"Think we'll meet him again?"

As always, there was a collective groan of annoyance at Kujo's words. "No, Sirius," Theo said lazily, the blip representing his Juggernaut's position moving to the position assigned to him. "I swear, you're obsessed with this BT."

"He saved my life!" Kujo protested hotly. "And you know that he's an ally - he said it himself!"

"We haven't seen it for weeks," Kino corrected. "For all we know, it could have already been destroyed by the Legion out there."

"You think anyone could have destroyed that? It had actual shields, for goodness' sake!"

Kaie sighed. Ever since they first met that Titan, Kujo had been insistent on searching for this BT-7274. His argument was that if they assisted it with whatever his task was, it could be convinced to ally with them over the course of their sorties.

Spearhead squadron had been divided on the issue. Several were excited at the prospect, Kujo among one of their most vocal advocates. Others, however, pointed out that BT-7274 was an unknown factor in all of this, with firepower that exceeded any known Legion model. It was ultimately still an unmanned robot, and they had no idea what its intentions were.

"Alright, you two. Cut it out." Raiden's voice was firm. "Stay focused. They're going to come into view soon."

"Hey, Gunslinger, do you see any sign of him from -"

An illusory heat grew by her ear, and immediately, all further conversation on the topic was halted as a new arrival synced into the Para-RAID. BT-7274's existence, much like Shin's ability to hear the Legion's voices, was something they wanted kept secret from the Republic. If they knew that there was a weapon like BT-7274, the Republic would undoubtedly seek to tear it apart in an attempt to create their own version of it. Though they were divided on the issue of what to do regarding BT-7274, they had all agreed on this point.

"Handler One to all units. I apologise for being late. We've detected the enemy on the radar. The bulk of the enemy offensive is a mixed force of Dragoon and Tank types, with a group of Anti-tank artillery Stier in the rear."

Kaie was impressed - their newest Handler was decent, considering that she was an Alba. If it weren't for Shin's unique ability, her data would have been incredibly helpful to any other Squadron.

Still, she was naive. She did not belong on the battlefield. That much was clear from the inane topics she talked about each evening when she connected with them over the Para-RAID, as though she believed that any Eighty-Six would be allowed back into the Republic. It was a shame, because she seemed to actually take her responsibilities seriously.

Even if any of them survived to see the end of their five years of service, she would only be delaying the inevitable.

Shin's reply came swiftly. "We've confirmed their location, Handler One. We're preparing to intercept at point 478."

The Handler fell silent. She likely had an entire strategy planned, but Spearhead had their own way of doing things.

"Undertaker. Gunslinger is in position."

Well, then. Best that she got moving as well. From Shin's forecast, there would be a few Black Sheep mixed in amongst the Legion's herd.

"Kirschblüte to Undertaker, Fourth Platoon is moving to position."

She could see the members of her platoon fanning out, Kujo's Sirius separating from her own craft as their formation widened. As experts in medium-range combat, their role was to provide fire support for the vanguards that consisted of First and Second Platoons led by Shin and Raiden.

"First Platoon, we're cutting through the forest to eliminate the Stier units," Shin commanded. "Laughing Fox, flank and engage on my mark. Wehrwolf, Kirschblüte, your platoons will cut off the main force when they try and assist."

"Understood," Kaie said, piloting her Juggernaut off the main road and into the canopy. "Sirius, Leukosia, you two cover the right side."

"Got it."

"Black Dog, Snow Witch, I'm counting on you two for artillery support to force the Legion to scatter. We'll pick them off from there."

"You've got it, boss!"

It was then that the Handler interjected. "Undertaker, please have Gunslinger reposition. Gunslinger, there is a vantage point three hundred metres to your three o'clock. You should have a better field of vision from that elevation. It will synergise with Undertaker's plan of causing disturbance in the enemy's ranks by attacking from the opposite side of First Platoon's advance."

Kaie raised her brow. This was territory that was somewhat new to them. More than likely, the Handler had done her homework, and the Handler must have studied the Republic's maps of the local geography. Her advice was sound as well, and barring any Black Sheep or Shepherds in their midst, the pincer attack would cripple the Legion's ranks.

"Gunslinger, can you see that point?"

"Bearing 080, distance 300… yes, I see it. Moving over there now. Where'd you find that - a new map?" she quipped. "Must be convenient."

She allowed herself a wry smile at Kurena's thick sarcasm. Though her friend obviously knew that their current Handler was unlike any other they had encountered before, her closeness with Shin and the resentment towards the Alba made it hard for Kurena to accept their Handler's good intentions.

"Do you want me to transmit it over after the battle?"

Kaie heard Raiden chuckle. "You sure about that? You're transmitting military secrets to subhuman Eighty-Six, you know"

"I don't mind." Handler One argued firmly. "The information is pointless if it isn't being used"

Wehrwolf fell silent on the line at that remark. Kaie shook her head. This Handler was certainly proving to be a real handful; speaking her mind like that.

It was refreshing.

For now, however, Kaie had to focus. The Legion were approaching.

"Stay in position," Shin called out. "Gunslinger, you have the Löwe at bearing 260, distance 1300. Wait for it to stop, before engaging."

"Understood."

Kaie waited, tense, visualising the battle that would soon unfold. Kurena would kick things off, force the Legion toward her, at which point Shin would engage the Stier units. She would come in at that point, and pick off the reinforcements when they tried to rescue their artillery units.

Tense moments passed, and then -

"Gunslinger."

A single shot from her modified sniper's cannon, and the Löwe was left as a ruined wreck.

"Done."

"First Platoon, move in."

And with that, Shin began his assault. Kaie paid no attention to them, tracking the movements of the escort party of Grauwolf and Ameise units that were now converging on Shin's location, intent on taking out the ambush party.

"Engage!"

Volleys of cannon fire was unleashed from her Fourth Platoon. From further afield, Daiya and Anju rained down artillery fire, scattering the Legion units for raiden's and Theo's teams to pick off easily.

The alpha strike successfully completed, Kaie piloted her Kirschblüte further in, merging with Wehrwolf's unit.

"Incoming Legion force from your seven o'clock, Second Platoon. Wehrwolf, Griffin, intercept."

"Roger that," Raiden spoke over the comms.

Kaie stayed her course, moving to pick off the scattered enemies. A Löwe was retreating from her, its movements erratic as it tried to avoid exposing its weak points. She pushed her craft forward at maximum speed, dashing in a series of twists and turns, trying to position herself at its left flank to get a clean shot.

Eight hundred metres… seven hundred eighty… seven hundred fifty…

"W-wait, Kirschblüte! You need to get back! That way is -"

Get back? Why? She frowned, hesitating, trying to see what it is that the Handler saw -

Then the Löwe she had been chasing was hit by a barrage of armour-piercing rounds, its limbs and hull coming apart in a storm of bullets, sent flying in all directions. On pure instinct, catching sight of the gunfire from the corner of her eye, Kaie steered her craft in a sharp turn.

Only then did she realise that right in front of her had been a patch of muddy marshland.

It had all been a bait. If she had stepped in there…

With its momentum, the now-scattered pieces of the Löwe were sent scattering in the wake of its own explosion.

"Kirschblüte!" Handler One suddenly shouted. "I'm picking up an unidentified Legion unit to your two o'clock, distance 300! That… that wasn't there before!"

Three Hundred Metres? That was too close! Her eyes widened, moving her Juggernaut toward her left to build distance between them, before twisting it back sharply toward that direction.

Had Shin been too focused on his battle, and been unable to give a warning?

Suddenly, another barrage of bullets what could only come from a chain-gun rang out, a Grauwolf bursting into flames deeper within the marsh, as another blip disappeared from her area map.

A hulking armoured form revealed itself from the opposite direction that Spearhead Squadron had come from, a single blue eye glowing by its 'head', wielding a massive chain-gun. Its armour bore some new scratches, and the paint on its surface had faded somewhat, covered with grime and dirt, but it was clear that this was the very same BT-7274 who had arrived and assisted their Squadron four weeks prior.

On its metallic shoulder - just as Kujo had said weeks ago - there was the insignia of a skull surrounded by green and orange borders, the words 'M-COR' proudly emblazoned beneath.

"Negative, Handler one," Shin said, and Kaie could only imagine her leader having a faint smile on his face. "That's not Legion."

"Huh?"

"You mean -" Kujo gave an elated whoop, "Hell yeah! I told you he'd come back!"

"Eighty-Six, your Juggernauts are unsuitable for this terrain." A deep mechanical voice conveyed over the din of battle. "Unit Kirschblüte, I recommend that you disengage, I will secure this sector."

A Grauwolf charged at the Titan, high frequency blades whirring, but with an air of indifference, it bent low, and swept its leg out just as the Grauwolf approached, tripping it. She watched, amazed, as while the Grauwolf struggled to right itself, BT-7274 brought its chaingun below the Legion's chassis, lifted it up into the air, and unleashed a hailstorm of bullets at point-blank range that utterly annihilated the defenceless unit.

Now nothing more than a heap of smoking metal, the Grauwolf was tossed aside like a rag doll, barrelling into an Ameise that had attempted to flank the Titan. The thin hull of the scout-type caved in and snapped as the forty-ton projectile collided against it.

"Undertaker, what is going on over there?!"

"Undertaker to Handler One, I will explain later, but for now, treat the unidentified as an ally. Where do you need us, Handler One?"

-x-x-x-

The arrival of Spearhead Squadron was not something he had factored into his simulations, but with their coordinated strike was fortuitous. Manipulating the Legion's ammunition into something compatible for his weapons systems took plenty of time, and so any extra Legion he didn't have to personally put down meant additional time searching for Pilot Jack Cooper.

Things could have gone better if he had been in position just slightly earlier, however. They had chosen to engage while he had been making his approach - the downside to being a Titan was that his speed was inferior to the mobile enemy drones - and so he could not participate in the opening assault.

By the time he had closed the distance, the Legion had already begun scattering, and he had been about to leave Spearhead Squadron to clean up their victory. It was only his noticing of the lone Juggernaut's zealous pursuit of a Löwe in a classic feint that he had chosen to intervene, revealing himself where he had been hidden within the marsh, energy signatures masked from conventional long-range monitoring methods through engaging his low power modules.

Thus far, he had spent over ten weeks wandering the ruined former lands of the Republic of San Magnolia. The neural link was still active, and so he persisted in his search. In that time, he had engaged the Legion in dozens of skirmishes, learning much about their capabilities.

What he learned raised their potential threat level even further than what he assumed it had been. In his analysis of destroyed drones, he had discovered that the Legion was powered by liquid micromachines, forming both their internal circuitry and neural networks, that would hence make them impossible to be hacked with a data knife in the way that Spectres could.

A fully autonomous, self-replicating Legion, that could not be easily shut down. That was the nature of the threat that plagued this world.

Though individual units were not a major threat to him, a Titan could still fall before overwhelming force, if not an equal. Already, he could no longer afford to utilise several of his armaments in the field, since scavenging suitable ammunition from the fallen Legion drones was only possible with a select few of his equipment. Even energy weapons were risky, since they drew upon the reserves of his battery cells in the absence of energy cells powering the weapon themselves.

He had maintained his chassis when he could, but some parts could not be replaced on his own. In time, if he did not soon link with Cooper, or find an alternative means of maintenance, his combat effectiveness would plummet.

For now, however, he would continue to fulfil his mission.

Target acquired.

Verifying distance to target…

Calculating…

Refining projectile trajectory…

Success.

ACTION: Executing combat manoeuvre.

He fired his XO16A2 Chaingun, that he had since stripped and modified through scavenged parts to be compatible with the ammunition derived from downed Ameise and Grauwolf units, as well as Juggernauts that had never been retrieved. The offending Grauwolf that had been in his sights was gunned down as it charged toward him, joining its Ameise kin that he had crushed in his grip moments ago.

"- the unknown factor has locked down all Legion units in sector 7-B," Spearhead's Handler that hadn't been on the Para-RAID channel the last time he met their Squadron spoke. "Legion units are attempting to converge on his location from Area 210 and Area 142. Gunslinger, Snow Witch, Black Dog; break their formation to prevent them from regrouping."

Decent tactics. Arguably, it may be more efficient to have Undertaker and Wehrwolf reposition to create a secondary focal region of skirmishing, which would serve to divide the enemy forces even more, and in turn allow the artillery support to more easily pick off bunched up units. Still, the Handler's suggestion was also viable, even if it was not mathematically the most efficient according to his simulations.

BT-7274 waited patiently for the next wave of Legion units to attempt to draw within firing range. There was only one major issue faced by Titans who were separated from their pilots - when faced with mobile enemies in urban areas with plenty of cover, the relatively poorer mobility of Titans left them in danger of being flanked or overwhelmed. It was not just simply that the enemy movements would be mildly hindered by unfavourable terrain - rather, in open territory, the Titan was the dominant force on the battlefield. If anything moved within sight of the Titan, it would be destroyed within moments.

The Legion could not enter his zone of control, or be put down by the arsenal he had at his disposal. They could not remain further afield, where the artillery fire of Spearhead's Fifth Platoon caused dissonance among their ranks, and where Gunslinger's sniper fire picked off isolated targets. Neither could they venture out into the roads or city, because the Vanguard units of Spearhead Squadron were lying in wait, destroying every Legion unit that tried to escape.

It was, in essence, a death-trap. They could not afford to attack, but neither could they attempt a retreat. In the end, following their basic programming, the Legion forces were crippled as they mounted a last-ditch divided assault.

As a Löwe flanked by a group of Ameise escorts that served as the equivalent of its sighters approached, BT-7274 shook his head, and made quick work of the Ameise with his chaingun. At that point, no longer receiving sensory information save for the poor capabilities its own unit had, the Löwe missed its retaliatory shots from its 120mm cannon by a wide margin.

No need to waste any more ammunition on this one. He needed to conserve what he had, after all.

BT-7274 ran forward, each step displacing mud in large swathes, picking up speed as he sprinted. He was not as fast as the maximum speed that Legion units or the Eighty-Six's Juggernauts could move on an open field, but the Löwe was still standing its ground, trying to score a hit. Activating thrusters each time the cannon fired, BT-7274 comfortably evaded all the incoming shots, and the Löwe had no hope of even scraping his shields.

In the end, in an iron grip, he crushed the long barrel of the Löwe's cannon, lifting the entire fifty-tonnes that was a mockery of the many Titans that BT-7274 had grappled with in close combat before. Then raising it into the air, he flung the disabled Legion Tank-type to the ground, showers of sparks and flying metallic parts ripping free from the impact. A final stomp and a twist of his foot sealed its fate, leaving it nothing more than a crumpled mess in the muddy swamp.

"What the hell," One Processor - Black Dog, according to his records, who had been contributing to artillery support - spoke over their comms, "Did BT just -"

BT-7274 had experienced being the subject of such awe among the members of the Militia before, both when he had been the Titan of Tai Lastimosa and Jack Cooper. Some things never did change, even if this were an entirely new world.

"Just what, Black Dog?"

"BT - uh - lifted a Löwe with one hand, threw it, and kicked it into the ground. Yep."

Silence.

"... come again?"

"Sirius, you're the one who wouldn't shut up about it in the first place…."

Well, the battle was pretty much over at this point, BT-7274 swivelled his head around, giving a final cursory inspection of the battlefield. Those that attempted to contest his territory had been annihilated to the last, and Spearhead Squadron had equally maintained their hold on the potential exit paths along the main roads and urban districts.

"What -" The Handler spoke uncertainly. "What is this 'BT'? How do you know of it?"

"Hah! Betcha that your Republic white pig records don't mention anything about him, do they?" a spirited Processor taunted, though there was no real bite to his words directed at the Handler herself.

"Falke," Undertaker's voice warned. "Handler One, BT-7274 is an unmanned robot first encountered by us prior to your taking command of Spearhead Squadron. It has communicated to us that it intends on combating the Legion, although it politely refused to return to our base during our first meeting, saying it needed to complete its task."

"A… robot?" Handler One sounded confused. "I didn't see any mention of this in the reports you filed!"

"Apologies, Handler One. We could not ascertain what intentions you and the Republic may have had for BT-7274, and so refrained from informing you. We could not jeopardise it after it came to our assistance."

"We could have used its help, or tried to figure out where it came from! Maybe… maybe if we figured out what it wanted and if we tried to help it, we could rely on its assistance in the future! Maybe… we could find a way to prevent more of the Eighty-Six from losing their lives out on the front!"

There was a silence for a moment.

"We?" A voice that BT-274 associated with 'Laughing Fox' spoke, words dripping what his analysis detected to be sarcasm. "Wow, Kirschblüte was right. You're a real saint, aren't you, Miss Handler?"

"Huh?"

"Laughing Fox -" Kirschblüte cut in, but her voice was drowned out.

"You're always thinking about helping, aren't you? You think you can 'help' BT, even without knowing what it wants? You think you can do something that even a damned robot that crushed an armoured Löwe to bits couldn't?"

"I -"

"You want to help a robot, when you can't even do a damned thing for us?"

Handler One gasped from her end of the link.

"That's enough, Laughing Fox", Undertaker spoke firmly. Laughing Fox sounded like he wanted to say more of his bottled-up thoughts, but reluctantly refrained from doing so.

Oh, dear. His records were not good at modelling human emotion, but he believed that there was a seventy-two percent likelihood that the conversation was heading toward an emotionally charged state.

Dissonance among the ranks was not unexpected, especially considering just how the command structure between the Eighty=Six and the Republic Handlers worked. That divide, however, sapped at their performance in battle, even if they did not realise it.

Tactical information flowed both ways - the agents on the field were the arms, eyes, and ears that saw to the uptake of new information and to the execution of battle plans, while the intelligence officers had to provide and make the best possible suggestions based on all the data at their disposal. The best of both worlds - just as Commander Sarah Briggs had been - fluidly switched between both arms of the equation.

BT-7274 hadn't fully appreciated it before, but in his brief time with Jack Cooper, the bond that developed between them both had seen their combat effectiveness rising higher than it had been in his entire time with Tai Lastimosa. What it all came down to was trust - they freely shared what they knew with each other, advised on what they both thought to be the best course of action. For a pilot and his Titan, they were one and the same, joined by more than just a neural link, each of them both body and mind in equal measure.

Hmm. What to do, what to do? If Cooper was here, things would be so much easier.

ACTION: Running Simulation…

Completed

Hmm, he would not have expected that to be the possible course of action his simulations managed to determine with the data he had on hand, but many unexpected things had been happening to him recently. Perhaps a direct approach may be best, crude though it may be.

With that, he interjected into their conversation, making his presence known across their modified neural link system.

"Spearhead Squadron."

"W-what in the -"

"I am BT-7274" He stepped out of the marsh, clipping the chaingun behind him, raising a hand toward the direction of their assembled Juggernauts. "I apologise for the deception, and for intercepting and communicating on what my sensors indicate is believed to be a closed communications channel."

"You can resonate on our Para-RAID channel?"

"Affirmative, Undertaker. It has proven useful in acquiring knowledge regarding the Legion." He paused. "Clarification - I had determined it to be a necessity at the time. Without knowing how the Eighty-Six may react to my presence, and without my pilot, the only means of accessing known information was through tapping on what you term the Para-RAID."

He paused. His sensors indicated rising heartbeats and breathing rates from several of the processors, now that he was drawing closer. That suggested a high probability of either shock, fear, surprise, elation, or a mixture of any of those emotions.

Jokes always worked at blunting surprise and shock, didn't they? Cooper always used them. Might as well try and use one now, too. "You may blame my actions on how poorly-encrypted your multiway links are. Ha. Ha."

Odd. No change in Vital parameters. If anything, that only seemed to heighten the alterations of baseline physiology. He would need to ask Cooper why that was, once they reunited.

"A pilot," one processor choked out. "You have a pilot?"

"Affirmative. I have presently been searching for him for seventy-five days, eight hours, and thirty-nine seconds." He turned his attention back toward what the simulations had determined to be critical. "Members of the Eighty-Six of Spearhead Squadron, and Handler One of the Republic of San Magnolia - I am requesting a negotiation of mutual benefit."

"A… negotiation?"

"What do you have in mind, BT-7274?" Handler One asked slowly.

"Limitations - I am presently unable to engage in long-range reconnaissance or communications across regions with persistent radar jamming from the Eintagsfliege flocks. Analysis indicates a ninety-three-point-two percent probability that your Republic possesses means of long-range scanning for Legion targets."

"Proposal - I continue searching for my pilot in this region. I tap on your Para-RAID network, and eliminate Legion targets if it proves possible. My analysis indicates that your Juggernauts are less adept at fighting in open terrain or regions with poor footing than myself, as today's skirmish has revealed. I offer to eliminate such Legion threats if pointed out. In return, I am apprised of any anomalies you may detect in a three-hundred-kilometre radius of my present location."

"Your pilot is somewhere out there, BT?" The processor in command of Black Dog asked, concerned. "But that… are you sure he's, you know, still…."

He trailed off. However, through his predictive knowledge modules, BT-7274 understood what he had left out. "Affirmative. Neural link to pilot remains active, although temporally scrambled. Neural link must be recalibrated to regain full functionality."

"Temporally scrambled?" Handler One spoke uncertainly. "Annette never - is that even possible?" Then, she steeled herself, focusing, "BT-7274, just what are you? Where did you come from?"

"Designation - Vanguard-class Titan BT-7274 of the Frontier Militia's Special Recon Squadron. I am not at liberty to disclose any further information without a directive from my pilot or ranking officer."

"Can we consider you to be an ally of the Republic?"

"Undetermined. Analysis indicates a ninety-two-point-three percent chance of Frontier Militia's disapproval for the Republic's existing policy of systematic discrimination of the Eighty-Six. Though you are marginally more competent than your peers, prior experience when intercepting open Para-RAID channels indicates a high degree of ineptitude among the overwhelming majority of your fellow HAndlers."

Hmm. That silence was meant to be good, right?"

"Clarification - in the short term, until reassigned by my pilot, my acting directive is to investigate and cull the Legion's threat while searching for him. Unless commanded by my pilot, I will take hostile action against the Republic only as a form of retaliatory action."

He could hear the Handler sallow hard. "I understand," she said. "Rest assured, BT-7274, your assistance against our common enemy is deeply appreciated. We will update you with enemy movements if you resonate to this Para-RAID frequency."

Well. That was simpler than expected.

He didn't quite know how the Republic's scans worked - perhaps they simply had radar systems powerful and far-ranging enough to overcome the jamming of the Eintagsfliege. What was important if that they or the members of Spearhead Squadron had a means of monitoring Legion movements, it would be of great help in finding Jack. Though they had only spent a few days as pilot and Titan, his analysis thus far suggested that Jack would likely take it unto himself to destroy Legion forces if he realised the nature of the threat they posed.

"BT?" Kirschblüte, the processor who had almost fallen for the Löwe's bait, spoke up hesitantly. "Have you been just staying out here the whole time?"

"Negative. I have thus far swept across a cumulative land area of three-thousand, two-hundred and eighty-five square kilometres."

Again, there was a stunned silence. Strange. All he had done was address her question.

"Uh… right…"

"Will you return to base with the rest of Spearhead Squadron, BT-7274?"

"Negative, Handler One. I must find, link to, and protect my pilot. I am also unable to travel between the operating base of Spearhead Squadron to locations of active fighting as quickly as their Juggernauts can."

He looked into the distance. He had originally planned to cover a wider search area by now, but this engagement had sent him back. Hopefully, the agreement they reached would be of benefit in searching for Jack.

There was just one last matter he had to address. His current objective of Protocol Two was to resist the Legion's advance, and having more capable allies was aligned with that goal.

"I must raise an observation, Spearhead squadron. Your unit lacks cohesion."

That prompted an immediate retort from one Processor. "Hey, now, you -"

"I believe it is evident from accessing Para-RAID records at 1515 through 1521 that the exchange of information between Handler and Processors is presently below par."

Without pause, however, he continued. "Reciprocally, beyond simply knowledge of my existence, my analysis indicates that there is likely still information being withheld from the Handler. Inference - Trust is lacking between Processors and Handler. Perceived imbalance and inequality between both sides breeds disunity. Information asymmetry prevents the most tactically sound decisions from occurring on the field. Tentative conclusion - Combat effectiveness is reduced from maximum potential. I recommend bringing the divide between both sides. Anecdotal evidence suggests this would allow heightened prowess on the battlefield."

He parsed through his simulations once more. He wouldn't profess to fully understanding why what he had just said would be of greatest benefit, but it was triggering an emotional reaction in those assembled, based on the alterations in their vitals. The Para-RAID was helpful, too - he could catch faint alterations in breathing patterns through each individual's own ears.

As an outsider, however, his job was now done. This would lead to the highest probability of Spearhead Squadron becoming even more effective out in the field.

"I must return to my search. Good luck, Spearhead Squadron. I await further contact, per our agreement."

With that, he disconnected from the rudimentary neural link, and ventured back into unexplored Legion-patrolled territory.

-x-x-x-

The tension was thick in the wake of BT-7274's brutally honest laying out of the facts, and his abrupt desynchronisation from the Para-RAID network.

They were returning to base, now - no sense in waiting for more Legion to show up. With BT-7274 in the vicinity, it was doubtful that they would need to stick around in the area.

Though, it had been almost a minute now, no one had yet spoken a word across the active channel.

He could understand why Theo had lashed out. For their Phantom Handler to immediately rise to suggest that they could assist BT-7274 despite only having heard of it for the first time was akin to being placed at the same level - or lower - as a machine, even though she was still unable to live up to her ideals of what she wanted to do for the Eighty-Six, and even though her fellow Alba were treating the Colorata as subhuman pigs.

It was a slap in the face - human beings had a way of treating other people like objects or animals, while at the same time elevating non-human objects or animals, while at the same time, elevating non-human objects or livestock to the level of people. It was an ironic form of cruelty fundamentally ingrained into human nature, one that the Eighty-Six felt first hand.

Shin was conflicted. In several accounts, BT-7274 was right. He had the ability to pinpoint the position of Legion Units to a frighteningly precise degree, but did not reveal that fact to anyone but those he had fought alongside.

On the other hand, Handler One had information they didn't. She had maps the likes of which no Eighty-Six had ever seen before. She knew the terrain and geography well, and though Spearhead Squadron excelled in adapting to all battle situations, hardened by countless skirmishes as they had been, each new sector they fought in brought with them new unknowns.

By pooling their knowledge, they could have predicted the Löwe's feint that had almost gotten Kaie killed. He had been able to hear its voice, but had not known that there was marshland. She had been able to know its position and local terrain, but did not have the battle experience out in the field to judge the Löwe's intentions.

It was a close shave. One more, they owed BT-7274.

But what he was most conflicted about was that he had considered all this without BT-7274 pointing it out. Even then, he had been reluctant to tell this new Handler the truth of his abilities. It was not because he doubted her intentions - over the past four weeks, she had made her position plainly, though she was hopelessly naive.

Rather, he did not want someone like her to experience what he did each time he fought against the Black Sheep, or worse - A Shepard. He did not want to expose the cruel reality that was the lives of the Eighty-Six. She was one of the few Alba he knew that saw the Eighty-Six as people - even if that insurmountable divide between Alba and Colorata still separated them - and he did not want to break her as he did all his previous Handlers.

"- Handler One." / "- Spearhead Squadron."

They spoke at the same time. There was a heavy pause, as each waited for the other to speak.

Silence. All they could hear on the Para-RAID was their own breathing, and the steady cruising of their Juggernauts.

"... this is so damned awkward," Theo muttered, before raising his voice. "Alright! Handler One, listen up, because I'll say this just this once!"

"Huh?"

"I think that you're a blind, hopeless, naive little hypocrite who's full of crap! You gobble up all that crap that the white pigs teach you about the war, and think that you're a goddamned saint just because you don't call us Eighty-Six! I think it's bullshit that you get to come here and talk to us about how 'protecting the state is a citizen's duty,' when you and the white pigs are safe and comfy behind your walls; when your people forced us to fight in the first place!"

Shin tensed, considering whether or not to put a halt to this. Theo's words weren't… untrue, but they had been tinged with bitterness and resentment.

On the other end of the line, there was stunned silence, amid a sharp inhalation of breath. Likewise, on the side of his comrades, emotions were bleeding into the Para-RAID - some were resigned, some mirrored Theo's feelings, some were indignant. Others yet sympathised with the Handler, but did not disagree with the nature of Theo's words.

But he knew his friend. He knew that Theo was far more sensitive than he let on. He knew that after his outburst, Theo would feel bad about what he said, for hurting the HAndler's feelings, even if he meant every word he said.

Most of all, however - he knew this needed to be said, BT-7274 was right - there was a divide between them. Alba and Colorata. Citizen and Eighty-Six. Processor and Handler.

In some ways, her naivety bordered on ignorant hypocrisy that many members of Spearhead Squadron resented was of their own doing. Inside the Republic's walls, told the truth of the Republic, she could not know what it was that the Eighty-Six faced.

If he ever wanted to tell her the truth of his abilities, and to make an even more effective Squadron, so that as few of them as possible would have to die in this hellhole, he needed to start here.

They needed to bridge that divide.

"Laughing Fox... I -"

"Handler One. Not yet." Shin interrupted, steeling himself. He did not like doing this at all, but it had to be done. "... everyone, if there's anything you want to say to our Handler, now's the time to do so."

One by one, they unloaded pent up feelings. It was unfair in many ways that they were now redirecting ire that had accumulated since the days that their lives had been uprooted with the declaration of the Special Wartime Peace Preservation Act, but it was precisely this that had prevented them from seeing their Handler eye to eye, keeping that artificial distance between them both.

Chise. "I hate the Alba."

Touma. "I think you're pretending to be this paragon of morality just to stroke your own ego."

Kuroto. "Laughing Fox is right - It's bullshit that you get to stay safe and sound in your city, while we fight for a war we never asked for."

Kurena. "The Alba tortured my family to death."

Raiden sighed. "Well… if we're really doing this… just like Laughing Fox and BT said, we don't see you as an equal or comrade. You're a moron who spouts lip service all evening long, pretend the world is this amazing place where everyone shares your ideals, and ignores what is happening around you. You're better off quitting"

Kaie hesitated, but even she spoke, "I already told you this last night, but I'll say it again - you're not a bad person. You're not cut out for this job, and you're not someone who should interact with us. We're not fighting for the same noble reasons as you are."

It continued, the line staying silent all the while. Finally, they all had their turns. By this point, it had gone on long enough that they were back in base, but each of them sitting within the confines of their own Juggernaut, not yet leaving the cockpit.

"Fine. Handler One, you're aware of what we think of you. Now, you -"

"Wait.'

She cut him off mid-sentence. Her emotions were still bleeding into the Para-RAID - anguish, shock, confusion… they were all in there, and he knew each of them were perceiving it.

What surprised him most of all, however, was that from their meek and idealistic Handler, there was a rising determination through it all.

"Undertaker - I haven't heard what you think of me yet."

- That was true.

"I agree," he said simply. It's unfair that the Alba force the Eighty-Six to fight and die. I think that you're naive and idealistic. I think that you'll end up broken if you see what this war is really like. But -"

He opened the cockpit, stepping out his Juggernaut "- I also think that you genuinely want to help us Eighty-Six. I think that you hate the way things are right now. I think that you're making an effort to help us, and that you're a brilliant tactician for someone who's never been to battle on the inside of a Juggernaut before."

The others were joining him now. They stood there in the hanger, exchanging looks. After airing all that aloud, unloading their resentment to the one Handler who listened silently as they laid out their abuse, her emotions leaking into the Para-RAID channel the entire time, most of them simply felt… tired. Resigned. Sympathetic, even.

".. and I'm sorry for that, Handler One. If you were one of us - if you were an Eighty-Six, rather than a pureblood Alba - we would have seen you as a comrade," he said. This was it, then. It was time to see whether the divide could be bridged. "It's your choice now, Handler One. You know what we think about you. Continue staying as your Handler, or switch with another - it's your call."

"I'm staying."

The reply was swift and immediate. Had it not been for the Para-RAID, they would have simply thought it an impulsive decision.

But through the glimpses of emotion afforded through their Resonance. They knew it was far more than that. This was an Alba who gave a damn about the Eighty-Six.

She may not have been privy to the truth before, but that was as much their fault as it was hers.

"You're my Squadron," she continued saying, steel in her voice. "I… to my shame, as I am now, I cannot control what the Republic does. I cannot stop the brutality that my people are doing to yours - But you're my Squadron! My Responsibility. I will not let harm come to any of you - whether through the forces of the Legion, or by the hands of my own people - not if I can do anything about it! I won't let even a single one of you be killed!"

Though they were tired after the long battle, Spearhead Squadron remained in the hanger, listening to her words, none of them taking a step out.

"I know I haven't been the best Handler," She said. "But I will change. I will give you every bit of information I can find, study the Legion's tactics from all our records. I swear that I will not let any of you die pointless deaths anymore! I… I know that I am an Alba, and that you… that you are Colorata, and that you must resent us for forcing you to fight, but… but please… please let me…"

She trailed off before saying the words.

Still, they all knew what she wanted to convey, though she felt she did not have the right to say what she wanted.

Please let me fight by your side.

"... man, you're one annoying piggy, you know that?" Theo sighed with annoyance. "You better mean that, Handler One. We weren't screwing around - we hate most of you Alba." He hesitated, glancing at the others, showing a rare moment of indecision. "But I guess… some you aren't that bad. Maybe you're one of them."

"Laughing Fox -"

"Theo."

"Huh?"

"Theota Rikka. That's another thing that pisses me off. You never bothered learning about any of our real names, even though you kept up this pretence of Resonating with us all evening." Theo rolled his eyes. "But I'll pretend that you're just an idiot who actually thought our Personal Names were the real deal. Call me that, or your cute little piggy boy, or whatever else you want."

And just like that… that chasm that seemed impossible to cross was traversed.

There was a hitching of breath - shock, amazement, realisation, shame.

"I -"

"I swear, if you apologise right now, I'm going to close the Resonance."

Shin allowed himself a smile. Theo pretended to be aloof, but he could be so painfully obvious at times. Kaie and Anju - who likely had been planning to chide him for his outburst at the Handler earlier - were smiling as well, their grins turning wider as he glared at them with annoyance.

"I'm Vladilena Milizé. Please… call me Lena."

"Vladilena Milizé," Shin repeated. "What's your rank?"

"Oh, of course. It's Major. I've only just been promoted, though."

"Major Milizé, then. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

And with that, the floodgates were opened. Once more, they freely told Handler One - No, Major Milizé - their names.

And soon, it was done.

He hadn't felt ready before to share his secret, worried that he would turn this Handler away like all the others he had in the past, but now -

"Shin, you're an idiot."

"Huh?"

"We've all had our go, dumbass. It's your turn now."

Ah… right.

"Shinei Nouzen," he introduced himself. "We'll be counting on you, Handler One. Major Milizé."

It was subtle, but there was a sharp inhalation of breath when he revealed his name. Did she recognise it?"

Still, she did not comment on it yet. And so he refrained from asking.

"I won't let any of you down," she promised. "I will compile and send you everything I have by tonight."

He eyed his comrades, a silent question on his lips. In their eyes, he could see agreement. It was risky - but now, though several still resented her for her heritage, they did not believe that she would mean harm upon any of them. They felt the conviction in her words.

"Before that," Shin said. "There's something you need to know."

"What is it, Und - Shin?"

"BT-7274 was right. There's something of vital importance that we haven't yet told you."

"What is it?" she asked immediately, alert.

"I need you to promise to keep this information to yourself, no matter what."

There was no hesitation. "I promise."

Raiden gave him a slow nod. This was it, then.

"It's… part of the reason why some of us think that you aren't cut out for this job. It's how we know where to deploy ourselves even if you Resonate with us. Once you know what we know, and experience it first-hand, you won't be able to forget it. It's the reason why all your predecessors left their posts after Resonating with me."

"What?" she gasped.

"There's no turning back from this. Are you sure you want to know?"

"Tell me."

He inhaled deeply, steeling himself. Nearby, his fellow members of Spearhead Squadron gave him supportive looks.

This would change everything. In the past, he had feared what revealing this knowledge to an Alba would mean.

Now, though… BT-7274 was right. This would make them more effective than ever.

This would let them survive.

"I can hear the voices of the Legion."

-x-x-x-

A/N

Well, that's Chapter 2 out of 6. Now I did fix some continuity errors, changed some errors, and I may of left out a tiny bit. If you were an old viewer of this, you know what comes next. And if you're new, make some guesses. Now, one small change I made to this is actually this part

"A final stomp and a twist of his foot sealed its fate, leaving it nothing more than a crumpled mess in the muddy swamp."

Originally, it was written as

"A final stomp sealed its fate, leaving it nothing more than a crumpled mess in the muddy swamp."

I wrote in the addition of BT twisting his foot on the wreck of the Legion to further empathise the strength Titans had over the Legion.

But beside the point, 7.5k words. A bit longer than the previous one, but done. None the less.

This is AWACS Freeshipping

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