Cross glanced out from behind the rock they were using for cover and fired a couple bullets at the pair of aliens in the tower upon the plateau who were trying to keep her Elma and Lin pinned down. "They aren't the best shots, and no one else has shown up to shoot at us besides those two and the one with the shotgun to our left. I don't think this base is very well staffed."

Elma paused from re-positioning the rest of her ammo clips to more easily accessible locations and snuck a peek at the base they were in from the side of the rock. "This whole place looks fairly unfinished. I don't think they were expecting visitors so soon."

"What's the plan? We have no idea where Nelson and his team are, and this place seems pretty big." Cross asked. "They could be anywhere."

"Hmmm. Lin, can you get anything at all with your comm device?"

The young mechanic pulled out said device and tapped away on it. "Huh. That's weird. The interference isn't anywhere as bad here as it was outside. Almost like it's being screened out or something. I'll start a scan for Nelson's team. Hopefully their emergency transponders are still working."

"Well, I can't claim to understand the details about how stuff like that works, but it would make sense if they had to contact the rest of their people right?" Cross asked.

"Yeah, but that would mean there would have to be some direction that there's not interference in. It seems like such an inelegant way to do it." Lin answered, seeming uncertain. She brightened up as her comm device dinged. "Got it! A faint signal from a BLADE emergency transponder is coming through the interference from that big building up on the plateau past the tower."

Elma nodded. "Good. We can figure out what's going on with the interference some other time. It looks like there's an opening up to the right, then the ridge with the shotgun armed alien starts. I think I can make out a bridge connecting that ridge to the middle. If they layed this place out with any sense, the way up is on the opposite side as the building with their prisoners, so expect a way up on that side. We go on the count of three."

"Got it." Cross and Lin chimed.

"One. Two. Three!" Elma counted, breaking into a dead sprint when she reached three. Lin and Cross followed right behind her. As they ran, Elma fired a couple shots at the alien standing atop the short boxy tower ahead of them, while Cross did the same to the ones in the tower to their right. They ran past some sort of triangular barracksy looking structure on their right, that seemed mercifully empty, under the bridge Elma had noticed, then rounded a bend in the valley between the ridge on their left and the plateau to their right to, as Elma had guessed, find a wide sloped path leading up to the ridge on the left. As they approached the slope, a squad of four of the aliens exited another barracks further down the valley and began shooting them. They ducked behind a thick pillar made of the same gleaming metal that made up all the building in the alien base which, based on there being on at the other side of the wide sloped path, Cross guessed was the beginnings of a gate made to stop intruders from just waltzing on up to the second level.

"Ok, we handle these guys, then we…" Elma began as a barrage of energy bolts hit the cliff above them, showering them with debris. "Ok, Lina and I will handle these guys, Cross you go stop that one with the shotgun from bringing this cliff side down on us."

Cross nodded. "Can do. Good luck." Not waiting for a reply, she ran up the rest of the way up the slope. As she turned onto the flat of the ridge top, she saw another alien standing guard at the door to the building the shotgun wielder was perched on. It was armed similarly to the one Elma had fought when they had first encountered them, with a rifle and a mace. It opened fire at her, but she had already leapt sideways, and hurriedly took cover behind a mound of crates and barrels along the side of the ridge.

As she planned her move, she heard the sounds of Lin and Elma exchanging fire with the aliens down below, then saw the flash of another shotgun blast fly over head toward her companions. Given the lack of pained cries, shooting lasers didn't seem to help the accuracy problems shotguns had at long range, but it was only a matter of time. Cross vaulted over the barrel she was using as cover with one hand, the other firing her rifle blindly at the alien guarding the doorway. As she finished her leap, she took better aim at her target, and launched a grenade at its torso. It managed to dodge out of the way, and the grenade exploded harmlessly inside the building, but all Cross really needed was a distraction to close the distance. She bolted toward the alien, switching her rifle out for her lightblade as she went.

It had recovered from its dodge in time to draw its mace, with which it managed to block her first blow, but it wasn't fast enough to stop her next three from digging into its sides. As it staggered back in pain, Cross stepped in right next to it and rammed her blade up through the bottom of its jaw toward its brain. As she withdrew her weapon, the alien fell over dead, though Cross didn't pause to confirm the kill,;time was of the essence, and anything that fell over after having searing hot plasma poke them in what was most creatures brain space was probably actually dead.

She ran inside the building, and took a quick look around. It was empty, save for a series of ramps on the left hand side that lead to the ceiling. "Alright" she thought to herself as she headed up the ramps. "This one's probably higher ranking, or more skilled than the others. He's the only one with a weapon that isn't a mortar or a rifle, and I think I saw some extra metal on his uniform as I was running at the building." As she jogged up the last stretch of ramp, she took a deep calming breath, and willed herself into the same walking meditation she had gone into against Doug.

It served her well, because it was the only way she would have had the reaction time to dodge the near point blank shotgun blast that came one second later. She heard something moving to her left, out of sight somehow, and immediately fell to the ground, then a blast of laser bolts shot through where she had been standing. The shotgun alien was now standing to the left of the ramp, it must have been lying concealed in a divot between the edge of the floor and the rail that rimmed the roof which she hadn't been able to seen. It took a step toward her, and pointed its shotgun toward her now prone body.

As it was about to fire, Cross rolled to the side, falling off the edge of the ramp to the next one down. She contorted herself as she fell enough to land on her knees, then twisted so she was flat against the wall, blocking herself from her enemies sight. "Well. This isn't working as well as it could." Cross muttered angrily as she switched back to her rifle. She ejected one of the two remaining grenades in the magazine into her hand. They wouldn't go off without the kind of heavy impact provided by firing them out of a gun, but the alien shouldn't know that. She could change the setting of course, but she didn't exactly have the time.

Cross lobbed the grenade backward, arching it toward the opening where she could hear the alien waiting for her, then clambered up the side of the ramp behind it. As planned, the alien had been distracted by her feint, and had been busy distancing itself from the explosive. Cross pointed her rifle at it, and opened fire with both bullets and the last grenade in the magazine. Most of the bullets scored direct hits, but the grenade exploded as the alien tried to bat it away with its mace. The explosion didn't harm her foe, but the distraction gave Cross the time she needed. She hurriedly closed,dropping her rifle so as to not waste time it as she re-drew her lightblade.

The alien attempted to bat her away with a powerful swing of it mace, but it telegraphed the attack far too easily and Cross ducked under the blow. She wasn't yet in a good position to strike at its body, so she used the momentum of the duck to plunge her sword through her opponent's left foot into to the metal deck of the buildings roof.

With grunt of pain, the alien kicked up at her with its right foot. Keeping her hand on her sword, still impaled in the creature's foot, Cross jumped up turning her body parallel to the ground and perpendicular to her attacker as she did. With the momentum of the maneuver, she drug her sword up through her opponent's leg, all the way to the knee, where she had to turn it off or risk losing the momentum necessary to complete the spin as the blade encounter the much more resistant knee cap and armor.

Howling in rage, the alien brought it mace pounding down on her, knocking her to the floor with a mighty clang. Cross groaned in pain as she turned her sword back on and swept it at her opponent's legs, though it jumped back before her attack hit.

However, as its injured leg hit the ground, the limb buckled, sending the alien tumbling to the ground. It caught itself with its right arm, though it was forced to drop its mace doing so. With its left, it pointed its shotgun at Cross, who had been standing back up, and squeezed the trigger.

Cross had been cautions though, and had raised her gauntleted left arm to cover her face as she stood. Bolts impacted the armor on her chest, scorching holes most of the way through, but the few that would have hit her face merely heated up the material the gloves outer shell was constructed from.

"If you weren't with a group of xenocidal nuts, I'd actually respect you because of your skill." Cross said as she rushed her opponent, lightblade held ready for an upward strike. As her sword sliced through her opponent's weapon, it positioned itself into a kneel on its injured leg, and sent its right fist barreling into her midsection, driving her back.

"You are skilled for an earth alien. Few have done so well against me." It grunted back as it picked its mace back up.

Cross cautiously walked over toward her fallen rifle, keeping her sword between her and her injured opponent. She didn't think it would be able to stand, but it might kill her to be uncautious, since she herself barely could. She scooped her rifle back up quickly with one hand, never letting her eyes off her enemy. "See, that's what I'm talking about. I find discriminating skill, or anything really, based on race to be completely distasteful. What you yourself do is what really matters, so take it as a sign of my respect for your strength that I finish this safely at a distance". Cross swapped her gun to her right hand, pointed it at her foes head, and let loose a full clip of bullets. The alien tried to dodge, but Cross was to close, and the blood loss from its injured leg was beginning to slow it down. The bullets sunk into its head, killing it.

Cross gave a massive sigh of relief, which turned into a wheezing cough halfway through. "Owwwwwww. That freakin hurt." She reached for the knife on her belt, and began healing herself. "Think... I may… have bruised…a few….ribs there." She moaned to herself as the ether slowly began fixing her body. "Hope Lin and ...Elma are okay." Cross sat down against the wall outer wall of the roof, keeping herself out of sight from hostiles that might want to shoot her, and kept an eye on the roofs access ramp as she finished healing herself.

She couldn't hear any more gunfire, which she really really hoped meant Elma and Lin had won, and not the other way around. She didn't have to worry for long, as soon Lin's voice, sounding worried, called up to her from outside the building. "Are you okay Cross?"

Cross sighed in relief as she picked herself up and began heading downstairs. "I'll live." She answered. "The one on the roof got a couple good hits in on me, but I've patched myself up." As she rounded the corner to walk out the door, she got a good look at Lin and Elma. Lin's shield was pitted and scorched, but still seemed serviceable. Elma however, seemed completely untouched save for a small burn mark on the left side of her armor.

"You ready to go?" The white haired woman asked, her voice all business.

Cross nodded. "I'm good. I've already reloaded."

"Right then. Its an open shot across the bridge, but it looks like it's only the two on the tower to shoot at us as we go, so we should be fine if we're quick about it. They've got pens with armored suids on the other side. They must be training them for combat, but hopefully they won't be a problem if we stay as far away as we can. It looks like the plateau is made of three levels. The tower is on the lowest, our target on the third, and the bridge lets out on the middle. However, the only way I saw from the second to the lowest was down a cliff, so we're going to ignore the ones in the tower and go straight for the ramp to the top. Once we're behind the building they have Nelson in the two in the tower can't hit us."

Cross nodded, impressed by Elma's analysis of the situation. She hadn't managed to notice even half of that, and Elma had managed to do so and process it while being under fire for most of the time she'd have had to think about it. It was one thing to think about the current fight under that situation, but another entirely to think about everything that was going to come next.

"Got it!" Lin chirped cheerfully, though Cross could tell the emotion was forced. She felt bad that someone as young as thirteen had to see combat like this, but they couldn't leave Lin behind. Ultimately she was safer with them, and probably necessary. Two people just wasn't enough for this, even if one was as good as Elma.

"Let's go then." Elma said, and the three booked it to the bridge and across it, weapons drawn the whole time. They were fired at a few times from the aliens on the tower, but they hadn't had any sudden improvements in aim, so none of them were hurt and they managed to stay far enough away from the suids to avoid provoking them. As they ran up the slope to the top level, a pair of figures walked out from behind stacks of metal boxes and turned to face them. The figures were nowhere as big as the aliens they had been fighting, standing about the same height as Cross and Elma. They also weren't alive, being made of metal with motions that were stiff and robotic, and their upper halves looked identical to the torso and head of the robot they had fought upon entering the base. The two robots stood their ground, blades of light erupting from their arms.

"Get behind cover before engaging! Lin stick to the middle!" Elma commanded,as she veered toward the one on the left

Cross veered toward the one on the right. These things sleek design spoke of speed and grace, something she and Elma were much more equipped to deal with than Lin. As she ran passed, her suspicions were confirmed as the robot slashed at her with startling speed. If she hadn't been expecting the attack, she doubted she could have blocked.

She turned toward the robot as she passed it, keeping its attention on her as she began to backstep into the cover it had emerged from. Once she was behind cover from the alien gunmen in the tower she began to try and press an attack on the dual wielding robot, but its speed and twin blades made it hard. She was having trouble attacking in a way that didn't leave her exposed to a counter from one of the machines two swords. Fortunately, it didn't seem overly skilled at combat, relying almost solely on its inhuman speed, so she was able to fend of its attacks without to much trouble.

Cross grinned broadly as Lin rammed her shield into the things back, sending it flailing to the ground. 'Not that I needed to press the attack. That's what superior numbers are for.' she thought as Lin followed up by slamming the lower edge of her shield down into the robot's neck, crushing it in a shower of sparks.

Elma had fared well against her own opponent, her twin swords well suited to fighting the similarly armed robot. Though it may have had speed on her, and Cross wasn't actually convinced of that since Elma seemed to be able to move freakishly fast at times, Elma was leagues more skilled, and it showed as she ably parried the machines blows while scoring hits of her own. Before Lin and Cross could even reach her to help, she had dispatched her foe.

There were no other enemies between them and their objective, only a metal door. Elma took the lead, approaching it cautiously, and all three switched to their guns as they did. The building seemed sizable, any combat inside was likely to begin at range. To all three of their surprise the door whooshed open as they stepped up next to it. Wasting no time Elma stepped into the room first, Cross and Lin fanning out behind her when they entered. On the far side of the room, up in a corner made by a series of ramps going to the upper floor of the building where three aliens, two similar to those they had been fighting, the third mostly the same but even taller still, heads above the other two, who was wearing red and grey instead of black and gold and armed with an absolutely massive gun, a gracefully curved grey metal hilt held in two hands which ended in an long wide barrel emblazoned with a helical pattern of glowing green lines.

But all three of theirs attention wasn't caught by the aliens, but by the bodies they were standing in front of. Four human bodies, wearing tattered and burnt BLADE armor, lie crumpled on the floor, the limbs twisted in unnatural angles. One head was tilted at an angle where Cross could make out the face. She could tell their deaths had been anything but swift or merciful, since judging by the expression on the dead man's face those injuries hadn't been inflicted after death.

"Cross," Elma began, her voice hard as stone and a cold as ice. "Guard the outside with Lin."

"Yes mam." She responded gravely. Lin didn't need to see those bodies any longer than she had to. No one should have to, but especially not a thirteen year old.

Before the aliens could do anything about it, Cross put a hand on Lin's back and gently pushed her out the door, which closed after they exited. The young girl was shaking. Cross's face twisted in anger. She'd wanted to be a hero when she was younger. She still did. And now it looked like she had found a villain. The massive alien inside couldn't be more than a mid ranked underling. She was going to find who ordered this and make them pay. No one deserved to go out like that.


Elma glared at the three aliens standing in front of her. She was glad Lin was gone. The poor girl must be in shock. The condition Nelson and his team had been put into before they died was barbaric. "They're all dead. You killed them all. In cold blood." She said, practically spitting the words at the three aliens looming in front of her.

The tallest one, the commander, chuckled cruelly. "Fortune did not smile upon them. You filthy earth aliens do not belong on this planet."

"You seem more fluent than the others. I presume you're in charge?" Elma questioned, barely restraining herself. Sometimes she despised the detached nature she'd nurtured over the years. She'd have liked nothing more than to end this murdering bastard for his crimes, but logically she new it was important to get as much information out of him as she could.

"I am called Glennar. I lead this squad." the alien confirmed.

"Hello Glennar, I am called Elma, and I command this squad." She nodded toward the door indicating Cross and Lin. "If this planet is your home, we apologize for intruding. We crash landed here after we were attacked. We were hoping we could negotiate a peaceful settlement" Elma looked down at the twisted corpses of Nelson and his team "in exchange for our friends, but..."

"Peaceful settlement?!" Glennar mocked. "All we can promise earth aliens is a swift death! You shall die first, then the two you sent outside in an attempt to save. Though maybe I will force you to watch their deaths first, so you learn the futility of resistance before you die."

"Right then." Elma's carefully neutral expression fell into a furious frown. "I tried. Looks like survival of the fittest it is. Fine. Seeing as you know we come from earth, I'm guessing there's a good chance we have a score to settle with you anyway."

"HA! Li…" before Glennar had even finished his second word, Elma's swords where in his torso, the whirring sounds of her mimeasome's overdrive buzzing lowly in her ears. It was a noise that promised speed and power and death.

Glennar brought the barrel of his gun crashing down on Elma's body, but she was already gone, the effects of her ghostwalker ether focus spiriting her away. "Primer" she muttered as a she ran around to the back of one of Glennar's mooks. Her swords lit up with a green glow as ether coated them, in a shade that could be best described as sickly. A suitable color for death. Elma hopped up, easily scissoring her now sharpened swords through the back of the alien's neck, which fell off his still standing body with a thud. Her target, not as skilled as his commander, hadn't even been able to react to the fight before he had died.

Glennar roared at his remaining minion to fire, which the smaller alien did with impressive speed. A storm of laser shots from Glennar's gatling gun and the other alien's rifle blanketed Elma's side of the room. Or her old side of the room, as she had gotten behind the rifle wielder before Glennar had even finished speaking. She stabbed him twice, one where she guessed his heart was, and once upward through the neck, cutting through his spine and piercing his brain.

"What was that you were saying about killing Lin and Cross while I watched?" Elma taunted as her newest kill collapsed in front of her. "Not that you could have killed them if you tried of course, but it looks like it's the other way around."

Glennar just roared in rage in response, and charged her. Elma simply sidestepped out of the way, cleaving her swords through the back of his leg as she did, stopping once she had felt her blades cut the tendons and muscles, crippling that limb. As Glennar stumbled, she slid around behind him and did the same to his other leg, sending him crashing face first to the floor.

The massive alien flipped himself face up with his arms, and tried to raise his gun to shoot Elma. But she was ready, and severed the tendons in both his arms with one fluid strike from each sword. The brute's weapon fell out of his now useless arm. He lay there on the ground, crippled, a shocked expression visible regardless of the presence of his face mask.

"Now then." Elma hissed as she stepped on to his chest and stared him in the eyes. "You're going to tell me what I want to know, or your death will be long and painful as opposed to swift and easy."

"You are filthy earth alien. Glennar will tell you nothing."

"You're wrong about one of those." Elma jammed her swords through Glennar's mask, straight into his brain. "But I believe the second. You're just lucky that unlike you, I'm a civilized person and don't condone torture."

Elma let the overdrive fade, wiped off her swords on Glennar's uniform, then headed to the door. Before she reached it, she stowed her swords, pulled out her guns, turned and shot Glennar's discarding gatling gun. It exploded with a satisfying boom that scorched the room as Elma turned and walked out the door.


Outside, Cross was laying a comforting hand on Lin's shoulder even as she kept a diligent eye on the surroundings, and the young mechanic looked somewhat recovered. Elma was glad. She hadn't meant to get Lin into something like this. It was supposed to be a simple mission, just go out and explore the wilderness some while looking for Nelson's team. Not an extended fight with a bunch of vicious xenocidal aliens. Cross had proved herself as well. The young woman had kept a level head the entire time, and had proved herself admirably in combat against enemies smarter than a wild animal. Though, Elma thought derisively, whatever race of aliens they had been fighting weren't all that bright. If they were a member of the Ganglion crime syndicate like she was beginning to suspect, they had certainly been brought on board as pure muscle.

"Hey. Is it just me, or is that crate over there shaking?" Cross asked, snapping Elma out of her thoughts.

"Yeah it is." Lin agreed. "What do you think it is, some kind of wild animal?"

"I'll check it out," Cross offered. "Cover me."

Elma drew her guns and pointed them at the crate as Cross walked over and cautiously undid the latch on the crates lid, then flipped it open. It was full of some sort of large pinkish root vegetables. They had little growths on them that looked vaguely like arms and legs, and a small leafy top.

One of them, which appeared to be wearing a backpack as big as it was that had what looked like a pair of plush monster faces on stick strapped to the sides, hopped out. Once it started dancing around, Elma almost facepalmed. It wasn't a vegetable, it was some sort of small fuzzy alien with the same general shape and color as the vegetables it had been mixed in with. Two stubby legs, and two sets of arms, the lower pair short and stubby looking like the legs, the upper large, wide and vaguely wing shaped.

"Finally! Dance of freedom!" It, or he if its voice was an indication, proclaimed cheerfully as he continued to hop around. Elma snuck a glance at her companions while she waited for the small alien to calm down a little. Lin looked completely confused, while Cross was staring at the small creature with a look of utmost concentration. Finally, the vegetable shaped alien calmed down and gave a small bow to the three of them. "Tatsu thanks you!" he said.

"A talking potato? I wonder if it tastes different?" Lin asked, apparently hung up on the similarity between this Tatsu and the vegetables they had found him in. Though Elma admitted that the resemblance was awfully uncanny.

Elma holsted her guns, walked over and picked up Tatsu, despite his squirming protests. "We can continue this elsewhere. This isn't exactly a safe place to talk."

"Right, yeah." Cross agreed after shaking her head to snap herself out of her thoughts.

"Let Tatsu down! If new friends are leaving Prone base Tatsu follow on Tatsu's own two feet thank you very much!" the alien chimed in.

Elma set him down, and the four booked it out of the base the way they had came in. They encountered a few enemies on the way out, but they only came in ones and twos so where made short work of.

Finally, Elma deemed that they had ran far enough from the base that it was safe to take a break. She took the opportunity to take a good look at the small alien they had found, who was currently panting and wheezing. This, Tatsu, was apparently unused to running as far as they had, though he had done an admirable job keeping up with them despite their much longer strides. The swirly brown hair sticking out from the oddly shaped green cap made for a rather comical appearance.

"So Mr. talking potato, what's your story?" Lin asked once Tatsu looked like he had regained his breath.

"Eh eh eh!" Tatsu responded, sounding appalled while shaking his upper right arm, which he had balled up like a fist. "You are mean and cruel. Tatsu definitely not potato. Tatsu explain this to dumb and smelly Prone when they take Tatsu, but they not listen either. Prone never listen. All Nopon rue day Prone first set stinky feet on Mira."

"So you're a Nopon then?" Elma asked. "And those big aliens are called Prone? And they aren't native to this planet."

"Yes yes." Tatsu answered, bouncing up and down. "Prone are nasty stinky newcomers. If friends want more details friends must promise to protect Tatsu. Only then will Tatsu talk."

"Riiight." Lin sounded uncertain about how useful Tatsu could be. "I dunno. I think you might be more useful as field rations."

"Lin, be nice." Cross scolded, looking stern. "The guy's been held captive in a crate of vegetables by those Prone guys for a while now. And it looks like they really were going to eat him. Joking about doing the same just because of an unfortunate resemblance to a vegetable is mean." Cross turned to Tatsu, leaving Lin looking chastised. "She wouldn't actually eat you. She's just joking around because you look an awful lot like those vegetables we found you in."

"Well Tatsu doesn't think joke is funny at all!" the Nopon replied huffily. "Prone and their nasty evil buddies hunt lots of Nopon ever since coming here."

"Thier buddies? You mean other alien races?" Lin asked, looking concerned.

"Other HUNGRY alien races." Tatsu clarified. "They all gang up on Nopon. They all do terrible terrible things to Nopon."

"Well we certainly won't." Cross said confidently. "And it looks like the Prone and their 'buddies' have it out for us to. So we'd be glad to help."

"Then you'll protect Tatsu? Oh happy day! Then it's settled then, Tatsu will accompany friends back to their village."

Lin still looked skeptical. "What do you think?" She asked Elma. "Do we bring him back with us?"

Elma stared at Tatsu for a moment. "He seems harmless enough. And he'd be a good source of information on Mira and the Prone. As long as he passes the quarantine scan we can bring him back to New LA. There I'm sure Vandham will have plenty of questions for him."

"Right. Let's get that out of the way." Lin pulled out her com device and held it out towards Tatsu. After pressing a couple options on the screen to bring up the biological scanning option, she nodded. "All clear."

Tatsu began dancing around. "Than Tatsu can come? Dance of joy! New friends are friendliest friends ever!" Tatsu stopped dancing suddenly and reached into his pack with one of his upper arms and started digging around. "Ah! Tatsu knows! Tatsu has special thank you gift for friends for saving Tatsu's life. Tatsu will lend it to friends for free!"

"Lend? It's not a gift if you give it." Lin said, sounding insulted.

"Now now. Tatsu isn't a human Lin. His customs are certainly different." Cross said. "Now giving what you said I take it the Nopon never permanently transfer ownership of anything for nothing in return?"

Elma was impressed. Cross was handling this very well. She would have expected most humans to be wary and suspicious of any aliens they came across, when their races first encounter with another race was a pair of them fighting in their skies with no concern whatsoever for collateral damage, which had lead to the destruction of their homeworld and the majority of their population. They had every right to be paranoid and suspicious. At best, she expected behavior more like Lin's. Not hostile, but with a lack of experience with anything other than their own kind, many people would assume those they met would have similar values to their own. Did Cross's openness have something to with her amnesia, or was she just that much of an accepting person?

Tatsu had finished fishing around in his bag, but was keeping whatever he had dug out concealed in the grip of his hand. "Yes yes. Brown haired friend very wise! Nopon are proud merchants. Only give things for free between family. Otherwise it's insultful."

"Oh. That makes sense." Lin said sheepishly. "Sorry."

"Tatsu graciously accepts your apology." he said, somewhat haughtily. Tatsu than continued, switching to a voice that made him sound like he was giving a sales pitch. "Anyway. Friends, do you ever get lost? Get tired of bulky maps and flawed memory?"

"I do have amnesia, so I am somewhat concerned about my ability to find my way around town." Cross answered.

"Well then, it's your lucky day." Tatsu opened his hand. "Preeeeesentig…. Follow Ball!" he exclaimed as a glowing orange sphere about the size of a first floated up a few feet into the air and hung there, bobbing up in down. It seemed completely incorporeal, and had a small swarm of tiny glassy orange rectangles orbiting around it randomly.

Elma raised an eyebrow. She had no idea what this thing was.

"Follow Ball is number one must have super secret Nopon item." Tatsu continued his sales pitch. "If friends get lost out in wild friends just follow ball of light to safety. And now it's yours for free! To borrow!" His voice got less excited, and more awkward. "For now...anyway."

"Really? 'Follow Ball'? That's the best name you could come up with for your super special thing?" Lin asked, looking decidedly unimpressed with the floating sphere. "And is it really gonna be all that useful? We've got pretty darn good maps. And what if it just blows up? Boom!"

"Ohhh!" Cross exclaimed, sounding excited, as she bent down and gingerly poked one of the orbiting hexagons. "Is this some sort of stable ether construct? How do you keep it powered and active without anyone using it? Are all of these…." She trailed off and closed her eyes.

Lin, Tatsu and Elma all turned to stare at her, or at least Elma assumed Tatsu was staring, his opaque glasses made it rather hard to tell. What was Cross doing?

Cross opened her eyes and beamed before Elma had time to give it much thought. "They are! They are all ether focuses! But how do you get them so thin? And whatever do you need so many for? I mean, a couple of them are to keep this thing aloft and make it move right? But you only need like, what, six for that? So what do the rest do!?"

"Geeze Lin, she sounds like you when you go on about Skells." Elma quipped. But internally she was confused. Here it was again, Cross being startlingly good with ether. Much more than she would ever have suspected any human to be.

"Yeah, well. Skells are much cooler than a floating ball of light." Lin reasoned, crossing her arms defensively.

"Ummm." Tatsu hung his head in shame. "Tatsu doesn't actually know how the Follow Ball works. Tatsu just own one."

Cross shrugged it off. "That's fine. It'll be fun to figure it out anyway. Hey Elma. Touch the Follow Ball and then think really hard of Lin alright? I want to test something." Cross then stared intently at the floating sphere of light

"Okay." Elma answered unsurely. She stretched out her arm toward the Follow Ball. The orbiting streams of floating hexagons parted around her hand as it reached toward the central glowing sphere. It felt tingly to touch, sort of like the hologram screen on the com devices. Then she thought about Lin. Suddenly the Follow Ball lept away from her fingers and floated toward Lin. The young girl eeped a little at the sudden movement and jumped back, but the floating sphere followed her.

"That's kinda freaky." Lin said as the sphere stopped a few inches from her chest.

"That's really cool!" Cross said at the same time. "Hey Elma, do that again, but this time close your eyes first."

Elma just chuckled. "You can test it out later Cross." She pointed at the setting sun. "Come on. Its getting late, and I don't want to camp out here with the Prone base so close. We won't be able to get back to the base camp today, but it's safer the further we get from the Prone."

"Tatsu agrees!" the Nopon said, bouncing up and down for emphasis. "Tatsu definitely not want to sleep where nasty Prone can get to him." He then started walking down the slope.

"Sorry." Cross said, rubbing her head awkwardly. "I got a little to excited there." as they began walking after Tatsu, Cross grabbing the Follow Ball and putting it in her pack as she passed where it had stop.

Elma grinned. "I'm used to it from Lin regarding Skells."

"Hey! Skells are cool." Lin repeated. "Man, I wish Alexa was here. She'd back me up."

Elma chuckled as they continued walking. Even if they hadn't been able to make it in time to save Nelson and his team, it wasn't a total bust. They'd found a friendly native, even if Elma was withholding judgment on exactly how useful he'd be until later, they'd gathered valuable intel, and Elma thought as she looked at Lin and Cross bantering about the usefulness of the Follow Ball, Lin got through the ordeal without getting mentally scared. Maybe not a win, but certainly not a loss.

Author's Notes: Couple things to talk about this time.

Firstly, the scene were Elma uses overdrive. A: I tried to model it after that AWESOME cutscene where Nagi activates it against some Marnuck in Sylvalum. B: I know you cant actually use overdrive this early in the game. But that's only because Cross as amnesia and doesn't remember they are a mim. Since Elma doesn't have that issue, there is no reason she shouldn't be able to use it if the situation called for it.

Secondly: Tatsu and the follow-ball. I do hope I got the Nopon speaking style down ok. As for the follow-ball, has anyone else been annoyed by the gameplay/story segregation of it being able to find things that you don't know the location of? Finding places is fine, presumably the Nopon who made it installed a good map of Mira when they did, but how does it find missing items? I'm going to try and explain it later on, so we'll see how that goes. I know I could have just left it out and avoided the issue, but it was a perfect way to introduce some Nopon culture so I wanted to include it. Also, there will be no eating Tatsu jokes. I mean really. Those are just mean and repetative.