“Baldur… why are you wearing a hat?”
Mars lifts his eyebrows, massages a temple with his left hand and then motions toward the Taniguchi residence. “Come on. Scuttlebutt is they’re looking to hire — you’re here for a job, Jazzhands.” It is relatively early in the morning, and traffic outside the estate is fairly busy. It quietly pleases Mars that some folks have to go around his mech; it pleases him even more that the ancient ‘mobile battle-platform’ is still in working order after all this time.
“-‘m sorry, what?” comes the cyborg’s distracted response. He’d been too busy looking at himself in the mech’s reflection. His metal jaw parts in that just that way that might suggest he’s trying to smile as he glances almost goofily at Mars. “Found it. Does it look good on me? I think it looks good on me.”
Where or when he’d found the thing hardly seems important. It’s a beaten leather thing that might make him look reminiscent of some desperado from the Old West of times long even before the Golden Age. A snug fit, but he’s got it set at a jaunty angle. Whatever gleeful look had been suggested on his metal faceplates is instantly erased with the clamp of his jaw and the flickering of his optics. “Jazzhands,” he mutters into the cowl of his hood, now bunched around his neck. “I’ll give you Jazzhands.”
It’s likely that he doesn’t mean it. In an odd way that Mars would probably be able to understand, it makes Baldur feel good to have something to scowl about. He gestures for Mars to lead on or whatever, then.
Marching down the driveway to the Taniguchi residence in a Glitterboy is likely to get an interesting response. The pair are met as they reach the manor by the House Captain and two or three bannermen. “Captain Dreyfield. House Taniguchi. Do you have an appointment?”
The pair might find this unusual until they consider the news that the Western Marches are as unsettled as ever. There might also be rumours that the part-elf Estate Manager has found herself trouble with a stalker, though most in Dogwood wouldn’t be sympathetic to that. She is, after all, just a dirty D-Bee.
At the same time as the pair are greeted, a sleek black sedan comes tooling down the drive, spraying gravel and dirt in its wake. It slides to a stop in a ‘parking space’ and tall dark haired woman, with slightly pointed ears, gets out. She frowns at the pair and then looks to the Captain “I didn’t think I had any appointments this afternoon.”“You look fine…” Mars replies to Baldur with a muted placating gesture of his left hand. “It’ll stretch anyway…” A reference to the hat’s size. Mars then shifts his attention from his friend to the captain and the noblewom, and offers a half-assed salute.
“Captain Kaius Mars — once.” Hmph. As if //that’s// going to explain why a supposed scion of a long-dead House is on their front lawn… ah well. Maybe they won’t notice the name… that would be simpler. Maybe he should change it — like Baldur?
The man’s mouth pinches together at the corner and he lifts both angular eyebrows, putting his hands on his hips. “This is Baldur. I’m with the Black Suns — heard you might be hiring.”
D-Bee or not, when a woman looks like that, you’d have to be blind or stupid not to pay admiration where properly due. At least, that’s Baldur’s philosophy. Not that he’s ever been as particular about D-Bees as most in Dogwood might be, but then in these past years he’s gotten a slight idea of how it might feel being regarded as one.
He’d been fine with letting Mars handle the talking part. It was his idea in the first place to come out here. But when Natsuki steps out of her vehicle, the cyborg tips up the brim of his hat, not quite managing to stop himself from mimicking a low whistle. Why did you bring him along, Kai.
“-er, yeah! At your service, ma’am,” Baldur says, fumbling over his cue. He pretends to clear his throat as he tugs his hat back down.
Dreyfield stands to attention as Natsu arrives but gives the woman a stern look. “After yesterday, I would expect you to take a Bannerman with you, Miss Taniguchi. Please ensure you do so in the future.”
Natsu sighs and waves the Captain off “We’ll talk about that later, Captain. That will be all.” She turns her attention to the newcomers.
It’s unusual for any of the Black Suns to seek employment individually, the band has a long term contract with the King. Perhaps the King has decided that the complaints from the Counts about the demon raids needs a little more attention and the band has sent these two to help out.
Natsuki’s eyebrows rise when Kaius introduces himself. She recognises the name at the very least. “Mars? There used to be a House called Mars. Hasn’t been since the war though.” That she has that information at her fingertips, particularly at her age, might be of interest.
Baldurs whistle gets an amused sort of look and the part-elf inclines her head to the cyborg. “Pleased to meet you too, Baldur.” The woman is rather irrepressible. “So you’ve been sent to assist with the incursions? What do you know?”“Just rumours, for now,” Mars replies laconically. No terms of address either, no fancy titles. No sucking up. He just… doesn’t feel like it. Proverbial headache. “Some sort of Undead attacking our supply lines.” Note the ‘our’ supply lines — Mars can’t quite bring himself to include V-town’s problems in there, as evidenced by the slight tightening around his eyes at the thought. Regardless, it is true that Dogwood is not the only civilisation being affected.
“Baldur…” he continues, glancing at his friend. “Isn’t with the ‘Suns. He’s freelance — for now. Rumour has it you’re having issues up in the mountains. D-shifting territory. The ones that didn’t wet themselves at the mention of ‘undead’… did, when the mountains came into it. I don’t care. And Baldur here… he can’t wet himself.”
“You can’t, can you?”
“What he said,” Baldur confirms, giving a curt nod as he shifts in his place, standing with arms set akimbo. Mars gives nothing but facts, and he’s the one that Baldur had first heard anything regarding the specifics, as…unspecific as it is. He won’t say anything in regards to House Mars since his pal doesn’t linger on it either, but his gaze tracks between the dreadlock-wearing man and the D-Bee woman almost anxiously.
There’s the awkwardest pause before the cyborg realizes that the last was directed at him, and he shoots Mars a look. “Seriously? You want to get into that sort of thing here. In front of a /lady./” He shakes his head, glancing in what seems to be an apologetic manner towards Natsuki. “I can’t take him anywhere. -and incidentally, /no/, I cannot,” he clarifies, the latter directed towards Mars.
“I see.” Natsuki is clearly amused by Mars and his laconic behaviour. “Our supply lines? I guess you could say that, though we’re not at war. They’re certainly affecting the crops on the holdings and too much more of it, we’ll have problems.”
There’s something unspoken there. They’re already having problems with the food supplies for the city diminished. But it’s not just the food supplies that will are affected. The nobles who own the lands will become impoverished – which might not be an issue for some but is for the people that they look after. House Taniguchi has a reputation for being good to its to people.
“But the rumours you’ve heard are correct. Demon activity, not undead, has increased from the mountains and is hitting our western borders. And whilst our Bannermen don’t wet themselves either, we’re spread thin. We can certainly use a few more good hands, or mechs as the case may be.”
Baldur gets another amused from the part-elf “I’m no Lady, as I’m sure you’ve heard.” The capitalisation of the Lady is audible, even though Baldurs wasn’t “Just Estate Manager for my cousin, Lady Taniguchi.
“What are your qualifications, gentlemen?”
It’ll do for a smile — better than a grunt. Squinting a bit, he glances back over his shoulder at the Glitterboy and shrugs. “Brought mine with me.” This type of mech is notoriously rare, which is something the Taniguchis would know. ‘Shiny’ bears the ‘sword and eclipse’ crest of House Mars on his shoulder-plate, even if the markings have faded.
Mars doesn’t go into further detail, but leaves the mech to ‘say it all’ so to speak. “Demons, huh? That’s… not much better. Okay…Yeah. The war…’course. We’re all just folk now…” And his voice trails off. The reminder of no longer being at war has him a little irked and he tries not to show it — so he instead glances meaningfully at Baldur, to let the cyborg answer for himself.
“Good. Not at war’s good,” Baldur quips, maybe a little too quickly. The last war he’d been in was seventy years old, but it had been more than enough at the time. “No crops is bad. …so’s demons. Not sure that that’s any better than undead, really, but uh, nice to get that straightened out early on.” That would otherwise be a rather nasty surprise to find out on one’s own.
“Oh, I dunno about that, ma’am. You’re as lady as they come.” See Mars, this is what happens when you bring him out. He straightens up, waiting his turn to answer for his own qualifications before happily proclaiming, “I shoot things. Pkew! Pkew!” He double finger-guns for emphasis.
…they’re going to be turned down, aren’t they.
“A Glitterboy. I had noticed. I trust it is in good working order.” Natsuki says dryly to Mars, squinting at the crest on the shoulder and considering the Cyborg carefully. “A descendant of the house, Mars or are you trying to honour them? Lady Taniguchi will want to know.” He’s not going to get out of answering and he should know that taking noble houses name is really not done.
As to relic. Wait till he sees Zelda’s Puma. Natsu would sigh if she was any less trained.
“All just folk now? Depends on your heritage doesn’t it?” she adds quietly. She might be of a noble house and ‘off limits’ to many open prejudices, but that doesn’t many she doesn’t suffer the quiet ones.
“I hope, Mr Baldur, that you shoot as well as you identify the sexes.” She smiles though. She’s used to the reaction at least “And I’m not sure demons are any better than undead. Just different.
“We’re offering standard terms for all contractors.”“Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng…” Mars mutters under his breath at Baldur (translation: ‘frog-humping son of a bitch’), mainly for the finger-guns, and his eyes crinkle in another squint. This one represents incredulity. And amusement. Resisting the urge to shake his head, the dreadlocked soldier turns back to the mech and gives Natsuki a nod.
“Needs a little work, but Shiny’ll fight.” Then he takes a breath, glancing askance at Captain Dreyfield. “I am House Mars,” says he with a grunt. “What’s left of it. Long story.” Then, eager to be off the topic of his family and their ‘fall’ during the war, Mars turns to Baldur and comments:
“‘Standard terms’ is good. Trust me. Take it.”
Oh, he /likes/ Natsuki. And not just because she’s actually talking to him and not around him like most tend to. And even if she’s humoring him, it’s the most anyone else does.
“Heritage, smeritage. Some folk are more idiotic than others,” the cyborg says, waving a hand although it looks like he’s slapping imaginary faces. “Oh, I go way back for shooting, though. I like to think I’ve gotten better at it since the war. Or was it during… Well, either way. I can hit things. That’s important.”
He decides not to comment about the demons and undead, mainly because he has a feeling Natsuki’s right on that point. Instead, he quiets again, glancing back at Mars as the inevitable subject is brought into play again.
It’s perhaps in an effort to change the subject and maybe keep it off the past that Baldur interjects on the tail of Mars’ response. “Standard terms! That’s better than no terms!” …boy did that sound stupid. “-I’m good.”
“Be that as it may, Mr Baldur…” Natsu quirks an eyebrow at the hatted Cyborg “… it’s a side effect of being a Dogwoodian.” Yes. She really did just use that word. Please, oh please, don’t make puns with it. “The war!? There hasn’t been a war in sevent—- ” she trails off, looking at Baldur carefully. “… oh….”
She’s not stupid.
Mars gets her attention again “As far as I know, Mr Mars, the last of House Mars perished during the …” another look to Baldur and then to Mars again “… war. It sounds like there’s a story there.”
“Captain Dreyfield, please ensure there are two berths in the contractors quarters for these two.” That’s part of the terms. Berths and food. If they’re going to be going out and facing the threat for the House, that’s the least the House can do for them. Of course, there’s pay too.Mars grimaces and leans his head to the side, massaging his scalp through his mane of hair. “They still say that?” he laments, referring to the term ‘Dogwoodian’. “Those V-towner puns about Dogwood were the worst…”
“Okay. Copy that. Hear that, Baldy? You’re hired. Berths and food — uhh, yeah. You get to shoot things and get paid for it. Tons of loot — hats, even.”
Back to Natsuki, his expression sombres a bit and he murmurs: “My… fingerprints, scans — all that stuff — should be on file with my service record. Don’t care, so long as there’s something to shoot.”
“Bah.” That’s all he has to say about prejudices. He knows this place isn’t perfect. Head lifting so he won’t have to nudge his hat up, he peers at the D-Bee as she blurts out in response. Oh, oh. Here it comes. It’s like he can see those gears in Natsuki’s head turn as she realizes just what war he’s talking about. Baldur brings his hands up at either side of him, giving them a waggle. Jazzhands~
“Yep. There’s a story all right,” he confirms, but it doesn’t seem like the cyborg is going to indulge in it, and especially not for his friend’s. Mars seems to have gotten the worst end of things. The world had gone by without him knowing it. At least Baldur had been able to watch. But both had lost their place in it long before.
…well, maybe with this, they can start jamming themselves back into it.
“Don’t call me that! I’m not- well okay, true, I don’t have hair, but still!” He cycles a snort, flicking his hat up with a finger. It however doesn’t budge save for the brief flutter of its brim for its being firmly wedged over his metal cranium. “Can I get a bed? Might be nice. …or I might not be able to tell the difference, but it’s the thought that counts!”
Natsuki blinks between the two Cyborgs in front of her. How on earth she’s going to explain this to Zelda she’s no idea. “So you … both … remember the war?” Maybe she shouldn’t be surprised but she //is// curious. “Did you see the end of it? My Grandfather used to tell me tales.” So did her Grandmother, who is still very much alive thanks to being elven.
“And yes, Mister Mars. They still call it that and you might imagine the things that have been said to me.” After all, the D-Bee Estate Manager does have a reputation. Which might be richly deserved.
“There are beds, of course, Mister Baldur. Please let my Captain know any special needs you have.” she pauses, squinting between the two in front of her “Within reason that is. And I’ll have the paperwork drawn up for you to sign tonight.”Mars’ eyes crinkle again and he glances askance at Baldur when hearing the words ‘remember the war’. For him it was… a few days ago. He had the ammo hot in his blaster, and no one to shoot.. when he woke up. “We were there,” he says straight, and to the point. It’s likely more believeable of Baldur — cyborg, full conversion… he’ll last decades upon decades providing he doesn’t get stuck in a puddle and rust. Mars keeps that thought to himself; he still thinks of Baldur as the flesh and blood soldier he knew before… so the cyborg suit is more like armour to him, than a body.
“Long story,” he adds. “I missed the ending.. we were getting our asses kicked and then some… I figured we’d lose. Didn’t figure we’d surrender.”
Okay, his lip curls a bit at that thought. He’d almost said ‘quit’. Turning to look at his friend again, Mars remarks: “He’ll want clothes. Something… with personality. Me, I’m easy to please — although if you still supply power cartridges for the old, GTF-37 Safecracker handcannon — ,” he loves that name. ” — I’d appreciate it. Almost no one makes them anymore.” And he pats the rather large pistol on his hip. “Same goes for Shiny. The Black Suns are well-outfitted, but… not for classics.”
Baldur looks towards the ground, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as such a simple three words unlock a flood of memories. He’s well-practiced at shoving them back into place like that booby-trapped closet where everything threatens to spill out at the slightest budge of the door. Naturally some things still get past.
“Eh, you didn’t miss much,” he says as Mars speaks. Already he could see the battlefield, the flashes of light, the explosions. The bodies. “War ain’t pretty, no matter the turn out. Lost a lotta good men.” His optics flick towards Mars before he looks back at Natsuki.
“Do we get to wear uniforms? -I hate uniforms.” Just like that he’s snapped the door shut, an almost startling shift from the solemn air he’d had a moment ago. “I’m thinkin’…yes, ammo would be nice. Charges for my pistol, bullets for the other one…” Within reason, huh? He supposes a date would be out of the question. “I do like new clothes.”
Baldur could ask, but perhaps not now. Natsuki is used to all sorts of wild proposals. He shouldn’t be surprised if Natsuki demurs though.
“According to Grandfather and the family records, the final battle was brutal and the King made the right decision to sue for peace.” Not Quit. Not Surrender. Looking between the two Cyborgs again, she shakes her head “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stir up bad memories.” She looks chastened.
“Clothes… there are uniforms, of course.” Baldur gets another look as he says he hates them “There might be something I can arrange, otherwise.” She looks Dreyfield then who nods slowly “My Captain will see about ammunition for your weapons. If not, there’s people we can ask.” Maybe Trents contact where they found the Puma parts will have something. You never know.
“And if Mister Baldur does rust, I’ll have an oil can ready, for he seems to have a heart…”
“Was there anything else, Gentlemen?”Kaius Mars grunts.
“You’re alright,” he tells Natsuki and then pats Baldur smartly on the back. He.. hides the wince. “I think you’ve made a friend,” he tells the cyborg, and the smirk becomes a grin. To Natsuki he replies:
“That’s all. Pleasure doing business. Baldur — come on. I want to stretch Shiny’s legs a bit. I promise you’ll get to shoot things…”
“You’re so sweet.” Ho boy. Someone drag him away already. Baldur glances at Mars, one of his optics flickering in and out as though to wink. “Don’t worry, yer not being replaced.” Friends like Mars are hard to come by, more so given the unique circumstances they’re both in.
Nodding back at Natsuki, he gives her a salute. “Be seeing you around, ma’am.” Finger-gun! Mouth-click. Turning, he brings an arm around to clamp (heavily) over his Mars’ shoulders. “Now we’re talking. -you’re not gonna make me walk, are you?”
Natsuki laughs as the men comment and turns towards to her Captain. “Show them to their quarters before they go.” Glancing back over her shoulder as she heads into the manor “Just be sure to shoot the right things when you’re out and about, gentlemen.”
The last they hear as she steps through the door is a chuckle. Their paperwork will be ready by the evening and they’ll be contractors to House Taniguchi. What could possibly go wrong?
Two old soldiers come to the Taniguchis looking for work... and hats. They already have a heart and some courage. Maybe it's the brain they're missing...
May 09, 2410
Taniguchi Estate - Dogwood