The Drachenrand stopped dead in its tracks as the Saviour came to stand between it and its intended prey. For a moment the pilots within seethed with anger as their revenge was prevented, but ultimately things worked out differently. It was obvious from their squad-mate’s voice that she was beside herself with worry, and the pause that gave them was enough that they were in a sensible mindset when the proper order to return to base came. Though grudgingly, the black frame deactivated its weapon and turned back to resume its retreat while the twins passed the long flight in silence.
They touched down in the hangar some time after Gavin and Adel had left to deal with something else, and the Drachenrand was returned to its stall. The cockpit opened, and the pilots set about slipping away from it as quickly and quietly as they could. They knew Melissa wasn’t far behind, and right now neither of them was much in the mood to face her. Besides, they had a report to organize.
Approximately an hour and a half later, the twins, still in their flight suits, stood before the door to Commander Schwarzschild’s office. Had either of them claimed not to be nervous at that moment, the other would surely have been able to tell that he was lying. For the time being, they were waiting with steadily growing anxiety to be called in to the office to give the report they had promised.
“When we get in there,” Johan began, turning towards his slightly less foresight inclined brother, “let me do the talking.”
“Please,” Heinreich replied with a roll of his eyes, “you and I both know that-”
“You’re better at talking to people.” Johan interrupted, turning a crimson gaze on his twin. “Normally I would not dispute this, but right now I think it’s better if I do the talking. I know you think that using your nickname is going to make the Kommandant more friendly, but I can tell you right now all it’s going to do is piss her off. We don’t need that right now.” Before his brother could open his mouth to protest, the both of them heard the sound of the door being opened and shifted to stand rigidly at attention.
“Come in. I don’t have all the time in the universe to see you two standing there like a statue.”
“Ja, Kommandant!” The twins replied in unison, before stepping forward from where they had stood and working their way into the office.
“You two, take a seat.” Adelheid said to the two as soon as they entered the room. The twins obliged quickly, seating themselves in the far less comfortable chairs on the near side of the commander’s desk. Gavin stood in the corner of the office, leaning against the wall.
“Explain why I shouldn’t strip you two of your pilot status after today’s fiasco.”
“Quite simply,” Johan began, pausing to cast a glance in his brother’s direction to make certain he wouldn’t be butting in, “because the risk ended up being worth it in the face of the observations we were able to make regarding Lauren Vega’s crash and the events immediately afterwards.” He could almost feel his brother about to punch him for not using the woman’s nickname, but both were smart enough to know this wasn’t the place.
“And what might that be, pray tell? I’d love to hear what you two found that intel and recovery so obviously overlooked.” Gavin’s tone was drenched in incredulity, though he hadn’t lost his usual casual demeanor yet.
“Vizekommondant, intel and recovery took a grand total of sixteen hours, twenty-two minutes, and four seconds to ‘investigate’,” Johan said the word as if it were a swear, “Lauren’s crash. In an area which was still considered an active combat zone. You and I both know that isn’t enough time to give a proper investigation into the matter. Couple that with the fact that they prioritized recovering the Canis in its entirety rather than gathering evidence relating to the aftermath of the crash and I don’t think I need to tell you that was a rushed job. If you remember, their report said she was ‘missing in action, with a high probability of mortality.’ They think she’s dead.”
“Lauren Vega is dead. She is dead. End of story.” Adelheid suddenly raised her voice as the twins gave their explanation. While it sounded quite harsh at first, there was something with her tone, something quite off.
“Except that isn’t the end of the story,” Johan continued, and by his estimation that look he was getting from his brother was evidence enough that they’d both heard it. “Firstly, Intel and Recovery searched an area of one hundred and thirty two meters around the initial site of the crash. They found no body.”
“She could’ve just evaporated from a blast.” Adelheid coldly replied.
“Except that in that case, there would have been signs of scorching inside the cockpit. Not only that, the cockpit was practically pristine when the frame was recovered.”
“She could’ve gone outside first before getting caught in a blast or a stray shot.”
“The only sign of any impacts with the ground, either from solid matter or plasma, in the area was the Canis’ impact site. Furthermore, when my brother and I expanded the search beyond the original area, out an extra one hundred meters from the initial perimeter-”
“Johan, Heinrich, did you find anything of substance or didn’t you?” Gavin cut Johan off, now visibly irritated.
“No. And before you interrupt me, Vizekommondant, allow me to explain what that means. We found no sign of a body, not even the decaying bits you’d expect if she’d been blown apart by an explosion, no sign of any weapons impacting the ground, and if anything the area around the Canis’ crash site was completely untouched aside from I and R’s leftovers. If Lauren were dead, or at least if she were killed on the field of battle, we would have found something. We did not. I can go on with the implications of this if you like.”
“Enough!” Adelheid suddenly snapped at the twins. Gavin gave her a surprised look before getting off the wall and walking toward the desk.
“So, let me clarify. You took an unauthorized sortie, engaged in unnecessary combat with the enemy, and jeopardized the well being of both yourselves and your incredibly expensive prototype synchro frame, in addition to the safety of the rest of the unit, so that you could come to the exact same conclusion that both intelligence and the recovery came to weeks ago. Is that correct?”
“It is not. Our conclusion differs in that we believe it is one hundred percent likely that Lauren Vega is alive.”
“I said enough! This discussion ends here.” Once again, Adelheid yelled.
“NEIN!” Heinreich was finally making himself known, much to his brother’s horror. “Kommandant, you have been doing nothing but trying to shut us up without refuting the logic behind our conclusions. You know, we could just go outside and tell Lau-Lau’s little brother about this instead. If you’re going to court martial us anyways, what else do we have to lose?”
“For what purpose exactly would you tell her brother about this false conclusion you have? He’ll just get the motivation to try doing the same thing as you two this morning, and-”
“Exactly.” Heinreich continued this time, and in a few moments Johan found himself nodding as he realized where his brother was going.
“Do you two really want him dead or something?”
“Of course not. Which is why we’d be going with him if he left.” They were speaking in unison this time. “And you can’t afford to lose either us or him, you know this all too well. So, you can listen to what we have to say or we can make this an even bigger f***ing mess than it already is.”
“Gentlemen, stand up for me, if you please.” Gavin’s voice had become surprisingly, unnaturally calm. The twins obliged, affixing suspicious gazes on the second-in-command. Gavin stepped forward, and took a deep breath. Then, without warning, he delivered a strong right hook to the brother on the right’s face, then quickly stepped forward to do the same to the second twin, hitting both with enough force that they would lose their balance, if not outright be knocked to the floor. “Now you two listen here, and listen good! You are soldiers. It is your duty to follow orders, and execute them, nothing further! Fail to do so, and you’ll wind up getting yourselves and the rest of us killed, got it?! If we cannot have your compliance, then we cannot have you in this unit. Your lack of respect for myself and your commanding officer stops today, understand?! Pull another stunt like that, and i’ll have you two court martialed so fast your heads’ll spin! Now get the hell out of her office. Consider yourselves warned.” The twins managed, after a few moments spent on the ground shaking the impact off, to get to their feet and from there file out of the office. The one following behind the first, likely Heinreich, turned to look at TRAP’s second-in-command before he left.
“If you’re not going to show Lau-Lau enough loyalty to listen to the only two people in the SAF that think she’s alive, don’t expect those two people to show you the same loyalty they showed her when you get shot down, Vizekommondant Decker.” Finishing his statement, the brother offered his commanding officers a salute before going off in the opposite direction as his twin had.
“Friggin’ kids. What the hell are we gonna do with them…” Gavin sighed, leaning back on Adelheid’s desk.
“Tch, go handle them if they try to make a ruckus because of this. I am definitely not in the mood nor condition to go do that myself.”
“What’s bugging you, chief?”
“Nothing, I’m just tired. Now if you wouldn’t mind, leave me alone.”
“Adelheid, what is it? This isn’t your normal…. disposition. Something’s on your mind. Fill me in.”
“Gavin, just leave me alone now. Our bosses will really want an explanation about this, and I’ll need to get working on them. Just please, leave.
“Suit yourself. Just try not to get buried in paperwork, alright?” With that, Gavin made his way out of the office giving his CO a wave without looking back at her.
“So, you two think I’d be dumb enough to run off and try to find my sister, huh?” Leo was standing against the wall outside of Adelheid’s office, addressing the twins as they stepped out. His tone was a bit more friendly than Gavin’s had just been, though he wasn’t exactly amicable.
“Well, I dunno.” Heinreich was the one to speak, while his brother went off to go do...something. As far as he figured, Johan was gonna go splash around in a bubble bath with a rubber ducky. “Two highly trained, experienced pilots with a kill count measured in the hundreds were dumb enough to risk themselves and the security of this entire team for someone less connected to them than she is to you. I guess you heard all that then?”
“Most of it. This wall is pretty thin.” Leo knocked on the wall with the back of his hand. “And thanks for the effort, but I’m pretty sure Lauren wouldn’t want you risking the rest of our lives on some slim chance of finding her. And judging by that mark on your face, neither did the commander.”
“What? This li’l thing?” Heinreich chuckled as he gestured towards the rather large red welt around his left eye, and winced as he touched it by accident. “This ain’t nothin’. Hey, fall in Probie. I’ll show ya the mess.” He made a beckoning gesture with his left hand, before stuffing both into the pockets of his flight jacket and making his way off in the direction of the mess hall.
At that moment, Gavin made his way out of the office, paying the two little mind as he made his way down the hall in the opposite direction. Leo turned to notice him and then turned back to Heinreich. “Sure I guess. I don’t have anything better to do, and besides, I think those two forgot about me.”
“Who? The COs?” Heinreich turned to look back at the new pilot he had in tow before shrugging. “Eh, Decker and Komomdant’ll get around to you eventually. Don’t worry. Anyways, I heard all they put you through was basic. That right?” He’d since returned his attention to the hall in front of him to make sure he didn’t wind up leading the new guy off to the girls’ rooms by accident.
“If you could call it that, I guess. All I know is how to drive that Frame, really. I guess the higher-ups figured I’d learn as I go or something.” Leo paused for a moment. “What made you two decide to go look for Lauren, anyway? Didn’t seem to work out so well.”
“Well, we found out a good bit more than Komomdant wanted to hear and figured the rest out from what we found. As for why, well you’ll find out pretty quick that this unit is like some sort of great big dysfunctional family. Anyways, as for basic, is Master Sergeant Simmons still handling things?”
“Who?” Leo didn’t recognise the name. “It was only maybe… five days max, and most of that was spent learning how to fly that frame. I don't really even think it qualifies as basic training. So where’s this mess hall, anyway?”
“s***, they really only kept you for five days? Standard run in basic is three weeks, what the hell are they doing sending you here when you’re so green?” Heinreich looked back at his new squad mate incredulously, before shaking his head and pointing to one of the open doors up ahead. “It’s right there. Breakfast is 0700 to 0730, Lunch is 1300 to 1330, and Dinner’s 1900 to 1930.” The von Drackenmoore twin smiled to himself, knowing full well that there wasn’t that much of a hard schedule in this particular mess, but thinking he could pull a fast one on the new guy.
“They really wanted my sister’s frame back in the field, I guess. Something about ‘conserving resources’. They really only give you half an hour to eat, eh?
“Yeah, it’s not that bad. Hell, it was worse in basic. Speaking of, they could’ve at least taken the f***ing time to put you through the full basic training regimen and at least one round of advanced training. Look, if you need help learning to fly just ask your squad mates. Either me or one of the girls’d probably be your best bet. Maybe Feng if you can catch him in a good enough mood, but I’d stay away from Akira and Komomdant.”
“Well, Akira’s an unapologetic asshole and Komomdant doesn’t have the patience for dealing with newbies. So yeah, you’re unlikely to get any useful teaching out of them.” Heinreich explained, as he made his way up to the entrance to the mess hall and slipped in through the door. “Come on, they might’ve left some leftovers out.”
“Suuurrreee…. I could eat i guess.” Leo followed Heinrich through the door, letting it shut behind him. The Interior of the mess hall resembled any other cafeteria in human history: a visible kitchen at the far end, bordered by a buffet line where the food was served, and rows of long rectangular tables large enough to seat eight, or maybe twelve people at each. “What do they usually have around here, anyway?’
“Depends on the day,” Heinreich replied, seeing that they did not in fact have any leftovers out and so he just made his way over towards one of the many tables that, at least at that moment, appeared to be empty so that he could sit down. “Actually, I don’t think I’ve had the same thing here twice. Cookie likes to keep us pretty well fed here, and I’m pretty sure he likes to experiment more often than not.”