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UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This article, K21 - Kindred, is still being written by its owner NecrusIV, Khalael and Solomus-BlackWing. We apologise for the inconvenience.

Volor Flex - Unfeeling05:53

Volor Flex - Unfeeling

Jacinta Hansen · Alison Katsura · Eric Lysander · Miki Albraun · Mathieu Dalton · Laurence Valentine · Li-Pau Nao · Elise Thurston · Daymon Hiruman

Necrus' contributions are prone to change at any time.

Prologue

There sat a room blanketed in darkness. In a corner lay a digital LED clock that spat out a warm, half-hearted vibrancy of a burnt orange, irradiating the room and the apparent occupant inside with an aural glow.

22:57

There hummed a fan in the distance, with the features of the environment coming together to create a despondent, yet strangely comforting environment.

His final swig of whiskey proved empty. In a dull annoyance, the man cast the cheap tin aside, taking in a deep sigh.

Clasping his fingers together after this underwhelming attempt to get lost in a bottle or three, he found himself to once again sifting through an arrangement of stagnant thoughts. Thoughts of defeat, of failure, of the strange complacency borne from only mild application of intelligence and perhaps even pure luck to escape his past and rebuild his organisation. Pride seemed to have consumed him, and the fact that the culprit of all this being the workings of a singular man and his desires began to induce fear.

One too many times this pattern had been ticking away on the insides of his head. It began to infuriate him, as if it were some kind of repeated flash that had been triggered ages back by post-traumatic stress disorder or some other panic-prone mental affliction.

“But, then again…” He muttered, speaking thoughts aloud as his imaginings managed to gain momentum.

Was this man really aiming to toy with him like this? Is that truly what constituted the dreams of a man muscled with the strength of world power?

Was it? He shot a wild thought,

“Then this… state of apathy. Is this his deliberately borne of his scheming too?”

Mathieu got up out of his chair. Half-angered, half tired, he recklessly kicked the piece of furniture he sat upon. As it flew across the room, it sprung itself up against the wall, rickety aluminium frame rattling loudly.

This was enough. All this time had passed since the death of everyone he held dear to him, and he had done nothing but drag a wounded body across a road ahead that was built for sprinting, with a body caked in scars that he had merely pretended wasn't there.

He wasn’t letting himself heal, and this resulted in nothing productive whatsoever. It was only deadweight, and dreams couldn't possibly be realised if he remained still like this. 

Because of this, even Damien’s very own successor came within a hair’s length far from being taken away, only weeks after the activation of her guardian gene. That would have been a blow certain to damage the spiritual cycle beyond a lifetime’s repair.

He sighed. Clearing his thoughts, he allowed himself to think through the memories of his deceased brother in arms.

“If Damien were still alive... well. I can only imagine how unfathomably disgusted he would be. Had I not been meek and pacifying, perhaps you would have remained alive.”

He laughed to himself. He began to muse.

“How interesting it is that I have only noticed this now. Well, Damien, I'd say it is about time that I'd have proved your judgements of me wrong. Their constant bickering and clumsy mistakes. Their insubordination, their zero hesitation to run off track when filled with personal desire. This must stop. It's true that a team cannot function when it's loosely held together, but this is also true for the commander himself…"

He cleared his throat, properly getting his mind into gear.

"In this case. I must be the first to change. Everything must be reformed from the ground up. My Manifesto. A tight, zero-tolerance command structure. Exponential expansion of resources and staff. Minimal consideration of statistics and chance. Revolution. Everything will be just that, no relent, no reason otherwise."

Stepping over towards his shabby, ill-kept desk, Mathieu lifted the lid of his notebook computer as it flickered to life. He hurriedly opened up a word processor as he arranged multiple Manila folders, documents and the occasional book around his desk. He immediately dug head-first into typing, almost aggressively, eager to get out what he had in mind.

1

A New Day.

There was nothing but blackness. Drenched in a noiseless, cold sea of nothingness, Jacinta had found that reality had slipped away from beneath her. She remained submerged like this for hours, days, longer, until all perception of time sunk beyond her grasp as if it were fluid between the cracks of her fingers.

This state seemed to remain objectless for what felt like an incomprehensible period of time.

Every once in a while amongst this state of comatose, she heard the voices of people sitting by her side, talking, and amongst this wash of unmemorable speech, something in particular stuck out painfully. It was the sound of Eric's voice. He sounded sad, almost panicked, willing her strongly to wake up, but no matter how infuriatingly she tried, she found that she was incapable of forcefully finding her way into consciousness.

She began to believe that this state of existence would last forever; and she was scared. She didn't want to lose what little fragments of warmth she was allowed to call her own.

She never believed that she would be deserved of it after the disappearance of her parents, and what she might have done to be cast out from them so wickedly. Amongst the many that were kind to her in such a short period of time, at the forefront stood out two people, Alison and Eric. They repeated to flash through her mind, and she was terrified of losing them. She had never met people like them - perfect strangers - that were so much like her, so kind to her. They seemed to actually accept her existence.

It saddened her that her time with them was so short. She kept wishing that she could somehow see them again, even if it was for just one final moment.

In time, a light in the distance eventually broke the solitude, in company of muted sounds. They sounded like voices, muffling, blending together with the white haze as it cocooned her in its mystery.

She awoke, to find herself in a grey washed room lit brightly by overhead lighting that were made to resemble windows to a non-existent outside. In all the confusion that she awoke to, this mere tranquillity of feeling detached from this entire artificial sprawl felt comforting.

In the far extents of the room lay a liquid crystal alarm clock.

Sun Jul 20

10:37am

It was late; however the thought of going to sleep seemed - for some reason - a little too frightening for now.

She decided upon staying awake.

Soon, she had managed to painfully sit herself up. Dissecting through her immediate thoughts she began to feel a little frightened. Those voices earlier… they both sounded so worried.

A crimson red strand of hair fell from her head, and upon noticing it; she ran her fingers through her hair reactively. It was thinned out and cut to be much shorter, and pulling a lock into her field of vision revealed that all the dye had been washed out. It surprised her so much that she let out an audible gasp.

Things were slowly coming clearer. She realised that this was a hospital room she sat up in, dressed from head to toe in nothing but patient whites and connected to a multitude of tubes wiring her up to a heart rate monitor and drip. The small grains of fear soon began to expand within her.

A creaking noise startled her. The door directly in front of her opened, pulling her out of her train of thoughts very suddenly to have her eyes meet with the worried, almost panicked pink eyes of Alison Katsura.

“Oh dear… you're awake!! Thank god! I'm so glad you’re okay Jacinta.” She came worriedly, sounding like a tension that had been building up for months had finally let go.

Immediately, Jacinta found her pressed up against Alison's shoulder as she embraced her in a hug, and she was so surprised that couldn't stop herself from making a loud mumble.

“Mghh…?”

“I was very worried about you. Eric was too. You were in a coma for... weeks… just over a month.” She continued, refusing to let her go.

“A month?!” Gasped Jacinta in surprise, voice half muffled.

“Mm.” Alison replied, realising she had come off with the topic a little too quickly.

“Uh.. I… what happened? Oh dear, I'm sorry! Are we okay? We're not trouble are we? I didn't do something wrong did…”

Alison released her from her grip, glancing at her as she shook her head.

“We're fine.” She assured calmly. A smile crept up on her face, and she couldn't help but let it show.

Jacinta opened her mouth to respond, however she was so caught up in relief that she forgot entirely what she wanted to say.

“I'm so happy that you're okay.” Alison repeated, smiled warmly in deeply-set relief. She quickly wiped some overwhelmed tears away.

“Mm? You were worried about me?” Jacinta came, sheepishly, still failing to fully realise that this was reality playing out before her.

“I was. You were fine… and all of a sudden you weren't. You didn't wake up, and soon you were drifting in and out of a stable mental balance that could have easily…"

She felt that saying such a dire word wasn't necessary. She skipped forward mentally, continuing with,

"Well, and I was getting really frightened about you. It really looked like that you wouldn't make it.”

“Mm.” She whispered, soon echoing her fear as she began to sound frightened.

“But all of a sudden, it was during the past few weeks where your health simply cleared itself up all on its own. And now today, your body just decided to wake you up.”

“Thank god.” She mumbled. “I was so scared, unbelievably scared. I could hear voices whilst I was asleep.”

“Huh? Really?” Came a surprised Alison.

“Mm. And... what terrified me the most was the fact that I couldn't tell you all that I was still here with you…”

“Mm. We often talked whilst we were performing check-ups.” Alison assured.

She began to feel tears build up deeply within her. It felt that it would be a while before they could overwhelm her, however the sensation was undeniable.

“I didn't expect that anybody would be so worried. I didn't think that... You'd cry over me. I think this is too much for me… Thank you, miss Alison. Thank you.”

Alison laughed kindly, as warmth burst forth through her barely fading façade of fear. She collected herself together and took a breath, pressing her weight on her knee as she stood up.

“It's my job to worry about you. But aside from that, It's not like I'm the only one. Everybody's been worried about you. Your psychic balance is very rarely calm, and yet you're living and breathing normally like everyone else. It's really something we've never seen before...”

She paused.

“But anyway, enough with this depressing talk. I'm certain that everyone will be happy to see that you're okay.”

Jacinta felt a smile creep up. Never had she realistically expected something like this to be given to her so kindly.

“Oh, and another thing, Eric's been basically distraught with worry about you.” Alison continued, finishing the sentence in amusement.

Jacinta gasped as silently as she could, however the blush was anything but hidden from her face. She looked away, clasping her hands tighter.

“Could I… could I see him? I want to see him.” She asked innocently, fully forgetting for a second who she was talking to.

Alison giggled, holding both hands to her mouth. “Oh my god, you guys are so cute aren't you!” She fussed, secretly trying to take her patient's mind off the subject.

“What? No…! We're just friends!!” She cut in, grumpily, crossing her arms.

“Oh of course. Here I am, jumping to conclusions again. Then I guess the blushing had nothing to do with it when I mentioned his name.”

“Mhmmm…” Jacinta grumbled, annoyed at Alison's immaturity.

“Just kidding.” She said with a wink, waiting by the doorway, following up with some final comforting words,

“I'll tell Eric the good news for you, kay? Stay healthy for me.”

“Okay.” She replied, sounding a touch nervous.

Jacinta faintly regretted telling her that. But at the same time, she knew she'd eventually just regret not saying a thing if she hadn't. For some inexplicably driving reason, she wanted to see him.

”Sigh.” She exhaled, calming herself.

There was a long moment of aloneness, however soon her uncomfortable silence was broken, as Eric stood at the door to meet her, stark look of relief awash his face.

Jacinta's eyes widened in surprise, quickly removing herself from eye contact nervously, she looked down at her hands, completely not expecting him to come right away.

After a mild pause and a glance away, Eric made eye contact with her, head leaning to the side slightly. He crossed his arms half-comfortably.

"Jacinta. I've been wanting to talk to you" He uttered.

“I… I just… Well, I think I need somebody to talk to right now.” She cut in, mentally attempting to detract this as furthest away from her personal feelings as possible.

He forced a kind laugh, and there was even a faint smirk.

"I had a feeling you'd might.”

2

"What do you think he's gathered us here for?" queried Alison, as she walked with Laurence Valentine to the Command Room, the palms of their hands loosely clasped together, "I mean, he's been shut off for weeks... I mean all we've done the last month is lick our wounds and retreat back into the shadows... "

"I honestly don't know what to think anymore," Laurence responded, "I'm starting to think the old man's lost it ever since the Calypso Industries Fiasco. I don't think he can cope with the fact we almost lost everything."

"He's not the only one... " Alison murmured in a dejected manner, "I'm not even sure how we survived that day... I thought I'd lost you... lost them... lost everyone... "

"We have to push through the darkness if we ever hope to reach the light," he symbolically pronounced as he opened the doors, revealing the interior of the Command Room.

Standing in a circle around the table were the other five members of Ghost_K, every member dressed in official uniform. Laurence and Alison immediately saluted their commanding officer as he entered, with the tall African man reciprocating the gesture. The other four present saluted as well, recognising the presence of their Deputy Commander.

"At ease," Mathieu spoke authoritatively.

"Commander," Laurence decided to speak his mind, "I wish to inquire about the nature of this meeting. It has been nearly a month since the last time such a gathering was held."

"I am well aware of the delay, Deputy Commander," Dalton spoke in a controlled manner, "and I must apologise to all of you for my lapse in official duties."

There was a murmur of acceptance from the other six individuals present

"However, I do believe that all of you deserve to be formally debriefed," an enigmatic smile found its way on to the man's dark face, "The Deputy Commander and I have already discussed matters, but this is the first time all seven active members have been available in a long time. What happened at Calypso Industries was a grievous mistake that I take full responsibility for. I should not have underestimated the resourcefulness of my enemies to target those most precious to the team. I understand that it took us longer than anticipated to recover. For that, I am truly sorry."

"Understand!?" Eric suddenly burst out, furious at the Commander's relaxed attitude to a serious subject matter, "Jacinta was in a bloody coma for close on four weeks. I had to spend almost the same length of time in the hospital wing recovering from my own injuries and you think you understand!?"

"Eric," barked Laurence, "that is quite enough."

"They have been properly taken care of," stated Mathieu bluntly, "you're both now in a stable condition. Honestly, I fail to see what you're getting so fussed up about, Eri..."

"Stable? Hah. From what I recall, the last time you said that, Jacinta nearly died." Eric snapped. At that Jacinta turned a rather bright shade of red, as the embarrassment of the situation overwhelmed her. She wasn't used to being the centre of attention.

It was an awkward feeling for her as she didn't know quite how to feel about Eric defending her so passionately. Why was he doing this?

Alison turned to berate him but was stopped by a firm hand being placed on her shoulder. She turned around and saw it was Laurence. He opened his mouth to speak in a very cool and collected manner, "If Eric has an issue with his lack of involvement in our duties, then I do believe he can be easily dismissed to attend to something"

He then proceeded to quietly mutter to her reassuringly, "It'll give the boy something to do rather than sitting around boiling up with angst... you know."

Mathieu nodded in agreement, "Eric, since it seems you are so overly worried about the health of our team members, then feel free to aid Miss Hansen in practicing her abilities. Go set up the training facilities or something."

At that Eric opened his mouth to speak, but stopped as he felt a hand clasp around his. Jacinta brought her lips to his ear and whispered, "Please don't make a big fuss about me."

Lysander quickly let go of her hand, feeling awkward. His bitterness and disposition for how greatly his superiors looked down on him was washed away by sickly-sweet feeling of butterflies.

Without making direct eye contact, he calmly responded "Very well", turning to salute Commander Dalton before promptly leaving the Command Room.

"Now that the theatrics are over," Li-Pau laughed, clapping his hands together, "Dalton, could you please tell us why you are in such an uncharacteristically good mood today?"

"It is quite simple, Nao," Dalton spoke more confidently, a faint smile widening across his face, "I've decided that now, more than ever, there is no greater a time for running head first into the issues plaguing Sector VII. We need to face the future directly if we hope to prevent disasters like the one that befell us in Tunis."

Miki smirked slightly in an interested muse. Surely Mathieu wasn't jumping ahead of himself, months ago he was still steadfast on keeping his head low.

"In order for us to achieve this, we will require further resources," Mathieu continued, "I have spent quite some time devising this plan, thus I hope we will be able to effectively put it into action."

He paused for breath, as he turned to look at the five remaining members of Ghost_K still present in the room.

"First, it is paramount that we re-establish contact with Secondary Division. Old Ömer may be a bit of a political, moral and socialist extremist - even from my standpoint - but his insight would be invaluable given the current situation," the Commander spoke exuberantly.

"But sir," Laurence spoke up, cutting in quickly whilst he had his chance, "Haven't they disappeared completely off the grid? I mean, we don't even know whereabouts in Greenland they have relocated to."

"Yes, but we do know where they were formerly located. I plan to send a team their to lure them out of hiding. Knowing that paranoid bastard, Ömer probably still has the place monitored," Dalton's voice became more full of life with each pronouncement.

"So why all are we doing this, Commander?" queried Jacinta, confused to whole situation.

"It is because I intend to expand Ghost_K once again. Restore it to the magnificent beast it once was, when the combined effort of Ghost_K could make entire nations tremble in fear before them," Mathieu sternly proclaimed, "for we have to grow stronger in these dark times, lest we suffer extinction. The threat of the government is no longer there. We are free to reclaim that lost glory of the Guardians."

"Dalton... " Laurence scarcely breathed, "This sounds awfully revolutionary... "

"That's because it is, Valentine." Mathieu assured, "I plan to bring about the rise of Ghost_K. I refuse to be intimated by the acts of a madman in a pitch black suit. Claude does not frighten me any more. I will - we will - stand against him and bring about an end to his tyranny. I'm sure you can all relate to me on this; Last time we failed due to a number of things, with the greatest issues being our pitifully small force size and base of resources. This time, we will have the backing of an entire nation."

"Surely not... We can't recruit new members... it's too dangerous right now... The time is ripe for infiltrators and spies," Laurence objected, "The International Worker's Union and the Restored White Armies would do everything in their power to see us burn. Rebuilding Ghost_K to what it once was does not just put us within the cross hairs of the Vallarie Administration, but brings us to the attention of the world! Face it, they revile us."

"And you, the one who killed a potential recruit in cold blood, is qualified to judge whether we should expand or not?" Li-Pau objected, "I don't think you deserve any say in the matter, Deputy Commander."

"What has that got to do with this? She was a fucking liability!" Laurence protested, "That, and we didn't have the resources nor the means back then."

"YES! Well we do now!" Li-Pau argued back, "I am more than capable of handling it now that I am Chief Information Officer! What? You seem to have the impression that I'm still a kid!"

"Oh yes, because you can always be relied upon! We all know how you have never done things solely for personal gain before," Laurence stung back, "I mean, that little stunt you pulled back in March last year really helped us recover in the aftermath of Anderson's death."

Li-Pau laughed to himself bitterly, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Enough of this pointless bickering," Dalton sighed.

"Yes, Commander," Laurence and Li-Pau Nao both immediately detached themselves from their conversation.

"As much as I value your criticisms, Valentine, we need to expand lest we fade away into nothingness," Mathieu spoke seriously, "Li-Pau, while I do not doubt your abilities, I require you to be deployed elsewhere while I work out the revised structure in intricate detail. "

"But sir, I'm the Chief Information Officer... I should remain here to help you and the Deputy Commander... " the lightning elemental tried to protest.

"Normally yes, but you are required for the first part of my plan," Dalton continued, "I need you to transfer your skills to Secondary Division, so that you can help Ömer and his band of merry men get back on their feet. Provided of course they're all still alive."

"You mean you're actually serious about putting me back out on the field again?" Li-Pau started, stunned by the decision, "even after Paris?"

"While I cannot condone your actions, you proved to be exceptionally resourceful while hunting down that Andrew Sol fellow back then. I just hope I can trust you to put the same amount of effort into locating Secondary Division."

Li-Pau was still pretty taken aback by his Commander's decision.

Laurence looked away, feeling considerably downgraded.

"I would like to request that I join him," Miki spoke up.

"Excellent idea, Sergeant," Mathieu nodded in agreement, "I'm sure you both have the skills required to see this mission through to the very end."

"Yes, sir," she nodded.

"As for the rest of us," Dalton continued, "A full investigation into the Oceanic Zone Incident is long overdue. While I received fully collated reports from all senior personnel involved in the mission, I believe that the major failings originated due to external intervention. Particularly the nature of the drug dealers we had identified as being the ones responsible for running Jacinta Hansen."

At that, the central table lit up to reveal a relief map of Northern Egypt with the Suez Canal highlighted.

"Exactly what has the canal have to do with a clusterfuck that happened thousands of miles away?" Laurence exclaimed in a slightly bemused fashion.

"I have been lead to believe that it is directly linked to the drug cartel Miss Hansen was involved with," he calmly spoke to his second-in-command, "It provides an intermediary point for middlemen to mask the trace between the suppliers and the dealers. If we find out the nature of the suppliers, then we may be able to determine why our informant betrayed us."

"I'm not sure we have the resources to pull off a drugs bust... "

"I am well aware that we do not have the desired resources or personnel required for a mission of this caliber. However, I have strong faith in our abilities to see this through."

"If this is the case, surely we could wait until after we have begun recruiting more members?" Alison interjected.

"That is because I am done waiting," the Commander dismissed the interjection, "and that the information gathered from unearthing the source is vital to the future safeguarding of Ghost_K."

"So exactly how all do we intend to do this?" Miki coldly asked, "if this falls through like the Tunis incident, I don't think there'd be any sense in this organisation existing any more... Since surely it is unwise to deploy all of the senior staff at the same time?"

"This will be an off the radar mission. Minimal risks and entirely covert."

"So who exactly is going to be involved in this little sightseeing trip to the Suez?" Laurence joked.

"Deputy Commander Laurence Valentine," the African man plainly stated.

"What? Just me?" Laurence queried, dumbfounded.

"Yes. I can only spare minimal resources away from maintaining Block 441 and recruiting new members," was the glib response given.

"I thought solo missions had been officially suspended since Damien Anderson's death?" Laurence defended his negative stance to being deployed on his own.

"Yes, they had been. However, I have overturned that suspension. I can trust you to complete this mission solo?" Dalton asked back.

"Yes, sir," the Deputy Commander reluctantly acknowledged his senior officer, as he decided that he couldn't be bothered arguing.

The holographic image zoomed in to show a small industrial complex that bordered a large body of water on one side and sand dunes on the other.

"This will be your target," Dalton pointed towards the hologram, "a suspected repackaging centre that is officially designated as a freight depot. I'll be supporting you from the command room when you are out on the field."

"Understood, sir,"

"Katsura will provide logistical support for us in place of Violette and Nao while they are out on deployment to the Principality of Greenland."

"What about me?" Jacinta piped up, still confused to what exactly was going on. To her, it merely seemed like a disjointed dream.

"Jacinta, outside of the training naïve little Eric has been assigned to help you with, you will aid Alison in her duties while the rest of the team is abroad," Mathieu smiled warmly, "Just be sure to keep out of trouble."

At that, she smiled rather awkwardly in excitement before gathering herself together. She stood to attention and saluted in agreement.

Mathieu laughed, "you don't have to salute every time I say something to you."

Alison giggled very quietly at Jacinta's reaction.

"Right, yes... of course, sir," she sheepishly spoke.

"Alison, I trust you are up to this?" the commander asked the blue haired young woman.

"Yes, of course, sir," she spoke warmly, "I'm just glad I'll be able to keep everyone safe this time."

"Now, Deputy Commander Valentine, I expect to see you back here at 1800 hours," his voice changed to a more serious tone, "Miki and Li-Pau. I expect the same from you as well. Fully packed and kitted up. We have some final things to discuss before deployment. It is going to be a long assignment."

"Yes, sir!" all three said simultaneously.

"Right, everyone dismissed," he spoke slowly. At last, the pieces were to all in place, now all he had to do was move them into the correct positions. He may have lost every match until now, but today...

Today he had the first move.

3

The armoury didn't seem any different from the last time the Chief Information Officer had visited it, with weapons and equipment still haphazardly shelved in various locations while a ladder lay scattered across the floor in case one of the agents required access to the highest parts of the shelves. Weapons weren't the main issue this time. In fact, it seemed that they were merely packing for a holiday to an exotic destination and not preparing for a covert mission.

Li-Pau's first decision had been to acquire some pistols, smoke grenades, and several explosive devices that he believed was necessary for their assignment to Greenland. That was until Miki explicitly vocalised her objections to use of any weapons whilst on deployment, with the reasoning that they would arouse less suspicion if they relied upon their natural talents alone. Nao had been skeptical at first, until he was forced to listen a brief lecture on the potency of elemental powers in a combat situation and the value of efficient infiltration. Li-Pau eventually relented and returned the set of handguns he had laid out back to their storage containers before shelving the explosives he had carefully selected.

The topography of Greenland was largely mountainous, providing ample cover juxtaposed with an absolute minimal movement area across the sparse ledges, valleys and even complete vertical climbs they would have to expect. This, coupled with the likelihood of having to storm a makeshift Ghost_K complex gave rise to the extreme possibility of a close-quarters operation in all fields.

How coincidentally familiar this all was.

Miki had focused entirely on preparing various degrees of armour for both of them to wear. Amongst their sparse collection of items were two Kevlar ingrained outdoor jackets, a reinforced impact resistant vest for Li-Pau and an augmented reality all-terrain face mask. Miki took a small amount of satisfaction in planning out what her compatriot would require to survive both the Arctic conditions and potential hostile engagements. She was confident enough in her reinforced android body that all she required was warm clothing to ensure the organic remnants of her being did not suffer from frostbite.

Despite this, she still liked to wear gloves and a jumper, just to feel a little more... real.

Whilst this was merely a passive operation, having a plentiful supply of warm clothes was still necessary. Miki had also decided that camouflage was required for the mission, should they be forced to infiltrate the Secondary Division through more covert means. By the time they had exited the armoury and associated change rooms, the two agents seemed nothing like they did before, yet at the same time wearing clothes that were almost identical. All their gear was packed within two large rucksacks that with slung around their backs, complete with the Ghost_K official uniforms shoved in just in case they were required.

Li-Pau had taken the liberty to take the katana that he had acquired in Paris for the mission, tying it against the rucksack he had on his back in the least obscure manner possible.

“Do you really need that?” Miki asked inquired as she frowned slightly.

“No, I don't.” Li-Pau confessed. “But I like it, not to mention I rarely use it.”

“There's no point in bringing it,” Miki told him. “It won't be of any use during this mission. Not to mention, it's pure non-galvanised carbon steel. Do you really think a large shiny metal object will be the greatest idea for a stealth mission? I mean you can't even properly dull it without perhaps permanently sandblasting the thing. You'll have to keep it within its scabbard... and that's just pointless baggage.”

“Oh yes, because I’m certain those books you packed are going to help our negotiations with Second Division.” Li-Pau smiled.

“That's not the same,” Albraun vented, caught slightly off guard. “I need something to do during the journey. Besides, they contain, well, vital information...”

“You’ll have to lend it to me when you finish it.” Li-Pau implicitly humoured, "I uh... do technically outrank you when it comes to this."

"Oh very funny! You'd never read it, mister 'superior information officer'" Miki smiled as she allowed herself a light giggle, "But you'd be far too busy trying to find a way of upgrading our travel arrangements through illicit means... or plotting your next great invention as you got to work on dismantling the complimentary headphones""

The lightning elemental gave a slight laugh as he removed the sword from his back and placed it back on the weapons rack. “You’re probably right. But, hey, it's not illegal if I don't get caught.”

“I'm just glad you're capable of seeing some sense,” Miki warmly stated as her eyes tracked the movements of the Japanese sword, somewhat wishing it'd just disappear before her OCD got the better of her. Her voice took upon a more dreary tone as she continued her previous sentiment, “Although in light of recent events I'm not entirely sure what constitutes as sense anymore… ”

The Guardian pursed her lips.

“Yeah, it just seems that as we dig deeper, more questions are being raised than answered,” Li-Pau concluded, his own tone slightly sullen, "I mean... I just can't make heads or tails of the contradictory reports we've received after the incident in Tunis... "

"It's troubling to say the least... " Miki's voice sounded empty, "when we can't see any pattern in this madness."

...

"So exactly why are you sending me?" Laurence asked, a suspicious tone to his voice, "since I know I'm not the only one who could undertake this mission."

"It's very simple Laurence," Mathieu mused as he reclined into a weary office chair, "You're the only one I can trust to see it through. Plus, you're also the only one who would actually know what to look for."

The cryptic remark served to arouse Deputy Commander's suspicions further, "Sir, what exactly are we dealing with?"

"Remember the sanctuary?" Mathieu continued his air of mystique.

"Of course. It was that Claude bastard who bailed us out at the last minute. I could never mistake that supercilious tone of his," was the worried response given.

"Indeed. It seems he hasn't forgotten about us all. This time, we'll be tracking the man. Unlike the others you know how he acts and how he operates," Dalton elaborated, "Whilst I am well aware of his methods and would prefer to go on your behalf, i've come to realise that is exactly the level of stupidity that finally got my predecessor killed. It seems that in this world that a leader cannot undertake the risks he expects his comrades to perform. However, to repeat his mistakes would be an unforgivable error."

"Very well, Commander," Laurence acknowledged his superior officer.

"You are also the only one I can rely upon under pressure," Mathieu continued, "Alison has been emotionally compromised since the Tunis Incident, Eric is far too rash for covert work and Jacinta is completely inexperienced."

"Got that right. The kid's just all over the place. Ready for action one minute, petulant little brat the next! I want to feel sorry for him, but at the same time I want to give him a slap up the back of the head." Added Laurence in a warm-cold sincerity.

"He's the epitome of the idealistic teenager who fights his fears with angst. I understand where he's coming from, but..."

"Is he really of any use? Particularly when Alison doesn't really seem fit to be his supervisor?"

"In my opinion, he's of little worth in the present. I will invest in his abilities as he reaches adulthood and attempt to unlock his potential, but for now he has too strong of a childish "hero" persona that could become dangerous outside of the typical frustration it generates within us."

"I see." Came Laurence, a touch downgraded at his bluntness.

"Until then, it's best that we keep him out of danger, for the simple sake of conserving his guardian gene. As for Alison, well,"

"Sir, as much as I respect Alison in all her positives and flaws, even I'm not smitten enough to realise that she isn't fit to kindle his ability."

"I'm surprised, Laurence. She seems pretty smitten about you. That kind of thing detracts you from thinking straight..." Mathieu laughed.

"Sir. This is a serious matter." Laurence replied, trying not to let himself laugh in response. He wasn't going to let his superior get to him so easily.

"I'll think about it. Until then, it's best we map our next mission and compile the contacts I had the initiative to force out from scratch. I'm certain Miki and Li-Pau have already sorted themselves out."

"Miki and Li-Pau? I see. So for our mission, you went for the next best thing?" Valentine guessed, a slight hint of jest in his words, "I am correct, yes?"

"Not entirely. In truth I had already decided upon selecting you for this mission of mine even before the matter of Greenland arose. You see, Li-Pau lacks the subtle tact required. Especially in light of that RWA fiasco he caused three years ago and the gratuitous manner in which he carelessly hunted down Andrew Sol. I have a respect for his tenacity and guile but his finesse is rather lacking."

"That's a very astute character analysis, sir. So tell me then, why not send Miki instead? I mean, she has a body designed for stealth," Valentine continued to query, the tone of his voice less amicable than before.

"It's designed for much more than that, Laurence. She's apparently so intricate that even humanlike flaws were taken into account during her reconstruction. Nevertheless, I have my reasons Deputy Commander. I trust you above all else. Take pride in that. I know you will ensure that the mission is complete," the Commander suddenly reiterated his previous sentiments and refused to elaborate.

"Mathieu, sometimes I wonder what goes through that head of yours," Valentine quipped defensively, as he was unnerved by the Commander's decision to withhold information from him, even going off on a slight tangent to give the illusion as if the question was answered.

Surely, if he was his trusted confident, the man would have told him everything. Memories of Damien Anderson's duplicity came back to haunt the young man.

However, Dalton was not paying attention to his second-in-command anymore. He was staring plaintively at his watch. It read six hundred.

Almost right on cue, two people walked through the door into the command bridge.

"Miki," Mathieu smirked to himself slightly, "perfectly predictable as always."

"Commander Dalton, Deputy Commander Valentine!" they both exclaimed before proceeding to salute their superior officers. Mathieu and Laurence reciprocated the gesture.

"At ease, comrades," Mathieu spoke authoritatively.

"Everything is prepared," Miki stated directly.

"Confirmed," Li-Pau followed up.

"Excellent, in that case we just have one other little matter to discuss. As I am sure you already know," he dramatically enunciated, "we are the only surviving senior staff."

"And here was I thinking we were the new guys, boss," came Laurence, attempting to joke off a slight feeling of sickly anxiousness.

"Should either mission fail, it will have dire consequences for Ghost_K that will shake us to our core," Dalton went on, "If both missions fail then we are, effectively... finished."

"Well, this sure brightens up my day," Li-Pau spoke in a slightly sarcastic manner.

"Certainly is," Laurence decided to go along with his comrade's line of thought, "but heck, it's not like we've grown to know anything different."

Mathieu continued to ignore his subordinates, "In any case, I feel it is important to discuss the contingency plan with you. I admire all of you for your bravery and dedication to the organisation. What we are trying to achieve will not be easy, but it appears you truly are prepared to sacrifice yourselves for a chance at saving us in our time of need... when I simply can not."

"I volunteered because it was the logical thing to do. I understand why you are remaining behind, Commander. It would be strategically foolish to risk somebody of your position for an operation that can be carried out with equal efficiency by us," Miki soundly reassured.

"That's not exactly how I would have put it," Dalton stated with a hint of worry in his voice, "but yes, that is essentially the case."

"So, yeah I know this is a bit extreme, but what happens to Ghost_K if I end up dying in some corner of a forgotten field?" Valentine interjected.

"Your position will be given to Miki Albraun," was the dry response given, "and your records deleted to avoid possible traces back to us."

"Wonderful stuff!" Laurence exclaimed, "glad to know I mean so much to the team."

"It's nothing personal," Miki coldly stated, "merely the chain of command. We can't afford warm feelings and sentimentalism when every other man and his dog out there have abolished themselves of such things for profit."

"So what if something happens to us, huh?" Li-Pau decided to add his say into the matter, "what if this Ömer guy turns out to be a complete psycho who just kills us on sight?"

"If for some reason you are incapacitated on what is a low risk research and reconnaissance mission then you will be have your records wiped and your duties will be given to new recruits. We will be forced to halt our operations and go to ground if that happens. By far your loss would be the most damaging to our goals," Mathieu bluntly said as he refused to flower it up.

"So basically we need to make sure we don't screw up?" Li-Pau joked.

"I think that's the message that he's giving to all of us," Laurence laughed, "not that I an any way doubt your capabilities. Seriously."

"Should something happen to Block 441. On the off-chance our whereabouts are discovered. We still have a contingency plan," Dalton spoke in a far more grave and serious manner than before.

"Oh?" Miki made a slight noise of curiosity.

"Deputy Commander Laurence Valentine is to be promoted to Commander-in-Chief," he spoke solemnly as he passed a freshly manufactured pair of rank slides to his second-in-command, "and abandon his mission to make his way to Greenland as soon as possible."

"This sounds extremely unlikely," Valentine continued to adopt his defensively humourous persona.

"Corporal Mikayla Albraun is to be promoted to Deputy Commander," he continued his speech, quickly passing twin rank slides of grey and green towards the young woman with faint reassurance, "and take charge of old Secondary Division outpost as our new base of operations. Contact being established with the new branch would be preferable."

"What about yourself?" Li-Pau queried.

"I will attempt to evacuate the other three guardians and get them to safety. Their instructions will be to rendezvous in Greenland," Mathieu spoke. His tone of voice swayed in a manner that indicated his own tense feelings about the missions he had authorised.

"Now, should both operations end in failure and our location be discovered. I will personally dissolve Ghost_K and the survivors shall go into hiding as we will no longer be able to continue operating. I just felt that everyone should be clear on that matter, for that is exactly what is at stake here."

"Understood, Commander," was the simultaneous acknowledgement given by his three most trusted officers.

"Dismissed," he officiously responded, and in a last ditch effort to maintain what little morale remained, added "and good hunting!"

As his agents left the Command Room, Mathieu sat up a picture of a young woman he had originally placed face-down upon a desk leant up against a dark corner of the room, glancing at it. He spoke softly to it in an almost trance like manner before exiting the room himself. From this moment onward, his faith now rested firmly in the hearts and minds of his agents. They had to succeed where his forefathers had failed or his entire world would be shattered.

And all of his sacrifices would have been for nothing.

4

Upon making an entrance onto the sky deck and finding themselves greeted with intricate ice sculptures of varying shapes and sizes, the pair of Ghost_K agents turned to one another and smiled slightly. They were to quickly make their way through the ship to the passenger quarters.

Attired in near identical outfits obscured by grey raincoats, their uniforms and weapons stowed within two robust steel travelling cases the pair managed to convey a rather intimidating presence. The coats themselves were reinforced with Kevlar which added to the overall bulky and threatening look of the Ghost_K Agents. Occasionally, crew members passed them or questioned them on the contents of the locked suitcases - some with carefully contained hostility, and others with an amused curiosity - to which they openly revealed fake Vallarie Administration ID cards, cleaning aside all on board worry and putting to bed the threat of danger as they slipped under the radar of suspicion as supposed members of the Sector IV Euro Affairs Intelligence.

With a hurried yet simultaneously casual walk, Li-Pau and Miki made their way to their quarters, entering, and smoothly locking the door behind them.

Li-Pau let out a short sigh before stuffing his hands in the jacket’s pockets, proceeding to sit down upon the nearest chair in view, grabbing hold of a bundle of wires and other mechanical parts out of his pockets, stitching and weaving them together. Albraun took a seat upon the bed before pulling out a leather covered book, and began to silently read its contents.

Nao looked up from his bandaged hands, focusing on the book in his comrade’s hands. “What might you be reading?”

Miki closed the book before responding. “Nothing important.” She sighed.

“That’s a first,” Nao chuckled slightly. “To you, all books are ‘important pieces of literature that give one insight on the past’.”

“Yes well, I have much more important things to think about.” The Guardian of Air replied.

“Like the mission?” Li-Pau queried.

The Guardian looked towards her comrade-in arms, a slight frown crossing over her visage. “More specifically, what could go wrong during the mission.”

Nao narrowed his eyebrows slightly, placing the bundle of technology he had previously so interested in aside. He leaned forwards and interlocked his fingers together, looking back at Miki. “There’s nothing to worry about…” He began.

“There’s plenty to worry about, Li-Pau!” Miki blurted out suddenly, standing up and crossing her arms defensively “What if the authorities find us? We’re still wanted criminals in Sector IV after that disaster years back!”

“Miki…” Nao started again.

“And what if we don’t even find them? What if the trail goes cold and secondary division has just disappeared, maybe they were already taken out by Sector IV military!”

“There’s no need to…” Li-Pau tried again.

“There’s every need to worry Nao! There are dozens of ways this operation could fail! There are dozens of ways we could be injured, or killed!"  The Guardian continued, pulling out the rank slides the Commander had given her. "There are-”

Li-Pau's attitude changed. Something was wrong.

Miki!” Li-Pau interrupted with heavy concern, standing up out of his seat “Snap out of it! Yes, there are dozens of ways we could fail this mission! Yes, there are dozens of ways we could be injured or killed, but that will only happen if we doubt ourselves, which is what you’re doing right now.”

He grabbed hold of the Guardian’s shoulders softly, looking at her in the eye with worry and an attempt of strength. “Mikayla, this isn’t like you. I've never known you to be like this without good reason."

Miki mumbled, sounding slightly sad.

"Is something wrong?"

Albraun said nothing at first, simply looking at her teammate silently. She finally shook her head before pushing his arms away, sitting down “I’m sorry, I’m just nervous I guess."

She forced a nervous laugh as a certain realisation struck her mind, "God, your right. This actually never happens. But you know, I’m just worried. You know how the Elder Sanctuary turned out... and, the look on Mathieu's face when...”

“The ball was dropped, we were careless and underestimated our opponent that time. This isn’t like that, there’s no one we’re fighting on this mission.” Li-Pau comfortably assured.

“Not that,” Miki told him. “I’m worried that I’ll make another blunder. Don’t you remember? I was captured during that mission, captured. In the end, I was made into a liability. I don't want to put you in harm's way. I care too much about you, Li-...”

Li-Pau was struck back ever so slightly by her choice of words. Despite everything he had just heard, the Chinese Agent started to laugh. At first, it was a simple chuckle, but it proceeded to become an uncontrollable snigger. The Guardian of Air looked at Nao, and frowned.

“What’s so funny about that?” Albraun demanded.

“Nothing. I’m sorry,” Nao told her, his smile turned bittersweet in slight guilt. “I’m just remembering an all too familiar case of this.”

“And what might that be?” Miki asked.

“That whole fiasco when Damien died. I ran off to hunt down someone with no idea of what I was really doing. Don’t you think that made me a liability?”

Her frown disappeared. She detached eye contact, looking aside as she thought through his direction of conversation.

“I suppose it did.” Came a comment in a more humoured tone.

Li-Pau crossed his arms and leant against the side wall with an honest look on his face, continuing “...And what did you do? You searched for me, and made sure that I was to return to the Block safely. To say I was overwhelmed in gratitude would be an understatement."

Miki laughed quietly, both in laughter and in affection for his sincerity; albeit how direct he wanted to be with it. A glint of warmth flickered up within her.

"What makes you think I wouldn't try my hardest to do the same for you?” He finished.

Miki smiled in response, before grabbing hold of her book and opening it. “To be fair,” She told her teammate. “It was Commander Dalton that ordered me to look for you.”

The Lightning Elemental sighed, before returning to his wires and scraps of metal. “Of course it was.”

...

The Guardian of Air awoke after her forehead had slammed against the wall from the ship rocking back and forth, before sitting upright and bringing her hands to her forehead by natural instinct, pathetic natural instinct.

She was still dressed in her Suppressor Suit, which covered her entire body and ended at various points such as her wrists, feet, and neck. The Guardian turned and was surprised to find her comrade in-arms Li-Pau sitting crossed legged upon his bed, looking at his computer screen.

“Busy?” Albraun asked him.

The Chinese Elemental looked up from his computer screen for a brief moment, before looking back down. “You shouldn’t be up.” He told her flatly.

“Neither should you,” The Guardian replied drowsily. “What time is it?”

“2:54 am.” Nao replied.

“You’re kidding.” Was Albraun’s answer, before letting out a hefty yawn.

“No, I’m not.” Nao replied, before yawning himself.

“Did you get any sleep at all?” Albraun asked him.

“Not a wink.” Li-Pau told her.

The Guardian sighed, before looking back at the laptop wedged in between Nao’s legs. “What are you doing on your laptop?”

“Mm.” Nao mumbled.

“Nao? Are you listening to me?” Miki asked.

“Mm.” The Ghost_K Agent replied.

The Guardian sighed. Always so focused on your electronics. She thought to herself, and decided to try and caprice with him.

“I’m thinking about asking Laurence if he wants to go out with me.” Miki admitted all too clearly, to see just how much attention her accomplice was giving her.

“Mm.” Nao mumbled again.

“Li-Pau!” Albraun shouted.

“Yes?” The Chinese Agent asked, looking up from his screen.

“Did you even hear what I said?” The Guardian demanded.

The Chinese Agent raised an eyebrow. “Yes.” He told her.

“Really? What did I say then?” Miki snapped, knowing he hadn’t really heard her.

“That you’re planning to ask Laurence if he wants to go out with you.” Nao replied all too coolly.

The Guardian blushed. “Wh-Wha…? I mean…well. This doesn’t bother you?”

The Lightning Elemental gave a large, cheeky smile, something Miki had never seen him do. “Do you want me to be bothered by it?”

The Guardian’s cheeks reddened, before she let out a sigh. “You didn’t answer my question.”

"You didn't answer mine either." Nao chuckled.

The Guardian looked at her accomplice venomously, which caused the Lightning Elemental to sigh.

“Right, I’m searching up psyche profiles of our wonderful comrades of Secondary Division with the files back at the Block.”

Miki leaned forwards, suddenly interested. “Oh? What did you find?”

“Not much, though I’m not done yet. I tried digging up some info on a… Daymon Hiruman, but found next to nothing, most of his history relates back to a some black listed operation known as Project Phoenix. Curiously, I have nothing on that but a name and a designation. Subject Pyre. The other available files revolving around it are under a separate triple encrypted biometric password system that I've never encountered before.”

“That is interesting…” Miki mused. “Anything else?”

“I have some information on an Elise Thurston, Ghost_K corporal and apparent second-in-command of secondary division. She'd only been serving with us for one month before the site went dark.”

“Corporal for secondary command? How low are they on numbers?” Miki queried.

“According to our files, they have three known members…”

Three?!” Albraun hissed.

“Yeah…I’m just looking up the final member’s profile now.” Nao mumbled.

“Scoot over,” Miki ordered. “I need to see this.”

The Chinese Agent made space upon the bed, to which Miki sat down and looked at the laptop screen. Half a dozen tabs cluttered the screen, but one larger than the others was placed the middle, showing a middle-aged Turkish man looking back at them with dark grey eyes. Nao typed in a few keys and another tab full of information appeared beside the tab of the Turkish man.

“Let’s see…” Nao said, before trailing off. “Ghost_K Sergeant Ömer İşnan is the current leader of secondary division…age, height, so on and so on…urh…”

“What is it?” Albraun asked, leaning closer to get a better view of the screen.

The Chinese Agent was silent for a moment, before turning the screen towards Miki. “Take a look.”

Albraun squinted, and began to read the information displayed on the screen. Various pieces of information were available, such as his age, height, and missions that he had been a part of. Alongside this, there was his elemental ability and Keidis scale, and background history before joining the organisation. As the Guardian read through the information, her eyes widened as she read about Ömer’s life during his time before Ghost_K.

Apparently, Ömer was a former Euro Zone military officer who had in recent years spent five years working for Dhana Technologies, working on blacklisted projects before suddenly going freelance after the company’s slow degradation in power. After this, Ömer had been found involved in legally dubious fast breeder reactor programs and sold his skills to the highest bidder. After several incidents involving the detonation of nuclear explosives, the man had been put on a watch list by the Sector I Secret Service, who had been keen to track him down for his suspected involvement in Sector XI military tests, forcing him into hiding as a wanted criminal. At an unspecified point in time, Ömer was discovered in Greenland and Ghost_K brought him in. The Guardian of Air sat back and propped her head against the wall behind her, trying to wrap her head around what she had just read.

“Well, that explains why he’s so paranoid.” Li-Pau chuckled to himself.

Albraun shot the Agent a dirty look. “Is that all you can say?”

The Chinese Information Officer shrugged. “Not much else to say.”

“Ghost_K has a suspected nuclear terrorist in their employ, there’s plenty to say about that!” Albraun snapped at him.

Nao groaned, before turning off his laptop and turning the lamp propped next to his bed on. The Lightning Elemental brought his hands up to his head before lying down on his bed. “Look, let’s talk about this in the morning. I can’t think straight and haven’t slept all night. Besides, you need sleep yourself.”

Miki frowned, before standing up and walking towards her own bed. “Fine, we’ll discuss this first thing in the morning. Clear?”

“Crystal.” Nao yawned, before sitting back.

The Guardian pursed her lips, before burying her face in her pillow.

Pathetic natural instinct. She thought to herself.

...

The two agents walked through the halls of the ship towards the onboard restaurant. Both of them were dressed up rather fancily for the occasion, as it was custom for all passengers to dress up formally for all meals, from breakfast to dinner. Miki wasn’t too fond of such rules, she absolutely despised dresses. Li-Pau wasn’t much happier, as a full blown suit wasn’t his first pick for clothes any day.

Miki wore a navy blue jumper dress over a charcoal black long sleeve shirt to cover her suppressor suit. Alongside this she wore matte black leggings and light blue slingbacks. The Guardian had silently cursed to herself when she had seen how she looked like in the mirror back at the room. It was embarrassing to wear such a thing, especially for breakfast.

Li-Pau wore a black suit over a dark purple dress shirt, and wore black slacks alongside brown oxford dress shoes. It took every bit of self-control for the Chief Information Officer not to stick his hands in his pockets and continue walking like everyone else onboard.

Each and every passenger also dressed in tuxedos and dresses, suits and gowns. Even the children held their parents’ hands as they continued to stroll towards the restaurant. As they finally reached the restaurant, the two agents read the restaurant’s name on the plaque which hung over the double door:

Le Llama Magnifique.

The Guardian of Air gave a silent laugh. “You have got to be kidding me.” She whispered to herself.

As the two Agents were finally able to take their seats, a young waiter gave them both their menus and asked them what they’d like to drink.

Lait, s’il vous plaît.” Mikayla told the man. He gave a slight bow before looking at Li-Pau patiently.

“Uhm…l’eau…uh….l’eau s’il vous plaît.” Nao struggled to respond.

The waiter gave another smile, before turning to Miki. “Votre amoureux doit apprendre le français, mademoiselle.” He told her, before leaving. The Guardian blushed slightly before opening her menu. Li-Pau raised an eyebrow before leaning forward.

“What did he say?” He asked her.

“He thinks we’re lovers.” Miki told him. “And that you should learn French.”

“I can’t be your lover,” Li-Pau laughed. “You still have to ask Laurence out on a date.”

Miki gave a laugh of her own, before continuing to look through the menu. The ship’s restaurant was a well-kept area with crimson carpet and dark maple chairs and tables. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and windows gave a clear view of the ocean outside. The walls were coloured white quartz, and the only sound inside the restaurant was that of waiters and waitresses speaking to those they served. Nao looked up at Albraun and tapped her shoulder.

“What are you thinking of getting?” He asked her.

The Guardian pursed her lips slightly, before giving a shrug. “I’m not sure, you?”

The young man gave a short chuckle, bringing his hand up behind his head, before shrugging guiltily. “I’m not sure myself, I was hoping you knew what you would order, and I would’ve ordered the same thing.” He confessed.

Miki gave a slight shack of her head, before going back to her menu. “How about…Les Crêpes du Ciel?

“The what now?” Nao asked, causing Miki to sigh again.

“Pancakes from heaven.” She said the title of the dish in English.

The Information Officer gave a slight nod of approval. “Those sound good.”

The two gave their menus to the waiter when he came back and ordered their food, before striking up a short conversation about what time they would have to leave for the ferry to Greenland, and how they both slept. Their meals eventually arrived and the Guardian of Air thanked him for them. He bowed before leaving them to their breakfast.

Nao clasped his hands together before giving a smile. “These look delicious.” He told the Guardian.

She had to agree with him. The pancakes were painted in a layer of maple syrup and whipped cream, with various dark chocolate covered berries scattered across the edge of the plate. Miki felt her mouth water, and quickly suppressed the feeling before looking up at the Chinese Agent she had partnered with. Li-Pau was just about to take a bite out of his meal before the Guardian blurted out her thoughts.

“What are you planning to do when we encounter Ömer?” She demanded.

Nao was silent for a moment, his fork still held between his fingers, and his mouth still open as if he were about to take a bite. He licked his lips before placing the fork on his plate and sitting back in his seat. “What’s making you bring this topic up again?” He asked her.

“I told you last night, that we’d discuss this today. Didn’t I?” Miki stated.

“We can’t eat first?” Nao groaned.

“You sound like Eric!” Miki snapped back. “We have to discuss this now. While we're still far from harm's way. Devise a plan, see it through, and discuss what we do if it goes bad.”

The Chief Information Officer gave another guilty laugh, before raising his hands as if surrendering to the authorities. “You got me there. Alright then, let’s talk.”

Albraun nodded in agreement, before folding her hands together. “First of all. We do not discuss his past in any capacity. Nor do we claim to have any knowledge of it. There is a chance the topic may be brought up but we have to brush it aside unless he is openly elaborating upon it.”

Li-Pau acknowledged her statement approvingly. “That would be the wisest course of action, if we brought any of it up he would no doubt think we’re up against him. What about the others? Daymon and Elise?”

“They will be more of a problem,” Albraun responded. “That is unless we gain Ömer’s trust. In which case they should fall into place alongside him.”

“If they don’t?” Nao asked. “Since let's face the facts here, we know next to nothing about their backgrounds nor their relations with their commanding officer."

“If they don’t listen to reason, we’ll deal with them accordingly.” Miki told him coldly. “My primary concern is Ömer.”

“So what happens if he doesn't listen to reason?” Li-Pau asked her, to which she bluntly replied.

"He'll have to be put down."

...

The two of them exited the cruise ship as it docked in Rotterdam, making their way to the ferry that would set sail for Greenland. Both of them were cloaked in the coats they had worn upon the first day of their field mission, and had their duffle bags slung along their shoulders. Nao found himself relieved to be out of the suit he had been forced to wear during their time spent on the cruise ship, and knew that his fellow agent was just as glad to be out of her dress. The docks were as busy as ever, with dozens of fishing boats docked or departing for the ocean just outside of the city. Various market stalls were set up just outside of the docks, selling items from fishing gear to seafood. Li-Pau had been tempted to ask if they could stop by and buy some lobster, but stopped himself, knowing his partner would say something along the lines of: “We don’t have time to waste going shopping.” Perhaps she would even throw in a comment about how he should stop acting like Alison. The Information Officer began to chuckle to himself, before biting down his tongue in order to stop himself from continuing.

The two agents finally stopped in front of the ramp leading onboard the ship that would depart for Greenland. It was a rather large, navy blue ferry. The two agents strolled down to the guard standing at the base of the ramp, before showing him their fake IDs, causing her to flinch slightly before she allowed them onboard. Throughout the entire time, Nao could tell his partner was tense, most likely still thinking about Ömer, or perhaps the possibility of them getting caught by actual Sector IV forces.

A young crew member gave them a bow before gesturing them to follow with a swing of his hand and a bright smile on his face. “This way, please.” He spoke softly, before he turned away and left. The two Ghost_K agents quickly fell behind in the man as he guided them to their room. They turned a few corners before finally stopping at a large wooden entryway, the doorknob made of cheap iron. The crew member bowed as he opened the door, allowing them to enter.

The ship cabin was particularly well furnished; the floors decorated with fine carpet the colour of bright amber, maple chairs were pushed in under red oak dining table, which was then cloaked in a cover of fine silk. Large thistle coloured curtains of the finest cambric covered a large window behind the queen sized bed. It was all very beautiful, and then Nao came to a sudden realisation, a realisation that Miki had come to first.

“There’s only one bed.” Albraun announced flatly. The crew member raised an eyebrow. “Is there a problem, madam?”

“I had thought my accomplice and I had requested a suite with two single beds.” Miki explained to the young man.

The crew member withdrew a small pocket book from his suit, before flipping through multiple pages. He finally rested his finger upon one page, before reading through it.

“You are Madam Violette, and you’re accomplice Ji-Lan Sung, correct?” He asked. “Yes.” Both agents said at the same time.

The crewman shook his head, slightly frustrated. “This makes no sense. I have both of you names listed for a large suite with a queen sized bed.” He stated before slamming his book shut and placing it back in his pocket. After that, he gave a deep bow. “My sincerest of apologies,” He humbly atoned. “If you wish, I could fetch Mister Sung an extra wheel bed we might have in storage.”

“That won’t be necessary.” Miki told him. “There isn’t enough room for another bed. Besides, my good friend Ji-Lan rarely sleeps anyway.”

The crew member nodded slightly before leaving the room, closing the door on his way out. The two elementals waited another few minutes until the sound of his footsteps faded away. When the two agents could no longer hear the crewman, they both let out a relieved sigh. It was going to be along night.

...

“It was definitely Alison.” Mikayla muttered as she lay in the all too comfortable bed.

“It was probably just a mix up on the crew member’s part.” Li-Pau replied, laying down next to the Guardian. Albraun was dressed in a fold over pyjamas made of fine, cerise silk. Li-Pau on the other hand was dressed in a set of loungewear made of lavender coloured cotton.

“I still say Alison.” The Guardian repeated, grabbing hold of her pillow and burying the side of her head in it.

“Weren’t you the one who booked the tickets?” Li-Pau asked jocularly, trying to brighten the mood. Albraun’s response to his attempted joke was a well-deserved kick in the leg.

“Ow!” Nao snapped, scooting away from his fellow agent.

“You’re just lucky I’m tired.” Mikayla snapped, before adjusting the covers. “Now get some sleep. We arrive in Greenland tomorrow afternoon and finally get to meet our comrades in Secondary Division.”

“Can’t wait…” Li-Pau grumbled, before drifting off to sleep.

...

An Islamic man of middle age sat alone. The room he hunkered in was bright, although all the light that came through was thanks to the several computer monitors perched on the man’s desk. The air was stale, thanks to the bunker having been, officially, shut down eight years prior. Dust had accumulated throughout the whole structure, and it had taken weeks just to bring the place back into a state that could be considered liveable.

The computer monitors in front of him gave a harmonious view to documents and reports from past informants and what reports they had given. The monitor in the middle, however, differed from the rest. Instead of showing the man a document, it showed him security footage taken from a security camera in Rotterdam.

The footage, no more than seven-point three seconds in length, was set to replay over and over again. It showed the man two young individuals. One had his spiky black hair composed loosely and all too casually. He wore a grey raincoat, which had Kevlar carefully stitched throughout its frame, along with a black resistance vest meant to protect the wearer from firearms. He carried a robust, steel travelling case in his right hand – which the man noted to be bandaged - that was most likely meant to hide a firearm of his own, and a leather duffle bag slung over his left shoulder.

His accomplice - a female of similar age - was dressed identically, with only a few cosmetic, insignificant changes here and there. The woman had pale pink hair that was straightened down to her waist, and cloudy red eyes that seemed to give the impression that she was tired. Perhaps she actually was tired, but that detail mattered little to the man. However, what did concern the man was just who this woman was, and he would find out who she was. He already had his theories of course, and he had also sent his subordinate to dig a little deeper a few hours ago.

As the man continued to replay the footage before him, the doors behind him opened. A woman dressed in the same uniform as the man walked into the room, clutching a folder tightly in both hands. Her long, icy blue hair was kept in a rather long ponytail, the hair in front of her face was kept in place by hairpins.

“Corporal Räutenstrauch.” The man greeted the woman by her official name.

“Sir,” She nodded slightly, before walking up next to him. She placed the folder to the man’s left before taking two steps back. “It’s as you hypothesised, it’s a match.”

“Postive match?” The man demanded.

“Ninety eight point six percent certain, sir.” The corporal nodded. “It’s her, its Princess Mikayla Albraun.”

The man pursed his lips, before sitting forwards, bringing the knuckles of his hands to his chin. “Time of arrival?” He queried.

“Late tomorrow afternoon sir,” The woman answered. “Their ship will arrive near warehouse five three.”

“Noted, we’ll relocate there for the time being and wait. If they don’t arrive there within the course of sixty three hours, we’ll move back here and see if we can locate them again. Clear?”

“Yes sir.” The corporal nodded, before leaving the man to his monitors.

5

The sound of footsteps battered themselves against the cold hallways. The absence of a warm heartfelt air temperature control was bruising at best. A man felt nothing worse than when he came home from a hard day's work to find his home be nothing but freezing discomfort.

With a budget spread so thin to the point of transparency, luxury was optional. Even mere option was optional. With this, here he now found himself tucking into the same meal every day. A cold meal.

Laurence coughed as he continued to walk, thinking, attempting to swallow out the bad taste of long-life foodstuffs from his mouth.

Meeting a corner in the passage he walked through, he found himself bumping into Eric Lysander. He seemed somewhat close to being flustered.

Laurence glanced at him quickly, grabbing his shoulder,

"What's up kid? Aren't you supposed to be on duty?"

Eric wrestled free of his grip in annoyance. He wanted to reply but found his head dead of ways to start.

Laurence was internally bleak enough as it were. Having to cheer up an adolescent was to him like mopping a tiled floor's grout clean of dirt was to others. But he had to do it; the thought of Alison picking up every single piece herself and putting him back together was troubling enough.

"Did Jacinta do something to get you down?" He asked assuringly, taking a stab in at the likeliest root of the problem.

"I dunno, Laurence. I, well. Honestly it's nothing," Eric replied.

"Eric, you're wandering around the halls aimlessly." Laruence laughed.

"I know that."

"Perfectly okay to talk about it, you know."

Eric uncrossed his arms, attempting to look more friendly. He sighed.

"I just don't think I'm fit for training her." He jabbed in half-heartedly. "She's so reluctant about everything."

"Come on Eric. I've seen your ability in action. Not just elementally but, in reassuring her too, mate. I think there's a talent in you here that you're just missing."

"I guess."

Laurence exhaled rather loudly before grabbing his shoulder once more, this time more firmly.

"If there was anybody more suited to Jacinta than you than you would not be the one having been given priority. Am I wrong?"

Eric nodded slightly. He glanced to one side in some degree of anxiousness, thinking deeply about what he was just told.

"It's so... bloody awkward with her."

Laurence shook his head. He forced a laugh that sounded as friendly as he could manage without coming off with unnecessary mocking.

"You're not the only one who feels that way. I mean seriously, look at her."

"Where are you going with this exactly?" Eric added with a slightly awkward expression.

"Don't sit on the fence, Eric."

Eric's eyes widened a little bit. He looked away, having realised he was actually quite struck back by that.

"The... well, the fence... as you say," He stuttered.

"It's safe? Sure it is, but it's not stopping what's coming around the corner. Who knows what tomorrow has in store. Heck, Jacinta's a clumsy little thing, what's stopping her from wandering off and getting herself killed?"

"You make a point..."

"Time is everything. Even for me, haha." Laurence affirmed rather kindly. He checked his watch briefly before changing conversational pace abruptly, "I've got an assignment to attend to in fact of immediately. You know what? Why don't you do me a favour and get to know her a little more before I'm back?"

Eric paused for a moment.

"Sure." Was a flat comment.

"Excellent." Laurence smiled. With that, he let go of the boy's shoulder before getting on his way. Before disappearing from sight he glanced back at Eric for just a moment, making one final note of reassurance,

"I'm counting on you, kid."

Eric made a last okay before turning away, allowing himself a conscious smile before heading back, refreshed and ready to confront the source of his recent agony.

...

6

K21LOGOpunk
Chronology
K21 - Dusty Blinds · K21 - I'm With You · K21 - Prayer · K21 - Kindred · K21 - Degenerate · ...
Prequels & Stand Alone Stories
Vallarian Trilogy · Ortus Continuity · Antecedence Double Trilogy · Artificial Elemental Trilogy · K21 - Broken Faith · K21 - Substantial Illusions · K21 - Judgement In Duty · K21 - Aces High · K21 - Limitless Sun · K21 - Distorted Closure · K21 - Loose Ends · K21 - Attache Case

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