"Honored members of the Council... I regret to inform you that Code Zero-Zero-Two and Code Zero-One-Six are AWOL, and are assumed to have deserted. The Key is gone."

God, Werner hated this. He hated all this posturing, all the lies hidden beneath truths and the truths hidden beneath lies. He was glad he had denied that council spot offered to him all those years ago and had no regrets in doing so, but it was times like these that he wished he had.

Then, at least, he wouldn't be explaining to Papa why the Key to the Crevasse had effectively deserted.

The Seven Sages on the other end of the screen was silent for a moment. Then Tarsier, the shortest of the seven, broke the silence.

"The Key is what?" the councilmember hissed, and Werner shrugged helplessly. "Gone. She took Code Zero-One-Six with her as well. We attempted to use the safety-locks to halt Strelitzia's flight, but they proved… ineffective in stopping them."

Damn my genius creation, and damn my curiosity. At the very least, he had seen Strelitzia Apus in it's full glory. Tht was the only decent outcome in all this.

The Seven Sages dissolved into conversion garbled by both their masks and the transmission, before Papa turned away from His fellow councilmemebers. "This seems to corroborate with what the Nines have reported. Do you have anything to add, Alpha?"

Behind the doctor, standing to the sighed, Nine-Alpha shook his head. "The good doctor seems to be telling the truth, Papa. When we arrived here, Strelitzia was gone along with Nine-Iota and her fodder."

Though he didn't show it, Werner scowled inwardly. When the Nines had learned what had happened before they arrived, they had immediately contacted Papa, who was quite obviously rather… upset to learn what had transpired, even more so because Werner had failed to (read: intentionally put off) inform Him.

That had resulted in Papa giving the Nines priority clearance over him. Werner had enjoyed an autonomy from the Council for a long, long time, left to his own devices for the most part so long as those devices aided APE and humanity in their war against the Klaxosaurs and their ruler.

Now that anatomy was gone, along with his most prized projects save Squad 13- what was left of it, at least.

What an utter joy.


"There is good news," Werner spoke up, and the Seven Sages stopped bickering amongst each other and turned again to face the screen, attention caught. "Strelitzia's tracker began to work again as of a half-hour ago. We're tracking them as they speak."

It had switched off following Strelitzia Apus' activation when 002 and 016 had deserted, for reasons he was still unsure off (then again, he was unsure of a good many things when it came of Strelitzia Apus. They were Klaxosaurs originally, and there was only one possible person privy to all their secrets), before reactivating twenty minutes before. Werner had been tracking them before the Council had demanded his presence to explain what the hell had happened.

Oddly enough, instead of having flown east, as he had seen them do, they seemed to have doubled back west. The ploy probably would have worked had the tracker not reactivated, but the Sages didn't need to know that.

The doctor still wasn't sure exactly why they had flown west, but he guessed it was because the Pacific was far closer to them than the Atlantic was. And 002 always did have that odd fascination with the ocean…

On the other end of the transmission, the Seven Sages looked pleased- well, as pleased as seven masked individuals could look, at least. "Good news indeed, Werner," Baboon spoke, and the doctor chuckled inwardly. Then-

"You are to hand their trackers over to the Nines. As of now, Plantation 13 will house the Nines for the time being, and Squad 13 will be at their disposal for the retrieval and disciplining of the Key."

Werner blinked. Blinked again. Then he started in indignation. "But- the Gran Crevasse campaign! Star Entity-!"

"-Is to be postponed." Papa's voice brooked no argument. "Star Entity is useless without the Key or the Princess, and the second will never allow herself to be used as such. The Key, on the other hand, can be forced. Nine-Iota is essential to humanity's triumph, and thus, top priority will be given to capture her and bring her back to the fold. Mayor Hardley has already been informed, as have the Plantation's Nana and Hachi. You," he nodded at the doctor, "are to assist the Nines in whatever they need. Aside from that, you may continue on as normal. Do you understand, Doctor Frank?"

...Wener was not a person easily frustrated It came with the many decades of life he had experienced.

But this? He thrived under APE's loose hands- it was when he got his best work done. To have that taken away… to have that authority handed over to his own creations… it galled him, Werner would admit.

Though, he wasn't so short-sighted as to not realize this was his fault, in truth. He had been the one curious enough to re-introduce 002 and 016 once again. The fact that he had never planned for this contingency was something that the doctor would continue to berate himself about for years to come, he knew.

Well then… I'll just have to do what I do best. Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.

"Perfectly, councilmember. As you say."

They had been confined to Mistieltin.

After Hiro had taken his Stamen Killer for a partner and… left (a small part of him still couldn't believe that Hiro had actually up and left them. A larger part of him was just angry), the elite squad arrived shortly after in search of their now-AWOL member, and Nana had ordered them to return back home. An hour after they had done that, Zorome had tried to go back down and get some answers, only to be met by Plantation guards and told that he was to return to Mistieltien until further notice.

That had been three days ago.

On the bright side, at least to Goro, there had been no sorties. That was a nightmare he really didn't wish to tackle. Because, despite what Zorome occasionally claimed, Goro wasn't stupid. He could tell that Ichigo harbored an affection for Hiro that ran deeper than it should. He knew because he recognized it as the same affection he held for her. And he had resigned himself to that. Had resigned himself to that for a long time, in truth, ever since Hiro had beaten him to the punch when gifting Ichigo that hairpin she wore every day.

It had just taken him a while to realize it.

But now… Hiro took that affection and discarded it for a girl he hadn't even known for year. He could openly express his feelings for Ichigo now without fear of her rejecting him for Hiro, since he was gone.

And by Papa, that made him angry.

His partner had barely talked since the who debacle had occurred, mostly staying to herself, if Miku and Kokoro were to be believed. Said girls were having varied thoughts on the recent occurrences, Miku's being that of a raged annoyance that she hadn't stopped Hiro while she could, while Kokoro…

Well, Goro actually couldn't tell. She had been spending a lot of time with Mitsuru recently, who had been just as silent on his thoughts about everything. The first, and only time Zorome had asked him about it, Mitsuru had gritted his teeth and had stalked out of the room. Zorome had then tsked and turned to converse with him and Futoshi.

It was amazing how one never noticed something before it was gone, and with Hiro's calming presence gone, so was the squads general cohesion, and they were left to stew in it.

And while they did so, Goro's anger at Hiro only grew.

The only thing that cut through the boredom were the mock-sorties that they were being put through, though instead of anti-Klaxosaur tactics, Nana and Hachi had shifted their training's' focus to FranXX melee, for reasons Goro could only guess.

He assumed it had something to do with the extra FranXXs in the docking bay and the fact that the Plantation had changed direction and was moving west instead of east. Which was odd, because all of Squad 13 knew that H- the deserters had fled in the opposite direction they were moving in now. Maybe they had figured out a way to track them? It would make sense, actually, that their FranXXs had a way to be tracked, as to be retrieved from the field of battle should the need arise.

We're going after them, aren't we?

Goro wasn't quite too sure what to make of that. On one hand, there was a large part of him that would prefer never to see his traitorous former-fried again.

Another, more inquisitive part of him simply wanted to ask Hiro why.

Well then, Goro thought morosely, I guess I'm gonna get my chance.

A/N: I've neglected this for too long, huh?

Well, with summer approaching rapidly, I seem to have more time on my hands, so expected updates that don't take six months to get out. I hope you enjoyed this, and until next time.