Location: Western China, 4th Mecha Reconnaissance Squadron of the 56/11.
[The Stepchildren. The Unwanted.
Personnel therapy and debriefing session. Subject: Special Agent Victoria de la Cruz.
“Victoria, are you ready to start?” The recorder is already on, red light blinking like a warning.
She looks up at her therapist and she looks like hell. The sheer mountains of paperwork resulting from Songbird could have done that on their own, never mind the after-action reports required after the complete clusterfuck that was the Stepchildren mission. She presses the tip of a finger onto the bridge of her nose.
“Yeah. Let’s get this over with.”]
Objective: Screen the squadron. Carry out standing orders. Determine if Lt. Akany and Lt. Jeong are compromised by beyond-world enemies.
[“They told me to be vigilant, but how could anyone predict this?”
“You’re not expected to predict. You’re expected to act.”
Victoria snorts, and saves for later the moment she froze, with her gun in her hand and around a corner, wanting nothing more than to save this unit and not seeing a way out for everyone intact. And fifteen feet away, an MP bleeding to death because of her.]
Primary Subject Analysis:
2nd Lieutenant Akany, aka Cut-throat:
Suspected active case of Dream Intrusion, source unknown.
Reluctant to co-operate with what she deems as “outsiders”, and OIS falls into this category. Required to use Para-Psychic Ability Empathic Projection on anger to have her react more realistically, and prompt her to speak of whatever dreams she has been having.
[“She got under my skin.”
“It’s this pervading belief that I can’t possibly have seen anything in my time that gives me nightmares. I think I just heard it one too many times.”]
Believes that any civilian armored could not possibly have experienced those things she has seen. Believes OIS was sent to destroy jobs and lives, which made it difficult to proceed.
[“I shouldn’t have brought up the children.”
“What did you do then?”
“I broke every rule I ever made for myself.”]
Blinded to the idea that something could possibly be wrong, or at least if it is, that anyone could help. Loyal to a fault to those she has fought with.
[“I sent her away.”
The therapist purses her lips.
“I had already determined that she was salvageable. And… I did the best I could to fix it later.”
She had done her best to be kind and not condescending, to listen, to offer up real solutions to real problems, to avoid the smile that she so seemed to hate. And to not prod to hard with her psychic powers. It’s on record that she was gentle but firm with Akany, as though apologizing for whatever else… happened.
“Damn it. I did it in three days. Just like he asked. She’s battle-ready.”]
Suffering recurring dreams linked to PTSD and battlefield experiences. Under scrutiny of Para-Psychic Ability ESP, identified potential invisible influence for Dream Intrusion. This may be the trigger factor to problems with anger management. Recommended action at this point on site: further screening for source. Determined that subject was too volatile to continue further immediately.
[“Did you lie on your report?”
“I didn’t lie about what I said.”]
RECOMMENDED ACTION: further screening and removal of Dream Intrusion. Therapy for PTSD. Regular bi-weekly check-ins for the first three months for screening, to check if beyond-world source has returned.
THREAT ASSESSMENT: Low to mid.
2nd Lieutenant Jeong Su-Mi, aka Hopscotch:
[“Another for my list of failures.”
“Failure? You got out the reasons for her psychological reports being basically completely falsified. How is that a failure? You might even be commended.”
“We’ll get there.”]
Engel Project Songbird. Part of the EP’s call and capture of beyond-world entities into Engels.
At first brush with Para-Psychic Ability Empathy, aura is excessively damaged, as though it had taken gunfire. Under scrutiny from Para-Psychic Ability ESP, Lt. Jeong appears to only experience three emotions: glee, boredom, and depression.
[“She acts like she’s twelve. I have to get her paper to color on. I gave her Akany’s paperwork.”
“No, I just didn’t really have anything else.”
“Why is this important?”
“I haven’t really colored since the last time I dealt with children.”]
The Engel Project appears to have wrapped her emotions and aura with psychic bands, to keep Lt. Jeong intact. Her aura and self is a crystallized shell, and there appears to be nothing inside but depression.
[“I couldn’t figure out what they had DONE to her.”
“You did the right thing, V.”
The sound of liquid pouring into a glass is loud in the room..
“I spend my nights wondering what I did to her. You know?”
The therapist hands her a tumbler with whiskey.
“I know. We all do. What is it Hastings says?”
Victoria snorts into her alcohol and crosses her legs on the chair.
“No sacrifice is too great, not even our very souls.”]
Upon further consideration, use of Para-Psychic Ability Empathic Projection was employed twice, in a span of approximately six to ten minutes, to awaken the depression that seemed to be the most human feeling of Lt. Jeong.
[“It’s my job.” The therapist says nothing. “It’s my job. It’s my job to prod the dragon and see if it has fire. It’s my job.”]
The first attempt resulted in no effect. The second attempt, done partially as a reassurance that psychic abilities had no effect, resulted in the breaking of the bands, aura deterioration, aphasia, and personality shift. Later discovered, also resulted in awakening and angering linked Engel Tarshish Sun-Shin. Lt. Jeong then began a suicide attempt with her sidearm. It was taken from her. Beyond-world energy began leaking from Lt. Jeong.
[“I broke something when I was young. I cried for my mother…”
Mami, Mami, I think I broke it!
Ay, amor mío, I don’t think we can fix it.
“…She said we couldn’t fix it, even though I wanted to.”
Pero, Mami, quiero, I want
“What happened then?”
“She said something I’ll never forget.”
Sometimes, my love, it’s not about what we want, but about what we have to do. Come on. Let’s throw it away.
“What did you break?”
“…A goldfish bowl.”]
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Further screening necessary. Recommend 24-hr watch and twice a day reports from Eichenblatt until deemed unnecessary or extraneous. Proceed forward with the Engel Project after read-in to determine best course of action.
THREAT ASSESSMENT: High.
[“Why didn’t you declare her non-mortal on the spot?”
“Hard to do that when suddenly the entire compound outside explodes in gunfire.”
“Is that why you didn’t take everyone to a containment facility?”
Victoria pauses, and drains the last of her alcohol.
“I had planned on it. I called in reinforcements. But then, the MP got shot.”
“And you didn’t want anyone else to die.”
“I have enough blood on my hands.” Her lips go white around the edges from tension. “In any case, I didn’t know what was wrecking Akany, and Jeong…” The glass clinks loudly in the silent room. “The Engel Project had been keeping a secret. A big one. Declaring her non-mortal on the spot may have had unforeseen consequences, in the bad way. I needed more information. I needed to be read in before I made a decision that final.”
“Do you think you made the right choice?”
“We don’t have right choices. We only have the best option available, for the good of humanity.” Victoria sprawls back in the chair, her legs unfurling. “The rampaging Engel didn’t help either, even though I only realized it was awake long after I should have.”
“How have you slept since you returned from China?”
“Not well enough.”
“Do you dream about Lt. Jeong?”
Victoria looks away.
“V. Do you dream about Su-Mi?”
2nd Lieutenant Rutger Eichenblatt:
Acts disconnected from reality, however is an integral piece of the puzzle that is Lt. Jeong. Conceals stress with smoking. Appears to be not read in, when Engel Project codewords mentioned. Extremely necessary asset to Lt. Jeong’s situation.
[“Ride the train.” The therapist seems confused.
“I didn’t ride the train. I derailed it and sent it clattering to a smoldering crash at the bottom of a ravine at full speed.”
“Is Lieutenant Jeong the train?”
“I think so. I don’t pretend to understand.”
“But what does it have to do with rocks in a river?”
Victoria pauses, swirling her alcohol. “I think he’s the rock.”]
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Stress therapy to decrease smoking habit. Valuable asset in working with Lt. Jeong, recommended to remain in place as long as OIS must work with Jeong Su-Mi and the Engel Project.
THREAT ASSESSMENT: Low.
Secondary Subject Analysis:
Warrant Officer Ashcroft, aka Washout:
Stable, overworked from lack of people on base. Resentful of his situation. No threat.
[“It felt almost normal.” Her voice is resentful. “And then everything exploded in my face.”
“Your section on him is very bare.”
Victoria pauses, and stares at her. “I don’t see shadows everywhere, you know.”
“Except political ones.”
Victoria grunts. “We all need to play the game.”]
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Optional stress therapy. Duty reduction if possible.
2nd Lieutenant Erika Nadel, aka Chapel:
Strong, capable individual. Dealing with high levels of stress from family relations, as noted in briefing file.
[“What are you laughing about?”
Victoria covers her face with one hand. "There I am, standing with a submachine gun and in a bulletproof vest, and Chapel and Akany are trying really hard to not look at each other and Chapel is all beat to hell and all I can think of is “you won’t say you’re in love” from Disney."
The therapist pauses while writing. “From Hercules?”
“…All right.” She rolls over it as though it didn’t happen, but Victoria knows she has a six-year-old who’s in love with every single one of the Muses. “Do you think Chapel’s relationship with Akany makes her difficult to control?”
“Absolutely not. I think it might even make it easier, assuming people learn how to do it.” She looks as though she feels a little bit disgusted with herself for suggesting it, but it’s true.
“Do you have an opinion on the situation between the MPs and Chapel?”
Victoria reaches out for the decanter, and pours whiskey out of it, every action coming at a pause in her very deliberate speech.
“She shouldn’t have attacked the MPs. She should have stood down. I don’t know if I can keep the Army from writing her up, and I don’t even know if I should. But.”
She stares into the whiskey, and the perfectly manicured left eyebrow furrows.
“But maybe she did the only thing she could think of. If there’s one thing the military needs, it’s someone with those kinds of… principles. And willingness to risk everything. At least, in those positions.”
“If she were to rise to a CO-level, would you say her attitude would need to change?”
Without hesitating: “Yes.”]
Conflicted in personal and professional attachments; to be expected from length and location of assignment.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Increase in duties.
1st Lieutenant Reza, aka Sorrow:
[“You seem frustrated.”
“I am frustrated. He shot an MP! He had no reason —" The glass clinked dangerously, threatening to crack with the slam on the table. “…I didn’t know about the Engel when I made the call to disarm everyone in the unit.”
“Would you have made a different one?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“Would you say his loyalty to his unit is detrimental to his position?”]
Puts his squad first. This may compromise his decisions regarding team dynamic and threat levels within the team (as evidenced previously by returning a sidearm to Lt. Akany).
[“Victoria, be careful.” The knuckles of her left hand have gone white, and the glass threatens to crack.
“Why did he have to result in shooting them? Why did it have to be gunfire?” Her biceps bunch tightly, as though she wants to throw the glass across the room, then she sets it down exceedingly gently on the side table. “If he had just come to me, and made his case, without waving a damn gun around and shooting MPs, I would have given him his stupid fucking gun back.”
The therapist says nothing, just leans back and lets the agent rant while the recorder ticks away. The session is longer than normal. Nothing went right in China for the Special Agent.
“It’s nice that he feels so much for his unit that he would lower himself to shooting MPs for them. Or for the garrison.” She snarls at nothing in particular, not quite looking at the therapist. “And do you think, that maybe, if I put Lt. Jeong as my highest priority, that might mean I’m trying to get the unit, and the garrison, back to safety from whatever it was that I did? Maybe? Do you think that’s possible?” Victoria presses her face into the palms of her hands, and for a long moment, there’s nothing but 7/11 breathing.
When she looks up, the redness that had accumulated in her cheeks has faded and she finally looks her therapist in the eyes.
“Is he compromised?”]
Lt. Reza is not compromised, except by his own actions and inability to control himself in protecting his team from perceived outside influences and agencies. Similar mindset to Lt. Akany.
[“You’re not done with him.”
“He’s done with me. I wrecked it.” She shrugs, but takes a drink of whiskey immediately after. “I still don’t understand… I froze, you know. If I had told the MPs to come in, he would have shot more of them. And then they would have killed him.”
“You should have called them in.”
“Maybe. But I still thought the situation was salvageable. And if he was dead, that entire unit would have gone to pieces.” She smiles dimly into the glass. “He just wanted me out, and he was going to shoot anyone else who did what I said to get me out of there.”
“Do you think he’s fit for command?”]
Reza is highly reluctant to allow outside agencies to conduct their duties that may involve his unit. The strength of his own perceived duty to his squad members has impeded his decision-making, and may continue to do so. This may be a result from being stranded in Western China and being under poor review from the Army.
It is my personal belief that Reza would be unfit for anything other than command of this unit, at least until he is able to also recognize where his loyalty to the Army and to the NEG fits in with everything else.
[“I think he’s an impulsive, trigger-happy idiot who has the best interests of his unit at heart. I think he thinks people won’t listen to him when he speaks, and he resorts to guns to get his way. I think he’s been in the field too long. Hell, I think all of them have been in the field too long, but we don’t really have any other choice. He’ll figure it out. Or die trying.”]
RECOMMENDED ACTION: PTSD screening, stress therapy. Lt. Reza should not at this time be given command of a unit larger than the Stepchildren.
OIS’ stated high concern for Lt. Jeong is not unfounded, though the method found to discover what exactly the Engel Project had done resulted in a fire situation and a rampaging Engel, the latter of which should not have been possible. The Stepchildren are a squadron that absolutely require either separation and reassignment into other units or an influx of new members in order to balance out the stress and tension that has resulted from being too far under capacity. It would require further investigation, but it seems likely that in their current formation and capacity and in their current investigation, the Stepchildren are at increased risk for future compromise.
Special Agent Victoria de la Cruz
[“How are you feeling, Victoria?”
“About how you did on your mission.”
Victoria’s hands fist at her sides, and then she relaxes her spine. Her eyes go blank and her face takes on the characteristic expression of an OIS agent completing their duty.
“I did my job. I was sent to discover whether there were otherworldly threats within the military, inside the Stepchildren unit. I was given blanket permission to do whatever I deemed necessary to purify ranks of beyond-world influence. And there WERE. And they need to be gotten rid of. All of them.”
“And Lt. Jeong?”
Her lips thin. “That’s not up to me anymore.”
Session ends. End log.]