Volume 16

Atropos and Sopp head downward toward a huge tunnel to escape the headdliner spying on them. Sopp asks what kind of facility this was and Atropos answers that this place was a testing lab 8000 years ago to accelerate molecules. (Similar to the Hadron Collider…and this volume of the manga was released in 2003….most interesting…) Braford barges into the house but soon realizes that Atropos and Sopp are trying to escape. He calls for Kyo and the Apache as backup. Sopp is still injured and Atropos, upon hearing the Apache’s engine, tells Sopp to stay put. In a few short minutes, Sopp hears a MH powering up….which Braford also hears. He’s really in no shape for an MH battle, but gets into the Apache’s cockpit.

Hearing the new MH’s engine, Sopp seems confused: the only machines that purr like that…are ones that HE’S tuned. Very shortly, the new MH comes into view in a haze of smoke as both get ready to battle. Neither Kyo nor Braford have any idea about this machine with the AKD’s colors and Sopp is horrified because….the Mystery MH is his Auge Arsqul, and a Knight of Gold tuned MH. (The Auge was another KoG prototype as he tested to find a perfect design.) Atropos is both Headdliner and Fatima in the Auge’s cockpit, saying that originally Sopp wanted to create MH’s that ran independant to needing Fatima. Will this experiment work? Sopp then wonders whatever happened to the Auge as it was designed to be given to Kaien, who ended up taking the MH designed before it, the Schepeltor. He then remembers that Kaien dropped the Auge off at Ballance’s, where Auxo must have….re-appropriated it for herself. (How Sopp, or Amateratsu loses track of important stuff like this is also a running gag throuout the FSS.)

Kyo, in the meantime, is thinking how they’re going to attack a Mh that’s not in the known Mh database. She asks Braford to hand over controls of the Apache to her so she can get a read on the mystery MH. Meaning that she’s planning to synch with the Apache. Braford realizes at that time that he’s lost control of his MH to his fatima, who is sure that her master will hate her for taking charge. In reality, she just wants him to survive against a machine that overpowers the Apache. Sopp hears the change in tuning, realizing that Atropos’ adversary is no ordinary Headdliner/Fatima combo.

Having synched up, the Apache launches a pre-emptive strike, which is bounced off by a shield. Kyo gives it some more thought and announces that she’s figured out the MH.

Kyo then proclaims that if they beat one of the best MH’s in the galaxy, then the name of her Master will be known throughout the galaxy. Braford isn’t as certain, then tells her to ready the anti-shock barrier on the Apache. She just has time to pull it off when the Apache teleports right in front of the Auge and attacks with several after images. Sopp is truely amazed that considering the age of the Apache and it’s limited power in comparison to the Auge that it can pull off an attack like that. It’s all Atropos can do to parry the attack and pull back from the skirmish. Braford seems amused that AT can fight like she does but Kyo is more amazed at her master, who fully gets the potential of his MH.

In the meantime, Kyo realizes that something is a little off with the other MH. The Auge parries the attacks of the Apache with it’s “wings”, saying that such atacks are useless. She then launches into one of her own, which the Apache parries. Atropos wonders how they can be reading her moves….and Sopp is wondering the exact same thing. Kyo tells Braford that they can win this battle as the thing missing is a Headdliner from the Auge. Sopp is trying to remember a fatima that can counter a Ballance fatima in a KoG machine….and after going through some names remembers Kyo.

At the Floating Palace and readying to go save Sopp, the young Mirage Knight Lonn prepares her troops. She’s still recovering from the injuries that Paison inflicted to her, but retrieving Sopp is more important.

Lonn then speaks about having to uphold the integrity of the Mirage Corp and about wearing the Sanguine Cross with honor. Kaien, who’s been listening in, says he never understood all the fuss about being a Mirage Knight, but wants to help her with her quest. Under the pretext of flirting with her, he drops a MH key in her hands, saying that she’ll need it where she’s going. The key is to the Schepeltor, and he fully expects it to be banged up and battle worn when she brings it back or else she’ll be sorry. He also tells her to affix a Mirage Corp Knight Flag on it so her enemies won’t think that it’s Kaien they’re fighting. The cockpit is being rebuilt and he tells her to also take a Buster Launcher with them as well. He’s hoping, that this will be all they need to save Sopp…

Preparing to leave for Both, Aisha’s craft is speeding along, almost hitting someone in the process. Allecto is trying to fix Aisha up as she’s sporting serious burns from her fight with Prince Ting. (Covered with bandages but topless, poor girl) Allecto tells her that now would be a good time for a new coat of skin but that her injuries are so bad that she’ll need time in a rejuvination capsule to fully recover. Aisha ain’t hearing this. While they’re arguning, Aisha gets an important phone call from her friend Jabo Beat. Jabo has asked Princess Mugumica where Kastenpo’s “Cool Ruler” died and where they can find Sopp. (Funny…No one in the Para Guild had any idea that the LED had even died. Very curious…) The LED had expired the day before and that a lot of sorcerers were milling around so be careful. Aisha then asks Jabo about…”her condition” as she’s gotten knocked up by Kaien. Jabo tells her that she’s fine and that she’s planning on having the child since he/she would be pretty strong and that bloodlines from strong headdliners don’t cross like that every day. Kaien might be a “fucking SOB” but that Concord will be a great nanny. (Concord must not be used to hearing her master talk like this as we see a question mark over her head and “fu-” appear in small letters.) We also see a joke panel of Lachesis telling Kaien that she’s pregnant too and that the only reason that he gave Lonn the keys to the Schepeltor was because he wanted get laid. Jabo tells Aisha to be careful. In Aisha’s condition, she shouldn’t even be able to pilot a MH, but is happy that she got the Cross Mirage back in decent shape. Allecto goes to check on it but it’s in pieces. this could take awhile!

At the same time, speeding toward Both is the newly started Jagd Mirage. Schaft is working on some of the programming and “sonnovabeech” is he pissed that the AKD is sending him some backup to save Sopp. He’s even angrier that the Para-Guild hasn’t yet been able to pinpoint Sopp’s exact location on Both. Doesn’t have any respect for the Sorcerers and makes this known here. Rather than get more mad, he tunes into some of the latest chatter around the galaxy, including his boys in Zanda City. More orders for drugs, but what’s this? He catches wind that Seable is in the area and is being lead by Di-Barrow. This could be trouble…

In the Fatima cockpit of the Jagd, Paltenon is working on the main programming. Fatima can literally synch with the MH that they pilot and since MH are “thinking machines”, they can understand much. Paltenon talks soothingly to the Jagd, and proceeds to download all her battle experience with him to speed along the programming. What happens next is a great amount of feedback, which Paltenon likens to a “years worth of orgasms”. She’s feeling good now and proceeds to strip butt naked to continue programming. She tells Jagd to say hi to Schaft, it’s pilot. Jagd does, and we see a mechanical hand poke into the Headdliner cockpit to wave. Schaft is impressed that she’s gotten control of the Jagd already. She’s still feeling good and starts feeling herself up a little, bidding Jagd to say along with her “mama’s up tight, outta sight!”

Finally, we return to Kastenpo, and the battle between the Auge and the Apache. Even with the fatima/headdliner duo at its controls, the Apache is starting to feel the mechanical stresses of constant battle. Sopp is on the sidelines, having realized that Kyo is fighting her younger sister Atropos, and also trying to figure out where she found her “boy wonder” headdliner partner. He figures that they’re in the employment of Di-Barrow who’s searching for the Water of Life. Sopp knows the stories to be true now as some of it was used to revive him.

Even with the overheating, Kyo tells Braford to go for it and push the Apache as it can beat AT. She knows that At is thinking that she has this victory as she has her superior Mh, the Knight of Gold. Before she can get the word Gold out, she feels ill and vomits violently. In addition to the regular Mind Controls that are put into place for all Fatima, there’s one other that she had not taken into consideration and is on the verge of blacking out. In extreme horror, she realizes that she’s also fighting Mr. Sopp, who looked after her when she was a child. Her mind starts to splinter and Braford desperatly tries to get her attention. Against the odds, she’ll pull it together and reasure Braford, telling him that this battle shall be theirs. The Apache is overheating, but the Auge, a battle virgin is also having its issues. Swe, on the other hand, seems to be looking at something that only he can see that’s approching them quickly. At smells blood and goes in for the kill. The Apache isn’t finished yet and punches the Auge. This damages the Auge’s controls beyond use and the Apache, having won against a superior machine not in any database draws its sword to end the battle. Before this happens, the object that Swe was looking at shows itself to Kyo. It’s the fatima Queen, who’s materialized from the Heavenly Plane, telling Kyo that this battle is over,, enough. Braford’s final blow is more to take out the MH, not one to kill anyone. He notices that AT has ejected and gives her a warning shot with the laser from the Apache. Victory Formation!

Sopp’s rather flabergasted from the performance, aknowledging that they just got their ass kicked and exit, stage left. Swe looks back to see Queen, her message given, wishing the “Cool Ruler of Kastenpo” well, then vanish.

Braford looks over the remains of the Auge, in pieces lying before him. He also notes that AT left him a dummy, which is what he hit with the warning shot. He goes to look over the Auge, but she had one final nasty surprise waiting for him….the Auge self destructs. As Kyo still is recovering from her episode, he decides to wait it out until Seable’s men arrive to clean up….

AT returns to Sopp, in tears that the Auge has been destroyed. Sopp assures her that it’s just fine and once this is over he’ll rebuild it just for her. Right now, they need to figure a way out since they’ve been cornered.

Braford is disgusted that the Auge is now sitting and smoldering, but that it’s trying to regenerate itself anyway. All of this battling has left him empty: a knight with his skills could be anywhere, considering that he has a Ballance Masterpiece Fatima with him. He just doesn’t feel worthy of her skills. Safe to say she feels the same way about him: she tells him that never again would she try to take the controls of the Apache away from him.

Back in the tunnel, AT is feeling the emptiness of the battle as well. AT asks Sopp about the abilities of the Headdliner and the fatima who battled her today to which Sopp says that they’re the best he’s seen and that they must have known they were fighting her. AT breaks down, saying how terrible it must have been for one of her older sisters to know that she was fighting Mr. Sopp and the pain she must have been in doing so. Sopp asks her about this and she explains that Ballance made it impossible for any Fatima he crated to ever go up against him. Sopp, very angry, asks how he could ever have done such a thing knowingly. AT explains futher, saying that since the fatimas don’t have a mother or true father, in reality Sopp was the only one who really cared for them and that they would never fight against him. They may pick masters, but Sopp, the one who sent them all off, is their Arch-Master. Breaking down, she tells him that Lachesis is carrying out their greatest wish, to be remain close to him. She wishes that Ballance had made them regular computers so they would not have to go through this and all Sopp can do is hold her….

In the meantime, Seable has arrived on cleanup detail. Sukat isn’t happy about having to be out at night, nor the fact that the tunnel system is so vast. The Pied Pipers are searching through it but all they’re finding is wild beasts. General Piper is with Sukat and not too crazy about Braford’s tactics..was he holding back? Di-Barrow sure isn’t, he’s unleashing a barage of psychic attacks on Braford, telling him that he’d better find the nymph and quickly!

AT and Sopp are out of the tunnels and on the surface, which is crawling with Seable’s search digs. Can’t move around free;y until later… At this point, young Swe is awake, hungry and really loud about it. Sopp’s afraid Seable will hear him and they also notice that some very dangerous wild animals are closing it. These man eating creatures aren’t there to hurt them: they kill some rabbits and offer them to Swe as AT looks on in amazement.

Closing in on Both and to close out this book are Lonn’s troops, who prepare to engage Seable when they finally arrive. Lonn’s up for the task, but Sopp is in her thoughts. She silently bids Aisha to find him, and quickly.