OOC: Sorry this too so long, I was having trouble deciding where to start. :\ I'll be quicker to post now that I've gotten back into the swing of things.
Collared Underground Arena
Beatrice sighed as she dropped down from the core of the Aurea Imperatrix. The massive, mostly golden AC was battered like it had been through the front lines of an active warzone instead of a sanctioned arena match. Burn marks, bullets holes, scrapes, raw metal, and more damage covered the huge machine from the top of its head unit to the bottom of its hover platform.
"I can't stand bastards like that." She said in her usual icy tone. "He knows he's going to lose so he makes sure I have to spend all my winnings on repairs. Typical Collard treatment." Beatrice brushed a lock of her icy blue hair out of her face and continued to frown at the state of her AC, hands on her hips. Her flight suit was a crisp white, and the bright color stood out in the otherwise gloomy hangar. The same could be said of the Aurea itself.
"My, even when you win you aren't satisfied." Theodore said. He was Beatrice's... butler, for lack of a better term. He was her operator, adviser, assistant, and occasionally conscience. It wasn't an easy job, especially with one such as Beatrice to answer to, but he had grown accustomed to it.
Beatrice's frown turned into a look of outright indignation. "Satisfied? Look at the Aurea! She looks like she drove headfirst into a grenade factory. Who the hell fires off all of their ordinance at the end of a match?"
"The Rank 34 Irregular, apparently." Theo said matter-of-factly, "Which, by the way, is now your number."
"I'm aware of that." Though her tone of voice hadn't changed, the look on her face softened ever so slightly. Theo was particularly good at disarming her when she let her temper get the better of her. Spend enough time with someone, and you learn a bit about how they think. Of course, the same was true in reverse, but for one reason or another, Beatrice didn't like to push Theo's buttons. Perhaps it was because she actualyl trusted him, or maybe she just liked to have someone around who's buttons she didn't push.
Theo gave a few quick swipes and taps on the datapad he held before giving a small sigh. "Looks like the damage is mostly cosmetic, but he did manage to hit a few wiring clusters and the servo in the left shoulder joint is completely ruined. All in all, after the cost of repairs, we're looking at a mere $27,000 profit, give or take a thousand or so."
"$27,000? And you havn't even factored in replacing the ammo I used have you?"
"I'm afraid not." Theo gave a small bow. "It looks like this new rank is actually going to end up costing you out of pocket."
Beatrice nearly threw her arms into the air, but a bit of last second restraint kept her from doing so. Instead, her hands merely clenched into fits as her glare turned ice cold. "Unbelievable! This is utterly ridiculous. That creep should be paying me for repairs. Its against regulation to disable your targeting computer during an arena match."
"True, but he didn't disable it. He simply removed his generator's safety cap. That little trick probably burnt out his entire cooling system." Theo's voice was level and calm throughout the entire conversation, a stark contrast to Beatrice's wavering temperament.
"Well, I hope it did. Then at the very least he'll have a sizable repair bill to look at as well." Beatrice sighed, seemingly content with that thought.
"Considering you nearly drove your pile driver all the way through his hip assembly and he's not taking home any reward money, I'm sure he will regardless." Theo placed the datapad into the inner pocket of his crisp white jacket. As usual, he was dressed nicely, today in a pressed white suit with a red velvet bow tie. "Now, there's the matter of finding another assignment before you wind up burning all your savings in the arena. May I recommend this one?"
Beatrice took the smart phone from Theo's hand and read over the message. It was an official Collard assignment. Apparently they were putting together a team to handle some new threat or something. She simply skimmed over the details until she hit the pay. Fifteen million. It was to be split among the other pilots and operators who accepted but unless this team eneded up being ridiculously large, then she should still walk away with a few million at least. That'd make for a nice payday. And since it was a group mission, the risk to her own AC (and to a lesser extent, her life), would be lower than normal. It was essentially a win win.
"When did this come in?" She asked.
"While you were in the arena." He read the look she gave him and gave a small laugh. "No, I didn't read it while you were in combat. I saved that for when you were cursing your opponents ancestors."
"Very funny." Beatrice rolled of her eyes. "When do they expect us to show up?"
"In a day or two." Theo said. "They'll send you the information once you confirm your acceptance."
Beatrice gave a yawn. "Then go on and accept it. And arrange to have the Aurea cleaned up and repaired. I need a shower." Without waiting for a response, she was off, headed for the elevator back to the pilot's lounge. She knew Theo would do what she had asked. He always did. The fact that she trusted him alone to handle her most prized possession spoke about the level of trust they shared.
Theo in turn simply gave a small bow. "Of course." In turn, he knew how cold she could be. But he also recognized that trust. He knew that, in her own way, giving responsibility of the Aurea to him was a way of showing her trust in him. And he had known her long enough to know that he was the only one she trusted to that degree. Not even her family could command that much respect from her. Perhaps, certainly not her family. But, one way or another, she needed him. And in a way, he needed her as well.
North American Alliance
New York City, New York
Collared Corporate Headquarters (NAA East Coast)
The helicopter made its slow descent towards the rooftop of the Collard building, edging its way over the rooftops of the other tall buildings of New York. Kotomi had been to New York before. The skyscrapers and cars and bright city lights did little to impress her. A decade of waking up to the Tokyo skyline would do that to you, she supposed. But even still, each city seemed to have its own style, its own rhythm, is own signature. New York was alive in a way that Tokyo wasn't. Tokyo was like a symphony, a chorus of perfectly harmonized sounds subtly mingling with one another. But New York? New York was as a rock band, each individual piece striking its own chords, resonating in its own way, trying to make its mark above all the others. It was chaotic, and noisy, and even a bit dirty, but it was unique. And Kotomi liked things that were unique.
"Now, you understand where you're supposed to go for the meeting right?" her Collard-appointed escort asked her. Either she hadn't read Kotomi's file, or it was simply impossible for her to break her usual routine, because she had mentioned the location at least three times before. Considering the first question she had asked Kotomi when they had meet back in Tokyo some hours ago was "can you speak English", it was probably the former.
Despite the slight irritation going through her mind, Kotomi's outward appearance showed all the emotion of a store-front mannequin. It was her usual appearance, and the escort had found it quite unnerving. That thought had pleased Kotomi a little more with each passing question, though as always her thoughts were her own.
"Yes." was her reply.
Her escort frowned. She still hadn't gotten used to Kotomi's mechanical speech. Not many ever did.
"Okay then." She handed Kotomi a small packet of papers, all held together with an ordinary paperclip. Why Collard still liked its hard copy info packets Kotomi couldn't understand. The way Arisawa ran things was so much simpler. Not to mention better for the environment. "That's everything you'll need to register for your change in residence. The transfer was last minute, but you may be staying here for a while."
"Acknowledged." Kotomi took the papers and gently folded them in half. And then in half again. And again, despite the slight cringing of her escort. Finally left with a thin strip of paper several sheets thick, Kotomi slid it into her pocket. She was dressed simply, just a black and white stripped shirt and a dark-gray pants. She never understood why a simple meeting called for formal attire, and the people she worked with had learned not to call her out on her appearance. She could quote regulation from memory. Formal attire wasn't a Collared regulation, it was a social one. And Kotomi did not abide by anyone else's social choices. They had nothing to do with her.
The helicopter touched down on the rooftop of the Collared building, its blades still whirring rapidly. The pilot would have to lift off again after Kotomi disembarked.
"Is that everything?" Kotimi asked her escort. It was the first question she had asked of her during the entire trip.
It took a moment for the Collard representative to actualyl realize it was a question. "Yes, I believe so."
Kotomi nodded once, a short and quick bob of the head, her long raven hair bouncing just a bit. "Thank you."
Her escort just sat there, a bit stunned, as Kotomi exited the craft and made her way across the rooftop. The meeting would begin shortly, and she wouldn't be late.
May 11th, 2099
North American Alliance
New York City, New York
Collared Corporate Headquarters (NAA East Coast)
Beatrice sighed. These meetings were always the same. A lengthy spiel about organizations she didn't know fighting over things she didn't care about. Why Collard wasn't content to simply give them the information the same way they received the mission invitation itself was beyond her. Already, she could hear Theo's voice. "Probably because they know you wouldn't read that one all the way either." he'd say, or something like that at least. And sure enough, she could see him smiling out of the corner of her eye.
Sometimes, she thought that the only reason she put up with him was because of how useful he was. But, through it all, he was at the very least good company. She'd probably have gone crazy dealing with all this herself if it wasn't for him. She'd thank him, but she knew he knew, and that was good enough for her.
And now some hot shot pilot was interrogating the Collard agent about the mission details. And to her surprise, the redhead actually managed to turn the tables on the stiff. She decided she liked this... "Scarlet" person. She frowned a bit more. She hated how Collard liked to keep up the code names even in official briefings. They probably thought it sounded cool or was a useful security measure or something, but Beatrice always found it impersonal, as if they wanted to avoid making an actual connection with the pilots. Which, knowing Collared, was probably the real reason for it.
None of the other pilots really stood out to her. The mission briefing was quickly derailing in the background, but Beatrice was bored of it already. She'd just ask Theo for the important bits later. Instead, she was watching the other pilots. none of them seemed to stand out that much. They looked like the standard fare you'd see around here, for the most part. Even Scarlet, for all her tact, didn't seem to be that different from the others. They all stared on, listening to the briefing like good little soldiers. Or at the very least pretending to. Her eyes scanned the crowd until they hit two dark pools.
Beatrice blinked. The woman across the table, the Asian one, was staring right at her. Unflinchingly. It was... a bit unnerving. Beatrice raised an eyebrow, and was met with a slight tilt of the head. But nothing more. The other woman had yet to so much as blink. Slightly concerned, Beatrice turned her attention to the front, trying to ignore the other woman's gaze despite the fact that she could still feel it.
And just like that, the meeting ended.
"Well, that was certainly interesting." Beatrice gave a yawn as she stood up from her chair. She'd want to have a few words with that Scarlet woman, but now probably wasn't the time. Before the mission perhaps. She exited the briefing room, choosing to simply lean against the hallway wall.
"What do you think?" Theo asked.
"Of course I'm in. I wouldn't be here otherwise." She gave a small nod, as if that settled it.
Theo simply smiled. "Of course."
Two of the pilots had since left, but most of them had stuck behind. It would be interesting to see just how big a cut they'd get for all this trouble.
I have returned!
Signature under reconstruction...