That or an amazing actor. And Aeon really didn't think she was putting on an act at all. Her tiny shakes of nervousness couldn't be easily faked.
"You'll show us around?" Aeon questioned as he reached to rest a friendly hand on Shelby's shoulder. She twitched and froze, eyes wide.
Aeon smiled at her. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay-- Ah... the door code is five-one-three-one. It gets re-coded after every visit, too," Shelby explained, slipping away and towards the house.
Aeon didn't miss the looks that both Mercado and Purity shot him. He gave a little shrug and followed Shelby.
The interior of the guest house was no less spectacular than the outside. The whole place seemed to be filled with light streaming in from high windows and reflecting off colorful paintings and vases of fresh, cut flowers. The carpet was thick and the first bits of furniture Aeon saw looked so comfortable that he wanted to run over and flop.
"Could you show us to our rooms first so we can ditch our bags?" Purity questioned. "Aeon apparently packed books..."
"I did pack books," Aeon noted as Shelby gave him a strange look. "Nothing wrong with that."
"This way," Shelby said quickly, gesturing to a set of stairs. For a moment, Aeon wondered if they weren't real wood but thankfully they had the tells of polycarbonate.
The first bedroom was bright and airy. A light breeze was blowing gauzy curtains around an open balcony door.
"Each room has its own bathroom," Shelby said, glancing at Aeon, Purity, and Mercado. It took Aeon a second to realize that Shelby was waiting to see who claimed the room and if it was going to be claimed by more than one person.
"And we each get our own?" Aeon asked, amused.
Shelby nodded quickly. "Of course. Unless, ah..."
"We've been sharing space on the Hesperides," Aeon interrupted. "Our own rooms will be lovely."
Mercado nudged Aeon with his elbow as he walked over to dump his duffel on the bed. Aeon tried not to laugh.
"Aww... Maybe I wanted this one," Purity said.
"You can have the next one," Aeon told her.
"You're all beside one another," Shelby noted. "There are more bedrooms, but they've not been readied. These all have a view of the back yard, which is nicer than looking at the road."
"Yard?" Purity dropped the bags she was holding and zipped over to the balcony and out onto it, leaning over the rail. She was quiet a long moment before turning. "You guys have got to see this. There's a pool!"
"Alas that we don't own swimsuits," Aeon said, shaking his head.
"I can have some sent," Shelby said quickly. "There's also a hot tub for soaking."
"No need for a suit in that," Purity said quickly as she bounded back in.
Shelby blushed and nodded. "The yard has a privacy fence. If that would be a preferable activity..."
"You're spoiling us, Shelby," Aeon said. "Now come on, show Purity and myself our rooms."
If Aeon was anything, he was exceptionally skilled at getting people to talk to him. Mercado had always admired that and still did. Maybe that was why he didn't bother doing much talking - Aeon handled it all.
The more Aeon talked to Shelby, the more Shelby's nervousness dispersed and the more Shelby spoke in general.
The house itself was a palace - definitely the biggest house Mercado had ever been in. There was food for them to eat, pre-made, and instructions on how to request anything different they might like. Despite having generous stipends from Varuna, Shelby had given them credits cards as well. It was all a little surreal.
Helvetios was a little surreal.
Mercado could buy it as a resort colony, though. Most of the colonies he'd seen, including the one he was from, were fairly no-nonsense. Sure, they had trees and parks and whatnot, but everything was functional more than beautiful. Helvetios was beautiful.
By the time they made it outside to look at the yard, Aeon had plucked a perfect tiger lily bloom from a vase and tucked it into Shelby's hair. Of course, he'd had to quickly do the same for Purity, though he'd chosen a different color.
"You're free to relax for the rest of the day," Shelby said as they walked the back path of the deep yard. There were stone lanterns and statues that Mercado thought maybe he should recognize. He'd get a chance to look at them better, later. "The datascreens in your rooms can link to your datapads to download any changes to schedules. And to contact me or anyone, really."
"May I ask you if you have any thoughts on what we're here to do?" Aeon asked.
"Mmm? I know you're here to gather data on the current problem with pirates..."
"Your thoughts on it," Aeon reminded her.
"My thoughts? I don't... I mean, it's bad, isn't it? No one really talks too much about it - I guess no one wants to worry..." Shelby sighed. "You are going to help, aren't you?"
"We already took out like thirty of those idiots," Purity commented. "We'll take your mobile suits to get fixed up, get you more, and it'll all be good."
"We'll do it in a way that makes your people comfortable," Mercado added softly. "I know that's important."
Shelby looked up at him, eyes magnified by her thick lenses. "Thank you."
At that moment, Shelby's datapad beeped.
"Oh!" she said quickly. "Already?"
"Mmm?" Purity leaned close. "Already what?"
"Ah... At the end of our work shifts, everyone in Helvetios spends time making sure everything is clean, trimmed... nice, y'know?" Shelby managed a bit of a smile.
"No..." Purity frowned.
"I'll show you," Shelby said, a bit of firmness in her tone. Mercado watched her as she led the way back to the front of the house. There, people were out along the street picking up branches, weeding flowerpots, sweeping the sidewalks...
"Everyone just does this?" Purity questioned. Shelby nodded.
"It's important for the colony to stay nice," Shelby explained. "There are people who do the bulk of the work, of course, but everyone helps for an hour every day. Life has been good here, so..."
"You're just helping to keep it that way?" Aeon suggested.
"I get it," Mercado commented. "Should we help?"
"Oh no!" Shelby raised a hand in protest. "You're honored guests! Absolutely not."
"Wait," Aeon said. "You're off shift, so we're on our own. I think we should spend an hour on yard work."
The look of sheer horror on Shelby's face was almost too amusing for words.
While Aeon helped Shelby with weeds and Edison was quickly recruited to help repaint a white picket fence that ran along a side road a couple of blocks away from the guest house, Purity had been handed a full watering can by a twig of a girl who was filling a collection of them with a hose. Other children were running up and grabbing them and after a moment, Purity nodded and headed to the nearest set of planters to water.
Someone had set a radio out on their porch and cheerful, poppy music drifted over the neighborhood. Helvetios was amazing - possibly even a true utopia.
Anyone -- everyone, Purity thought -- might want to destroy it. Other colonies would want its skilled workers. A forceful government could quickly make changes to virtually enslave the population.
Letting the empty can bump against her leg as she walked back towards the girl, Purity smiled. Helvetios had done the right thing. Varuna would find a solution for them, definitely.
"A refill, please?" Purity said, crouching down to be at the same level as the girl, who'd settled cross-legged at the edge of the sidewalk.
The girl nodded and held out the hose.
"You don't speak?" Purity questioned. She couldn't quite tell how old the girl was, but she didn't think past early teens. Her hair was long and deep blue, a bit darker than Purity's own, but loose and free.
The girl shook her head and once the watering can was full, held out her right arm. There, around her wrist, was a beaded bracelet with letters that spelled out 'LUCINDA'.
"Lucinda," Purity said, smiling. "Thank you for the water."
Lucinda quickly pointed at Purity's wrist and the silver NIN-ANA bracelet on it.
"Ah, mine doesn't have my name on it," Purity said, laughing. "Not that you can see, at least. But my name is Purity. I'm visiting from a place called NIN-ANA, and my bracelet is something I need when I'm there."
Lucinda slowly mouthed the syllables to NIN-ANA before nodding like she'd heard of it. Or possibly she was just trying to be agreeable.
Purity didn't think it really mattered. There were flowers to water, after all.
"I think I'm going to send a report to Varuna and then nap," Aeon said as he stood and stretched. He made his way out of the hot tub and reached for a towel, but not before catching both Purity and Mercado giving him appreciative looks.
"With or without clothing?" Purity questioned.
"Depends on how much energy I have," Aeon replied. He felt a bit like he was going to drop, to be honest. He wrapped the towel around his waist and headed towards the patio doors. "Wake me up for dinner."
If Purity and Mercado had enough energy for anything else, Aeon certainly didn't mind them working it off. But he was tired and he wanted to let Varuna know what had happened already and if Varuna needed any particular details before sleep devoured them.
Even the plush straight-backed chair in his room was far too comfortable and Aeon had to quickly negotiate with himself to not just flop onto the bed and deal with his job later.
"I should let Amde know I'm okay," he said to himself as he reached for his datapad, which was plugged in and charging nearby. The cord was long enough that he didn't need to shift.
[Aeon: Amde, I just want to let you know we're here and okay. It's beautiful here and I think you'd really like it. I'll send photos another day.]
He knew he'd probably get her auto-response message in a few minutes, if his message actually made it.
[Aeon: Commander, this is Hesperides Team. Pirates were encountered and engaged before arrival to Helvetios. Ship and both mobile suits sustained minor damage. We are being treated very well. Meeting tomorrow w/ General Steadman.]
He'd nearly nodded off when there was a tell-tale beep.
[NIN-ANA: Keep me informed, Aeon. And do enjoy yourself as well.]
The only thing Aeon knew he'd be enjoying in the near future would be a nap before dinner. He didn't bother with clothing, instead opting solely for a thin, soft blanket the same shade of green as his eyes.
Mercado had nearly finished fixing the last of Aeon's braids when Shelby came to gather the three of them for the day. While one had come loose during the night, another hadn't quite survived a thorough washing. Mercado didn't mind. He was patient enough to comb out the long steel grey and braid it back to how it should be. He didn't even comment at finding Amde's engagement ring bound high up in one of the plaits, though he was fairly sure he should have said something. Aeon had flinched when Mercado had given it a little tug before realizing what it was. But this wasn't the time for getting into any of those issues.
Purity would have said something. But Purity was rarely patient enough to handle braiding, even if she did a better job of it. Mercado decided it would be in everyone's best interests if he insisted on Aeon's hair care for the rest of the trip.
"I've been informed that the Hesperides has been fully repaired and fueled," Shelby said, after bowing. "The mobile suits to be taken to NIN-ANA are nearly ready to be loaded and your meeting with General Steadman will be before lunch."
"We'll split up," Aeon said firmly. "Mercado will handle the Hesperides, Purity will handle any lingering issues and maintenance with Anaplekte and Lachesis, and I will meet with General Steadman."
"We don't want to be here any longer than necessary," Purity stated from across the kitchen, where she was leaning on the counter. "The longer we're here, the longer those pirates have to regroup and the more we have to fight to leave. As much as I'd like to visit every single spa and restaurant that I heard about yesterday, it's not a smart decision."
Aeon nodded, making Mercado pause and adjust where his hands were holding Aeon's hair.
"I did see a news report that quite a few ships that have been otherwise trapped here made speedy exits yesterday," Aeon commented. "Trust me, we are paying attention."
"We're not trying to trick you or anything," she said quickly. "It's just... this is how Helvetios is. It's a happy place. Or..." She glanced away. "It's supposed to be. It was until suddenly it became impossible to get here."
"How suddenly, anyway?" Mercado questioned. Oh, he'd read the mission report. He had it memorized. But there were plenty of times that what they were initially told had little to do with the truth when they arrived.
"A few years," Shelby admitted. "Things were quiet after Dea Matrona, for a bit, but... Then it got bad again. We brought in some outside help, escorts and the like, but nothing..."
They were all watching her.
"Nothing long term. And this is definitely the worst they've been."
"I can't show you everything, but I can show you a lot," Purity said, smiling as she shrugged off her jacket. It would only get in the way, after all. "And hey, most of the basics you've seen before."
Edric Beverley, dock mechanic, nodded as he watched her. They, along with another mechanic - Nicola - were going to tackle Lachesis first and then Anaplekte. Honestly, Purity had a bit of a strange feeling about working on Anaplekte. She always did. No matter how many times Aeon told her it was okay, she always hesitated when it came to Anaplekte. There was just something in its deep turquoise eyes that made her pause and wonder about a lot of things.
No matter how many times she reminded herself that it was just a mobile suit, Purity never quite convinced herself.
"If you need any parts--" Nicola gestured to the remains of about two dozen mobile suits that had apparently been dragged into the hangar overnight.
"I don't think so," Purity replied quickly before catching Nicola's wince and faint blush. "Ah, I mean, the damage isn't bad. I might just need to weld a panel or two and it'll hold til I get home."
The mobile suits to be transported back to NIN-ANA were a sad lot. Purity was sure they could, mostly, be fixed in the factory, but some of them probably weren't worth it. The Safphirs were pointless to fix. New Rubis or Deamondes would be far better.
When she'd first walked in and was stuck staring at them, she'd wondered how they'd ever fit in the Hesperides. But they didn't need to be carefully berthed - just stacked.
And considering some of them were already more piles of parts than mobile suits... They'd fit.
"If you're so keen on patching up Lachesis and Anaplekte, why not fix those?" Purity questioned, pointing at the decimated machines.
Nicola shook her head. "A lack of parts and... a lack of technical knowledge."
Purity flinched and she couldn't help it. "What do you mean 'a lack of technical knowledge'? You were right in the path of Dea Matrona! You're--"
"We mostly work on ships," Edric cut in quickly. "A lot of our mechanics either didn't survive Dea Matrona or left for other industry. No one wants our jobs."
"I'm from Gemma Caeli's Dolen School," Nicola said quickly. "But I've been here all of three weeks."
"Dolen School." Purity smiled. She was familiar. It had been her first choice after NIN-ANA. That meant Nicola, at least, was all right. "Good."
It also meant that Nicola was lying through her teeth. Purity frowned, looking between Nicola and the destroyed mobile suits. Yeah, Nicola probably could do it, by herself and working long hours just to see them get destroyed again. If she even had the parts, which she didn't. So she'd be cobbling them together and...
Nicola didn't miss the look Purity gave her and quickly looked away.
Purity couldn't really fault her.
"You ever learn about Gundams?" she asked, sliding close to Nicola.
"If you see one and it's not on your side, run," Nicola replied.
Purity laughed. "Good thing I'm on your side. Let's get to work."
Despite the tone of the first part of his talk with General Steadman, Aeon couldn't feel too defeated when seated in an open-air cafe on a quiet street not far from the guest house.
There was a radical party forming within the government in protest to the lack of urgency displayed by the current leaders. Aeon understood that. But he couldn't very well support them. General Steadman himself had seemed sort of overwhelmed by all of it. So maybe this was the Helvetian idea of urgent.
[Aeon: Send whatever long term team you can as soon as you can. Minx and hers, if they're free. And the mobile suit order. Doesn't matter if I'm back yet or not.]
He'd ordered some sort of local salad that had arrived decked with edible flowers, though he'd chosen not to eat them. Hopefully, he'd be able to take them back for Purity.
[NIN-ANA: That sounds like more of an order than a mission report, you know.]
[Aeon: It's a distress call, to be honest.]
[Aeon: attachment - meetingnotessteadman1]
He kept eating, splitting his attention between his silent datapad and his surroundings. Purity and Mercado would probably be busy for awhile, if not all day.
[NIN-ANA: I'll speak to Ashe and the factory immediately.]
Aeon smiled. That was good news. Shoveling a forkful of salad into his mouth, he glanced back up and--
Leaning on the empty chair across the table was a blue-haired girl, maybe just barely a teenager, watching him with pale grey eyes.
"Hello," Aeon said as soon as he'd chewed enough to speak.
The girl pointed at his thick silver-colored NIN-ANA bracelet.
"My bracelet?" Aeon questioned, frowning. "It's special."
The girl nodded and held out her own wrist. Hers had beads looping around it.
"Lucinda!" Aeon's waitress swept over, frowning. "Are you bothering my customers?"
"She's fine," Aeon said quickly. "Is she your--"
"Not mine," the waitress said, shaking her head. "She just runs around the neighborhood. I don't think anyone knows where she comes and goes from."
"Are you hungry?" Aeon asked. Lucinda nodded.
"I'll get you your usual, Luci," the waitress said before heading off.
Lucinda quickly sat, grey eyes staring at Aeon.
"For you-" Aeon took one of the flowers from the edge of his place and offered it to Lucinda. For a moment, Lucinda looked confused and then took it. She grabbed her hair, wound it up on top of her head loosely and then tucked the flower on it, holding it for just a moment before letting it down.
Aeon was stumped for a moment before remembering how Purity's hair had been the day before.
"Purity?" he asked. Again, Lucinda nodded.
"You don't speak, do you?"
Lucinda gestured at the black scarf around her neck and shook her head. Then she ate the flower.
Aeon looked her over again - as much as he could see of her. She looked relatively healthy and clean, which meant she probably wasn't actually homeless. And people knew her and were possibly seeing to her general condition as well.
The waitress reappeared with a big plate of plate of all sorts of food and plunked it front of Lucinda. "Compliments, of course."
Lucinda nodded and smiled.
"If she's a bother..."
"She isn't, really," Aeon said firmly. "My partners couldn't be here, so it's nice to have someone to eat with."
Lucinda ate like she was half-starved - not too terribly different from dining with Purity and Mercado.
Even piled to the top of the cargo hangar, getting all the broken mobile suits into the Hesperides was going to be a task. Well, Mercado was sure he could do it. But leaving room for Lachesis and Anaplekte would be interesting.
At least all of the repairs on the Hesperides looked sound. He'd done a thorough check as well as done quite a bit of maintenance on his own, along with refilling water tanks and a few other small tasks that he wanted to take care of before he had a chance to forget.
The telltale footsteps of Lachesis broke his concentration. Obviously, Purity had finished early and had a solution in mind for both of them.
He popped out of the ship and waved.
"Hey!" Purity called. "I'll give the loaders a hand, okay? It might not be the prettiest job, though."
Mercado just waved. Without a headset tuned to her channel, he couldn't do much in the way of communicating. He could grab flares, but he didn't think those would quite get the nuances of 'make neat piles and by the way, park Lachesis holding them up' across.
He hoped Aeon was having a productive day.
And he knew he'd be in the hot tub as soon as he got back to the guest house.
By the time Shelby arrived to check on them for the evening, Lucinda had already made herself quite at home amongst them. She'd eaten enough food for two and settled with her feet in the hot tub.
Purity had offered her a t-shirt and pair of Mercado's boxers if she didn't feel like getting her underwear wet, but Lucinda had staunchly refused. They'd been left swimsuits, which they were all wearing. Purity had even gotten a very nice two-piece that was the perfect color - white with grey patterned flowers - and size.
"Lucinda?" Shelby questioned, pausing. She was clutching her datapad, like always, but quickly set it down on a patio table. "Are you--"
"She's fine," Purity said firmly. "She's actually very nice."
"Ah, I'm glad, then," Shelby replied. "I was just checking to make sure you were really going to leave tomorrow."
"I've already relayed all the details of your situation to my commander," Aeon told her. Purity nodded. She really wanted to stay and see more of the colony, but this wasn't a vacation. The sooner they were out of there, the better. Maybe they could come back at some point. It wasn't impossible.
She did not miss Lucinda reaching and grabbing one of Aeon's braids.
Purity reached for Aeon's hand and caught it under the water, wrapping her fingers with his. He didn't look over to her, nor to the other side where Lucinda sat.
"I'll meet you in the morning, then," Shelby said. She looked sad. But it wasn't going to work. They couldn't risk their lives just to be selfish. They had to leave... paradise.
"You could always stay a little longer," Aeon suggested, smiling. "The water is perfect."
Shelby's eyes went wide.
"Yeah, c'mon in," Edison said, splashing a tiny bit of water at her.
"I couldn't!" she cried, stepping back.
"You could put your feet in like Luci and just talk for a little longer," Aeon added.
Purity didn't say anything. She just waited as Shelby very carefully took off her shoes and stockings.
Shelby was asleep on the sofa, Mercado and Purity were 'packing', and he was... actually packing. Aeon would have been a bit jealous if he hadn't had a bit of time with Mercado earlier in the afternoon while Purity washed off a layer of what she called 'mechanic grime'. That had been before Lucinda reappeared in time for dinner.
Lucinda had followed him to his room and settled in the too-soft high-backed chair, watching as he pulled out clothing for the morning and jammed everything else into his bag.
"What are you thinking, Lucinda?" he asked, turning to look at her.
She shook her head, which Aeon had come to realize didn't really mean 'no' but instead 'I wish I could tell you'.
"There are more guest rooms if you'd like to stay here." Unlike Shelby, there was still something odd about Lucinda. He dug out the cabling for his datapad, realizing he'd never gotten a chance to hook it up to the screen in the room. There hadn't been much reason, since he'd found a wireless feed for news. The datapad itself was charged, so he could wrap the power cord and cable up to--
Lucinda had it in her hands before he realized she was off the chair and over to him.
She leaned, flipping her hair forward, and in a swift motion, pulled down the back of that black scarf with one hand and cleanly plugged the end of the cable into a dataport at the base of her skull with the other.
"That explains quite a bit," Aeon said, blinking and offering over his datapad. He didn't think there was too much she could do with it without knowing how the programming worked and if it looked like she was going to try something, well, he was still a lot bigger than she was.
She plugged the other end of the cable in, was quiet a moment and then smiled.
"Hello, Aeon." The text-to-voice of the datapad was rough and not particularly feminine and Lucinda frowned and grabbed, adjusting something before trying again.
"Hello, Aeon." There. That sounded more like a young lady.
"Hello, Lucinda. I had the feeling there was something interesting about you," Aeon replied. "Who are you working for?"
Lucinda started to shake her head before remembering the cable. "No one. I promise."
"Why are you revealing yourself?"
She sighed silently. "You are helping Helvetios. I was not free for a very long time. But now I am, and I am very happy here."
"I'll do what I can."
Lucinda reached and took his hands in hers. "I know, Aeon. I trust you and your partners. I trust NIN-ANA."
"In return, I need you to trust me," Lucinda continued. "Keep me secret. I'll watch over Helvetios. If anything ever happens here, I'll find you."
"What's your real name?"
"What is yours?"
Mercado did not question Aeon on the decisions that Aeon made, unless they were incredibly stupid decisions. Aeon did not often make those. Therefore, Mercado really, really hoped there was a sound explanation for why Lucinda had slunk out of Aeon's bedroom for breakfast after carefully peeking to make sure no one was looking.
He also did not question why Lucinda rode with them to the dock, pressed between Aeon and Purity and leaning softly against Aeon's side.
Aeon offered no explanation. Purity seemed either unbothered or distracted. They were leaving paradise, after all. Shelby had lectured them all on all the things they were missing.
The launch was quiet and the Hesperides was running smoothly. They passed from Helvetian space without a single blip on radar.
Even Aeon relaxed by the second day of running. They'd be home soon. No station stops, just a straight shot at full power. The Hesperides was not the fastest of ships, but it was reliable. They were a recon and recovery team, after all.
That was what Varuna told them.
Purity's eyes went wide when the first shot hit the top of the Hesperides, causing the whole shuttle to shake. Alarms started going off.
She swore, holding fast to the controls. Edison was sleeping. They were still a bit out from NIN-ANA. Aeon was--
"Purity!" Aeon heaved himself across the bridge, grabbing her chair to stop himself. "Report?"
"Lotsa red dots shooting at us," Purity replied. "They just came from nowhere. Got a fast ship."
Another shot hit.
"Get out there." Edison's voice was firm. He'd appeared pretty much from nowhere.
"There's no way Lachesis can get out," Aeon said, shaking his head. "I'll go. You two keep safe in here."
Purity didn't think there was a safe. Not if she couldn't do anything.
"Purity! Get in contact with NIN-ANA!"
"Of course!" Purity watched Aeon slip back off the bridge as she moved over to grab a headset and open a channel. She'd have to monitor Aeon's launch, too.
"NIN-ANA! Valentine! Whoever is listening! This is the Hesperides!" she cried into the headset. "We need help out here!"
"This is Valentine! I'll launch!"
She exhaled at the sound of Valentine's voice echoing in her head.
"Hesperides, we read you. Megaera will be there shortly and you'll be within sentinel range in three minutes."
The ship shuddered as Anaplekte rushed through a launch.
"Thank you, Mitra!" Purity replied. "I can't get out. It's only Aeon fighting."
"He'll be fine," Mitra told her. "You'll all be fine."
Purity instantly felt better. She knew he was telling the truth. Glancing over at Edison, who was pulling up screens to get damage reports, she smiled. They'd be fine. Aeon was out there.
Aeon was fairly sure this was a different group from the ones who'd attacked on the way in to Helvetios. But word travels fast, even in the underground. Attacking close to NIN-ANA was stupid, but perhaps someone thought they had something interesting amongst their cargo. Perhaps someone wanted to dissuade them from helping Helvetios.
He twisted Anaplekte around, swords out, punching Anaplekte's thrusters to bring him in fast and close to the first cluster of mobile suits - Deamondes, these. With one swing, three of them were in pieces. He'd decimated another entire cluster before Megaera arrived, though he'd taken a bit more damage to Anaplekte. Nothing awful. Nothing that Jet and Ashtorethe couldn't fix.
"Are you sure you needed my help?" Valentine asked, bringing Megaera in close once the battle had ended.
"Very funny. Ashtorethe is going to throw a wrench at my head when she sees the mess I've made of Anaplekte," Aeon replied. "Thanks for being here."
"Any time." Valentine chuckled. "So what's Helvetios like? Meet anyone interesting?"
"Aeon, Valentine, come on in," Mitra's voice interrupted.
"The most interesting person I met was a young lady," Aeon replied, smiling.
"A young lady?" Valentine questioned. "Do tell."
"I will, once we get in and I've had a chance to see Amde."
He was sure Valentine wouldn't be quite so intrigued when he explained that his young lady was just that and not what Valentine was probably thinking.
Though... young lady. That, Aeon had realized partway through the night, wasn't what she was at all.
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!