Fandom: Guilty Gear
Pairing: future Sol/Ky
Rating: G, for now
Warnings: Alternate Timeline, beginning around GGX.
Summary: After the war, Ky finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy of unprecedented magnitude, with secrets that threaten to change his world forever.
Notes: This fic grabs canon by the throat and shakes it until all the shiny things come tumbling out. Including Sin. Somewhere along the line, the world gets saved. Go figure.
I | II | III | IV | V | Interlude I | VI | Interlude II | VII | Interlude III | VIII (First Half, Second Half) | IX | X (First Half, Second Half)
Going off the Record
One of the first things Kliff had taught him was the perfect poker face.
Most people tended to have recognizable tics, little idiosyncrasies that gave them away, a certain deliberate aloofness or neutrality, but Kliff knew about the value of an honest face, and, or so he said, there was no need to do away with Ky's guileless gaze, just room for improvement. It helped that he was young, young enough to still invoke notions of childhood and naïveté without any necessary pretense, and over the years, it had allowed him to see and hear things people were usually inclined to keep to themselves, to nod agreeably when in reality he wanted the ballroom chandelier to drop on whoever he was speaking to, to smile confidently even when he wasn't feeling confident at all, because someone, worried or scared or dying, needed him to.
With time, Ky had developed the reputation of being too honest, too straight-laced and easy to read, and it helped to maintain the by then effortless guise. It had certainly helped him all the way through the morning reception, shaking hands, accepting laudations, and repeatedly hearing, again, what a shame it was that he'd opted for such an — here, there was always a deliberate pause — unusual career, otherwise he could consider the prime minister of lower Spain his colleague, or — and this was usually accompanied by an over-excited titter — boss the Vatican's delegation around, wink wink, nudge nudge.
Still, he was grateful by the time all the researchers and politicians had been herded towards the stage, taking their seats under the waiting canopies. For one, it gave them something else to focus on, and for another, it was much easier to keep track when they weren't constantly flitting about. It was hard enough to prevent them from leaping at each other's throats, boasting and unsubtly insulting whoever it was they happened to be talking to, that it was entirely too much to hope they'd left plots or rabid sympathizers at home. The speeches gave the entire competition a sense of order, and him the small comfort of the humming generators mounted on the edge of the stage, keeping an invisible barrier going that could easily withstand a medium explosion.
Some of the R&D staff had happily pilfered them from the Order storage when they left for the IPF, claiming with a certain amount of smug satisfaction that the devices would only end up mothballed or sold, anyway, and wouldn't he like to give them a good home?
They were neither the first nor the last to take a risk like that, swiping records or maps, taking a horse that might as well have been their personal mount anyway, for all man and beast had been through together. These things were precious, too precious to stay in any one person's keeping, stuffed away in some private library or secret shed. For Ky, there was little sense in doing anything but accepting the gifts, stolen though they were, grateful that the soldiers at least weren't doing it entirely in his name. There was a fair amount of schadenfreude, too, resentment at having a lifetime of servitude betrayed, and though Ky had left, he'd always kept an eye out, had heard the closed-door whispers that spoke of turning the waning Order into a private army. Private for whom, they never said, but they hadn't been nearly as quiet about it as they'd hoped, for all the offense the soldiers took at the thought of being sold, part and parcel, to some nameless bidder.
There were no questions as to where the supplies were going, partly because it was his reputation at work again — surely, strict and pious Sir Kiske would never condone such a blow to the organization he'd devoted his life to — and partly because most of the brass were too shell-shocked at having the army crumbling into dust right before their eyes to notice, truly notice, its dwindling inventory. Now, nobody thought to ask about the field generators, serving their purpose once more in a slightly different manner by shielding humans from humans instead of Gears.
Sol, he thought, would have appreciated the irony.
The presentations themselves were as broad as their goal — ringing in a new age for humanity. Vaccines, transport networks, an experimental refining process for float stones. An experimental airship design to go with it, said to achieve twice the speed of normal models. A Gear farming project from northern Calabria that was met with much scorn and derision, as if half the populace wasn't learning to live off the Gears in one way or another, the earth burnt so badly in places that there was simply nothing else left. From his vantage point at the sidelines, Ky could see two IPF officers stiffening, gritting their teeth as the presenter was eventually forced off the stage under the hail of accusations, heresy and satanism and all the other good things. They'd all been there at some point, turning to the slain Gears because the supply lines had broken down, and it was either that or starvation.
The atmosphere was doing a good job of making him restless, too, more so than any stiff, upper-crust banquet he'd had to attend in his life. It had him looking forward to his patrol shift, where he could at least walk off the tension collecting between his shoulder blades and winding down his spine. Ky couldn't even say what it was, as he'd long since learned to shrug off the intolerance that liked to drift around the kinds of circles that could afford to harbor it. Maybe it was the way the competition had changed from the war, where everyone had been too busy staying alive, some more than others, where so much had been based on luck alone, sink or swim, nations splintering, borders shrinking by the day. Absurdly enough, the fear and reluctance to band together had been easier to understand than this, the new struggle that had gripped half of Europe, countries engaged in a race for the top, determined to have an edge over others at all costs.
Dick-measuring contest, an all too familiar voice in the back of his mind supplied, causing him to choke on his breath.
"Fine," he managed amidst coughs, waving dismissively at the guard who had frozen next to him, staring at him with concern. "I'm fine, Corporal. Just..."
Just being tripped up by the voices in my head, wasn't exactly something he could say to the man's worried face, at least not without sounding thoroughly insane. He wasn't even sure when his mind had first begun providing the unruly commentary, just that it had started doing so years ago, in one boring round of negotiations or another, when the actual commentator didn't avail himself for disruptions and cynical observations. It hadn't happened in a while, but then again, he'd been busy and not especially involved in the kinds of tasks that warranted the voice to make itself known.
"It's nothing, please don't worry about it." He smiled, got the man's tentative smile in return, and eventually, he turned his attention back to the audience.
By now, they were on the second project involving the construction of reservoirs and, or so the head scientist advertised, 'clean water for a whole country.' Sol once said that listening to scientists talk about their inventions was actually watching them masturbate to a mental three-way between themselves, their own brilliance, and whatever it was they'd come up with after a night of stale coffee and spreadsheets. Ky couldn't remember what he'd said in response, whether he'd frowned, rolled his eyes or surreptitiously sent a spark traveling up Sol's arm because they were in polite company, but crude as it was, he couldn't help the feeling that there was a grain of truth to it. The man on stage certainly seemed a little too enthusiastic for mere marketing talk.
A small glance around confirmed that he was actually one of the few still paying attention, or trying to, his mind more on the surroundings than the talk. Most of the remaining audience were shifting or fiddling with whatever they happened to have at hand, hair or purses or notepads, hoping to shorten the experience in whatever way they could. In the third row, the Prussian delegate was engaged in a round of stealth-knitting, her needles sliding soundlessly through the thread of what appeared to be a pair of children's socks. One of the reporters, who had somehow managed to snatch a seat in the VIP row and had been writing furiously for the first thirty minutes of the presentation, was now doodling stick figures in the margins of his stenography pad while maintaining the same concentrated expression.
"—however, you will find that by using a high-intensity magic particle filter, we are also able to provide one hundred percent clean drinking water for a town of one thousand people with an array of only ten purifiers." At the podium, the scientist finished with a little bow, closing the lid on the hundreds of pale glowing tubes and shutting down the machine. "This concludes the technical side of things. Are there any questions?"
After a moment, a woman rose in the rows reserved for the researchers, under the collective glare of several colleagues. "Excuse me, but what happens if the containment field fails?"
Several assistants appeared on stage to re-wrap the machine in its protective tarp, while the man turned to her with a benevolent smile. "My dear..." He paused. "My dear Dr. Neumann. The containment field is generated and stabilized by a power core. Surely you'll remember the theory of perpetual feedback from the elementary course. Crystallized magic cannot fail."
A few snickers from the science row, with the delegates mostly non-plussed, but interested in the first signs of a catfight. The woman glared. "In my experience, dear Dr. Febvrier, 'cannot' does not exist. One should think the cost of installing another core would be easily mitigated by the... great benefit your invention would bring to all of us."
Another hand rose, this time from the delegate side. "Come to think of it, you haven't told us the development costs for this thing. Just how much will it take to install this array you were talking about?"
Apparently, criticism had penetrated the lethargy, because another scientist rose to back up his colleague. "And the particles? I don't think you've specified how this machine will prevent magic from ionizing the water. We don't have cities full of gifted people. This could be a serious health hazard for the rest."
The man coughed, his smile frozen on his face. "I'll gladly answer all your questions at the technical demonstration tomorrow. However, for the moment, I'm afraid our time is up. Thank you for your attention."
The applause he received was distinctly less enthusiastic than he'd expected; half the audience was still trying to wake up from the talk, some straightening in their seats in the manner of people trying to stretch as many muscles as possible without being noticed, others barely making an effort to hide their yawns, while the science faction had smelled blood in the water and was just waiting to pounce.
"Ladies and gentlemen." The announcer had reappeared on stage and was bowing deeply, head bent towards his knees. "This concludes our morning agenda. Please enjoy the refreshments in the adjoining tent, and make sure not to leave any valuables behind. Our afternoon presentations will commence in thirty minutes, that is three o'clock. Thank you."
A rumble went through the rows as several hundred people rose from their seats at the same time, all shuffling towards the buffet, impatiently peering over the shoulders of those further ahead. Some of the police officers were tentatively adopting a more casual stance the more seats emptied, rotating their shoulders and rocking on their feet as the stream of delegates passed out of their area of responsibility. Ky stepped forward, suppressing the urge to tug at the tight clasp of his dress collar, and made to follow after them, when his radio crackled.
He pressed the device closer to hear over the noise of the audience. "Speaking."
"Jarre here, from post N-26."
"I hear you, Major."
"We've received a visit from a gentleman, sir. Vicar Conrad, of Cardinal Gregory's staff—" Here, the transmission broke off, an angry pitch chattering indistinctly for a few moments, before the officer's voice returned, strained. "He says they're awaiting the arrival of their research team, but I can't find that team anywhere on the guest list. Not even on the original one. As far as I'm concerned, sir, they never applied for participation. Should I... I mean, the gentleman is quite... insistent, sir."
Ky pressed his lips together, holding back a sigh. "Please tell him to stand by, Major. I'll be with you in a few minutes, then we'll get to the bottom of this. If anyone arrives before I get there, don't let them through."
Rubbing the tension ache from his neck, he walked towards the steps leading up the side of the stage, the hum of the barrier raising the hairs on his skin. A quick check on the output panel showed that the shield generator was working fine, better than it ever had in the war, and he allowed himself to relax slightly. This was one thing that seemed to be holding up today, at least.
Slowly, he let his gaze travel past the stage draperies and spotlights, and further upwards along one of the mighty stone columns, its sweep ending abruptly in mid-air. In a way, it was fitting that meeting should be held in the shadow of the broken Arc, with everything slow to mend and not quite as good as before, and even if no one quite knew what 'before' had been like, it was what they were all striving towards.
Beyond that, though, lay the streets packed with celebrating people, their noise a reminder of the things that truly mattered, and Ky allowed himself a moment to close his eyes, listening to the faint, happy thrum of the city.
"—I keep telling you, they'll be arriving on short notice. On personal invitation! Do you even realize what this means? No, of course you don't. I wouldn't expect a... footman to be skilled in the ways of international diplomacy. Cardinal Gregory is here on behalf of the Pope! The very man you used to serve!"
The vicar's voice was booming as if shouted through a megaphone, bouncing back and forth between the rows formed by the large gray equipment containers. Most of the personnel in the backstage area had stopped unloading and repacking their projects, unable to keep from listening in on the faceless tirade, some even exchanging confused or sympathetic glances with their neighbors when they would have otherwise been jealously guarding their respective inventions.
"Sir, if you please—"
The major's voice was dragged under like a piece of driftwood, the vicar able to drown him out through the force of his echo alone. The amount of righteous indignation was painting a rather vivid picture of any ecclesiastic services he might provide, and Ky quickened his pace to a near-jog, weaving in and out of the labyrinth. "No, no I wouldn't please. This is an affront to His Holiness!"
"Sir, if it were anyone else, we wouldn't be able to make an exception, either. It's—"
"But it isn't 'anyone else.' If I didn't know better, I'd say you're harassing us on purpose."
"Please, Your Grace. I've already sent for Sir Kiske. He's on his way right this minute, I assure you."
"Sir? Sir?" The vicar's voice cracked on the last word. "He lost that title when he cast off the Order! I wouldn't expect any loyalty from a traitor, but I'd at least expect some decency."
"With all due respect, but the Commander is—"
"Many are the plans in a man's heart, Your Grace," Ky said smoothly, stepping out and motioning for the officer to stand down. The man immediately dropped his gaze, retreating against the boundary line, visibly grateful to be allowed to leave the difficult guest to his superior. "But it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
Conrad whipped around mid-pace to stare at him, beads of sweat glistening on his bald head, his face almost as pink as his ornate robes. Ky remembered him distantly; one of the inquisitors, as the soldiers liked to call them with no small amount of disdain, upstart clerics that expanded their influence by acting as administrative bridges between the different Order committees and the army itself. Although they had originally been meant to be mediators, they saw themselves more as messengers, passing on orders from their superiors with little room for consideration or debate. From what he'd heard of him, Conrad had always had a penchant for disrupting the routine, constantly on some witch hunt or another involving unsatisfactory reports or improper conduct among the troops. His erratic, self-important behavior had earned him a fair amount of ridicule, but he had been fully capable of throwing a battalion into chaos by dragging its soldiers to a drumhead trial.
Now, he took a moment, sizing Ky up as well as his diminutive stature would allow. "Indeed, Captain Kiske. I doubt, though, that His purpose for you is to keep me waiting."
"Indeed not," Ky agreed. "And I apologize if this was the impression. Now then, if you would tell me the origin of the research team or the applicant's name, I will check again. Perhaps they were simply lost."
"That won't be necessary, Captain." The vicar had crossed his arms behind his back and was shifting from foot to foot, as if trying to channel his temper into the ground. "You won't find them on the list because they are not on the list. I believe I told as much to your subordinate."
"Then I'm afraid you will have to understand that Major Jarre was correct in refusing your request," Ky said, frowning inwardly. "We cannot allow anyone to enter freely and move about however they please."
"You fancy yourself our prison warden, then, Kiske?"
"Your Grace, please do not twist my words," Ky said, allowing just a hint of steel to slip into his tone. The pretend-offense was the oldest trick in the book, and while the vicar's choleric outburst from five minutes ago might have been genuine, he could now sense the intent behind his words. Whatever he was trying to achieve, he was seeking to avoid putting his cards on the table. "We are responsible for the safety of several hundred important men and women today, including His Excellency and yourself, and I am sure you are well aware that this event has not inspired positive feelings in certain circles."
Conrad's eyes had narrowed into slits, pretend-offense blending once again into honest anger. "Are you accusing me...?"
"Far be it from me to do such a thing. But I am not willing to take so great a risk, either."
"Perhaps you don't understand, Captain." He leaned forward. "I am giving you my word."
Ky shook his head. Although he had never met Vicar Conrad personally, he could easily see why the man had the reputation he did, barely allowing his opponent to finish his sentences, and reducing any sensible argument to matters of loyalty and honor. Question God's self-anointed, question God Himself.
"Then I will have to be very blunt, Your Grace. You would have me take your word on the integrity of men whose identities you decline to reveal, whose area of expertise is unknown, and who will be arriving on short notice. I beg your pardon, but this is simply not satisfactory, not as long as I am responsible for so many lives."
He had expected another outburst, more accusations, perhaps even threats of official complaints, ludicrous as that was. The vicar's face wasn't creasing in a grimace of fury, though, but with the thin lines of a smile, and when Conrad reached into the folds of his chasuble, Ky knew he had been waiting for just that.
"Then I'm afraid you leave me no choice. By the power vested in me, I order you to admit our honored guests. They will be arriving at fifteen-hundred." Lips quirking higher, he pulled out a gold-rimmed envelope sealed with wax, and handed it to Ky. "Now then. If you'll excuse me, I must attend to my duties. Do feel free to investigate its authenticity, Captain. You might find yourself... surprised."
With that, he turned on his heel and marched past the guard, disappearing between the containers. Ky watched him go, hooking a finger into the flap of the envelope and tearing it open, a letter bearing the insignia of the Holy See sliding into his palm.
"Commander, sir?" Jarre was peering at him hesitantly, confusion written all over his face. "What the— I mean, what was that all about?"
"I have no idea," Ky murmured, eyes widening as he scanned the missive. "Major, I want you to get me the festival committee on the line. I've got a blank pass for this mystery team here, and I want to know who approved it. This isn't in their jurisdiction."
"Yes, sir. Right away."
With a quick salute, Jarre withdrew, leaving him to adjust the channels on his headset. "Bernard?"
"Speaking, sir. Just a moment." His aide's voice was as carefully controlled as ever, though Ky could sense some surprise in his tone. He probably hadn't expected a radio call at headquarters, let alone one using one of the old wartime scramblings. There was the sound of shuffling feet and the heavy office doors closing, before Bernard picked up the transmission again. "We're alone, sir."
"I apologize for interrupting your work," Ky said. "But I require your assistance. I need you to find out everything you can about Cardinal Gregory and his attendant, a certain Vicar Conrad. Their past, their political ties, anyone of relevance they might have had contact with. Unfortunately, I can't give you a specific time frame. You might very well have to dig around in Order correspondence."
A pause, and he could hear Bernard frowning. "Is something the matter, sir?"
Ky sighed, raking a hand through his hair. "I can't say yet. But... if you have to speak to anyone, please be careful."
A/N: This one is mostly terrible exposition. Meh. Hope you'll bear with me till the next chapter, where Stuff Is Actually Going to Happen. Anyway, thanks go to raging_tofu for the check-up, and C&C is, as usual, greatly appreciated.
- And because everyone can see what I did there, Proverbs 19:21.
- Order ranking system versus police ranking system. Such a headache. I picked the Canadian ranks because as usual, they're the only sensible people around. XD
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