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Quest Beyond the Blue

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GasMaskie

"Wait and Hope"
||A quick note||
END scales two ways. The first way works like any other stat when modifying the dice roll with a bonus. One should be able to determine just how that's calculated based on prior rolls. However, it scales differently when it comes to Joker's actual health - or how many failed checks he can take before he's shot down. With his current stats, Joker can fail 1 check per mission before being eliminated - after that failed check, the next will end his flight. The Devil's Own Luck serves as a buffer to this - essentially providing the secondary effect of END without actually boosting the stat. Should a failure occur when DOL is inactive, I will mention Joker's current amount of 'health' before the options during combat.
 
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Mission 3 - Fairy

GasMaskie

"Wait and Hope"
[Vote Results]
+1 END​
+1 EVA​
+1 ACM​


[Mission 3 - "Fairy"]
"Come on, keep up Joker! It's not every day that we get to leave the base like this." You're pulled forward by the short girl in the middle of your usual admiration of the blue skies above. Right now, you're currently dressed in casual attire just like your WSO. You nearly stumble, grimacing as you keep pace with the spirited woman's strides. You look around and it's almost a little jarring. Gransbourg's aptly-named capital, Gransbourg City, is bustling with activity.

"Ah, over there! I haven't had one of these in years!" Lise drags you towards a small stand. You scratch your head as you silently point to two of the sweet delicacies - one with strawberries and the other filled with banana slices. Though the vendor's a little put-off by your silence, he receives your money and hands off two of the thin Leciellan pancakes to you. You appoach Lise, handing her the banana crepe as you look her over. Of course, she looks like any other civillian out and about right now - aside from the large sunglasses that obscure her face and her wide-brimmed hat.

"Thank you, Joker. Mm, just as sweet as I remember too. I used to eat these all the time when I was in high school. Of course, I still had to wear a disguise - and shake off the royal guards since this was off the beaten path." She bit into the crepe, glancing over to you as you did the same with your own. You both have your sidearms currently concealed - one could never be too sure about anything. Though you're enjoying yourself on what might look like a date to outsiders, you're actually out on business.


With the success of your first joint operation with Gransbourg, Kerberos Squadron's existence has been justified to both Oz and the investors within Orthrus Security Solutions. And as such, the newly christened 'Spear Base' has received a glut of new funding - which your interprid WSO has already drawn a budget for. Within the week following your hard-earned victory, more land had been advocated to your home - and two new buildings have been erected. The first was a research center - OSS recently transferred over a whole team of white coats. While it wasn't uncommon for large mercenary companies to have their own research and development departments, Gransbourg's funding truly legitimized their efforts. The second was a recreational facility. Along with the funding, the OSS had also sent more personnel over - enough so that the base now required that space according to company policies.

You check your phone for the time - it's still a little early. As Kerberos Squadron's leader, you've been summoned out of the city for a meeting with 'Rosebush', Gransbourg's selected liasion. Naturally, Lise was to accompany you - both as an interpreter and in her semi-official position as Spear Base's true administrator. And well, having the fourth in line princess would perhaps reduce any lingering tensions - if his previous communications during the last operation were to be trusted. After you finish your crepes, you beckon Lise to follow - it's time for your destination of choice. You walk slightly slower than usual to account for your companion's stature before you find yourself standing in front of a hobby store.

Aside from flying, you had other hobbies. And chief among them was model building. You've always wanted to fly and when you were younger, you'd always imagine yourself in the miniature replicas of ACs. You also admired them thoroughly - while you never intended to become an AC designer, you've read enough to appreciate some of the design choices and the aesthetics that reflected their country. Just prior to today, you had finally finished setting a few up on the shelf in your personal quarters. Haze happened to stop by to drop off a report when Stray had peaked into your quarters. You could tell from the gaze on his face that the boy took an interest in the model ACs as well.

"...Ah, I see, you're getting one for Stray? The recreation center will be good for him, but something like that's bound to keep him entertained while we're off flying." She tapped her cheek in thought as she followed you into the store. As you quietly perused the aisles of boxes containing plastic parts on sprues, you felt the woman tugging at your shoulder. Lise was pointing at a model that hung from a wire - oh, that looked familiar.

"It doesn't have the markings, but I'd say that that's a pretty good rendition, wouldn't you say? Maybe Stray would like one of those - or a model to match Haze's. Say, Joker, have you actually asked her what's up with that? A mercenary base is hardly the place to raise a kid so..." You shook your head. It wasn't really something you wanted to pry into - and you hardly knew the woman outside of your current professional standing. Something catches your WSO's eye, however, and she wanders off as you continue your search for a gift.

Rival Casual.jpg You browse the shelves once more - they're unorganized so it's a little difficult to find it. But you find it with a little effort - a 1/48 scale model of the Trainer Kite. You reach out to pull it out - only to notice a second set of fingers also grabbing it. You bring your gaze upwards and find a young woman, likely no older than you are. With hair as white as clouds and eyes the same shade as the sky, she certainly has a striking appearance.

"Oh, my apologies." You shake your head, relinquishing your grip on the box. It's not like you were really a fan of the Kite to begin with. She carefully pulls the box out and brings out close to her chest, smiling softly as she bows. You bring a hand to your chin before gesturing towards her. Although she tilts her head in confusion at first, your silent communication becomes clear.

"Ah, I see. It's a little odd, but I suppose variants tend to be a little rarer than the base models at times. And well, it's also a bit reassuring to know that someone else from my generation has the same sort of hobby. Meeting a fellow builder's always nice. But are you sure that you're fine parting ways with this one?" You nod in response, taking a few steps back and retrieving a model of the Type-4F Washi. It definitely wasn't your first choice - especially since he'd need to scratchbuild Haze's armaments for a perfect replica.

"Thank you... And, you have no idea just how long I've been searching for this." She bows slightly again as you scratch your head with a small smile - you could always just settle for customizing a kite if you really felt the need to add one to your own collection as well. You glance around, spotting your companion admiring a large diorama in the middle of the shop. You feel that you still have enough time to spend here, so you silently chat her up.

"Oh, so you're a college student here in Gransbourg? I see. My brother and I travel often, but I'd love the opportunity to just settle down and learn on a campus. Ah, I suppose I should introduce myself as well. My name is-"

"Finished yet, Lotte. Mm? Have you made a new friend?" A taller man approaches from behind her. Though his hair is slightly darker, you can definitely tell that he's related to the young woman. Though he scrutinizes you with a slight intensity for a moment, he grins as he pats his sister's head. You scratch the back of your head, gesturing. You've only just met the woman, though she seems like someone you could talk to regarding your hobby.

"I'm interrupting aren't I, my bad. Oh, you actually found it this time, huh? ...It's just about time, Lotte. We should probably be on our way - I'll meet you at the counter then." He excuses himself, waving over to you as you respond in kind. It seems like they're on a schedule today as well.

"...Right, I should pay for this and get a move on. But it was nice speaking with you... Oh, here's my number. We'll be in Gransbourg for a while, so maybe we can meet up sometime and talk. It's been a pleasure meeting you!" It only takes a moment, but you now have your first non-Kerberos contact in your phone. As a part of protocol, you don't have your family's contact information listed on it. A mercenary's identity was a well-guarded secret, and if you were to die - it might prove disastrous to the company. You also fell back on the cover story that Lise had thought up - your line of work could now be considered a matter of national security now as well. You briefly watch as Lotte's brother pays for the kit and they exit the shop; she waves on the way out.

You tap Lise's shoulder, satisfied with your choice for Stray. But the woman gives you a smug grin as she presents a model kit - for a Vertical Tank. The ground-based unit equivalent to an AC - though, there aren't any at Spear Base. You tilt your head as you question her.

"You're always cooped up in your room building these kits aren't you Joker? Maybe I should give it a shot - and it looks really neat over here." She points towards the diorama at the model in question. You let out a sigh before taking the box in her hands and heading to the counter, buying both models and concluding your business here. Naturally, your WSO's in high spirits once you leave - and bombarding you with questions about how to actually build the plastic replica. Perhaps you should have bought her a set of tools as well.

-/ Some time later /-
You're sitting at a table by the window in a small cafe. It's a cozy, rustic space far from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area of Gransbourg City. To your right is Lise and in front of both of you are cups of coffee and saucers. And directly across from you, a scowling young man still in uniform. Aside from the staff, the whole place is empty. And outside, you can clearly spot a few men mulling about acting as inconspicuously as possible as they guard the area. Your contact's face tightens as he taps his finger on the table.

"Really now, shopping on your way to the meeting? Princess Lise, you need to exercise more caution - he might be impressive in the skies, but one man cannot equate a unit of the Royal Guard." It took you a while, but you recognize 'Rosebush' as the person who responded on the comms from the Diedrich Vogel. Acting Captain Rosengard. As he chides your WSO, you take a moment to interrupt him and ask him about that.

Rosebush.png
"...Ah, right. The captain had been knocked out when a missile struck our craft - so naturally I stepped up to assume command. As for the situation itself - much of it is far too classified to share with a merc. But, those black ACs suddenly beset themselves upon us. Perhaps they truly intended to assassinate the King? We were just returning from an environmental summit in Altia when they suddenly appeared on radar." You take in his words and nod - so it seemed like the unidentified ACs were just as much as mystery to Gransbourg as they were to you. And, reports regarding their ACs after they were recovered by the Peacekeeper Squadron were confidential. You brought you hand to your chin as you considered the possibilities - a group of actual bandits? A squad of assassins from a criminal organization? Perhaps they were actually another country's special operations group - that might explain their unique modifications.

"I'm glad father's okay. And really - I'm a mercenary now, I can handle myself. And Joker's good for more than just flying! Bet you've never seen him lay someone flat on their back in a spar! Or watched him hit a target from maximum range with a handgun! But I don't need the Royal Guard - I never have, and I never will." She sticks her tongue out, eliciting a grumble from the young man. Though you appreciate Lise's attempts to back you up, it was really you getting pinned by Haze during a spar. And Stalker making impressive shots during a group training exercise. Still, it's the thought that counts.

"Mmrrr... Be that as it may, your father also shares my own sentiments - he'd rather have you on the ground rather than flying around. I mean - he flew you right through those pirates' air defense systems." He ground his teeth for a moment before taking sip from his cup. He also shoots you a rather dirty look, but you fire back with a light shrug. The risk paid off, and the two of you walked away without a scratch.

"Let's just get down to business - border control. As you know, we share a border with the Kingdom of Altia. Ganseal Valley serves as a physical barrier between our two nations. During the war, our military had several outposts set up within those crags. Our observation satellites have recently taken these photos." Rosebush reaches into a pocket and spreads out a number of photographs on the table before you. Lise takes a sip as you slide a photo between the two of you. Though it's too grainy to make out certain details, the photograph clearly depicts three ACs flying between the rocky pillars that make up the mountainous region.

"Thus, we have reason to believe that our old bases may have some new occupants. Perhaps of the same ilk who might inhabit a vacant oil rig? Considering the effort we went through just to clear them out last time - the king has authorized an immediate investigation on the area. We're requesting your aid in providing an escort detail to our troops - we'll be investigating some of the outposts within the valley while you make sure that our birds don't get shot down." You nod in understanding. Of course, turning Gransbourg down isn't an option. The royal guardsman fishes out a USB next and hands it over to Lise.

"The operation details are all located in there - we'll be operating on a shorter timeframe. While the leak has been plugged, the GDF is taking precautions. There's a possibility that any squatters might pack up and leave before we can deal with their potentially illegal violations. And... if we don't take care of this problem now, this may serve as an impetus for the Altians to move the border and take more territory." The young man grimaces as he looks down into the surface of his coffee. Wounded pride seemed to be common among Gransbourgians, barring Lise. The past conflicts have caused a strong nationalistic fervor to develop with both the old and the young. Reformists, on the other hand, have used the failures of the past to justify an upheaval of the system. As Kerberos 1, you received a brief primer about all of this. You take a sip from the cup.

"I'll hand this over to Scheherazade when we get back to base then. Then, if that's all - Joker and I should really get going. And no, we won't be riding back in a private detail, thank you very much. Tata for now." Lise adjusts her clothing and puts her 'disguise' back on. She finishes the rest of her coffee and pulls you up from your seat, practically dragging you along as she makes a hasty exit before the liaison can protest. In fact, you seem him stand up and start banging on the window by his seat as Lise starts to run, gripping your hand tightly as you run behind her. Though you share her distaste for the man, you can't help but wonder why she's so stubborn about the Royal Guard.


-/Some time later.../-
After an uneventful ride back in an armored truck with tinted windows, you arrive back at base. You part ways with Prinz - she's The operation is still a number of days away - and you have an unbooked schedule. There are a number of ways you can spend your time - you're fairly certain that you can arrange for meetings with your squadron or other contacts in the mean time. As you begin to walk to your quarters as the sun begins to set, you also consider the new research facility. It definitely seemed important enough to warrant a visit - and you're certain that you can find the time to do so once you've got the rest of your plans laid out.

Looking over your calendar on your phone, you have enough time for two activities. You...

  • Meet with Haze, Stray, and Prinz.
  • Meet with Crescent and Scheherazade in the Mess Hall.
  • Meet with Carmilla and Stalker at the Shooting Range.
  • Call up Lotte and arrange an outing.
 
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GasMaskie

"Wait and Hope"
>Meet with Haze, Stray, and Prinz.
>Call up Lotte and arrange an outing.



-/ The next day /-
"Hey Joker, you said that you need two cuts for each sprue? Why's that?" Your WSO turns her array of plastic parts arond as she lines up her set of snips with the gate and sprue. You silently explain with your own set of parts - using your duller pair of cutters to sever the point where it connects and then your sharper pair to cut the gate off with a flush cut. You watch Lise with a small smile as she mimics your technique.

You look around the table within the Recreation Center's empty gathering area. You're sitting at a table. Haze sits next to you, silently reading a book written in her native tongue while Stray and Lise assemble their kits. The older woman's gaze shifts from the page to her ward as she smiles softly.

"...I never quite understood the appeal of those model kits. But, I'm glad you found something that Stray enjoys. Outside of simulation flights, he hasn't been able to really enjoy his time here... Though, a mercenary base is hardly the place to raise a child." She chuckles slightly, tilting her head as the boy meticulously smooths out the surface with a file. The white-haired boy is hard at work as you idly begin to assemble the super-deformed AC model - you received this one as a gift from your family back when you were at the academy but never found the time to actually assemble it. Backlogs were rather scary.


"They're remarkably sturdy things - I mean, if I dropped one I could break it. But there's also a sense of accomplishment when you build one... Honestly, with how cool Vertical Tanks are, I'm almost starting to regret my career path." Though the princess seemed daunted by the prospect of building her model when she opened the box and seeing all the trays, she really seemed to come around to it as she slowly assembled the VT piece by piece.

"...Ground-based engagements are more dangerous than ever with ACs being so commonplace. And no matter how sturdy they make those units, a VT will always be disadvantaged by an enemy who can move in three-dimensions at high speeds. Though, with how Joker flies, you can probably telll us all just how it feels to be in a blender." Chuckling she flipped the page on the book as you scratched your head. Stray blinked as well, glancing over to Prinz.

"You're really blowing it out of proportion - sort of. Joker's honestly not that bad - he'd probably be two rungs lower than the max settings on a flight sim. Granted, one of those levels is designed specifically to push a pilot to their utmost limits in an impossibly unrealistic scenario, but still! Honestly, I'd love to be able to fly on my own - but serving as a WSO has been fun so far too. Like... feeding Joker all those targets and watching them go out like fireworks... It kind of reminds me of a petting zoo animal, you know? Feeding them food and watching them lick it out of your hands and chomp away." You blink tilting your head at Lise's strange metaphor. Though, for the briefest of moments, you imagine eating out of your WSO's hands... And the smug look she'd no doubt be giving you.

Perhaps what's more surprising, however, is the young boy bringing a hand to his mouth and chuckling. Outside of small smiles, you never really saw him show as much expression until now. You smile softly as you finish building your own model. The sound and feeling of snapping each part together never grows tiresome to you.


"Oh, that one turned out nice too Joker! Next time we're off base, I want to try building one of those!" Lise's eyes light up as she points to your model, and Haze glances over with interest as you convert the SD AC into its stubby Stance Mode. Stray claps for a moment before focusing on building up his own model once more. You've never really built with anyone else before; you've always treated this as a solitary activity. But, this sort of thing isn't bad once in a while.

-/ The next day /-
"Hello~! Were you waiting long?" You shake your head as you look up towards the young woman, tearing your eyes away from your phone's screen as you look her over. Today, you've decided to head off base once more after arranging for a meeting with Lotte. You were only waiting for a few minutes, leaned up right against a lamppost.The white-haired woman smiles as she circles you, looking you over.

"Looking good! Ah, and here - I forgot to send this to you earlier." She takes out her own phone and shows off her own completed model. You whistle - it turned out quite nice. All that was really missing from it was the Kerberos Squadron's emblem on a tailfin and some decals. But with the way she panel-lined it with paint and gave it some wear around the engines and wings, you can't help but whistle. You give your new friend a thumbs-up before looking around the park. Standing up straight, you walk down the paved path through the scenic open space as you beckon for your companion to follow you. As you walk, you give her a questioning look.

"...A-Ah, right. I told you my brother was going to join us today, but unfortunately some business came up. So I guess it's just the two of us today. It's a shame too, I'm sure you two would have been able to get along well. Though, I suppose he's always been a little too protective of me too - he's only really lightened up enough to let me go out like this recently." Smiling softly, the woman scratched at the scar on her cheek with a sheepish chuckle. You tilt your head as you continue to lead the way.

"...His name? It's Klaus. Oh wait, you were asking about... Well, Klaus has always been wary about others approaching me for one reason or another. Honestly, there are times where I have truly needed him there to protect me, but I'm sure there are many moments I've missed out on because of his nature. Hm, do you have any siblings?" You shake your head in response. You were an only child - and once you left the nest your parents went about their own business. You scratch your head as you silently explain this to Lotte, who nods slowly with each gesture finished.

"I see. Well, if we're talking about parents then - Klaus certainly takes after father. My father's a very driven man - and he's just as protective of me. I'm sure he drilled it into Klaus's head that an older brother should always protect his precious sister. Teehee. My mother unfortunately passed away when I was young - and I can hardly remember her face. But, whenever I see my father staring at her photo, I can't help but feel a sort of emptiness - like my own sorrow pales in comparison to his." As the woman turns her eyes towards the ground, she lets out a slight yelp when you reach out to gently pat her head. Lotte's cheeks redden for a moment before she smells something in the air and looks ahead.

"Oh, crepes! I've been meaning to try this stand's offerings. Then, how about... that one." She points to a particularly large display. You blink, looking at the menu item - a crepe loaded with all varieties of fruits and drizzled in enough sweetness to rot your teeth out. Just looking at the monstrosity is enough to make your stomach ache. There is also the fact that it's a crepe intended to be sold to couples. You scratch your cheek. You do feel a slight pang of guilt as well for bringing Lotte over to Lise's favorite stand.

You motion towards a nearby couple on a bench, enjoying the crepe monstrosity together. Once the woman starts to lick the cream from the man's mouth, she buries her face in her hands and lets out a strange noise - embarassment dyes her face red as she silently points towards her second option. With a silent chuckle, you order two crepes - one strawberry and the other filled with orange slices. As you take a seat at nearby bench, you can't help but feel relieved that it's a different person manning the stall today. As you bite into your crepe, you lightly fiddle with a strand of hair. As the two of your silently enjoy your sweet pastries, you decide to inquire about her father.


"Mm, this really is a good crepe. But to answer your question, father's not travelling with us. He's rather important in his... company. Honestly, it's been a year or two since I've actually seen him. But, I'm sure he's doing well on his own. He does send us gifts and letters on occasion, so it's not like he's completely absent from our life. But, well, his gaze is always on other things... A-Ah, you don't have to pat my head again, really. Not that it wasn't something I enjoyed! B-But it's..." She sighed softly as you drew your hand back with a chuckle before pouting once she realized that you were teasing her.

"Hmph. I'm not a small animal." Smiling softly, she gently pokes your cheek as you smirk, mimicking your partner's expression to the best of your ability. Your efforts, however, cause Lotte to burst out into laughter as she wipes a tear from her eye. You can't help but laugh silently as well.

Finishing your crepes, you continue to walk around the park with the woman, conversing about nothing in particular. As the sun begins to set, her brother shows up in a taxi, ushering her in. You can't help but feel a little tense as he scrutinizes you, but that melts away once he flashes you a grateful smile. Siblings... you wonder what it'd be like to have one. You bring a hand to your chin as you watch the car drive off. There's still a lot you don't know about Lotte. And there are things she doesn't know about you. But meeting as a civilian - you've honestly forgotten how nice this brief scene of freedom was.

Your return to base is uneventful - aside from Scheherazade somehow knowing of the day you spent from Lotte and informing you about what happened within Spear Base during your time away. Perhaps omniscience or incredible observation skills were requirements to serve as AWACS.

-/ The next day /-
It's the day of the operation now - and briefing will commence around midday. As you roll out of your bed, you briefly check your phone for today's itinerary. You blink as you read a line before quicklng getting ready. It's still early out, so you head to the mess hall to acquire some breakfast. After that, you fall into your personal training routine at the recreational center. Having weights and machines around really has made things easier. Though it's been years since you took classes at the Esoran Military Academy, old habits die hard. You're still following that general schedule even now.

You don't expect to see too many people at the research center this early in the day, but after you swipe your ID on the lock outside its doors, a young man in a labcoat immediately approaches you from the inside and opens the doors manually for you. You tilt your head as he grabs your wrist and drags you into the building with a surprising vigor to his step. You shoot the man a strange gaze as he looks back at you.


"Commander Joker! It's so good to have you here. I've been hoping that you'd drop by soon. Well, since everyone seems to be going by callsigns at Spear Base, I guess you can call me 'Q'. Q as in Quantum? Or perhaps it's the first initial of my name? Maybe I just like pool? Bwahaha, the possibilities are endless! And it's quite a popular letter, I must say!" The young researcher speaks a mile a minute with a slight Altian accent as he ushers you into a small waiting room within the labs and quickly measures you, prompting your arms up at times and wrapping a tape around your body parts.
Doc.jpg
"I can't say I saw myself working R&D for a mercenary company, but it's a lot better than working at a startup trying to get into AC development. I was just as surprised when I saw the budgetary reports as well - Gransbourg's co-operation with Orthrus Security Solutions really opens up a lot of doors. Right, these measurements all line up with previously recorded values. Please change into this and meet me in the next room." You tilt your head as the man exits the room, shutting it closed as he leaves you with what looks to be a heavily modified flightsuit. The major differences are the various devices sewn into its fabric. It's definitely not the most glamorous attire, but the haphazard stitchwork and the wires looping out of the flight suit almost seem endearing. You quickly change before meeting with Q in the next room - one that's a lot larger.

Between the dim lighting and the gray walls , the white flight simulator pod and the armored metal arm that it's attached to almost seem out of place in the labratory. Q looks you over and smiles as he hands you a device. A small metal device with no discernable mechanisms for interaction. Two lights at the top switch on as you hold it in your hands and flip it around - there's a hidden data cable plug within its body and a few spots that depress for what looked to be mounting spots.


"Hope the fit's not too snug - none of us are particularly good at sewing, but those modifications should be fine for an initial test. Given some time and more data - and we'll have new flightsuits ready for you as well. And I must say sir, your recorded flight data is certainly interesting. I suppose things have lined up perfectly - we've been given the task of developing a new AC for company use and someone like you can really put our model through the wringer... Though, it'll be some time before the first unit is actually ready." You tilt your head curiously as you look the device over before finding a spot on your flightsuit to slot it into.

"That terminal's rather special as well - I'd like you to hold onto that Joker. And well, you have the operation coming up today right? It'd be helpful for us if you connected that to your AC's cockpit during your flight. It's a special project we're working on - actually, a few of our researchers here were actually recruited after the GDF liberated them from those pirates you dealt with. And their knowledge was integral in the development of that device - unfortunately, I can't quite explain what it is right now. The whole project's very confidential." You sigh, nodding in understanding. You don't feel any different once the black box is connected to your suit, so you assume that it's some sort of sophisticated recording device. Before you climb into the pod, you gesture towards the scientist.

"...Huh? Oh, I see, that's a question! You're right - an AC normally would take years to design and test. But, what if I told you that we received prototype units from a certain Esoran company? One whose ACs have recently lost a competition to determine their next ACs? Gransbourg, in spite of its position in the buffer zone, can achieve quite a bit. And well, it also helps that the company was auctioning its assets now that it's being absorbed into another." As you settled into your seat, Q put a headset on and pressed a button on his strange spectacles. You could see everything displayed on the pod's simulated canopy via external cameras.

"We won't be sending you out in those prototypes - mind you. The frame of the AC is the most important part of that acquisition - and we can use it to quickly construct a model specfically tuned to our mercernary's piloting profiles. That being said, we still need a little more data from you to really tune it up once it reaches that point. A simulated flight right now will help us record more about you, commander. And well, the software we're using is pretty advanced - maybe you'll even get something out of the practice you put in."

You scratch your cheek as you place your hands on the control stick. While movements are simulated rather well in these pods, putting your body under the duress of the g-forces from intense manuevers required another machine. Still, you couldn't help but feel excited as the canopy's display shifted to show a virtual expanse of blue. As your hands tightened around the controls, you selected a programmed course from a list and began to fly.


Flight Simulator
Once per mission, Joker can opt to head to the Research Center to use the Flight Simulator. Though he won't be meeting with any characters during that time, he will have the chance to potentially raise a stat. By succesfully completing a dice check (average best of three) without any stat modifiers, Joker will receive one stat point in the attribute with the most votes. Upon successful completion, the flight simulator's DC will be raised the next time it is used - though players will be able to choose a different stat to gain a point in if desired. A failure will not count against Joker if the DC is unsuccessful, and The Devil's Own Luck potential will not proc in this situation.

You begin your simulated flight. [DC: 10]

  • Strike
  • Gunskill
  • Air Combat Manuevering
  • Evasion
  • Endurance
  • Technical
 
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GasMaskie

"Wait and Hope"
>Technical
[Avg: 14: Success]

The course you're put into equips your virtual AC with advanced weaponry - two UAV drones mounted on the unit's wing hardpoints. Contrary to popular belief, using them wasn't as simple as fire-and-forget. Even if they had the best homing capabilities of any modern weapon, you'd still have to occasionally correct their pathfinding through visual confirmation with your cameras and theirs. Furthermore, these UAVs also seemed to boost AC performance - their own onboard propulsion systems added a significant amount of thrust while linked to your fighter.

After a series of manuevers through designated points in the virtual space, you found yourself face to face with an identical replica of yourself. The simulation turns into a duel between the two of you, exchanging gunpod fire while also attempting to outmanuever your replica's drones. It's surprisingly difficult - given your own unfamiliarity with the special weapons, but you ultimately prevail after a prolonged engagement. As you came to understand the limitations and capabilities of the weapon UAVs, controlling them and sending them after your prey had become a lot easier.

My, you adapt quickly.

As the simulation comes to a close, you swear for the faintest of moments that you heard the oddly sensuous voice of your virtual AC speak to you before the canopy goes dark. You idly adjust your flightsuit as the pod opens up - with Q standing at your side with a clipboard in his hands. He carefully adjusts his glasses and clears his throat, tapping his pen on the paper for a moment.

"Excellent work commander. I was able to build up more on your pilot profile with that flight. And well - we'll definitely have to tune up future courses. There's still four more flights you can clear - we already have the data required from just this, but perhaps facing you off against more difficult scenarios may improve your own skills? Food for thought, hmmm." The young man's hand moves swiftly as he jots down several notes. You stretch out your arms before checking your phone for the time - and it's just about time for the briefing. Standing up, you wave to the scientist before leaving the room to change. And remembering his earlier prodding, you disconnect the terminal from the flightsuit and stuff it in your pocket.


-/ Some time later /-

"It looks as if everyone has arrived. Very well, we shall begin the briefing for Operation: Cuckoo's Nest. This shall be another joint operation with the Gransbourg Defense Force - we shall be aiding in their investigation of decommissioned outposts within the Ganseal Valley region on the border of Gransbourg and the Kingdom of Altia. Historically, the valley's terrain has made it ideal as a defensible position. The three outposts were formerly used as an anti-air bulwark. Recent reconnaisance by an unmanned drone has also confirmed the GDF's suspicions - the defense system has been repaired and reactivated by an unknown party." Scheherazade motions towards the screen in the command center as you look on. The topographical map zooms in one of the rocky pillars that litter the whole valley. It shifts to a 3D model of the craggy structure and then focuses on what looked to be some sort of orb built into a carved out section of the pillar. You tilt your head, briefly recalling something that was mentioned in an academy class.

"This defense system is an anti-air laser grid built into the valley's rock formations. Our drone was shot down suddenly as soon as it approached. Thanks to declassified reports from Rosebush, however, we are now aware that this system's detection range is vertically attuned. Under that, the lasers will not activate. Furthermore, it seems that only one of the outposts is actually functioning and that control of the entire grid has been rerouted to that one. Unfortunately, Gransbourg's satellites and surveillance units can not confirm which of the three outposts is currently in operation." Scheherazade retrieves the USB you received the other day and plugs it into her terminal. As the screen shifts back to the topographical map, three new structures appear within the space. Each one is far from each other, with one in the south and two more in the north in both the east and west. As the officer moves her hands, five triangles appear in a V formation appearing from the southeast.

"Operation: Cuckoo's Nest will require Kerberos Squadron to provide escort duty to the GDF's three VTOL transports. Each one will be carrying one Vertical Tank and two squads of troops. Once at each outpost, they will disembark and breach the base. We are anticipating ground-based defensive measures from the unknown party as well - a complement of SAM sites and AA guns are estimated to be spread out throughout the valley to cover the defense system's vulnerabilities. There is also a large chance that we will be facing aerial opposition once the defense system has been disabled. Thus, you shall be equipped with Quick Manuever Air-to-Air Missiles to aid in potential dogfighting. With the defense system active, passenger planes and cargo shipments to Gransbourg will be in danger - the estimated damage to Gransbourg's economy is quantifiably high. The nation and the OSS is relying on you, Kerberos Squadron. May good fortune bless your wings today." She bowed as she finished the meeting, shutting the screen down as the lights in the command center flickered on.

You begin to head towards the hangar, with Prinz walking beside you. As you bring out the terminal to take a look at it once more, Prinz blinks and circles around you to get a better look at the black device. She glances up at you raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, what's this Joker? A new toy from the Research Center? Or maybe a gift - does Kerberos 1 have an admirer there~?" You shake your head as you try to ignore the smug look your WSO is giving you. In a short series of hand gestures, you explain the vagueness of Q's words and his request for today's operation. Prinz nods silently as she interprets each movement before speaking up once more.

"I see. A mysterious device to be hooked up to our AC? Well, maybe it'll be something cool like a performance booster. Though, I could easily see it as being hardware for upgrading the AC's firmware. Could even be as basic as a secondary black box for more data recording. Well, if we'll be fine during the preflight check, then there's no harm in having it connected." Prinz smiles softly as you hand the terminal over for her to briefly inspect before she passes it back. You scratch the back of your head as you pocket it once more before heading into the hangar. You split off with your WSO as she splits off to meet with Haze and Crescent. You nod as Stray leans up against a wall, disappearing into the locker rooms.

As you change into your standard flightsuit, you decide to stuff the terminal into a chest pocket. You haven't been informed of any modifications to the Kite, so there's no chance of the cockpit having the proper mounting hardware for the device. As you make your way out into the hangar and ascend the portable staircase to enter the Kite, you tug at the plug on the exposed portion of the device. Good, it's on a retractable cable. As you settle into your seat and secure yourself, you connect the device's plug to the cockpit port and begin your preflight checks.

Nothing. As you start a system diagnosis, the unknown device is registered by your AC but is otherwise idling in the background. As the ground crew below moves the stairs over, Prinz hops into the seat behind yours. She lightly taps on the top of your helmet as she settles into her seat and begins to perform her own series of checks.

"Has it done anything cool yet?" You shake your head as you affix the oxygen mask to your face now. The automated canopy shuts over the two of you and seals the cockpit. Perhaps it really was just a more sophisticated recording device for Q to pore over later. So much for the mystery of it. After receiving the all-clear from ground control, you begin to taxi the trainer AC out onto Spear Base's airstrip. The Kite accelerates down the length of tarmac before ascending into the skies. As you ascend into the blue, you clear any concerns over the device from your head. The operation comes first.

-/ Some time later /-

Tanker Plane Operator
< Refueling initiated. Maintain your current position. >

Tanker Plane Operator
< 100. >

Tanker Plane Operator
< Joker, maintain your current approach. >

Tanker Plane Operator
< 50. >

Tanker Plane Operator
< Excellent work, Joker. >


"...Jeez, Joker. I was honestly worried when you just started accelerating and decelerating out of nowhere. Did you really have do three kulbits on approach?"

You nod, flashing a thumbs-up before you feel a sharp impact against the back of your seat.

-/ A short while later /-

AWACS "Scheherazade"
<< We have arrived at the Ganseal Valley. Rosebush, is the GDF prepared? >>

"Rosebush"
<< Of course they are. We have three VTOLs - each with a VT and two squads. They're armored, but you mercs better not get lazy just because we can take a missile or two. >>

Pilot: Kerberos 1 " Joker"
AC: AF-07T Kite (Trainer)
AC Mode: Silhouette
STR: 3
GUN: 2
ACM: 4 (+1)
EVA: 6
END: 4
TEC: 3

Loadout:
2x Knives
1x Standard Gunpod
QAAMs

Kerberos 1 WSO | "Prinz"
<< Don't worry about that Rosebush. Joker and I'll neutralize any threat on the way... Though, I guess we should split the squadron up to cover every transport then. >>

Kerberos 4 "Stalker"
<< With the low-altitude restrictions of this operation, I won't be able to get into position to provide ample firing support. Guess I'll head to the nearest outpost. >>

Kerberos 5 "Carmilla"
<< Ohohoho~! This is the perfect operation for my Vikhr! I, the lovely Carmilla, shall escort the VTOL heading to the eastern outpost! Not even the smallest of scratches shall befall your transport, plebians! >>

Kerberos 2 "Haze"
<< Looks like we're settling on this strategy then. Stalker will likely need some assistance in her escort duties given her loadout. Joker, your command? >>


You glance at the radar, zooming out to its max settings as you fly the Kite slowly through the mountainous area. Stalker is heading towards closest to you in the south. Carmilla will be heading to the one in the east. With three fighter ACs, there's still one VTOL that needs to be escorted to the farthest outpost in the west.

You ultimately decide to...

  • Aid Stalker with escorting the transport to the southern outpost. Haze and Crescent will handle the escort to the western outpost. [ACM + EVA, DC: 8]​
  • Handle the western outpost's escort detail by yourself. Haze will aid Stalker and Crescent will aid Carmilla. [ACM + EVA, DC: 10]
 
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Lucem

Nine Thousand Club
Handle the western outpost's escort detail by yourself. Haze will aid Stalker and Crescent will aid Carmilla.
 

GasMaskie

"Wait and Hope"
>Handle the western outpost's escort detail by yourself. Haze will aid Stalker and Crescent will aid Carmilla. [ACM + EVA, DC: 10]
[Avg: 11 + 5: Success]

Gripping the control sticks tightly, you make your intentions known as you accelerate towards the western outpost.

Kerberos 1 WSO | "Prinz"
<< Got it Joker! Kerberos 2, link up with Kerberos 4. And Kerberos 3, join Kerberos 5. We'll be handling the western outpost. >>

Kerberos 2 "Haze" / Kerberos 3 "Crescent"
<< Roger! >>

"Rosebush"
<< Tch. At least it'll be the princess providing my transport an escort detail. You better not get shot down Joker! >>


You grit your teeth as you fly in low a fair distance away from the VTOL. Thanks to Prinz, the camoflagued enemes hidden in the foliage of the valley get picked out and targetted. You rely on your gunpod as you approach at high speeds, tearing apart the stationary ground targets before they can even fire a shot at you. As your system begins to blare [MISSILE ALERT] warnings, you decelerate as you wait for Prinz to assign the nearby SAM tank as a target.

The Kite weaves around the pillars on a dime as you squint before pulling the trigger. Neither inversion nor the yaw of your AC disorient you as you narrowly avoid the missile as it zooms past you. The barrage of gunfire turns the covered SAM into a bonfire as its payload explodes. You grunt slightly as you speed up once more, weaving around the area in Silhouette Mode as you hunt down the next targets in your path.


AWACS "Scheherazade"
<< The operation is proceeding as planned... It looks like the first VTOL has landed and troops are on the ground. >>

Kerberos 4 "Stalker"
<< Thanks, Haze. Couldn't have done nearly as well without you. >>

Kerberos 2 "Haze"
<< Always happy to help... Hm. Looks like this outpost is a dud. I suppose it can't ever be that simple. >>


Your own escort detail continues as your radar updates, crossing out the first outpost as you fly through the valley. You've only had to use your standard missiles and gunpods to clear out the anti-air equipment littered throughout the area thus far. And with your experiences during the last operation, you also feel as if you've gotten better at taking out fortifications like these. You consider something after taking out a missile truck hidden in the brush - the targets had no markings on them. And... it seemed to be a sort of hodgepodge of units from different parts of the world. You weren't an expert, but you could tell an Esoran tank from a Striglavian one.
Pilot: Kerberos 1 " Joker"
AC: AF-07T Kite (Trainer)
AC Mode: Silhouette
STR: 3
GUN: 2
ACM: 4 (+1)
EVA: 6
END: 4
TEC: 3

Loadout:
2x Knives
1x Standard Gunpod
QAAMs

"...Pretty simple, aside from the location. For any other pilot, they might clip a wing on these pillars - but you're doing pretty well in a claustrophobic area Joker." Prinz gently nudges the back of your seat as you continue piloting the Kite through the valley, lighting up more targets as the VTOL slowly passes through your path of carnage.


Kerberos 5 "Carmilla"
<< Ohohohoho~! Flak like that won't even scratch the paint on my Vikhr! Come, Crescent, let's show these squatters how Kerberos Squadron deals with intruders! >>

Kerberos 4 "Crescent"
<< Y-Yes ma'am! Diving in! >>

AWACS "Scheherazade"
<< The second VTOL has arrived at the target location. Troops disembarking... Unfortunately, it seems like the eastern outpost hasn't been touched. >>


You fly circles around the outpost, slowing the Kite's engines as the VTOL approaches. There honestly wasn't much to do - despite the length of the journey, you had managed to clear out all opposition in the area. You can hear your WSO let out a soft yawn from behind her oxygen mask as you observe the VTOL touching down. As two body-armor clad teams exit, their Vertical Tank rolls out of the twin rotor craft and shifts into Stance Mode.

"Rosebush"
<< All units advance! This has to be one! >>


And indeed, it is. You watch as two automated turrets cleverly hidden within the rocks surrounding the outpost pop out. The troops take cover behind the small machine as it uses arm-mounted machine guns to return fire. As it slowly advances, the two teams begin to return their own fire in the form of quick bursts from their rifles and grenades. The outpost's new defense are quickly disabled as their infantry approach the thick bunker-like doors and set charges. They breach the outpost as you wait with bated breath.

AWACS "Scheherazade"
<< Confirmed. The valley's defense system has now been disabled. Lifting altitude restrictions. Nicely done Kerberos Squadron... Ah! Five unidentified ACs have just appeared on radar, heading right towards your position, Kerberos 1! >>


For the briefest of moments, you spot a glint within the clouds of something metallic. Prinz lets out a loud yelp as you take evasive manuevers, accelerating into an aileron roll as a projectile pierces the area where you once were. You shift the Kite into Stance Mode and use the external camera on your gunpod to scope in on the approaching bandits. Black ACs. You swallow dryly, instantly recognizing them. Though, unlike before, three of the hostiles are flying in modified Crusader F.3s from the Kingdom of Altia. Though their Sniper has already begun rapidly ascending, you can also just make it out as a JS-03 Gacrux, a Tainese model.


You can't help but feel a sense of dread as you identity the lead AC. Unlike the others, its wings are painted a bright red. What concerns you the most, however, is the model they're flying - an AF-09 Kestrel. The UFE's latest fighter AC model - and something that no one outside of the Western Coalition's forces should be flying. As they begin to approach the outpost, you heed your AC's system warnings and quickly dance around a salvo of missiles as you begin to ascend.

Kerberos 2 "Haze"
<< Kerberos Squadron, head over to Kerberos 1's position! Prepare for engagement, bandits are hostile! >>


"Hunter..." Prinz whispers the name of your former superior under her breath as you quickly shift back into Silhouette Mode and pull into a sharp turn to avoid another round from the sniper above. You grit your teeth as the scene comes back to the front of your mind. Perhaps, after seeing just how quickly he had died, you've always been wary of something like this happening. You glance above as the four fighter-type AC break formation. Glancing at your radar, you can already see your allies flying towards your location.

AWACS "Scheherazade"
<< All GDF forces, remain within the outposts. >>

"Rosebush"
<< You don't have to tell me twice... Damn it, and there wasn't even anyone at the controls here. It was all automated! Just who the hell are these guys? >>


You glance up towards the blue sky as the black birds swirl overhead. Compared to the other fighters, the Kestrel is flying differently, however. You tap your console to get Prinz's attention - you've already made up your mind. You receive a silent confirmation as your target locks onto the AC with red wings.

You...

  • Pursue the enemy lead in Silhouette Mode [GUN + ACM, DC: 13]
  • Shift into Stance Mode and try to draw the enemy into a mid-range engagement. [GUN + EVA, DC: 14]
 
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GasMaskie

"Wait and Hope"
>Shift into Stance Mode and try to draw the enemy into a mid-range engagement. [GUN + EVA, DC: 14]
[AVG: 10 + 4: Success]

Shifting to Stance Mode, you begin drawing a bead on the Kestrel as it circles you from above. You keep your AC moving - though Stance Mode isn't ideal for manuevering. You grit your teeth as you fire off bursts from your rifle. Prinz has her work cut out for her - the Kite's successor unit is fast and the pilot's own manuevering forces her to keep seeking and locking back onto the bandit. All the while, you're under pressure from sniper shots narrowly missing you as you dance in the skies.

[MISSILE ALERT] [MISSILE ALERT] [MISSILE ALERT]

As the Crusaders start to pursue you in earnest, they each fire off a salvo of missiles at you. Quick reflexes allow you to snap your gunpod towards one of them and intercept it with a hail of bullets, while a sudden ascension further into the sky allows you to avoid the second. Just when you think you'll have to hunker down and take the next hit - a shot rings out and a metal rod pierces through the projectile.

Kerberos 4 "Stalker"
<< Kerberos 4 in position. Haaah, with all their attention on Joker, it was easy for me to climb high enough. Cloud cover's dense now - Carmilla, could you lend me a hand? >>

Kerberos 5 "Carmilla"
<< With pleasure, my unfortunately named companion! An Attacker pilot of my calibur shall not fall to a sharpshooter's rounds! >>

Kerberos 3 "Crescent"
<< It looks like the commander's got his mind set on something! Moving to intercept! >>

Kerberos 2 "Haze"
<< You see it too, don't you? Their flying's... off. Go ahead, Kerberos 1. We can handle the rest of the flight. >>


You bring a manipulator up, giving the rest of your Squadron a thumbs-up as you follow the Kestrel in Stance Mode, weaving through the valley's pillars as you do so. From your rear cameras, you watch as Haze's Washi shifts into Stance Mode and faces off against two of the black ACs while Crescent's Alioth chases another Crusader in Silhouette Mode. Carmilla draws the sniper's attention while enduring its precise fire with her thick armor plating - though she still moves to evade certain shots.
Pilot: Kerberos 1 " Joker"
AC: AF-07T Kite (Trainer)
AC Mode: Stance
STR: 3
GUN: 2
ACM: 4
EVA: 6 (+1)
END: 4
TEC: 3

Loadout:
2x Knives
1x Standard Gunpod
QAAMs


Burst after burst of fire explodes from the tip of your gunpod as you attempt to shoot down the red-winged Kestrel. Compared to the basic flying of the rest of their squadron, they actually fly with a certain amount of experience - moreso than those pirates. Once you exhaust a magazine, you quickly begin to reload with a spare stored in the Kite's hip armor - but as soon as you turn the AC's optic array towards the sky, the bandit has vanished.

"Joker, behind you!" Prinz's warning is enough to jolt you into action as you dive forward, narrowly avoiding the Kestrel as it lunges forward with a knife of its own. With both manipulators still on the gunpod, you force your AC backwards as you bring the weapon up. But the Kestrel, having missed its strike, doesn't make the mistake of trying to follow-up with another strike. Instead, it shifts back into Silhouette Mode and flies off as you fire off a full-auto burst from your Gunpod. The tracer rounds disappear into the forestry below as your foe disappears behind a pillar. You take a deep breath, brandishing a knife in one manipulator as you attempt to anticipate its next angle of approach.

"From above, 2 o'clock!" Judging by Prinz's warning... you end up bringing your gunpod up instead. The Kestrel engages in Silhouette Mode, launching two of its own missiles towards you. With a quick burst and steady aim, you ignore the system's warnings as you shoot them down quickly and attempt to fire on the AC. It flips, nose over tail, narrowly avoiding your barrage before shifting into Stance Mode and attempting to bring its blade down from over head.

Sparks fly in the air as edge meets edge - you bring your left arm up and begin to engage in a defensive bout. Unlike the previous mission, however, you can't find any openings in their technique. You match the Kestrel blow for blow, but you can't quite strike back on your own. As you attempt to make some distance between the two of you, the bandit once again transforms and disappears from view behind the nearest pillar.

You grit your teeth as you weigh your options. You...

  • Stay in Stance Mode and weather their assault until you can find an opening. [END + EVA, DC: 16]
  • Shift into Silhouette Mode and attempt to pursue them through the valley. [END + ACM, DC: 14]
 
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