Another project for you guys. I like to keep my stories varied, and this one is no different. I've been a fan of the Nanoha series since the first season (although I likely committed an adultery by not watching StrikerS until last year), and I recently came up with this story. Like One Piece, the universe lends itself well to original stories, and this is one of them - I really wouldn't have the confidence to write about the lady herself. It's inspired by StrikerS quite a bit, you'll notice, with a group of unique mages working to solve high-level crimes in their jurisdiction.

But, whereas Riot Force Six was a serious, well-oiled team, these guys...well, aren't. At all.

Enjoy!

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha - Section Thirteen

Prologue; An Eventful Inspection

Planet Gardius – Public Road – 0945 Hours

"Just...calm down. It's your first major assignment, and you can't hyperventilate today...well, you shouldn't hyperventilate at all, but especially not today!"

Taking one hand off the car's wheel Junior Inspector Anton Langsley opened the glove compartment, took a pointed look at his inhaler, and then shut it. There was no real reason for this action, and nor was there for the three other times he'd done it so far in the drive. Graduating from his academy hadn't done much for the young mage's self esteem, and receiving his first act of duty had done the outright opposite, sadly. But he had graduated himself, condition or no condition. That was something to be proud of, right?

"If I was in an important position, maybe." Anton thought, and immediately pinched himself. "Come on, don't think like that. No work in the Bureau is unnecessary. You're doing a great service…just not by actually using your trai - s-stop that!"

In the distance, the TSAB Headquarters of this world came into view. Like most installations of its type, the building had been constructed to allow quick, easy reactions to anything that threatened the world, be it a natural disaster, criminal menace, or any combination of the two. It possessed facilities for Device Maintenance, Advanced Surveillance and Radar for Mission Coordination, and even on-site dorms for the staff.

A very good idea, and one that had irritated just as many people as it helped (and not at the same time). After all, what was the point of an advancement if it came from some mage off a backwater planet who'd probably cheated her way up to Lieutenant Colonel? Not his words, of course, which was probably why it was his assignment and not someone else's. If only that felt like a real reward.

Not that any of those people would get the chance to investigate Mobile Section Six, the test-bed for this idea, as it had been formally disbanded roughly two years ago. The exact reasons for that were fairly vague, as well: they hadn't exactly failed at their duty, unless capturing a notorious criminal and saving Midchilda from orbital bombardment via an ancient superweapon counted as incompetence.

Despite this, though, Section Six's concept had caught on, and several other installations like it had been set up on heavily-trafficked administrated worlds. This led Anton to his duty here – performing a cursory inspection of Mobile Section Thirteen, Planet Gardius' assigned team. They had been here for two months, and he had been sent to see how they were progressing.

The Junior Inspector checked himself in the mirror, again. A pair of light-brown eyes below a neat haircut of the same color looked back at him, just like they had the last time. Anton was of average height, but his body had apparently spread out to fill it all, giving him a thin, wind-might-knock-me-over appearance. This was true for all of his family; he'd checked. A fat, jolly Langsley was probably just below a flying pig in impossibility. Anton also wore a pair of ordinary-looking glasses, which didn't make him look debonair or dashing but like someone who wore glasses. All this was probably appropriate for the role he'd been assigned, but that didn't really make him feel any better.

Anton shook his head again, looking back on the briefing he had had for inspiration. He still wondered what his superior had meant…

0

"Now, Langsley…" said the Senior Inspector, leaning back in his chair. "Word to wise: be careful while you're at Section Thirteen."

"Oh?" Anton tilted his head. "Why is that, sir?"

The older man scratched his head. "Well, how do I put this?" He looked over his desk before seeing the necessary implements. Reaching over, he picked up a piece of paper and a paperweight.

"Imagine, if you will, that this sheet of paper is the plans for a potential operation. The outcome of this mission is crucial, and will result in severe losses should it fail."

Anton nodded. "I see, sir."

The older man then indicated the paperweight. "Now, imagine that this represents Section Thirteen's key members."

Abruptly he brought the knick-nack down, crushing the sheet of paper underneath it. Anton stared.

"Now, Langsley, as an inspector I shouldn't make accusations, and I don't like to. But believe me when I say most of the officers there are…well, eccentric is a nice word for them. Powder kegs, ready to blow up at a moment's notice – they'd never be accepted into any military other than ours, and even then I'm personally surprised."

Anton blinked, adjusting his glasses. "But, sir, if that's the case, why put them all in the same squad? That seems a bit…odd, doesn't it?"

His superior shook his head. "Not to me. Just for example, Langsley, which would you rather have: one fox in several henhouses, or several foxes in one foxhouse?"

Anton thought about this. "Well, sir, there's no such thing as a foxhouse."

"…I know that, Langsley, I was using a – forget it." The senior inspector leaned back in his chair. "My point is, Langsley, that this assignment will probably be a very different compared to the average assignment. Keep that in mind, will you?"

The recruit nodded earnestly. "You don't have to worry about a thing, sir. I have no problem with different."

In truth, this was an utter lie: Anton, like many members of the Langsley family, had a huge problem with different. Rearrange the family photos on his desk, and he'd spend the better part of an hour putting them back to a T – as many a perpetrator had attested.

"I hope that's the case, Langsley, because that's what you're going to get. Be ready for anything – dismissed."

0

Shaking himself out of his flashback, Anton realized it had carried him the rest of the way there. Pulling his car to the right, he entered the facility's parking lot. Most of the spaces were filled – a good thing, he supposed – but there was an empty one near the door.

Stopping the car's engine, Anton opened the door and stepped out.

"Young master." said an artificial voice, somehow managing to sound annoyed.

The young inspector blinked. "Oh, right." Leaning back into the car, he gently grabbed a large green tome sitting in the passenger seat. It could have easily passed for a normal novel, aside from the same-colored jewel set into the cover.

"Sorry about that, Akashic, heh heh..." Tucking it under his arm, Anton turned back to the door.

"Your inhaler as well, young master." said his device again, the weariness in her voice overriding even programmed politeness. Above the car's dashboard a green orb of light came into being, hovering directly over the inhaler...which was right in front of the wheel.

Anton coughed, suddenly quite glad the parking lot was empty. "T-thank you, Akashic, I appreciate it." Grabbing the inhaler, he finally shut and locked his car before walking toward the doors. His device declined comment - she was designed to be subtle.

Reaching the door, Anton stretched out his hand to knock, when a large bang came from inside the facility, whatever it was being large enough to shake the doors, windows, and his car, which switched on its alarm quite quickly. Turning it off from afar, he tilted his head: none of the other vehicle's alarms had gone off. This meant they weren't equipped with them, or...

"One noise is not an excuse to get paranoid." He told himself. Aloud, Anton spoke to his device, "Recording Mode, Akashic. Just…leave that part out, okay?"

"Already on it, young master." she spoke back. Indeed, the jewel had turned red, a small portion of Anton's magic now devoted to copying down anything he heard or saw.

Stretching his hand out to open the door, Anton was surprised when it did so for him.

"Query: you are the Inspector from Headquarters, correct?"

Anton's eyes swiveled downward to meet a single glowing red optic. If this was two years ago, the young mage would have instantly drawn his Device and blown the thing before him into scrap metal. But since it was now, he simply nodded politely.

"Yes, that's true. I am Junior Inspector Anton Langsley. This is Akashic." he added, nodding to the book.

"Greeting: I am pleased to meet you, Inspector Langsley, Akashic."

"Hello." Akashic said pleasantly.

"Well, the feeling's mutual." Anton said, adjusting his specs. "You're Sergeant GD-782, correct?"

The machine in front of him nodded, before saluting with a clawed hand. "Affirmative: that is indeed my designation. Welcome to Section Thirteen, Inspector." it chirped in a voice very similar to a Device's.

Even among the Bureau's very open hiring policies, GD-782 was very unique; their first and only Gadget Drone officer. Rather than any of the three main types' inhuman shapes, GD-782's was a humanoid form, standing roughly equal to the Type 1's at four-and-a-half feet tall. His frame was comprised of the same bluish metal as the others, and was very slender, his limbs especially being quite knobbly. The legs in particular were quite large, taking up roughly half of his body, while his head was a simple sphere with a red optic eye.

Anton noted all of this, and tried not to let it bother him. Just because these machines had almost led to the TSAB's downfall didn't mean he had any right to discriminate. The Bureau was quite thorough about teaching proper non-human relations to its cadets.

He returned the bow with a polite nod. "It's nice to be here, GD – you have no problem with me calling you that, I hope?"

The Gadget Drone seemed to think about this, before nodding. "Statement: I do not think that will be a problem. But please refer to my full designation in your report."

Anton nodded. "Naturally: inspectors always use people's professional names in our writing."

"Gratitude: I appreciate that, Inspector. Please, come inside; I will be your guide here, if that is acceptable."

With that, the Gadget Drone turned and walked away from the door, evidently expecting Anton to follow. He did, taking a cursory look around the entrance hall - a front desk, two branching hallways, and stairs leading to the second floor and beyond.

Anton thought back to the files he'd read on Section Thirteen's major staff. GD-782's recruitment was...fairly standard by the TSAB's standards, actually. As far as Anton knew, GD had began life as one of many mindless Gadget Drones created by Dr. Jail Scaglietti, created only to attack anything he chose and to serve as an alternative to his more 'elaborate' experiments. However, one day somehow or another, the 782th of them suddenly...woke up, developing a sentient mind. None of the Bureau's scientists had been able to figure out how, but several likened it to a Device's personality slowly developing over time.

Being able to actually think naturally gave GD a lot to do so about, and one of the first things he focused on was being in a body designed specifically to be blown up before it's creator. Unsurprisingly, he considered this unacceptable, and immediately set about making plans to prevent this. The Gadget Drone analyzed every facet of the facility in which he was housed, making sure to keep his new-found intelligence hidden from those who had created him.

Unfortunately, while GD possessed an impressive aptitude for logic, he wasn't very lucky. The day he chose to make his escape coincided with the Bureau and Church's raid on the base – Fate T. Harloawn, another member of Section Six, had been there, Anton recalled. In that battle, the Doctor's subordinates had been defeated, most of his plans had been halted, and he himself had finally been captured.

But while all of this was going on, GD was pointedly not charging directly into the Bureau Mage's magic, instead slipping quietly out a back entrance. This would have worked, had they not set up a dragnet around the hideout – GD was surrounded by five enforcers, and quickly brought down…but not before incapacitating two of them, quite badly.

Indeed, the damage a Gadget Drone with a mind could do came as something of a shock for those who had written them off as mostly harmless. Thus when GD offered to join the TSAB during what passed for his trial, after he had proven himself intelligent enough to make scrapping him unacceptable (to most people, anyway), he had been swiftly inducted. After switching to a more capable body designed by he himself, GD had proven a competent, skillful mage – or, as his file put it, a 'unique specialist'. Anton had heard a few rumors about the technology they'd recovered being used in new advancements for mages, ships; almost everything if you believed them. It sounded nice, which was a change from most rumors.

Perhaps he was a bit too competent, however. To the Droid's credit he had yet to acquire a single kill on his record, but conversely, he had also garnered several charges of unnecessary use of force. He obeyed every order given to him, and always performed to the best of his abilities – but that didn't always make you a popular person. He also had a rather unfortunate, though understandable, tendency to make his comrades nervous. Evidently the higher-ups assumed no-one at Section Thirteen would, though, and so he had been transferred here.

Anton was forced out of his thoughts as he realized GD was speaking.

"Statement: as you can see, Inspector, our entrance hall is kept well maintained, and is suitably convenient for any-"

"Exactly what are you doing, 782?" came a voice that was nearly as serious as the drone's. Striding smartly out of a nearby hallway appeared a petite young woman with braided blonde hair and blue eyes, dressed in a uniform similar to those from the Belkan Saint Church. Around her neck was a unique-looking cross, a blue gem set into its center. Seeing the girl, GD managed to stand up even straighter, and despite being the Inspector and around her age, Anton did the same. It seemed like there was an aura of trained confidence about her which, intentionally or not, made you think she was slightly superior in all respects, age included.

After standing to attention GD instantly saluted. The girl ignored this and walked up to him, before reaching down and tapping his single optic. She looked rather stern. "When I assigned you to watch the door, I instructed you to call for me when he arrived. Not do the duty yourself."

The Gadget Droid bowed. "Apology: I did not mean to usurp your authority, Lady Lackland. I merely did not wish to keep the Inspector waiting. He seemed like someone who would take that badly."

The girl looked over at him, and Anton found himself under some scrutiny. He tried not to look uncomfortable.

Finally she nodded. "Yes, I can see that. But even so, you should have sent a message to me immediately. An impatient guest is no excuse for disobeying orders, especially for a machine like you." Her words weren't spoken angrily, but they were certainly harsh, like a blinding snowstorm.

GD strove to bow lower. "Continued Apology: I will try my hardest to remember that, Lady Lackland."

"Very good, then – I will take over things from here. You may assist me."

Anton cleared his throat as she turned to him. "I presume you are 2nd Lieutenant Arturia Lackland, then?"

The young girl nodded, expression changing instantly back to a calm, polite smile. "That is indeed correct, Inspector. On behalf of Section Thirteen and the House of Verum, I welcome you to our home this day." She looked down at her cross. "Is that not true, Frangir?"

The cross' jewel pulsed. "Acceptus."

"Well, I'm very pleased to meet both of you." said Anton professionally. "And so is Akashic, right?" He indicated the book.

"Indeed, young master. Hello."

All of what Anton knew about the Saint Church could be accurately transcribed on the face of a needle, and he was perfectly fine with that. It was a convenient opinion, if nothing else: most conscripts of the Church were fairly quiet with their beliefs, so aside from wearing different uniforms and favoring Belkan-Style Devices, they were pretty much regular employees of the Bureau.

Then there was House Verum. Even mages that didn't care much about the Saint Church knew a lot about their practices, not because its members spoke of them, but from simple infamy. Verum Knights were the holders of quite an unpopular opinion, these days: that artificial life was dangerous and unnatural at its core, and all examples of it were little more than ticking time-bombs. At least that was the public opinion of them, which was probably why they kept quiet about their knighthood now.

Not that there wasn't some precedent for these views, Anton reflected – the Belkan Empires of old were said to have been brought to ruin partially because of artificial weapons, as anyone remotely familiar with history knew. But that had been many generations ago, and cloning procedures, while unpleasant, had far less potential for…unpleasantness later on, and rehabilitation rates for them were high, barring a few unpleasant cases.

Naturally, since most squads in the TSAB had at least one artificial creation (truly startling odds, he'd always felt), the presence of a Verum Knight or Priest could cause tension. From what he'd red on the team, that thankfully wasn't the case here, at least not violently. There'd been that look she had given GD, sure, but maybe she was just having a bad day. "And maybe I have two heads." He felt a pang of sympathy for the droid.

Arturia bowed once more. "Allow me to assure you, Inspector: you will find all of us in perfect harmony and order on this day."

She turned to GD, still standing at attention, and the sternness returned instantly. "Accompany us, 782: your knowledge will be useful here."

"Acknowledgement: I am at your disposal, Lady Lackland."

The Inspector cleared his throat. "Well, I have no problem with that-"

Arturia smiled briskly. "It is good to hear that, Inspector. Many people find 782's presence somewhat uncomfortable; I am glad you are not one of them."

The two set off, GD lagging behind Arturia. Anton followed – with her personality, she might not notice if she left him behind.

As he came up next to GD, he spoke up quietly. "Sorry if I got you in trouble. Is she usually like that?"

For a moment, the Gadget Drone said nothing, and herein lay why he was more than a bit intimidating. Whereas a human's face had no end of motion to it, whether from intentional tics or natural expressions, his was perpetually blank, save for the red, piercing eye. Anton tried not to look away, for politeness' sake.

"Statement: I would liken Lady Lackland to certain types of alloy, Inspector. She is certainly very strong, and can be acutely sharp at times, but within she is significantly softer."

"I see." Anton nodded, choosing to take his word on that. Comradeship could be a funny thing, after all.

"Addition: her conduct is also no great issue, Inspector – I prefer being told directly when I am in error, so that I may improve myself with more efficiency."

The robot paused again. "Observation: this may be because of my innate programming, as designed by Dr. Jail Scaglietti."

Anton frowned slightly. "Well, humans are the same way, GD. You shouldn't let it bother you."

GD turned to him, eye flickering slightly. Anton knew this was how simulated blinking – the Inspector had done his homework, even the useless bits.

"Apology: I did not intend to appear distressed, Inspector. No-one's fate is set in stone – my becoming an officer in the Bureau is proof of that. If my programming influences me to become more able, I will use that ability to protect others. I consider that logical."

With that the Gadget Drone fell silent. Anton smiled – he was off to a good start, at least.

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Weight Room – 1010 Hours

"Statement: here are our training faculties, Inspector. Section Thirteen holds equipment allowing mages of all types to hone their skills."

Anton nodded as he looked around at the wide, gym-like area filled with exercise machines…as well as their magical equivalents. "Well, everything here seems to be in order."

Of course, he didn't know what half of these machines actually did – his magic style didn't allow for close quarters combat, and his pole-like body had worked out so far for him.

"Not that that's something you really say out loud."

Anton looked around trying to seem productive (a hard task when your device was essentially the one doing all the actual work), and thus didn't notice the new arrival coming up behind them.

"Morning, GD! You here for a match?"

Anton turned to see a young man in his late teens holding the Gadget Droid in the air by one foot. He had blonde hair, red eyes, a bright friendly smile, and a figure that looked not so much born as forged to serve as a template for all other men like him. A ring with a silver jewel set into it was slipped over his right pointer finger. The teenager stood a few inches taller than Arturia, who was currently, yes, giving him the same stare she'd used on GD. Actually, though, looking closer it seemed to be worse.

"I have told you before, Corporal Spade; my subordinate is not your plaything."

The golden-haired young man smiled honestly. "Of course, Second Lieutenant. I know he belongs to you." Turning GD around, he deposited the droid on the floor.

As a reward for his comment, Arturia's cheeks reddened microscopically. "Humph. So long as that is clear."

GD apparently had similar senses to Anton, and he spoke up. "Introduction: this, Inspector, is-"

Anton interrupted before Arturia could snap again. "-Corporal Ace Spade, I know."

He looked him over, and nodded. "Your description certainly matches the intel I received." Said intel were the squeals and coos from the few female inspectors back at headquarters. On the whole, there were more beautiful women in the Bureau than beautiful men, but quality evidently made up for quantity.

"Not that I count under either category, that is." Anton sighed to himself, looking at the arms that could probably snap him like a twig. It didn't seem fair…especially since Ace was created specifically to look like that.

Like a surprising number of the TSAB's staff, Ace was an artificial human created through technology. Unlike some, who were clones of deceased loved ones, he and his line had been created specifically for battle, weapons sold to the highest bidder.

The clones' appeal came from certain mental suggestions implanted into them: they were specifically designed not to show regard for their own lives, to fight until they emerged victorious or died. They weren't made to do anything else, or feel any emotion. Not even pain. Whoever made them had been more interested in the science of it than the actual life.

After encountering several of his line on raid operations, the Bureau put their facts together, and soon located the location of their creators. Unfortunately, like a depressing amount of criminals, the group decided not to give themselves up when it became evident they were cornered. Instead, they opted to release all of the unsold clones with orders to cause as chaotic a destruction as they possibly could, regardless of whether it involved them living or not.

Regrettably, for the most part this was the case, and extremely so. Only Ace managed to escape a fight with the Bureau's Enforcers without ending up dead. The details of this were a bit vague in the report (most people didn't have very good memories when things were trying to kill him), but Ace, as he now chose to call himself, had been inducted readily into the TSAB's ranks.

It had been eight years since then, and a majority of that had been spent teaching Ace, as he now chose to call himself, how to act like a normal human being. Even simple things like brushing his teeth or changing clothes had to be taught to him at length, and it the process was slow going even with their technology. It would have been easier to just forget it, but the Bureau didn't do things that way.

"Well, I'm glad I could keep things orderly for you, sir." said Ace cheerfully. One thing that hadn't had trouble developing was his sense of gratitude; if there was anything he could do to help the Bureau, he would, no matter how dangerous. Unfortunately, this meant for every serious injury his co-workers suffered, Ace had three, not to mention the other problems a gung-ho mage could cause. Nonetheless, the officer in charge of Section Thirteen had felt there was a place for him here.

"You did, thank you." Anton looked around at the various machines: magic strength readers, weights you needed augmented strength to lift, and treadmills that could go up to a hundred miles an hour. "Has this all been working right for you?"

Ace was silent for a moment. "…um, yeah, sure, they've been working fine. Totally fine!"

Arturia silently tapped her foot, which was somehow even worse than the electric shock that ran up his arm a moment later. "Do not lie, fool!"

The strike artist rubbed his nose, almost pouting. "Sorry, Bolt…uh, it's all fine, except for the weight and tossed into – okay, through the ceiling. And that time I hit the punching machine so hard it read gibberish for an hour. Oh, and I blew out the lights in here once, but that didn't have anything to do with-"

"I…think I get the picture." Anton said quickly. Looking around, he approached one of the machines. "But they look sturdy enough to me." He reached out a hand.

Arturia coughed politely. "Ah, Inspector, I am not sure that is a wise idea."

"Advisement: I estimate that has an over fifty percent chance of injury for you."

Anton frowned. "Oh, come now. It can't be that hard."

"Famous last words, young master."

"Er," began Ace, looking unsure, "they aren't kidding, Inspector. I really don't think that's a good idea."

Sniffing, Anton tucked Akashic under his arm before reaching out, grabbing one of the…buckles, maybe…and tugging it hard. Honestly, who did they think he-urk..

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Infirmary – 1020 Hours

"T-thank you very much, Doctor Ciel." Anton said gratefully. He was currently lying down on one of the cots with his shirt off (probably the first time this had happened to a Langsley Inspector while on duty, he mused), his left arm, shoulder and back glowing softly with green light.

"You can thank me better by considering listening to what three people tell you next time. Mr.

She continued to Anton's non-existent reply. "I can fully understand ignoring Arturia – you could probably talk out what she has to say and still not lose anything. But GD knows what he's talking about, even when he's just parroting what she has to say."

"I'll try to keep that in mind." Anton murmured. He took a shot from his inhaler, just to err on the side of caution.

"Anyway," Doctor Ciel said, indicating the rest of the room with a nod of her head, "as you can see, our medical facilities are top-rate, readily equipped to deal with any physical or magically induced injury. No matter how they're received."

"Mmmm." Anton agreed with a wordless hum.

There wasn't much you could say about Doctor Ciel Marion; at least in comparison to those Anton had met so far. She came from a fairly normal family, containing a loving father, mother, and brother and sister, all of whom had or grew up to have very different professions which probably didn't extend back several hundred years and generations (not that he spoke from experience).

Ciel had entered into the TSAB's ranks out of a desire to help people, and, discovering an affinity for healing magic, had become a doctor. She wasn't a miracle worker who could heal any wound, but she could save your life nine times out of ten assuming you weren't in multiple pieces, and that was good enough for this position. With her personality, Anton imagined number ten would be glad they avoided lecture for it; even something as simple as a pulled arm had gotten him a severe tongue-lashing.

Despite her bed-side manner, though, she wasn't unattractive (a sudden thought that made Anton very grateful mental scans weren't part of debriefing, yet). Doctor Ciel was in her mid-thirties now, yet had still kept her younger beauty, or at least refined it vividly.

Brushing a strand of black hair out of her eyes, the Doctor pursed her lips. "I'll take that as an agreement." She sighed. "Honestly, Inspector, if I may speak freely for a moment, you're not quite what I expected."

Anton kicked those thoughts in the face and looked back behind him. "…you know, I was expecting someone to say that eventually." he said wryly. "Can I ask why?"

"Well…" Ciel looked uncertain for a moment. "Not really expected per say – more like hoped."

Anton frowned. "Really? I was kind of hoping not to hear something like that about me on my first assignment."

Ciel raised an eyebrow. "Your tongue is sharper than it seems, I see. But I think you'll probably agree after looking around here that a lot of people could use a kick in the ass."

The junior inspector raised an eyebrow. "Like who?"

"Doctor, remember? I consider being a pain in the backside a medical condition. But I think you'll be able to tell."

With that, Ciel leaned back, the glow vanishing from her hands. "And now I think it's time you got back to work. Try not to get yourself grievously injured again; it sets a bad example for your department. Ace certainly doesn't deserve it, either. He'll spend the whole day worrying as it is. Quite a sensitive boy, that."

Anton would have preferred more lengthy healing, but there was no sense complaining. Standing up, he stretched his sore back and bowed. "Thank you very much, Doctor Ciel. I'll…keep an eye out."

With that, he turned and left the infirmary, professionalism restored.

"…you're going to tell Father about this, aren't you, Akashic?"

"Yes."

Anton sighed.

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Shooting Range – 1030 Hours

Aside from the weight room for hand-to-hand fighters, Section Thirteen also contained a shooting gallery for those more adept at distance. Anton watched as a hologram resembling a Gadget Droid on the far side of the fifty foot long field fell to the floor, a smoking hole through its optic, before vanishing. He wondered briefly if GD had different targets when he came out here.

"You're a very good shot, Lieutenant Jacobs." remarked the Inspector.

"Thanks." murmured the shooter quietly, before taking aim, this time at a human target. Four quick shots later the man fell to the ground, face contorted in pain but still alive to do so, before he disappeared as well. Several other targets appeared, varying in requirements and difficulty. Anton watched with GD and Arturia as Dwight took aim, shooting every one with near-perfect accuracy.

"I may practice the Belkan style, but I am always impressed by his skill." said the latter, watching with trained eyes. "There is none with more precision at our Section, Inspector, you can be certain of that."

Beside her, GD nodded. "Lieutenant Dwight holds the score for highest accuracy on this field; beating out even the Captain and Major."

Anton raised an eyebrow.

Finally, a beep signaled the end of the training program. Holstering his Device, Lieutenant Dwight Jacobs nodded to Anton. "Real sorry for making you wait, Inspector. But you know how it is: use it or lose it."

This was one training philosophy Anton understood. "Not at all, Lieutenant. Your job is just as important as mine."

If anything, he was more. The Bureau had a lot of people like him who carted around pieces of paper, but he hadn't seen many people who looked like Dwight. At about six feet, bald and muscular, the Lieutenant cut an intimidating figure, especially with his dark skin. He wouldn't want to be on the opposite side from him, that was for sure.

Dwight shrugged, brushing some dust off his uniform as he did. "I wouldn't go that far. I'm nothing special, really."

"Well," Anton said, rallying from the stare, "you do have training from before you joined the TSAB, right? A-at least, that's what your file says."

Non-Administrated World Number Ninety-Seven was of very little importance, magic-wise. The average member of the planet's populace had a Linker Core of quite small capacity, if they had developed one at all, and without any training even that miniscule power couldn't amount to much. It was, overwhelmingly, not a world of magic.

Supposedly, at least. The fact that mages from Earth – as it was called by people who cared – were responsible for the resolving of at least three dimensional-class incidents hadn't been lost on the Langsley family. Files had been called up, shuffled around, revised, and now occupied a small section of their databanks. Useless trivia, to other Inspectors, but the Langsleys horded knowledge like magpies: no bit of information was meaningless, they reasoned, and someone should thus keep track of it all.

Dwight Jacobs occupied a spot in the file, and although his case wasn't as flashy, it was almost as extraordinary. He used to be part of a large, highly trained law enforcement unit, known as…SWAT, that was it (a rather silly acronym, Anton thought), which handled unique, high-risk cases that demanded special attention. Their general strategy for assignments wasn't too dissimilar to what the Bureau was trying now, actually; a small group, each expertly trained, working together to accomplish goals.

One day, Dwight had been on a routine (for them) assignment: a gang of criminals had holed up inside an apartment building to escape the police, taking several hostages before it could be evacuated. Dwight's team had been sent in to subdue them and rescue the civilians. It certainly had the potential for danger, but shouldn't have had been more than they could handle.

Should have been.

But there were several factors involved that the SWAT Team had no knowledge of which might have made a difference. Most crucially, the fact that the building contained more than one band of ne'er do wells hiding from the law. Just a different kind.

Yes, a group of outlaw mages had apparently chosen Earth as the perfect place to test the Lost Logia they'd uncovered away from prying eyes, and, purely by coincidence, inside that very apartment. And unfortunately, like many people who sought such power, they were nervous and excitable: none of them knew if the planet was far enough away to avoid attracting the Bureau's attention. So, when Dwight's team moved in, one of them had reacted. Violently.

Naturally, Earth wasn't far enough away from the TSAB's eyes, especially after the last two major incidents involving it. Their team monitoring the apartment quickly moved in…but not enough to prevent the Lost Logia from going off, barely enough to cast a barrier around the surrounding area, and certainly not enough to contain its lethality.

Thankfully, the street had been evacuated prior by other law enforcement, as per the criminal's demands. The only people actual in the blast's vicinity were them, Dwight's team, and the rogue mages. This probably wasn't much comfort to them however, as they all lost their lives nigh-instantaneously.

Dwight almost did as well, if not for a minor miracle. His position on the team was that of sniper, and during the operation he had been stationed on the opposite building's roof, just in case. Of course, this still placed him inside the Lost Logia's blast radius, but therein was the miracle.

For Dwight Jacobs' Linker Core was of distinctively above average size for his planet - with nothing to stimulate it, however, it had simply lain dormant all his life. And for better or worse, there was nothing with quite more magical energy than a Lost Logia. Enough for a newly awakened Linker Core to form a barrier on instinct, as it turned out. Not enough to completely protect him, of course; that would just be ridiculous. It was simply good enough, barely enough, to keep him from dying outright, and if the Enforcers hadn't found him as quick as they did…

Fortunately, the team was able to give Dwight proper treatment for his wounds, and he made a full recovery. Explaining how he had survived meant briefing him on the existence of magic and life on other planets, as well as the TSAB and their role within both. Some people took this introduction badly (although not so much as with entire planets), but Dwight rolled with it well enough. Certainly better than the knowledge that his team was now dead.

After being informed of his Linker Core's potential - even dwindled as it was with age - Dwight made a not so unusual request; to join the Bureau. For an organization that relied on people's goodwill, they never seemed to have a lack of volunteers. When asked why he made this decision, the man said he considered the incident a sign as well as a tragedy. There was certainly no way his team could have known what they were walking into, but like any law enforcement group SWAT relied largely on knowledge. An awareness of magic and training regarding it could have saved those people's lives, and countless others: thus, it was his duty to acquire that knowledge and expertise.

Anton had heard Dwight was a heavy supporter of introducing magic to Earth, and had been for the roughly six years he'd spent with the Bureau. That might have something to do with why he was at Section Thirteen, the analytical part of the Inspector's mind put forth – these groups were constantly in the public eye, and their staff's performance would reflect widely on their families or home worlds (or both, depending on the case). Maybe it would work, considering the people from Earth in the Bureau already.

"Yeah, I do." Dwight said aloud, breaking him out of yet another long introspective. "Hope it gave you something good to show the guys back up the chain, eh?" His slight smile was earnest.

"And who am I to have a problem with that?" Anton thought, and offered his own. "I haven't seen any problems so far, Lieutenant, and rest assured that hasn't changed now."

Dwight smiled. "Glad to hear it." He looked down at his Device. "How 'bout you, Gates?"

On the black rifle's grip was a circular marking, rising slightly off the surface. Gold at the edges, a red 'eye' was in its center. Turning slightly this way and that, the eye glowed sharply. "Yessir. Thank you." A calm male voice said.

His mage nodded, smiling. "Yup, he agrees."

"Well, you're welcome then, Gates." Anton said back, staring at the gun device indirectly.

Dwight followed his gaze. "It's not going to bite, you know."

"Um, no I-" the younger man stammered, suddenly flustered. "It's just it's…very realistic."

The sniper stared. "Yeah, you could say that. You're far from the first person to give it a look like that. I always wonder why."

Anton felt put on the spot, which was probably the whole idea. "Well, I've never seen one up clo-" he shut up as he saw Dwight was shaking his head.

"So have most people back home, but they don't look at them like they're bombs on a short fuse. Hell, some officers could level a city block if they felt like it."

"...but not me." muttered the Inspector, irritation slipping into his voice.

Dwight smacked himself in the forehead. "Right, sorry. I can go off about things sometimes. Just forget about it, eh?"

"Right…" Anton said, flipping through a few of Akashic's pages for show. "Thank you for your time, then." Turning, he went back toward the main building.

"Inspector." the lieutenant's voice called back. He tapped the back of the rifle, now lined up for another shot. "The next time you have to use your Device, remember what it is you're holding, alright?"

Anton said nothing.

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Labs – 1045 Hours

Anton stared vaguely at the hustle and bustle before his eyes. He'd seen it many times before at Inspector Headquarters, but always applied to files or folders – not expensive, and in many cases, crucial technology. Not that Anton knew much about the scientific aspects of the TSAB, but given how cadets back at the academy studying in the field had acted, he'd always imagined it as more, well, orderly than this.

Maybe it was like magnets; get enough people so high-strung into one room together and chaos soon reigned. That would certainly explain things, given how many were in the room right now, hustling and bustling from one spot to the next without any obvious rhyme or reason.

The labs themselves were a wide room with a high ceiling, installed into which were blindingly bright lights, almost resembling a miniature sun altogether. They were hot, too, and, if the ceiling were lower, would probably bake the occupants faster than any fire spell.

This didn't seem to infect the lab's techies however, who scurried back and forth from countless desks, containing things like computers with the latest up-to-date scanners built in, completely contained glass covers for storing volatile objects, and small generators with high-overload thresholds to test just how much 'volatile' counted for. The entrance and the room's far side were on raised areas, with short flights of steps leading down to the main floor. On the far platform was an array of far larger consoles arranged in triangular formation around one seated man – Anton's consultant for the labs.

He blinked as Arturia suddenly grabbed him gently around the hand. "Keep close behind me, Inspector. You wouldn't be the first to have been trampled here."

Blinking at the dead seriousness in her voice, Anton nodded before following, keeping only one step behind the knight. This was a wise decision; the throng of scientists shifted to accommodate them, but only vaguely, as though by instinct. If it wasn't their work, it barely registered on their overall radar – again Anton was reminded of headquarters.

Then they were out, and onto the far platform…the two of them, that was. Anton looked around for GD, and jumped again as the droid dropped from the ceiling right next to him.

"782 prefers to take the top route here, Inspector." Arturia explained with a slight sigh.

GD nodded. "Explanation: my overall weight and frame composition make me a considerable hazard for high-speed collision. After the first incident of this, I opted for a safer route."

"Ah." Anton murmured. There was really nothing else to say to that.

In the silence, a quiet voice rose. "So, this is the Inspector then, Arturia and GD?"

Anton turned to face the man operating the computers, shivering slightly at his voice. It gave GD a run for his money in artificialness - in a disturbingly organic way.

After clicking a few more keys he turned to face them, the wheels on his chair swiveling with the motion. He smiled. "Hello there, Inspector…my my, you're rather young, aren't you?"

"Well, this is my first assignment. It's nice to meet you, Doctor Forrester." Anton said, forcing himself to look straight at the man.

This was no small task. By and large, most members of the Bureau were…well, obviously 'beautiful' wasn't appropriately professional, but typically easy on the eyes. Even Anton, with his scarecrow physique, was probably above average, and certainly while in the presence of this man.

Doctor Forrester was, as already stated, confined to a wheelchair, but the injuries that had taken his legs away hadn't stayed confined to just them. His countenance was, well, frankly frightening. There didn't appear to be a square inch of his exposed body that wasn't marred by scars, burns, scabs, pockmarks, or anything other category he'd missed. A large pair of frosted goggles was strapped on over his eyes, exuding a deadly curiosity about what lay within. He had also gained injuries on the inside; his unnatural voice was caused by a rather grievous throat injury, one that had destroyed the old man's vocal chords. The Doctor was also completely bald (probably not by choice; just a hunch), which coupled with the disfigurements destroyed any possible reference points for his exact age.

Even in his file, Doctor Forrester's age in his file was represented only by two question marks. He could have been about forty…or fifty…or even a spry sixty. You could probably hazard a good guess, but no-one seemed to want to. Anton couldn't imagine why; there was so much mystery about the man that he could do with at least one definite fact, even if it was decided for him.

There were no records for Doctor Forrester in the TSAB's Database, even after the several years he'd been working for them. He was a shadow, a null, a non-entity when it came to filing. There were only two things known for sure about him: that he was an utter genius, and also something of a madman.. The combination was about as comforting as you'd expect.

Forrester had been found about five years ago by an Enforcer team, on transit back to their base from a successful sealing operation. The Lost Logia was only about mid-grade power, but its function was unique enough to be dangerous in the right hands, so they were on full alert. This anticipation soon paid off – just as their ship was rounding an uninhabited world, the team was caught in an ambush by two pirate crews, both armed with anti-mage equipment. For a moment, it looked very bad…

…until a massive beam of pure magical energy soared up from the 'uninhabited' world, smashing into one ship and completely annihilating it, piercing through its AMF Barrier like it was paper. This left the second vulnerable to be quickly mopped up by the Enforcers, who then cautiously teleported down to the source of the beam to investigate.

There, they found Forrester, alone in a small lab containing some sort of broken satellite. The entire place was smoking, including its sole occupant. But The Doctor couldn't have been more apologetic when confronted; according to him, he had been aiming for a small planetoid near his lab. The pirate ship had merely gotten in the way, which was regrettable (a quote by him).

The Enforcers weren't sure what to do. He had saved their lives, certainly, but by taking away those of an entire ship, however criminal they were and however accidental the circumstances had been. But on the other hand, Doctor Forrester had been conducting his experiment on a planet without major life, and made also made certain there was none on any adjacent worlds. And as far as they could tell, he hadn't used any technology that was actually illegal to build his device: very conscientious, for a rogue scientist.

After some discussion, they'd settled for politely detaining the Doctor, escorting him back to Headquarters…and then offering him a job, as was standard procedure for the Bureau. Forrester had gladly accepted, and the TSAB inducted another scientist into their ranks. So far it had been a mixed bag – the Doctor was smart and imaginative, yes, but also quite impulsive. If there was a problem to solve, he preferred to do it in the biggest way possible.

Strangely, despite working on his own before joining the Bureau (at least, as far as they knew), the scientist took to giving orders like a duck to water. Even now Anton could see the old man's gaze directed only partially on him; the rest was on his scurrying staff.

"And you as well, Inspector Langsley…yes, I'm aware of the resemblance, there's no need to flinch." Forrester said softly, a little smile on his face that reminded Anton of his grandfather. He tapped one of the wheelchair's arms absent-mindedly. "Now, I suppose you'll need a demonstration of our department, hmm?"

"Certainly, Doctor, in whatever way you can." Anton said politely. "I hope I haven't caught your team on a busy day."

Forrester waved a hand dismissively. "No, Inspector, not at all. I haven't done anything remotely interesting all day, in fact, so I was getting a bit bored."

Boredom in this individual was something Anton was happy to dispel. "If you have something in mind, go right ahead," he said graciously, "I'm recording right now."

The Doctor cracked a wide smile. Half of his teeth were gone. "Well, in that case I simply can't disappoint, can I?"

Turning aside from the young man, he called down into the pit. "Michael, Joel, can you boys come up here?"

These words were said in a perfectly-natural indoor voice, yet had great effect on the throng. Within moments, an opening appeared allowing two young men to climb up. They looked…well, like all the other lab techies. There was probably some variance on averageness between them, but to Anton's eyes they were Regular Joes, just like you or me. They both had black-brownish hair, and the same eager expression every worker here seemed to share.

"Yes, Doctor Forrester?" one of them – Michael, Anton guessed – said cheerfully. "Is there something you need Joel to help me with?"

Anton sagged a bit. Even he, about as blessed in social natures as the average frog, could tell where this was going.

Joel's smile grew strained. "Or perhaps there's an invention you need Mike to be the guinea pig for?"

"Oh, that's a fine idea." Forrester put in, beaming. "I should keep it in mind if you both don't shut up right now."

They did.

The old man smiled warmly. "Good, good." He gestured to Anton. "This is the Inspector from Headquarters, say hello. Inspector, these are Mike and Joel, my two finest assistants."

"Hello!"

"Hello."

Anton drew back a bit subconsciously. "Ah, it's a pleasure…"

Forrester pointed past him, to the large computer. "Now, please prepare the Lost Logia we recovered the other day. Our young friend would like a demonstration."

The Inspector in question blinked as the two young men flew into movement. "A, a Lost Logia, Doctor? Isn't that a bit much for just a demonstration? And shouldn't it be sealed by now, anyway?"

"Now, now," The Doctor held up his hands reassuringly, "there's nothing to worry about, Inspector Langsley. It's a fairly harmless specimen if you understand how it functions, and this room is perfectly designed for acquiring that knowledge." He shrugged. "Besides; the Major himself ordered me to completely study any and all Lost Logia we acquire, which I am all too happy to oblige. If you have an issue with this, I would recommend bringing it to his attention."

Something about how Doctor Forrester put that itched at Anton's mind, but he brushed them aside to nod firmly. "Well, I think I just might."

If it was meant to be impressive, the old man didn't notice. "Well, that's good. He always values other people's input."

Behind him, silent until now, Anton heard Arturia sigh slightly.

Before he could ask, Mike and Joel's rapid typing produced a result. The blazing lights in the ceiling dimmed and finally shut off with booming clacks as a different light source appeared: a pattern of lights built into the floor. These seemed to be a signal of some kind, as the throng of workers quickly shifted, milling around a desk in the room's center. On its surface was one of the covers, which now snapped open with a hiss.

Rising from it was a spherical object about as large as a beach ball. It appeared perfectly smooth at first, but upon closer inspection was made up of raised plates, each glinting even in this dimness. Almost immediately upon release, the sphere began to rotate slowly – it said a lot about Lost Logia that even this slight movement was troubling for Anton.

Forrester caught his expression and chuckled. "Why, Inspector, calm down; you haven't seen anything yet." Raising a withered hand, he snapped his fingers.

At this signal, two lab workers moved to desks on either side of the glittering ball, which Anton could now see were equipped with what seemed to be compact spotlights. Aiming carefully, the young men switched them on, spilling out two fountains of light that struck the sphere parallel.

Something happened to them as they did, and clusters of equally circular light swept around the room, apparently cast by the ball's prisms.

Anton stared, not really sure what to think. "Well, that's…"

"It gets better, I assure you!" Forrester interrupted cheerfully. Another snap of his fingers, and the two clicked the lights, changing them to a red shade. This continued through several palettes until Anton cleared his throat.

He turned to the old man. "Well, that is rather pretty, Doctor, but what's, well, Lost Logiaish about it? I've seen devices like this imported from other worlds."

Behind his goggles, Anton could have sworn Forrester's eyes glinted. "Well, when we first found it, it had this intriguing function of making the lights both physical and razor sharp. Intriguing, the sort of defense systems Ancient Belkan came up with, hm?"

"…certainly."

"Yes, you can imagine our surprise when we found out." He looked over at his assistants. "Incidentally, how is your leg doing, Michael?"

The techie flashed a thumbs-up. "Perfectly, Doctor – I can almost forget it was ever gone!"

Forrester nodded happily. "Oh, very good: now you can start back on the important experiments."

As nervous laughter filled the room, Anton frowned. "I don't really envy anyone who has to come to him for help…" He sighed inwardly. "Well, he seems to fit this Section perfectly, at least."

"Incidentally, Inspector Langsley, would you be willing to-"

"No."

"Well, perhaps GD could volunteer-"

Behind him, there came the unmistakable sound of a magic bullet being prepared. "No." said Arturia icily.

"Fine, fine," replied Forrester, his sunny disposition not shaken whatsoever, "forget that I asked. Now, Inspector, as I was saying…"

If nothing else, talking to the Doctor was a very…enlightening experience. It told Anton the counselor back at the academy who'd dissuaded him from the various science departments deserved a gift basket in the near future – maybe two.

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Library – 1115 Hours

While the Labs had been a clustering bustle of constant noise, this room could be far better described as a perfect singular point…of noise. It was certainly quite inappropriate for a library, but then again, laboratories were technically supposed to have calm environments too. And anyway, even the few interviews he'd had so far had been enough to tell him not to expect things around here.

Many rooms about the multiverse seemed to almost have molds built for them. There was the dirty gas station bathrooms, equipped with a key tougher than any device, the boring waiting rooms, laden down with magazines dated exactly fifty years before the current date, and, of course, libraries. This one was fairly standard, as they went, even if it was smaller. Even the small amount of bookcases were practically arranged like a maze, tables and bins were laden down with ones that hadn't been put back yet, and an oppressive silence filled the air.

Or at least this was the atmosphere it was trying for. The space at the back of the wide room didn't quite mesh with the rest of it. A long table stretched in front of two bookcases, forming the next best thing to walls. Instead of bookcases, various tools were cluttered on them almost at random, some smaller brushes almost crushed by unwieldy looking picks. A simmering hotpot sat perched on one end of the table, rattling like something metal had been put inside by mistake. Considering the kind of person the librarian was, that wasn't totally out of the question.

Abruptly, he became aware that the man himself was talking to him, above the squeal of his cart. The inspector made a mental note to approve a can of oil, if he could.

"Excuse me, pardon?" Anton said politely, trying not to sound like he hadn't been paying attention.

"Tried to explain things too fast for ya, eh? I was talking about how I overhauled the library here – before I showed up it was a mess. The guy here didn't know what he was doing."

Anton looked around. "Really? That's hard to believe."

"You wouldn't, would ya?" Daniel Trail said, brushing a hand through his sandy hair. "But he gave these guys an inch, and believe me, they took a mile each. I had to shake a few of them down to get loans back, and that's not exaggerating. And the condition some of them were in, geez…and that's not getting into what some other people were using it for. If I had it my way, the books would be chained down."

Daniel had been described in his file as one of the more normal members of Section Thirteen, but he'd managed to hide it well so far. His role was as new as the additional Sections themselves; with how dangerous Lost Logia could be without information, and how influential that information had been to keeping Midchilda from getting razed, all of them had been assigned a specialist in that area. He was shorter than most, but Mr. Trail more than made up for that by filling his body with knowledge.

And while some of these specialists obtained their expertise through reading books, or translating ancient texts, Daniel gained his by spelunking into ruins directly, alone. This had earned him some fame among the community, and even titles, such as 'crazy', 'a total nut', 'a danger to himself, others, and the countryside," and so on. One of the less crude ones was 'Human Avalanche', both due to his earth magic and his habit of breaking almost as many things as he recovered. It wasn't really a habit or anything, but it had earned him arrest warrants nonetheless, from different sources and for different reasons: from the Bureau for irresponsible use of magic and disrupting the peace, and from the Belkan Preservation Society, for conducting digs without a license and for destroying several priceless (according to them) artifacts.

Another difference was that the Bureau's warrant required his head still be attached when he was handed over.

But actually arresting the young archeologist proved to be a bit more difficult than on paper. For one thing, Daniel never stayed in any one place for very long, constantly moving from city to city, world to world, always searching for his next dig and taking every possession with him when he did. His Device and Linker Core signature had also not been registered with the Bureau, leaving them with only ordinary reports as his trail. This too was unreliable, as among those who didn't want him dead Daniels was something of a folk hero. The exact nature of his magic also let him quite literally vanish before their eyes.

So, after numerous encounters that ended in near-arrests and eludes, it was ironic that Daniel's apprehension came from him saving them. Upon receiving an anonymous tip that he was conducting a one-man dig (as usual) on a notable administrated world, the enforcer team there moved into action. The information led them to an extensive mountain range on the wilderness of the planet, filled with miles worth of valleys, peaks, and hidden caverns. It was this treacherous terrain that the mages were heading into, regardless of any proper training.

Granted, finding Daniel didn't take very long, with how he usually conducted his digs. But the operation quickly turned sour when they did, as Daniel quickly fled into the caverns, his experience in underground travel and earth-based magic letting him run circles around the team. He wasn't a professionally trained mage by any means, and being made a fool of by someone like that so easily would make anyone lose their cool.

And lose it they did – one of the team, growing frustrated after around the tenth time Daniel had slipped away from their binds effortlessly, had aimed a missile spell at his retreating head, meaning to take him unconscious if not awake. Whatever merits shooting off an attack spell underground might have had, however, were quickly proven false. Daniel managed to deflect the spell, which rebounded straight into the ceiling; it wasn't exactly unstable, given the territory, but something designed to knock out a mage wasn't going to do any structure favors. The ensuing cave-in was quick and brutal, sending rocks falling down on the entire team. Only the split-second reflexes of a few kept them from being crushed instantly, and a collapsing cave wasn't something that could be shrugged off with a couple barriers. Things looked bad…

…but, thankfully, Daniel had a conscience. It was sort of a prerequisite for archeologists, really. Working quickly, the young man managed to free his pursuers from their free early grave with his own magic, whereupon they arrested him in the most genial way possible. The trial came and went fairly quickly, as well, since Daniel's method of responding to accusations was to shrug and say 'Yeah, I did that, sorry', and it was obvious he hadn't intended to commit any crimes. Besides, letting him go free with the mob that had formed around the courthouse would only have been an elaborate death sentence, which the Bureau didn't quite go in for.

Daniel liked archeology almost as much as he liked helping people (although he couldn't discuss one long enough to drive someone to tears), so he had readily accepted their offer of employment. Like many of the others he'd spoken to so far, he appeared to have come to Section Thirteen of his own volition. Anton hadn't quite figured out what the draw was for the place, and it was starting to bug him.

He looked at the librarian again, craning his neck downward to do so. Daniel was barely twenty years old, but looking at his body, you wouldn't think he had gone further than about twelve. At just a smidge shy of five feet tall, he was the second-shortest member of Section Thirteen, and all of it slim and un-muscular. He had probably gained a few less flattering names than 'Human Avalanche', but his choice of device and magic meant no-one with common sense would say them to his face.

But even in a body that short, Daniel had managed to fit in countless signs of experience. His skin was dirty all over, covered in a dust that couldn't simply be washed away, while his hair was an extremely unkempt light-brown that seemed much the same. If it were possible for eyes to be unclean without pain, his world-weary blue ones probably would be too. Rather than a Bureau uniform, he wore his archeology outfit, a well worn vest-shirt and pants combination; every bit of it was covered in pockets big and small.

"Do you really get that many visitors to the library, Mister Trail?" Anton asked dubiously.

Daniel frowned. "'Mister' Trail is my father. Just call me Daniel, guy."

The Inspector coughed. "Ah, thanks, but I think I'll keep professional, if it's all the same to you. I'm only here for today, after all."

"Whatever." Daniel said with a shrug. Stopping his cart (a mercy to Anton's ears, no matter how temporary), he put another couple books back. A few clusters of dust rose off them too as he did.

"And yeah, we kinda do." he added. His expression was a bit strange. "To uh, put it lightly, not every book in here is for research purposes, you get my drift?"

Anton nodded understandingly. "Well, of course." It was only proper protocol (not to mention common sense) to have outlets of relief for staff. Even a deskjob in the Bureau could be exhausting…or so they say, anyway.

Daniel's eyebrow shot straight up. "Of course? Sheesh, now I'm glad you're only here for one day. Last thing this place needs is another guy like the Major – personality-wise, anyway. He ordered most of 'em, see."

"…I see." Anton replied, not quite sure he was getting where the conversation was going.

The archeologist seemed to pick up on this. "Oh, guess you didn't. Sorry, you just looked…uh, nevermind."

He carried on ahead, Anton following behind. He began to look at the books on the shelves – as Daniel said, there did seem to be quite a lot of them. They turned a corner, and abruptly the labels became more…colorful; quite a lot more extravagant, too. Stopping in his tracks, he hesitantly reached out and withdrew it…

…only to shove it back as quickly as he could, cheeks reddening. Dusting himself off, he cleared his throat and looked down at the green-covered tome.

"Akashic, could you-"

"No, young master."

Anton sighed. "Yep, of course." He hurried to catch up with Daniel, who had begun an argument with his Device.

"At least now I know why those two didn't want to come in here."

Daniel was tapping what seemed to be a small digging trowel. "Dangit, Lithic, I thought I told you to remind me about this one! Now I gotta go waste my time getting it back from her."

It glowed. "No use, chief." The device stated matter-of-factly in a male voice. "She'd get extension either way."

His master's cheeks reddened. "W-who says, you big-mouthed shovel!?"

He noticed Anton looking at him and hurriedly jabbed a thumb upward. "Uh, Inspector, you been up to the greenhouse yet?"

"The Terrarium, you mean?" Anton echoed.

Daniel shrugged. "Whatever. If you're heading that way later, could you ask Otavi to give back that plant book already? She'll know if you ask her."

"Oh, certainly," Anton said with a smile and nod, "a little problem like that won't take long."

He realized his error about one nanosecond after the words came out. "Heh heh…" Daniel chuckled, adopting a much wider smile. Well, his teeth were showing, anyway. "…'little problem', huh – you know, Inspector, some people might consider that a slur against people who are height-challenged, if you didn't notice."

Grasping at the lifeline extended out to him, Anton hoped it wasn't really a snake. "Oh, r-really? I didn't think of that, actually."

"Oh, of course," Daniel said, his mouth widening, "I can tell you're not the kind of guy who goes around making rude comments like that to people…right?"

Anton nodded with enough force to cause whiplash. "No, not at all; I'm glad you're such a good judge of character, Librarian."

A smile and nod passed between them. "Ha ha ha," Daniel laughed again, "you know what, Inspector?"

"W-what?" Anton stuttered, taking a step backward. "I doubt I can come up with a bind that quickly, but one of my barriers might stop him, and then maybe I can-"

"You're alright." Daniel smiled wryly.

Anton blinked, positively flabbergasted. "R-really?"

"Yup. Now why don't you get outta here before you actually make me angry, huh?"

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Terrarium – 1140 Hours

Anton didn't have much of a sense for flora, but he had to admit the area was beautiful. It was only a small room, but almost every spare space was filled with a flowerpot, flowerbed, or flower…was there a third one? He'd have to look that up later. Anyway, it meant that he had to be careful opening the door, and coming through the path to the room's center.

"I must apologize for the untidiness here, Inspector." Arturia remarked from ahead of him. "Our gardener seems reluctant to trim it down, despite numerous suggestions."

"Statement: indeed, Lady Lackland, but given her exact nature, this may be unacceptable for Miss Otavi."

Arturia only shrugged. "Even so. This room was specially made for Miss Otavi, and I cannot say I agree with such special treatment, however unique she may be. But the Major had it built, and he is the one in charge."

"The Major again – I keep hearing about him." Anton thought. "Now I'm wondering what he'll be like in person."

It might have just been his imagination, but the young inspector thought he saw the plants on either side of them…shift slightly. Well, that wasn't particularly strange in Bureau space, was it? When things like dragons were considered normal, if extremely rare, animals, unusual plants

Finally, they reached a small clearing in the center of the room. The light reaching through the glass roof was especially strong here, and someone had set up benches and a table. It was quiet, too. Anton looked around; the closest thing he had to greenery in his office was a lone potted flower, so seeing this much of it on all sides was unique. He took a deep breath, enjoying it far more than he expected to.

"So," Anton said eagerly, "where is Miss Otavi?"

"Hello." said a quiet voice…into his ear.

The flowers had relaxed him so much he didn't even jump, even if one or two of his organs did. Anton turned around carefully.

What met his eyes wasn't scary on paper. In fact, it should have been quite pleasant: a petite, slender young girl with long, deep green hair and identical eyes. She wore the dress-variant of the Bureau's female uniform, adorned with flowers in several places. What truly drew his eyes were the girl's, however. The same color as her hair, they held a quiet attraction; when you stared into them, looking away proved quite difficult, like now.

A clank came from nearby, and his head was gently moved to one side, breaking the spell. Embarrassed, Anton nodded his thanks to GD and looked away quickly.

Arturia glared over him at the girl. "Otavi, I have told you many times: visitors are not your playthings."

Blinking once, the girl clasped her hands and bowed. "I am sorry."

Anton held up a reassuring hand. "T-that's all right, really. I'm fine." He extended it. "I'm Anton Langsley, an Inspector who came here on business. You can just call me Anton, if you want."

"…" the girl looked down at his hand like it was some kind of exotic, spiky fruit. Finally, she reached out with some hesitance, grasped Anton's hand, and shook it gently. "Hello. It is nice to meet you." She curtsied.

A moment of silence passed, and discomfort washed over Anton slightly. Clearing his throat, he motioned over to one of the tables. "U-um, shall we sit down?"

Otavi nodded slowly, and followed him to the set of furniture. He watched her sideways as they did, and when they sat down, abruptly realized why he had felt uncomfortable.

He'd read that GD's old squad-mates had felt unnerved by the droid at times, and this was understandable: a machine trying to act human couldn't always do so perfectly, and he must have known that. The various mannerisms he used were probably ways of putting people at ease. But Otavi was more than a tad machine-like herself, and going by the stare she was giving him now seemed unaware of that. It wasn't exactly bad, but he could see how being alone with her a few minutes could be more than a little uncomfortable.

Anton looked around, twiddling his fingers. "This is a very nice garden, Miss Otavi. Did you plant it all yourself?"

He turned back to see her mimicking his action. She stopped upon noticing he had, and nodded. "…yes, I did. Thank you for the compliment."

"Anyone would have." Anton said reassuringly. "I know I couldn't have made anything like this if I tried."

The girl didn't answer, only tilting her head at his comment. He coughed, searching for another icebreaker.

Thankfully, due to his choice of order, he had one prepared. "Librarian Trail was asking about a book you borrowed, actually. Apparently you've kept if for quite a while…?"

Concern flashed across the girl's face for a moment. "Oh." Turning in her chair without a word, she gestured…toward the plants.

Before Anton could comprehend why, they began to move, shifting and writhing like a whole, single life-form. The bush there parted, and a hard-cover book came through. Taking it, Otavi walked over and handed it off to the plants on the room's opposite side. It disappeared, and she smiled.

"It is done."

A moment later, there came a bump from below, very similar to a broom being struck against a ceiling.

"If I've told you once, I've told you a million times, Otavi: keep your weeds outta my library!"

The girl's smile grew slightly.

Anton paused again, trying to search for another topic after that. He failed, and his mind once more turned to the knowledge he'd acquired on the situation at hand.

When ruins from Ancient Belkan were uncovered, the 'spoils' excavated by the archeology teams usually amounted to little. Some sculptures, perhaps, or a half dead Storage Device; overall, the wars hadn't been terribly courteous to the research community. Anything not related to battle or an extension of it was often in disrepair.

They usually didn't include a young girl sleeping inside of a capsule, looking like they'd just turned in for the night amidst the remains of a broken castle. The capsule didn't look particularly moveable, so the team had called in the Bureau staff supervising them. After a brief inspection that had determined the girl was alive, Headquarters had been notified.

For a long moment, rumors swept through them. Who knew what stories this girl had to tell about her home kingdom, and what holes she could fill in the lost Belkan history? After all, if she had been sealed away like that for so long, then imagine the knowledge she must carry! It wasn't as though she would be…

…completely, totally, and utterly amnesiac, right? That's the sort of cruel joke that really shouldn't happen to a benevolent-minded organization like the Time-Space Administration Bureau, isn't it?

Apparently fate thought otherwise – the girl couldn't remember a blasted thing, not even why she had been put to sleep in the first place. Presumably the capsule had malfunctioned somehow over the years, but after studying every inch of it, no such error could be found. Not that the girl was very forthcoming on how the device was meant to work, of course.

Studying her yielded more, but not by very much. The girl was a mage, and a fairly powerful one at that, and seemed to have an affinity for plants. In any case, with Otavi – the name that had been on the capsule – in such a state, they couldn't simply leave her be. She had bounced around several posts, never serving an official position, but generally left quickly for much the same reasons as GD, as well as her lack of attention, and…odd personality. Perhaps it was due to the amnesia.

With so little information to go on, Anton decided to wing it. What was the worse that could happen…well; he could answer that, but chose not to. His analytical nature was not a friend in this regard.

"So…" he began, "how has the weather been, lately? The weather in Gardius can change without warning, or so I'm told."

Otavi smiled. Her eyes might have been odd, but that gesture alone was calming. "Yes. We are enjoying a heat wave currently, but there is no telling how long it will last. The plants are even wondering it."

This gave Anton pause. "The...plants are?"

The gardener nodded firmly. "Yes. With Gardius' unique weather, they are very hardy and talkative." Her expression clouded. "But…it is strange. For the past two weeks, the temperature has been steadily rising, even beyond that of a normal wave. Very strange..."

"Oh?" Anton scratched his head, again unsure how to reply. "Well, how about your teammates? Are you getting along well together?" Arturia stiffening behind him practically made a sound of its own.

Otavi's smile returned. "They are all kind. The Major, Captain and Corporal have been very friendly to me."

Anton smiled back. "I'm glad to hear that. It's always nice to have friends, isn't it?"

Tilting her head, the girl looked at him. "Hmm…are you sure?"

The Inspector flinched slightly and leaned back. "…yes, I think so."

"I see." Otavi answered simply. "Very well, then."

She sat forward in her chair expectantly. Anton blinked in confusion, and then spoke up again. "Well…"

It continued like that for a while, him introducing small talk and her answering quietly. He wasn't really sure whether or not she was enjoying his company, but she didn't seem to dislike it, either. She was a unique person to talk to; like a blank slate just waiting to be filled up. Despite the casualness of the conversation, various facts about Section Thirteen bubbled to the surface that he wouldn't have learned ordinarily.

Then, a sharp beep from Akashic indicated his meeting with Otavi was up. The enigmatic girl seemed to realize this, and frowned unhappily.

Anton could only offer an apologetic shrug. "I'm sorry, but that's my job. I can't sit here talking to you all day, as much as I'd want to."

Standing up, he reached across the table and ruffled Otavi's long hair, smiling. "I have to go now, but in case I ever come here again, why don't you plant a few more flowers? There might even be some that would suit a stuffy guy like me, huh?"

The girl's expression turned strange again, with her eyes slightly distant. For the briefest of moments, they suddenly glowed, a fact Anton wasn't willing to put off as simple imagination. Otavi said nothing for a long moment. Just as he was about to break the silence, the girl shook her head quietly. "No, that won't happen." she said with barely a whisper, averting her eyes.

"…heh heh," Anton chuckled defensively, "I guess there's no flower ugly enough for that, huh?"

Otavi bowed low. "Goodbye…I am sorry." Without saying another word, she turned and fled back into the plants, which opened freely for their master and then snapped shut, leaving the three alone in the room.

"Goodbye, then." Anton said to nothing in particular. He had a feeling like he'd just kicked a lost puppy, and didn't know why.

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Helipad – 1210 Hours

Stepping confidently through the double doors of Section Thirteen's deployment center, Anton blinked in confusion as he and his escorts found themselves in the middle of an office maelstrom. People were rushing past them, and the hectic nature in the air indicated this wasn't simple routine like in the labs.

"C'mon, people, are you seriously this stupid?"

The source of it all was a figure in a dirty work uniform and baseball cap standing behind a large megaphone, saying with normal words what another person would have used a roaring shout for. Even Anton felt like standing at attention.

Their back was to the three, and didn't notice as they approached, allowing Anton to look around the room. It was wide, taking up almost the building's entire third floor that wasn't used by the Terrarium, and it certainly used the space. In addition to its use as a helipad, the room was also technically for storage; large boxes of various contents were placed everywhere, some open, some closed, along with equipment for unloading it. In the center of the room was Section Thirteen's helicopter, installed with a top of the line Storage Device, spacious enough to carry every member of the usual away team and strong enough to lift heavy loads. It was placed on part of the floor that could rise up to the roof, which itself could move aside to allow this. It was from here that Section Thirteen was dispatched for missions; Anton couldn't help but gape.

"Seems to me that 'batteries shouldn't be stored near the bottled water' was something you could have cottoned onto a while ago, but who am I to judge, right?"

The supervisor continued her direction, not shouting but not needing to, as the three walked up. Arturia cleared her throat. "Captain Stromhold, the Inspector is here to see you."

Finally lowering the megaphone and turning around, the walking loudspeaker revealed themselves as a fit older woman of average height. She had short brown hair, like Anton, but far messier. The face surrounding her fierce hazel eyes bore marks that made Daniel's look smooth as a baby's by comparison. Scars, remnants of burns, and innumerous other wounds, all gained throughout her years of duty. Each represented a small sacrifice the woman had made to protect the innocent.

Stepping forward, Anton extended a hand toward her, a wide smile on his face. "I'm Inspector Anton Langsley, ma'am. It's an honor to meet you."

Captain Stromhold stared down at the hand for a moment, and then looked back up with a raised eyebrow. "Yeah, and? You're a bit late on that, kid: after so many people say it, that kind of loses its charm."

Slowly, Anton withdrew his gesture. Jeanne Stromhold was only a minor legend among the mage community, eclipsed by so many others, but among rescue workers of all departments she shone like a star. In her nearly two decades of Bureau service, she had been involved with rescue and aid operations for fires, earthquakes, floods, and other far less natural disasters on many different worlds. But what had also molded her into a woman of fast action had also made her a tad – just a tad – prickly.

He gestured to the situation around them. "Well, do you have this under control, Captain, or should I come back later?"

Jeanne looked back, and then snorted. "It can't get worse than this if I take a little break, I guess. C'mon."

She began to lead Anton away, then turned back and pointed at his escorts. "Hey, you guys; go make yourselves useful and help out around here, alright?"

Arturia frowned. "782 and I are currently escorting the Inspector, Captain, so we cannot-"

"I don't care, just do it." Jeanne said simply. "He'll be busy for a bit anyway, right?"

The knight frowned, but it wasn't in her nature to disobey a commanding officer, even one that wasn't her own. "Yes, Captain. Come along, GD."

"Statement: at once, Lady Lackland."

Anton watched them go for a moment, wondering what Jeanne had meant by that, before following the rescue officer. She led him across the busy room to a small door in the corner, which opened to reveal a cozy, sparsely decorated office. A desk was in the center, piled high with paperwork.

Jeanne stepped in ahead of him. "Make yourself at home, kid. Sorry about the mess – you know how it is."

"I certainly do," Anton said with complete honesty, sitting down in a spare chair, "but not usually so much of it. Is it true you handle everything concerning this base's supplies?"

She shrugged, sitting down with a sigh. The megaphone was placed on the desk, whereupon it glowed and became a small spanner wrench. "Along with a few other things here and there, yeah. Paperwork seems to be a rare skill here that I'm lucky enough to have. Lucky, right?"

"No." the wrench said bluntly.

Jeanne shrugged. "Flashpoint here's a little single-minded. Probably my fault."

Anton looked down at his book. "Well, it depends on the device, really."

"Noted, Young Master." murmured Akashic, in a voice fit to make him shiver. Recovering quickly, he gestured to the stack. "So, that's all your work, is it?"

The woman was almost dwarfed by it all. Anton scratched his forehead. "I…hadn't realized combat mages generated this much paperwork."

"Huh?" Jeanne looked to him, puzzlement present on her face. "Nah, this is all just stuff you get naturally with a bunch of people living together, government or otherwise. If you want to give someone pity, I'd point you at the Major; he's the one who has to deal with all the red tape we leave behind when we do, well, anything."

Anton chuckled. "There must be quite a lot of it, from the people I've seen so far." Realizing what he'd just said, he stammered, "I, I mean-"

To his amazement, Jeanne only laughed. "What," she asked happily, "you thought I'd get mad at you calling those guys a pack of idiots? I figured that much out on my first day here."

Her laughter was rough, yet infectious. Anton found himself mimicking it. "It isn't that hard to tell, really. Not a very deceptive audience for my first assignment, I must say."

Jeanne snorted back in reply. "First days? Tch, don't talk to me about first days, kid. You wouldn't believe what I ran into on day one…"

Then, without pausing, she launched into an extensive, firsthand retelling of her first day on the job. Anton didn't interrupt – you might as well stop the tides from coming in, and in any case he was quite curious. What followed was certainly an eye opened for him. He'd never imagined a first assignment could involve two gas line explosions, a miles-long fire, and threecollapsed skyscrapers. The Inspector thought back to his first day at the office…upon reflection, it had been a lot like his second day. And his third.

Finally, Jeanne concluded her tale. She suddenly blinked. "Oh, geez, how long was I talking for? Sorry, kid, I tend to bitch a lot when I get going. Don't think too hard about it; you're a little young for that side of things."

"…um, if you say so."

Jeanne managed to make even supply busywork seem interesting, and he listened intently for several more minutes. After he thought he'd learned enough about how she did things in her department, Anton stood up and nodded. "You've been very informative, Captain. Thank you for your help."

The former rescue officer snorted. "Compared to the rest of these guys, yeah, I probably was." She smiled slightly. "But thanks anyway, kid. Hope the rest of your visit goes as well."

Anton laughed again. "Well, hopefully; if you'll excuse me now, Captain."

All in all, it had been a very good meeting: relaxing, mutually courteous, and knowledgeable.

A shame the next one wouldn't be nearly as productive…or maybe not, depending on your point of view.

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Third Floor Corridor – 1240 Hours

"Well," Arturia said briskly as they walked out of the helipad, "this appears to be all of us, Inspector. How have you found Section Thirteen so far?" Her face and body were flushed slightly, but this seemed to be only a minor inconvenience.

Anton turned back and gave the knight a look of confusion. "All of you, Lieutenant? What about Captain Triad? I haven't spoken to her yet."

She paused for a long moment, and then said carefully, "I'm afraid there would be no point in that, Inspector. I do not believe the Captain has any perspective that the other officers have not. You may as well go speak with the Major now."

A lot of people in the Bureau studied the idea of alternate dimensions. Something as simple as a yes or no question, the theory went, could create entirely new universes from the possibilities involved. Hundreds, thousands of what-ifs, could-have-beens. They were usually ignored or told to get some sleep by their superiors, but one alternate world was created now. In it, Anton agreed, finished his work, went home and got on with other things. Not a bad result, compared to some others that could have occurred…at least, not for a few months."

But in this universe, he shook his head. "No, I was ordered to interview all of you, Lieutenant, and that includes your captain as well. Do you know where she is now?"

Arturia looked into his eyes and then sighed. "Very well, Inspector, follow me."

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen Dormitories Staff Quarters, Officer Wing – 1243 Hours

"This is Captain Triad's room, Inspector." Arturia said, sniffing slightly. "She is usually still asleep around this time."

"Assessment: the Captain seems to dislike awakening before noon, at the very earliest."

Anton frowned slightly; in the Langsley household, most everyone got up at six am sharp, seven on weekends and holidays. He couldn't help feeling a mild dislike for the captain knowing she didn't share the same schedule. Oh well; nothing he couldn't get over when they spoke. Right?

Raising a hand, he knocked sharply on the door. A moment passed, but there came not a sound from within. Anton frowned, knocking again. Nothing. Now a bit annoyed, he reached for the doorknob…

"Warning: Inspector, I detect-"

"AAAHH!" the young man screamed as his hand touched the brass, now blisteringly hot. The one responsible was skilled enough to keep the wood around it from outright bursting into flame, but that was the only concession they'd made. Anton twitched his fingers, wincing: they were already red-hot, and throbbing. Just like the flame, anger rose up in him, unfamiliar as it was. Alright, if she wanted to play it like that – summoning wind around his hand, he reached for the doorknob.

The spell vanished like a puff of smoke as the door actually opened, exposing a glare that would have made the Bureau's finest Special Ops sorry for disturbing its owner.

Alyssa Triad, on the whole, was far from an unattractive woman, even if there were a few certain other ladies people would (gladly) have put ahead of her. If not outright beautiful, she was at least attractive: long red hair, full grey eyes, and a body tightened by the physical rigors of the Bureau. But like road-kill arriving in a china plate, certain…other aspects of her made them less obvious.

After continuing her glare for a moment further, making Anton shift uncomfortably, she turned toward Arturia. "So, tin can, who's this guy and why's he important enough to get me up? Ten words or less, or I'm going back to bed." Yeah, she was a real charmer.

Arturia met the glare and returned it twofold. "This, Captain, is Inspector Langsley, our visitor from Headquarters." She gestured toward him. "He-"

"That's ten; see ya later."

She made to shut the door, but something got in the way: Anton's foot. Wincing inwardly, he stuck Akashic into his armpit and held up both hands. "Inspector from Headquarters." He said, counting off each finger. "Wanted to talk to you. Please?" He smiled.

A moment passed, and then Alyssa smirked. "See? Was that so hard, Arturia?" She held the door open to let in a relieved Anton, then slammed it shut again.

The knightess stood still for a moment further, staring at the blank door. Then, evidently not receiving the answer she sought, turned and stalked off. "Come, 782. We are going to spar."

"Resignation: yes, Lady Lackland."

0

Planet Gardius – Section Thirteen, Captain Triad's Quarters – 1245 Hours

"Okay, that," Alyssa said with a snicker, "was totally worth getting up early. Thanks a lot: I was only staying in for fifteen more anyway."

Anton's lip quirked, not just at the statement but at the state of the room he found himself in. To be blunt, it was a mess. If there were a check-list of what amounted to a pig-sty then Alyssa had checked off every box, and then added a few just for good measure. Cloths were hung everywhere (he now noticed she'd come to the door in nothing but a wrinkled t-shirt and jeans), an odor hung in the air like a gas spell, and as he took a step forward something squelched underfoot. He suppressed a shudder before he spoke. "Um, no. Just an inspector from headquarters, like I said. I've spoken to everyone else here, so I-"

"Seriously?" she squelched back a laugh, flopping back down on her bed. "Hope you didn't waste too much time coming up here, four-eyes-"

"My name's Anton."

"-'cause there are probably grunts here that know more than I do." She pointed upward. "You talked to Jeanne, right? She can speak for both of us, really."

A frown creased across the young inspector's face as she said this, and he couldn't quite stop himself saying, "How can you talk like that? You're a captain, aren't you?" He had read a few negative things in Captain Triad's file, but nothing that said she had this kind of attitude.

She glanced up, her cheer fading to annoyance. "You an expert on being a captain then, buddy? I didn't ask to get promoted for this squad – I'll play along, 'cause it was the Major, but don't ask me to do an interview about it."

Another thing he hadn't heard about: the Major was proving to be quite the peculiar figure. The tone of her voice said it might go badly for him if he pressed further, but press he did. "But becoming captain is what so many people in the Bureau dream of! How can you act like you don't care?"

"Because I don't?" Alyssa replied, the same way someone would answer 'why is the sky blue?'. "Maybe it's because of where I'm from, but I've never really felt like it was a big deal."

Anton stopped. He'd forgotten about that while running his mouth, hadn't he? While Alyssa hadn't technically been born outside the Bureau, she had every right not to think of it as a very happy citizenship. No matter what you did, every nation had its orphans, and when that nation extended across planets you could only get more of them. Alyssa had been one, and her life would almost certainly have been far less noteworthy (and far shorter), if she had not been adopted by a certain man, known only as The Triad.

Even as many times as he and the Bureau had crossed paths, the information on him was scarce. His real name was unknown – if Alyssa knew, she wasn't telling – and what exactly the moniker meant, likewise. Some rumors said he could use all three of the main elements of magic, fire, ice and lightning. But that was nonsense, of course. So it was probably just a coincidence that Alyssa, along with two other children adopted by him, had Mana Conversion Abilities of Fire, Ice and Lightning respectively.

What they did know was that the Triad was a mercenary of sorts, and eventually his children began to join him on jobs. That by itself would have made him distasteful to many among the Bureau, but he had a habit of taking any job, no matter what it was or who it made his enemy. As you might expect, this led to some…unpleasantness.

By the time they'd finally found his location (he was on the move constantly), the Enforcers had more than had enough of him getting in their way. It was for his own good too, frankly. He was chaotic, but not outright malicious, so there was no point in them being enemies.

But try telling that to him and his children, who fought tooth and nail that day. It was anyone's guess what was going through their heads, but when the dust cleared, The Triad had vanished, leaving nothing but half an injured Enforcer team in his wake. Ditto for the children representing ice and lightning: only Alyssa had been left behind.

She had been about ten years old then, and if you thought it might be hard teaching someone that age that you weren't villains after making her whole family disappear…well, you were right, actually. It took months for her to come around at first, and even then she went about the volunteer work like she had a grudge against it, which was how she did a lot of things. If Alyssa felt she had an obligation, she'd fulfill it, but expecting her to enjoy it? A bad idea. If the Major had earned real royalty from her, he must have done something really special.

Even after Anton had stuck his foot in his mouth, though, he couldn't quite keep it shut on this subject. "But-"

Alyssa let out a heavy sigh, scratching at her cheek. "Look…you know, if you care this much about it, why aren't you an officer? You're uptight enough for it."

Now he was the one put on the spot. "Well, um, I-"

It had only been a casual question, but the captain leaned forward. "No, seriously. You must have some reason, right?"

Well there was one thing about her that was fitting of her rank – the look in the young woman's eyes practically forced the answer out of him. "I…wouldn't be any good at it, that's all."

"Aw, come on-"

Abruptly, he flomped down on a nearby chair, not seeming to notice it was piled with tossed clothes. People's real feelings could be funny sometimes; when you got them talking about it, the flood-gates just came straight down. "Oh, I wish it had been my decision. No, that was what my father told me, and my counselor back at the academy after they'd spoken together. Too dangerous for a mage like me, they said, never-mind there are a ton of combat mages at a lower rank. He just doesn't want-"

He trailed off into a coughing fit, groping for his inhaler and taking a long huff.

"Oh, alright," Alyssa said above the wheeze, "for a second I thought it would be more interesting."

"W-what!?" Anton said without thinking, resulting in another brief bit of hacking.

She shrugged, sitting back down. "If you just gave up 'cause someone told you to, that's pretty boring, is all. It looked like there was more to you than that."

"…what do you mean?" he asked more quietly, leaning forward this time. "He said that-"

"Shaddup." she said irritably. "Who cares what he said? If you're just going along with it, then you're just as much of the problem."

Anton stared, and Alyssa could only sigh. "Well, seriously: 'He told me not to, so I guess it doesn't matter what I want now!' That's what you sound like."

"That's…not really-"

The captain pointed a finger into his face. "You ask me, if you're letting someone shove you into a square hole, then you're just as much of the problem. I wouldn't spend more than one hour doing something I didn't want to do, especially if there was something I wanted more. If you don't think the same way, maybe you really aren't cut out for this line of work. It takes brave people."

She expected him to get mad, maybe talk back; what she didn't was for the guy to slowly sag, hanging his head like a little kid. Dammit, she'd only meant-

Like any awkward moment, it needed a way to break it up. Alyssa probably wouldn't have picked alarm klaxons to do it, though.

"Everyone, report to the helipad ASAP; a War Armor's been sighted in the city. That means you too, Triad."

Alyssa scowled. "Always has to be me, doesn't it?"

Looking down, she cleared her throat. "Uh, look, I have to-"

Anton stood up so fast that the chair fell over. "I – I'm coming too!"

A quiet moment passed…and then Alyssa grinned. "Now we're talkin'."

To be continued…

Next time, Section Thirteen (and Anton) move out to deal with the attacking War Armors before they can damage the city, along with a few special presents from their sender. The only question is what are they after? And can Anton hack it as a combat mage, or should he have washed up in the first place?

First Sortie, coming soon.

Well, there's the first chapter done. It took the greater part of three months to finish completely, so I hope it's as nice to read as it was to write. And like one Mozco said, if I've besmirched Nanoha canon, be it in the main series or supplementary materials, feel free to let me know, and I'll hurriedly shove it under the rug. I'm pretty good at that.

Until next time, see ya.