Episode 71

The faint hum of a large water filtration system drones out from the decorated shed, and hides under the many crisp gurgling flows of water in and out of the small, private pool. Flickering against the evening darkness, tropical themed torches dimly illuminate the area with wisps of smoke trailing up into the air. Surrounding the perimeter of the pool, pools tables and chairs remain empty in the gentle warm breeze. A pump spins up in a separate hot tub, secluded from view by a vine covered privacy screen. Soft splashes of water sound out from the pool, in contrast to the soft ambiance contained by wooden lattice work fence around the area.

Modoran sighs as he rests his head back, and allows his lower body to float in the gentle, calm water. Keeping anchored in place by his elbows upon the steps to the shallow end, he slowly relaxes himself with occasional winces of dull pain, and squirms to stretch out the annoying, stubborn spots. Gradually releasing a long breath, he opens his tired dark blue eyes, gazes up to the emerging stars above, and pulls an exhausted but hopeful smirk across his face. Gritting his teeth, he carefully rolls his dusky bluish gray body in a general stretches, and eventually surrenders to relax what he can of his thin, athletic form. After cinching up the draw string on his blue swim trunks, he sinks down into the water, and bubbles out a long sigh before resurfacing.

Snapping back from inside his mind, Modoran blinks briefly in confusion as his eyes dart around. He lifts his light gray haired head out of the water, and curiously aims his long, pointed ear towards the familiar voices of Deedri and Tassilda. “Okay...”

Tassilda’s relieved voice grows louder and clearer. “Oh. Gods be praised. Finally, we get to enjoy this pool without those insufferable camera crews trying to capture our most revealing poses possible.”

Deedri’s apprehensive cadence colors her uncertain tone rising out of the background din of water and pool equipment. “I know. I didn’t even want to wear shorts with them around yesterday. It’s relief they’re busy elsewhere... But... I’m still not so sure about this swimsuit.”

The gate doors swing open, and Tassilda struts through the archway in the surrounding privacy lattice work fence. She glances back with a reassuring smirk, and encouraging hint in her voice. “Oh please. You have NOTHING to worry about. I’m so jealous you found that, and it fits you so amazingly. Now come on!”

She stands up to the end of the pool in her bikini, gazes around with her hands on her hips, and notices Modoran idly relaxing nearby. “Oh, so this is where you disappeared to?”

Modoran nonchalantly shrugs his bare shoulders as he sinks himself to seat on the shallow end stairs. “Yeah. Oh, and don’t worry. The camera crews left a while ago. From what I overheard, it seems like they were off to do some last minute footage uploading or something. They were really persistent. I was practically in a staring contest with one camera guy.”

Behind Tassilda, Deedri’s furry, tufted tip ears flick momentarily towards Modoran’s voice. She halts her progression briefly, and quickly inspects her modest, patterned two piece swimsuit. Awkwardly summoning her confidence, she step up next to Tassilda and gazes over to Modoran with a wag of her long tail. Modoran attempts to continue his story, but trails off as his attention shifts elsewhere. “But, he gave up on me... after I didn't do... anything...”

Stumbling to regain his focus, he manages to resume some semblance of his usual nonchalant demeanor, and waves back to Deedri with a smile. “Oh, uh, hey. Uh, I see you found your swimsuit. It looks very nice on you.”

Tassilda eyes Modoran and Deedri, rolls her eyes with a twisted smirk, and steps towards the diving board at the deep end of the pool. Deedri presses through her shyness, dons a goofy smirk, and nods. “Oh. Thank you. Yes. It just happened to be under something else. I must of put something on top of it when we were rushing around to events, or something... I’m just glad I’m getting to use it before we have to leave.”

The diving board audibly flexes and rattles as Tassilda dives into the water. She emerges up to the surface with a splash. She perks her brow at Deedri as she guides her raven hair off her bikini top. “Well? What are you waiting for? Get in the water.”

Deedri blinks to attention, glances over eagerly, and pardons herself from the stilted conversation. Modoran nods understandingly with a calm demeanor. Sprinting up to the edge of the deep end, Deedri leaps into the pool. She touches the bottom with her feet, springs herself upward, and coasts up to break the surface meters away. She combs her hair out of her eyes and laughs. “It’s been too long since I swam in a such nice pool!”

Tassilda casually backstrokes and pries. “What do you mean a nice pool?”

Kicking through the water with her tail waving behind, Deedri calmly strokes through the water. “Well, this is a really nice pool in comparison to the ponds and creeks I usually had when growing up.”

Smiling with a humored snort, Tassilda shakes her head, and glances over with her light blue on black eyes. “I HAVE to visit your hometown someday.”

Deedri and Tassilda enjoy the cool waters against the humid, hot night air, while Modoran relaxes and watches on. After swimming multiple laps and floating lazily around while staring up at the night sky, Deedri glides over to a seat on the shallow end steps next to Modoran. “How are you feeling tonight? Still sore?”

Modoran tries to maintain a nonchalant attitude and smirks to Deedri. “A little. But, I feel pretty good overall. Well, especially considering, I got my ass handed to me last night.”

He glances away briefly, and gazes to Deedri with an appreciative smile. “Which, um... Thanks for patching me up. And also, well, talking some sense into me. Maybe some good will happen from all that drama.”

Deedri’s furry ears perk up and her tail wags through the water. She nods with a happy expression and smirks with a bit of embarrassment as she rests her hands on her knees. “You're welcome. I’m sorry if I poked a little too far into your family affairs. May have gotten a little too righteous there.”

Modoran rolls his eyes with a shake of his head, and reassures Deedri with a genuine grin. “You didn’t. Having that outside perspective kind of pointed the really damn obvious.”

Smiling and relieved, Deedri gazes over to Modoran. “By the way, your family is really nice. They weren’t quite what I expected. But, maybe I’ve been reading the wrong things about Evuukian houses.”

Fighting off his embarrassment, Modoran chuckles lightly and shrugs his shoulders with a briefly wince. “Yeah, there’s a public face all the houses want to have. In reality, they are more typical and just as dysfunctional as any other family. Mine just happens to own a few choice businesses in the service industry.”

Deedri agrees with a nod, and darts her eyes around the target subject with an awkward hint. “Yes. I also would never have guessed your sisters would be so...”

Modoran lifts a humored brow, and chuckles lightly. “Different? Yeah. My parents and I have tried to figure that one out for years.”

Biting her lower lip, Deedri grins partly and averts her gaze briefly. “I STILL can’t believe your mother gave me THAT bottle of wine. I’m going to have to hide and save it for a special occasion.”

Modoran snorts while shaking his head with a smile. “Don’t worry. She was very happy you took care of me and patched my sorry ass up.”

He shifts his weight around, resettles in his seat upon the pool step at the shallow end, and grits his teeth as he rubs his lower back. Flicking an ear to hear Modoran’s quiet complaints, Deedri leans close to investigate his pain. “If you are still sore, you might try soaking in the hot tub over there. A little heat couldn’t hurt to relax the muscles.”

As Tassilda swims closer to the two, Modoran twists his mouth, grimaces in mild disgust, and grumbles. “I would and really want to... But... I am going stay away from that thing, and recommend you two do the same.”

Deedri quirks a curious brow, and Tassilda turns her gaze to Modoran expectantly. Modoran averts his gaze, sighs, and shakes his head. “Chad and Veevi were in there earlier. And, well... The camera crews were VERY interested in something going on there for some reason. So, I’d just enjoy the cool waters of the pool to be on the safe side.”

The trio cringe in unison as the ramifications of such an encounter sink into their minds. Tassilda closes her light blue on black eyes hard and shudders in the water with disgust blatant on her face. “Thank for you warning. I think I’ll pass on soaking in slut soup.”

Deedri’s expression sour and she tenses her shoulders. “No thank you.”

Tassilda glances over to Modoran, lifts an inquisitive brow, and peeks out around to the surrounding area through the gaps in the wooden lattice fence. “Do you have any idea where Trakenthin went off to?”

Modoran thinks a moment, turns his head towards a section of the privacy barrier, and points in a rough direction. “Uh, last I saw him, he had a bottle of some grath wine he ordered from room service and had a book in hand. If I remember right, think he headed off towards the hammocks. I haven’t seen him come back, so he’s probably sleeping it off.”

He shrugs his shoulders and twists his mouth. “I figured if I didn’t see him come back after I got out, I’d check over there. Though, I don’t think I could move him by myself I had to.”

Tassilda stands up, combs her raven black hair back over her spiraling horns, and rests her hands on her hips. “Well, I’m going walk around a bit before I get back in the water. We better check on him. You two want to join?”

Deedri glances over to Tassilda, thinks a moment, and slowly rises out of the water. “I better come along just in case. I know a few ways to make someone sober enough to stumble into a proper bed.”

As Deedri stands up, she tosses her hair back. When she presses the water out of her tail fur, Modoran’s eyes sneak over to watch her attentively. Deedri glances over to Modoran, catches his gaze upon her, and observes him awkwardly try to shift his focus smoothly elsewhere and obfuscate his previous peek. Secreting away her satisfaction, she calmly asks Modoran with a kind smile. “Are you going to come along?”

Modoran assumes a nonchalant demeanor, smirks typically, and shakes his head slowly. “Ah, no. I’m going to soak for a little while longer. But, if you need my help, just let me know.”

Deedri nods, and steps up the stairs to join Tassilda. The two walk out of the pool area through the archway in the privacy fence. After Tassilda walks a significant distance away from the pool with Deedri at her side, she smirks slyly and quietly directs her voice. “So. How are you liking that swimsuit of yours now?”

Quelling a flush of pink in her cheeks, Deedri averts her eyes away, and calmly replies as she taps her clawed fingertips together. “I think I’m warming up to it.”

Over in the pool, Modoran stares up at the starry night sky, sighs, and thinks a moment. He squirms around upon his seat on the shallow end step, straightens up his posture, and glances down at his lap. Twisting his the hints of embarrassment on his face, he glances around the area and mumbles to himself. “That was a... very nice swimsuit...”

The old humvee rolls down the two lane highway. Thinning forests pass by on either side of the ancient military vehicle under the late afternoon sun. Cideeda taps her claw tips on the steering wheel as she steers down the road, and eyes the rear view mirror inquisitively. “So, do we want to try to squeeze one more place today? Might be able to fit one more in.”

Aristespha sighs as she relaxes in her seat behind Cideeda, scrolls through a few notes on her tablet, and shakes her head apprehensively. “We could try, but I don’t think we have enough time to give anything close to a proper investigation. If I remember correctly, most offices or checkpoints for those sites close in an hour.”

She taps through a few menus on the screen, and twists her mouth as she accepts the unfortunate fact. “And, it looks like anything else will take thirty minutes to get to.”

Cideeda flicks her furry ear back, nods her head, and rolls her shoulders with relief. “Yeah, I was figuring that. We’d be asking for trouble from someone official if we stayed too long.”

Crossing her arms, Sotalia rolls her eyes and snorts with a derisive tinge. “Yeah. That’s the last fucking thing I’d really wanted to have to deal with today. Some security guard following us around and pestering us to leave, so they can go home.”

She shrugs her shoulders and smirks with a faint amount of compassion. “Not that I don’t blame them. Still...”

Flipping through pages of a heavily annotated printout, Bach narrows his blue eyed gaze and scrutinizes sets of numbers next to location coordinates. “Well, the last few places didn’t have anything much to speak of, to be honest. Just a bunch of little things with traces of elder energy remaining.”

He scratches his head close to the white streak in his long brown hair, and grimaces uncertainly. “So, I don’t know if there’s really anything significant left to find.”

Dretphi leans forward from her seat in the back, peeks over Bach’s shoulder while holding onto the back of his seat next to Aristespha, and points out a line on the print out list. “There was the energy storage artifact.”

Bach studies the entry, nods in agreement, and squints his eyes thoughtfully. “True. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if number of items or strength was what these other numbers indicated. But, who knows what scale they’re based on.”

Aristespha glances over from her seat to the list and brushes her silvery blue hair out of her violet eyes. “I was theorizing that, too. We’ll have to sit down and compile all the information we’ve found out. There has to be some significance to those numbers, and we might just have enough information now to decipher the meaning.”

Sebastian’s ghostly form drifts over to the impromptu meeting and peeks over the group. “Well, we found two major targets and put monitors on them. If Noxian is going off information indicating the amount of energy, those will probably be the most likely places he’ll visit. Hopefully, those will also be the places he’ll stick around the longest to investigate after tripping our traps.”

The group collectively agrees on the thought, and their spirits rise up slightly as hope sparks. Sotalia shifts her attention to the increasing signs of civilization outside the vehicle, and scans the road ahead with her golden eyes. “So, is anyone else hungry?”

Dretphi settles back into her seat, gazes up to the front of humvee, and nods while removing crimson armor plates off her suit. “Yes. Food would be nice.”

Cideeda drums her claw tips on the steering wheel, searches out on the horizon, and narrows her stare to the emerging city scape. “Let’s see here... I think this is that part of town where we got sniped trying to capture that one fugitive at the motel. If I remember right, there was a place I wanted to try out when I got the chance...”

She slows the humvee to a stop at a stoplight intersection, glances around the area, and spots a “Fval Spice” sign at the corner of a strip mall parking lot. “There it is.”

Pointing out the location, she looks to the rest of the team through the rear view mirror and perks a furry ear over. “Should we give it a try?”

With no obvious objection or counter, the team agrees. Cideeda navigates through the intersection and finds a route into the parking lot. Pulling into a close spot, Sebastian's ethereal visage disappears into the sword at Aristespha’s side with a smirk. “Just in case they don’t serve ghosts.”

The doors of the humvee open, and the team exits the vehicle, securing unneeded equipment inside before walking up to the store front of “Fval Spice”. A chime rings out from the door bell above, and the team ventures through the front door of the restaurant and congregate near the counter of the dining area. Noyando appears from the back room and greets everyone. “Oh, hello! Welcome. Dine in, or take out?”

Aristespha glances around, confirms with the group overall, and looks to Noyando. “I believe it will be take out, today.”

Noyando nods happily, picks up a few menus from a holder nearby, and passes them out to everyone. The team flips through the pages, studies the choices, and eventually arrive at their decisions. Cideeda steps up to the counter and orders in fvalian. Noyando responds with a quick question in a similar dialect, to which Cideeda answers with a toothy grin. Sotalia moves up next, and speaks her order in fvalian to the delight of Noyando. Bach points to the menu and shows the selection to Noyando. “I’ll go with this.”

Noyando nods as he writes it down and glances over to Bach. “How spicy?”

Thinking a moment, Bach gestures with his hand indicating a modest amount. “Moderate. Just above two out of five? Maybe a three?”

Aristespha rests her menu back into the holder, and waits for Noyando to glance over. “I’ll go with the red curry. Pork. Four out of five with the heat.”

Dretphi points to an item on the menu and shakes her head towards the end. “Steak stir fry. No spice, please.”

Noyando finishes writing up the orders, taps the information into the register computer, and asks the group. “Separate or together?”

Retrieving a card from her pocket, Aristespha hands over the plastic payment method to Noyando with a smile. “Together.”

She smirk and peeks over her shoulder to everyone else. “I think it qualifies as a business expense today.”

With few final key presses, the system processes the transaction. Noyando returns the card to Aristespha with a receipt, and nods to the group. “Thank you. Please, have a seat. I will get your food out shortly.”

Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia find a larger table, and each sits down. As the minutes pass with the flashes of cooking fires radiating from the back kitchen and sizzles releasing a delectable aroma into the air, the team individually relaxes and idly talk about topics other than work. The discussion shifts over to “The Next Heroes of Nexus”, and Dretphi grimaces uncomfortably towards a cringe, and shakes her head. “That was NOT a proper sparring match. That was a FIGHT.”

Bach nods in agreement and winces slightly. “Yeah, that was something ugly right there. Nothing felt good about that.”

Sotalia smirks, and drums her long, black nails on the table top. “Oh, there’s some problems with that father-son relationship. If THAT is what a sparing match turns into, that’s just the surface of that whole ordeal.”

Sighing thoughtfully, Dretphi twists her mouth and ponders. “Strange. Disturbing. Sad.”

As the conversation wanders to catching up on the latest episodes, the door chime rings as Meredosia walks in. She counts out cash and receipts in her hand while going behind the register. She enters the signed receipts and cash into the drawer, and writes down bookkeeping notes. She steps through the entry into the back kitchen and addresses Noyando. “I am done with the local orders. What do you have next?”

In between the different steps of the dishes he’s cooking, Noyando glances over, and points to a pair of handled paper bags on the back counter. “Those. Further out. The electric scooter is charged, so go ahead and use it to deliver.”

A flit of an eager smile graces Meredosia’s face as she grabs hold of the key hanging on the wall with one hand, and picks up the bags with the other. “Will do.”

She quickly crosses through the front area towards the door and past the team, when Noyando calls out. “Mera!”

Meredosia halts, spins around, and replies. “Yes?”

Noyando’s voice rises out of the din of sizzling food. “Take the alley ways. They are faster and you don’t have to fight traffic.”

Nodding as she resumes her exit, Meredosia opens the front door. “Will do.”

A few minutes later, Meredosia rides off through the parking lot on sit down electric scooter, and drives towards a nearby alley way. Bach glances over as Mera disappears from sight and comments with a reminiscent smile. “Reminds me of the one I had when I was in school. Damn, that made getting around that campus so much easier.”

Cideeda’s furry ear perk up and she lifts an inquiring brow towards Bach. “What do you have?”

Bach grits his teeth briefly in a mix of embarrassment and awkwardness. “Well, it might be best to say what it originally started out as. That scooter went through a number of... revisions? Yeah, revisions.”

Narrowing a stale irritated glare towards the sword at Aristespha’s side, he grumbles loudly. “Some that a particular person was responsible for.”

Sebastian’s voice softly emanates from the sword in an accusatory tone. “Fuck you, bro. At least, I didn’t run head long into a vending machine.”

More minutes pass on by. Finally, with grand entrance, Noyando appears from the back kitchen with paper bags stuffed with food containers. “Your orders are ready. My apologies for the wait.”

The team stands up showing excited and eager expressions towards the meals. Dretphi lifts up the hefty bags off the counter with an a thankful nod towards Noyando. Cideeda notices a small stand with business cards, picks one up, and examines it. “So, how far out do you deliver?”

Noyando thinks a moment, taps his claw tips on the counter, and shrugs with a smirk. “Within a few kilometers. But... If the order is big enough and we’re not too busy, I can make exceptions. Just expect a longer wait and a delivery fee.”

Cideeda bows slightly with a smile. “I think we might make it worth your while.”

She catches up to the rest of the team as they start to filter out through the front door. Watching the group leave, Noyando takes a seat behind the counter, relaxes with a long sigh, and stares out the front windows to the late afternoon sky as it shifts through orange hues. Minutes pass and Meredosia zips through the parking lot to a side alley, parks the scooter, and walks in through the door. Her crimson eyes sort through the signed receipts and she hands them over to the sedate Noyando. After a few moments, Noyando snaps back to awareness, and graciously takes the receipts from Meredosia. Studying the table the group was at, Meredosia combs her long gray hair back to order, and lifts an intrigued brow at Noyando. “Who were those people?”

Noyando shrugs his shoulders, ponders a moment, and glances over to Meredosia. “New customers. I think they are adventurers. They certainly look the part. But, I’ve never seen them before. Might be new in town? I hope they come back. Adventurers usually tip nice.”

Meredosia returns her gaze to the table, twists her mouth in thought, and puzzles uncertainly. Noyando stands up from chair behind the counter, stretches his back while he walks over to the back kitchen. He calls out. “So, Mera, what do you want to eat tonight? We have some time now to cook.”

Meredosia’s long pointed ears perk up slightly, and she excitedly wanders in the back with her thoughts focused on dinner.

Sitting around the dining table in the ranch style house, Aristespha, Cideeda, Bach, Dretphi, and Sotalia dig into their respective take out orders, while Sebastian hovers next to Aristespha enjoying the smells. Sotalia pauses feasting with a piece of chicken pincered between her chopsticks, and uses the wooden utensils to point over to small set of light armor plating in progress on the coffee table. “So, Cideeda, how much more needs to do be done on that?”

Cideeda perks her furry ears, glances over with her emerald green eyes, and mentally deliberates while contorting her face. “Well... It’s close. Really close. Just need to get a few adjustments to get just quite right.”

Dretphi thinks a moment, studies Cideeda, and nods. “We are close. Need to reinforce seams. Test to find hidden issues.”

Bach swallows a large bit of his basil stir fry, sniffs from the building heat, and gazes over to Cideeda. “Speaking of which, do you want to cut any more plating? Think I’ve figured out how to tweak the magic flows at little better after that last batch.”

Resting her head on the palm of her propped hand, Cideeda hums indecisively while she idly stirs her pepper and spice loaded beef and coconut cream curry. “I think I got the major pieces cut. Any fine detail work, I’ll take care of. It’ll probably just be a little angle grinder and rotary tool work.”

She flashes an eager, toothy grin towards Bach and wags her long tail. “Just be ready when I ask for those armor enchantments.”

The split unit air conditioner kicks on in the living area and a gust of air breezes through room towards the dining table. The gentle wind wafts the spicy vapors off of Cideeda’s meal down the table. Bach waves the potent smell away. Unfortunately, Dretphi draws a long breath in through her nose at the worst moment. She reflexively coughs, squirms, and winces as she covers her nose with curses in grath. Bach looks over to Dretphi with a bit of concern. “You okay?”

Dretphi settles down, and nods to Bach with a warm smile. “Yes. Caught me off guard.”

Bach shifts his gaze over to Cideeda and lowers his focus upon the potent spicy dish in front of her. “Okay... I have to know. How the hell can you eat that with your sense of smell? That just seems like it’d be pure, fucking torment.”

Cideeda blinks blankly, looks down at her food, and shrugs her shoulders towards Bach indifferently. “I don’t know. You just get used to it when growing up. Heat and spice was just always a traditional thing with everything my mom and dad cooked.”

Barely hiding her sneer, Dretphi narrows an incredulous glare at the toxic dish in front of Cideeda and quietly quips. “Excessive spice hides poor quality. Proper main ingredients should carry the dish with minimal assistance.”

Sotalia snorts into a snicker, points the chopsticks at Dretphi, and smiles slyly. “It’s been awhile since I’ve heard from your inner food snob. Now, I know where you get it from.”

Rolling her eyes, she picks up another piece of chicken, gestures with the wooden utensils, and playfully mocks. “Would this dish best be improved if it was cooked in a stone bowl upon an open flame?”

Dretphi grumbles to herself as she resumes eating her cooler food. She halts a moment, smirks, and snarks. “I do not expect one who requests well done steaks to understand.”

Bach shakes his head in lighthearted laugh at the debate between Dretphi and Sotalia, and shifts his attention to Aristespha calmly eating her red curry. “Huh, you’re handling that pretty well, Aristespha.”

Aristespha nonchalantly shrugs and pours another spoon load of curry upon her bowl of rice. “There was a fvalian restaurant across the street from my dorm at the Grand Library. A bunch of us were competitive about handling the heat. So, I’ve built my tolerance up over time.”

Nodding understandingly, Bach shrugs with a smile to Dretphi. “Hate that you’re missing out. But, if the heat is not for you, that’s fine.”

Sotalia grins smugly as she bites into another piece of chicken, and lifts a mocking brow at Dretphi. “Yeah, just not for you, huh?”

Sebastian narrows his stare at Sotalia, shakes his head slowly, and mouths out. “Leave it alone-”

A defiant wave twists Dretphi’s face. Reaching over the table, she sticks her fork into a chunk of chicken and spicy vegetables on Sotalia’s plate, and brings it close to her mouth. Sebastian snaps his attention over to Dretphi, dons a calm, polite tone, and drifts out into her view. “Okay, there’s no need to prove anything so drastically. So long as you enjoy your food that’s all that matters, right? And, you can work up to it if you want-”

Sotalia gawks in surprise at Dretphi when she puts the spicy food into her mouth while staring right at Sotalia. Dretphi pridefully chews and tilts her head to the side. “Did you order this hot?”

Bach watches a flush of red color Dretphi’s tan cheeks as she struggles to keep the stoic facade up. He glances around the table to the anticipating stares of Aristespha, Cideeda, and Sebastian, and Sotalia’s disbelief. Dretphi summons up her pride, and speaks with a bit of hesitation. “Not... bad. It has its unique flavor.”

Sotalia slides back from the table, looks to everyone briefly, and walks towards the refrigerator. “I need a refill on my drink. Anyone want anything? Water? Ice cold water? Milk maybe?”

Swallowing a mix of pride and spice, Dretphi raises her finger and points to her glass with a nod. Bach nudges over his egg soaked rice and whispers over to Dretphi. “It helps.”

Mustering an appreciative smile to Bach, Dretphi scoops some of the yellow coated rice onto her plate, and nods thankfully to Sotalia as she places a fresh glass of ice water next to her plate.

Samantha paces around the small upstairs bedroom and pauses to gaze out the double doors to the balcony. She hums in thought and glances over to Gerald sorting through data cartridges. “Okay. We should be able to stretch out the scenes from the resort for another episode. But... We NEED something MORE.”

Typing a few commands on his laptop, Gerald settles back into the chair and idly watches a message prompt appear on screen with a progress bar slowly filling. “With a bit of editing we almost have a whole episode’s worth of stuff. It might get a little repetitive towards the end, but it could work.”

Howard’s voice sounds out from the speaker phone on the desk, and he verbally sorts through his thoughts. “True, but it wouldn’t be bad to have some contrasting segments to break up any possible monotony. The editing crew is good, but I don’t want to push it too much. You only get so many of those episodes before people start complaining.”

He pauses a moment and sounds of keyboard typing mixes with paper shuffling. “By the way, is Trakenthin’s father still around? Got a copy of the invoice from that cheap motel we booked him in.”

Rolling her eyes with a sneer, Samantha brushes back her brown hair and slowly shakes her head with a hint of annoyed disgust. “Yes. He’s making sure to milk every bit of the deal we offered him. Do you want me to... STRONGLY ENCOURAGE him to leave?”

Gerald blinks a few times, sits up as an idea pops into his mind, and turns his chair towards Samantha. “Wait, what if we did another segment with Trakenthin and his dad? Like a bookend bit and farewell for now type of thing?”

Howard’s plotting tone leaks through the aetherphone speaker and drifts into the room. “Yeah... I like that line of thinking. But, I don’t want to run another training or sparring segment. It’s too soon. Need something else to differentiate it. Something to set it from the rest...”

Samantha dons a sly smile, sits down in another chair near Gerald, and ponders out loud. “We got to stir things up. There’s got to be some bit of drama we could amp up and ignite. But, what exactly?”

Grumbling to himself, Howard’s cadence shifts towards frustration. “Unfortunately, Trakenthin isn’t the easiest to antagonize. Save a few things... And, it seems Veevi only has Chad’s and Tassilda’s buttons figured out.”

His voice trails off and Samantha twists her face in contemplation. As both idle on their thoughts, Gerald crosses his arms and smirks unsatisfied with his current idea. “If there was a way to get a rematch between Trakenthin and Dretphi. That would get viewer attention. But, I doubt you’d be able to convince either to go for it at this point.”

Nodding her head in agreement, Samantha flips through her clipboard of older notes, halts to gaze at a guild quick physical identification guide, and closely studies Dretphi full name. “Dretphi Prakkenten Reti Veranattin... Reti... Where have I heard that before?”

Gerald perks up, cocks his head to side, and puzzles at Samantha. “Trenannin got on a really hateful rant about a Commander Reti. Blaming him for being a coward and fucking up the progress in fighting the Red Gears... He just kept going on and on. I got the clip around here somewhere, but I didn’t think some war veteran’s rant would be useful.”

Samantha eyes widen as her memory digs up long forgotten information, and a devious grins grows on her face. “THAT’S RIGHT! Dretphi is Commander Reti’s daughter!”

Narrowing her aimless stare, she rests her chin on her hand in thought. “Trakenthin knows that... He figured that out from the info we gave the team a while back. But, he hasn’t mentioned any of it to his father... I wonder if it’s because he knows it’ll set his father off?”

A dark chuckle oozes into the room from the aetherphone speaker, and Howard’s evil scheming tone fills the room with his eagerness. “I DO wonder if that’s the case. I think it might be worth trying to inform him of certain details, such as the fact that Commander Reti’s daughter is right next door...”

Howard’s laugh manages to infiltrate into the soundscape of the room, and he plots with devious glee. “And... That she’s the one that beat his son publicly in a sparring match at that convention.”

Gerald cringes slightly, alternates his gaze between the aetherphone and Samantha, and squirms uneasily. “Are you sure about that? I’m all for mixing things up, but that sounds like it might detonate. You two might want to watch that clip first before you go with this plan.”

Samantha switches to another clipboard of paper, and starts excitedly writing down an outline of notes. “That just might WORK, Howie! Trenannin might challenge Dretphi, but more than likely he’ll push Trakenthin to demand a rematch!”

Howard’s satisfaction radiates from the speakerphone, and he sighs in anticipation. “And, I’m quite certain, that Trakenthin’s father will spout off plenty to CONVINCE Dretphi to accept the rematch.”

Uncomfortably witnessing the scheme forming before his eyes, Gerald shifts his attention to the progress bar on his laptop and grimaces uneasily as he mumbles to himself. “Sounds like you two have that covered. Uh, I’ll figure out a backup plan to deal with small war that might happen.”

Large wall monitors scroll through various status messages and information prompts in the messy academic office. Nash reluctantly eyes a tall stack of paperwork upon his desk, and curls an upper lip into a sneer of defiance at the task before him. He slowly eases back into his squeaky office chair with a long metallic groan, and runs his fingers through his long, graying hair. “Gods... Dammit...”

He gradually allows the spring loaded back of the chair to lift him upright to his desk, and rests his arms to either side of the imposing pile of paper. Slowly shaking his head, he stares at the stack in disbelief and groans. “How... How can there be this much budget paperwork? They have to be making up policies to justify their jobs... Yeah... That’s it... That explains it...”

Reaching out hesitantly to lift the first form on the pile of bureaucratic doom, he freezes when the door opens quickly. A graduate assistant steps in first with an irritated Vetra entering immediately afterwards. The young evuukian man grimaces, eyes over to Vetra, and apologetically stares at Nash. “Uh, sorry to interrupt.”

Nash drops the top form back onto the pile, and slides the mass off to the side of his desk. With a mixture of confusion and relief, he address the graduate assistant and Vetra. “Not a problem. Really.”

He furrows his brow, tilts his head to the side, and puzzles at Vetra. “So... Uh... Whatever do I owe the honor your visit?”

Vetra tosses a sealed plastic bag onto Nash’s desk, points a sharp, dark finger nail at Nash’s desk, and grits her sharp teeth. “THAT.”

The young evuukian man stiffens his posture, and struggles to form anything but an awkward explanation. “Uh, well... We checked out that server on that work order finally... and well... Found... uh...”

Nash picks up the plastic bag with his finger and thumb, lifts it up into his view, and reveals the bewilderment plainly on his face. “Okay?...”

He slowly rotates the container to different angles, and quietly examines the pair of panties and used condom. Seconds of perplexed and substantially disgust expressions later, he gently drops the bag on his deck and quietly shudders. “Ewwww.”

Searching for the reason between the graduate assistant and Vetra, Nash holds his hands up and out to his sides, absolutely baffled. “I REALLY don’t know what to make of this. Explanation? Please?”

The graduate assistant chimes in after noticing Vetra’s constant, dark orange eyed glare at Nash. “Um... Well, the good news is the server is just fine. But... We think a possible cause for it momentarily being off the network was due to... uh... unanticipated physical contact?”

Rolling her eyes in disgust, Vetra’s pointed ears droop and she growls out. “Someone was LITERALLY FUCKING AROUND in the server room, AND left a gods damned MESS!”

Nash smirks towards a frown, lifts an uneasy brow, and attempts to vent off his discomfort with a chuckle. “Well, how much of a mess are we talking about really-”

The graduate assistant interrupts in a plain tone. “We cleaned the ceiling.”

With wide eyes, Nash’s expression blanks and shakes the mental imagery out his head to focus on Vetra. “So, how did you get involved?”

Vetra crosses her arms unamused, furrows her brow, and explains. “I found it strange for a graduate assistant to be asking for a ladder, mop, bucket, scrub brushes, gloves, and the strongest cleaner for biological mishaps to clean up a server room. And, I’m just generally suspicious when any of your graduate students request supplies.”

Nash releases a long sigh while shaking his head, glances over to the graduate student, and mercifully waves them off. “Thank you for handling it. Get out of here while you can. You’ve done plenty. We'll talk later.”

Nodding in agreement the graduate student slinks off, relieved for his freedom from the overwhelming pressure of opposing authorities. Nash gazes to Vetra as he relaxes back in his seat with a long metal squeak. “So, what do you want me to do?”

Vetra taps her sharp, dark nailed fingers on her arm, and narrows her stare at Nash. “Well, find out who did it, of course.”

Rubbing his temples, Nash grimaces in thought and rocks his head side to side as he sorts through the options. “Okay. I think there’s an old camera that watches that particular door to that area. It’s mostly to watch that hallway more than anything, but it gets a decent view of the door.”

He turns to a monitor on his desk, slides his keyboard over, and types out a series of commands. “Well, let’s get the camera system up and check the recording.”

The large monitors overhead on the wall flick over to new screens showing multiple, current camera feeds. Nash retrieves his aetherphone from his pants pocket, sorts through the interface, and scrolls through a list of alerts. He settles upon a familiar series of entries and studies the time stamps. Quickly entering the data into the camera system interface, a large monitor switches to a full screen view of a long hallway leading to an intersection and a single plain door. Vetra pivots in place, lifts her stare up to the screen, and watches expectantly. Nash sorts through the controls on screen and fast forwards to the next nearest motion detection. “Okay, let’s see what this motion trip was for.”

On the big screen, the door opens slowly and a young emin man peeks out into the hallway. He looks both ways, steps out, and motions for someone else to come through the door. Moments later, a young fvalian woman hops out into the hallway, and the two laugh and giggle together. They quickly rush down the long hallway closer to the camera and soon out of view. Vetra slowly turns around with satisfaction to the begrudging groan of Nash. His face securely in his palm, Nash loudly sighs out his sheer frustration and annoyance, and grits his teeth briefly. “Gods fucking dammit... I know exactly who they are. And, I will personally berate them for you, to spare you the trouble.”

Dragging his hand down his face to a grip the chin hairs of his beard, he draws in a long breath and slowly shakes his head. “Well, I apologize for their... sloppy antics. Uh, would assigning them to you for a week or two of work make up for this incident?”

Vetra ponders the offer a moment, nods slowly, and perks her brow. “Yes. But, separately.”

Nash widens his eyes in agreement and grumbles. “Yeah. Just to be on the safe side.”

He snorts and shakes his head in disbelief. “What the fuck? Kids these days. What ever happened to bribing your roommate to find somewhere else to be for an hour?”

Vetra glances over her shoulder to the wall monitor with the camera playback, and focuses her attention upon another mark on the motion detection tracker. “Huh, there’s another ping on the motion detection system just a few minutes later.”

Nash squints his gaze up to the screen, glances over to his monitor, and taps a few keys curiously. “Great fucking gods... I really hope they didn’t go for round two.”

Turning to face the overhead screen fully, Vetra smirks with a roll of her eyes. “I highly doubt THAT. But, it might explain the size of the mess.”

The video playback skips to the marked time code on the bar. The same door gradually opens. A thin man with wispy white hair and a blue scarf wrapped around his face peeks out into the hallway, and carefully scans the vicinity. Vetra’s eyes open wide as her jaw drops open. “Who is that? Wait... He matches the... Good fucking gods. That isn’t-”

Terror floods Nash face. As the man quickly walks down the hallway, Nash pauses the playback, and recognizes the person on screen. “Oh. Shit.”