Ha! I bet you thought this was abandoned, didn't you? Well, THINK AGAIN! Granted, this was a while in coming due to… things… but it's here!
This is a fairly talky-talky chapter, and the following chapter will probably be only a bit less so… but they're a necessary evil, because we're rapidly nearing the end of the introduction and entering the main storyline. And things have to be established, or something like that.
Anyway, please enjoy, and your comments and criticism are EXTREMELY welcomed. Leave your thoughts!
The Ties That Bind
November 23, 4016, 1311 Local Time
Odyssey, Fusega City, Alliance Headquarters
Office of the Admiral-Captain
Phoenix Wright shifted in the hard-backed faux-wooden chair, absentmindedly adjusting the lapels on his dress uniform and feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Though he'd found more comfortable chairs on bare, Spartan spacecraft, and though his dress uniform was tight and pinching in a rather irritating way, those weren't the primary reasons for his discomfort. No, it was the surroundings that unsettled him—simply being here, in the antechamber outside the Admiral-Captain's Office waiting to hear his name called… it made him uneasy.
The young pilot didn't know why he'd been summoned to the large sprawling compound that was the seat of power for the Fusegi Alliance to wait outside the large double doors that led to the office of the Alliance forces' Commander-in-Chief. This wasn't the first time Phoenix had been there, no, Admiral-Captain Grossberg had held a small audience with the top students in his Academy class immediately prior to their graduation. He'd thanked them for their hard work and told them that he expected great things from them in the future.
He'd been uncomfortable then, too—there was something about the synthesized wood on the walls and ceiling that was almost realistic enough to just be a bit unsettling. The entire compound had a very sterilized atmosphere that made one feel out of place, like an intruder.
Still, the circumstances didn't help his malaise. Phoenix had thought that Intelligence and his superiors had squeezed him for every last bit of information about the tragedy at Yggdrasil and the loss of the Kurain. The past week or so had largely been spent trying to comfort Maya and failing miserably at the task, even as the girl tried fiercely to mask her despair at her sister's death.
He'd hoped that the military brass had been satisfied and would quit their debriefing sessions. That they would let him, Maya, and the others mourn the loss of their comrades and friends and get on with their lives—receive their new assignments under new commanders and put the shadow of Yggdrasil behind them. However, apparently the highest brass tack of them all wanted to grill Phoenix about what had happened for what he hope would be the last time, and, well… orders were orders.
A disembodied voice sounded over well-concealed speakers that he'd been trying unsuccessfully to find in the wall for the past ten minutes. "Lieutenant Wright, the Admiral-Captain will see you now."
The Admiral's office was much the same as it had been the last time Phoenix had been there. It was a decently large, rectangular room, though the young pilot felt it was just a bit smaller than he'd expect from the office of the de facto leader of an entire interplanetary government and military. Chairs lined the walls, with six more arranged in a loose semicircle in the center of the room. They all looked more comfortable than the one he'd been seated in outside, naturally.
Various decorations adorned two of the walls, with various holograms, plaques, and other mementos arranged deliberately by someone who clearly knew more about decorating than Phoenix ever would. There was a large fireplace on the third wall—the one that had been facing him as he entered, though Phoenix guessed that it was rarely if ever used with the climate the way it was around Odyssey's equator. All in all, the room seemed quite deliberately designed to give off an air of… tradition, Phoenix supposed.
The intended atmosphere was also reflected in the large desk set back towards the opposite wall, facing the semicircle of chairs. Unlike the fake wood paneling outside, the mammoth piece of furniture was definitely the real thing, obvious even from across the room. It was curved slightly in a shallow arc, and amidst the various datapanels and piles of what seemed to be actual, genuine, paper documents were self-holos and other personal effects.
All around him, the room and its furnishings—from the dark blue carpet on the floor to the matching, purposefully slightly-worn upholstery on the chairs—seemed to be intended to give those who entered the room the impression that this was a room with countless years of tradition and institution behind it. While Phoenix wasn't questioning the room's legitimacy as the seat of power in the Alliance, it was almost amusing—because in the three or so decades since the Fusegi Alliance had been founded in this very city… well, there had only been one Admiral-Captain, and it was the man even now seated in the large black leather chair behind the equally large wooden desk that was the focus of the room.
As Phoenix entered, the door slid shut behind him with a whisper, and Admiral Grossberg looked up from what he'd been attending to. He was certainly rather overweight, though to Phoenix he had the look of a once-powerfully-built man gone to seed over the years. He was wearing a white dress uniform of similar cut and style to Phoenix's own dark blue one, though his was far more ornate, with gold trim along the shoulders and sleeves. However, the pilot was surprised to see a distinct lack of medals on his chest—he had maybe four or five, far fewer than the array many other high-ranking officers in the Alliance wore. While it was still more than the solitary golden eagle weighing heavily upon his right breast, it… well, it was unusual, he thought.
For a second, it looked like Grossberg was almost glad to see him, but in the next instant the corners of his bushy gray moustache seemed to droop, and he suddenly appeared far heavier than he actually was. Phoenix tried not to wonder about it too much as he took several quick steps into the room and then snapped to attention smartly, stiffening up like a board and throwing a sharp salute. "Lieutenant Phoenix Wright reporting as ordered, sir!"
Admiral Grossberg peered up at him over his small round glasses, with dark eyes in a heavyset face that glinted with intellect, albeit a gleam that had undoubtedly dulled over the years. He seemed to scrutinize Phoenix, looking him up and down as the young officer held his salute unwaveringly, before at last saying in a breathy voice, "at ease, Lieutenant." He gestured with a chubby hand at one of the high-backed chairs facing the desk once the younger man had assumed a more relaxed military stance. "Please, be seated."
Really, he supposed he should be honored, being allowed the privilege of sitting in these seats he imagined were only for high-ranking advisors or other military and government officials… but as Phoenix sat in the surprisingly comfortable chair, he was more puzzled than anything else. This certainly hadn't been the atmosphere in any of the prior debriefings—those had been sterile, impersonal, with him answering to empty air questions that had been asked over a communications device. This was… if not warm, certainly… more personal in a way. As if the Commander-in-Chief of the entire Fusegi Alliance had merely called him here for tea.
With a casual, almost absentminded motion, Grossberg pushed a button inlaid on the top of the desk that Phoenix hadn't seen before, since it looked to be made of the same wood as its surroundings (or at least, it'd been painted the same way). The young pilot caught a flicker of motion and a soft golden hue out of the corner of his eye, coming from behind him. For a moment he almost forgot the military decorum he'd been trained to keep, and turned in his chair to look over his shoulder.
The door he'd just entered from and the wall surrounding it were no longer there—instead, the dark blue carpet abruptly gave way to a seemingly endless stretch of waist-high golden grass, waving in a gently blowing breeze that Phoenix couldn't feel on his face. Though Phoenix's internal clock (and wrist chrono) told him that it was just after noon, the sky above the rolling plains was orange as an unseen sun began to sink below the horizon.
It was a hologram, of course. But it was an incredibly lifelike hologram in addition to its size and scope, and it was certainly something Phoenix hadn't been expecting. At a loss for words, the spiky-haired young man blinked, his mouth hanging open slightly in surprise.
Remembering where he was (despite what the fourth wall of the room showed him) and how he should be acting, Phoenix turned back in his seat quickly, sitting straight up and snapping his mouth shut, facing the Admiral-Captain once again. However, if Grossberg had been offended by Phoenix's momentary lack of military propriety, he didn't show it—indeed, beneath his thick moustache, Phoenix imagined that he saw the beginnings of a faint smile of amusement.
"Do you like it?" asked the Admiral, though Phoenix thought that wasn't really the sort of question that sought a response. Grossberg continued, answering the younger man's unspoken question. "It's a scene of the grasslands of Demeter… I grew up there," explained the older man, and for a brief second there was a quick flash of darkness across his face—though Phoenix said nothing, and put it from his mind. "Truly, 'tis a pity that they haven't invented a way to smell holograms yet," continued Grossberg, with a deep, wheezing chuckle.
Shaking his head, the Admiral looked past Phoenix to the vista on the wall. "The lemongrass fields have a very distinct scent, you know. Quite famous, really. The smell of fresh lemongrass… well, it winds back the years, lad. I'm sure you understand."
Grossberg shook his head again. "But that is irrelevant right now… it is a familiar vista that helps me think, and that is all." He paused, a pregnant silence in the room before he folded his hands in front of him, elbows on the desk, and looked over his glasses at Phoenix once more. "Lieutenant Wright, do you know why I summoned you here today?"
Phoenix opened his mouth to reply, closed it, and then finally answered with the slightest of shrugs. "No, sir. I don't. I had… assumed you wanted to ask me more questions about the incident at Yggdrasil, sir."
"Lieutenant, I think all the questions that need to be asked have been asked over and over already. Wouldn't you agree?" He paused again, though it didn't seem like he was actually waiting for an answer from the younger man—instead, his eyes were closed, and the Admiral seemed to be gathering his thoughts.
At long last, Grossberg went on with the barest nod of his head. "Lieutenant Wright, there are several reasons why I asked you here." He paused again, and then looked up, his small dark eyes locking with Phoenix's and not moving. "Firstly, I… wanted to thank you. For your actions during and after the tragedy at Yggdrasil."
That certainly hadn't been what Phoenix had been expecting, and he stiffened up in the chair, blinking but otherwise remaining silent. However, Grossberg continued to look at him and it didn't look like he was going to go on—this time, it seemed he was waiting for a response from the pilot.
Speaking slowly and carefully choosing his words, Phoenix responded at last, "…thank you, sir. I… was under the impression, sir, that that was what this medal was for," he indicated the lone golden eagle on his uniform with a little nod of his head—for some reason, it seemed to get heavier all of a sudden.
"A medal is a thank you from the government and military of the Fusegi Alliance, Lieutenant," replied Admiral Grossberg, his gaze still firmly fixed on Phoenix's face. "It is also an opportunity for those concerned with image and public relations to popularize their interpretation of events."
He bowed his head, breaking the eye contact at last before looking back up at Phoenix, though his gaze seemed softer now. "I wanted to thank you for your actions personally, as leader of the Alliance military and as myself."
Phoenix felt his ears burning—out of shame, not embarrassment—but nonetheless managed a formal, forced, "Thank you, Admiral Grossberg, sir," before falling silent, staring out in front of him at nothing in particular.
There was a knowing look on Grossberg's face now. "You… feel you don't deserve thanks, Lieutenant Wright?"
Despite the tone, it wasn't a question.
Silence reigned in the room for what felt like several minutes before Phoenix swallowed and shook his head. "Sir, I was unable to prevent the loss of the Kurain. I… didn't do enough." Apparently, he'd discovered reverse alchemy—the golden eagle pinned to his right breast had undoubtedly turned to solid lead.
The sound that next broke the silence was not a sound Phoenix had expected to hear in response—Grossberg was chuckling. True, it was a subdued, almost wistful laugh, but it was a laugh nonetheless. "Captain Fey was right about you, Lieutenant. You do need to learn to accept praise."
"Lieutenant Wright… I will tell you something. The loss of the Kurain—the ship itself—does not concern me. It was an outdated model, to be sure, and our recent capture of the shipyards and resources on Persephone mean that it can be quite easily replaced at minimal cost."
Despite his already-large bulk, Grossberg seemed to suddenly get heavier, his gaze dropping to the hard wood desk for the slightest of moments as he rested one hand on the other. "Good PR or not, Lieutenant, there is absolutely no question that you deserve that medal you are wearing. My officers and I have been over records of the battle at Yggdrasil quite thoroughly, I assure you—accounts of the survivors, the data records from your wingman's mech, and so on."
He paused again, a shadow crossing his face again. "Lieutenant Wright, there was nothing you could have done to save the Kurain, given the sabotage of your craft and the unexpected treachery of Redd White." His ears burned even hotter, but Phoenix set his jaw, saying nothing.
Grossberg's breathy voice faltered for a moment as he shook his head. "I do not grieve for the loss of the ARS Kurain. I grieve—as a commander, and as a person—for the loss of her crew. For the many brave men and women who gave their lives that day."
His voice was softer now, but even a low whisper could have carried across the large office perfectly. "Captain Fey and Commander Kaminogi were close friends of mine, as well as some of the most promising officers in all of the Fleet."
"The loss of the ship and those who perished with it… is by no means your fault, Lieutenant. It is because of you, however, that the assaulting force was destroyed before they could deliver further damage to the dying Kurain. Because of you, more people were able to reach escape craft. Because of your actions, they were safe from hostile attacks while in such a vulnerable state. And furthermore, the actions you and your wingman took in the aftermath ensured the safety and survival of nearly all those who escaped, save those already suffering mortal wounds."
Grossberg's gaze and voice seemed to regain some of their strength as he looked back up at Phoenix's burning face. "Make no mistake. There are seven hundred and sixteen men and women who wear the colors of the Alliance who are alive right now because of what you did, Lieutenant Phoenix Wright. What happened at Yggdrasil was certainly a tragedy; there is no way to get around that… but because of you, it was not the disaster it could have been."
The Admiral-Captain reached a chubby hand up to adjust the small reading glasses he wore, and there was suddenly an earnestness in his voice that hadn't been there before. "And that, Lieutenant… is why I wanted to thank you."
Phoenix remained silent, not entirely sure what it was he was supposed to do. After all, Grossberg was the commander-in-chief of the entire Alliance military—a simple, casual "You're Welcome" felt almost like insubordination. But then again, shouldn't he say something, anything at all? Though he never opened his mouth, Phoenix felt unspoken words lodge in his throat, subside and then return again.
He was grateful when Grossberg broke the silence, speaking again. "That is not the only reason I asked you here today, Lieutenant Wright." His eyes seemed to bore holes into Phoenix's own as he continued in his breathy voice. "Stand up, Lieutenant."
Even if it wasn't exactly protocol, the pilot couldn't stop the inquiry from escaping his lips. "Sir?" In the next heartbeat, he remembered the military decorum he'd been drilled to observe, and quickly stood up from the soft-backed chair, snapping to attention and wondering what this was all about.
"As I said before," continued the elder officer, "Commander Souryuu Kaminogi and Captain Mia Fey were friends of mine—and what's more, they were two of the most promising officers in our entire forces. Had the Commander not expressed a powerful wish to remain attached to forces under Captain Fey's command, he would have undoubtedly received a promotion and his own force."
A still memory flashed through Phoenix's mind—the Captain and the Commander on the bridge, she in the chair, he standing at her side—but he tried to push it away, concentrating on what the Admiral was saying and wondering where it was he was going. "Their loss is not only mine, but that of the entire Alliance. The shipyards on Persephone enable us to rapidly produce warships, yes, but there is no replacement for a competent, respected commander." With a muffled sigh of effort, Grossberg stood from his chair, and Phoenix noticed that the Admiral was shorter than he was.
"Captain Fey often spoke quite highly of your abilities to me, Lieutenant Wright—not only as an exceptional pilot, but as a natural, capable leader." His blood started to chill again as Phoenix suspected he knew where this was going—but it couldn't be. It simply couldn't! "With the tragedy at Yggdrasil, the Alliance has lost two of its most promising commanders, and those are in dreadfully short supply."
The overweight Admiral's shoulders slumped as he sighed, the corners of his moustache drooping. "Though I think we can agree you have not had as much actual experience as one would optimally prefer… you have proven yourself a capable and courageous leader, Lieutenant." The ice water in his veins continued to freeze, now more closely resembling liquid nitrogen. Though Phoenix's gaze was frozen at attention, looking fixatedly at the wall behind the Admiral-Capitan, he could see a wistful smile on Grossberg's face beneath his bushy moustache as he made his way around the desk, holding something in his hand. "I do wish that this could come at a… happier time, my boy. However, I can think of none other in the entire military whom it would please Mia Fey more to see recognized for their skill and ability."
It couldn't be. Phoenix swallowed reflexively, trying not to look at the pudgy hand Grossberg was extending. He couldn't mean—
He did. Grossberg unfolded his hand, and resting in the center of his palm was a small metal insignia about the size of his thumbnail. It was perfectly circular, and it looked almost like some sort of flower, with a raised rim and a flat center. Phoenix had a similar pin on his collar right now indicating his current rank, though it wasn't nearly as ornate.
Though he tried to keep his gaze steady, he found it drawn to Grossberg's small, watery eyes half-concealed behind his small round glasses. "Congratulations… Captain Wright."
His hand moved of his own accord to meet Grossberg's, the metal badge pressed into his palm—it felt heavier than it looked—and his fingers curled around it, feeling the ridges and bumps, trying to somehow reconcile reality with itself. The Admiral had turned around to walk back to his desk, and he was speaking: "Naturally, there will be a small ceremony for official purposes, but the paperwork shouldn't be a problem. While we haven't drafted your orders yet, I expect you'll be given command of a smaller cruiser and sent to reinforce our defenses beyond Tellus and Persephone; closer to the edge of the asteroid belt…"
"Sir," Phoenix found himself saying, his gaze focused on the small bronze decoration in his hand.
"Hmm? What is it, Lieu—ah, Captain?" Grossberg had turned to face him, about to sit back down in his chair, a thick eyebrow arched.
The young pilot swallowed hard past a lump in his throat, trying to maintain the composure he was expected to have, had been trained to have. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
Grossberg sank back into his large chair slightly more gracefully than Phoenix would have expected, and folded his hands together, peering at the younger man over his round glasses. "Permission granted."
"Sir, I…" Phoenix felt his voice crack for a second, and then focused, gathering his composure and putting as much strength as he could into his words. "Sir, I cannot accept this promotion."
If the Admiral was surprised by Phoenix's words, he didn't show it—on the contrary, a strange look flashed on his face as if he'd almost been expecting it. "Oh? And why not, Captain Wright?"
For a moment, Phoenix closed his eyes, trying to gather all the fragmented thoughts and feelings bouncing around his mind into something resembling a coherent train of thought. "I… don't believe I deserve it, sir."
Grossberg kept that same maddeningly calm expression, still collected and behaving very much like he'd anticipated the pilot's reaction. "I don't see why you would say that, Captain Wright. The reports Mia Fey delivered as well as your very own combat logs clearly show you leading your fellow pilots confidently, making quick and wise decisions… and back at the Academy, you passed the officer course with flying colors, did you not? And of course, your actions at Yggdrasil certainly solidify this impression."
Though it required quite a bit of willpower, Phoenix maintained a composed exterior, exhaling slightly through clenched teeth as he shook his head. "Sir, that's…" he took a deep breath before speaking again.
"At Yggdrasil, I almost… didn't. Do what I did, I mean. I… sir, I froze up. I almost didn't make a decision, and I almost got people killed because of it." He swallowed again, his gaze once more drawn to the heavy badge in his hand. "When I'm flying, sir, all I have to worry about is my life. If I make a mistake, the only person in danger is… me. If I'm a leader, and I make the wrong choice… people who are depending on me could die."
"Even if you make the right choice, people who are depending on you could die, Captain Wright." Grossberg's voice was hard, his gaze equally so, but there was a strange sympathy in the way he frowned. "You're an excellent pilot, my boy—surely there have been times when you've simply outflown an enemy? Their commander could have made all the right choices, but in the end, your individual skill won the day."
He shook his head, the tips of his graying hair wafting from side to side. "I shan't lie to you, because I think you deserve the truth. There are moments when being a leader of good men and women is one of the most demanding positions a person can hold in his lifetime. It is rarely easy."
The Admiral reached up to adjust his glasses again, and the momentary glint of light off the lenses obscured his eyes for the briefest of instants as he sighed. "Alas, Phoenix Wright… this is a time of war. And good men and women will die—willingly or otherwise. Because the alternative is little more than slavery and tyranny. This is a time of war; this is a time that needs good, capable leaders. As a commander, people under you can and will die, sometimes from a choice you must make. But the alternative, Captain?" His voice, having built in a crescendo as he spoke, suddenly died down to a harsh whisper.
"To choose nothing means that the people who have died under you and those who came before you gave their lives in vain. The Alliance needs commanders like you, Wright." He looked down at his desk, and then looked up, the barest hints of a thin smile on his face. "Whether or not you almost didn't act at Yggdrasil… is irrelevant. What matters is that you did act."
Grossberg looked past Phoenix—who was still standing frozen at attention, his heart pounding in his chest and his cheeks hot with a dozen different emotions—to the holographic display on the wall beyond. "Years ago, Mia Fey stood in the exact spot you now stand and told me that she didn't believe herself capable of leading; on her first command, she hesitated and almost failed to act when it was required of her. But she did."
Phoenix blinked in shock—the Captain? That didn't seem like her at all—she'd always been confident and sure, intelligent and decisive. But… who was he to know what she was actually thinking?
Had she, too, been scared to act? Worried that her choices would condemn those who placed their faith in her to death?
"In many ways, Captain Wright… I think we all envied the gifts that Mia Fey's bloodline gave her as a commander and a soldier. But even with those gifts, she froze up the first few times she was called on to lead. We all did—and it never quite goes away. However, what you almost do doesn't matter, Captain. What you do does."
"I cannot force you to accept this promotion… however, it is my belief that you are more than capable of the position, and I believe the late Captain Fey would agree with me. The Alliance would benefit tremendously from your talents, Phoenix Wright." He adjusted his glasses again, even though they hadn't really moved much since the last time. "I will give you precisely forty-eight hours to consider your choice. In two days' time, come back and give me your answer—and we'll go from there. Is this understood?"
Though his heart still threatened to break his chest with its furious pounding, Phoenix took a deep, calming breath, and snapped a salute. "Yes, sir."
Grossberg opened his mouth, clearly about to dismiss him, and then paused before he could say a word, realization crossing his features. "Ah! I almost forgot!" The Admiral leaned over, and Phoenix could hear a drawer in his desk being pulled open. For a second, his blood ran cold again—what was it now? Was he being promoted to Admiral? Being made President of the entire damn Alliance?!
When the obese officer straightened up again, there was something in his hands that he laid flat on the wood paneling of his desk. It was a black rectangle, roughly the size of Phoenix's palm and three times as thick, with gold pins and circuitry lining the edges and sides. The pilot recognized it immediately—it was a datapak, and from the look of it, one specifically designed to hold a ship's AI construct.
"During the battle at Yggdrasil, the AI in your mech suffered fatal and irrecoverable system failure, correct?"
A little twinge ran through his body—yes, RYUUICHI had been nothing more than an artificial intelligence, so he wasn't really dead… he'd never been alive. But still, his personality had been based off a real person, and so the construct's loss was nevertheless oddly disheartening. "That's right, sir."
This time, the smile that flickered across Grossberg's face was unmistakable—melancholy, yes, but a smile nonetheless. "About a month before the tragedy… during her leave, Captain Fey made a strange request. This is certainly a coincidence." He chuckled, a wheezing cough of a laugh. "But then again, I wonder if anything could be a true coincidence when dealing with a woman like Mia Fey. I believe she wanted you to have this."
Phoenix took a step closer to Grossberg's large desk, putting the bronze badge down onto the wood and picking up the datapak. It was heavy, packed tightly with sensitive components and circuitry that was entirely too complex for Phoenix to ever really understand. It was a good weight in his hands, cool and smooth—but not slick—to the touch. He turned it over in his hands, looking at it carefully, and then something caught his eye… it was the serial identification number.
His eyes widened as he read it. Could the Captain really have…?
Class 3B AI Construct
"Wright," came Grossberg's voice, jarring him from his disbelieving reverie.
"Take the insignia with you," the older man indicated the badge on the desk with a nod of his head. "Think about it."
"You're dismissed, Captain."