Chapter 7:



Roy's watch lit up, and his itinerary read, "7:30 Debriefing with Chief Aldheim / 9:00 Briefing with Akos Braun for Convoy Assistance".

A meeting with Aldheim, huh? I wonder if she'll have anything to say about Felix…

"Roy, good morning," a woman called out from within the crowd. Roy peered over a dozen smiling heads, and spotted her.

"Chief Aldheim? Good morning. I was just on the way to the office to see you."

What on earth is she doing here? Does she know something?

"Well, I saw your itinerary for the day and thought I'd walk you to the Outer District to save you some time," the purple eyed woman said with a polite smile.

"Oh, that would be a big help, thank you," Roy replied, and the two braved the crowd of smiles.

"You sure are wincing more than normal. You took your morning dosage, right?"

"Of course," Roy replied with an awkward smile. "It is a bit brighter today though, and maybe some pollen in the air."

"Right," she said, chuckling through her nose. "Well, you did work late for the first time in your career. It's natural you'd be feeling a little weary after losing sleep."

She's too good at her job… I can't make a single slip up.

If only I could adjust something for you to make it easier to lie to her.

I'm not lying because I want to, Navi…

"So?" Aldheim asked, brow raised. "Are you going to tell me all about your meeting with Ken Jitsuo? I heard you two caused quite the stir…"

By the time the gate came into view, Roy had explained most of what transpired the day before, leaving out some key details. "Hmph, the kid sounds like a pain in the ass. Sorry, I shouldn't speak like that. But, it sounds like Ken's testing your fortitude enough that I don't have to mind my tongue."

"I can guarantee I've heard worse," Roy said, chuckling. "He's definitely bringing out a side of me I really haven't been aware of. I'm still going to be mindful of my responsibilities, but I'll admit it was nice to be a little reckless for once."

"And that kind of talk is what separates you from other green eyes," she said with a smirk. "You really have the potential to be a purple eye. No, it's more like you're already in between green and purple."

"I'm just doing my job, Chief."

"Yes, exactly," she replied, smiling. "So keep doing that and you'll be fine. Don't go overboard in trying to get the kid baptized though, okay? It's up to him whether he wants to be saved or not."

"...yes, I agree. I'll try my best to act with composure and restraint."

"Especially if you're going with a convoy outside the walls. It's dangerous… I don't need to tell you that, though. I guess I'm just personally concerned. After all, I was serious about you taking over if I get promoted. Even if you don't succeed with Ken, I think I'll get the call soon, and when I do, I don't want anybody but you to be the next Chief."

Roy stopped. "Really…?"

She smiled, a spec of red flashing in her deep purple eyes. "Yes— and I get what I want, Roy."

Roy's mouth opened, but nothing came out.

How much does she actually know…?

"Is something wrong?" Aldeim asked, smirking.

"No, it's just… a little overwhelming to think about."

"You'll manage just fine when the time comes. And that might even be in two days."

"W-why two days?"

"There's other projects aside from Ken," she replied with a chuckle. "Which reminds me, I want you to take over with Ellie Rogers until her baptism. You've been in contact, so it makes sense."

"What? Why?" Roy asked, following her toward the gate.

"I'm sorry I left you in the dark yesterday, but Felix had more than a little trouble with Ellie. He's in home confinement right now, so I'm reassigning his appointments. And Ellie's the priority.

"Oh… That's disappointing to hear," Roy said, unable to look at her turned back.

"I'm sure he'll be okay."

"Good… But, isn't switching this close to a baptism problematic?"

"Not in your case, I don't think," she said, facing him with the same smirk. "I know she's troublesome, but no more than Ken, right?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Roy replied with a chuckle, still looking away.

"Just avoid asking her questions involving The Truth," she said, her smirk gone. "You should be able to find other ways to get in her head."

"But Chief…" Roy said, clenching his fist as his eyes met hers. "What is there to be done if she's not responding to the higher dose of Aesthetics she's already on?"

Her smirk returned. "See, you already have your homework done. Don't push her, is what I'm saying. Reassure her. Just get her to her baptism. If she passes, she'll likely get the highest dose available."

Ken's right… That way of doing things is horrible.

"I'll do the best I can, then."

"Perfect. Good luck, today." She left him with a smile, and an unusually interested gate guard."

"Good morning, Sable… Rather, officer Rausse. Sable blinked past him, his shadowed eyes focused on Aldheim's swaying hips.

"You could have at least introduced me," he grumbled as he flipped the switch to the gate. "It's the least you could do after wrecking a truck with me in it…"

"To be fair, that was Ken. Plus, you were shooting at us." Roy smirked, and pointed at the healed mark on his arm.

"And he still owes me money," he replied, waving him through with a grunt. "Which I won't get if Braun actually makes him a soldier."

"Well I'll try to prevent that from happening, for both of your sakes," Roy said, chuckling as he walked through."Actually, can I ask you something."

Sable's entire face sighed as he abandoned his endeavor to sit in his metal chair. "What?"

"You've… killed someone, right?"

He finally looked him in the eye, his brow twisted as high as it could go. "Y-yeah, what about it?"

"Who… did you kill?"

"Some jackass in a bar… He came at me first, though."

"Were you already a soldier?"

"No, I was a quartz. I'd just immigrated and was awaiting my baptism."

"So you hadn't even heard The Truth, yet?"

"Nope," he replied, scratching his cheek. "They skipped the baptism. It was convenient since we're always low on soldiers."

"So you didn't face any consequences for killing someone…" Roy muttered, looking down.

"I said he started it. You here to give me shit for something that happened years ago?"

Roy craned his neck up and blinked at him. "What? Of course not. It just doesn't seem right."

"Yeah well that's the Outer District for ya. Don't act all high and mighty, like you aren't planning to do the same thing once you get purple eyes like that bob cut with the hips."

Roy glanced in the direction Aldheim had gone, an empty street left in her wake. "Thanks for talking to me, Sable."

"What happened to using ''officer"?" he replied, sitting down with a tongue click as Roy walked away. "Tell Ken not to get himself killed before he pays me back."

"Sable said that?" Ken asked with a grin as he puppeteered the smallest, oldest cleaning bot Roy had ever seen, sending it whirling around another scrap of metal that was even worse for wear. "What an ass, after he sucker punched me last night, too."

"I'd sucker punch you too if you ripped me off for booze," Rocks said, mashing at a handheld remote control. His bot was too slow, though, and found itself knocked on its side, its base rolling around while its truncated arms popped across the asphalt.

"That's another for me!" Ken cried. "You've lost your touch, old man."

"I don't have much to work with here," Rocks replied, grunting as he tossed the remote and snatched a cigarette from his raggedy shirt pocket.

"Anyway, we should get ready to leave," Roy said, glancing at his watch.

Ken rolled his eyes and guzzled the bottle of water sitting on the rotted patio railing. "Oh, we're gonna pick up Hai. Akos wants us to bring him along."

"Really? Another quartz?"

"Well it's not like he's a kid. Plus, he was a soldier before he immigrated."

"He was? Did he…"

"Kill? I dunno, you'd have to ask him. Though the aesthetics probably made him forget."

"So you two didn't know him on the outside?"

"Nope," Rocks said, letting the smoke cloud the space between the three where the scrap metal bot finally laid itself to rest. "Him and Gabi both came in on their own. Who knows what kind of shit they saw… At least Ellie and Dmitri grew up here, and Ken had me to raise him."

"And a great job you did, huh? I was a wanted man until last night," Ken said as he sent his bot on a neverending victory lap around the defeated one, while he attempted to fix his hair with his water bottle's last drops.

"What about you, Rocks?" Roy asked. "Are you coming too?"

Rocks laughed as he crouched down and put his cigarette out on the fallen scrap warrior. "Nope. I thought you'd guessed it, but the government doesn't know I'm here. I did immigrate with Ken, but it's more accurate to say he smuggled me in."

"Why couldn't you get in…?"

"That's a story for another time," he replied, standing and turning his back. "I've got work, and you two have a big appointment. Ken, don't do anything stupid, okay? If you do see Mika, be on your toes…"

"Don't worry, Rocks, I won't die and leave you all alone," Ken replied with a giggle. "C'mon Roy, let's go get Hai." The two took the alley opposite Rocks, and Roy found himself glancing back.

"Is there anything I should be worried about with you two?" Roy asked pointedly.

"Nah," Ken replied with his hands in his hoodie pocket. "What about you and Felix? You two got yourselves in more trouble than I'm in, didn't you?"

"I have it under control."

"What about Ellie? You're taking over as her aesthetics officer, aren't you?"

"How did you know…"

"I'm not stupid, Roybot," he replied with a dumb expression. "Felix is obviously out of commission. It doesn't take a genius to figure out you'd be the one to take over."

"That's… fair enough."

"So, do you have a plan to get her through her baptism?"

"I'm going to screen you both tonight after we get back, and go from there."

"That's a no…"

Moments later they arrived at a flowery campus, where Hai met them at a bus stop which housed a puffing red trolley that Roy couldn't take his eyes off of.

"What? So used to walking everywhere you forgot what this is?" Ken said with a snort.

"Do you… take this?"

"Yeah," Hai said with a smirk as he boarded the trolley. "Pretty much everyone here does, unless you're a wanted man."

"Walking suits me," Ken said with a scoff as he followed Hai. "Besides, walking a lot keeps you from getting fat."

"Exactly," Roy said, failing to get his legs to follow Ken's lead. "I-is this even okay?"

"Why wouldn't it be?" Hai asked, peering over Ken's head with a furrowed brow.

"Wait… Are you scared?" Ken asked.

Roy's not going to answer, so I'll answer for him. Yes, he is scared.

No way… Pahahahaha!

Ken's mouth sputtered in sync with the voice only he heard. "Roy, you know we're going to be taking a rover outside the walls, right? They're like three times the size of this."

I need aesthetics.

I can't help you there.

Forsaken by his navi, Roy trudged up the steps and found his seat just as the trolley shook his equilibrium into nothingness.

I need aesthetics.

"Don't liquid laugh, again."

I need aesthetics.

"Is he going to make it through the wastelands like this, Ken?"

I need

At last, the motor ceased its rumbling, marking the end of the fever dream. Roy stumbled out of the trolley, his face matching the eyes of the man running to meet them.

"Akos? What's he in such a rush for?" Ken asked.

"Hey, I'm glad you made it early," Akos said, matching Roy's breathing and hands-on-knees stance. "Grainger, are you okay?"

"He gets carsick."

"That's… unfortunate," he said, stepping back from Roy with caution signs for hands. "Listen, the briefing will have to happen on the way out."

"Why?" Ken asked.

"I just got word that Mika's already launched an attack on one of our largest AI reception hubs nearby. If we don't stop him, he'll have no trouble destroying the firewall that protects the city from large-scale hacks."