It’s amazing what a difference there can be in having a place you can come back to, feeling like you belong there. It’s undeniable, every time he comes back from a mission, or even a minor errand, or in this case, after getting insulted by a giant robotic cat borrowing someone’s face and voice. He’d put it right up there on his growing list of ‘things to tell Mars.’
Usually Baldur likes to keep busy and doesn’t mind being sent out to do something immediately, but in this case, he’s glad for a bit of respite. Whatever that puma had been doing had really grated on him, and it had been an unpleasant sensation. And then the numbers… He’d been half amazed that his poor mind hadn’t been fried like Stella’s.
It’s not unusual to find him wandering the gardens of the Taniguchi lands, the same that Natsuki had invited him to accompany her through back when he’d first started working for her. Sometimes it may be a long way towards wherever he’s intended to meet Natsuki or the house captain, but in a way it’s become something of a necessity for him, if not routine.
The Garden. It’s Natsuki’s retreat in the hills but it’s somewhere she can go to think. Her conversation with ‘Anna’ in Vesper and then with Jericho has left her a little unsettled and whilst she would like to hide away the part-elf knows she can’t.
As Baldur wanders, Natsu turns the corner deep in thought though a small smile touches her lips when she sees the Cyborg. “You seem to like the garden, Baldur…”
“Miss Taniguchi,” he says, sounding a little surprised at who comes into view. Looking almost sheepish, the cyborg scratches the back of his head as he glances aside for a moment. “Guess I do. I dunno, there’s just…something about walking through here.” He shrugs. “It’s nice. Peaceful.”
Baldur seems almost hesitant to say it, but he realizes it’s true. It’s quiet, but quiet and peaceful aren’t necessarily the same thing. And maybe there’s something nostalgic about being in such surroundings.
It’s not quiet. There’s things going on around the manor. People moving, the bannermen drilling (sort of) or just people coming and going. Not that it’s boisterous, but it’s not quiet.
The garden though, it is peaceful. “Did you feel in the need for peace? I needed somewhere to … recharge … I guess. It’s been a busy couple of days.” There’s a pause as she waits for the answer “We haven’t had chance to speak since that Puma. Are your systems ok?”
Baldur pauses, before nodding. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess I did.” Peace. Recharge. It’s almost amusing to consider, but surely it means that there really is something to being in this place that can help for either of their cases.
“Heh, yeah, busy. When are you ever not?” He tilts his head at her, almost looking like he’s smirking. He means that in a good-natured sort of way, of course- but he does see her more busy than not. As she mentions the puma, his optics blink. “Huh, we haven’t, have we… I. Yeah, I think so? I mean, nothin’s weird or anything. Felt like I was getting some kind of overload before the thing left- I’m surprised I didn’t shut down or something.” Actually, that thought’s a little scary. He shakes his head. “That wasn’t fun, by the way. Do your robo-cats always do things like that?”
“Peace is good and I tend it so it gives me somewhere to go.” Does she know what he’s thinking?
“It often goes with the territory, I’m afraid but it’s been worse lately. Worse since my stalker and I’m finding that I need a little more solace, more often.” She’s speaking quietly and inclines her head to continue their progress, leading them through the small wilderness towards the maintenance sheds.
“In one way I’m sorry it happened but in another, I’m not. We have the data now, right? You said we had to decode it?”
His last question gets a shake of her head “There’s only two that we’re familiar with. Lady Zelda’s and Duke Saltzpyres. And they don’t do that. Not even close.” Which leaves the question – what the hell did they just meet?
He falls in step beside Natsuki at her silent invitation, glad that if he’s to have company, that it’s her’s. “Is it hard? Taking care of all these plants?” Different types had different needs, and then there were the seasons and the weather to be considered… Baldur wonders where he’d come to know those such things. It’s not the first time random thoughts surface, memories from Galen Gallerhorn, he always assumes. It seems to be the best fitting guess.
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. Would’ve hoped the worst of it was dealt with when we caught that crazy guy.” But there’s always politics and such, especially if you were so involved with any House in Dogwood.
“Data… Well, I guess getting data’s better than getting into a tussle with a giant metal puma. Uhh.” He slowly shakes his hed. “I’m really not sure. It was a bunch of numbers- ones and zeroes. Gibberish if you ask me.” Baldur may be a walking metal man, but he doesn’t know much about computer systems or binary codes.
“Only two? And are there more than the crazy one that’s running around wild and shoving numbers into people’s heads?”
“I don’t really care for them all.” Natsu answers. “There’s a groundsmaster who comes in as well. But no, not really . I find it quite relaxing in fact. Getting my hands into the dirt and all.”
“It’s just one thing after another, Baldur.” the part-elf is guiding them without really seeming to. “The Trent Factory, my Stalker, Baronet Trent and the pumas…” There’s something she’s not saying but it’s barely obvious and could be mistaken to be just all mixed up with everything.
She nods at the assertion about the data “Well, I’ll organise with Factor Trent and we’ll get you to download the data. Then we’ll work on it together. It has to mean something. That cat wanted Lady Zelda and the Duke to report, after all.”
“Only two that we know of, sort of, yes. I found some records in our archives that indicated there were five in existence at some time. So, there may be others that are operational. We … just don’t know.”
The cyborg tilts his head at her again as she lists off the concerns she’s had. Had he even been aware of the other things? It’s for reasons like this that being a soldier seems almost worthwhile. Almost. You still got caught up in things, and sometimes it wasn’t even your own problems. But otherwise, you had everything set, and supposedly, all you had to do was follow orders and do your job.
“Down…load? Um. Sure? Okay…” He sounds uncertain about that, but at least he trusts Factor Trent to know what to do considering tech. Or at least his sister had seemed more familiar with Baldur’s own model and make than the cyborg himself.
“Five of them? Wow. And they’re…what? Weapons of some kind, right? Who made ’em?”
Baldur is likely not aware of them all. Natsu doesn’t speak much about what bothers her. That she is, is a mark of trust and comfort. Were he to ask, he might even get an answer – so that it is. If anything though, he should be getting that the part-elf takes her responsibilities very seriously.
The tentative way in which he addresses the download has her giving the cyborg a sideways look. “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt.” There’s a smirk and her eyes dance a little as some of the strain melts away. “It would be similar to how some of your systems are programmed.”
“According the records I found, yes, five. We aren’t sure who made them but they seem to date to the early Dark Age, if not before and the information indicates they were likely a weapon. Perhaps a unit that fought together. I need to go through the archives some more and maybe my Grandmother will know more.” she smiles slightly at the mention of the woman “She just has to answer my message.” Given that she’s Fae, that might take a while.
“I hope not. Pretty sure that hurt.” But then that’s all he really remembers of the process. It’s not one of the most pleasant memories he could be left with.
As much as he’d like to ask Natsuki about the other things that she’d brought up, Baldur decides not to. Not right now. It seems more counterproductive to bring up the problems when she’d come seeking solace here. So he’s content to walk with her and listen.
“No kidding… And they can still run? Then again, Mars got stuck in some tech from the golden age and that thing obviously still had some juice left to it too.” He shakes his head, not sure whether he’s admiring the durability of such things or what. Well, it is impressive, but if there’s that many unknowns, then who can say what this newest Puma will bring?
“Oh, your grandmother? Where’s she live?” No sooner is the question out of his mouth that Baldur wonders if he had the right to ask. Well, it seems a fair inquiry.
There’s a sidelong look from the part-elf and a grimace. “Sorry… I meant now, when they tune and repair…” She hadn’t meant to bring up bad memories. And she’s pretty sure they are. “Forgive me?”
The edge of the garden is drawing nearer and it seems that Natsu is directing their steps towards the mechanical building. Where the vehicles and such are stored. “So it seems and it’s something Jeri—” she lets out a long sigh and corrects herself “… Mister Trent and I are questioning. Both Lady Zelda’s and Duke Saltzpyre require constant attention and repair. Getting parts is difficult at best and programming them? Lady Taniguchi’s systems speak to her in French. We don’t know how to switch it to English, or if it can be. Which makes the fact that the one we’ve seen is good repair even more worrying, not to mention that it’s operating without a pilot.”
The question about her Grandmother gets a small smile “In another dimension, actually. When Grandfather died, she decided to leave Dogwood. Can’t say I blame her. Mother was dead and I was old almost enough to look after myself, although I spent just under a year living with her.”
Baldur waves a hand. “Eh, no need to apologize. But I’ll forgive you anytime, ma’am.” It’s not like he keeps track of the things he remembers- or rather, he would if he knew where to start. Everything just sort of floats around, and words and phrases spoken idly are like fishing lures tossed into the flow, snagging whatever might be attracted to that particular bait.
For a moment he says nothing as he wonders, allowing himself to consider the rest of the information that Natsuki speaks of, regarding the oversized cats. “Interesting. So…do you think that someone might be handling this lion? Or maybe it was sealed up all nice and tight and only recently popped free and in prime condition, although that don’t explain why it’s reacted now?” Or did they know something else about that? He hesitates, his next question not at all related to the pumas. “…somethin’ happen between you and the factor?” He may be a bit slow sometimes, but he’d seen Natsuki around Jericho enough when he was initially employed to see the difference in their behavior towards each other of late.
“Another dimension…” Oh. Okay. So…that answers why it would take time to get a response back. Things like this that remind the cyborg of Natsuki’s non-human side, for all that everyone in Dogwood seems to not be able to forget it.
“What’s it like? Where she lives?”
“Natsuki…” the part-elf’s voice is quiet. “You can call me Natsuki, or Natsu if you like.” There’s not many who do. Zelda calls her ‘Suki, but that’s a special name. Jericho sometimes calls her by name. Greg does for sure.
“Pumas. They’re pumas.” Natsu gives Baldur another sidelong look. She’s seen a single picture of a lion in a very old text. It’s not something that many would have seen or even know about. “And I’m not sure. It certainly seems that way, though, doesn’t it? The fact that it’s trying to find the two pilots and get them to return. But it might be automated. We’ll have to find the base that it wants them to go to be sure though. Honestly, until I started digging into our archives, I didn’t know there more than two…”
The question about Jericho has her stopping, eyes closing as she lets out a long breath. “I was stupid, Baldur and I betrayed his trust. Now … things are different. Have you …” there’s a shake of head and she hooks a strand of her hair behind her ear ” … ever been in a situation where it’s damned if you do or damned if you don’t?” She might want to talk about this.
The question about her Grandmother is left for the moment, the part-elf’s mind focused on other things.
The orange glow of his optics wink off and on in a blink. “Uh… Sure? Natsuki.” Baldur seems a little hesitant to use her given name, but it’s less of a mouthful than Miss Taniguchi, and he finds he likes saying it. He’ll let himself work up to a level of comfortableness in calling her by anything shorter, but inwardly he might be just a teensy bit filled with glee.
“Oh, right. …ain’t they all kinda the same?” Old heraldry liked using big cats on their insignia, but he’s sure they were always lions. Another random trivia floating amidst a sea of likewise.
“Waaait. How long have these pumas been in either family that some random one knows the pilot identities?” His mush brains do work after all! “And that um… What was it?” He snaps his fingers as though in an effort to spark that synapse. “‘Alliance Wartime Authority Act’? Any luck on figuring out when that was?” As old as he is, he still remembers military protocols fairly well, and that’s something he’s been most certain as unfamiliar. But if these cats are as old as Natsuki’s said…
When she stops, Baldur’s got an apology on the tip of his proverbial tongue, but instead of telling him it’s not his business, Natsuki explains. Well, it’s not a detailed explanation, but it does tell him enough for what’s been going on between her and Trent. “…oh, I’m sure my early career was full of those types of situations, Mi- er, Natsuki.” Okay, using her name’s going to take more getting used to after all. “Not particularly a nice spot to be in.”
Natsu smiles as the cyborg tests out her name. She doesn’t know how gleeful he is about it. “I’m surprised you know about lions. Not many do. And from what I’ve read, they’re both types of cats, so maybe?” She shrugs a single shoulder and snorts at the next question “We’ve had our Puma for generations. It was Grandfather’s and his fathers before that. I’d need to check the records but for as long as our family has existed, as far as I know. Saltzpyre is the same. They’re a bit of an heirloom, really. But to answer your question, a couple of months ago that device that Miss Bridger carries with her connected to our systems and they got the data. That was why we needed Miss Bridger with us the other day.”
As to her situation with Jericho? “No, it’s not. I had a job to do and I did it, it meant deceiving Mister Trent though. Now, there’s something that might have them and I was privy to information that had bearing on it, so I told him. Now…” she shrugs her shoulder “… He didn’t respond to me much before. Now, it’s even less.”
That makes sense. Also says a lot for how far back such families can go. Baldur’s not even sure how far back the Gallerhorns had gone, not that they’d had any nobility to their name, no special titles. And given he’d been written off as ‘KIA’, any hope for carrying on the family name disappeared with him. Unless his father had any brothers he hadn’t mentioned.
“Where’d she get something like that anyway? -hope she’s all right. You get to talk to her yet, after the cat nearly blew out our brains?”
Baldur folds his arms, mulling over the situation with Jericho as Natsuki presents it. She’s keeping vague on details, he knows, but he’s still surprised that she’s saying anything at all. “…I’m guessing that the job in question wasn’t something you could’ve said no to? But I can see why there’d be a backlash. You two always seemed pretty casual with each other. Well. As casual as Factor Trent can be. No offense, but sometimes he seems a little on the stiff side. Sorry that things have gone that way. I mean. I know things like that can’t just be patched over like a hole in the ground. And it’s…probably not going to be easy to fix. I don’t know what you’re caught up in, Natsuki, but it sounds like you’ll have to pick a side and stick to your guns. Otherwise things’ll hurt a lot more than they are now- probably still will either way, but you’re the only one that can make that decision.”
The Gallerhorns might have another branch of the family. Natsuki could check if she were asked to. She would.
“I haven’t had chance to see Miss Bridger, no. She was recovering before I got … called away. We can find her together and check in on her if you like.”
“The job? My Handler would have let me refuse it.” Handler. She’s said it and Baldur can press on that a bit. “But … it involved saving a woman who’d gone undercover. Given that could have been me, in that situation, I didn’t feel I could say ‘no’. If I was in trouble, it would be nice to know that someone might come for me.” She snorts and shakes her head. She’s a D-Bee, there’s few that would risk themselves for her.
The Cyborg’s words have her closing her eyes again and she nods slowly. “I have chosen. I just need him to believe that I have. I choose him.” Not Guild House Trent, but Jericho. Which is going to make it interesting when the rumours start circulating that she’s been seen with the father, getting rather familiar and all.
Because rumours happen.
“I’m sorry, again. You’ve been listening to my problems. I … didn’t intend for that to be so.”
“Yeah, couldn’t hurt to. An’ maybe she can make more sense of that numerical upchuck than I can.”
The term she uses is…not one he’s too familiar with, and somehow or another it shows, even if the way he reacts is subtle, especially given his limited facial functions. “Handler?” Maybe the rest of her explanation will explain, and in a way, it kind of does. He’s a little glad that he can’t frown, because from his perspective he doesn’t think that the decision should have been so difficult. And he knows that there’s more to it, but things only get as complicated as a person lets it become.
An argument isn’t something that Baldur wants to get into, especially not with Natsuki, and not over something that’s already said and done. She knows it’s caused a big mess and right now she just seems to need someone to listen, not someone to judge. Probably enough of that already as it is.
“…good. Then you just have’ta let him meet you half-way.” Something in the cyborg’s features suggests a softening of an expression, perhaps the subtle flicker of his optics, the angle of his head. And when she apologizes, he emits a snort. “Natsuki, you can talk my ear off with problems and I wouldn’t mind it. I’d be still sittin’ in a bar being ignored if it weren’t for you an’ Kai. At least if I’m not bein’ listened to, I can hear out someone else.”
“She might be able to, but something tells me that she won’t. I suspect we’ll have to similar with her.” The part-elf answers in response to Stella. They’ll head that way soon and see if they can find her.
It’s perhaps as well that Baldur doesn’t understand the term, Natsuki’s said too much on that as it is. “Someone I work for when they need me…” she explains waving it off. “Let’s just say, that I might have done it differently but I regret that I had to?” she shrugs again “Maybe he’ll meet me half way and we’ll be … casual … again. I’m not sure he can forgive me for what I did and I’ll just have to live with that.”
Gesturing onwards, Natsuki turns with a faint smile “You’re dangerous, you know. Listening like that. A girl might be inclined to spill her secrets. Did you still want to know about where my Grandmother lives?”
“We do lots of things we regret, but we can’t let it keep us from moving forward, I guess. Not like we can change the past.” There’s a wistfulness in his tone, but then it’s probably not difficult to wonder what sorts of regrets a cyborg like him has had.
“At least you two are still able to talk to each other. I think that’s a good sign as any.”
As Natsuki resumes her walk, Baldur does likewise. He shrugs. “Me? Dangerous?” His optics brighten slightly at that. “-oh yeah. I did ask that, didn’t I?”
“We are and that’s something at least, as you say.” Natsu blows out a breath. “Although it would be awkward if we couldn’t, given our contract and all. And he still sees me, keeps his distance but receives me. You weren’t wrong when you said he had some rigidness to his being. That’s a man that’s been forged in fire, I think.”
She doesn’t know. He doesn’t speak much about himself.
“Dangerous, yes. If we can’t Stella, why don’t I take you out for a drive – let you drive, in fact…” she might know how much he’s been keen to do just that. “And you did ask but if you were just being polite, I understand but I’d like to tell you about Grandmothers world.”
“Forged in fire, huh. I can believe that. Him and his sister are somethin’ else.”
Baldur stops, and then begins to walk again, easily catching up in the brief span that he’d allowed Natsuki to gain ahead of him. “I would love to. I mean. I’d ask Stella but I think she’d chop of my arms or something if I so much as touched the wheel of her truck.” He’s kidding about asking, but most certain she’s just as possessive of the vehicle. “-although honestly. I like your ride better.”
Shaking his head, he forces out a laugh at the latter. “Oh no, I was being serious! Who wouldn’t be curious about another dimension? Tell!”
“It is a sweet ride.” Natsu answers with a smile “And I wouldn’t be asking Stella, either, she’s scarily possessive about that truck.” She laughs at the enthusiasm in his voice “Well, alright then. I will tell. Let’s walk a bit more before we get back to work, shall we?”
The story is likely to be deliciously vivid, if Natsuki’s anything to go on.
In the peacefulness of the gardens, Natsuki and Baldur take a walk to clear the air on some things.
August 23, 2410
Taniguchi Manor, Dogwood
Jericho Trent, Kaius Mars, Stella Bridger