Mobile Suit Gundam Iscariot: System Command
Title: Mobile Suit Gundam ISCARIOT: System Command
Fandom: Gundam (Meta)
Disclaimer: No profit is being made on this fanwork.
Rating: T Overall
Summary: Lancaster Dusk has a mission go bad/Solitaire begins a new life.
Notes: aka 'Shades of Beige' or 'This fic is about what everyone eats for breakfast'.
"There you are! I was worried!" A woman in a dark fitted jacket and long red skirt came rushing over to them as they walked across campus towards Dolen's office. She had wavy long black hair and darker skin - not as dark as Lucien's, but closer to Solitaire's own.
"Rosella Jewell," Lucien said as she grew closer. "Rosella, I was with our new friend, Mister Terry."
Rosella bowed and then paused when she saw how Solitaire was still holding Lucien's hand. Honestly, Solitaire hadn't really thought about it - he had no idea how easy it was for Lucien to navigate and if he was helping, he was helping.
"Thank you for guiding him," Rosella said softly. "And Lucien, you know you have meetings all day. I can't believe you're pushing so close to--"
"Terry, I'll see you later, okay?" Lucien interrupted, letting go and transferring himself over to Rosella. "Give my regards to Dolen."
Solitaire nodded, watching as Rosella practically dragged Lucien off in the direction she'd appeared from. Whatever Lucien did, it was obviously important. And he didn't seem like the simple sort to wrangle.
A colony-controller-class cyborg. Solitaire wished he had two things - a few extra minutes and his younger brother Nick. Nick was the information hound. If he was going somewhere or doing something, he read up on it first and made sure he understood.
He pulled out his datapad and pinned a note on the main screen- 'research colony-controllers'.
And then he continued on to the place Dolen had indicated.
"Are you hungry?"
Solitaire was a little surprised that Dolen had chosen to meet in a small on-campus cafe until the smell of food hit him. His stomach growled and he was forced to nod.
"Sit, order whatever you'd like," Dolen told him. "We have a lot to talk about."
Solitaire sat across from Dolen without comment. The cafe was small - maybe a half-dozen tables total, small staff of what looked like mostly students, sparse decor. The chairs were red plastic. The table was marred with years of food and notes.
It took Solitaire a moment, but he saw Mary there too, reading something on her datapad at the farthest back table.
"Here?" Solitaire finally questioned.
Dolen nodded. The door jingled open and a student came in to pick up a take-out order. Solitaire didn't see everything, but there was an exchange of waves between the student and Dolen.
"They do a brisk carry-out business," Dolen noted. "Apparently I scare off anyone wanting to sit."
Solitaire chuckled and nodded. He'd seen NIN-ANA's school head, Mitra, do much the same thing to first year students. The ones who didn't know him at least.
He pulled a laminated menu from against the wall and looked it over. One of everything sounded good.
The waitress - young and smiling and apparently used to Dolen's presence - was over in a moment to get his order.
Dolen didn't say anything until Solitaire had tucked the menu back aside. His own meal was large - a surprise to Solitaire. Solitaire hadn't thought cyborgs had to eat as much - that they generally had modifications done to power-- well, maybe it was really more individual than he'd realized. Dolen's strawberry-topped pancakes looked amazing.
He promptly ordered a plate for himself to go along with a few other things.
"I took a look at your Gundam last afternoon," Dolen said. "Beautiful machine. Interesting design - different from what I was expecting, though I've heard Varuna has a new in-house designer."
"Jet Zero," Solitaire said, trying not to be proud of his friend. "He's..."
"A friend?" Dolen suggested. Solitaire nodded and sighed.
"He gave you a great gift, then," Dolen added. "No mere Safphir or Emeralde would have made it from Altere."
"Altere-- how is--?" Solitaire wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.
"Media reports a small uprising that was quickly squashed," Dolen said after eating a bite of those delicious looking pancakes. "I haven't heard anything from the one person there I'd like to talk to, though, and that has me worried."
The scarred table was instantly more interesting than the sparkling emerald green of Dolen's eyes.
"I'm sure she's fine," Dolen said quickly. "And whatever happened there, it isn't your fault.
"I don't know..."
"Lan, I can't promise I'll figure out what went wrong in Altere, but I do want you to trust my words," Dolen said quickly. Solitaire did not miss the slip in Dolen's reference to him. He didn't comment on it.
"So what do you want to do now?" Dolen questioned.
"Your friend Lucien asked me the same thing."
Dolen chuckled in between bites. "He and I are friends now, are we?"
"I barely know what he is," Solitaire replied. "You're letting him run loose in your domain--"
"He's an associate," Dolen noted. "It's a good idea to know him, even better to be liked by him."
"Sounds like a load of--"
"Did he ask you to work for him?"
"Yes, once I'd finished talking to you," Solitaire replied. Dolen nodded and was quiet as the waitress delivered Solitaire's meal. He'd thought he'd ordered too much food, but now he wasn't sure. It all looked amazing and he was ravenous.
"Thank you," he managed, before digging in.
"I think you should accept his offer," Dolen continued. "While you're obviously skilled, I unfortunately have little use for you. I'll support you, however I can, but your lot is best cast with Lucien."
"I'll be able to do some good out there?"
Dolen nodded. "I can only reach within a certain sphere. Lucien can reach farther, but even he has his limits. You... can go father."
Dolen smiled. Solitaire shoved pancakes into his mouth.
"Commander Varuna has not inquired for you," Dolen added.
Solitaire frowned. He wasn't sure if he should be upset or relieved.
"Let me know about your friend on Altere," Solitaire finally said.
"I will." Dolen wiped his mouth.
Solitaire continued plowing through his food. He couldn't help himself even though he knew how ridiculous he likely looked.
"Feel free to come here for lunch," Dolen added, chuckling. "They don't serve dinner, though, but you should be able to find something on campus. There are plenty of credits on your Zeeko Card."
"You are familiar with the Zeeko Card system, right?" Dolen questioned.
Solitaire nodded. "Yeah... Varuna gives them out for missions. But I didn't get a chance to grab anything..."
"Do you know much about the Zeeko Company that administers them?"
Solitaire shook his head. He glanced up at a bit of movement behind Dolen. It was Mary, smiling softly.
"Dolen, sir, it's time to go," she said.
Dolen nodded. "We'll talk again," he said as he stood. "Rest, think, and wait for that greedy dragon to visit you again."
Solitaire nodded, unable to question Dolen's choice in words since his mouth was full of hash browns. By the time he swallowed, Dolen was gone and he was alone with another round of thoughts.
Solitaire was a little surprised that he actually could remember the last time he'd laid on the grass. He'd been fourteen and trying to read a comic on the datapad he'd gotten for his birthday. Nick had been six and just wanted his brother's attention. He'd gotten mad and yelled at Nick and Nick had started crying...
They'd ended up reading the comic together, though mostly he'd read out loud while Nick looked at the pictures.
Nick had said he wanted to be superhero someday. They'd decided to be superheroes together - fighting bad guys. They were going to always be close.
Solitaire hoped Nick would understand.
Pinned alongside his note for colony-controller cyborgs was a note to check out Zeeko.
He was glad he chose to read up on Zeeko first. Because the acting CEO of Zeeko - four-hundred-and-seventy-two quarters of above-expected profits - was none other than Lucien Zeeko VI.
Solitaire strongly suspected that Lucien was also Lucien Zeeko I through V, but he understood the need to not be that obvious with what he was. After all, colony-controller-class cyborgs weren't even legal any longer, were they?
Surprisingly, they were. The article he found was long, but basically explained that very few cyborg modifications were flatly illegal, others were regulated by specific colonies, but most were just limited by the age of the subject.
There was just a small section, vague, about experiments done on children in the far past.
But many colonies employed at least part-time controllers for maintenance, citing the need for human input into the priority of projects and an understanding of logistics that couldn't be properly given to a computer program.
He read on about the physical modifications required and the interfaces involved. Honestly, he wished he'd paid more attention when Amde was telling him about what she was learning in her classes.
Solitaire wished he'd paid more attention to the times he'd gotten to glance at how Varuna was constructed.
'Many colony controllers live perfectly normal lives when not working.'
Not quite willing to get up, he kept reading about various other cyborg modifications, including lesser controller functions, including the popularity of space ships with cyborg-assisted navigation and general operating as well as current debates on cyborg-assisted mobile suits and weaponry.
"Why not?" Solitaire asked softly. He turned off the datapad's screen and looked up at the 'sky'.
He decided to go check on Atropos.
"Who let you in here?"
At first, Solitaire thought someone was speaking to him. But no, the voices were farther ahead in the hallway - closer to the hangars.
There was no response.
But, by the time he arrived at the doors to where he knew Atropos would be housed, Solitaire found the source. Two students were barring the door from another, lanky man.
"Excuse me," Solitaire said. "I need to get through."
"No one passes without permission from Dolen," one of the students said. "There's a special project in-progress..."
"That's what I want to see--"
"It's a Gundam, isn't it?" Solitaire said, smiling. That, likely, wasn't much of a secret. Atropos had been seen by far too many people coming in.
"How do you know that?" the second questioned.
"I have permission to see it," Solitaire continued. "I don't know if you have a list, or what, but my name is Terry Dolen and I'm going through that door."
The two students looked at each other for a long moment.
"Yeah, you're fine," the one finally said. "But this guy--"
Solitaire hadn't realized that the other young man's dark hair wasn't brown until just that moment. But it wasn't - it was a deep shade of red. And there was something about him...
"He's with me. I told him to meet me here and I guess he was early," Solitaire said quickly, reaching to throw an arm around the man's shoulders. "C'mon. I'm sorry to keep you waiting."
He was rewarded with a small smile and a quick upward glance with bright aqua eyes.
"Nice to meet you," Solitaire said once the door had been closed behind him. Atropos wasn't the only machine in the hangar - there were a couple of Emeraldes and a heavily customized Deamonde also being worked on. But Atropos was the ultimate eye catcher.
"Yeah--" the man broke away and stepped over to stare up at Atropos. His voice wasn't much louder than a whisper. "That's not, ah, yours, is it?"
"It's mine. Its name is Atropos."
The man's gaze snapped back to Solitaire. "That's one mess of a name to give it."
Solitaire chuckled. "I know."
"Thanks for letting me see it."
"You obviously wanted to. Ah--"
The man smiled again. "Mallory Kane. And you're really 'Terry Dolen'?"
"For now," Solitaire said. The longer he looked at Mallory, the older he realized Mallory was. But then again, unlike NIN-ANA, Dolen's school wasn't secondary education. "You're a student?"
"Just finishing up," Mallory replied. "I completely failed my internship, though, so I guess I have another semester ahead of me."
"Can I look at Atropos?" Mallory asked, still speaking in his loud whisper. "Closer, I mean? I don't really feel so bad when I know there are such amazing machines out there..."
Solitaire couldn't help smiling and nodded. He could see a little bit of Jet in Mallory - young and looking up and amazed by possibility.
"You were fighting in the war?" Mallory questioned. "Every time someone says it's going to be over, there's another battle."
"I've fought in quite a few battles," Solitaire admitted. "Both in this machine and another called Anaplekte."
"I'm not sure I know that one," Mallory said after a moment. "Do you--"
"A quick and painful death," Solitaire said.
"Oh." Mallory circled closer and ran his hands over the metal of Atropos's feet before looking up through ankles and legs and eventually just leaning.
Solitaire couldn't help thinking that Mallory would get along well with Mick. He seemed like a reader, at least.
From where Solitaire stood, he could see parts of Atropos that had been repaired already. But most of the errors and warning he'd gotten hadn't been external. And honestly, he knew he needed to do some of the work himself. Dolen's team literally couldn't do everything. And no one knew Atropos like he did aside from Jet.
"Want to give me a hand for a bit?" Solitaire questioned, brushing by Mallory. "You don't have to--"
"Anything you want!" Mallory said quickly, beaming. "Just tell me what to do."
Kenzie's door was open when Solitaire arrived back to the dorm after feeding Mallory and sending him on his way. They'd managed an impressive amount of repairs before food became a priority, which left Solitaire more than pleased.
"Kenzie?" Solitaire knocked on Kenzie's doorframe and waited.
"Hold on-- hey--"
Solitaire was not expecting Kenzie to appear in a mini-dress and stockings, nor was he expecting Kenzie to look quite good like that.
"Weird hobby," Kenzie said quickly, wincing. "Sorry--"
Solitaire shook his head. "It's fine. I just wonder about something-- well, someone I met today. You might know him?"
Kenzie nodded. "Mind talking while I finish my make-up?"
"Not at all," Solitaire replied, following as Kenzie gestured toward the bathroom. Along the way, he saw dresses strewn everywhere. Apparently Kenzie had trouble deciding what to wear.
"So who did you want to ask about? I can't say I know everyone--"
Kenzie exhaled slowly and audibly. "Yeah, okay, I know him. He's been here forever and taken like every class offered."
Solitaire nodded. "He's my age."
"He's not, like, bad or anything--" Kenzie shook his head and then went back to the compacts of eye-shadow he had on the sink.
"But?" Solitaire questioned. "And you should do a purple with that dress."
"I have a friend who is the girliest little girl who can throw me across a room," Solitaire said with a chuckle. "She's given me a few lectures in color."
"Ah. Well, Mallory is just that guy that I guess doesn't know what to do with himself. So he stays here," Kenzie continued. He grabbed a palette of purples and got to work. "He seems pretty nice. I've had a couple of classes with him. But I don't know-- he's just stuck in a rut, I guess."
Solitaire nodded. That wasn't quite his assessment of Mallory, but he wasn't going to comment.
"Are you going out?" he finally asked as he watched Kenzie blend his shadow.
"Yeah," Kenzie replied. "Want to come along? I don't have a date."
Shaking his head, Solitaire glanced back in the direction of his own room. "My sleep schedule is still off - I was up in the middle of the night and only managed two meals aside from those sandwiches."
Solitaire smiled at Kenzie and gave his shoulder a firm squeeze. "Next time. But tonight, I really need to take care of myself."
"I'm going to hold you to that," Kenzie said, echoing Solitaire's smile.
"I think I saw you two at Dea Matrona - one of the last big battles."
Christiane - Commander Rico Christiane - gave Lan a quick thump on the back and a smile.
"You saw Atropos," Lan replied, shaking his head. "Not necessarily me in the cockpit."
"It was assigned elsewhere," Lan explained. "But between it being the better machine and its pilot ending up in a med-clinic of his own doing... I probably flew it most of the time anyway."
Christiane shook his head. "Can't fault you that. Or him. Those battles broke some of the strongest men I've ever worked with."
Lan nodded. He genuinely liked Christiane. Not just because he was also a Dea Matrona veteran, or a pilot in general - not because he was the one who'd put out the job... No, Lan just liked him. He was an honest guy - hardworking. Knew his stuff.
"I thought Altere would be a nice quiet place, and there have been skirmishes nearby four times in the last two months," Christiane continued. "And since we can't stop the fighting, we can at least be ready to defend the colony."
"How many recruits do you have?" Lan questioned.
Christiane sighed. "So far? Aside from myself, four."
It took Lan a moment to remember how to talk. But then he just chuckled. "We can work with four. If we show off a bit, some other curious folks might join up."
Nodding, Christiane drew a datapad out of his jacket pocket.
"Siduri suggests we'll need at least twenty in case of a true assault."
"The Siduri System," Christiane explained. "It's the computer system that maintains basic colony functions. I can get you a datapad with its application installed, if you'd like. That way you can run information through it and see if it likes your numbers."
"We're dealing with people, not numbers," Lan replied. "But... I don't think it'd hurt if I could look around inside colony operations a bit. I'm not a threat."
Christiane looked back to Atropos and chuckled.
Solitaire wasn't surprised that he'd slept for a full ten hours.
Instead of Dolen waiting for him at the small cafe, Lucien and Rosella sat at one of the tables. A quick glance around didn't reveal any cameras, though Solitaire didn't rule out that Lucien had other means. He was doing an exceptionally practiced job of eating an omelette, at least. Rosella's smaller plate was already empty.
"Come, sit with us," Rosella called after a few seconds. "It's a beautiful morning, isn't it?"
"It's good to be alive," Solitaire replied as he slipped through the cafe and pulled out one of those red plastic chairs.
"Dolen said to give you a chance," he said as he sat.
"I doubt those are his words," Lucien replied, reaching up to dab around his mouth with his napkin. "You sound like you've done your research."
"I don't necessarily see why you'd need me, in particular," Solitaire said. The lone waitress slipped up and asked his order, which he gave quickly.
"It's simple," Lucien began, only to be interrupted by Rosella coughing.
"Here--" Solitaire offered her the glass of water that the waitress had left.
"Thank you," she managed, clutching it and drinking. She had tears in her eyes when she looked back to him.
"Rosella, would you like to get some fresh air?" Lucien questioned, reaching over to stroke her arm.
"Yes, thank you both," she said softly. "I'll be just outside."
Lucien was quiet until Rosella was outside.
"She doesn't want to be a cyborg," Lucien said softly, before sighing. "Normally, I can buy anything I want. I can't buy her health."
He poked at his omelette.
"And I would, Mister Dusk-- I would."
Solitaire couldn't help but think about Amde - his Amde who was going to be a doctor. Though he was sure Lucien had already exhausted resources far beyond what a sole doctor-in-training could do. But Amde--
Solitaire missed her.
"I need you because there are things I can't do," Lucien said firmly. "Things I find out about and would like to do something about. It wouldn't be a constant employment and you'd be free to find your own work, of course."
"Freelance?" Solitaire questioned. There had been plenty of freelancers at Dea Matrona. None had much to say about the life, other than it was hard and sometimes work was scarce. "I don't have a crew or equipment--"
"That can be remedied," Lucien said, smiling. "And you have Atropos."
"I'd need a ship and at least a partner," Solitaire said without really thinking about what he was saying. Altere -- he'd just gotten so used to thinking on his feet and telling everyone what he needed and what they needed.
But this wasn't a mission any longer. There was no beginning, no end, no-- no NIN-ANA.
The waitress plunked a plate piled high with strawberry-and-whipped-cream-covered white-chocolate-chip pancakes in front of Solitaire and he exhaled.
"Enjoy," she said before swishing off back behind the counter to bag up carry-outs.
"Take a day or two to think about it," Lucien said. His smile was wide, showing perfect white teeth. "Honestly, I can do all the work and meetings and incredibly dull administrative tasks for my business from here. And Rosella likes Gemma Caeli. We're not going anywhere any time soon."
Solitaire nodded and started on his pancakes. He poked at the whipped cream and knew if Nick was there, he'd be begging to steal it.
"I... read up on Zeeko," Solitaire finally said.
"A truly brilliant move a very long time ago," Lucien noted. "I honestly didn't think it would become my life's work."
"The work of several of my lives, so far. But-- it beats the alternatives."
Lucien leaned a bit closer. "What else did you read?"
Solitaire paused, a forkful of pancakes at his mouth.
"About colony-controller cyborgs," he replied. "I didn't actually realize that people..."
Solitaire popped the pancake bite into his mouth, chewed and swallowed.
"I didn't realize it was still a common job," Solitaire finished.
"Perhaps not common, but extant," Lucien replied. He shrugged. "For most, it's a civil service job. The converted choose it. Same with smaller city-controllers and even ship-controllers. It's a normal job. Only a little more hardware than basic data-entry might want."
"Most non-medical cyborg implants were illegal where I'm from," Solitaire said.
"Advent III, actually," Solitaire corrected. "Good guess, though."
He swallowed hard.
"I was born on Advent II. But we moved before my little brother was born," Solitaire admitted. Lucien knew his birth name, after all. There was probably no guessing involved.
"Current regulations in all but a handful of stations employing any class of controller state that the cyborg must be a fully-grown adult of sound mind," Lucien said. "For a multitude of reasons, including the obvious."
Solitaire couldn't take his eyes off Lucien and stabbed absently at his plate with his fork.
"Though, of course, quite a bit of research was done on children many years ago." Lucien's tone was even. "Nothing pleasant there. Not the conditioning, most of which failed, nor the operations and systematic mutilation... Nor the reliance on constant medication to guard against rejection, infection and..."
Lucien stood and quickly undid the hidden zipper on his black shirt. He pulled it off in a single motion, clutching it in his hands as he turned to show Solitaire his back.
Gleaming against Lucien's dark skin were five - no, seven - silver dataports. One at the base of his skull barely visible beneath dark curls, two on his spine, two buried in his shoulders, and two low toward each wrist.
"Cables and fibers and ports set carefully, strung all about -- but what happens when the puppet hits a growth spurt?"
Solitaire swallowed hard. He'd have to get a box for his pancakes - he wasn't going to eat again any time soon.
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