Shatterdome DREAMTIME, Sydney
“Remind me how I let myself end up here.” Ensign – no, Initiate – Ayame Yoneda sighed as she massaged the back of her neck. A neck with several wires snaking out of it and into the metal behemoth around her. “You lunatics admitted me, what – three years ago?”
“You want the long version or the short version?” Masoko Okamura raised an eyebrow as she pulled the control gauntlet over her left hand. “Because the short version is simple. The Triumvirate decided you were what we needed, and we’re pretty good at justifying what we need.”
Yoneda sighed again. Calling the past three years of her life a whirlwind would be like calling a Kaiju a larger than normal sea creature with a tendency for aggression.
“If you want the long version,” A male Irish voice crackled over the intercom, “You two lunatics are the only two who volunteered for this program.”
“Thank you, Canavan.” Okamura rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know. You and the other Crusaders were deemed too valuable to risk with this kind of technology. Lady Maria volunteered, but the Triumvirate decided plugging wires into her skull would be sacrilege. Deirdre volunteered, too, but the Council decided she was too valuable liaising with the Pan-Pacific people.”
“Really?” Yoneda asked, donning her own control gauntlet and carefully matching the plugs in her hand. “What about the Caliban pilots?”
Canavan chuckled over the com. “All twenty of them in the entire world? We need them where they are, too. Need lots more Caliban pilots to meet the Corps’ needs. Initiate, do I really need to remind you that pretty much the entire damn Chambers Militant and Auxiliary are supporting this Corps? Stop going all woe-is-me, Yoneda. Who else in the Order gets to pilot hundreds of tons of steel?”
The Japanese women in the bridge of Prospero Redentor shared an exasperated look. Project: LEVIATHAN had been given operational command of the ANZAC theatre of the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps. Which in turn meant Crusader Albin Canavan was in command. Project: LEVIATHAN was a convenient fiction for the Order, but it did have its disadvantages…
Final plugs went in, though they weren’t active yet. This, Masoko didn’t tell her fellow pilot, was an important factor in why they had been chosen for this duty. As Imperial subjects, they both had received cybernetic implants as standard procedures before they had ever heard of the Order. And the Order, well, did not like the notion of cybernetic implants in operatives who would be missed. Grand Inquisitor Margottini had been downright gleeful to condemn noted troublemaker Masoko Okamura to fairly certain death.
For her part, Ayame Yoneda was even more uneasy. Just three years ago, she’d fought the people she now took orders from. Duty was something she understood, but Project: LEVIATHAN, and for that matter the Order of the Talon, were a farce. An ancient Roman Catholic military order with a strong Spanish heritage hiding in the Middle East using steam, clockwork, and ridiculous pseudo-science to battle an Egyptian mystery cult while secretly manipulating world affairs now fighting giant extradimensional sea monsters in the guise of a secret Allied weapons program with Japanese pilots and effectively taking over Australia and New Zealand in the process, lead by three faceless and mysterious men while a prophetic orphan guided them through visions of the future.
And the really funny part? Ayame had decided years ago that Earth was probably better for their presence.
The pilots looked at each other, nodded, and pressed the activation stud on their control gauntlets.
Sixty feet away, Canavan gave the order and Doctor John Eccles, Brother of the Order of Saint Thomas and world-renowned neurophysiologist, engaged what only a few short years before the Grand Council had called blasphemy.
Masoko Okamura stood and watched a mysterious enemy attack a military research center on the Home Islands without warning, statement of intent, or even a demand for surrender.
Ayame Yoneda felt an engineer’s burning frustration with constantly being told to serve tea and take notes instead of setting up simulations for a new hull configuration.
Masoko was humiliated along with another young woman as her captors strip-searched her and damaged many of her subdermal implants with careless exposure to powerful magnetic fields.
Ayame was driven from her family’s estate by her father’s rage and screams.
Masoko never had the chance to tell her gifted brother goodbye.
Ayame’s burning desire – no, need – to act in a society that denied women that need slowly transformed itself into a powerful drive push herself and others to their very limits.
Masoko’s cool reserve became positively frigid as one by one her preconceptions fell away, yet her fundamental sense of duty and responsibility to the world remained.
Ayame felt rage, frustration, impatience, and selfishness.
Masoko felt doubt, fear, regret, and guilt.
Ayame’s relationship with Deirdre cooled, then froze when the Triumvirate announced who would pilot Prospero Redentor and what that would entail.
Masoko’s doubts, no longer dominant yet never far beneath the surface, exploded as she realized what these fanatics would have her do.
Then another consciousness invaded them both. Pistons and gears became muscles. Talon Steel plating, skin. The most complex boiler system ever built, a beating heart. The Order of the Talon could never have built this machine on its own. Something like it, yes, but circuitry, sensor suites, and cybernetics are entirely beyond them. But, in the end, what belongs to the Order is theirs. What does not belong to them, the Order has made available for its purposes since its inception.
In truth, from an outside perspective, initiating the neural link and synchronizing the pilots with each other, then with Prospero Redentor, took less than a minute. But in those eternal seconds, all walls between Masoko Okamura and Ayame Yoneda vanished and were replaced by a level of intimacy no lovers ever shared – outside the pilots of Ymir Alpha, at any rate – and no secrets could remain hidden. In the bridge of their minds, Masoko and Ayame’s souls touched and were laid bare. Then they merged with the cold synapses of the machine.
It was, Albin Canavan reflected from the Shatterdome command center, an abomination. Yet this was the price the world had elected to pay for its survival. At what price life, an old Order proverb asked.
The answer, as always, was another question. How many lives can mine pay for?