Prison Dilemmas
Pre-game. Spoilers for Elly and Citan. For the prompt, 'secret: xenogears, elly & citan'

They do an experiment when Elhaym is in her last year of training school -- or rather, the last year is nothing but experiments, the psychological frosting on the cake that serves as course material for senior students. There are training exercises and personalities tests, all of which are charted within perfectly projected results for each individual. Jugend has already molded its children into appropriate squads and teams. Nothing is left in them that could possibly be a surprise.

Arguably, this crucial, final year is what is destined to help shape students' futures even more strongly than their piloting scores, but everyone knows better: everyone knows that their instructors are only giving them games because half the classes are nursing illicit hangovers during roll call. It's considered good form not to flunk the future generation, even if said future is looking distinctly green around the gills. Even Kelvena's study habits have been slipping, if the pile of worksheets that Elly glimpses on her desk is any indication.

Perhaps the test results hold some weight with their future careers. Elly prefers to trust in her academic record instead.

She browses the research material on file while she is waiting for her other teammates to get out. This particular psychological experiment had its origins much earlier, but was revised within the last decade to better reflect the updated Gebler community needs. At least, that's what the course material implies. The basis for the revision is muddled between project outlines. Elly's only tracked down that it was once called a prisoner's dilemma, but not who first concocted the scenario, or the exact impetus for the change.

So: two people in separate cells. Each of them is given a piece of crucial mission information. Originally, this information was shared between them both, with the intention that they were to withhold it from their interrogators; if one of them revealed the secret to their jailers, then they could go free immediately, while their partner was required to stay the full course. However, if both of them spoke, then neither of them would be released, and their punishments would be doubled in the bargain. This exercise was conducted cleanly enough, though the results were always of interest, and remarkably tell-tale.

Who would be the betrayer? Who would break first?

Over the last five years, the stakes were increased even higher. Now, each trainee has a different piece of information. Their cells are moved around each day in a long, metal hall; sometimes the prisoners can see each other, sometimes they cannot. In order to be freed early, the goal is now for one trainee to extract the code from the other, and thereby sell that other person's secret while retaining their own.

Elly, of course, held through without flinching -- without even trying to compromise her partner. Stratski did the same. They emerged together at the end of seven days, wet and bedraggled and bruised in places from the trials they'd had to endure. Jugend might not have caused permanent wounds in its children, but it did favor leaving certain reminders; Elly still has blisters healing on her feet. She's slept with the lights on a few times this year. It's not a mark of pride -- real combat will leave worse scars, and there are dreams she has sometimes. She has bad dreams.

The dreams do not get mentioned on the personality questionnaires.

Now of course, she and Stratski have to wait for the rest of the squad to complete their tests. There are eight days to go. One day before Renk and Vance get out. One day before Broyer and Helmholz go in. Elly's wondered why Jugend doesn't process the whole set at once; that's partially why she's reading the books now.

So far, she's only waded halfway through inexplicable cross-references that dance around the change in course material, and already she's wondering if she'll find anything of use.

Stratski slides into the chair across from her. "Still at it?"

She welcomes the cup of fresh coffee he offers with gratitude, letting the heat warm her palms. "I've made a little progress." The coffee smells good, not burned or watery, like most cafeteria brew. "The first model involved a minimum of three people, but usually included the whole team. It was supposed to build teamwork." She shares this information with the same mild surprise that she had upon first reading the passage. "The team supported each other, to make certain no one would break. If someone did, they could be freed early -- but with the entire squadron there, most trainees learned to depend on each other rather than opt into betrayal while everyone was watching."

An arch of a pale eyebrow, and Stratski glances at the page. "That's certainly a change. So, what caused Jugend to update its procedures?"

Elly sighs, leaning back in her chair. The data makes less sense on the page than a jumble of limericks. "During one group test," she enunciates, slowly, "the supervisors came back to discover that the jailers had changed places with the trainees. When they reviewed the tapes, they saw that this all occurred without any sort of violence whatsoever. The prisoners just... walked out one afternoon, and the officers walked in. They didn't stay to gloat, either. Once the officers were locked in place, the trainees moved out to escape, and concluded the experiment early on their own."

Stratski moves his hand out to take the book; she lets him, watching the text slide away from her, across the table. "Have you found out how they managed to coerce their jailers?"

"No." The heat from the coffee is beginning to burn her palms. Elly stares at the steam, willing it to congeal into words. "All it says is one reference: Ricdeau."