Many of the taboos and laws of this new age stem from the psychological scars of the Unification Wars, especially the appalling abuses of the so‐called Freedom Alliance. The insane manipulations the rulers of the FA nations performed on themselves, their children, and their people would eventually lead to the numerous regulations and ethical committees that surround genetic research in our day, and to public skepticism about every genetic engineering project undertaken, even when performed for purposes as positive as the Eden Project. The use by some FA nations of cloned soldiery, programmed with genetics and implants to be unfailingly loyal, has led directly to the universal taboo on Human cloning, though previous public reservations about implants have fallen away in light of their overwhelming utility. Finally, the horrors and visible agony of FA enslaved AIs would lead to universal support for greater AI autonomy.

The undeniable utility of all the technologies involved has made them indispensable to society, but it is vital to understand the origins and purposes of ethical restrictions and public opinion. Without such an understanding, a researcher cannot function successfully, and may find his or her right to operate suspended.

"General Ethical Handbook for Researchers," Introduction, excerpt.

"In this new era of clarity and war, it is my resounding belief that this institution can contribute to the welfare of Humanity, and to the execution of this war. With this newly renovated facility, the untapped potential of magical girls can and will be liberated, to the betterment of all. We seek the fire of Olympus, nothing less, and an end to this tragic war."

— Joanne Valentin, DS Physics, incoming director of the Prometheus Research Institute, speech at rededication of the Institute.


The day after the demon hunt, Ryouko attended that week's social gathering for new recruits, having been reminded to by her TacComp.

Initially, she had mulled over whether she wanted to go. As a rule, she disliked large gatherings of her "peers", having found over the years that while her friends understood her personality well enough to be fun to hang around, she found most other people to be painful, with their endless assumptions that she must have a focus she loved enough to study, and their attempts to draw her out on the topic.

Her own friends were, she reflected, carefully selected to be different. Chiaki was a childhood friend, so the rule didn't apply to her, but Ruiko was endlessly flighty and indecisive, and Simona was on a different system entirely.

She ultimately decided that she should go, on the grounds that everyone there would have entirely different concerns on their minds, being contracted. Plus, it seemed like a good idea to meet some of her possible future colleagues, even if there was no guarantee she would see any of them again.

That was how she found herself seated around a table with four other nervous‐looking new girls, a veteran from the front and, of all people, Risa Flores again.

She was lucky, because she lived in Mitakihara, where the gathering was quite naturally scheduled. The other girls were pulled in from surrounding cities. It simply wasn't possible to find that many contracts in the same city in the same week.

The group of them were having lunch at a "hand‐made" restaurant, one of those foreign fusion types, stationed a respectable sixty floors up in the MSY corridor. From their vantage point, it was easy to spot such buildings as MSY Governmental Affairs—just a couple buildings to the west—MSY Finance—just across the street, actually—and so forth. Looking carefully, it was even possible to spot MSY Science Division, in the same rough area as the Cult headquarters she was getting so familiar with.

It was clearly intended to be impressive, in a "look at the view!" kind of way, and the other girls lingered at the entrance platform for a couple of minutes, taking still images of each other next to the scenery with their optical implants.

Ryouko stayed nearby politely and was a part of the group shot taken by one of their chaperones, but took none herself. She had been here before, multiple times. She also knew there was a more impressive formal facility crowning the building they were standing in, where the sky wouldn't be blocked by dozens of tubes. She said nothing, though.

It was supposed to be an informal gathering, so they showed up in casual wear, though Ryouko was fairly certain the new girls had all put more effort into their outfits than they would normally. One could tell.

The restaurant itself was an impressively windowed affair, dominating the outer ring of the building, with seats at the windows and lightly‐colored artificial wood paneling on the inner side. Ryouko had no idea where the kitchen was, but it didn't matter much, since the food and dishes were all dealt with by robotic carts that roamed the aisles, and the ordering was done off of a menu overlay that appeared before your eyes. Easy.

At the moment, she was focusing herself on industriously cutting her steak into easily consumable pieces. She had been the first to order, since she knew the menu of the place reasonably well, but had received her food at the same time as everyone else, after their initial round of hors d'oeuvres. Robots were good at things like that.

Steak, for lunch, being eaten by a teenage girl, of all things, she mused. Some things just didn't matter in the future. Actually, that was something her grandfather would say. She didn't really have any idea why it would be strange to eat steak for lunch, or what being a teenage girl had to do with anything.

She was just glad the "dysgeusia" finally seemed to be dying down. Yes, she could taste that she was eating dead cow, but it wasn't bothersome anymore.

That was actually one of the reasons this place cost Allocs to eat at, though their hosts weren't mentioning it; she was eating actual meat, rather than the synthesized stuff. Same went for all the food served, including the mysterious fuzzy red leaves that came with her meat. It was apparently a vegetable imported from Nova Terra, which had an ecology and system of life remarkably compatible with Human physiology, though the genetic code, inevitably, differed substantially. Close enough to Earth that some things could be eaten without poisoning yourself, but no bacteria coevolved to be pathogenic to humans, at least not intentionally. Ideal for colonization, which was why it was the first colonized, and a Core World.

Why was she thinking about this? Because she was awkward in social settings like this.

"So, um, what kind of power do you have?" asked a voice to her right, abruptly enough to startle her into almost dropping her fork.

Ryouko looked at the other girl, who was fiddling nervously with her ponytail. The girl was nearly as short as she was, something she had noted when she first saw her. Something about her face seemed to strongly suggest meekness—or perhaps it was the body language.

Nakihara Asami, her TacComp name‐dropped into her mind.

"Teleportation," Ryouko said, even though they both knew that kind of information could easily be researched. That was one of the downsides of everyone having easy access to databases: there was a distinct lack of possible conversation starters.

"You?" Ryouko added, a moment later. She immediately cringed internally. That was a little too casual, she thought.

The other girl looked flustered and Ryouko realized that she was terribly nervous, and must have worked up a lot of courage to talk with Ryouko.

"Well, it's, er, not really easy to explain," Asami said, folding her hands and dodging Ryouko's gaze. "Gravity. It has to do with gravity. I can, uh, force things together and move them. It's a lot like telekinesis, they say, but I'm really good at compressing… things."

The girl smiled sheepishly, looking up again. Ryouko could see that the girl was rubbing her soul gem ring nervously.

"Ah, well, that sounds useful," Ryouko said, trying to be encouraging. "Some of us have skills for blowing things up that would pair well with that. I have one like that, an exploding arrow, though it's not really, um, what I'd call a specialty."

"Really? That sounds great!"

The girl was so desperately eager to please that Ryouko, who wasn't immune to feeling sympathy, turned to give the girl her attention. They made brief eye contact, then the other girl looked down, out the window.

"Have you gotten your upgrades yet?" Ryouko asked pleasantly, thinking of a likely topic.

"Oh, yeah, yeah," the girl said, looking up again. "I thought it was really interesting. A little scary though."

At that moment, Ryouko felt Risa's eye on her. She looked at the girl questioningly, but Risa looked away. However, looking in her direction reminded her of something else.

Ryouko lowered her voice and leaned over.

"Have you noticed that Sanae‐san"—the long‐haired thirty‐five‐year‐old next to Risa—"has had four cups of wine now?"

Sanae was the veteran that had been brought to answer their questions and reassure them that everything would be okay, or so Ryouko was assuming. Ryouko hadn't been able to get anything juicy out of her, but had been watching her from the corner of her eye for most of the meal. While the girl seemed perfectly pleasant and certainly had her intoxication controls activated, the mass alcohol consumption was still rather strange, and served as a contrast to the awkward sips the rest of them were taking.

Asami glanced around to make sure no one else was listening.

"Well, yeah, but she doesn't seem intoxicated," she said. "Maybe–maybe she just likes the taste. I'm not sure why else she'd be doing that."

"Maybe."

Ryouko drummed the table with her fingers for a moment.

"I wanted to be a xenobiologist, you know," Asami said, unprompted.

"Really?" Ryouko asked, raising a forkful of disturbingly fuzzy leaves to her mouth.

"Yeah," the girl said. "So you know, um, that plant you're eating is, uh, C1 Aspera Cibum, from Nova Terra. Very expensive. They had to engineer it a little to make it truly edible."

Ryouko knew that already, having looked it up while ordering, but nodded. Impressive to know from memory, which was how she assumed the girl knew. Besides, the girl looked so earnest…

"I mean, I've always liked plants and animals," the girl said, "and I thought I could maybe get off of Earth that way. I've always wanted to visit the colonies. Well, I guess I'm getting to. Hopefully, at least."

That piqued Ryouko's interest, though she tried not to show it too obviously.

"You wanted to visit the colonies?" she asked.

"Well, sure," the girl said, clutching her hands together and giving a little sigh. "It always seemed so romantic to me. Life on the frontier, all those exotic plants and animals. I've always wanted a fresh, unindustrialized planet to explore. Though I suppose these cephalopods are more than we bargained for."

Ryouko was watching the girl carefully now. Such grand dreams, from a shy girl who had probably never seen a forest outside of careful preserves, and who had probably never seen a rain forest, the reviving forests for now mostly off‐limits to all but scientists and a few rare tourist opportunities.

But how was that any different from Ryouko herself? She wanted to explore the universe, and had never even been on a starship. Their situations matched; Ryouko didn't need to ask to know that the girl had probably never lived outside of the skyscrapers that dominated the view outside their window. Few ever did.

Plus, unlike many of the other girls Ryouko had met, this one did not automatically make assumptions about her based on her height and appearance. Couldn't, more like, since the other girl was just as short. And, Ryouko was realizing, she was the first one she had met who wasn't a senpai.

"When are you leaving?" Ryouko asked. The question was a little sudden, and showed perhaps too much interest, but she wasn't sure she cared about that anymore.

The girl tilted her head, then smiled shyly.

"Three days. You?"

"Exactly the same, actually," Ryouko responded. "I'm glad to meet you."

She stuck out her hand, which was awkward in the cramped distance between their two seats.

The other girl looked at it for a moment, slightly confused, then took it and shook it, meekly, her handshake a little limp.

There was a brief moment of quiet, broken only by the clatter of silverware and chopsticks.

"Me too. I–I hope we'll see each other again," the girl said, finally, bowing her head slightly in place of the full gesture.

"Likewise," Ryouko said.

She smiled at the other girl.

Perhaps she could find some new friends in the field. It wasn't something she had previously thought about, but it might be important, for her own health if nothing else.

She looked around at the rest of the table and was surprised to once again find Risa looking right at her. They made eye contact, and Risa must have taken some message from Ryouko's look, because the girl put down her chopsticks and cleared her throat to get their attention.

"I don't want to rush you," Risa addressed, "but I wanted to let you all know we'll be doing a walking tour of the city after this lunch, if you would like to attend. If you have other things to do, that's fine too."

The responses around the table were relatively enthusiastic, and Ryouko nodded along with them.

She didn't really need a walking tour of her own city, but perhaps she could show Asami a few things.


The next day, Ryouko made good on her appointment with the psychiatrist Atsuko, venturing into yet another building in the "MSY Corridor" that straddled the periphery of the city center.

She found the journey by tube strangely void of people, landing at a discreet alcove unusually high in one of the city's ubiquitous skyscrapers. She had risen so high that she was above the vast majority of the pedestrian walkways and tubes. Stepping out of her vehicle, she enjoyed an unobstructed view of the sky for the first time in years, a fact that startled her slightly.

She thought back. The last time she saw the sky clearly had been when she had visited her paternal grandparents, in a town just outside the edge of the endless megalopolis. She had stared up the sky then, just as she had the first time she had visited as a child, and just as she did now. The glare of the unfiltered sun was harsh, and the scattered ultraviolet gave the otherwise familiar blue sky an indescribable tint of… electric purple? There really needed to be words for this.

Dropping her gaze downward, she observed the city sprawled across the earth, skyscrapers jutting upwards in an endless procession, seemingly without limit, so that even at her elevated vantage point she couldn't see an end to the city, or even a relaxation of the density.

Mitakihara City, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto—they were now merely lines in the sand in what was truly one giant city encompassing all of them, stretching along the island. A megalopolis, where the only detectable differences were concentrations of more important economic and governmental buildings toward city centers, and of manufacturing and other buildings toward "edges". From up here, that distinction was invisible.

Placing her gaze back on the open glass door in front of her, she reflected that she seemed to be the only one here, despite her expectation that the place would have plenty of other visitors. Instead, her arrival alcove was deserted and, she reflected, rather small. It made sense given what she had seen, she supposed; there were multiple such alcoves ringing these levels of the building, something she had observed on the way up, watching the strange radial pattern of tubes inclining upward. That seemed strangely inefficient; there was a reason buildings tended to have large public landing ports scattered every few floors.

This particular building was rather wide, so she was surprised when she walked in, entered an empty seating area, and discovered that there was nothing in front of her but a single door with a metallic plaque on the front, some sort of mysterious bulbous metal object attached to its front. On her request, it swung rather than slid open, revealing the room behind it.

Resisting the urge to stop and examine the object, Ryouko took a moment to shake off some standard trepidation, then stepped in, taking in the lack of windows, the couch in the corner, the multiple chairs scattered about, the books on bookshelves in the wall—how rare was that!—the framed certificates on the wall, and, of course, the real wood desk in the middle, and the pleasant‐looking woman seated on the other end.

A clock ticked quietly on one of the bookshelves, another antique oddity.

She looked young, but not magical girl young, in her twenties like the rest of the populace, and only the ring Ryouko immediately sought on her finger confirmed what the file had said. Not a teenager. It was probably the right idea; Ryouko would have felt uncomfortable relying on the authority of someone who looked the same age as her, even though she knew it meant exactly nothing.

Then it occurred to Ryouko that the room had no other exits, and that this whole area—office, seating area, alcove—was its own independent region of the building.

Privately, Ryouko reflected that it might be a good idea to learn how exactly one could detect other magical girls out of costume. If someone were to hide it from her, would she have any idea? Would it be just a weird, nagging feeling on the corner of her mind?

The long‐haired woman watched her for a moment, so that Ryouko could see again the face she had seen on the woman's profile. It was not a memorable face, but pretty.

"Take a seat," the woman said, gesturing at the chair, and Ryouko obliged, looking at her warily.

"I rather like being up here," she said, making a show of reading a tablet in her hand. "It feels like being in my own private tower. And of course that's the point: privacy. Not that it's a particular concern today, I don't think."

She stuck out her hand.

"Atsuko Arisu, telepath," she introduced, as Ryouko accepted the offer and shook.

"Shizuki Ryouko," Ryouko reciprocated, a tiny hesitation later, since it was her suspicion the woman needed no introduction to her.

The woman leaned forward, setting the tablet down. Ryouko suspected that was another bit of theater.

"There's no need to be nervous," she said. "This is just an introduction meeting. Just some simple questions, and you'll be on your way. You can be as detailed as you like."

Ryouko nodded slightly. In truth, she was pretty nervous. It just wasn't comfortable going into an interview about your life with someone who probably had all the official details of your life carefully stored in her memory banks.

She had read about the MHD, of course. They knew a lot of things, apparently.

When she saw that Ryouko wasn't about to say anything, Arisu continued:

"I'm sure you're not surprised that I already know all the obvious stuff," she said. "You're the kind of girl who'd look that up. You also appreciate honesty, so I'll mention that this is all in your preliminary psych profile, as is the fact that you get annoyed by anyone asking about your interests, so I won't do that. And yes, I can read your mind out of costume, but I generally don't do so unless I really think it's necessary. I hope you'll trust me."

"Ah, I–I guess," Ryouko said, hopefully blandly. She was surprised both by the onrush of words, and by the way the woman had just said it like that. She suddenly found herself wondering how much her actions had been tracked online.

"This is more about going into things that aren't obvious," the woman said. "So, before we begin, want a snack?"

Before Ryouko could even react to that, the woman reached down and pulled out a plate of miniature cakes from somewhere invisible under the desk. She set it before them, followed by two glasses of juice.

"Oh, thank you," Ryouko said, slightly thrown off by the abrupt diversion of topic.

"No problem."

Spearing the strawberry off of the cake on top of one of the miniature plates, Ryouko thought about the fact that she had just been presented with her favorite form of snack. Hardly a coincidence, but she would always be glad to eat it, even if she snuck some out of the synthesizer practically every day.

The woman waited a brief, polite interval, then said:

"Alright, if you're comfortable, I'm going to start with something open‐ended."

Ryouko nodded warily.

"What can you tell me about your family?"

Ryouko looked at the other woman, who looked back at her with a curious, but pleasant look. The question seemed abrupt, but she supposed there was no way it wouldn't seem abrupt.

She thought about it a moment, putting together something she could say in one burst.

"I don't think there's too much to tell, honestly," she said. "My parents are scientists in the Prometheus Research Center, so they know more about the whole magical girl thing than usual. I got a lot of my information from them. They're loving, I guess—I mean that, I'm just not sure how to describe it. I suspect they've been trying to keep me from contracting, though I'm not sure why they'd think that'd be a risk."

Did a smile just pass over Arisu's face? But no, Ryouko was looking now, and the psychiatrist's face was impassive.

"I guess the most important thing to talk about is my maternal grandparents," Ryouko said. "My grandmother left us to go join the war when I was a toddler. She didn't exactly divorce my grandfather, but she might as well have. It's—well, we never quite understood why. She had her reasons."

Let's not say any more than that, Ryouko thought.

Then, a moment later:

Damn it. If she is reading my mind, she would have totally caught that.

Ryouko wondered if she seemed nervous.

Arisu nodded slightly, hands clasped.

"I understand your grandfather is leaving soon as well?"

"He never really got over it," Ryouko said. "He says he wants a new life and maybe he wants to find her. It's his right to."

She shrugged, then regretted it, realizing it came off as overly blasé.

"By which I mean, I completely understand why he would," she quickly amended. "And it doesn't have anything to do with my reasons for contracting, or anything like that."

Internally, she winced. Too hasty. The psychiatrist would definitely think that was important.

"So you know, not really a big issue," Ryouko finished defensively, too nervously.

Instead of the further questions she expected, the woman just nodded.

"I believe you," she said.

Then, a moment later:

"Tell me, do you know anything about your family above your grandparents? Know anything about the Shizukis, the Kurois, anything like that?"

Ryouko shook her head.

"It's kind of distant from me, to be honest," she said. "And they must be dead at this point, though I guess that's a bad way to put it."

"Hmm," Arisu vocalized, and Ryouko thought she saw the shadow of a frown glide across her face.

"Should I know something about them?" Ryouko ventured.

Arisu glanced at her.

"You should ask your parents when you have time," the psychiatrist said.

There was a brief pause, then Arisu nodded to herself.

"Alright," she said. "Now, the next question is optional. Well, this is all optional, but I guess this is super‐optional. Do you mind telling me about your wish and the circumstances surrounding it? I won't share it with anyone. I know it's considered a friendship thing to share it, so it's up to you."

Ryouko thought for a moment, then figured the harm couldn't be that bad. She went through what it was, how she really just wanted to get out there, really, how she wasn't happy at school, how she'd been a fan of space travel since she was a child.

She took a breath.

"I wished I could leave Earth," Ryouko said, "and explore this world. I said I wanted to go where no one else has gone before and find my place in this universe. In basically those exact words."

"Hmm," Arisu vocalized, and this time it was an appreciative noise. "Grandiose. Also long‐term. Mind talking about it?"

"I've just always been bored with life on Earth," Ryouko said, after a moment. "I've never really felt like I fit in. I wanted to go out there, accomplish something meaningful, make history, you know? Though most important is just to see it all. I… I guess I just wasn't happy here."

It felt strange, saying it out loud again. She hadn't talked about it with anyone in depth, except Simona, and even that had been strange. And here she was, talking about it to a perfect stranger.

She left out the parts that involved her grandmother, and the girl who had visited her when she was a child, the oppressiveness of being on Earth, and the other reasons. It didn't seem the right thing to talk about, not here.

She also left out what might have been an attempt on her life. It was, perhaps, secret.

With nothing further to talk about, then, the topic dropped. There was a brief silence.

"Tell me about the demon attack that triggered your contract," Arisu asked, a moment later.

Ryouko sucked in a breath. Was that a coincidence, or…?

Ryouko shook her head at herself. It wouldn't do to suspect things like that. Then she realized the woman could see her shaking her head perfectly well.

"Well, you know, it was pretty standard," Ryouko said. "I was sitting around, chatting with my friend Simona, and then suddenly I saw this demon appear behind her, about to attack her. I grabbed her and ran. Eventually Mami‐san saved me. That's–that's when I saw Kyubey."

Arisu nodded sagely and gestured for her to continue.

"There's not really much else to talk about," Ryouko said. "It was kind of funny though. I think Simona was about to tell me something important, but now she won't talk about it at all."

"Yes, things happen like that sometimes," the woman said, smiling. "Murphy's Law. Any idea what it was about?"

Ryouko was slightly surprised. She hadn't expected the woman to actually ask. But damn it, of course she would ask.

"I don't know," Ryouko said, with all honesty.

The woman nodded again.

"I see that Kyouko took you demon hunting right after your contract," she said. "Any thoughts on that?"

Ryouko thought about the question, honestly not having thought about it before.

"It wasn't too bad," she said. "It got pretty scary right there in the middle, when I screwed up, but Kyouko saved me. And I–I guess it was a little exciting. That sounds weird, I think, but it was. I want to do better in the future."

The woman smiled.

"It's not that weird. It definitely gets the adrenaline pumping. Some girls feel that way their first time, though I wouldn't say it's common. I was excited my first time, too."

Ryouko blinked.

"Really?"

"Really," the woman said. "Though it says in the notes that Kyouko thought she saw bloodlust on your face. That is unusual, for a first timer."

Ryouko was again taken aback, and stared back at the woman, surprised. Yes, bloodlust, there had been a little of that, now that she thought about it. But—

"Any thoughts on the second demon hunt?" the woman asked. "The one yesterday, I mean. I understand you saw quite the injury."

Ryouko shook herself out of her previous train of thought. It still shook Ryouko a little to think about it, but she said:

"It was interesting. Not as, um, dangerous, I guess. At least for me. I'm not used to seeing people with bloody eye sockets, but I got over it."

She chuckled nervously. It had come out all wrong, but the woman still sat there, hands clasped, watching her. What did that look mean?

"Alright, let's change topics," the woman said, a moment later. "After meeting her, what do you think of Kyouko?"

Ryouko considered the question.

"Not really what I expected for someone as old as her," she said. "She acts like she's young, but she's obviously experienced. She seems reliable, despite everything. She likes sleeping on you, though, things like that."

She instantly regretted the last sentence, since it had only happened a grand total of once, but the other woman frowned slightly and made a thoughtful noise.

Ryouko thought about Kyouko's strange behavior two days ago, but decided not to mention it, since it was more about Kyouko than it was about her.

"Kyouko…" the woman began, then stopped.

Ryouko saw her hesitate for the first time in this conversation. The woman also frowned, in such a way that it was obvious, rather than just hints of emotion on her face.

"Well, don't let her take advantage of you," Arisu said. "Your profile indicates you're not as aware as you think you are, though in this case I can keep a watch on Kyouko myself. And, of course, there could be nothing there to watch for."

Ryouko narrowed her eyes, a sense of insult penetrating through her nervousness. Not as aware…

"What exactly do you mean by that?" Ryouko asked. "Kyouko seems perfectly nice to me; is there something—"

"No, no, don't worry about it," Arisu said, making a dismissive gesture with her hand. "You'll know what I'm talking about, if it ever matters."

The woman pushed herself back from her desk and seemed to intentionally relax. It was an obvious topic change.

"Alright," she said. "Let's talk about some less formal topics. What do you think about how the war's going?"

This Ryouko had a ready answer for, having posted her opinion online numerous times before.

"It's not going as well as the government says it is," she said. "But I don't know how bad it really is. I guess I'm going to find out. I think we're going to win though, eventually. We just have to hold out until our technology gets better."

"Fair enough," Arisu said. "That last part is prevailing military opinion, actually."

Of course, Ryouko knew that already, but she didn't say that.

"Nervous about what's coming up?" the woman asked, leaning onto her elbow.

Ryouko thought about that.

"Of course I am," she said. "But plenty of other girls have gone through the same thing, and come out fine. I just have to focus on living. I guess it'll be exciting if nothing else. And I'll finally get to see the colonies, and the aliens. That's worth it."

She meant that, and made sure her expression indicated that.

"I think it is," Arisu said. "But I hesitate to say that, since I mourn all those who died and I, personally, haven't seen too much combat. Only New Athens and a little bit after that. We telepaths are good against stealth, you know?"

The woman looked down at her desk, and seemed almost thoughtful for a moment.

"You're training on New Athens," she said, finally. "Just so you know, you're going to be sharing rooms. It's not that we're short on space, but it's good for girls' psyches. Usually. Any preferences on who you want it to be?"

Ryouko thought for a moment, considering the girl she had met yesterday at the lunch, but shook her head. It was probably better to meet more people, if possible.

"Alright," Arisu said, tapping her fingers against each other. "Some basic stuff then. In the field, you'll get your own room, assuming you're in the kind of situation where there is such a thing as a room. Maybe your own tent. Maybe nothing. But if possible. Fraternizing too much with subordinates is frowned upon, though it's obviously better if they like and respect you. Don't get into any relationships with the other officers, magical girl or not. It's not a good idea."

Ryouko looked back at the other woman blankly. She honestly hadn't considered any of that before.

"Anyway," Arisu said, sighing and getting up to walk towards her. "I'm out of time. I've got someone else coming soon. Sorry. And Ryouko‐chan—"

Ryouko looked at the woman, wondering at the informal use of her name.

"Don't die, okay?"

Ryouko blinked, surprised. The woman looked serious, saying that.

"I won't," she said.

They shook hands, and just like that, it was over, Ryouko finding herself back outside the office, in the seating area she suspected was never used. On the way out, she took another look at the view, wondering just how much this Atsuko Arisu knew about her.


That night, pushing forward her agenda to understand combat before she entered it, Ryouko lay in her bed and continued her reading on combat doctrine. She chose to continue on from the previous topic and read about space combat.

Human‐Cephalopod space combat is constrained and defined by the technical limitations of Humanity, the defensive strategic posture adopted by the Human worlds, and the tactical prowess of the Magi Cæli—the MC—the Navy's mage corps.

Ryouko was immediately tempted to divert the topic into a subtopic about the MC, but desisted, deciding she could save it for later.

Firstly, it must be understood that alien shielding, projectile deflection, missile interception, and regenerative armor are vastly superior to their Human equivalents. Because of this, alien spacecraft can be built much lighter and faster, and with much higher levels of energy storage. Human starships are heavily armored, protected by vast amounts of inertial resistance. Alien starships are not, and are consequently much more nimble and field heavier weapons.

Because of this, Cephalopods can and do field interceptors and bombers which have a reasonable expectation of damage and survivability. Ships with a similar speed, range, and firepower, built by humans, would be glass cannons preparing for nothing less than a suicide run, and not even particularly good glass cannons.

Ryouko nodded along with the text. She had heard as much.

Secondly, alien weaponry is superior in all aspects. Despite extensive study of salvaged alien technology, it is not known how they field lasers and particle beams of such immense power and range, or how they manage to prevent scattering over the great distances of space, but it is crucial to understand that the heaviest regularly fielded alien space weapon, termed the Eviscerator, is superior in all aspects to the SHERMAN battlecruiser main gun, the pride of the Human Navy. The alien Blink Bombardment Cannon does not even have a meaningful human analogy.

Ryouko frowned, staring at her ceiling. It was night now, and she was entertaining herself by reading military doctrine, but there was simply so much information to digest. Every term her TacComp read to her, every topic discussed, was worthy of further elaboration. Everything was a Matryoshka doll of information.

Motivated by curiosity, she asked for a brief clarification on the SHERMAN acronym.

The SHERMAN—the Super Heavy Exotic‐shielded Relativistic MAss‐driving Nucleus, also named after a renowned American general of the 19th century—is the primary gun of the battlecruisers of the Human Navy, fulfilling roles as both the largest payload weapon in the Navy, the primary instrument of FTL interdiction, and as a WMD for surface bombardment. Exact weapon specifications are level two classified and vary from ship to ship, but it is known that kinetic energy at firing is roughly 40 petajoules, or 9.6 megatons of TNT.

There was a pause and a quiet sense of expectation: Did she want it to continue? She decided no—she didn't want to get too far off track—and it immediately settled back into its main narrative.

As always, however, the great leveling force on the battlefield in favor of Humanity is its contingent of Magical Girls. For example, despite what might be expected from technology alone, the Cephalopods are inferior in stealth and detection capability. Alien technology is superior, but it has little relevance when there are numerous mages capable of sensing anything approaching—through a variety of methods—and also numerous mages capable of hiding from anything.

Ryouko paused the playback briefly. She had never thought about it that way, but yes, it was true that in specific ways, magical girls could override nearly any level of technological superiority—provided the girls were available.

She told the device to continue.

Of greater overall relevance is the overall tactical prowess of the mage corps in close‐range combat. The efficacy of the Magi Cæli drops off with distance, simply because mages who can attack at distances greater than thousands of kilometers are vanishingly rare, whereas every mage can deal damage at point‐blank range. Further, because of the unique nature of magical girl powers, the larger the alien ships involved, the more damage the Mage Corps is often able to deal. It is often possible for a Sky Team to penetrate to the weak points of a carrier via some well‐placed teleports and other special tactics, then cripple the entire ship; on the other hand, a corresponding mass of interceptors must be whittled down with attrition, usually costing more casualties.

Ryouko grimaced. It was good to hear that teleporters were valuable, but her vaunted two hundred kilometer range didn't seem that impressive anymore. Nonetheless, she listened on.

Because of this, battles where Human fleets have been able to close to "close combat" range—defined as within the effective range of a frigate's laser weapons—have nearly always ended in at least a tactical Human victory.

It is this fact which dictates the tactical makeup of every major fleet engagement. Cephalopod fleets invest heavily in carriers, which can be considered capital ships, and attempt to hang back and engage from great range, with fighters and bombers and, often, a heavily defended siege‐range blink cannon. Human fleets eschew all but light carriers, unable to manufacture sufficiently powerful bombers to penetrate alien defenses, and consider the massive, nearly indestructible battlecruiser their capital ship. Shrouded in constant patrols of Sky Teams, robotic MedEvac, and support interceptors, every crewed Human vessel contains medical support, living quarters, grief cubes, and weapons, acting as mobile supply bases for the Mage Corps. In addition, Human fleets contain a significant complement of extremely stealthy light frigates, crewed by MagOps teams. It is these that register the major "kills" in most space battles.

Both fleets are also constantly attended by a large amount of drones of every size and description, ranging from mini‐drones that attempt to latch onto forcefields and weaken them, to repair drones, to drones that attempt to drill into exposed hull, to frigate‐size gun platforms.

At this point, Ryouko again paused the information dump. She knew about Magi Cæli, of course—everyone did—but she had never really thought about the possibility of being one. Indeed, in her mind, it didn't really matter, even though it was possible for any girl with the right powers and psych profile to be inducted into the service.

What if that were her? What would it be like, wearing suits, maneuvering in the vacuum of space, with no gravity? On the one hand, it would be very different, on the other—she just didn't know. Again, she thought about reading more about the MC, but sighed, deciding she might as well finish the current topic.

She asked for the device to continue:

Given the way the two opposing fleets operate, most fleet engagements consist of the Human fleet trying to close to close combat range, using SHERMAN guns to attempt to interdict alien maneuverability and ability to retreat. Alien carriers attempt to disable battlecruisers, while stealth frigates carrying magical operations teams constantly attempt to penetrate alien defenses and take down carriers. Engagements away from critical points, such as planetary bodies, shipyards, or major economic resources, are rarely decisive, with both sides usually opting to withdraw after receiving significant damage to capital ships or if MC attrition becomes unacceptable.

Engagements fought near critical points are, on the other hand, often fought "to the death" by the defending side. Here, the relative reliance on both sides on capital ships is asymmetric. The loss of capital ships is crippling to the attacker for both sides, usually prompting a withdrawal, though this can be difficult in the face of FTL interdiction by either side. However, Human fleets can continue to defend extensively without battlecruisers, whereas Cephalopod fleet resistance is usually dead in the water after the loss of carriers and orbiting fighter/bomber bays.

It should be noted that "to the death" is usually metaphorical, with most significant fleet assets, especially the MC, withdrawn from a losing battle before retreat becomes impossible.

The superiority of Human fleets in close combat due to the Mage Corps is an enormous tactical and strategic asset. Human worlds above a certain level of development and fortification are irreducible from long range, given the population's ability to rapidly replenish bombardment defenses, forcing close engagement by the heavy firepower of alien battlecruisers, bringing them to where they are most vulnerable. This, coupled with the fact that most planetary combat has occurred on Human worlds, has turned battles on well‐developed worlds into grueling affairs, carried out as sieges, with constant battles in high orbit, low orbit, and on the ground.

Ryouko grimaced again. That, everyone certainly heard about. Unusually, Governance rarely censored what happened in planetary sieges, which were grim battles for survival that, in terms of sheer scale, made even the battles of the Unification Wars look small by comparison. Victory meant a long, painful rebuilding process. Defeat meant death, simple as that, or whatever it was the aliens did with human prisoners.

No one really wanted to find out.

Certainly, there were no records of anyone ever being taken prisoner and, on the other hand, alien units, including infantry, had a disturbing tendency to self‐destruct to prevent capture. No alien had ever been captured alive.

Ryouko shook her head at herself, her attention having lagged. However, she discovered that her TacComp had waited for her the whole time. Technology.

Military tacticians have also pointed out that superiority in close combat is, theoretically, a significant advantage on the offensive, where alien fleets pinned against critical points cannot retreat and must fight on terms favorable to the Human fleet. Given the lack of Human offensives so far in the war, this has not been reliably demonstrated, though the success of the Saharan Raid has been pointed to as evidence.

Her TacComp stopped—it turned out that was the last paragraph. Ryouko noted the recommendations given to her. She could either choose to learn about Human military doctrine for the war as a whole, receive a short primer on the major ship classes of both fleets, or learn additional details about space combat at a smaller level, the level of the average magical girl in the Magi Cæli.

She was about to select the last option when, with excellent timing, her father requested entry.

He didn't have to—the door was unlocked—but it was the polite thing to do.

"I'm going down to the lab soon," he said. "Are you up for a midnight trip? I've got something to show you."

She looked back at the strangely serious look he wore and wondered what this was about.

"Sure," she agreed, shrugging. "Actually, I've always wanted to visit."

She smiled on the last line, which was absolutely true, but the smile concealed surprise at the unusual situation.

The man smiled back, slightly.

"Well, it's a special occasion. And I also feel as if we don't talk enough recently. You know."

He made an awkward gesture, then said:

"Well, I'll be waiting out in the living room. Don't take too long."

Ryouko, in fact, didn't leave him waiting at all, getting up right after the door slid closed. She patted the robot on her desk, which looked up at her with its optical sensor, thought for a moment to make sure she had nothing else to do, then went outside.

As they headed for the exit platform, she mused on the fact that, of the three members of her family, her father was the one she had seen the least this week. Not that he wasn't there; far from it, actually. It was just that, where her mother seemed to have taken most of the week off to stay home at nights, her father had adhered to his normal schedule without change.

Well, except for today.

Relative to the rest of her family, he had never been particularly good at communicating with his daughter. It was hard to describe—it was as if he didn't really know how to talk to a child. He had always spoken to her as an adult, expecting her to react as an adult would, even when she was manifestly not.

Ryouko supposed that as she got older, it would be less and less of an issue. Indeed, nowadays, she often found herself appreciating his frank and thoughtful style, even if it was occasionally awkward.

They rode in silence, along a route that was rapidly growing familiar to her. The Prometheus Research Institute, where her parents worked, was, of course, immediately next door to the Cult of Hope headquarters.

As the vehicle glided to a stop near one of the middle levels, Ryouko reflected that not once had her parents ever brought her with them to work. The reason given had always been "security", but she wondered sometimes.

She looked at the door they were about to enter, glass inside the faux masonry that ringed the door and formed the platform they were standing on, in turn attached to the glass, metal, and faux stone of the building. It was indistinguishable from a thousand other such entrances throughout the city. The motif was very common.

"Papa," she began, as they headed for the door which was, of course, already open.

The man gave her a slight glance of acknowledgment.

"Why isn't mama with us?" she asked.

"She—" her father began, before pausing.

"She wouldn't agree with what I'm doing right now," he said.

"What are we doing right now?" Ryouko asked.

She didn't receive a response.

They walked through the subdued glass doors, passing several people heading the other way. Her father exchanged greetings with them. They glanced at her with vaguely meaningful looks, but didn't comment.

"They know about you, of course," her father said. "I had to set this all up. Otherwise, I could never get you past security at the door. Speaking of which…"

They stepped up to a transparent structure that divided the entrance from the rest of the building. It was designed like an airlock, and on the other side she could see a variety of drones moving back and forth, though she couldn't see what they were carrying.

Suddenly, it occurred to her what this must be.

"You're going to feel a strong burning sensation after we step in," her father began. "It's—"

"UV sterilization, right?" she asked. "And then some drones."

"Yes," her father said, looking at her with a faint trace of surprise.

"I had to enter a facility like this for my upgrades," she explained.

"Ah, yes, of course," he said, stepping in. "How silly of me."

They endured the heat and drones, and when they exited out the other side, a drone, literally a rolling clothesrack, rolled up with two lab coats. They put them on, but she found hers rather large, with sleeves that she was tempted to roll up.

"It's only a loaner," her father said. "If you worked here you'd have your own, but as it is, it's a waste of resources to synthesize a new coat for one visit. Your size is rather too small for the standard sets. It's considered standard attire, even if you don't need it at all. Sort of like a uniform. Helps the atmosphere."

That didn't sound like any labs Ryouko knew about, but then again, it wasn't as if she had visited many labs.

They walked in silence for a few moments. Ryouko tried to call up an internal map of the facility to navigate with, a customary task when entering somewhere new. Instead of getting a map, her TacComp told her she did not have the clearance to see the map. Fair enough, she supposed.

"So this is the Bio section of the labs," her father narrated, as they stalked down the hallway. "Well, the non‐classified Bio section, anyway. It deals with more pure biology than the other areas. Weapons Tech is on the lower floors, Combat Analysis above that, and Simulation and Training Equipment above that, just below us. Above us is Drones and Military AI, followed by Mind‐Machine Integration, and MMI is big. They've got nearly a third of the building to themselves. Which isn't to say we're small, mind you. We've got about ten floors. They're just bigger."

"Anyway, above them is Magical Studies, which tends to deal more with demon statistics, grief cube distributions, things like that. Statisticians, mainly, or so I've heard. At the top of the building are the administrative offices and Special Studies, which is the section I don't have access to."

He said it all in a whirlwind of information, so that Ryouko struggled to keep up. As he spoke, they made turn after turn, passing equipment storage rooms, rooms full of researchers supervising automated equipment and talking with AI avatars, rooms full of said automated equipment performing tasks, numerous drones, other hallways…

"But this is all related to magical girls, right?" Ryouko asked. "That's what this facility is for."

"Yes," her father said. "And as you might expect, we're pretty heavily wrapped up with the MSY. It's a joint facility, and there are plenty of you girls among the staff here. We bring in subjects occasionally."

Finally, they entered an area whose rooms looked decidedly familiar to her. Here again were the transparent walls, the dispensing slots, the chairs in the middle of the room that looked like examination chairs. Some rooms were occupied, though this time she passed several girls going the other way in a group of lab coats. They looked to be her age, and looked back at her curiously as she passed. She didn't bother trying to check for rings. What else could they be?

"I pulled some strings and got you into the next batch of field tests for Version Two of your tactical computer," her father finally explained. "Rather under the table, but it should be acceptable. They're not fully optimized for the magical girl class yet—that's what the field tests are about—but they're fully functional and perfectly safe. You're only really getting it a year or two early, to be honest. Nothing but the best for my daughter, after all."

He smiled on that last line, looking at her so that she knew it was only a joke, but only partly. There was more warmth there than she was used to; she felt faintly embarrassed.

"Why couldn't you just tell me before we left?" she asked. "There was no reason to keep it a secret. I'm pleased, actually."

She meant that genuinely, though she was quite surprised—with just a trace of trepidation about using experimental equipment, quickly swallowed.

But why had he kept it secret? Had he just not wanted to say?

The man looked away, seeming discomfited. It could have been embarrassment, but something—well, it had to be embarrassment, she decided.

Then they arrived in front of a room where the chair was unoccupied, but where there were technicians standing around performing mysterious tasks, obviously busy. A woman stood facing away from her, looking like some sort of supervisor. The door was open.

Honestly, Ryouko would have kept right on walking anyway, not thinking about it carefully, had her TacComp not pinged her to stop.

She did so, and realized that her father had already stopped, frowning and looking somewhat confused.

He shook it off quickly, though, waving her through the door and following just a second later. The walls and door turned opaque behind them.

"Director Valentin—Joanne‐san," he addressed, bowing. "It's, uh, an honor."

The supervisor turned to face them, and Ryouko almost recoiled a step.

TacComp, she thought immediately. Who is this? She—

She stopped as the information flooded her brain. It didn't come up as the readable menu she was used to, but as chunks of sudden knowledge.

"Valentin, Joanne"

Age: undisclosed

Ethnicity: German

Occupation: Civilian; Managing Director, Prometheus Research Institute

Special Comments:
Recipient, Oppenheimer Award for Management of a Scientific Facility Exceeding Upper‐end Performance Estimates (very prestigious)

Ryouko hoped she didn't actually looked shocked as she studied the woman's face, her cropped hair, those cosmetic glasses—

It bore a striking resemblance to the pedestrian she had seen walking the streets, after her first demon hunt, though that woman hadn't worn glasses.

Unfortunately, the image in your memory is too distant and blurry to properly compare, her TacComp commented, responding to her next thought before she even had time to formulate it. Based on what is available, the prior probability of this being her is only 10%. However, the fact that she resides in Mitakihara City and works here greatly increases the overall probability, to about 62%. I cannot perform further analysis, but I would predict that the actual probability is even higher, given other factors about the situation.

Ryouko blinked at the blistering speed of auditory input, at a speed the device had never before used. Somehow, though, she understood it perfectly, though there was the briefest of pauses as she processed the thought.

Could you—

do a database search of everyone who might be her in this city, is what she had wanted to ask, but again the device read her thought first, interrupting with:

No. You do not have sufficient clearance. But I can forward this information to Sakura Kyouko, who does.

Let me think about it first.

Because of the TacComp's efforts to maximize the speed of the exchange, it all went by so fast that only at the end did her father finally ask:

"Is something wrong, Ryouko?"

"No," she said, shaking her head, even as her head was spinning. "I was just, uh, surprised to meet someone so distinguished."

She bowed.

It was a flat out lie, but the woman looked pleased to be recognized.

"Dir–Joanne‐san here is the one I asked for this favor," her father said, slightly nervous. "Actually, it was something she suggested. I was just asking advice."

"You are too kind," the woman said. "It was admirable of you to be so concerned for your daughter. I am just here to give you my well‐wishes."

"Thank you," Ryouko said politely.

"I understand you contracted only recently," the woman said, "and your mentor is Field Marshal Tomoe and Kyouko. Is that right?"

The question startled her, but Ryouko couldn't see any guile on the woman's face. The woman surely knew already that the answer was yes, but that didn't mean anything. She was certainly just making conversation.

"Ah, yes," Ryouko said. It occurred to her that the woman had referred to Kyouko without any honorifics. Did they know each other?

"Very prestigious," the woman commented. "Well, I'll get out of your way for now."

By "get out of the way", Joanne did not mean she was leaving, as Ryouko had thought. Rather, the woman simply stepped to the side to let Ryouko sit down in the chair clearly intended for her, then moved to stand in a corner and watch. Ryouko had been wrong; she wasn't supervising—she was only visiting and watching.

"I am Doctor Kobayashi," one of the technicians said, introducing himself to her. More precisely, he said Kobayashi‐sensei, the language being Japanese. "Physician, nanobiologist, shiny certifications, everything. Don't be alarmed by the number of personnel. It's not fully a standard product yet, so we're more careful than we usually are, but there have never been any severe problems with the upgrade process. I couldn't help overhearing the conversation just now, so it might be reassuring to know that your mentor Mami‐san has one installed as well."

Mami‐san, the name so entrenched in the public consciousness that perfectly random people felt free to use it instead of the proper "Tomoe‐san".

Ryouko nodded assent.

The doctor waited for the rest of his team to finish introductions before saying:

"Of course you've done this kind of thing before, so I won't bore you by talking too much. However, we are taking extra precautions, so we're unfortunately going to have to put you out for the whole procedure. It will also take longer than it usually would, but nothing compared to the full initial installation. Maybe half an hour."

"I see," Ryouko said, feeling the slight trepidation that naturally came with knowledge of one's impending unconsciousness.

She waited only a few minutes longer for the preparations to complete. Her father smiled nervously at her; she smiled nervously back.

"Unusual genetics in her file," one of the technicians commented, shaking a vial. "Your daughter is unique, Kuma‐san. It just means more work for us."

It was said in the vein of a joke, and her father, who apparently knew the man, smiled and nodded, catching the intended humor.

Not getting the reaction he had been expecting—namely, a question about the unusual genetics—the technician was briefly awkward, then turned back to his work.

Ryouko watched the exchange, a little puzzled.

Then the two flaps that prevented her turning her head shifted into position—the flaps weren't movable in the other place, Ryouko noted—and they began.


When she awoke again, Joanne was gone.

She stood back up experimentally.

"Does anything seem out of the ordinary?" Kobayashi asked. "At the moment, you shouldn't feel anything different from before."

She shook her head no.

The physician nodded, then said:

"This version has significantly improved core processing power, and is much more adept at giving advice about human interaction and predicting human behavior. It can also answer a much larger variety of messages automatically. Improvements all across the board. The only problem is that it will take a while for it all to get into place. You should start seeing differences soon, but it won't be completely in place for two weeks or so."

"Two weeks," Ryouko repeated, slightly disappointed.

"It was the best we could do," the man said, shrugging. "Though we're always working to improve it."

TacComp, Ryouko thought, trying it out. Anything I should know right now?

I am of course pleased to be upgraded, it thought. Well, in a manner of speaking. But I'm sure you've already noticed the most important first change.

Indeed she had, since she had almost jumped upon receiving the first response. It had used her voice, rather than the robotic‐sounding voice she had chosen for it. It still sounded flat, which was the reason she had avoided the human‐sounding options in the first place.

"Why is the voice different?" Ryouko asked. "Or do I need to reset it or something?"

"No, that's intentional," the physician said. "I know it's disconcerting right now, but eventually the voice will pick up emotional nuances. Trust me; it works out. People like it. Maximal integration and all that."

"So I don't have a choice?" she asked, displeased.

The doctor made a face that seemed to say "This same question every time!"

"No," he said. "It boosts combat performance, once you get used to it. Plus, almost everyone ends up loving it. Really."

"You said emotional nuances," Ryouko said. "Only simulated, right?"

"Of course," the physician said.

Her father, who had got up out of his chair when she woke but had otherwise remained silent, cleared his throat.

"Kito‐san," he said. "It's fine. Tell her."

The technicians glanced at each other nervously. The doctor sighed.

"Okay," he admitted. "So the real answer is that we designed the devices not to have any, but there seems to be some evidence that they might have some anyway. We're not really sure; it could be an illusion. We're looking into it. But if they do, we'll have to do all sorts of ethical consultations, maybe even talk to the committee. But we want to be sure first."

Ryouko took that in, not really sure what to make of it. Did she want a tactical computer with emotions? What was she supposed to think about that?

"I see," she settled on.

"Ryouko," her father said. "I'm sorry to rush you, but we're slightly behind schedule. I want to take you somewhere else."

He looked around, and since none of the technicians seemed to have any objections, they said their farewells and headed back out the door.

"So where to now?" Ryouko asked. "Don't tell me more upgrades."

Her father shook her head.

"No," he said. "But I can't really talk about it. Not until we get there."

They navigated the maze of the building, Ryouko following him on blind faith without a map to guide her.

As they walked, she pondered the woman they had just met. It was still very likely that everything was a coincidence, that the pedestrian had been walking in the area for unrelated reasons, and that if the woman were her, she was only walking outside her office for a bit of fresh air, or something like that. Besides, even if Ryouko wanted to ascribe a malicious intent to her, it was difficult to reconcile that with the fact that the woman had apparently just helped her.

Unless—

No, that was too paranoid to think about.

There was one thing, though. The woman had hinted at knowing Kyouko. She hadn't thought through that aspect earlier, but now that she realized…

TacComp, send a message about Joanne Valentin to Kyouko‐san, she thought. Tell her what I saw the other day, say that there's a strong resemblance, and ask if she knows her.

Done, the device responded.

It would have been a good idea anyway.

She jerked herself to a stop, almost running into her father's back. She found herself at the end of a long, narrow hallway, in front of an imposing metal door. He started to talk, but not on a topic that seemed relevant.

"You might wonder what it means to say we're the Biology section of the labs," her father said, eyes strangely detached. "We advise the other sections and conduct whatever studies seem appropriate for our section. That's one thing. But the truth is, there are two things we do that are majorly important. I'm not going to talk about the other one, but…"

His voice trailed off.

"Well, your mother and I disagree on a few things," her father said, looking off into the middle distance. "Unlike her, I'm willing to let you exert yourself, even risk your life, in search of your dreams. She would rather you be safe at home. She doesn't say it, but she doesn't really trust you to handle yourself. I—"

Another pause.

"Well, I don't really trust you either, honestly," he said. "But I'm willing to let you try, and fail, even, though hopefully it doesn't kill you. She was the one who wanted us to work so hard to keep you from contracting. She, and her mother. I've always been more ambivalent. Darwin."

Ryouko blinked at the last phrase. What did Darwin have to do with anything?

"Good evening," a voice said, and then a human figure materialized immediately in front of them, startling Ryouko into stumbling backwards.

Unlike the replica of Charles Darwin that might have been expected, the hologram looked merely like a nondescript male Japanese scientist in a lab coat, looking at her curiously. She was taken aback, however, by the blank "I/O" symbol he had in place of one eyeball, having to remind herself that AIs did that sort of thing.

"Can I help you, Shizuki‐sensei?" the figure asked.

Her father swallowed visibly.

"Darwin," he said. "Is there anyone inside at the moment?"

"No," the figure said, tilting its head in slight confusion. "Why? No one is scheduled to be inside. You know that. You cleared the schedule."

"I was just checking. I…"

Here, her father hesitated significantly, before taking another steadying breath.

"I'd like you to grant my daughter here entrance to the incubation area," he said. "I'd like you to help me get her in and out undetected. And then I'd like you to delete all records of this."

Ryouko sucked in a breath through her teeth. This was not what she expected.

"Papa—" she began.

"That is a serious request," Darwin said, showing only a moment of human surprise. "And one that goes beyond your level of authorization. I could easily report you just for asking. It would be severe misconduct for me to approve it. Why should I?"

"Darwin," her father said, voice deliberately firm. "We've worked together for how many years now? I helped create you. I know you'd never turn me in. I'm asking a big favor, I know. But my daughter contracted, and I think she has a right to know."

The AI turned to look at Ryouko, sharply, and she shifted nervously under the gaze, wondering if they were about to be thrown out by security, and what could possibly have motivated her father to risk his career like this.

TacComp— she began to think.

Don't worry, the machine thought, anticipating. I'm loyal only to you. One of the MSY restrictions on my design.

It sounded almost dry. The upgrades couldn't be taking effect already, could they?

"I'm asking you to trust me," her father said, starting to look worried. "Please. For my sake."

It wasn't impossible for AIs to ignore the rules. One of the things Humanity had discovered as government became more and more mechanized was just how much efficiency depended on lower‐level agents being able to bend, or even break, the rules, as long as they did it with good cause. The rules were necessary to function smoothly, but too much rigidity and things stagnated. The problem of intention, though, was crucial, which was part of why Volokhov was considered such a genius.

The AI dipped its head slightly, as if in thought. The pose lasted only a moment.

"Very well," it said. "I will grant you access, and I will keep anyone from disturbing you. Don't take too long. I wouldn't want to have to explain this one. I do hope your daughter takes after you in calmness."

"Thank you," her father said, as the door slid open, slow with weight.

"Why didn't you ask the AI before we got here?" Ryouko whispered.

"To make him more likely to agree," her father whispered back. "If something were to happen, Darwin could erase his memories and forge new ones. It would help everyone, but AIs really don't like doing that. If I asked him beforehand, and had him help us with scheduling and such, then there would be a lot more to erase. Plus, it helps to make him answer me in front of you. Subtle psychology, and, yes, he can hear me say that."

Her father gestured at the door.

"Let's go in," he said.

They stepped inside, the door sealing shut behind them with a slight sucking noise. The air smelled… perfectly odorless, a difference Ryouko would never have noticed before the modifications.

It was also immediately apparent that, rather than the room Ryouko had been expecting, they were actually inside an elevator, the opposite wall of the tube impassively white.

With only the faintest of shudders, they began to move downward.

"Papa—" she began, but he made a gesture of quiet.

He placed his hand on the wall of the tube, palm pressing the wall. She was at a loss as to what he was doing, until the walls began to fade in color, the white growing less intense, so that she could start to see that there was something on the other side.

It was just like the room walls in the hospital, she realized.

Then the walls became clear enough for her to see through, and she forgot all about hospitals and what kinds of walls they have.

"What is this?" she asked automatically, taking an involuntary step backward.

She wouldn't have imagined that the building would contain a section as large as this. It was clear that the tube they were riding in was on the edge of an immense… it didn't even seem appropriate to call it a room. It was more like a cylindrical cavern, one occupying the entire central core of the building. Immense concentric cylinders occupied the interior, each lined from top to bottom with rows and rows of blue and white tanks, internal lighting eerie in the general darkness of the cavern. As she watched, mysterious robotic devices slid up and down the walls on rails, shining their optical sensors at the tanks. One was open, the drones reaching into the blue liquid to perform some mysterious manipulation.

That wasn't the point. The point was what was in the tanks, the countless teenage girls with eyes closed, floating serenely in the blue liquid, naked except for the twin metal rings that preserved dignity, and the myriad wires and tubes she could see lodged into the backs of the ones who were closer. They all had very long hair, growth unchecked by scissors, winding its way around the wires, but other than that, there was great variety in faces, shapes, even ethnicities, though the majority appeared to be Japanese. Every single one was in their teens.

"Exactly what it looks like," her father said, turning to gauge her reaction, eyes again detached. "You've seen enough Unification War films to know what these are. These are cloning vats. I didn't have to enter from the top floor, but I thought it would be easier to explain from in here."

Ryouko averted her gaze. Her head swam.

"Human cloning is a violation of regulations," she said lamely, trying to process the betrayal in her mind. "It's terribly illegal. It's an atrocity. Everything they told us in school—"

"We have special dispensation from the government. Ryouko, listen," her father said. "You've always been a level‐headed girl. I need you to listen. Can you do that? That was why I brought you here. I'm asking you to trust me."

His voice briefly lost the matter‐of‐factly—almost chilly—quality that usually characterized it. Instead it became briefly pleading, an emotional nuance she had never heard from him. He wanted her to listen.

Swallowing whatever needed to be swallowed, Ryouko forced herself to nod. She would listen, hear the facts. That was what she did in every situation, even this.

But if I don't like the facts, then what?

Her eyes darted around the cavern, at the vats, at the immense tubes leading into and out of the cylinders, at the gaps inside the cylinder nearest to her, through which she could see the rest of the arrangement. Looking more carefully, she could see that there were walkways leading from the outer edge inward, and platforms clearly meant for transportation of personnel.

Her father nodded, satisfied, even though he looked nervous again.

He turned his back to her, and stared out their transparent wall. Ryouko looked too, and as they watched, one of the tanks detached from the wall, mechanical apparatus pushing it outward and into a waiting cradle on one of the drones. The drone raced away downward, to some unknown destination.

"I felt we owed it to you," he said, "to tell you just what it is your parents volunteer for every night."

"This better be good," Ryouko said, managing to rebuild some conviction.

"This used to be one of the MSY's blackest projects," her father said. "Now it is merely classified. Not even that high, only level two, but high enough that the public, most of the military, and the majority of magical girls never find out. The thing is—"

There was a pause.

"Well," he continued. "Have you ever thought about the implications of having your soul in a gem?"

He turned to face her, and she could see in his eyes that he was struggling with this, that he had forced himself to do this. It won some of her trust back.

He surprised her by grabbing her hand and raising it up.

"'Your gem your cockpit, your body your wings,'" he said, gesturing at her ring. "Have you ever heard that? No, of course not;"—he shook his head at himself—"it's censored from the public. But it's the motto of the Magi Cæli, the Space Corps. They, more than anyone, learn just how inhuman they are, and they suffer some the highest rates of body loss of any of the branches. They are the only ones told the truth in training; the rest of you are told only to save the gems of your comrades, that the MSY has ways to save them."

He dropped her hand and, with a slight lurch, they stopped. Ryouko was surprised; she had somehow missed the fact that they were approaching a walkway.

The doors opened, and they walked forward, agonizingly slowly, passing walls of tanks that Ryouko was carefully not looking at.

"How useless a cockpit is without a plane or spacecraft underneath it, and how useless a soul gem is without a body," he said, voice shifting into a pedantic mode. "A soul gem torn from its host seeks desperately to find it again and, failing that, goes dormant, eventually burning out. With certain kinds of stimulation, provided by other mages, it can be induced to try to grow a new body, based on the original, but the number of gems who can complete the feat on their own is vanishingly small. It can be done with a prodigious number of grief cubes, but either way, the process can be incredibly traumatizing, so much so that it was never tried again, after the first few attempts."

Ryouko looked at her ring, her soul gem. Yes, that was her, and the eyes she was looking out of only a drone. Still, the concept of regrowing a body—she shuddered.

"There are other ways," her father said. "With a fresh cadaver, a gem can be induced, with difficulty, to take it as a new host. It's better, since it costs much less energy to reform an existing body than to try to reform air and mud and vacuum into a body de novo. But the process is imperfect, cube‐costly, and has a high failure rate. It was done fairly often, in the early days, after it was realized it was possible, but it was never a good solution."

They stopped, her father seeming to think about something, before continuing:

"One thing that was never tried was the sharing of bodies. The MSY has always had considerable evidence of the downsides from historical sources. Every known example of body‐sharing has resulted in instability, insanity, and diminished cognitive function. The cadaver solution works considerably better, but there were still quite a few losses, where the MHD was forced in to Reformat what had previously been a perfectly sound mind. Oh, that's right, you don't know about Reformatting."

They stopped in front of another door, in the exact middle of the concentric cylinders. Ryouko looked up, then down, at the rings of tanks that seemed to stretch all the way through the building, though she could, if she tried, spot both the ceiling they had left from and the floor below her.

They stepped into the second elevator, and started going down again, as she wondered how far down this rabbit hole went.

This time, her father didn't bother with the show of putting his hand to the wall. The wall lost its opaqueness, following some invisible command.

"Still," the man continued. "The body‐sharing case was a tantalizing hint. The diminished cognitive function, the fact that there are no known examples of anyone ever possessing an inanimate object or an animal…"

Her father turned to face her, meeting her gaze with a surprising amount of strength in his eyes.

"The theory we have now is that the soul in the gem contains information, some indefinable essence," he said, "but that it needs a manifestation to function. We studied some of those brought back using cadavers. Over time, their bodies changed, became more like their old ones, even at the genetic level. Their brains did too. It was the beginning of an idea."

He paused, realizing he had missed a detail.

"Anyway," he said. "We were assigned to this project from the start. Trusted NCs—non‐contractees—back when things were still secret. Though I didn't actually get to know your mother until much later—no, that's another story. The MSY wanted a better way, a way where they didn't have to give up on so many gems, a better way to bring back those who should be dead."

He watched her, and saw that she was starting to understand. To her, it made sense, almost too much sense, and her expression was conflicted, no longer sure of her world.

"I see that you're getting it," he said. "Yes, one of the first things we did was to perform formal studies of the cadaver hosting process. It's all very well and good to speculate, but seeing the girls ten, twenty years later is meaningless. They've had all the time in the world to change themselves deliberately, consciously or subconsciously. It pollutes the results. We watched the process as it happened, studied the corpses inside and out as it happened. The very first thing a gem does in a new host is rewire the brain. It has to, and the girl doesn't wake until after the process is done. The soul gem cannot function without a physical manifestation, and not just that, a physical manifestation with enough processing power. In that way it's amazing those historical instances of body‐splitting ever worked at all."

He paused, gathering his thoughts again.

"But the process is expensive, and the gem must change everything, right down to the genetic level. The brain is intricate, and even slight genetic variations affect its processing. And there were the failures, the insanity, the girls who needed specialized neural implants to function, the other, worse cases. We speculated that with the proper substrate, a body more like the original, the process would be much smoother."

"Hence the clones?" Ryouko said, gesturing at the tanks that surrounded their descending elevator, already knowing the answer.

"Yes," her father said. "But it was not as simple as cloning the bodies and slapping the gem on top. First, we had to find a way to grow bodies quickly and properly, all the way to the correct age, or at least late childhood. And secondly, there were the ethical issues."

It was Ryouko's opinion that there were ethical issues everywhere here, but she nodded, seeing the logic of it all, feeling an irrational anger growing inside her. Why hadn't they ever told her?

"The thing is," her father said, "any body you grow to viability has the potential for sentience. In fact, it will be sentient, if you just wake it up. What does it mean to put a soul gem on such a body? Would it be body‐splitting? Would the gem eliminate whatever is there? Is that murder?"

Her father looked to the side, dropping his gaze.

"We never found out. We wouldn't try something like that, no matter what you think of us. We sought other ways. But no matter what you do, there are philosophical issues. Even if we had the technology to recreate the consciousness state of the gem down to the atomic level, is it the same person? Is it someone else? We asked the Incubators, but they wouldn't tell us. We're not even sure if they know."

In the brief silence that followed, Ryouko looked around her, trying to reconcile it all with her previous understanding of her parents, one warm and loving, the other distant and cool—but still loving. They had never told her what they did for a living, had never said anything to remotely suggest that there might be a few nuances to ponder in the condemnations of Freedom Alliance atrocities that littered her history courses.

She had never really thought about it, had always taken the illegality of Human cloning for granted. It made sense, given the abuses that been committed in the past. But—

"There's so much we still don't understand," her father mused out loud. "If the gem is shattered, the body remains, but if the gem is corrupted, the body disappears. Why? It bothers me, but it doesn't matter for this. We—"

He paused, then smiled slightly, almost ironically.

"It was your mother's idea," he said. "She was always the most dedicated to the project, the one most devoted to finding a way to bring them back. She suggested—"

"Why?" Ryouko interjected sharply, catching him before he could continue.

He looked up, confused briefly.

"Why?" Ryouko repeated. "I'm tired of all the family secrets! Why was she so dedicated?"

Her father closed her eyes briefly.

"I could just deny knowing," he said, "but the truth is I don't think I have the right to tell you. Ask her yourself, but I think she might be getting ready to do it herself anyway, if you just wait. Please, let me continue."

Ryouko gritted her teeth, but nodded. That was fair. But she was angry. It wasn't quite rational, but she was angry.

He watched her, again judging her reaction. The cool appraisal of that look made her angrier somehow, but he judged that he should continue.

"Anyway," he said, "it was her idea, though we weren't sure if it would work. What if we could keep the clones subsentient, keep the brains from forming the connections necessary for consciousness? All the neurons, all the cells, but nothing awake in there. The gem would have everything it needed, but all the philosophical issues, all the questions about clones and identity, would be gone."

"That became the project. We worked for forty years, but we finally succeeded. That was about sixty years ago. The first successful revival didn't even realize that she had lost her body."

He gestured at the tanks around them.

"If you tried to wake these clones, you would fail. We intercepted neural development at an early stage, made subtle tweaks, kept the higher functions from emerging. We don't even have to keep them asleep. They're comatose. They have working brainstems, hypothalamic function, all of that, but no light. And it works, better than we had dared hope for. The gems are placed on the bodies, and the process works nearly flawlessly. It still takes quite a good number of cubes, but the only cost now is for the rewiring of the cortex. No insanity, no side effects, as good as new. Well, it is new, in a way."

That last was intended as a slight joke, but it didn't work. Her face expression must have been a sight to behold, fully mirroring the instinctive disgust and grudging understanding she felt, because her father visibly turned away from it.

A moment later, the lift shuddered to another stop, and the doors slide open. They were at the bottom.

"I see the look of disgust on your face," her father said, as they walked out of the elevator. "Human morality is an interesting thing, isn't it? We recoil and balk at something like this, even though it's logically the best solution. The Incubators approved, though I suppose you wouldn't see the humor in that."

He paused.

"Take your synthesized meat. Centuries ago, people tried to do something similar. Decorticated chickens and cows, engineered to have no higher brain structures at all. Without them, they couldn't suffer, couldn't feel pain, couldn't peck and bite each other, and the animals could be raised industrially at greater densities than ever. With the food crises of the time, it was a great solution, even ingenious, but people rejected it. They just wouldn't accept it, not until it was just cells in a vat, meat grown that had no resemblance to the animal at all, even more industrial. But what was the difference? There was none, not really."

They turned, and her father looked down at her. She tried to understand his expression. It was a man explaining his life's work to his daughter, a member of the public, the public that would never understand.

"I don't expect you to really understand," he said, "but what we do now is mostly refine the process—add improvements, try to reduce the number of tubes, things like that. That, and revive girls who lose their bodies on the front. The ones we bring back to life don't care how we did it, even though we tell them. They're so happy, to live again. Their faces are what keep your mother and me coming back every night."

He put his hand on a tank directly next to them, and Ryouko finally looked up, then recoiled in surprise.

"Kyouko!" she exclaimed in surprise.

Her father looked up.

"Yes," he said. "There are facilities like this throughout Earth and the colony worlds, in discreet locations. It used to be that only girls in risky occupations had clones—the rest just kept genetic information on file—but nowadays, all of you do. This is the storage facility for this sector of Japan. We try to keep the clones near wherever the girls are at any given moment, but of course moving them around is difficult, so it takes some planning. Only the most important get an extra copy kept on Earth, though Kyouko here only needs this one. I don't suppose you've looked around?"

She hadn't, not until she saw Kyouko, but now she did, and saw Mami floating in the tank to her right, the child that was Yuma beyond that, another, older copy of Yuma, followed by Tanaka Yui and all the other faces familiar from Akemi. And on Mami's left—

She walked rapidly over, to make sure she was seeing properly.

"Ah, yes, Akemi Homura," her father said. "We still keep it alive, in case she ever comes back. The girls who lived here are kept here, if they warrant a second backup clone."

But Ryouko had tuned him out, looking down at the floor, face haunted. All of this: clones, endless soulless bodies in tanks, Akemi Homura and Chitose Yuma and Sakura Kyouko—

Over the past few days, the impact of her vision in the Ribbon Chamber had begun to diminish. It had been so confusing, and with nothing to follow up on, no explanations to clarify what had happened, she had stopped thinking about it.

But hadn't she been inside a tank, beating on the glass with her hands, as the fluid drained?

What did it mean? That had looked like the inside of a lab, not this giant blue cavern, but surely they didn't decant anyone here. Still, something about it—it didn't seem right. Those weren't her hands. They were too large.

A thought occurred to her.

"When do you start growing these clones?" she asked, still looking down.

"What?" her father asked, surprised.

She looked up and made eye contact.

"After a girl makes a contract, how soon is a clone grown?" she asked. "Why did we travel all the way down here anyway? Was it just to show me the tanks?"

Her father looked back at her, and in his eyes passed a glimmer of something she couldn't identify.

He cleared his throat.

"Yes, well," he said. "It actually begins the moment the contract is made, if there is genetic material available on file. In your case, I submitted some myself as soon as I could, so it's had nearly a week to gestate. There's not much to see; the first stages are the most delicate, so we don't dare accelerate the growth much. It's just a mass of cells."

"But you brought me here to see it?" she asked. "Or am I wrong?"

Her father grimaced.

"If I thought you were okay with it," he said.

"Show me," she demanded.

Her father closed his eyes and took a breath.

"Very well," he said, and gestured for her to follow.

They walked along the floor of the facility in silence, with none of the long explanations that had characterized the rest of this trip. Eventually, they exited through a side door, and Ryouko found herself passing through a much smaller room, about the size of several classrooms put together, and only as high as a normal room, with tanks arranged in rows. Here the ages were much more varied, and she found children and infants of every size, lower necks just as full of wires and tubes as the ones she had passed earlier.

She stopped, swallowing hard to overcome the wave of visceral revulsion. Her father watched her.

"Ryouko, are you sure—" he began.

"I'm fine," she growled.

They kept walking, and entered yet another room, even smaller. This one had no giant tanks, only a row of cylinders lining both walls. These cylinders were white, and Ryouko recognized it as the same glass‐like material that had lined the elevator tube, opaque or transparent on demand.

They stopped, and her father touched one of them, thoughtfully.

"Your mother and I had mixed feelings about this one, as you might imagine," he said. "Well, go ahead, take a look on the monitor. It's a microscope camera."

He gestured at a monitor underneath the tube, and she looked, at the transparent mass of cells on the screen, a slight density at one end where the inner cell mass was. Some statistics on the side proclaimed cell number, showed alternate views of the hollow inside, or of associated chemical gradients, and proclaimed that the initial nanite population was functioning smoothly, and had as of yet had no need to correct any genetic abnormalities.

It was nothing different than what she had learned about in school.

She looked downward, searching for name and ID number she had observed on all the others.

And there it was, in bright electronic lettering:

Shizuki Ryouko.

She felt something rise in her throat, and barely managed to shove it back down. Another wave of revulsion passed over her.

Why does it matter to me so much? she thought. Why does it bother me? It's just a mass of cells with my genes. It's just–just—

She held up her own hand, and looked at it.

If I lose my body, she thought, then…

She stared at the mass of cells again.

"Ryouko?" her father asked, quietly.

"Why the hell didn't you ever tell me any of this?" she demanded, barely managing to keep from yelling, surprising herself with the vehemence of her reaction, enough to cause her father to recoil slightly.

"I–I'm telling you now, aren't I?" he managed. "I couldn't possibly have said anything earlier. Do you know how many regulations I'm breaking even doing this now?"

"You–you—" she began accusingly, not even really having a coherent thought ready, just knowing she had to say something.

But the thought was incomplete, because she couldn't come up with the logic to finish it.

"Would it have really mattered?" her father argued, watching her. "Would you have really wanted to know?"

"Yes! I mean, I don't know, I—"

"Would it have affected your decision?"

The question shocked Ryouko out of her confusion, and she clasped and unclasped her fists, forcing herself to think.

"I—" she began. "No. It wouldn't have mattered. But it could have."

Her father closed his eyes, took a breath, then opened them again.

"Your mother says it was a mistake not saying anything earlier," he said. "But that now that it's happened, we should keep quiet. I don't know who's right. I just thought you needed to know. I want you to understand. I brought you here because I thought you deserved to know. I didn't want you to go in blind. Not my daughter."

Ryouko gritted her teeth, hard, clenching her eyes shut. There it was again, the irrational anger, which she couldn't justify to herself.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I need to go. I–I need to think."

Without waiting, she turned away from the tanks, heading for the far door, and what she hoped was the exit.

Her father started to reach for her, then thought better of it, and jogged forward, pointing her towards another door.

They didn't say another word the whole trip home, as Ryouko's mind swirled with confusion, anger, and betrayal, and she kept her thoughts firmly to herself, moving one foot in front of the other.

She could understand the logic of it all. They had done nothing wrong, from their view. She understood that.

But if they could hide this from her, if they could lie to her like this, then what else were they lying about?

She thought about the family finances that had never made sense to her, her parents' quiet constant paranoia about where she was and what she had been doing, Atsuko telling her to ask about her relatives, and her father listening to a technician talk about her unusual genetics without any sign of surprise.

"Ryouko," her father said, finally, as they approached their flat.

She turned and looked at him.

"Whatever happens," he said, eyes deeply conflicted. "I want you to remember that I love you. That's all I ask."

It seemed like such an off‐topic thing to say that Ryouko could only shake her head and walk away, sealing the door to her room firmly shut as she went.


Appendix: "Fleet roles"

What follows is a brief description of major military starship classifications, both alien and Human. A more verbose description can be called up at any time by selecting the relevant subtopic:

Cephalopod

Blink Cannon: Capital ship. Brittle, rare, and seemingly very costly ship, specializes in teleporting heavy—often nuclear and antimatter—explosives, hard radiation bombs, suicide drones, and FTL missiles into the gut of the Human fleet. Fortunately, there is a brief phase‐in period for these devices on the other side, and objects can only appear in hard vacuum. Possible alien advances in Blink technology are a constant source of worry for Naval Command.

Heavy Carrier: Capital ship. Launch site and rapid‐repair facilities for alien interceptor and bomber fleets.

Interceptor: Engages closely with Human MC, interceptors, and frigates. Fleet defense against possible stealth attacks by Human MagOps teams. Cover for bombers attempting attacks on cruisers and battlecruisers. No FTL engine.

Bomber: Heavy fire platform, intended for use against heavier Human ships such as cruisers, battlecruisers, and light carriers. No FTL engine.

Battlecruiser: Heavy fire support, planetary bombardment, WMD deployment. Often used to delay Human fleets which are too close, to allow time for withdrawal.

Cruiser: Heavy anti‐personnel platform. Deploys hard radiation bombs and EMP pulses, effective against unshielded targets.

Frigate: Light anti‐personnel and patrol platform. Deploys shrapnel flak and minefields.

In addition, Cephalopods deploy a significant contingent of strategic fighters and bombers, which usually operate independent of fleets and are capable of FTL and Blink transit.

Human

Battlecruiser: Heavy fire support, anti‐cruiser and anti‐capital ship. SHERMAN gun is slow‐firing, but projectile produces anomalous gravitational fields that interfere with both FTL and sublight propulsion. Planetary Bombardment and WMD.

Light Carrier: Provides interceptor and MedEvac support to fleet.

Cruiser: Fleet defense and Magi Cæli support. Attempts to destroy or deflect Blink Cannon projectiles, bomber armaments, etc. Provides extensive medical facilities and armory. Anti‐frigate if the opportunity arises.

Frigate: Fleet defense. Deploys smart flak, mine‐fields, and other anti‐fighter/bomber countermeasures.

Interceptor: Fleet defense. Provides support to Mage Corps against interceptor/bomber squads.

MedEvac: Magi Cæli support. Drone ships that retrieve incapacitated mages and provide medical/grief cube support. If necessary, will abandon all but soul gem.

Stealth Frigate: Anti‐capital ship, long‐range. Agile insertion ship for MagOps teams. Stealth usually assisted by mage. FTL capable.

Magi Cæli Corps: Anti‐capital ship and fleet defense, especially in close combat situations.