Time Space Administration Bureau Homeworld
2,700 km Northwest of the McGreggor Archipelago.
Five Thousand Feet above sea level..._
It was wonderful weather for flying that day...
"This is TSA Test Force Unit One to any TSA Unit that can hear me..."
What appeared to be a man wrapped in heavy metal armor exploded through the clouds as he rapidly ascended above the white bank at high speed, the roar coming from an unseen force around him shattered the peace of the open sky. Only seconds later, the reason for his haste broke the cloud bank behind him. He quickly checked over his shoulder before rolling his body and dropping into a dive.
"...I am currently engaged with SIX, I say again SIX hostile cyborg type combat units! I can't shake them! Requesting Emergency Assistance! I say again: Requesting Emergency Assistance!"
He knew nobody could hear the message though. The entire area was under a blanket ECM barrier blocking long-range communications. He could only hope those back at Test Force Command were doing more than sitting around drinking tea while these, what appeared to be women, tried to kill him. He could almost hear his commander in his mind barking about how reinforcements were taking too long, and that the whole thing would be over in two minutes. For better or for worse.
There was a minor change in his heart rate and he risked a glance at the autonomous information on his Heads Up Display. His device had just reallocated some of his defensive energy to speed. Even as he recognized it and pulled out of his dive, he felt the telltale thump as he broke the sound barrier for who knows how many times now. The sudden prickling of hair on the back of his neck told him that that same boost in speed and sudden turn had saved him from another, probably rank A or AA dumb fire attack. The Device was indeed fighting for its life as much as he was fighting for his.
"DAMMIT!" he swore. "I'm really starting to get tired of this 'They shoot and I Evade' Routine!"
With six-on-one odds, it was rather bleak. He needed to blind them... Wait!
"BATTERY! Drop an Iron Howl in their face!"
There was a click in his ears that sounded like wind chimes even as he felt his heart skip a beat from the magic energy spike. The Device AI boomed an affirmation of the command.
And then he felt the gun-shaped device held near his side kick suddenly in his grip as an orange ball of light was propelled away from himself. Moments later, a signature move of Graf Eisen detonated like a monstrous magical flash bang. The moment it did so, he leaned back hard, pulling high Gs and he broke into a climb, pouring all the speed he had into getting high above his opposition and being in a better dog fighting angle. The high armor mass protested against this move, making it all the harder to pull off as he attempted to accelerate.
Reacting to the warning, he reflexively turned his head to look behind him, almost missing the discolored blur as it shot ahead of him. He only realized it as someone out climbing him when it materialized almost directly in front of him.
Just enough time to focus on the fist coming at him, and the deep purple blade behind it!
A barrier snapped into existence as he reflexively crossed his arms in front of his head, bracing to stop the blow.
Finally getting a good look at one of his attackers, he noted the blue gray jumpsuit and light armor. But her face was absolutely frightening. It was one of pure business, as if this sort of thing was just another day's annoying work.
He grunted as her blow arrested his momentum, certainly allowing for those below to catch up. But that was the least of his problems. The barrier was starting to fracture under the continuing force she was exerting. A fast eye glance at his heads up display compounded the problem. He couldn't increase energy to the barrier, or there wouldn't be enough to keep this massive armor in the air, causing him to drop like a lead weight. Even as the fracture started to spider web out, he realized that this was going to end very messy. In the back of his mind, he felt the device had reached the same conclusion. In less than a moment, the fracturing accelerated as the device pulled energy off the barrier to reinforce the internal shock management and barrier jacket fields under the armor. The device was switching from active combat to emergency injury containment proactively.
And that was a truly frightening thought.
Then the barrier failed.
Crash sat bolt upright in his bed, a crack of thunder from a late night storm rumbled in the distance. For a second he sat there breathing heavily, feeling his own heart rate racing. After a moment, he took stock of his surroundings. He was in his own personal quarters, in the TSA Test Facility. Apparently what he'd just experienced was another one of those recurring nightmares. He'd been having them randomly for four months now.
[I AM DETECTING AN ELEVATED HEARTRATE AND INCREASED LEVELS OF ADRENALINE IN YOUR BLOOD STREAM]
The authoritarian voice of the Battery Intelligent Device was somehow comforting to hear, despite that no matter how it tried, it didn't exactly come across as... comforting in tone. However his lack of response prompted it to continue checking on his well being.
[SHALL I REQUEST MEDICAL ASSISTANCE? IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND I WILL DO SO]
"No, stand down," Crash responded. "Just a nightmare."
[HOW ABOUT A CUP OF WARM MILK?]
Crash couldn't help but laugh slightly at the seemingly harmless comment, Battery's idea of a joke. It was even funnier since that harsh authoritarian voice it had made everything sound serious.
"That actually sounds like a good idea," he sighed. "What time is it?"
[FOUR THIRTY-SEVEN AM, LOCAL TIME. CURRENT WEATHER CONDITIONS: A COLD FRONT FROM LOW PRESSURE TO THE NORTHWEST HAS BROUGHT STORMS THE GREATER MCGREGGOR ARCHIPELLIGO AREA. RAIN IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE UNTIL EIGHT AM]
The device read him well. That would have been his next question. Crash shoved the blankets away from himself and crawled out of his bed, not bothering to make it. Rain always meant that outdoor test operations would be postponed until later in the afternoon, when sky conditions were favorable for flight.
As he went about a slightly earlier than normal morning routine, he thought about his current position.
His name was Crash, or rather, that was his call sign. His name was nobody's business but the Generals in charge of the TSAB Ground forces. He was the lead test pilot for the Bureau Experimental Systems Test Force, or B.E.S.T. FORCE. Overall, a fairly nice position if you liked to play with all the new toys first. He smirked at the thought. All the fun, little of the paperwork. A perfect career, assuming you didn't mind a little risk of things exploding in your face.
Crash's call sign was not something of his own invention. It had been dubbed upon him after the first major incident he had ever been in.
He was fresh out of Cadet training, assisting Admiral Lindy Harlown in an inspection of one of the TSABs new dimensional cruisers. A nice woman really, and from the rumors, a fairly good admiral and powerful mage. Nobody was really sure how he'd done it, but he'd somehow managed to wreck that cruiser, while it was still parked in the dock, and powered down. Crash recalled the chain reaction in his mind. Lindy had handed him one of her almost accessory teas to hold while she checked a computer terminal. It was the stuff of legend almost. Despite the thrice filtered air of the cruiser and it's sterile environment of dimensional space, he had, only moments later, a compulsory urge to sneeze. Rather than sneeze on the Admiral, or into her drink, he jerked his head around hard. Unfortunately, the sudden motion had flung the contents of the tea on the computer console the Admiral was inspecting.
It all had happened so fast. The panel sparked as the liquid shorted a circuit, and they were all jolted off their feet as the main engines fired at full power. The cruiser had broken free of its mooring lines, tearing out docking clamps and construction equipment and rammed its double prow hull into the far side of the dock before the sheer mass of the facility arrested the rogue vessel.
The damage was estimated to be in the billions. And it only took eight seconds.
Half the upper ranks of the TSAB wanted him dishonorably discharged on the spot for the incident. However, Admiral Lindy had kept them at bay with that disturbingly scary smile of hers. Truth be told, they didn't have a case against him. The strangest thing was that the main power systems were completely offline, the engine control systems were in failsafe lockout, and the console he'd spilt the tea on was a recreational computer that was in no way connected to the main computer network, let alone the engine controls. The kicker? Nobody else was onboard at the time.
Luckily, nobody was hurt despite the several hundred thousand-ton warship barreling through the docking bay.
But naturally, someone had to be blamed, and he still got slapped on the wrist. Of course, six months remedial training isn't what someone would call, a slap on the wrist, but whatever. It beat having to sign away his pay for the rest of his non-existent career for the damages.
They had discovered during his remedial training, that he was REALLY GOOD at breaking things. Equipment, records, limiters, RULES... when it came time to assign him, he'd acquired a somewhat legendary name as a walking Murphy's Law. Emergency response teams called it good training. Everyone else called it anything from annoying, to dangerous.
Crash gargled some mouthwash and spat it into the sink in front of him before inspecting his teeth.
The TSA was no slouch in recognizing dangerous potential. His innate knack for finding new and creative ways to break things had him before a review board more times than most cadets could imagine possible. It was finally decided this 'potential' could be useful in a situation where the ability to break stuff on accident was considered a good thing. And he was shipped off to the BEST FORCE.
If the upper echelons of the TSA had any doubts of his abilities up to this point, he quickly stomped them flat.
He nearly blew the base HQ off the map, not two hours after he'd arrived. He liked to blame that one on the exposed power conduit and faulty feedback breaker in the mess hall.
'Speaking of the mess hall,' he thought spinning and grabbing some light clothing from his closet...
At five in the morning, there wasn't exactly much activity in the Best Force's DIFAC. A few of the facility's late night engineering staff, and some of the early morning mechanics were lounging around, munching on whatever meal they might be after, or a cup of coffee. The place was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week... since the Test Facility never really slept. Currently manning the food line was an older woman, who immediately engaged Crash in conversation on sight.
"A little early for you Crash, isn't it?"
Marilyn, the head cook, was always a morning person, preferring to be up to serving 'the most important meal of the day' to the staff of the Test Facility. If the food was going to be made, it was going to be made right. Crash had plenty of conversations about food with her, and even cooked a few times. However, after about the sixth time he'd nearly burnt the DIFAC to the ground, she'd pretty much banned him from the kitchen altogether. It wasn't that he was a bad cook, it was just, in her view, that every time he touched the stove, the recipe instantly became a Flambé'.
"I just can't sleep tonight is all," he responded. Of course, Marilyn, in her many years, was nobody's fool, and she could read him like an open book.
"Nightmares again?" she shook her head. "Four months and counting, and the psychology department at TSA Ground Command still insists you don't have post traumatic stress disorder."
"Well, they say that if all the years of blowing myself up over and over didn't cause it. There's no way a mere ten minute dogfight I successfully escaped could possibly have done it, and that I'm just being paranoid since hundreds of mages had to get psychological screening after the whole Combat Cyborg Incident."
"That's a load of bull and you KNOW it," Marilyn snapped, shaking the ladle she'd been holding directly at Crash. "I have half a mind to march right in there and tell the whole combined brass off."
"I'm sure you'll make them quiver in their over polished boots," Crash smirked. "Poison them with Akane's cooking?"
Marilyn blinked before she recalled the reference.
"Oh HELL no!" she responded in shock. "Nobody deserves that fate honey. But you know my motto: An army fights on its stomach. And if I felt so inclined, HQ would STARVE. Now what will you be having this mornin' sweetie?"
An empty threat it was not. Marilyn was probably the cornerstone in an entire grapevine of DIFAC cooks that stretched throughout the TSAB. One word from her, and within maybe a day or less, every kitchen would be shut down in protest. Even the bravest of warriors feared the Wrath of the Cook.
"Hell, I'm up, might as well get ready for a long day," he finally responded. "Full stack, go easy on the greasies though, I gotta' look after my girlish figure."
"Any less meat on those bones and you'll turn into a skeleton," Marilyn responded, slapping a country style breakfast onto his plate, complete with biscuits and gravy. As if to emphasize her point, she slapped extra sausage and gravy on. However, she had it off to the side, as not to completely ignore his request, just merely 'tempt' him.
"Thanks 'Ma', you're the best." To everyone at this facility, that was her nickname. She was like a mother to them all. And as everyone knows, Ma's cooking was the best.
"You're welcome dear," she smiled.
[DON'T FORGET THE MILK]
Crash blinked for a second, but then remembered what Battery had suggested first thing when he woke up. About the same time, there was a mild 'THUD' as Marilyn placed a large pint of milk onto his tray. It was actually a well made hot cocoa, complete with marshmallows. A quick taste test told him this had been ready previously, as it had already had time to cool down to lukewarm... just the way he liked it.
"You sent her a message in advance again, didn't you?"
Crash turned away with a shrug to pick out a spot on one of the more sturdy looking tables in the room when he was interrupted again by Marilyn.
"Oh, Crash, one more thing: Keep your head down and try not to touch anything today." she warned. "Don's on a rampage again."
Crash rolled his eyes before half-turning to Marilyn.
"He's not still upset over the damage to the transport pad in block four is he?"
"I don't know," she replied. "He came in here about forty minutes ago hotter than a fusion reactor, screamin' 'bout this an that. He only stopped and left after I threatened to put him on a Liver and Onion diet for a month."
"How would you rank his temper today?" Crash asked. It seemed everyone in the DIFAC paused for a moment at this question.
"About Double A," she responded.
"Great..." Crashed muttered. "As if I don't have enough nightmares as it is."
"Go eat," Marilyn ordered. "Be ready on all cylinders."
Crash turned back to his task of picking a place to sit. Nearby, a group of engineers were speaking in hushed tones. At least one of them he recognized immediately.
"Hey, Chiba," he nodded at them. One of them looked up and returned his greeting with a smirk and a nod before going back to his discussion. According to the snippets he caught, it seemed to be on the aerodynamics and armor piercing capabilities of roses, and the unrealized potential for carrying sensor packages in top hats.
Settling at the end of a table nearest the door, he contemplated his news for the day. Everyone at the BEST FORCE knew Don, or Donald. He was the head mechanic, supervisor of facility maintenance, and a certified top level master engineer with multiple degrees. His job was of course, to fix whatever broke... Naturally this conflicted with Crash's natural abilities. Word was that one of these days, they would clash in an epic final super battle that would leave MidChilda a smoldering ashen wasteland unfit for microorganisms, let alone the TSAB. Luckily, this apocalypse had yet to come to pass.
Working on the eggs first, Crash couldn't help but pin Don as the most frightening force alive...
Don had a temper the likes of which the TSAB had never seen. He wasn't afraid of anything or anyone, up to and including The Three Admirals. If you broke it, be prepared for the biggest tirade you've ever heard in your life. Something Crash had become accustomed to tuning out... though he tended to wonder what he could have done with the time he lost after getting caught in one.
So of course, it had come to the point where Don had been assigned a magical rank for his temper. C was generally a Calm day, B was BAD, A was... Asshole. Double A was Aggravated Asshole... S stood for OH SHIT, and double S was SHITSTORM, and of course PMS was there at the top of the list. Nobody dared mention that one to him, even if he was aware of the other 'ranks'. Mainly for fear that there could be a rank higher than PMS.
Crash was about to attack his biscuit when a pair of hands clapped down over his eyes.
"Guess who," came a chirpy female voice.
"Asuka Langley Sorhyu?" he asked, throwing a hint of curiosity in his tone. He knew exactly who it was though.
"DUMMBKOPF!" and he was rewarded with a slap to the back of his head a moment later. "I am NOT German!"
"Okay, sorry..." the girl wandered around from behind him and flopped down on the other side of the table. "What's up Fox?"
At first glance, her spouting off a German word to the contrary did not help her claims. Fox looked almost exactly like the Anime character Crash had just identified. Her voice and spunk didn't help things much, as she sounded like a carbon copy... she was just missing A-10 connectors in her hair. But the similarities ended there. Fox was a completely different personality entirely. She wasn't self-centered, and she wasn't exactly a scholarly pinnacle of excellence.
At age fourteen, she was the TSA Test Force's number two pilot; the aptly designated Unit 02. Crash found the coincidence both funny and creepy at the same time. Needless to say, the number of Third Impact jokes that occurred in her presence had reached the point of it just being an offhand comment. Luckily, in her defense, she was shorter, and cuter, than her anime counterpart... but not by much.
"Not much," she returned after a moment. "Just noticed you were up early this morning. Nightmares again?"
"Yep," crash nodded between a chunk of sausage. "Same as before, last minute of the initial encounter."
"Still stuck with that instant replay huh?" she swiped a piece of toast from his plate and tore into it as he gave her a brief look of annoyance at her food thievery. "You should just tell yourself that you're better than that and kill it already. You took six to one odds against unquantified elements and lasted eight minutes where an entire force of mages with applied intel later got their butts handed to them on a silver platter."
In a way, Fox was right. He had lasted a good eight minutes. But then again, the only reason he'd taken the blow in the first place was because the armor plating with magical reinforcement had actually functioned as expected. Those cyborgs had hammered him good in that fight. While he'd been busy freaking out over his barrier, he instinctively knew the others were moving to assist. The one with the huge cannon had gotten a free shot off the moment the barrier dropped. It was only after taking that nearly fatal blow that he'd managed a counter attack, and it was the sheer surprise he had that allowed him the momentum to carry a combination strike that put one of them down. But still, if the armor hadn't functioned as planned, he may very well have become a statistic.
As a test pilot of course, he wasn't exactly unused to being in high threat situations, especially the kinds he'd set off. But this was different. Accidents held no intent or malice, they just happened and were predictable to a degree. Being under direct attack and engaged with something that intended to capitalize on every advantage it had to KILL him was something else entirely. He wouldn't have lasted much longer if it weren't for the timely arrival of high ranking reinforcements.
To Fox though, none of that meant anything. To her, he was the adopted Big Brother. Crash the Indestructible... or in her words. ' Crash the Test Dummy'.
"Easier said than done," he knew arguing with her wouldn't get him very far. "And quit stealing my food! Get your own plate. Sheesh."
"I already ate actually," she responded with her patented Fox Grin. "I just wanted to annoy you a little while you're still slow... dummy."
"So what about you?" he asked, changing the topic as quickly as possible. "What are you doing up so early?"
Fox froze in mid bite, her sparkling clean teeth showing longer than normal. She gulped the bite after a moment.
"You mean you FORGOT?" she asked incredulously. He returned her look with a blank one. "Crash! Today is the scheduled Level One operations field test for project Lawmaker! The test Commander Roland's been going on about for three weeks STRAIGHT. You FORGOT about that?"
"I didn't forget!" Crash snapped in defense. Fox crossed her arms over her chest and simply gave him, the Eye. "Okay, maybe a little. But I was distracted by that stupid nightmare. Sue me. You know how narrow minded I get."
Fox rolled her eyes before depositing his half eaten toast back on the plate. Crash eyed it for a moment in contemplation before slicing the chewed part off with his knife and dipping the good part in the runny yoke from his eggs.
"So, where does this involve you getting up early?" he continued after a moment. "The Commander's had tighter lips on that project then most Lost Logia have seals. He won't tell me ANYTHING. This project has been going for six months and I haven't even seen the mission statement."
"I have to be over to Block Six in thirty minutes to make sure the Naval Salvaging team is ready to deploy if something goes wrong," she explained. "All I know is that there is a chance that the item in the test could end up going down in deep water."
"That makes this a performance evaluation trial," Crash Identified. Even if he knew nothing on Project Lawmaker, he could identify the type and phase just by the procedures of a test. "That's phase four testing. Skipping concept test, safety test, and limits test stages. Someone's putting old tech to new use in a really ingenious way."
Crash knew the test phases...
PHASE ONE: Concept Proof Testing. This was usually conducted in a lab somewhere just to prove that it could be done… Generally safe outside of occasional slipups.
PHASE TWO: Safety Testing. Generally, a concept was still under suspicion until it could be proven as safe to utilize. This test phase had more safety precautions and red tape than the TSAB had paper. It also generally produced the largest number of small explosions.
PHASE THREE: Limits Testing. Crash was really familiar with this area. In fact, it was pretty much his specialty. Proven and safe to use concepts were then pushed as far as the project tech would allow, trying to find the point of failure. And that point was often found... explosively. Getting the Belken cartridge system up to modern specifications for the TSAB included extensive phase three testing, resulting in seven explosions, two of which included tests on high magic density cartridges... Both had generated Double S level magical explosions that had in turn, produced a seismic event felt as far away as the TSAB Ground HQ. Of the things learned, it was that high-energy microwaves and magic cartridges didn't mix. Safety was always an issue in phase three testing, but since the very nature of the testing was to find the failure limits, risks had to be taken. Crash's forte' in this area was his ability to break things in weird ways, but somehow come out almost completely unharmed. It had been a real boon to the BEST Force for many, many years.
PHASE FOUR: The Final Test Phase was Performance Testing. After proving the concept to function, proving it safe, and finding its limits. Then it could be thrown to the dogs to have the kinks ironed out in different test scenarios. Many of which had realistic simulations of events that could actually occur, most of them combat related. Crash was often doing phase four testing as well, since his knack for breaking things usually found a few bugs and flaws rather quickly. Mostly, if the project being worked on skipped straight to phase four testing, it generally meant that some engineer was out teaching the proverbial old dog, new tricks.
"Also," he continued his thought a moment later. "Deep water salvage probably means a FLIGHT Performance test of some kind." He scarfed the remains of an egg he'd been working on. "In fact, the fact that the commander wants aquatic salvage for a Phase Four Only project means we've got something with sensitive equipment that is not exactly easy or cheap to duplicate. Which means we've got a prototype aircraft..." he paused to think some more, eyeing the extra food 'Ma' had heaped him. Instinct suddenly told him the extra energy might be useful, so he began to rapidly munch on the extra food.
"Too much secrecy to be developing the next line in JF-700 series," he referenced the newish combat transport helicopter. "Too much secrecy for anything other than a combat vehicle of some kind."
Fox had known Crash for two years, but it still amazed her how well he knew the System. He had a One Hundred Over One Hundred rate for calling the type of project based merely on the protocols and operations for a particular test. His Logic was impeccable. Deep Water Salvage was only needed for aircraft, since those were the only things that went out far enough on a test to end up in deep water. It was even more so obvious that if it were an equipment test with a mage, like the Battery Device Field Test, it would be designated a RESCUE mission, rather than a salvage operation. All the rest of the logic he'd stated himself.
"That is... surprisingly logical," she concluded with a blink. Crash paused from finishing his meal to give her a look that said 'I thought it was obvious.'
Fox sighed before sitting up straight while Crash quickly finished his meal. After chugging down the hot cocoa in one long gulp, he slammed the Pint down on the table.
"Aaahhh..." he smiled. "Tha's the stuff!" And then he grimaced. "I'm going to feel like a blimp now..."
Fox reached down and flicked a crumb at him. Crash blinked and looked down at himself as it ricocheted of his shirt.
"You realize of course, this means war," he stated, lifting his entire messy plate. Fox rolled her eyes again and stuck out her tongue.
"You have to get fifty-two different authorizations to fire," the reply was dripping with a Holier-Then-Thou tone, implying her invulnerability to retaliation. Crash shrugged.
"True. And I don't feel like going through that much Administration Paperwork... EVER. Anyway, I should get over to TICTOCC. Maybe I can finally squeeze some kind of info out of Roland. I want to know what we're doing today some time before I'm right in the middle of it."
He rose up, dwarfing the young girl easily as he took his tray over to the conveyer that rolled them off into the mysterious depths of the kitchen beyond, then aimed for the exit. But not before showing his gratitude.
"Thanks for the food Ma," he stated.
"You're welcome sugar," she responded, right in the process of slapping some gravy on a tray belonging to an engineer.
The Test Facilities TEST OPERATIONS COMMAND CENTER, or TOCC (often referred to as 'TICTOCC' since it was busy around the clock...) was located in Block Two, on the third island of the McGreggor Archipelago. It wasn't visually impressive, but then again, from above, it was just another building. It was below the surface that it really became a marvel. TICTOCC was a hardened bunker, which was in itself, built into a lava cavity that had been formed many thousands of years before when the third island had been an active volcano. It served as a stronghold of command and control that could withstand the unpredictable results of a test gone wrong, and had the potential to act as a difficult to attack nerve center at the same time, should the facility ever come under attack.
A little something of an in-joke… Ever since the arrival of Fox, a walking fiction reference in herself. Parallels had been drawn, and somewhere, some radio operator had dubbed the control center 'GEOFRONT'. The call sign stuck, and had been in use for two years.
The place was pretty cozy. Across the main wall, the Master Situation Monitor displayed any functional map required. It was the size of a screen at a movie theater, but with insane resolution and clarity. Most of the time, a Mercator Projection of MidChilda with an overlay of the McGreggor Archipelago (within 400 nautical miles) was up. Keeping track of all local traffic and test operations, while at the same time, marking incidents around the globe.
The room had several operations terminals lined up facing the MSM for the use of various operators ranging from the central Operations Commander, to the engineers monitor consoles.
In the middle of this orchestra was the Base Command Console, pretty much an elevated and glorified console that overlooked the Operations Commander. It was here that Major General William Roland stood, his seat pushed back behind him as he scanned a weather report.
"A cold front this far south..." he muttered. "More like a slightly-less-warm front if you ask me."
Roland had a bit of a cynical edge to him. As the base commander for the TSAB's most important experimental test facility, he had to be. SOMEONE had to keep the engineers and scientists in line.
William Roland hailed from Non-administrated world 97. Earth. Before joining the TSAB, he was a tank commander with the rank of Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Military and operated out of Ft. Hood, Texas. Needless to say, he was one of the few in a position of command in the entire TSAB that actually knew, and had experience in operating as a REAL military unit. He took some amount of pride in that whenever he had to rub it in the faces of the 'Armchair Commanders' in the Bureau that called themselves Generals. He'd EARNED his position through blood, sweat, and tears and pretty much browbeat anyone he came up against into the ground if it was ever challenged. His charge was the command of this facility.
McGreggor Archipelago was home to Abenobashi Air Base, a throwback to MidChilda's older days when it was still concerned with its own petty disputes rather than sticking its nose into other dimensional space areas. The Archipelago was a seven-island chain, with the actual airbase on the first island. The second island was mostly developed as the base housing area... and resembled a resort. The third island, often-called C complex, was the actual test facility. Beyond that, the other islands were off-limits ranges, used for test exercises and proving grounds for the various 'products' the 'Mad Scientists' were always trying to come up with.
Roland ran the facility like a military base. His dedication to safety and security was due partly in his recall of his earlier days, and partly to the understanding of the volatility and sensitivity of the materials he was responsible for. There was ALWAYS someone competent on duty at TICTOCC, and he personally oversaw all high-level field tests. Nothing on McGreggor happened without his approval. Still, he couldn't help but remember that the TSAB was NOT a full level military, and as such, had relaxed restrictions on protocol and the like. Incidentally, he hated paperwork. Always had. In his own words,' any time spent filling out a report was time better spent getting the job done'. One of his first actions upon gaining command of Abenobashi AB, he had a couple of engineers 'waste their valuable time' streamlining and outright cutting as much internal paperwork and red tape out of the process as possible. Thanks to this, those working for the BEST Force considered it the best job on MidChilda, because they did their job, not stacks of paperwork.
He had MidChilda's extensively advanced computer technology to do that kind of thing for him.
"Lime, link to MIDSAT B and display imagery," he ordered.
"You got it master!" came a chirpy female voice from the console in front of him. The MSM's overlay blinked as the display modified itself, showing the clouds of the storm that had almost finished blowing through. The new AI was a recent addition to TICTOCC. The engineers had, after some persuading, set up a three AI system that divided the facility's functions amongst themselves for ease of monitoring. Roland had immediately rejected calling them the MAGI, since the place was already rife with Evangelion references, not to mention it stunk of bad omens. So instead, the Engineers had compromised, liking their fictional references too much to give up on it. So they designed the AIs after another popular fiction on base. Thus, TICTOCC was assisted by The Maidens; Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry. Roland had almost regretted allowing those engineers to get away with it when he realized the AI had personalities that matched their names.
"There you go!" Lime chirped.
On second thought though, he'd decided that the friendly tones helped with the tense atmosphere. Luckily, these AI didn't bicker like their fictional counterparts.
"The storm system should be through in another two hours," Cherry piped up. The softer AI voice was a stark contrast, but it was interesting. Suddenly, the stronger voice of the Bloodberry AI added her own comment.
"Which leaves us all the rest of the day to test away! Maybe even blow something up!"
Yep, it was interesting all right.
"Speaking of tests," Lime's disarming voice returned. "Looks like our number one demolitions expert's on his way!"
The MSM blinked, replacing the Satellite image of the hemisphere with an internal security camera view of the corridor at top level. Crash was conversing with Fox just out of the rain before she smiled in faux innocence and took off out of view at a full run into the elements. Crash then turned towards the camera shaking his head and proceeded down the hall. The image blinked to a new camera showing him approaching an elevator.
"Go ahead and bring him directly to TOCC," Roland ordered. "He's heading here anyway... might as well be the short cut."
"YAAAAY!!!!!" Lime erupted. "Crashy-washy-vashy-SMASHY!" She finished her exclamation in a singsong tone before ending in a fit of giggles. Anywhere else, an AI like this would have probably freaked someone out.
On the elevator, Crash noticed that the button he pushed didn't light up. Instead, the floor display blinked out and changed to display 'GEOFRONT EXPRESS'. Normally he had to stop two floors up, and pass a security checkpoint, two card reader doors, and wander down two flights of moving floor ramps. The express mode was internally controlled from TICTOCC.
"Commander must've seen me coming..."
When the lift doors opened, he was greeted by some crazy sounding fanfare that reminded him of an RPG game. It ended almost as abruptly as it started though, which was a good thing in TICTOCC.
"Good morning sir," he raised a lazy, but precise salute to General Roland as he stepped through the doors. The base commander returned it with a lazy salute of his own.
"Mornin' Crash," Roland responded. "Up earlier than you need to be I see."
"You know me," Crash smiled. The commander turned back towards the MSM, which had returned to the Satellite view it had originally been on.
"Yeah... The sooner to rise, the sooner you can break my expensive toys." With his back turned, Crash couldn't see his catlike grin.
"Hey, it's not like I do it on PURPOSE now," he rose to the bait. "I'm just an accident magnet."
"Oh, you know you love every minute of it!" Roland smirked over his shoulder. "Where else in all of the TSAB could you freely go around breaking everything you touch, and actually have a good reason to do so?"
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but The Truth Crash. Where is your god NOW?
"Point," he admitted. "So where're my girls at now?"
"HEY CRASH!" Lime AI burst over the speakers. Waiting patiently (do AI possess patience?) for Crash and Commander Roland to finish their formal greeting for the morning. Usually involving the formal part, followed by a witty exchange.
"Hey'ya Lime!" Crash echoed in the room. "Crunching any good numbers this morning?"
Lime's response was even more cheerful than Roland thought possible.
"Yep! Five million petaflops in the last twenty minutes alone."
"A very good morning to you Sir," the Cherry AI toned in herself. "It's nice to note you're in suitably good physical health and are well fed."
Bloodberry AI quickly followed in on the heals of Cherry's comment.
"Which is all good because I can't WAIT to see what kind of stunts you pull on the test later today. Knock em DEAD tiger! Roowwwarrr!"
"Good morning to you too, Cherry, Bloodberry," Crash continued. "Nice to see your sister hasn't completely stolen the limelight from you... no pun intended."
The Maidens practically ADORED crash. Roland had thought at first that he'd somehow managed to break THEM too. But after a while, realized they were simply such good AIs that they were simply growing. For the most part, Lime was a chatterbox and loved to talk to Crash, who would chat with her for hours if given the chance. Cherry enjoyed calculating the variables that surrounded Crash whenever he was out in the Field. Bloodberry? If it wasn't obvious by now that she loved his tendency for random mass destruction...
"So where's the Operations Commander this morning?" Crash asked suddenly, referring to the empty chair in front of the MSM. "He's insanely punctual normally."
"Martin?" Roland asked, looking at the OPSCOM chair. "I told him to get some extra sleep this morning thanks to the rain, and told him I wouldn't argue about it, and that it was an order. He argued anyway, but I wanted to make sure he was well rested for today's test."
"Speaking of that," Crash continued. "That's actually why I'm here. You've been going on about this test forever, and just won't tell anyone a THING. You've even got Fox up early for catastrophic failure preparations without her knowing exactly what we're preparing for." He left out that he'd already pretty much assessed what they were dealing with, but didn't want to let on that he'd figured it out. Know your enemy, know yourself. Crash mentally shook his head, too much Sun Tsu.
"Heh," Roland concealed a chuckle. "You're just going to have to wait and see aren't you?"
"No spoilers!" Lime interjected. "Wouldn't want to ruin the surprise now would we?" Roland turned to face the MSM in slight agitation.
"Ladies, can I get you on Duty Mode for a few minutes? This is a serious discussion."
"Oh, okay..." Lime seemed slightly disappointed. But after a moment, there was an acknowledgement by the other two as well, and the hum of the room seemed to change to a more menacing tone.
Once they felt like they were more alone then before, Roland continued.
"Like I said, you'll have to wait for this one. It's a bit sensitive, even for my standards, so I've been keeping it very quiet."
"Come on Will," Crash requested, switching to a more informal tone. "You've got to get me something to work with. You know I hate being blind going into tests, and it also tends to mean I cause three times the damage as normal in those kinds of situation. At least give me the mission statement so I have an idea of what I'm toying with."
The commander shook his head. "No way man. As fast as this project has rolled out, and with as much as has been invested in it, I don't want to risk the Armchair Generals at TSAGCOM throwing a fit over it before I had some test data ready to fire back with. So everyone directly on the project has been both high clearance AND Need to Know. And you will get your Need to Know as soon as you need to know it, trust me on that one."
"That's crazy talk," Crash gaped. "TSAGCOM could be worried about this project? That's some serious cloak and dagger stuff."
"Not even the half of it," Roland rolled his eyes. "I will tell you this, keeping Cooper focused on this project has been a real pain in the ass."
Crash froze. "Cooper? 'Giant Robot' Cooper? Cooper 'XtraLrg' Cooper? The AI nut that designed Battery and the Maidens?"
"The same," Roland smirked. Crash quickly tried to compute in his own head how an AI programmer and Giant Robot fan crossed with a project test layout that screamed of a combat aircraft. Unless Cooper had somehow convinced the commander to let him build a giant robot or flying battlemech or something.
"Now I REALLY gotta' know more," Crash begged. Cooper, Aircraft, Giant Robots, AI: WARNING! DOES NOT COMPUTE!
"I'll let that drive you up the wall for the next few hours," Roland smirked. "I actually have to head over there and make sure he's awake in time for the test. He spent all night making the final adjustments for this morning. The rain might have bought him a few hours sleep, but I need to make sure he's up and ready. After all, this isn't just any old field test." He walked over to the OPSCOM console before he spoke. "Lime, display record RIOT SIX dated for today."
No response, but the OPSCOM monitor blinked out, displaying photos of several young ladies.
"I wanted some of TSABs most experienced on hand to give their impressions and reviews of the possibilities of this project. I figure if we can make a good impression on them with this project, we might be able to buy some of those Armchair Generals on the mainland. They're sending some higher ranking officers from that experimental Riot Force Six, who put up quite a good showing four months ago."
"JS incident wasn't it?" Crash asked.
"Yeah," the commander responded. "I'm sure you remember that one all too well."
"More than I'd like to," Crash inwardly shuddered, flashing back to a purple blade and those merciless, gold eyes.
"ANYWAY," Roland continued, interrupting the obviously disturbing thought. "We're expecting Commander Yagami Hayate, and two squadron commanders, Takamachi Nanoha, and Fate Testarossa Harlown... plus some further experienced subordinates. They should be arriving by chopper around eleven hundred hours... so I want you up on pad four waiting by ten-thirty. I'll probably end up stuck trying to get Cooper moving, so just listen for Martin's call. Once you get that, you can grab Fox and mosey on over to block four and I'll meet you there."
Crash gave the commander a perplexed look.
"And what am I supposed to do with a bunch of mainland officers to kill time?" he asked. "You know TSAGCOM tightwads and myself don't exactly mix. I barely mix with the non-tightwads without having to apologize half the time. 'Oh, I'm sorry, I accidentally set off a chain reaction that destroyed half the building because I flipped the light switch too fast.' PSHT! Sorry my ASS. I'm probably on the dartboards of every TSAB accountant on MidChilda, or I have a sixty billion bounty on my head and just got renamed a walking disaster area. Think I could complete the look if I dyed my hair blond, spiked it, and wore a red trench coat?"
Roland fought hard to suppress a laugh. DAMN it was tempting. But in the end, he could only shrug.
"You'll figure something out." He responded. "Maybe play tour guide and show them around the complex. You know this place well enough for that. Maybe if you play your cards right, you'll Get Lucky."
Crash looked at him deadpan.
"They're Officers," he stated.
"So are you," the general pointed out.
"They're ten year veterans," Crash fired back.
"They're still your age," Roland waggled his eyebrows.
"No thanks," Crash stated. "The way things tend to go around me, I see this one only ending in tears. And if these letters here are mage ranks like they read to be... I suspect MY tears. Double A Level, Triple A? Double S? A painful way to die if I piss them off. Doomsday with Don might be preferable."
"You're loss," Roland sighed. "If I were still young..."
"You mean you were young?" Crash sniped. Big mistake.
"FRONT LEAN-IN-REST POSITION!"
Roland smirked at his little abuse of power.
"Cancel Duty Mode," he stated aloud.
"Training Time!" Lime immediately chimed in.
"The record is ninety-seven," Cherry advised next.
"Work work WORK!" Bloodberry followed up last. "When the brain is weak, make the muscles strong! Work that sexy body boy! Work it HARD!"
"Ladies," Roland stated in his most suave voice. "In Cadence."
"IN CADANCE!!!" they rang.
It was good to be the King.