11:51 AM

Cranagan City

Northeast District

St. Hilde's Academy.

"Good morning, and welcome to today's edition of Midday Meal Cast here on Weather Link, sponsored by Aperture Systems. I'm Naru Narusegawa, and this is our chief Meteorologist and Weather Control Magic Expert, George Davidson. Broadcasting live to you today from our studios here in Cranagan. Looks like it's shaping up to be a beautiful day to be outdoors today isn't it George?"

"Indeed Naru, it looks like things are going to cooperate for lunch today here in the City of Towers. Temperatures are looking to remain in the lower seventies throughout the lunch hour as people head out to hit the major spots on Sinclair Avenue and along Marina Parkway…"

Its funny how many parallels you find when you examine two civilizations that are completely unrelated to one another…

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. And when you look at two civilizations of humans, however separated they may be in terms of history, culture, and dimensional location, the needs remain the same. Thus, it is by no mere coincidence or leap of logic that the exact same 'inventions' would be made without any kind of interaction between the two, let alone influence one another.

The Mid-Childan Ocean and Atmospheric Evaluators, or MOAE as they are called, would be one such example. The proverbial parallel to Earth's NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), they would be responsible for all things pertaining to weather forecasting and the monitoring of meteorological and oceanic events across all of Mid-Childa. An important part of the day for a population in the billions, they prided themselves on accurate and up-to-date weather modeling.

The significance of this however, was pretty much lost on little Vivio as she snacked on an apple slice.

"As you can see from the satellite picture," George continued. "A strong area of low pressure's been steaming across the North Ceres Ocean, pulling along a cold front that's dumped rain as far south as the McGreggor Archipelago. This system is expected to reach us here in Cranagan some time tomorrow morning as the frontal boundary drags onshore, with an increased chance for thunderstorms as the warm moist air ahead of the front gets forced up over the Selumna Range. After which you can expect a mild cool down and steady rains into the evening hours. So don't make too many plans for the beaches this weekend."

George Oscar Davidson, the weather expert currently talking on the TV, was not merely a nice person who liked to help people. He was a man to be respected.

It was a tangent memory that stirred in Vivio. But after Jail's attack on HQ, and her subsequent kidnapping, she'd seen the Doctor watching the weather. Obviously, knowing now after the fact, he wanted to make sure he wasn't going to fly a three-kilometer long magical battleship through the middle of a thunderstorm. But that's not what had been odd.

It was what the serious cyborg girl, Tre, had done. No sooner did George appear on the screen, than Tre seemed to freeze up, duck into a far corner, and ball up on the ground. All while muttering 'Finger of God' over and over again as she rocked back and forth.

Despite being frightened of what the doctor was preparing to do, she couldn't stifle curiosity, and had asked a question.

The Doctor had explained amidst a unnerving chuckle that Tre had been on a 'mission' that a storm chasing team had been far too close to, and she had decided to ensure they wouldn't interfere, or even report her. Unfortunately, what nobody had known was that George, a meteorological expert leading the storm chasing convoy at the time, was also an unregistered weather control mage.

A POWERFUL weather control mage.

George's intimate knowledge of Meteorology made for an unexpected surprise. Tre could not have known what George was capable of doing. Nobody could have. Davidson was a noted pacifist. However, when his team were suddenly faced down with a combat cyborg and a supporting squadron of drone units, the gloves came off.

The Doctor had loved it. Tre had not. The Meteorologist had taught her the true meaning of the term EF-5 Tornado, and let her and the drones experience the wrath of a mile wide vortex of pure destruction.

The reason of course, that the Doctor had loved it so much, was that someone of such absurdly exceptional power had slipped under the Bureau's radar for decades, right under their nose. Evaluation of the data Tre had managed to bring back put Davidson easily at Double S strength. And when the Bureau inevitably found out, they wanted to employ him, and he refused. Even after their offers of absurdly high pay ranks, and threats of slapping all kinds of restrictions on his power. He reminded the TSAB that he was a pacifist, and he was there to help people, not hurl lightning bolts in judgement. He would not be doing missions for the TSAB beyond forecasting, and that was Final.

Jail respected Davidson as a man who stuck by his word, no matter what. In a twisted way, a man that was like the Doctor himself, only in a less 'questionable' field.

After this of course, every time Tre ever saw George, she'd curl up in a ball, muttering 'Finger of God… finger of God…'

The Doctor then commented that after the incident, he had forbid anyone from going near MOAE, its offices, or any of their representatives. He said: 'You could beat mages. You can beat armies. You could even beat the TSAB if you were prepared. But you can't beat the weather."

He then pointed out with a laugh, that if you took the first letter from each part of the meteorologist's name… You spelled G.O.D. And it was no Wonder Tre had been stomped.

It was so funny that Vivio had momentarily forgotten her fear, and hadn't even realized Scagletti was sedating her.

"And now," George continued on the screen. "Our Seven on the Sevens. The seven day forecast on the sevens of every hour, followed by the tropical outlook. Stay tuned."

Random memory aside, Vivio was with Fate-Mama, who was looking into a few different schools in the area to help Nanoha-Mama figure out which one would be the best. Nanoha-Mama had been busy of course with some kind of special morning training, so she couldn't do it herself today, but she promised that she'd be there for the final decision.

Saint Hildes' Academy was one of the higher-class schools in the area. Its campus was complete with school levels from primary school all the way to University Level, and was a very strong in the academics, magic, and archeology areas. The archeology department was obviously what got Uncle Scrya to recommend it in the first place. He wouldn't have bothered otherwise.

It boasted a program that combined the application of knowledge, history, and magical studies to be one of the most well rounded and complete Magical Education complexes on Mid-Childa. Most other schools on Mid-Childa by comparison treated Magic courses as something more like an Athletics Department. Not true with Saint Hildes'. They believed that mages should be well prepared to apply their abilities as intelligently as possible, and often combined classroom lecture with practical training. Many of the mages who graduated from this school were often selected for VERY good positions within the TSAB.

Of such positions included Naval Commanders, such as Admiral Lindy Harlown, mother to Admiral Chrono Harlown, and adopted mother of Fate Testarossa Harlown.

"I grew up in this school," Lindy remarked. "My homeroom was down that hall and to the right. I took my first flight exam as part of the advanced placement magic course from the roof up the stairs. The courtyard over there is nicknamed Marrow Field because of all the people who broke a limb falling off the roof."

"Exam failures," Fate laughed.

"All the time!" the retired Admiral smirked from her spot across from Fate. "I remember Clyde used to get into all kinds of trouble for encouraging them to practice without supervision. The Dean said his name fit so well with all the trouble he got into. I never understood why."

Fate returned a pleasant smile to her adopted mother. She had a vague idea why, but wouldn't be able to confirm it without asking Nanoha.

"Then Daedalus would come along and bail him out with overly sophisticated excuses, and spend the rest of the evening calling him all kinds of silly names," Lindy continued.

"Daedalus?" Fate asked?

"Clyde's best friend," Lindy answered. "Those two were about as alike as styrofoam and plate armor, but they were inseparable friends. Clyde would get into trouble, end up with detention or something. Daed would show up and manage to get him out of there with an excuse."

"Sounds like a good team," Fate nodded. Lindy suppressed a laugh.

"You didn't know Daed. The staff did. They knew he was just getting Clyde out of his punishment, but they allowed it because they knew he'd make Clyde pay for it three fold in his own way. He'd make poor Clyde study until daybreak with him without mercy so many times they called him the Shadow of Midnight. Clyde would fall asleep in class and get punished AGAIN. The longest number of times in a row that happened was five days. Clyde practically fell asleep standing up apologizing to me for missing a date."

Fate suppressed a giggle at mental image of the late Clyde Harlown, back in his late teens, trying to explain why he was late while actively dozing off at the same time.

"Speaking of which," the retired Admiral continued. "I heard Shari stayed up all night working on that equipment you brought in?"

Fate nodded, casting a glance at Vivio.

"Yes," she began. "She pulled an all-nighter. When I checked on her around seven or so this morning, she was still typing away amidst a pile of foam coffee cups. She doesn't know how it works yet, but she already found something interesting about the pod."

The elder woman leaned in slightly. "Go on…"

Fate glanced at Vivio again, engrossed in her lunch and staring at some commercial, then returned to her adopted mother.

"The casing's made of Polystannum Chloride."

"Plasteel?" Lindy frowned. The material could only be replicated by magical engineering techniques. It was the same chemical structure as Polyvinyl Chloride, but carbon atoms were intermittently replaced with tin, producing a stronger, more metallic material that still felt like mere plastic to the touch. It was light, but several times stronger than conventional plastic for its weight, rivaling many pure metal compounds in the strength-for-weight category. As such it was a favorite to many mages for their devices. In fact, it was light enough that a nine-year-old could pick up a device and handle it with minimal effort, but strong enough to handle the punishment of close combat. The only issue was that Plasteel was inflexible and brittle compared to regular materials, thus, ill suited to large-scale structural engineering.

Still, the use of Plasteel was a disturbing thought. Intelligent devices could restructure themselves and materialize their own alloys. But outside of that, plasteel was not in wide use. It was expensive. Anyone with the resources to spend on magical processes for the creation of plasteel had money, or power to spare. That was not a pleasant thought.

"Plasteel," Fate nodded. "What's more, is she found plasteel and graphene in the robot arm we recovered." That was an even less pleasant thought.

"Definitely the work of someone with resources," Lindy nodded solemnly. "It makes their attack on Selene all the more suspect. What do you think they were after?"

"I don't know," Fate sighed. "Rein had pulled a comprehensive database search. According to survey records she pulled up, the FLMP-8 Facility was built in the former location of a coal fired electrical power plant that was destroyed and buried one hundred and fifty years ago during the war. The cavity I found used to be part of the hopper for the baghouse."

"That would explain the preliminary results of the forensics team I sent your soil sample to," the elder Harlown replied.

"How's so?" Fate asked.

"Ash," Lindy stated. "Coal fly ash. The entire room was coated with it."

Fate screwed her face up trying to wrap her mind around it.

"What would a terrorist group want in a room full of soot?"

"I don't know," the retired Admiral admitted. "But I asked the forensics team to analyze it anyway. I reviewed a few other incidents involving Sektor Twenty-One power plant attacks. But this is the only one where they did something like this. Every other facility was a power plant like Selene, a raw mana reactor. What's more, there's a large amount of the hillside around the excavation hole that's missing material."

"What do you mean?" Fate asked.

"You might have missed it," Lindy continued. "You were a bit preoccupied from what I read. But I noticed it in the reports from the cleanup crews. There should have been hundreds of tons of earth piled around that hole. It's like they strip-mined the entire corner around that cooling tower."

Fate sighed and looked at Vivio again.

"There has to be something we're missing," she continued after a second, her face turning into a glare. "Something stupidly obvious!"

"If it were that easy, we'd have caught the masterminds of Sektor Twenty-One years ago," Lindy responded. However it was obvious by the matching frown on her face that she was thinking along the same lines.

"My dear, such a sour face is unsuited for one with such beauty as yourself."

Lindy froze... That absurdly flowery pickup line…

"It couldn't be."

Turning around, Fate swore the older woman's face nearly lit up like the sun at the sight of the stranger who had addressed them.


The man standing before them smiled at the recognition.

"Nice to see I'm not forgotten, Lindy."

Fate gave him the once over. He was tall, his hair was long, and tied back with a ribbon. The hair itself was silver, showing his age, but his face looked deceptively young. He seemed to put out an air of dandy that was only complemented by the white suit he was wearing to match his hair. In one of his hands, both of which were covered in beautiful white satin dress gloves, he sported a small book on petrography.

As he peered back at her over the top of his spectacles with his light xanthous

eyes, Fate couldn't help but feel her face flush. He was very handsome.

"And who might this striking young lady be?" he continued, raising an eyebrow.

"This is my daughter, Fate," Lindy answered.

"One of the famous Aces if I recall," Daedalus commented as he took Fate's hand and gave it a peck. "A pleasure."

"You're laying on the charm thick as you always used to," the retired admiral smirked. "If I didn't know you better than that, I'd have fallen for it."

"Am I that transparent?" The gentleman responded with a false hurt look.

"Maybe to me," Lindy answered honestly, then cast a look at Fate, who had turned a darker shade of red. "I don't think she's had experience with smooth talking vipers such as yourself though…"

"I apologize," Daedalus stepped back. "The Sophisticated Romantic act is good for social functions. You know how I like to keep my social weapons sharpened."

"So why are you here?" Lindy asked, swiftly switching gears.

"Ever to the point as always," he shrugged. "I work here."

"Work here?"

Daedalus swept down in an overly flamboyant bow.

"Professor Daedalus Malandra," he announced with flourish. "Head of the Ancient Belken Studies department. You're not the only one who's had a career go well. What about you Lindy? I haven't heard from you since the incident Clyde passed away."

"We're investigating schools for Vivio," she pointed out the young child still transfixed on the TV, but almost finished with her apple slices. Daedalus glanced at the child, then at Fate, obviously connecting the blond hair.

"I apologize further for my overly familiar attitude," he stated quickly and without any of the flamboyance of before. "I did not realize I was effectively flirting with a married woman."

"I'm not married," Fate flushed again, trying to sidestep the attention. Lindy watched as her old friend's eyes darted back and forth with calculating speed, his face a mask of puzzled thoughts. Knowing where his train of thought might go next, she decided to defuse the situation before he felt less comfortable. Unlike Clyde, Daed had always fallen apart when he misread someone.

"She's adopted," the retired admiral proclaimed. Instantly, Daedalus visibly relaxed and that smile returned.

"I see," he began. "Still, discussion of such things is not something that makes you frown the way you were a minute ago. I know you better than that. What's bothering you so badly?"

Lindy sighed, turning back to Fate, who shrugged a 'Go ahead it's not secret.'

"This case Fate's working on right now," she began. "Sektor Twenty-one stirred up trouble yesterday and got one her best friends hurt."

"Sektor Twenty-one?" Daed's eyes narrowed almost to slits. "What did those psychotic morons do this time?"

"That's what we're trying to figure out," the elder Harlown grumbled. "They attacked the Selene power facility-"

"That's bold even for them," Daedalus interrupted.

"But it's just strange," Lindy continued. "They didn't destroy the plant at all. Instead, they excavated and made off with hundreds of tons of material from the foundation area around one of the cooling towers."

Daed reached up and tweaked his spectacles before speaking.

"They wanted DIRT?" he asked at length.

"Well," Lindy began. "Coal fly ash actually. The hillside around that tower was built up on it and the buried remains of a previous power plant."

"I see," he furrowed his brow in thought. "Perhaps you should explain the details to me on the way to my office. There might be something in the archeology database here on campus that might be of use."

"We already went through archeological and geological survey records for the area and turned up nothing," Fate commented. "I don't want to impose on your time for something we've already done."

"Nonsense," Daed commented, pushing his spectacles up with a finger. "Our database is separate from the TSAB's record database and contains archeological data that's three hundred years old. The Infinite Library is about the only place that might have a more complete archeological record than us, but you know how hard it is to find anything, even with Librarian Scrya running the show."

Lindy opened her mouth to object, but the professor beat her to it.

"You and I both know I'm just as stubborn as you are Lindy," he stated matter-of-factly. "That's what it took for us to deal with Clyde. Now come along, I won't take no for an answer."

Lindy closed her eyes and sighed under an exasperated smile. Stringing you along before you could get a word in edgewise. Just like old times. With a glance at Fate, who nodded with a 'might as well' look, they both got up, checking to make sure Vivio had finished her lunch.

Professor Malandra's office, from Vivio's perspective, was neat. He had a window that took up the entire far wall, and a fantastic view of the hills behind him. His desk was spotless, and was solid black, but reflected almost like a mirror. Yet, the buttons and console for his terminal seemed to be part of the very surface on which he placed the book he'd been carrying. Accustom to Mid Childan Terminals, there was nothing special about the holographic screen that appeared when he sat down in his chair and tapped the console.

Instead, the shelves that took up the entire room to his right caught the child's attention. They were organized as neatly as the ones Uncle Scrya managed in the Infinite Library. A quick glance showed them to all be various books on Ancient Belka. Some of them, Vivio swore, she could understand the title, and at the same time, realize they weren't in the Mid-Childan standard. There was even an older looking one labeled 'Sieben Krallen des Falke' on a shelf just level with her face. Wait, hawks have seven claws?

Annoying memory fragments…

Looking elsewhere to try and find something that didn't invoke confusing half-memories, she examined the opposite wall, and noticed it had a rather expensive 'Sonik-Magi Personal Stereo System' on a shelf there. The kind that pretty much consisted of the central unit, and a component that used magic to manipulate the air in the room itself. She'd seen this in a store a few weeks ago with Nanoha-mama. You could have the thing turned up full blast with a screaming rock concert wherever you wanted, and be able to hear a pin drop in the next room.

Wandering over to it, she discovered it was indeed on, though down low, providing a soft ambient music around Daed's desk. It was hard to read the display, but the woman singing kept repeating 'anywhere is…' every few lines. So that was probably the name of the song.

Other knickknacks on the shelf included a few cute dolls. No. 'Dolls' wasn't the right word. These were old, faded, and looked like some of them had been glued back together. Unfortunately, the right word to suit what they were existed in one of those holes in the Sainkt Kaiser's memory.

One thing was for certain. Vivio decided then and there that if she ever wanted to shut the stupid half-memories up, she'd have to fill in the knowledge gaps.

"So they did that much in an hour," the professor commented as he started accessing the database. "It makes me wonder how they got that much material out of the area without being seen."

"I don't know," Fate sighed. "The AMF was blocking high resolution scans, all we could get was a regular orbital camera feed."

"According to records," Daed continued. "The Selene Facility was built on top of the buried remains of the old Celcia Coal plant."

"That much we already know," Lindy commented. "What's so important about it?"

"Let me check on the old Celcia Coal plant records," Daed returned. "Ah… According to the old surveys and information database, Celcia Coal was a one thousand-megawatt facility supplying a significant portion of the Lake Celcia basin area up until the time of its destruction. It was actually a primary target and hit early on the old war, before it escalated. Old military records collected indicate it was hit with incendiaries to cause it to burn out of control. The reason was because the fuel piles were piled in close to minimize the landscape footprint. Unfortunately, once the piles caught, the fire went out of control and turned into a localized firestorm that burned for two weeks."

"They couldn't stop the fire," Lindy frowned. "That must have burned hundreds of tons of coal."

"Thousands of tons," the professor corrected. "The facility was feeding energy to a growing industrial complex, and they were preparing to expand the plant's capacity. Lake Celcia was just too convenient a water resource to bother building another plant elsewhere. They were piling up thousands of tons of excess fuel coal in preparation for the expansion."

"That still doesn't explain why Sektor 21 would want thousands of tons of ash," Fate pointed out.

"Hundreds of tons," Daedalus corrected. Fate turned to him confused.

"But you said…"

"Coal leaves about one tenth of its original mass as unburnable solid waste products," the professor explained. "So for a set amount of ash, you start with about ten times that amount in coal."

"I see," Lindy commented, lost in thought for a moment. "Perhaps what they were after wasn't the ash, but something in the ash."

Fate nodded. "Makes more sense. There's something about the coal then."

"Looking now," Daed commented. After a few seconds he continued. "The coal used at Celcia Coal was brought in by rail from the Fargo Coal Mine, four-hundred miles away."

"Anything special about it?" Fate cut in, becoming slightly excited at getting a lead.

"Hold on," Daed snapped. "The database is slow today. This thing isn't as fast as TSAB office networks. Give it a few seconds to grab the geographical information…"

There was a few more seconds before he continued.

"Fargo Coal Mine, in the Golden Hills region, exists in an area of sedimentary rock rich in phosphates… various minerals, such as Apatite. They place isn't named 'Golden Hills' for nothing. The mines around there were part of the support for the industrial complex. The rock there was rich in everything from the coal, to heavy elements."

"Heavy elements?" Lindy frowned.

"Mercury, Lead, Gold," he supplied. "Name an element with a high atomic number, it's in there, and at higher quantities than many other mining areas. Sektor twenty-one could be after anything."

Fate's excited grin started to droop.

"Anything?" she asked.

"ANYTHING." Daed emphasized.

'Thunk!' Fate's head dropped onto the desk.

"That puts us right back where we started," Lindy shook her head.

"On the contrary," the professor corrected. "There is one thing. Remember that coal leaves ten percent of its mass as unburnable waste products. Waste products that are the same stuff that was originally distributed in the coal. The ash therefore, is essentially ten times concentrate of whatever they're looking for."

"Of course!" Fate's head shot up. "The coal is already rich in whatever they're looking for, so the ash would make it easier to haul away, and it wouldn't be easy to track like attacking a facility that produced exactly what they were after."

"Clever," Lindy commented. "We know WHY they wanted the ash now. But that leaves us asking the question of WHAT did they want in the ash. Any ideas?"

Daedalus shrugged.

"I'm afraid I don't have anything beyond that. The exact contents of the minerals and other materials are not kept in the database. As they say: That's as far as this train takes you."

"How about that soil sample?" Fate chimed in. Lindy looked at her and nodded.

"I was just thinking that too," she stated. "They'll have the chemical analysis finished tomorrow."

"Perfect," Fate smirked, turning to the Professor. "Hayate's going to love this. Do you think you can give me a copy to take to her?"

"I most certainly can my dear," Daedalus nodded, pressing a few more keys. "I've always despised senseless death and destruction. If this helps you put an end to it, then I feel that its best place is in your hands."

After a second, a small data disk popped out of the surface of the console/desk, which he picked up and handed to Fate.

"Thank you," Lindy nodded with a smile. "I don't know how I could possibly make this up to you."

"Your smile is all I need," he winked, causing the elder Harlown to blush for once.

"Snake!" she snapped, turning away. "You did that on purpose!"

Daedalus laughed a short, amused laugh at his antics.

"Indeed," he continued after a moment. "But it's worth seeing the 'esteemed' Admiral Lindy Harlown turn rose pink. I heard that after Clyde's death you had gotten a bit of a cold edge to you. Glad to see that wasn't the case."

Lindy sighed, losing the red tint to her face.

"I still miss him at times," she admitted. She'd gotten over Clyde's death long before Chrono had come to peace with it by closing the whole Book of Darkness case. Still…

"I miss him too," Daed nodded solemnly. "Those boneheads that were running command were so busy arguing with each other they couldn't properly assign a safer way to transport the Book, and it got him killed being the hero. That's one reason I chose this school for my career, rather than a career listening to politicians acting at playing soldier. I hope they burn in hell."

Then he turned his eyes.

"Speaking of school, I think she might just like it here."

Following Professor Malandra's motion, both Fate and Lindy turned to look at Vivio. Now sitting amidst a couple of books she had discretely pulled off the lower shelf of the bookcase. Looking all the world like a confused child as she did her best to 'read' one of them.

Smiling, Fate got up and wandered over to the child.

"What are you reading?" she asked. "Trying to hide amusement. She couldn't even read what the page said."

"Belka Chiffrieren" she responded.

Fate blinked.


"That's Belken Encoders." The Professor piped up. "It's a book on old Belken cryptology methods for barrier designs and keys. I'm surprised such a young child even knew how to say the title."

"She's very gifted," Lindy smirked.

"Can you really read what it says?" Fate asked incredulously. For a few seconds, the child continued to squint at the book. Then started to jut her lower lip out a little before looking up with a full blown tearful pout.

"Fate-mama! I know the words but they don't make any sense!"

Presented with the prospect of Vivio losing all composure and crying, Fate felt compelled to pick the child up right then and there. She'd grown sterner after the Incident with Jail, but was still a child at heart.

No doubt, thinking about the surroundings a bit now, having Vivio in a room full of Belken artifacts and books was dragging up all kinds of half memories she couldn't understand.

Seeing the rather pitiful display put on by the child, the Professor decided to help the best he could.

"If you'd like," he began, standing up. "You're welcome to take any of the books she's going through home."

The professor wandered over to the bookcase and pulled another book off the shelf. Then he turned and walked over to Vivio, currently cradled and teary eyed in Fate's arms.

"You can take that book home, and this one if you like," he began. "If you study this one too, you'll learn to understand what all those words actually mean."

Vivio sniffled unsteadily, but looked Daed right in the eye.

"Really?" She asked.

"Knowledge is Power," he quoted.

Vivio's face lit up in what Lindy could only describe as an alarmingly bright smile as she took the book.

Vivio finally made another connection with Nanoha-mama. Vegetables made you strong, but knowledge gave you power. If studying gives you knowledge, and knowledge gives you power, then studying gives you power!

Seeing the look, Fate turned to Lindy and nodded. The retired admiral returned the nod with a smile. This school would definitely be on the top of the list to have Nanoha review.

Making their way to the door while the child was distracted, Lindy nodded politely at her own friend. Then they pulled it open.


Standing there was General Roland, his fist raised to knock.

"Sir…" Fate noted in surprise.

"Black Knight!" Vivio beamed.

"General Roland," Lindy responded in equal surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you Admiral," he smiled, lowering his arm, then sighed. "I've been up and down, back and forth, and side to side all over Cranagan for the last four hours trying to find someone with the authority to sign off on some paperwork I promised. Instead, I've been redirected all over the city just to find someone who knows Riot Force Six even Exists."

"Oh dear," Lindy muttered, knowing what was coming. "Bureau Shock."

"I went to central logistics first, but they tell me they're not authorized to deal with anyone outside their direct chain of command, and directed me to division headquarters, who told me they can't make that decision and directed me to main HQ… Who in turn said I'm more than authorized to do it, which sent me back to central logistics… Who again responded that I need proper chain of command for RF6, who directed me to the Auxiliary Units Office, which in turn pointed me to the Offices of the Beneficiaries, who don't even know of the unit, and sent me to Main HQ again… Who in turn, finally just said 'Ask Admiral Harlown.' So I went back to RF6 and asked Lt. Col. Yagami, and she said to go ask Librarian Scrya at the Infinite Library, since he'd know where you were."

"Bureau Shock," Fate nodded.

"All this for some cartridges and a limiter authorization?" The general continued. "God, now I remember why I stay on McGreggor. I've had less trouble with East Asian Telemarketers. How do you manage to keep sane?"

Lindy laughed.

"I don't manage," she commented. "I cheat. I send someone else for signatures. And if that doesn't work, I show up myself and threaten their job. It's easy once you know how to do it right."

"Typical," Roland grumbled. "The more things are different, the more they're the same…"

Lindy couldn't help but hide a smile. Roland had been around the TSAB for a while, but somehow, while he was under the eternal scrutiny of Gias Regius, he'd never been through what long time veterans of TSAB internal affairs like to call 'Bureau Shock'. After hours of going back and forth all over trying to get the simplest task done, only to be blocked and redirected at every turn due to some lame technicality, the person doing the running eventually snaps. Those who didn't find a way to deal with Bureau Shock eventually just gave up, allowing themselves to fade into the role of whatever position they held just to avoid the stress of trying to make a difference.

Often the case of higher ups in the TSAB are those who learned to manage or counter Bureau Shock. Others got into position on raw magical skill or power. And yet others managed it through 'cheating' and brown nosing.

Lindy admitted to herself, she was quite guilty of formidable skill in the less than savory art of playing the system. There was no denying the fact that she managed to have direct supervision of her own son as a subordinate on her own cruiser. There was also no denying that her son was now one of the supervisors overseeing Riot Force Six, and her adopted daughter Fate. Fate in turn supervising the children she'd taken in to care for before that. In fact, thinking about it, Riot Force Six was one big happy 'family'. A brazen display of Nepotism that, if everyone there hadn't been so GOOD at their jobs, probably would have seen all kinds of hell for it. It reminded her of this motivational poster she'd seen in a shop one time.

'Nepotism: We promote family values here. Almost as much as we promote family members.'

It was a strange poster in that it seemed explicitly designed to do the opposite of what that type of poster was supposed to do.

"Beware TSAB Red Tape," Daedalus laughed. "It'll tie you up and strangle you like a Valdian Sand Constrictor."

"They don't like lightning magic though," Fate chimed in, having killed a huge one to 'save' Signum ten years ago.

"If it's one thing that definitely needs to be changed in the TSAB," Roland continued, ignoring the extra commentary. "It would be that they need to be reorganized and structured with a more direct chain of command."

"Don't waste your time," Daedalus rolled his eyes.

Roland looked at the professor and seemed to remember he hadn't met him before.

"Sorry," he continued. "Major General William Roland. Bureau Experimental Systems Test Force, former United States Army Ranger and tank commander. And you are?"

"Professor Daedalus Malandra," Daed returned. "Director of Belken Studies for St. Hilde's Academy. This place."

Roland nodded.

"So why am I wasting my time?" he continued, formalities out of the way.

"Simple," Daedalus shrugged. "A political entity as horribly complicated and internally corrupted as the TSAB is inherently too complex for any change to occur on the individual efforts of a person attempting to work within the system. There are too many entities within the system who would actively work against any such efforts. As a result, attempts to make changes to the system which endanger the positions of said entities would be rejected, or subjected to more red tape, effectively stalling any change until the person trying to evoke it gives up."

"So you're saying that trying the change the TSAB is useless?" Roland asked, quirking an eyebrow.

"Merely that trying to evoke change from within the system itself is a neigh futile task and a horribly inefficient process," the professor corrected. "As complicated as the TSAB is, the only real way to get solid change would be to completely remove the current leaders and their supporters from power."

"I've seen regime toppling happen before," Roland shook his head. "If you think it were that easy, I've got news for you. It's not. If you remove the entirety of an experienced, stable government from power, what you end up with is a mess, and a political power vacuum that gets filled up by the first person capable of saying what the public wants to hear. I know the TSAB can be incompetent at times, that we seem to agree on, but you've never heard of this little hell hole back home that is Somalia. If you're not careful, you make a bigger problem in trying to take the easy way out."

"But changing the system from within doesn't get anything done and provides no more solution to the problem," Daedalus countered.

"You can still work the change by playing the desires of powerful supporters to further your ends," Roland returned. "I've seen it work at home. It causes political noise, but it works."

"That's only a temporary solution and merely appeases those in power so long as it continues to benefit them," Daedalus argued. "As soon as something is no longer convenient for them, they use their considerable clout to remove the issue and return everything to status quo. History has shown that such a method is highly ineffective in the long run, and short-term solutions don't fix long term problems of this nature. The fall of Belka began under such precedence that resulted from attempts to subvert and mask change to the government."

"You have to learn to be flexible," Roland returned. He hated political arguments, it was too easy to get inflamed over minor disagreements. "If you cannot roll with the punches, you should avoid such a game. Winning it doesn't occur without sacrifice, and risk tends to equal reward in this kind of situation. Sometimes you have to be willing to beat these guys at their own game. Removing them from power removes too much experience and knowledge of the system they were a part of, a system that is a part of the very culture. Remove them, and you could end up with something worse than a broken country like Somalia."

"But you should beware such an approach to that kind of problem," a new voice stated. It was so sudden, and so close, Roland visibly jumped and turned around.

The young lady that had spoken smiled softly, looking slightly distant as she did so.

"There's a saying," she began, looking directly at the General. "Beware fighting demons, lest you become a demon yourself."

The general was struck dumb for a few seconds at the simple truth of that statement. But also, something about the way her distant gaze was looking at him… No THROUGH him, made his skin crawl.

"Wise words spoken by many," he managed at length. At which point she smiled disarmingly, framed by silvery blue hair, then looked past him.

"Professor," she began in a seemingly harmless tone. "The dean wants an update on your course study ready by five."

"Thank you Megumi," Daedalus replied. "I'll have it ready by four."

Megumi smiled again then looked to Vivio.

"Salus," she smiled.

"Salus," Vivio responded, then blinked in confusion.

With that, the girl turned away and walked, or seemingly wandered back up the hall.

After a few seconds, Lindy spoke up, having noticed how weird Roland was behaving.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"Something…" Roland began, then looked at the Professor. "Who is she?"

"Just a temp," Daedalus replied with a shrug. "We have tons of them. Why?"

"Just this feeling," Roland answered. "Like in a moment, she could have killed us all without any effort and think of it as nothing more than practice."

"Absurd," Daed scoffed.

"No," Roland shook his head. "I've been a soldier too long. My body knows when it's in danger. And every instinct I have was screaming that we were in more danger than anything I had ever encountered in a war zone."

"Probably because she startled you," the professor supplied.

Roland squinted. This wasn't the feeling of being startled. He knew the difference. But there was one more thing… What she said to Vivio. It didn't sound like the German-like Belken, more like…

"How does Vivio know Latin?" he asked.

Everyone blinked at once.

"What's Latin?" Daed asked. Roland froze. If the professor didn't know what Latin was, and if Mid Childans didn't know about Latin at all…

The sound of a private telecommunications line beeping made everyone jump.

Daed wandered over and picked the phone-like reciever up and spoke.

"Malandra…" he paused. "Yes, he's here. Yes ma'am."

Turning, Daedalus looked at Roland.

"It's for you. It's urgent."

Roland briskly entered and crossed the room.

"Major General William Roland," he stated officially, taking the 'phone' from Daed. "Yes… Uhuh."

And then his eyes narrowed to slits.

"Say again?"

After a pause, he finished.

"On my way."

Handing the device back to the Professor, he looked at Lindy and Fate, then shook his head.

"You think you could take care of a little request for me?" he asked.

Lindy smiled the best she could.

"The cartridges and limiter stuff you were talking about?"

"Yeah," he nodded, fishing a small envelope out of a pocket. "You know who to accost to get this stuff pushed through. My signatures are on them, just stuff it down the throats of whoever needs it stuffed down."

He paused, looking at a curious Vivio calmly staring back. And an equally curious look on Fate's face too.

"Take them with you as well," he began. "What's about to happen is best left unseen."

Lindy gave him a puzzled look.

"Why?" She asked, then she recognized the look, as only a superior officer could do. "Wait, are you…"

"I have to go crack some skulls," Roland replied with a scowl, and stalked out of the office.