Title: Going off the Record
Fandom: Guilty Gear
Contains: Alternate Timeline beginning around GGX, boom and stabbity. Now contains actual Sol/Ky with 100% more snugglies.
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
The hotel room was spacious, with plush carpeting and the overly ornamental furniture the ground people were so fond of, small trinkets crowding the surfaces — dried flower arrangements, a clock carved from root wood, tiny, gift-wrapped French soaps smelling of lilies and violets that she had found herself unreasonably fond of not a day ago, and had to berate herself for wanting to take them back home, like anything Zepp offered wasn't good enough.
In all, the room was bigger than any of the worker's lodgings she was used to, with a fire crystal to heat her bath water and a bell to ring if she required anything — pillows, tea, ridiculously sweet Parisian pastries — everything so comfy and inviting that Lara wanted to scream.
Only a day, and she couldn't stand the sight of it anymore, how everything was beckoning her to feel at home, sit down, have a drink, have a nap, be a guest. She didn't want the comfort, this cozy, clean haven, would have felt much better if she had been anywhere but here, with a maid to bring her lunch and dinner and aren't you hungry, ma'am, are you unwell, ma'am, if the food is not to your taste, ma'am, I'm sure I could ask the cook...
She had been absurdly glad when the maid had changed her demeanor in the afternoon, glaring whenever she entered the room, wordlessly placing down the tray and regarding her with a look like she was hoping Lara would choke on the whipped cream toppings, and it was terrible, wasn't it, to want such hatred when she had been so afraid of it not a week ago, to feel even the slightest bit like someone out there wanted to punish her.
Doubly terrible to want it knowing her team was facing similar consequences, when they had done nothing more than to put the robots together the way she told them to, and most of them... Miren, by the sky, Miren, so young that he couldn't even order a drink without being laughed out of the bar, who could have gone on to design for the very best... It wasn't so much a question of what the ground people would do, or who would be the one to do it — the police, the Church, or just an angry mob — but when, and would they even start a trial? What was there to try her about? An outsider, a heretic by their law, and she had...
I killed two men today, Lacie.
The thought rose unbidden, sharp and jagged like a shard of glass stuck inside her mind. She had never spoken to her sister like this, as if she were still here, because that was the stuff of childish stories, heaven and hell were only part of fairy tales. And still...
I killed two men today, and it was so easy... in and out... I didn't even have to do anything... did you know the human body is like butter, Lacie? You stick in a sword, and it comes right back out...
Maybe it wasn't true, like so many other things she had made up, twisted and bent to forge into an armor for herself, maybe there did exist a part of her, small and hidden away from her rational side, who had always been yearning, wondering what her sister would say to this or that, whether she would laugh, or chide, or look at her with that awful, sad gaze she had never worn in real life...
And it wasn't enough. One of them was still alive, but it wasn't enough...
Perhaps the worst thing of all was that she didn't know what made it so terrible, what would dredge up the memories every time and embellish them, add the things she hadn't been able to see, as clear and vivid as if she had been standing in the middle of the firestorm herself, but safe, shielded by an invisible barrier while she watched them burn to death. Lara couldn't say what made them different from any other people her weapon would have been pointed against, any other hapless person who had been identified as the enemy.
Was it that she had been there to see, or that she had known them, had spoken to them and learned their names and caught all these tiny glimpses that only ever became significant in retrospect? Sir Kiske's polite, understanding tone, perhaps the friendliest interrogation she had ever undergone, the way his lieutenant had hovered, warily, never more than two steps behind, and she had been so convinced he hated her because she was Zeppian, and not because of what she could do, would do to the one he had been trying so hard to protect.
Or was it that they had been innocent in every sense of the word, just two people who had never done her any harm, who had fought all their lives to make the world a safer, less miserable place?
Oh, how easy it was to unravel these thoughts and pry out the hypocrisy, the handful of people she personally knew against the thousands and hundreds of thousands she didn't — nameless, faceless, homeless — the good and virtuous against those for whom law and pride were unaffordable luxuries. Her own brothers had been philanderers who charmed naive girls out of their hard-earned money and honor, and her sister had been a thief, all of them the way they were because of circumstance, trying to chase down a slice of a better life. She didn't even want to think about herself, and what that made her, with good intentions a dime a dozen and so very clever she could explain all the wrongs away.
Raking a hand through her hair, she straightened. Her feet hurt from all the high-heeled pacing, her throat was feeling tight and itchy and the gentle floral perfumes from the little soaps were driving her crazy. What use was there in flitting around her room, from wall to wall and door to window, thinking about life and death and forgiveness like a helpless damsel, when she still didn't know, had no idea what had happened?
Her machines, her creations had gone haywire, not one, not two, but all eight of them, had defied their programming and refused her shutdown commands, a system so integral she had painstakingly constructed it by hand and taught it to recognize her voice. In secret, too, without the knowledge of Meirth or any of her colleagues, because even then, a part of her had been doubtful, hadn't really believed all this talk about machines being better than man.
Finding the critical flaw would not unmake what had already happened, couldn't possibly be a consolation to all those who had lost the one they so revered, but at least, it would shed some light on this tangled, chaotic mess, point out in perfect clarity the shape of the cross she would happily let people nail her to.
When she opened the door, however, she found the corridor blocked by two officers on either side, one young, about Miren's age, the other older and with a long scar on his left cheek. Both grim-faced, their hands resting on their swords in a way that made her flinch involuntarily.
"Do you need anything, ma'am?"
Clipped tones, suspicious stares. If she'd had any hope of convincing anyone of her sincerity before, it certainly wasn't the case now. No sense in trying for an apology, though, no sense in doing anything but push on ahead.
"There's... The machines. Where are they?"
The officers exchanged a glance, as if debating whether or not to tell her, but eventually, the younger one said, "...in IPF custody, ma'am."
"I see. I know how this is going to sound, but.... could you please take me there?" Their hands twitched into a firmer hold on their weapons, and Lara pressed her lips together. Who on Earth knew what they saw when they looked at her, perhaps some kind of half-mad terrorist who wasn't satisfied with taking their beloved captain away from them.
"I... please. This wasn't supposed to happen. None of this was supposed to happen, and... I'm the one who knows the most about them. At least, I want to find out what went wrong, so..."
"So you can rest easy, huh?"
"Jean..." the scarred officer said, giving his companion a warning stare.
"No." Lara shook her head firmly, an unjustified surge of anger spiking through her and making her hands clench, anger at the thought that she would deny responsibility for her creation, that this was all some scheme to unburden herself.
Isn't it, though? Liar, liar, pants on fire... didn't you want to stop that?
"Oh, come on," the younger one growled. "None of us were born yesterday, lady. You really think we'd allow the guys who almost killed the Commander—"
Her eyes widened. "Wait, almost?!"
"What, surprised it didn't work out?"
"Jean," the officer said again.
"Oh, can it with the 'Jean, Jean'!" the younger one exploded, eyes blazing. "They fucking tried to murder the lieutenant and the Commander, and we're standing around making sure nothing gets to them like a couple of dumbasses instead of—"
"What the hell is going on here!"
The shout came from a tall, red-haired officer Lara distantly recognized as having been present during their disastrous first introduction at the festival, striding towards them at a brisk pace.
"Major Jarre! We were just—"
The major waved dismissively. "Spare me. I've pulled more than a dozen hotheads aside already, my quota for nice and understanding is gone for the day. I don't care whether you're worried, or scared, or just really bloody pissed, soldier, you're not the one who's got it rough and if you think the Commander's going to be thanking you for that bullshit attitude, think again. You wanna put that urge to talk to good use, go through a couple of rosaries." He paused, inhaling. "Thierry, do me a favor and get this guy downstairs, write up a report. And if I see him up here again, then so God help me, he's going to be mucking out stables for the rest of his life."
"Yes, sir." With a curt nod, the scarred officer gave his partner a push on the shoulder, escorting him down the corridor.
Jarre slowly let out the breath he had been holding, cheeks puffing excessively. "I'm deeply sorry about that, ma'am."
Biting her lip, Lara nodded. "It's... it's all right. I can't.... Is it true what he said, though? About Sir Kiske? Is he really—"
The major raised an eyebrow, as if surprised at her concern. "The Commander and the lieutenant are getting treatment as we speak. Don't ask me how, don't ask me why, as far as I'm concerned it's a goddamn miracle, and you can think of that what you will."
"I..." She swallowed. "If that's true, then I have to—"
"Listen, Doctor. I don't think you understand. This is no longer about you, or your team, or the hellspawns you brought with you. This isn't even about us, or what we want. We're here to protect you when this whole thing goes up in flames. And I hope you realize that the only thing standing between your country and the pitchfork revenge crusade that is going to blow it out of the sky is currently down for the count. So if you want something to do, I suggest you go back to your room and start praying that he survives."
In the end, Lara wasn't sure what she said in response, if she said anything at all. She wasn't even sure how she had gotten back to her room, whether she had bid the major good night, turned around, and walked back by herself, or whether he had to help her, knees suddenly weak as jelly. In any case, this was how she found herself again, sitting on the floor with her back against the closed door, hands twisted up in the hem of her skirt and unable to summon a clear thought.
Prayer was a foreign concept, steeped in foolishness and mysticism, and she couldn't even begin to wrap her mind around the image of a god, an all-powerful something that was alternately sagely, white-bearded man or fantastical creature or anything in between, and the idea that it would listen, could be swayed to pity by the right words was more than just a little ridiculous, when it had failed to stop two hundred years of slaughter. And yet, she found that she had been mumbling in the back of her mind all along, to nothing and nobody in particular, soundlessly mouthing the words of the oldest, most graceless prayer in existence.
A/N: Please skip over here to continue.
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