AN: This is the first of two interludes. It was originally just one but it kept growing and I had to split it. Expect the next one by the end of next week at latest.

.

Disclaimer: I don't own Valvrave. That makes me sad.

.

xXx

It was night in Model 77.

A grievous crime had been committed.

"You have hot water!"

From a certain perspective, that is.

Sashinami Shoko pointed with such energy it would be easy to mistake her for the detective of a mystery drama unveiling the murderer.

Rukino Saki was not amused.

Sitting on her bed, Saki ever so slightly lifted her gaze from the book she was reading (Bram Stoker's Dracula, of all things) to look at the finger scant inches from her face and followed it up all the way to green eyes filled with righteous indignation.

"And?" Saki asked, putting the book down. There was no point in reading what was left. Stoker had obviously gotten bored near the end and rushed the whole thing.

Everyone knew you couldn't kill a vampire with a bowie knife.

"You lied!" Shoko said as if this was an unspeakable offense just three steps away from murder. "You said your room had cold water."

"I think we have already established I lie to you about many things. Many, many things," Saki said, referring to the conversation they had just a few days ago. While Saki had contemplated keeping up the deception, she was simply not that cruel.

Besides, the dumbfounded look on Shoko's face after she told her the truth was hilarious.

"That was really mean too!" Shoko said, waving her arm as a bit of red crept into her cheeks. "But this is important! The other students are stuck using cold water and your room is all warm and comfy and hot water-y."

As a Valvrave pilot, Saki had access to certain benefits. Benefits that were, for now, beyond the grasp of regular students, hot water being one of them.

It wasn't just her. The other members of the current government had better accommodations compared to the other students.

There were good reasons for this.

The underground lab they were staying in was not meant to house a large number of people. There were simply not enough rooms and the number of wounded necessitated placing them in a large, open area in order to keep an eye on them all.

Which meant the regular students got stuck with the large conference rooms and public baths without hot water as opposed to nice rooms with private bathrooms.

"Blame L-Elf for that. It was his choice."

Which wasn't to say she disagreed it with it at all.

"We don't have enough rooms for everyone so things worked out this way. Soon, we'll be able to move up and this won't be an issue anymore."

Shoko frowned. Saki had a point but she was not willing to let the issue go just like that. "Well yes, but-"

"Besides," Saki cut her off, her smile gained a teasing edge, "I can't help but notice you are complaining after taking a bath."

It was true. Shoko was clad in only a towel. Abundant steam came from the open bath behind her, a testament to the length of her stay the room.

"Well… that's… It was just so good and warm and I hadn't taken a bath in forever… and your shampoo smells really nice," Shoko said, blushing and avoiding her gaze.

The sequence of events that had led Saki to invite Shoko into her room was long and convoluted. At least, that's what Saki would like to say.

In reality, it was quite like finding a kicked puppy and bringing it home. Only in Saki's case, she had done quite a bit of puppy-kicking before taking mercy on Shoko. The girl's state was far too pathetic for Saki to derive much joy from. Shoko was so lost, Saki had found herself wanting to help her out a bit.

Of course, just because she felt sorry for Shoko did not mean she could not tease her.

"You don't sound grateful to me," Saki said.

"Eh?"

"Let's recap, shall we," Saki said, crossing her legs. "Out of the kindness of my heart, I took you in even after all the horrible things you have done. Selling us out. Branding us as monsters. Oh, the list goes on and on."

"Ugh!"

Shoko might as well have been punched.

It was pitiful. A bit funny, but mostly pitiful.

The Shoko Saki knew would not have been brought low so easily. The bright, stupidly cheerful girl did not know the meaning of despair. Seeing her reduced to this just felt wrong to Saki.

But… progress was progress.

A few days ago, this much would have reduced her to tears. Little by little, Shoko was beginning to regain herself. Saki would never admit it out loud, but Module 77 needed the old Shoko back. Her stupid, boundless optimism was something they could all use right now.

For that reason, she would make certain Shoko was ready when the time came. She would knock her down again and again until she could stand on her own.

"Your gratitude is completely lacking," Saki went on, deciding to take things a step further. "To think us Valvrave pilots went so far as to give up our humanity to protect you and you repaid us with betrayal and prejudice."

"Gah!"

Any satisfaction she derived from this was completely coincidental.

Honest.

"Do you really think a simple thanks will do?" Saki asked.

Shoko could only shake her head in negative.

"Good," Saki said, flipping her hair. "Then what can you do to offer proper thanks?"

"I… really don't know," Shoko said, her gaze dropping. "I don't have anything left."

For a moment, Saki wanted to hug Shoko. She mercilessly squashed the urge before her body could act on it.

"Oh? Are you sure you have nothing to give? I have not fed yet, you know?" Saki said. "I can't, really. I have no one to feed on. How are we pilots going to feed? I wonder. I wonder. Just who will volunteer? We might just die of starvation otherwise."

"I'll do it," Shoko said in a voice so low, Saki nearly missed it.

"What was that?" Saki asked.

"I said I will do it!" Shoko shouted, looking for once like her old self. The girl knelt in front of Saki and offered her neck to her. Determined green eyes looked up at her.

Saki raised an eyebrow. Well, she had wanted to cause this sort of reaction, but she had not expected it so easily. Even if she was being far from subtle, people should not just volunteer themselves to be bitten by vampires regardless of what every other vampire romance novel said on the subject.

Just how far could she take it?

"You do know what you are offering, right?" Saki asked leaning closer to Shoko and taking her chin in her hand. "I may not drink your blood like a vampire, but I can't guarantee your safety."

Shoko shivered but didn't move back.

"I will do it," she said.

"You might die," Saki whispered into Shoko's ear as she wrapped an arm around Shoko and pulled her close.

"I-I…" Shoko took a breath to calm herself. "I am ready for it! Just… please be gentle!"

Saki leaned back to get a good look at Shoko. Her body trembled. Her face was flushed. Her hands were balled into fists. She made for a really pitiful picture.

Yet she did not lean back. She waited for her fate with teary eyes closed.

She couldn't help it. Saki snorted.

"I can't believe you bought that," Saki said in between chuckles. "I could just take a picture!"

"What?"

"There is no way I would ever feed on you, Shoko," Saki explained in a kind voice that sent hope into Shoko's heart.

"Really?" Shoko asked.

"Of course, who knows what would happen to me if I did? An idol needs to eat healthy," Saki explained.

Hope died a painful death.

"You could be contagious for all I know. I might start Shoko-ing things up and no one wants that."

"What type of verb are you turning my name into?"

xXx

Satomi stared open-mouthed at the scene in front of him.

Everything was floating.

Everyone was floating.

Dyson Spheres were humanity's crowning achievement and Modules were the building blocks of said achievement. It was in the Modules people lived their day-to-day lives.

Module 77 boasted a city, lakes, a forest, mountains, farming fields, and then some. It had a truly staggering area, an area which was populated by people and thus needed a few key components like oxygen, gravity, weather, and just the right amount pressure. All of it simulated, of course. The Module was built to reproduce all the natural phenomena necessary for human life.

However, impressive as they were, Modules could be quite frail. If the dome broke, the people would be at the mercy of space. The designers had done their best. They truly had. In the event of a breach, the Module's systems would work overtime to compensate while repairs were done.

Those systems had held.

They held during the first Dorssian attack.

They held when L-Elf's plan called to make a hole at the bottom of the Module.

They held when Cain literally drilled a hole in the Module.

However, they couldn't hold forever. The Module was long overdue for serious maintenance and H-Neun's getaway had been the drop that spilled the cup.

Now everything floated.

Including the bodies.

Repairs above were going too slow for everyone's liking, which meant they were going to have to brave the vacuum if they wanted to get the topside ready anytime soon. Luckily, they had managed to find enough space suits for the job.

Satomi had gathered volunteers among the students who had been lucky enough to escape from ARUS' attack without wounds and put them all in the space suits. They had gone up, ready to clean things up.

The sight of dead bodies and blood floating in their school had been too much for most of them.

Puking inside a spacesuit, as Satomi found the hard way, was far from pleasant. He and his team had to go back down to clean up and change before returning to their jobs, now with empty stomachs.

"Alright, let's move," he said, more to himself than anyone else. He steeled himself and took his first steps towards one of the many bodies floating around.

He reached out to grab the body and, to his horror, found he knew him.

Tanaka. Captain of the Chess Club.

They hadn't been friends. The few times they had interacted had been due to Student Council business. From what Satomi could remember the guy had the annoying tendency of thinking himself smarter than everyone around him. To be honest, he never liked him.

As he looked at his bloody form, he fought the urge to break down and cry. He did not deserve this. Not one of them did.

Satomi shivered when he realized that somewhere in this school Youhei's body lay dead.

He had considered himself a mentor of sorts for the second-year member of the Student Council. Back when things were normal, he even thought the boy could become Student Council President during his third year.

Now he was dead.

It was not fair.

"Pass me the body bag," he said to one of the students. The teen stayed frozen, staring at the death that surrounded them.

"Now!" Satomi shouted, a desperate edge creeping into his tone. It was enough to snap the student into attention. Soon he was fumbling around trying to open the body bag.

Putting the body inside proved to be a messy affair. Despite wearing space suits, everyone wanted as little contact with the body as possible. It took them three full minutes to fit the body inside, after which their space suits had more than a few spots of blood on them.

Had they not emptied their stomachs already, they would have done so here.

Satomi looked at the scared students around him and knew things could not continue like this.

Summoning what little courage he had, Satomi spoke up.

"We need to organize," Satomi said, managing to summon the authority he had back when he was in the Student Council. "We'll divide into pairs. We'll split the body bags as well. We'll cover ground faster that way."

As expected, his volunteers soon launched a variety of objections to his plan.

"That's enough!" Satomi shouted with a ferocity that surprised even himself.

"Our friends are dead," he said, making more than one flinch. "They were killed and they are just… floating here. That's not right. Beyond the necessity of cleaning so we can move up, we cannot just leave their bodies to rot here. They deserve better than that."

Everyone deserved better than that.

"If you want to leave, leave now," Satomi said, drawing surprised looks from the others. "I do not need volunteers who will not do their job. If you want to help, then follow my instructions. If not, you know the way down."

No one left.

"Good," Satomi said, nodding. "Awai and Aoki, you are pair one. Nagai and Hoshino, pair two. Kamisugi, you're with me."

Satomi quickly divided the three floors of the school building between them and send them to do their jobs. Hopefully, they'd be able to clean all the bodies in a few hours. The blood floating around would take more time, but they would manage.

As Satomi reached for the next body and asked for a body bag, he knew for certain he had done the right thing by organizing the clean-up while Akira was distracted. His sister may want to help, but as her brother, he would never expose her to this if he could help it.

A self-deprecating smile appeared on his face as he considered the thought. He was aware of his sister's position as a Valvrave pilot. He was not that naïve. His sister would have to fight. His sister would have to kill people.

It was a horrible thought but it was the truth.

However, he was still her big brother.

It may be the only thing he could do right now, but he would at least spare her this sight.

xXx

To an outsider, it would be easy to see there was a vacuum of power in Module 77.

L-Elf might as well have become a ghost. He appeared only when he did not have someone at hand to give orders for him. Kibukawa was usually talking to L-Elf, and Nanami Rion, their teacher, had sustained wounds during ARUS's attack. The Valvrave pilots (the two that were left) were even worse, and Shoko had seemingly disappeared. Meanwhile, Satomi was currently on a mission topside.

The usual authority figures were nowhere to be found.

The students had no one to turn to.

Takahi had stepped up.

Yusuke would be the first to admit he hadn't seen that one coming.

Back in high school, he had thought of Takahi as hot but kind of bitchy.

She was still both, if he had to be honest. She was ruthless and authoritarian, but in spite of it, (or perhaps because of it) when she spoke everyone listened. It was this force of personality that kept the students organized in this situation.

But Takahi was not superhuman like L-Elf.

There was only so long she could go without sleep. She had tried her best. She really had. Sleep was trivial when compared to the needs of all the students. She had kept going until she had dark bags under her eyes. She swayed on her feet as if she would fall unconscious at any moment, and she nearly had several times. It had become clear to everyone Takahi needed to rest.

Takahi had not been keen on the idea.

She had fought tooth and nail against it, saying she could still keep going in spite of the growing evidence to the contrary.

There had been arguing.

A lot of arguing.

Literally hours.

Takahi could be reeaalllyy stubborn when she wanted to be, which was usually always. Had Lily and Eri not been there to counsel their good friend, things would not have gone nearly as well. In the end, they had managed to convince her to take what she claimed was a "short nap."

As soon as her head touched the bed, she was out like a light.

Hours later, it didn't look like that was going to change anytime soon.

With the others taking care of more important business and Satomi leading a group in charge of clean-up on the upper level, the task of leading the students had fallen to… well, them.

More specifically, him.

Otamaya Yusuke.

The Otaku.

The guy who all his friends (except Shoko, because she was cool like that) had unanimously agreed would end up marrying one of the machines he so liked to play with.

Yusuke had no idea what to do.

Dealing with people? Not his thing.

Otamaya Yusuke had never been what one would call popular. He was just an Otaku. Some guys were good at sports. Yusuke knew more about military grade weapons than any other boy in the school (except L-Elf who didn't count because Yusuke was half-certain the guy was a cyborg). It was not exactly the type of interest that attracted many.

Which wasn't to say Yusuke wasn't friendless. He had good friends in Seiya, Toru, and the other guys at the club. With them, he laughed, build models, and had serious debates as to whether the Valvraves qualified as Real Robots or Super Robots.

Yusuke had never considered himself lacking in friends.

He was just not a people person.

He liked small groups. Some people could have all eyes on them and bask in the attention. Satomi and Shoko were very different people, but they could both work a crowd in ways he could never see himself doing. That was fine with him. He didn't regret who he was. Some people were meant to be in the spotlight. Others weren't. Different parts had different functions.

He was the engineer. He worked machines, not people. That was his function and he liked it that way. He liked who he was. It was his comfort zone.

Right now, he was as far away from his comfort zone as possible.

People were looking at him.

People. Were looking. At him.

For instructions.

For directions.

For guidance.

All around, the students came to him for orders. They still had plenty of things to do and for some reason, people had decided he was the one they should turn to with their questions.

Where could they find more supplies?

Where should they put the trash?

When should they start the cleaning?

How soon did he think Satomi's volunteers would finish their job?

The only reason he had managed not to fall into panic and curl into a ball was because he knew how this stuff was done. Every question they asked him was something Takahi had dealt with previously. He may not have the force of personality necessary for leadership, but he could remember facts. Like where the supplies were meant to go, how the injured were organized, and so on.

Think back. Remember. Speak.

Socialization and leadership may not be his thing but let it never be said Yusuke was not a good student.

The problem was he had done things a bit too well. Now people were starting to turn to him for all their questions, and it was not just the regular students.

It was the others.

Minori of the Student Council was listening to his words as though he was Satomi himself, and Toru and Seiya were snapping to attention the moment he opened his mouth, a far cry from the relationship they used to have.

To be honest, iIt was kind of lonely and he had only been at this less than a day. If this was leadership, Yusuke wanted none of it.

Sadly, it wasn't that simple. As much as he'd like to stand down and hide under a blanket, he realized how irresponsible that would be. For better or worse, he was doing something right. He couldn't just step down when the others still needed his help.

He could only continue… until he inevitably went way too far out of his depth and sunk.

Dimly, he wondered what Yamada would have done in this situation.

A bitter smile made its way to his face. "Thunder" was hot-headed, brash, reckless, and couldn't follow rules to save his life.

He was one of the most amazing people he had ever met.

Under normal circumstances, he would have never talked to the delinquent. Thunder's tendency for getting into fights as well as the many rumors surrounding him were enough to scare most people away. Simply put, they were in completely different social circles.

However, they were able to know each other through the many tragedies that struck the Module. In that time, Yusuke had come to admire the delinquent.

How would he deal with this situation? How would things look like if he was still here?

Yusuke snorted. What was he wondering about? Thunder would rush head-on, not doubting himself even for a second.

Unlike him.

Otamaya Yusuke had never been an optimist and recent events had done little to change that notion. He knew his limitations. He wasn't a leader. He was just filling the part for now and the problem with using a part that didn't fit was that sooner or later the part would break under pressure.

"Hey, why so gloomy?"

The question was accompanied by a friendly slap on the back. It was so gentle Yusuke was nearly knocked to the floor. The purple haired student barely managed to regain his balance in time.

Only one person in the Module had that arm strength.

Well, Yusuke thought as he adjusted his glasses, maybe L-Elf did too, but he could not see himself using the words L-Elf and friendly anywhere near each other.

Sure enough, Yusuke turned and looked up. And up.

And up.

Despite being nearly the same age, the boy was more than a head taller than Yusuke. It made for an intimidating sight.

At least it would have, had that person been anyone other than Bansho Juto. The former Minister of Transport had short yet messy brown hair and powerful muscles, visible even under his clothes. Just being near the guy made Yusuke feel self-conscious about his own scrawny build.

The teenager's face was too plain to be considered attractive but there was something undeniably friendly about it and with good reason. Despite his intimidating build, Juto was on good terms with just about everyone in the school. He was not a social butterfly like Shoko or Takahi. He went about things at his own slow pace. He didn't rush and he rarely if ever got angry. If someone needed help, he would offer it without a second thought.

He was, in a word, reliable.

The sort of guy who should be in this position instead of him.

Yusuke blinked when he realized Juto was still waiting for an answer. "No, it's nothing important. Just got lost in my thoughts for a moment there. I'm fine."

Juto frowned but didn't push.

"Okay," he said. "I brought new supplies from the storage like you wanted. Where should I put them?"

As he said this, Juto turned around so Yusuke could see the blue backpack he was carrying.

It was big.

Yusuke fought the urge to take out his glasses and clean them just to make sure he was not seeing things. How on Earth had he even managed to find a backpack that big? How hadn't he noticed it from the beginning? Yusuke was certain they could fit one or two people in that thing.

If the effort was in any way taxing for Juto, he didn't show it. His face held nothing but simple curiosity about his next set of orders.

"Put them in Room Three," Yusuke said, pointing in the direction of the room. "Leave the bag there. Watari and Yamamoto can take care of unpacking. I need you to recheck the storage again. We are going to need some clean bedsheets soon."

In an ironic twist of fate, the talents of former minister of transport were best suited for the role of pack mule.

It was by no means a small or insignificant role.

Juto could simply carry more than any regular student. A lot more. In one regular trip, Juto could carry the same amount as three students. Sending Juto to search and bring whatever they needed was just far more practical. It got things done faster and left more of their limited manpower free to perform other tasks.

Giving people the tasks that better used their strengths was just common sense.

"Got it, boss," Juto said cheerily while snapping into a salute. He turned on his heels and went about to do his job… at least he would have had he not seen Yusuke's flinch.

Yusuke couldn't help it.

People shouldn't be calling him, of all people, boss.

Juto stopped and crossed his arms. "Okay, what's up?"

Yusuke blinked. "Huh?"

"Come on, go ahead. Lay it on me," the taller teen said, spreading his arms.

"Look, it's… nothing," Yusuke said as he took out his glasses and tried to clean them with his dirty shirt. He only succeeded at smudging them more. "Just tired. You know."

Juto nodded. "I do. It's been some crazy days. I get that."

Yusuke felt relief flow through his body. Good. Landmine avoided. Things could continue as they had been and hopefully, he would be able to hold until a real leader appeared.

"I also get you are full of shit."

"Huh?" Yusuke's eyebrows nearly reached his hairline.

Juto did not swear.

The guy was cordial 100% of the time. Even Haruto swore once or twice. It was rare, but it happened.

Juto didn't.

"I'm not dumb," Juto continued in a softer tone. "Not the smartest guy, but not dumb. Even if I were, you might as well have a dark cloud hovering above you. Kind of hard to miss."

Yusuke chuckled in spite of himself. "That bad?"

"I wouldn't look at myself in the mirror if I were you. Might scare yourself a bit," Juto said only half joking.

Yusuke sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "And here I thought I was doing a good job hiding it."

"Well, if it makes you feel better, I'd say the others are a bit too busy to notice. Bullet wounds and hours without sleep will do that to most people."

"Except you," Yusuke pointed. Sure enough, Juto barely had any bags under his eyes.

"I'm a helper," Juto said without a hint of boasting. "It's what I do… and I might have sneaked an hour of sleep when no one was watching. But seriously, lay it on me. You try to hold things in, and it's going to end bad."

"I…" Yusuke snuck a furtive glance around to make sure no one was listening in on them. "I'm not cut out for this."

Juto crossed his arms. "I don't follow."

"I shouldn't be the one giving the orders," Yusuke replied. "I mean, there are so many other people who should be doing this instead of me. I am only here because Satomi and L-Elf are busy and we couldn't make Takahi stay up 24/7."

Then there was Shoko.

Which was a really confusing subject he really didn't want to think about right now, because before shit hit the fan, Shoko had been the nicest person he had ever met. Thinking about everything that had happened just made his head hurt.

"Point is, I'm just here to fill the part and I don't really fit," he said.

Yusuke felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He was still in the exact same situation as before, but sharing it with someone had somehow made him feel better. Besides, maybe, just maybe, Juto would offer to take over for him. The guy was definitely more qualified for this stuff than him and he should see Yusuke was definitely not cut out for this.

"That's it?"

"Huh?"

Yusuke was saying that a lot lately.

"I mean, I was kind of expecting something more serious, you know?" Juto explained, shrugging. "This is kind of underwhelming, man."

"…if I wasn't so tired I'd be really offended right now," Yusuke said. "I just opened up to you about important stuff."

"Don't take it the wrong way," Juto said, "but… well, haven't you noticed the good fantastic job you're doing."

Huh?

"Look around you," Juto said, waving his large arm. "Seriously, take a look."

Yusuke did. The wounded were lying on the mattresses the students had dragged to the large room and put on the floor. The few students who were in good health, for a certain definition of the word, were all hard at work. Moving around supplies, scavenging for food in other parts of the Module, administering medicines, and so on. There was barely any time for rest. More than one had dark bags under his eyes. In fact, it was easier to count the ones who didn't.

"You notice anything special about them?" Juto asked. "I mean, anything out of the ordinary. Besides the part where we all look like war refugees, I mean."

"Nothing. Everyone is just doing their jobs."

"Exactly," Juto said as though Yusuke had just imparted vital wisdom.

"…I am not following."

"Well, wouldn't it be normal for us to panic and run around like headless chickens? Think about it. Remember what happened after that one guy decided to do his Moses impression? Remember the black out later? Remember what happened both those times? We panicked. A lot. It's surprising we didn't kill ourselves."

"Yes," Yusuke said, still not getting where Juto was going with this. "But we had people to help us. We had Shoko. And Kibukawa-sensei. And Satomi. And all the others."

"Yeah, and this time we have you," Juto said, pointing at him as if the was the most obvious thing in the world.

Yusuke blinked.

Thrice.

"What? No, I didn't do anything. Takahi was the one who reined in the other students. I'm just trying to keep things calm until she wakes up."

"Yeah, Takahi did calm everyone down. The girl knows how to make people listen. Queen Bee of the school and all that," Juto said, nodding. "You came in after."

Yusuke nodded, glad the taller boy was finally making sense. "Yeah, so you agree-"

"But," Juto said, interrupting. "While Takahi got everyone to listen and decided on the tasks, you're the one who improved efficiency. You gave everyone a job that suited what they could do. You allocated the resources. You distributed the labor. So yeah, not bad for a guy that's not a leader."

"W-wait," Yusuke said, "That was just simple stuff. Anyone could have done that."

"Yeah, no," Juto said, shaking his head. "I couldn't have done that. I'm no good with calculations. It's a thing."

Mental math was for people who did not have calculators. That was Juto's personal motto.

"Why do you think everyone started to listen to you?" Juto said.

"Well… I mean… I was there and…" Yusuke struggled to think an answer.

"Yeah, and I was there and everyone else was there. Notice how no one is asking me for orders in spite of being a former Minister. No one is asking Minori for orders either. But you? You say smart things. It's your thing. People have noticed. That's why they are listening. That's why they look to you," Juto said.

"All this order right now?" Juto said, waving an arm around. "That's on you."

To this Yusuke had nothing to say.

"You are doing fine. Don't you remember what you used to say? All successful people are Otaku or something like that," Juto said, giving him a friendly pat on the back that once again nearly knocked him to the ground.

Was Juto right? Had he been worrying so much about making the wrong move all this time he didn't notice when he had made the right ones?

Right here and now, they were still alive. They were tired and wounded, sure. But they were still here. They were recovering. Things were getting better.

If Thunder were here right now, would he dwell on the negatives or would he be emboldened by the positives?

Yusuke smiled. That was an easy-to-answer question.

They could do this.

He could actually do this.

"Thanks," Yusuke said after a moment of silence. "I guess… I needed to hear that. I haven't been feeling all that confident lately."

"I'd wager most of us aren't all that confident at the moment either," Juto commented, shrugging as if the whole thing was no big deal. "Even me."

"You sure could fool me," Yusuke said.

"It's my winning smile. It inspires people," Juto said, drawing a smile out of Yusuke. "Now, if you're all done sulking, I have some supplies to drop off."

Yusuke blinked. Right, the stupidly huge bag.

Which Juto had been carrying throughout their entire conversation without any sign of strain.

"Isn't that heavy?" Yusuke couldn't help but ask.

"What? This little thing? Nah, I can handle it just fine," the tall teenager said as he walked away.

Yusuke just stared as the former Minister of Transport walked away.

Their school was filled with all sorts of amazing people.

Yusuke smiled. That was another reason why he could be confident. Even if he wasn't the best part of the job, the other parts more than made up for it. They were all sharing the burden.

If they were together, well, making this work definitely wasn't out of the question.

xXx

While the students worked hard to normalize their situation, a different type of battle was taking place in the Module.

Renbokouji Akira typed furiously as she launched attack against attack, program after program, virus after virus.

All for naught.

All her probes came up empty. The programming algorithms she was so proud of were all torn apart without a care. The viruses she had spent so many sleepless nights working on were defeated without difficulty. The hacking potential of Unit-VI which could bypass the best defenses the world's security systems had to offer combined with her genius hacking skills was being beaten.

For the first time in her life, she was losing in the digital realm.

As she gritted her teeth and downed far more caffeine than was healthy for a girl her age (or any age for the matter) there was only one thought running through her mind.

Pino's brother was a giant jerk.

A big, mean, blue-haired jerk.

She had tried to be nice. She really had.

Prue was an uncertain existence for Module 77. An unwanted and unasked present they had found waiting for them in Unit-1. Pino had enthusiastically introduced anyone who entered her cockpit to her 'onii-chan.'

There had been some questioning from L-Elf and Kibukawa-sensei somewhere in there but ultimately there wasn't much anyone could do about it.

They were stuck with him.

Prue had remained a small, silent, brooding AI throughout it all. Not speaking unless spoken to, and even then monosyllables and grunts were the best one could expect from him.

A textbook cold and silent bishounen.

An overdone archetype, in Akira's opinion.

Besides, the Module already had L-Elf.

However, everything changed after the attack.

Pino had been knocked out and they were at a loss as to how to deal with her condition. Even if they did it wouldn't matter. Prue would not let them anywhere near Pino. The… guide program? AI? Akira's mind struggled to decide a good term. Just what were Prue and Pino?

She shrugged. A question for another time.

Regardless, if Prue was reluctant to socialize with them before, he was actively avoiding them now. To be fair to Prue, he barely knew them. He only had Pino's word to go on.

Then they had been unable to protect her from the attack.

All in all, not the best first impression.

In an unusual display of socialization, Akira had tried to reach out to Prue. Seeing someone lock himself up and actively flee from all human contact struck a chord in her.

Sure, she still spent more time inside her Valvrave than outside, but she could talk to others now. She had made friends. She could even talk normally now… as long as she made sure to give herself one second to go over her words before opening her mouth. All because Shoko… Her brother and others had reached out to her.

So, she wanted to try reaching out to Prue.

She had already done most of the tasks L-Elf had given her. She had secured the money they needed. They would be able to purchase food and other supplies without worries now.

What little tasks remained were easy enough and would not occupy much of her time.

She could afford to try her hand at socializing.

How hard could drawing someone out of his shell be?

As it turned out, it was really hard.

It had started out with a small probe, a message.

Prue had promptly blocked it.

Things had escalated from there until it became a full-blown cyber battle.

The Rune Lifeform inhabiting digital space proved himself to be more than a match for the young hacker. It helped that unlike most of her foes lately, Prue could and did use Runes. Manipulating them was second nature to the Magius. While Akira unknowingly used the Rune-powered abilities of Unit-6 to enhance her hacking, Prue used Runes to directly control the digital space around him.

Furthermore, Prue did not have to do pesky little things like type on a keyboard. Prue only needed to think. The extra speed gave him the advantage in any programming battle.

The difference between the two was all too clear.

Frankly, Prue wished the human would get a clue.

The only reason he even remained here was out of respect for his sister's wishes and her condition. He could not afford to leave her alone in her state.

There was also the lack of a proper vessel to move in but Prue would rather not dwell on that.

Regardless, he was the only one who could provide the care Pino needed. In fact, he was the only reason she had not yet perished due to Rune loss.

Sharing his Runes so freely would have posed a danger to him under other circumstances, but Cain had provided him a great supply before that fateful battle.

He could heal his sister. He just needed time, peace and quiet.

The human kept interfering with that. He squashed all her attempts and she still kept coming.

His eyebrow twitched.

Fine!

He would show her how futile it was for her to challenge him.

Somehow the thought of voicing his annoyance remained out of his reach.

Much like the thought of simply walking up to Unit-I and talking eluded Akira's mind.

Amid frowns and gritted teeth, the cyber battle continued.

xXx

L-Elf was a busy person.

Several students would beg to differ if they were present. Some would say he had left the student population to fend for themselves. After all, the average student had barely seen a glimpse of him throughout these troubling times. A few would even go as far as to say this was his revenge for the way they had sold him out to Dorssia.

They would only be half right.

True. L-Elf had a grudge. A big one. He did not trust himself to be fully rational when it came to face-to-face dealings with the other students, so he avoided them. He did not interact with them unless absolutely needed.

At the same time, he was genuinely busy. Module 77's status was vulnerable. The situation on Earth and space had taken everyone's eyes away from them while various players scrambled for power, but that situation would not last forever. The world's eyes would eventually return to them.

The existence of Kamitsuki and the Valvraves ensured that.

In order for Module 77 to survive, it needed power and allies. The Valvraves needed to be repaired. New weapons needed to be acquired. People from other JIOR territories would need to be attracted.

In order to realize his objectives, L-Elf had already started to move. He had called in old acquaintances. Arms dealers. Mercenaries. Unscrupulous but resourceful mechanics. Contacts in other nations. All of them would be needed for the future.

For Lieselotte. For Haruto.

It was a tiring job. One no one other than he could do. It was not the longest period he had gone without sleep, but it was certainly the most tiring one. He had spent hours sitting in front of a screen, going from one video conference to the next one.

Shooting people was so much easier than playing politics.

He had just finished negotiating a small deal in order to get a shipment of food delivered to the Module when a video call arrived. L-Elf was sorely tempted to ignore it until he saw who the caller was.

Sighing before schooling his expression into perfect neutrality, he answered the call.

"Kriemhild," he greeted as the woman appeared on his screen. Neither his voice nor his expression showed a hint of the exhaustion he felt. As much as he wanted to ignore this call, the Royalists were the only solid ally the Module had. Without them, their situation would be hard to manage, even for him.

Politics. He truly hated them.

"I was not expecting your call."

"L-Elf, I apologize for the suddenness, but something urgent has happened," she said. "There are some images you need to see."

Even as she spoke, L-Elf could already see the file transfer being done through the secure connection provided by the Royalists.

It took all his self-control not to swear once he opened it.

He clicked from one image to the next.

These were… these were Valvraves.

No, he corrected himself as he took a closer look. They were Kagerou. The color was white instead of black. Their armaments were slightly different but there was no denying he had seen these machines before.

He had first come into contact with them shortly after Cain had stolen Unit-2. They were remote controlled, mass-produced versions of the Valvrave. Unlike the Valvraves, the Kagerou did not require their pilot to give up their humanity which meant anyone could pilot them.

It had been a surprising find, tempered only by their small number. Module 77 only had two of them. He had searched, of course. The moment he found out about their existence, L-Elf had looked through the few files that had not been deleted by the scientists of the Valvrave project. He had searches conducted in every nook and cranny of the Module. Alas, there were no more of the machines to be found.

A pity, he would not need to negotiate with the Royalists for Kirschbaum if he had Kagerou at his disposal.

Regardless, the two Kagerou and their two pilots, Ohta and Hinomoto, had been a welcome, if secret, addition to his plans.

He couldn't have the Valvraves leaving the Module after they arrived at the Moon.

The remote-controlled Kagerou no one knew he had were a different story. There were, after all, certain enemies that needed to be dealt with even if the Module was supposedly safe on neutral ground. With the eyes of Dorssia locked on the Module, the Kagerou had been free to do as they pleased within their limits.

"I assume you notice the similarities?" Kriemhild asked after a while.

"When was this?" L-Elf asked as he opened an audio-less video file.

"A few hours ago," came the reply from Kriemhild. "Whitesteel was attacked by at least three of these units."

L-Elf looked up from the pictures. "At least?"

"The units were using a highly advanced stealth system which hid them from sight and radar," Kriemhild explained. "It is impossible to know how many of them there were."

"Like the Phantom?" L-Elf asked. His question yielded an unexpected reward. He had the chance to see a confused look on the face of the normally unflappable Kriemhild.

H-Neun would have liked to see it, L-Elf mused.

"The Phantom was invisible to sight?" Kriemhild half asked, half stated. Like someone who just had the ending of a mystery book she was a few clues away from solving spoiled.

The truth dawned on L-Elf.

Of course.

They hadn't known the Phantom could be invisible. To them, it had been a highly classified project with technology that allowed it to completely avoid radar detection. The Royalists lacked the ability to track it underwater so the ship never had to use its higher functions against them.

"L-Elf, tell me more about this stealth system," Kriemhild said.

L-Elf frowned. He had accidentally given away some good information for free. Nevertheless, he complied. Sharing this information would go a long way towards earning trust which would help in future negotiations. L-Elf told Kriemhild what he knew about the technology while making sure not to mention the Phantom they had managed to secure on their return trip from Earth.

The Magius had been unable to retrieve it after they forced Dorssia out of the Module. It needed a couple of repairs, but L-Elf was certain they could get it up and running again. One never knew when an invisible ship would come in handy, after all, and when it did, it was better if no one knew you had one.

"I see," Kriemhild said once he finished explaining. "Then it is safe to assume this is the same technology. That would mean the Council is likely involved in this."

"It is more than likely," L-Elf said, drawing Kriemhild's gaze to him. "Just a few days ago we were victims of an attack that used a similar methodology."

He and A-Drei had debated whether to keep the attack a secret but ultimately decided to include it in A-Drei's next report. With a few select details, such as H-Neun's appearance, omitted for the benefit of everyone.

"You can read A-Drei's report for details," L-Elf went on. "Suffice to say, an intruder stole information from the labs and escaped. Our defense systems were unable to track his machine."

"The stealth system," Kriemhild deduced. "And only days later, these machines show up to attack Whitesteel."

"The timing is too convenient," L-Elf said. Convenient for him that is. "It may be a coincidence, but I doubt it. The machines' similarities to the Valvrave are too strong. The development of the Kirschbaum in only three months is impressive. However the development of an entirely different model, even if the projects ran concurrently, is highly unlikely unless…"

"Unless they did not develop these machines," Kriemhild finished for him, deducing where he was heading. "Unless these machines were already built. You think JIOR developed them in the past and the Council found about them when they stole information from your labs?"

"It is a possibility," L-Elf said, his tone making it clear he thought it was more than that.

"One we cannot discard at any rate," Kriemhild agreed. "At a minimum, we must assume the Council is taking a more active approach."

"After being exposed to the world, it is not surprising they have chosen more direct methods," L-Elf said. An organization without flexibility was one doomed to failure.

"Indeed," Kriemhild said. "I will report this information to my superiors. However, while the Council is the most likely suspect, I am certain you understand the significance of this call."

Of course, he did. It was the first thing she had remarked on. The similarities to the Valvraves.

L-Elf fought back a frown. Machines similar to Valvraves attacked a Dorssian military base. He knew how that could be interpreted.

"Do you think we are responsible?" He asked. Both understood the 'you' in that sentence referred to the Royalists as a whole. It would be troublesome if their allies thought they were plotting against them.

"It is a possibility." Kriemhild did not bother denying it. "However, the information you have given me combined with A-Drei's report should help direct attention elsewhere."

"That is good to hear," L-Elf said. "Have you discerned the cause of the attack?"

"They attacked and left as quickly as they came. If there was a deeper purpose, it is unknown to us," came the quick reply from Kriemhild. "Most likely, they just wanted to show their military power to garner support while damaging our reputation."

Kriemhild and L-Elf stared at each other.

"That may be the case," L-Elf said, after a moment of silence. "If there is nothing else to discuss, I must attend other matters. I will be sure to send you a report on the Phantom's abilities as soon as possible through A-Drei."

"Very well, I will not keep you occupied any longer," Kriemhild said before cutting communications, leaving L-Elf to ponder.

She was, of course, lying about something.

The images were too genuine to be false and the Royalists had little to gain by faking this type of attack. Nevertheless, he would have Akira look into it, both the pictures and the information about the attack. The search may yield some useful information.

The true nature of the attack for example.

L-Elf was certain Kriemhild knew what the Magius had wanted. Whitesteel may be notorious, but its strategic value was not high enough for the Council to reveal its hand in such a manner. Kagerou armed with stealth systems could have landed a crippling blow to the Royalists if used elsewhere. Now the Royalists would be expecting them and adjusting their strategies accordingly. No, there was something valuable enough in Whitesteel for the Council to deem it worth using their newly acquired weapons on it.

If it was the Council at all. L-Elf frowned as he considered the options.

After all, the Kagerou was not a machine created by Dorssia or the Council.

It was a machine created by JIOR. Dorssia may have subjugated JIOR for months, but Dorssia was currently in the middle of a civil war. He was willing to bet their hold on some JIOR territories ranged from tenuous to non-existent.

With a weakened Dorssia, remnants of JIOR's military force (which the country always claimed not to have), could have found the hidden Kagerou and formed a resistance of some sort. There was, after all, no reason why JIOR would distinguish between Royalists and Loyalists in Dorssia.

Given the current state of the world, it would not be surprising if the remnants of the old JIOR became their enemy.

L-Elf toyed with the idea for a moment before dismissing it along with five similar ones. No, while the remnants of JIOR were definitely a problem they would have to deal with in the future if they wanted their country to succeed, the Council was the more likely option in this case.

H-Neun's attack was simply too convenient. L-Elf did not have enough information to grasp how everything fit together yet, but his instincts told him his old comrade was involved in this.

However, there was a silver lining.

L-Elf allowed himself a small smile as he rose from his seat.

There were more Kagerou out there.

He thought he had lost the machines, but JIOR had made more. It was possible there were more Kagerou hidden within other territories in JIOR. He would have to consult Kibukawa for possible places. However, if they could find just a few, it would go a long way towards increasing their country's military power.

After all, Kirschbaum could not be relied on forever.

xXx

L-Elf was hiding something.

Those were Kriemhild's thoughts as she cut off communications.

Kriemhild was one of the few people who could say they knew L-Elf with some degree of certainty. At least, she was pretty sure she did until his link to Princess Lieselotte was revealed. She had tried going back through his records once his real name was known to her but had found little. As far as she could tell, there had not been any meaningful contact between the two, which made his daring rescue attempt all the more puzzling.

Regardless, even when acting out of character, L-Elf was nothing if not competent. L-Elf was Cain's finest product. He would do whatever it took to achieve his goal.

That he would hide information from her was only to be expected.

The question was, what was he lying about?

She doubted he had something to do with the attack. L-Elf was not stupid. He was entirely too dependent on their alliance to risk something like that. Not yet at least.

Which left her with the Magius attack on Module 77 and his information about the Phantom.

Times like these, she wished they had sent someone other than A-Drei. He was entirely too loyal to L-Elf to be of any use to the Royalists.

Almost without thinking, her hand drifted back to the note in her pocket.

The note a supposedly dead man had left me, she thought, frowning.

There were entirely too many unknowns and too few clues, but she would get to the bottom of this.

No matter what.

xXx

.

.

AN: And that's one interlude down. This was a pain edit. I ended up making more changes than planned so it took more time. Plus, Game of Thrones. That took a lot of the very little free time I had (Spoiler alert: Tyrion is awesome!). Plus, this original story I'm working on.

Anyway, another interlude should go up in a few days. Also, just in case, Juto is not an OC. Seriously. Look him up. He's barely there but he's there.

As always, notes and replies to questions asked in reviews should be up in my Live journal.

Thank you for reading and don't forget to leave a review!