I sware, my readers are a patient bunch. That's something I appreciate more than words can describe. The last two months have been hectic and the computer repairs I had to do didn't help. Noctua for case fans FYI.

But hey, we're here now. I figured out a much better schedule with writing and work's kinda slowed down a bit so I want to say I can start work on the next chapter ASAP.

I also stopped playing Warthunder...yeah that was driving me nuts. Anyways, let's get back to it!

Dialing it Down

"We watch, we protect!"

-Slogan of the now-defunct White Knights, a former PMC based out of Rocksert.


By the time the helicopter and trucks returned, the entire base was on standby and ready to assist. Under the glow of floodlights and the starry night sky the personnel of S09 began preparations for what was undoubtedly going to be a long night.

"Out of the way! Where's Echelon One!?" Hot air billowed out of Hatch's mouth as he trudged through the snow and the throng of personnel scattered about the helipad. Behind him, Kalina struggled to keep up as she tried to catalog the information overload. With tablet in hand, she diligently forwarded any information to both Michael and Helian as the situation developed. Meanwhile, her commander continued his quest to find the dolls that were worrying him the most. Hatch pushed through the crowd further until he stumbled into a confused looking maintenance tech. The commander grabbed the tech by the shoulder and yanked him around. "Where's Echelon One?! Have you seen them?"

Startled, the wide-eyed tech shakily pointed over his shoulder and at the two damaged MRAPs. "That'll do it, thanks." Hatch let go and gave the tech a reassuring pat on the shoulder before making his way over towards the trucks.

The trucks, like the rest of the equipment, weren't in any better shape. Energy fire had left scorch marks all over the vehicles and punctured ballistic glass. Black smears from old roadkill stained the undercarriages and more than once Hatch was certain he had seen a limb or two jutting out from the engine grills. Both vehicles were critically low on fuel and the wheels looked as though they were about to fall off. It was nothing short of a miracle the last functioning MRAP could even tow the other one back at all let alone support Dozer's weight. If Doogan didn't have a mouthful to give Hatch later, Grizzly certainly would.


Sensing its master had returned, Dozer relinquished its grip on the side of the lead MRAP before stomping over to its commander. Hatch did his best to ignore the nonexistent chatter and the pounding that had returned to his forehead.

Not long after, the doors to the truck Dozer had been hanging off of slowly opened revealing the bruised and battered members of Echelon One. Hatch had barely made it two steps towards the vehicle when a distraught Thunder jumped out the back and ran into his arms sobbing all the while.

Hatch gripped the doll in a tight hug and lowered his voice. "It's alright, it's over. You did good Thunder, you did really good. Where's Calico and the others?"

MP40 quickly stumbled out the back of the MRAP as she attempted to maintain her grip on Specter. The dirt-covered SMG doll smiled enthusiastically as she used her free hand to give a salute. "We are here and accounted for Commandant!"

Noticing Specter's lifeless body Hatch turned his attention towards Kalina and pointed back towards the rest of the personnel beyond. "Kalina, get some help over here! We're gonna need stretchers and techs ASAP!"

"Already on it!" Kalina nodded before crunching through the snow back towards the others. Hatch quickly relinquished his grip on Thunder and made his way towards the back of the truck. Peering inside the vehicle, he saw his damaged girlfriend waving at him with her trademark smirk. "I was wondering when you'd show up. Thought you'd forgotten about me."

"Never in a million years moya muza." Hatch responded with a smile before reaching in with outstretched arms.

"There you go trying to sweet talk me in Russian." Calico slid over and into Hatch's arms and wrapped her hands around his neck. "What's this? Gonna carry me?"

Hatch put Calico into a modified princess carry, grunting as he hefted the doll up and out of the vehicle. "Unless you want me to get a sled, yeah."

"As long as the destination involves a warm bath and a massage I don't care how I get there Ben." Calico responded with a weary voice as she took Hatch's beanie off and put it on her head. "I think I deserve all the treatment I can get after today."

Hatch pressed his forehead against Calico's. "You're going to get that and a lot more."

"Oh? With the big hole in our bedroom?"

Hatch groaned remembering the damage Dozer had inflicted earlier. "I'll...think of something."

"Ahem." Thunder cleared her throat and tugged at Hatch's sleeve a few times, snapping the lovers out of their trance. The doll stared at the couple for a few moments, the anticipation in her eyes burning into them.

Seeing no room for compromise Hatch sighed. "Yes Thunder, you can stay with us tonight."

MP40 leaned in with a raised eyebrow. "I expect the rest of the echelon will be rewarded as well, Commandant?"

"Of course, I didn't forget-"

"Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry!"

FN49's voice cut Hatch off as the doll came running up with Kalina and some sleep-deprived techs carrying stretchers. The rifle doll almost fell over as she pushed through the snow to reunite with the rest of her team. "I-I wanted to be there with you! I'm so sorry I couldn't help! It's all my fault you got hurt!"

Calico folded her arms. "It was tight quarters over there, your rifle wouldn't have been as helpful. You agreed to stay back and let us deal with her remember?"

FN49 lowered her head. "Well, Y-yes."

"But you did a phenomenal job defending the school."

FN49 raised her head. "I did?"

"Mhmm, you sure did." Calico nodded in agreement. "I had to turn my comms off with all the chatter you were making. Impressive stuff 49, almost makes me wonder just how much better you'll get once Michael uploads all the new combat data."

"It is true. It was a fight you would have been ill-suited for 49. We do not blame you for any of our injuries." MP40 chimed in as she assisted a nearby tech with laying Specter down atop a Stretcher.

FN49 wanted to smile and bask in the praise longer, but Kalina quickly butted in with her tablet up for Hatch to see.

"Commander! I'm sorry to break up this reunion, but it's Helian. She says she needs to speak with you ASAP."

Hatch blew some air out from between pursed lips, if Helian was that insistent there was zero way he was talking himself out of it. "Right, time to go play base commander." Hatch signaled for a tech and gently laid Calico down on a stretcher.

"Try to behave alright? I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Of course, like a baby."

Hatch rolled and pointed at Thunder. "Keep her company and Dozer on a tight leash. Alright?"

Thunder simply nodded before grabbing Dozer by the hand and leading the doll along after Calico and the others. With everything underway Hatch was free to trudge through the snow back to the CP and whatever bad news Helian was going to give him.


Hatch took a swig from his energy drink and set the can back down. He was fresh out of whiskey, bad Caffeine would have to do for now."What do you mean redeployment?"

From atop Hatch's desk, Helian's hologram shimmered as the executive fixed her tie. "Command has deemed it necessary to move you and your dolls elsewhere. Your recent performance record has, thus far, been of great assistance to the organization. They believe those skills could be put to better use elsewhere."

"Wait, Command?" Hatch's brow furrowed. "As in, Kryuger himself?"

"Yes, Mr. Kryuger saw the drone footage. He was..." Helian paused. "...Surprised, by the outcome of your engagements. Four Ringleaders in forty-eight hours is unheard of."

Hatch took another sip from his can. "I can't exactly take credit for Intruder, that was all AR team's work."

"You paved the way for them, that's more than enough. You've not only recovered vital assets but also brought a great deal of stability to the area. Sangvis Forces have completely withdrawn." Helian shuffled some paperwork atop her desk before interlocking her fingers. "Which is also why both myself and Dr. Persica will be arriving tomorrow to visit your base. So do try to look semi-presentable."

Hatch felt a pit form in his stomach and he was pretty sure the caffeine wasn't at fault. All the same, the commander did his best to look as unfazed. "You mean to visit AR team or the prisoner?"

"Both, Dr. Persica is the brains behind AR team's construction and one of our most gifted technicians. She wishes to see the status of her dolls in person. As for your prisoner, very few have been able to interrogate a Ringleader. This is an opportunity I need to be present for." Helian pushed her monocle up. "That and I wish to see the status of the base, surely this is of no inconvenience to you?"

"No Ma'am." Hatch shook his head and finished the contents of his can before tossing it into a nearby waste bin. The can clanged around in the bin for a few moments before finally coming to a rest. A noise that no doubt irritated Helian judging by the unamused expression she now had.

"Good. We should be there tomorrow before noon, inform Browning and the rest of your staff. There are also some things you and I need to discuss."

Hatch raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Nothing we can't discuss here? This is a secured connection."

"No, now unless you have more ridiculous questions this meeting is adjourned." Helian glared at Hatch from behind her still interlocked fingers.

"No Ma'am I think that'll be all."

Helian reached down to cut off the signal only to stop halfway and look back at Hatch. "Oh and Commander Hatch. Good work, GnK makes it a priority to recognize talent."

"Thank you Ma'am. I'll continue to push myself and my base."

"Good, I expect nothing less. Helian out."

The hologram fizzled out leaving Hatch alone with his thoughts and the growing sense of dread that accompanied them. "So much for the quiet easy money." Hatch thought aloud before reaching into his BDU pants and pulling out a pack of cigarettes. He eyed the contents of the half-crushed pack with mournful eyes. He was down to his last cigarette, after this he'd have to go pay the makeshift PX and Kalina's busted prices a visit.

The commander lit his cigarette and leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling as a myriad of thoughts began to swim around his head. "Ringleaders, secret meetings, redeployments. Almost makes me miss the simplicity of the Marines." Hatch muttered as he took a drag and let the smoke billow out of his mouth.

Knock Knock Knock.

A series of knocks at Hatch's door broke him out of his trance and nearly made him fall out of his chair. Regaining his composure Hatch sat upright and let his cigarette rest in an ashtray atop his desk.

"Yeah?! Come in!" Hatch yelled at the door.

The small wooden door to his office creaked open and with it came M4's head protruding through the gap. The doll looked around for a few moments. "Commander Hatch? It's M4, may I come in?"

"Yeah, you're good."

M4 nodded before entering and stopping in front of Hatch's desk. She fidgeted a little bit, adjusting the strap for her weapon, but otherwise didn't say anything.

Hatch cleared his throat. "Been a while since we talked, didn't get to congratulate you for the work you and your team did back there."

"Thank you, Commander. It was good to reunite with my team. It's felt like forever since we last got to fight together. Putting Intruder down and helping out your dolls was also a pleasure."

"Well the feeling is mutual, trust me." Hatch took another drag from his cigarette. "Speaking of your team though, where are they? Shouldn't you be with them?"

"They're assisting Chief Engineer Browning. Things got a little cramped, so I came here."

"Yeah, Mike doesn't like it when people crowd him as he works." Hatch blew some smoke out from his nostrils. "But something tells me you didn't just stop by to get some fresh air. Something on your mind?"

"Well, yes. I didn't mean to spy, but." M4 looked down. "I overheard you talking to Helian. She and Persica are coming to visit tomorrow?"

Hatch lowered his shoulders in resignation. "Damn that's some hearing you got. Yeah, they're both coming here tomorrow." The commander raised an eyebrow. "Something wrong?"

"No, it's just." M4 paused. "I haven't seen Persica in a while, that's all."

"Uh-huh…" Hatch took one last drag from his cigarette before putting it out in the ashtray "Anything I should know about her?"

"No, not really. She's, well. A little eccentric."


"Yes, I don't really have a good way to put it."

"I see."

Silence returned to the room once more as both parties struggled to find a way to keep the conversation going.

"Oh, I almost forgot. Sop wanted me to give this to you." M4 reached into her hip-mounted pack and rummaged around for a few moments before taking out a small glistening black object. Before Hatch could even question what it was, M4 placed the object onto his desk with a sickening splat.

Hatch grimaced as he eyed the fleshy looking mass. It almost looked a little bit like a heart, the cables jutting out of it resembling veins and arteries.

"Uh, what exactly am I looking at here?"

"It's Intruder's core." Sop said you might want this as some sort of memento from the battle." M4 answered back matter of factly.

Hatch looked at the disgusting mass then back at M4. "Well, alright."


The pair stared at the core for a few moments longer before exchanging glances. Silence returned and it seemed as though the same awkward miasma would permeate the air once more. That is until they both broke out into laughter. Whether it was the core, the ridiculousness of everything, or just the growing exhaustion they both had, the pair continued to laugh.

Hatch's laughter simmered down to a chuckle as the commander got up from his chair and picked up his carbine. "Well okay then! I guess we should go back and thank her huh? Seems like a good time to go see how the others are doing."

M4 nodded in agreement and followed after the commander, slamming the door shut behind her.

S09 Helipad

After a long journey through the cramped hallways of the CP, Hatch and M4 finally made it back out into the freezing night air. By now most of the chaos around the base had subsided and migrated to the engineering bay. Now all that remained was an almost eerie silence, like as if a storm had passed. Still, there were some signs of life remaining outside.

The ragtag flight crew of Mozzie didn't have the luxury of working indoors. Exposed to the bitter elements and under what little light they had, the crew continued to work on their helicopter. Fortunately, Hatch had planned accordingly. In this case, a small red cooler with just the sort of motivation Doogan and his crew needed.

Hatch set the cooler down in the snow between himself and M4."Hey Doogs, how's the bird looking?"

"'How's the bird looking'? Mate, do you have any idea how fuckin' lucky we are to still be alive?" Doogan slid out from under his helicopter and pointed at Hatch with grease-covered fingers. "Blackhawks are tough birds, but that was fuckin' nutters man. Providing CAS over a densely populated city with nay but our asses and two dumbass door gunners is a fool's errand."

"We take offense to that!" Dima yelled out from the other side of the Blackhawk. "We're probably the only reason why the stupid bird didn't fall out of the sky mudak!"

Khadrov continued to examine some open panels atop the aircraft, clearly too busy to have anything witty to chime in with.

"Oh yeah? So then explain this to me." Doogan slammed his fist against the underside of the aircraft. "Love, what exactly was the damage we sustained?"

Sitting in the copilot's seat, Grizzly took out a small notepad and clicked a small fountain pen a few times. "Plasma burns, a few cables torn up. Tail rotor almost ate it, canopy was shot to all hell and I'm fairly certain Jaegers put some clean holes through our engines." Grizzly flipped a page and clicked her pen again. "Aaand, there's about 50 fault lights I can't seem to turn off."

"There you have it. Bird's looking pretty-" Doogan stopped as he eyed the red cooler sitting between Hatch and M4. "Boss, now correct me if I'm wrong here. Do my eyes spot a bloody reward for our efforts?"

"Yeah, if you stop bitching." Hatch folded his arms with a smirk. "I was able to scrounge some together from the CP."

Doogan gave a big toothy grin that stretched from ear to ear before clapping his hands. "Right then! Crew, take five and grab yourselves some frosties!"

Like a horde of ants emerging from a disturbed anthill, the crew piled out of their aircraft and swarmed the cooler. In seconds tabs were pulled and cans clinked together as the crew enjoyed their much-deserved reward. Doogan pulled out another beer and offered it to Hatch. "You gonna be drinkin' with us boss? Maybe have a smoke or two? Your little friend over here is welcome to join us."

"I'm sorry….I don't drink or smoke." M4 responded sheepishly. "You all did a very fine job flying though."

"No, we did the best because we are the best." Grizzly chugged down the contents of her beer and belched. "But hey, more for us. Stop being a pussy and join us Hatch."

"I'd love to Grizz. I really would, but I got rounds to go make. Kind of a commander in charge of the base you know?"

Grizzly shrugged and greedily reached for another can. "Whatever you say. We'll save a can for you though, should you decide to come back with space heaters for us."

"Yeah mate that'd be pretty spot on if you did." Doogan nodded in agreement before lighting a cigarette. "We don't have the luxury of being warm n' toasty like you lot."

"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind. Anyways, gotta go. Good shit out there today." Hatch spun on his heels and led M4 towards the maintenance bay and the bright lights dancing within. Hatch made it about halfway before looking over his shoulder and yelling back at the helicopter crew.

"Oh, by the way. We got some VIPs coming through tomorrow. Try not to look so scuffed up and make sure the vehicle bay doesn't look like ass!"

Hatch didn't bother to try and decipher the incoherent yelling that answered back, instead choosing to look at M4 with a smirk. "Here's a pro tip, if you're going to give your people bad news? Make sure you butter them up first."

M4 cocked her head to the side. "They still seemed pretty angry though."

"Yes, but now they're slightly less angry." Hatch responded matter of factly. "Little victories M4, take em' or leave em'."

GnK Main Base of Operations

Helian sighed as she stretched back into her office chair. The cracks in her lower back and shoulders did little to lighten her mood. Too many hours stressing over computer monitors and documents.

The executive opened a drawer to her desk and pulled out a small bottle of bourbon with a glass accompanying it. Without hesitation, she unscrewed the top off the bottle and poured the brown liquid within into her glass.

Once the glass was half full she screwed the top back onto her bottle and brought the glass to her eager lips. She took a few sips, savoring the burning sensation that slightly dulled her senses and warmed her insides.

"I may not have a man to ease my stress, but you'll suffice." Helian put her glass back down and rubbed her forehead. "Ugh, maybe Mr. Kryuger is right."

"Right about what?" Helian's train of thought was derailed as a blue hologram of Persica blinked into existence atop her desk. Surprise quickly turned to irritation as Helian scowled at the now smug Persica. That little stunt almost caused her to spill her drink.

"I take it there's a very good reason why you decided to interrupt my quiet evening?"

"Of course, I wanted to ask." Persica's ears twitched up as she reached off-screen and brought a mug to her lips. "Did you get in contact with Hatch?"

"I did, yes." Helian took another small sip from her glass and maintained her hold on it. "Why?"

"I briefed Ro for her reassignment to AR team. She'll be joining us for tomorrow's visit to S09." Persica put her mug back down and gave a tired smile. "It will be some meeting I'm sure."

Helian raised an eyebrow. "You think she's ready?"

"Of course, or did you not hear of her accomplishments over in S05?"

Helian tapped a series of buttons on her desk and brought up a holo report next to Persica. "'Repulsed one Sangvis Ferri Ringleader Codename: 'Dreamer' and prevented the destruction of the Mario Supervision facility'." Helian tapped another button and minimized the report. "Yes I read it, but I fail to see how adding another member to an already efficient team is going to change anything."

"She's a command and control doll. It's become abundantly clear to me AR team is in dire need of such an ability especially after the recent engagements with Sangvis Ferri." Persica's expression turned serious as she wagged a finger. "I do not intend for them to go missing again."

"If you say so."

"I do." Persica responded triumphantly before putting a finger under her chin. "Now, if I could only find that bothersome fairy. You didn't see her did you?"

"W-Wait, you lost her?" Helian almost choked on her drink.

Persica looked around sheepishly. "I didn't lose her, she just kind of, flew away?"

Helian slammed her glass onto the desk causing some liquid to splash onto her desk. "Persica, I specifically told you this sort of thing could happen. Now you went and lost the bloody thing?! Do you have any idea how much of a security risk this is?" Helian brought both of her hands up and rubbed her temple. "I was generous enough to keep quiet about her in the first place, but this is too far!"

"Oh hush, she's harmless." Persica waved a hand dismissively with the same cocksure attitude she always had. "Her fairy chassis lacks any direct inputs into secure networks. I'm sure she'll turn up having run out of battery juice."

Helian regained her composure and took another sip from her glass. "For your sake, you better hope it's soon. Now if you excuse me, I need to go contact Mr. Kryuger."

"Late night bourbon drinking again? You look tense." Persica smiled. "Maybe you should go on a date-"

"Goodbye Persica." Helian cut the transmission off with a groan. Once the hologram blinked off, the executive reached for her bottle and began pouring herself another glass.

"She's right. They're both right."

S09 "Chop Shop"

If the landing pad had been chaotic, the maintenance bay was nothing short of hellish. Technicians and dolls rushed to help those in need wherever they could. Dirty rags stained with coolant and other strange fluids littered the ground and all the display monitors were a rainbow of different colors. Most if not all the repair tables were occupied with dolls in varying states of repair with nearby trolleys packed to the brim with spare body parts.

The "Chop Shop" was quite literally living up to its name.

"How bad is it Mike?" Hatch lowered his voice as his eyes worriedly scanned over each line of data being displayed on the tablet a nearby Michael had given him. The commander could understand most of the data, but there was plenty more he couldn't make heads or tails of.

"Not too bad. Spectre and Springfield took the worst of it, they're not going to be combat-ready until at least tomorrow." Michael lit his favorite pipe and took a few puffs. "I've seen a lot worse, we got lucky."

"No kidding." Hatch glanced over at the repair table Springfield was lying on. The rifle doll still had her trademark smile on even with her eyes long having been closed. Thick cables jutted out of various ports in her skin and connected to brightly colored readout monitors. Next to her, a worried Wa continued to hold her hand, occasionally glancing over at Hatch as if expecting some sort of immediate answer.

A small nod and a thumbs-up was all the doll needed to calm her nerves. Hatch was sure he had even seen a small smile register on her face, a rarity given her usual temperament.

Seeing her chance to interject M4 peered over Hatch's shoulder and looked at the tablet. "And the rest of AR team?"

"Still in the back hooked up to some machines. There's a lot of.." Michael fixed his glasses. "...Stuff I still gotta sift through."

Hatch sighed. "'Stuff', right." He looked over at some technicians fussing around Calico. No doubt an incredibly difficult job given the fact that Thunder continued to butt in and see what it was they were trying to do. Dozer's hulking form hovering over them probably didn't help either.

"And what about Scarecrow? She still keeping quiet?" Hatch glanced over at the darker side of the maintenance bay and the holding cells that occupied it.

"For now, yes. She kept rambling to herself earlier, something about 'Impossible' and 'against my statistics'."

Hatch turned the tablet off and set it down on a nearby shelf. "Not surprised. I'm sure she'll have plenty to say tomorrow when our esteemed guests arrive."

"About that, Helian said Persica was coming along right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Just making sure you weren't pulling my leg."

"Okay Mike, fucking level with me here. Who the hell is Persica and why does it seem like every time her name pops up everyone gets all jittery."

Michael was about to lament further when G36 approached the trio, a small tray with mugs resting on her outstretched hand. Even in her combat gear G36 still defaulted to her maid subroutine. A sight that amused Hatch to no end.

"Chief Engineer Browning, Commander Hatch. Your coffee." G36 bowed her head slightly. "There wasn't anything particularly 'good' in the pantry. I'm afraid this won't be up to the quality that Springfield is capable of"

"That's fine 36, I'll take anything. Thank you." Hatch graciously took a mug and patted the doll on the shoulder. "Why don't you take a break? Go refresh and recharge."

G36 shook her head slowly. "I appreciate that gesture, but I'm afraid I cannot. Not as long as my sisters and others need my service-"

"We got it from here. If you want to comfort the others that's fine, but consider it a standing order from both myself and Hatch to ease up." Michael interjected with a stern voice.

"I-roger." G36 took another bow. "Thank you, I will go check on the others. Good evening gentlemen." With that, G36 took her leave and hurried off towards Zas and the rest of the echelon she had fought with earlier.

Michael took a sip from his mug and turned his attention towards Hatch and M4. "That goes for you two as well. We got it from here, let myself and the engineering team do our job. Hatch, Thunder and Calico should be cleared to go. You being here is just gonna excite the girls and make them harder to work on. M4, I'll need your help with the rest of AR team."

M4 nodded while Hatch took a sip from his own mug and tried not to grimace. Saying the coffee wasn't as good as Springfield's was grossly exaggerated. It didn't taste like coffee at all.

"I understand. Just give me a few minutes with them alright?"

Michael glanced at his watch and grumbled. "Fine, but only a few minutes. Just no…" The engineer sighed as Hatch got atop a table. "...Theatrics, please."

Hatch maintained a tight on his not-coffee and yelled out over the chaos ahead of him. "HEY S09! LEMME GET SOME EYES AND EARS!"

In unison, all heads turned to face the sound of Hatch's voice. The noise immediately dimming down to low murmurs as the dolls and staff of S09 gave the base commander their undivided attention.

Satisfied, Hatch took another sip of his mug and tried not to retch. "Hey, listen up. I know we're all tired and we got a lot coming up. So I'm gonna keep this brief and-"

A series of thuds against the table cut Hatch's speech off prematurely. The commander instinctively looked down, half expecting Thunder to be standing there with outstretched arms. Instead, he was greeted by Biscuit. The Dinergate sat on its hind legs and looked up at Hatch with its front legs outstretched.

Confused, Hatch continued to observe Biscuit. "Uh, does he want up or something?"

On cue M4 ran over to the Dinergate and picked it up, placing it down next to Hatch in short order. Content with its new position of power the Dinergate beeped happily and sat back down on its hindlegs.

"Right, okay well." Hatch finished the last of his brew and put it down next to Biscuit. "As I was saying. I'm gonna keep this brief, but to the point."

Hatch felt his head start to throb, he'd need to "top off" pretty soon. Still, he did his best to maintain composure. "We've had a lot of things happen over the last 48 hours. Assisting new dolls, fighting off multiple Ringleaders. It's been pretty damn hectic, for all of us."

Hatch smiled. "Despite all of that, you've continued to exceed both my expectations and that of the highest echelons of GnK. We're up there now, I know I may have said that before but this time it's the real deal. Our friends and enemies are watching us."

Dolls and staff members exchanged uncertain looks. High as the praise was, it was still a lot to take in.

"Tomorrow we're going to be visited by two VIPs from Gnk Mainside. Vice Executive Helian and an important scientist named Persica."

Hearing Persica's name, Locklear began to cough and sputter for a few moments as she choked on her soda. Up to this point the good doctor and her eccentric aide had been relatively quiet. In truth, they had no business being in the maintenance bay in the first place. The large gathering and subsequent speech had piqued their curiosity.

After a few stern smacks to her back, courtesy of K11, Locklear regained her composure and found her words. "P-Persica?! What the hell is that dummkopf doing?!"

A few of the other dolls seem to share the doctor's sentiments, AR team especially. Persica's name certainly carried a lot of weight for so many to know who she was. Hatch could only shrug.

"Classified Doc."

"Of course, why did I bother." Locklear groaned. "Oh, there will be no peace for us tomorrow."

"Look, All we have to do is look pretty and we'll be on leave in no time." Hatch responded reassuredly. "Just bear with it for a little bit. After that, we go on leave."

A series of gasps broke out among the various members of S09, something Hatch had wanted. The commander smirked and folded his arms. "Oh right, yeah. Forgot to mention. We're going to be put on a cool-down period. Consider it an act of grace while we recover from all the crap we just got put through. A non-deployable status if you will."

G41's ears perked up and the doll quickly raised her hand. "So does that mean we can have a party! Or do other fun things!?"

Hatch looked at Michael and back at the crowd. "G41, we can do whatever we want short of actually working our asses off."

With that, the crowd broke into jubilation as everyone began to share plans for what sort of RnR the base could get into. Satisfied he had done his job Hatch slowly lowered himself down from the table and bumped into an irritated Michael. The engineer held up two robotic fingers and began to count down.

"One, that wasn't a few minutes and two, now they're all hyped up. That's gonna make my night a lot more difficult."

Hatch rolled his eyes. "C'mon Mike lighten up. We're gonna be on RnR soon. Smile while we still got something to smile about."

Hatch looked around and spotted Kalina rubbing her hands together, no doubt filling her head with all sorts of nonsense.

"See? Kalina looks pretty excited."

Michael sighed. "Just, go. Oh and take your killbot with you. He's already repaired and has no place here anymore-"

"We'll also be taking our leave of absence Mister Chief Engineer." Calico butted and Thunder butted in, the former quickly wrapping an arm around Hatch's shoulder. "We have some RnR of our own to handle."

Thunder nodded. "Bath and massage please Ben"

"I...don't recall saying anything about that." Hatch responded solemnly. "I said we could have a nice quiet evening of contemplation."

Calico frowned and began to mimic her forgetful boyfriend. "'Oh, you can have that and much much mor-"

Michael pointed towards the exit. "Okay, no. I've heard enough all of you out."

"Yep, leaving. Let's go girls." Hatch quickly spun a hand and led his motley crew of dolls out of the engineering bay.

Before the group was out of earshot, Michael called out to them. "Oh and don't forget to set your goddamn alarm!"

Hatch gave a thumbs up and disappeared outside and into the frigid night leaving Michael to stand there and shake his head.

"You look about the same as ever, grumpy old man." M16 approached Michael's side and joined him in watching Hatch leave with the others.

"Yeah, well you see what I have to deal with."

"Ah, I don't know. He seems a hell of a lot better than that last asshole you were under." M16 chuckled. "I see you've found yourself quite the little family here."

Michael turned around and watched as the rest of the members of AR team and some of Hatch's dolls took turns playing with Biscuit. "I guess. Let's just get you and the team debriefed. We can go reminisce over your favorite bottle later."

M16's face lit up with anticipation. "You actually have a bottle of Jack?"

"Yes, you know I usually keep one around, just in case you unexpectedly pop in."

"Oh, I'm definitely going to like it here!" M16 wrapped an arm around the tired engineer and led him off to the others. "Onward pops!"

"Don't call me pops."


In the center of a massive control room Agent stood silently as the mastermind of Sangvis Ferri mused over the combat footage that was recorded during the past 48 hours. The mastermind sat in an advanced control chair suspended several feet in the air. In front of her, a massive display screen served as the only available source of light in an otherwise dark and empty room. It was from here the mastermind issued all orders and oversaw all combat operations. Precious few visited and even fewer left in one piece.

"That's twice now Agent. Twice this Commander Hatch and his dolls have thwarted our plans. M4 becomes ever more difficult to sway to our side."

The mastermind rewound the footage and played it again. Each frame hid an essential detail that would be necessary for formulating plans and contingencies.

"I understand. I've already reprimanded Hunter and Intruder for their failures. Unless you require them to be made an example of?"

"No." The mastermind waved a hand dismissively. "We don't have the time to wasting valuable frames."

Agent bowed her head. "As you wish. So what would you have us do next?"

The mastermind's fingers tapped away at one of her armrests. "Securing Scarecrow is our next priority. We know she's probably going to be moved soon, GnK won't pass the opportunity to get as much information out of her as possible. I do not need another incident similar to what happened with Ouroboros."

Agent gestured towards the tactical map on the display screen. "So then, a coordinated attack on S09 base?"

"No." The mastermind paused the combat footage, examining the still frame of Commander Hatch and his Aegis. "Not only are the GnK dolls effectively led, but they also have AR team supporting them. Attacking now would be foolish."

"We could use the Jupiters. Wipe the base out in one volley."

"So, we destroy M4. Then the Rocksert forces stationed in Poland would finally have an excuse to wipe us out." The mastermind shook her head. "No, we wait. See what our 'mole' can dig up for us. In the meantime, see to it that we bolster our defenses at the Jupiters.

"As you wish." Agent bowed her head again. "Is there anything else you require?"

"No, that will be all. Be sure to lock the door behind you when you leave. Goodnight Agent."

"Goodnight, Mistress."

Her tasks assigned, Agent promptly left the room, her heels clicking away on the polished tile floors. The mastermind waited for the exit door to open and hiss shut before returning her attention to the display.

With a few gestures and some command prompts she quickly stopped the footage, replacing it with that of a warm familiar face. A recording from a simpler time, a happier time. The mastermind enhanced the zoom and raised the volume before playing the footage.

"And you will be my greatest creation. The daughter I never had and the future of what mankind can achieve."

The mastermind closed her eyes and relaxed back in her chair. Any previous irritation she had quickly faded away as the familiar voice lulled her to sleep.

"Father, I promise they'll pay for what they did to you. What they did to us."

I'm sure I've said this before but I'll say it again. I'm not following canon to the T. There's going to be certain liberties I'll take with introducing new characters and tackling certain arcs. I mean, what's the point of fanfiction if you don't right?

Regardless, expect the next chapter to be something a little more like this. Combat is good, but what good is that when you don't care about the characters fighting?

Anyways, thank's for the wait. Don't think I don't appreciate the support I get. If I could actually just keep the ball rolling I'd have had this story done a while ago. No use crying about the what-ifs though, right?

Stay safe out there people, we live in uncertain times. Keep your head up and do your best to be a productive member of society and I'll see ya'll next chapter.