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Subject: "(SoS) DSM Panic Mission 5: Operation WINTERFEST"     Previous Topic | Next Topic
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Jun-09-13, 10:15 PM (EDT)
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"(SoS) DSM Panic Mission 5: Operation WINTERFEST"
   LAST EDITED ON Jun-09-13 AT 10:17 PM (EDT)
When the Deedlit Satori Mandeville Memorial Institute was established on the Bajoran moon of Jeraddo, one of its stated goals had been "to retain all of WPI's best traditions while at the same time using our unique location and opportunities to forge new ones." Traditions such as Homecoming, the Spring Formal, and the Spring Recital had made the transition without too much trouble. New traditions also sprang up, such as the "End of Summer" party at Botrell Beach in late August, and "The Rolling of The Gömböc" on the Commons in the middle of May. But one tradition that nobody was keen on resuming was the effects of the much-dreaded C-term.

Initially, the school calendar had stayed much the same as it had been at WPI: four quarters, separated by recesses of varying lengths. This, however, left a major chunk of uninterrupted time in the middle of C-term, which when compounded by the Jeradar Valley winter, was a sure recipe for emotional disaster. One couldn't count on a repeat occurrence of the Great Blizzard of '06 to shut down the school for an extra week, after all.

But the administration, after seeing the higher-than-average C-term exam scores after the unintended interruption back in 2406, decided after long deliberation that it might be time to try something different. Recognizing a good thing when they saw it, they decided to codify the break in the schedule as a "recuperative recess". With the chance to catch their metaphorical breath, the faculty hoped that the students would enter the rest of C-term, and the term's final exams, mentally refreshed.

The students, however, didn't worry about the educational theory underpinnings of the mid-C-term break. All they cared about was the fact that it worked -- and they had a much more succinct name for it.

They called it "Sanity Week".

Monday, February 8, 2410
Deedlit Satori Mandeville Memorial Institute
Jeraddo, Republic of Bajor

At the rate she was going, Kaname Sterling thought she would lose her sanity before the titular week arrived.

She hadn't technically been tasked with managing absolutely everything to do with Winterfest. Nominally, she was the chairwoman of the Winterfest Committee, which meant her official function was to designate various committee members to handle various tasks and then sit back and bask in the reflected glory, or watch them take the fall if they didn't get their jobs done. This was the way such committees had always been run - it was an accepted part of the structure of life in any democratic or even pseudo-democratic society.

Unfortunately, delegating and sitting back was not in Kaname's nature, and so she delegated and then suffered approximately 140 "No! No! Plus is positive, minus is negative - oh let me!" moments per hour until the other committee members wisely adapted their roles. By a sort of silent consensus, they shifted from planning to execution and just let General Sterling handle the top-level details. By midday on Monday she'd commandeered the Hamlin 4 lounge as a sort of Winterfest War Room and ensconced herself in the corner from which the TV couldn't be seen, surrounded by folding tables and documents.

This wasn't Kaname's first Winterfest; she'd had a tremendous amount of fun at 2409's winter sports gala. But she hadn't appreciated just how much effort went into organizing these things, and she mentally cursed that part of her that couldn't help but to plan and coordinate when others seemed unwilling to do it.

"The thing looks a whole lot different from the other side of the planning table," she sighed to herself. "As usual."

"Did you say something, my Not-Quite-As-Tallest?" asked a small green figure who had been watching the TV in the other part of the lounge.

"No, not really, Zak. It's nothing. Go back to what you were doing."

"Yes, my Not-Quite-As-Tallest!" saluted her floor's Irken student, who then returned to watching the Food Network's special on the making of cream-filled cakes.

Shaking her head, she returned her focus to the planned schedule of activities she was working on:

Ice skating on Lake Jeradar, with a sideline of some impromptu hockey? Better check with May and Steinberg to see what the progress was in making the lake safe to skate on.

Ice boating competition on Crowe Reservoir? Better send an email to Hammond and Clarkson, make sure they're still on track for getting the venue set up and that the safety measures are in place -- and that the teams are ready with their entries.

Sledding down Castle Hill? Check in with Boba Fett, make sure they're still cool with the sprogs doing that.

Organized snowball fights? Make sure Sakomizu was keeping Sugiura from slacking off, and instead setting up the snowball fight arenas on the practice fields.

The bonfire on Saturday night? Coordinate with Campus Security, the Campus Fire Department, and Plant Services to make sure that everything was provided and safed for the still-accumulating burnables pile in the middle of the Commons.

And then, finally, get everything lined up -- food, facilities, and entertainment -- for the Winterfest Dance on Sunday evening.

Reaching that line item, Kaname hesitated. It was called the "Winterfest Dance", but really, everybody knew what its real purpose was, no matter how much the school tried to nondenominationalize it.

It was a Valentine's Day dance, pure and simple, and everybody knew it.

The organization of the dance itself wasn't the issue for Kaname. Some of the work had already been done by the Student Activities office - as Nao Zhang had predicted, The Art of Noise was scheduled to perform Sunday Evening in the Jer Johnson Student Union Ballroom. Food would be provided by Campus Dining in association with some of the students; she'd already tasked her friend Shiori Kudo to oversee that. Decorations would be supplied by the theater department; Maya Mukai and Mizuki Inaba were handling that task.

No, the problem was what it represented. Kaname was of two minds about the entire holiday and its trappings. On the one hand, it was nice to have an extra holiday to celebrate close connections to loved ones, and she had a lot of loved ones in her extended family to celebrate with. In fact, one of her aunts on her father's side was even born on Valentine's Day (which reminded her, she'd need to get a card for her and mail it out), which suited that aunt's temperament to a tee. She definitely didn't begrudge the couples that she knew on campus having a special day to celebrate, even if they were relentlessly cheerful the day after the event.

But, on the other hand, as depressing as it was to dwell on it, Kaname Chidori Sterling hadn't had much Romance™ in her life so far. Oh, she thought about it, off-and-on (what girl her age didn't?), and occasionally fantasized about what it would be like to have a special someone to rely upon like that; but so far, the reality was leaving something to be desired. Her attempts at dating during her freshman year at Jindai High (often by the suggestion of her friends there) had been an almost comedic series of failures, though she hadn't thought they were all that funny at the time.

Before she'd left Jindai High at the end of her freshman year, she had gained the reputation of "The hottest girl at school that you wouldn't want to date," and, she had to admit, this was partly her fault. She knew she wasn't the easiest person to deal with when she got going, but that's the way she was raised - to speak her mind and to be proactive. But then again, the quality of the dates she had gone on had been notably sub-par, in her estimation, and she was not above complaining about it. She didn't want to hear a guy go on about whatever the hell it was was special about his life, she wanted to know what he thought of the world and their place in it. Spirit, was that too much to ask of the male species these days?

Ever since coming to the Institute, Kaname had pretty much stopped trying to look for "that special someone". She wouldn't turn down such a thing if offered or found, but only if it was sincere, and there were plenty around (like Mizuki's old boyfriend, the two-timing snake) who didn't even make it past the first evaluation. You'd need to be pretty determined and sure of yourself to try and date a Sterling anyway, and so far nobody that she thought might make the cut had dared to try. If this kept up, she might well have to take matters into her own hands, if only to quash the rumors that had started flying about herself and the Military Menace.

Of course, it didn't help matters that as part of the terms of his probationary release, Sosuke Sagara had been seconded to the Student Council as a "Sergeant-at-Arms", to be tasked with any duties (no matter how low) that the Council deemed fit. It was meant to serve as a long-duration Detention, and a member of the student government was to keep watch on his activities at all times. While theoretically this was meant to be a punishment detail, it was a going question for Kaname as to whom it was a punishment for.

Speaking of Sosuke, where the hell was he, anyway?

"Fallyna-clan, I would have a word with you!"

Kaname lifted her head, and then the rest of her body, to look over the table's edge. Before her stood a rotund figure - a volus in its pressurized encounter suit - and if the blinking of its translator lights were any indication, this particular volus was pretty irate.

"Hey, Jan. What can I do for you?"

"Have you seen this 'student campus defense plan' your pet soldier is working on?" Student Council Treasurer Jan Orlahn demanded, brandishing a datapad. "He's just forwarded me a draft outline."

"... Uh?"

"I'll take that as a no," Jan said, tossing the datapad onto the table. "You might familiarize yourself with it, it's diverting reading. Barking mad diverting, but diverting, nonetheless. It would probably work, I'm no security expert, but I can tell you this: It would bankrupt the Student Council. It would require using up all the Council funds, not just those allocated for Winterfest but all of them for the rest of the fiscal year, and borrowing against the appropriation for the next fiscal year!" The volus accounting student paused to take a deep, labored breath from his respirator, then blustered on, "If my calculations are correct, and I have no reason to doubt that they are, we can say goodbye to all our spring events and next fall's Homecoming, the Halloween Gala, maybe even the Yule Ball! It would be a catastrophe of Worcesterian proportions!"

Kaname was genuinely worried that the Treasurer was going to blow a seal by this point, so when he next stopped for breath, she said, "Hey, easy there, Jan. It's just a draft, right? He hasn't started, you know, building anything... ?"

"No, and he won't as long as I'm Treasurer of the Council!" Jan replied. "Such arrant fiscal irresponsibility is exactly the sort of thing I'm here to prevent. Student campus defense? Who ever heard of such a thing?" Jan shook his head. "I fear for your boyfriend's sanity, Chidori."

"He's not my boyfriend and don't call me Chidori," Kaname replied automatically. People had taken to doing both things lately; the first was annoying and the second slightly baffling, but apparently had something to do with Sosuke's persistent use of the name. She rubbed wearily at her eyes for a second, muttering to herself, "He screws up, and I'm the one who gets the complaints? When I said the stuff about leashes, I didn't mean to be so literal." Still grumbling, Kaname got up to get her coat. "OK, come with me, let's get to the bottom of this."

They found Sosuke in one of the engineering simulation labs in Spencer, tinkering with the details of what was, in fact, an extremely elaborate plan of checkpoints, earthworks, barricades, and weapons emplacements. Standing speechless in the middle of about a quarter-acre of scaled-down holographic campus, Kaname slowly turned and took it all in, remembering half-buried lessons in the military arts from her mother, aunts and various relations. She wasn't an expert either, by any means, but even to her unpracticed eye it seemed evident that Sosuke's plan, if implemented, would convert the campus into a makeshift but effective fortress.

"All right, I'm impressed," Jan Orlahn admitted. "Are you sure your friend is not part turian, Kaname Chidori? Of course, it's still entirely out of the question. Far too costly, and I doubt we would even be able to get possession of... " He peered through his encounter suit's optics at the identifying tag on the nearest weapon emplacement: EWHB. "... an 'e-whub', whatever that may happen to be." Turning, he added airily, "Well, I have a class to get to. I leave it to you," and stumped out.

"Thanks," said Kaname wryly. Then, turning to Sosuke, she said, "OK. Explain."

"It's a campus security augmentation plan," Sosuke told her. "It's all in my report."

"What possessed you to think we needed something like that?" Kaname demanded. "This is a school, not an Outer Rim pirate fort."

"I've been considering the matter since the incident with Professors Clarkson and May," Sosuke replied at once. "That was a false alarm, but the central problem remains: In the event of an actual incursion, this campus would be hopelessly exposed - practically indefensible, except for the Castle, and falling back to that one strong point is not practical for the entire student body." He toggled a couple of holographic keys on the simsuite's control module and reverted the campus holomap to its original configuration. "Particularly in light of this weekend's planned activities. Look - there is a distinct lack of perimeter control in the entire athletic complex, for both the participants and the spectators. This is doubly evident in the vicinity of Lake Jeradar and Crowe Reservoir. It would be very simple for a determined attacker to duplicate or even exceed the results of the Species Separation League terrorist attack on the 2386 Winter Olympics."

"We're just trying to set up some winter sporting events for the kids!" Kaname declared with a frustrated gesture. "Not trying to make a fortress to rival Queen Asrial's palace!!"

Sosuke frowned thoughtfully. "Actually, the Palace Imperial in Saenar is not nearly as secure as you would think..."

"THAT'S NOT THE POINT!" Kaname roared, cutting him off.

He stood and regarded her silently while she took a few deep breaths to regain control of herself, then offered in an unaggressive tone, "The scenario is not as far-fetched as you seem to believe. Our neighbors, the Xavier Institute, came under armed attack by elements of the Big Fire terror syndicate just last December."

"... What?"

Sosuke nodded. "Several of the Duelists participated in repelling the assault, along with a number of high-level IPO operatives. Big Fire's aim seems to have been the abduction of a number of students."

"I thought that was a drill or something," Kaname objected.

"That was the public cover story. The authorities wished to forestall the possibility of a panic here, since the incident was not directly linked to this school. In light of which, I acknowledge that the Xavier Institute's student body as a whole has certain qualities that makes it a more attractive target for such operations than DSM's. Regardless, I still believe such a strike isn't entirely inconceivable here... and as matters currently stand, we would be hard-pressed to defend ourselves."

Kaname regarded him for a few seconds as if trying to decide whether he was out of his mind or the galaxy was. She was on the verge of telling him to get hold of himself and forget the whole thing when what he'd just told her combined with the memory of another recent conversation to give her pause.

Tuesday, February 2, 2410
4:35 PM

A disciplinary hearing in Main Administration wasn't where Kaname wanted to spend her afternoon today, but she didn't have much choice. Any hearings that could possibly lead to expulsion required, at the minimum, the Institute's president, the chief of campus security, the Dean of Student Life, the Student Council president, and the head of the Resident Advisor Council in attendance -- or any of their duly appointed deputies. Given the suddenness of the meeting, Shizuru Viola (the current Resident Advisor Council president) was unable to forfeit her classes for the afternoon, so she had sent a quick text message to the one who had a much larger stake in the proceedings -- namely, Kaname Sterling -- and deputized her to attend in her stead.

Privately, Kaname wondered if Shizuru hadn't had an ulterior motive in shifting the job onto her, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out what that motive would be.

Now, Sosuke was standing at attention in the center of the meeting room, his expression inscrutable as usual. To her left sat Dean Montaigne, who had a worried look on her face. Next to the Dean sat President Tiefeld, who gave off a feeling of concerned disappointment. Beyond the president was Constable Odo, his face (insofar as Kaname could tell) grim and without humor.

The only person in the room who did not appear to be worried about the proceedings was the person sitting to Kaname's right. Atsunobu Hayashimizu, the Student Council President, was an intelligent young man who never seemed to be surprised by anything going on around him.

Now it was Hayashimizu who spoke first, his tone calm and reasonable as it always was:

"Ladies and gentlemen, let's dispense with the formalities, if you please; we're all busy people, and besides, the particulars of this case are not in question. Sgt. Sagara does not deny that he embarked on an unauthorized paramilitary adventure with the Institute's Rk-92 Arm Slave earlier today."

The school officials looked at each other in puzzlement, as if to ask each other, Then what are we doing here? President Tiefeld looked through his notes for a moment, then asked Hayashimizu, "... Then am I to take it that he intends to present no defense?"

"On the contrary, Mr. President," said Hayashimizu with a smile. "Or, rather," he corrected himself with a wry glance at Sosuke's stolid countenance, "I expect he does so intend, but I mean to present one for him. You see, as I view the matter, we're not here to determine whether he did that thing, but rather to determine how he should be punished for it - and I contend that he should not be."

"That's an... interesting point of view, Mr. Hayashimizu," said Odo dryly. "I'm eager to hear how you plan to elaborate on it."

Hayashimizu reached into his uniform jacket and withdrew a small book with a maroon cover, which he placed on the table in front of him and opened to a previously marked place. "I refer the Board to Section 13, Paragraph 4 of the Student Code of Conduct: 'The safety and security of the campus is everybody's responsibility. The Institute's professional staff depends on the student body's vigilance and engagement to help them.'" Looking up from the book, the Council president went on reasonably, "The sergeant merely operates at a higher level of awareness than the average student."

Holding up a hand to forestall comment, he conceded, "I grant you, his approach to dealing with the situation was unusually proactive, not to say precipitous, but put yourselves in his position. He's here to do a job, as you are all aware - one in which he's been confirmed by arrangement with Miss Sterling and the Office of Campus Security. No one had notified him of the plans Professors Clarkson and May had for the school's Panzer 26, nor even that the school had a Panzer 26 - plainly a critical oversight. I ask you, what is a young man with his training and inclination to do upon unexpectedly sighting an armored fighting vehicle - one with foreign military markings, no less! - operating on campus?"

Odo opened his mouth to make a sarcastic remark, but Hayashimizu timed his rhetorical pause perfectly and continued a nanosecond before he could have been accused of interrupting the constable, "So far as he knew, the Institute was under attack. So far as he knew, there was no time to alert the professionals. So far as he knew, only one person in that part of the campus had the skills, and access to the tools, necesssary to deal with the situation - himself." The student officer shook his head. "Taking action as he did was the only reasonable thing he could do under the circumstances."

Kaname stared at the young man in blank disbelief for a moment, then turned to see how the Review Board were taking it. Odo raised an eyebrow and glanced skeptically to his left, then his right. On either side of him, President Tiefeld and Dean Montaigne were looking past him to regard each other with expressions of carefully masked amusement. The constable saw which way the wind was blowing and sighed, his shoulders sagging.

"You make a... unique point, Mr. Hayashimizu," said Dean Montaigne. "Surely, though, you see that Sgt. Sagara's... zeal... can't be left without direction."

"Certainly," Hayashimizu agreed at once. "However, I put it to the Board that his abilities and his vigilance are not only desirable, but necessary, to the safety of the Institute. These are dangerous times in the galaxy - no one, I think, will dispute that. Recent events practically in our own back yard speak to that. Now, more than ever, we need someone like Sosuke Sagara among us."

"I suppose you think I should hire him," Odo grumbled.

"Not at all," said Hayashimizu smoothly. "He's a student, and a student he must remain. Which is why I propose that he be designated Sergeant-at-Arms to the Student Council."

"... I beg your pardon?" said President Tiefeld after a startled pause.

Turning to another marked page in his copy of the Student Handbook, Hahashimizu adjusted his spectacles and said, "According to Article Four of the Student Government's charter, such a post has always existed, but we've never seen fit to fill it before. With the Duelists' Society on campus, I suppose that to my predecessors there seemed little need - but I think we can all agree that Sgt. Sagara is a slightly different breed of cat," he added with a slight smile. He closed the book, folded his hands atop it, and concluded, "We have a vacancy for someone with security experience; the sergeant needs a bit of direction; under this arrangement, both are provided. Everyone wins."

Odo glanced at Tiefeld and Montaigne again, saw that they were obviously impressed with the young man's arguments, and lodged one last objection more or less for form's sake: "Does your charter say who's supposed to supervise your Sergeant-at-Arms?"

"Like most matters internal to the Student Government, it's left to the discretion of the executive officers," Hayashimizu replied, unruffled. "The ultimate responsibility, of course, rests with me, but in order to best avoid causing the sergeant any conflict of interest, I propose to delegate day-to-day oversight to Miss Sterling."

So calm, persuasive, and logical were Hayashimizu's arguments that Kaname caught herself nodding in agreement - yeah, that does make the most sense - before the meaning of his words fully sank in, at which point she turned to him and snapped,


Kaname sighed deeply, rubbing a hand down her face, and then said, "Well, we can't build this. It'd bankrupt the Council. Jan was furious. So... wrap it up, put it all in a final report, and send it to Odo, with copies to Hayashimizu and President Tiefeld's office. I don't think the administration will have any interest in turning the school into an armed camp, but if anybody's going to make that decision it's them, not us, and then they can pay for it." She sighed again. "OK?"

Sosuke nodded. "As you say." He rezzed up his alterations to the map again and set to work, adding finishing touches and cleaning up the presentation.

Kaname watched him at it for a few seconds, then asked wryly, "Man, what were you like in kindergarten? King-of-the-Sandbox must have been an exercise in generalship with you around."

Sosuke paused for a moment, turned to regard her without much of any expression, then said, "I wouldn't know," and returned to work.

Wow, that was dumb, can't believe I did that, Kaname grumbled to herself, and left him to it. It wasn't as though she didn't have work of her own to be doing, after all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2410

Tuesday afternoon found Kaname setting up a sort of temporary backup War Room in Hamlin Hall's ground-floor lounge. This was not because she'd been turned out of the one up on the fourth floor, but because she'd arrived back at the building an hour or so before dinner and couldn't be arsed to go up only to come back down in an hour. Instead she spread out the paperwork she had with her, which mainly had to do with event scheduling, and worked quietly at it while she waited for the metaphorical dinner bell.

So engrossed was she in this that she didn't notice Sosuke, sitting in the corner of the room (where the sightlines were best to the windows and the archway leading out into the corridor), at all. That was fine with him; his tasking did not require her attention, only her presence. In ways, it was easier when she didn't interact with him.

Five times in the last twenty minutes, his vigil had been interrupted not by anything Kaname did, but by other students passing by the room, noticing him, and coming in to speak to him. This was unusual, bordering on anomalous. He was normally much more successful at blending into the background, at least when tactical exigencies didn't force him to take the kind of action that automatically became something of a spectacle.

Not today, though. Today no fewer than seven classmates had approached him while Kaname, oblivious, labored at her paperwork. He was still frowning in contemplation of the phenomenon when she reached some kind of endpoint, sat back in the couch, and gave an exasperated sigh, then noticed him. The look on his face must have caught her attention, because she abandoned whatever she'd been about to say and asked instead,

"What's eating you?"

Sosuke considered keeping the matter to himself, but as any situation in which he became involved stood a better-than-even chance of involving Kaname, he decided that would have been unfair. So he replied,

"I'm unsure. I think there may be some sort of conspiracy developing that involves an unsettling number of our classmates."

Kaname gave him a more-wary-than-normal look. "Uhhh... explain?"

"Since we have been sitting here, seven of our classmates who would not normally go out of their way to speak to me have come into this room specifically to seek me out and ask me a question. The same question. This is beyond the bounds of reasonable coincidence. My supposition: They were all put up to it by the same unknown third party, most likely for purposes of distracting me and achieving some kind of infiltration."

"Uh... huh. And what question would that be?"

"Whatever their purpose may be, it seems that it would be served by my attending the Winterfest Dance." Sosuke shook his head thoughtfully. "Most peculiar."

Kaname's look shifted more toward the are-you-for-real end of the spectrum. "These... classmates... would they happen to have been girls? Not that there's anything wrong with it if they weren't!" she added hastily, her cheeks going a bit red. "I just, you know, seven of them, that's not statistically - never mind. Anyway... ?"

"They were," Sosuke replied, "though I don't see... "

Kaname dropped her forehead into her palm. "Spirit, you are dense," she said. "They weren't asking you to just go to the dance, they were asking you to go to the dance with them. You know. On a date? Imbecile."

"Oh. This would be a purely recreational function?"

"Yyyyyeah, they usually are... "

"Then, in your estimation, it isn't part of a distraction operation for some as-yet-unknown tactical expediency?"

"Uh... no. Well, probably not. Who were they?"

Sosuke looked at Kaname intently as he listed off the names of his querents. "Ena Saeki, Nao Zhang, Maya Mukai, Jessica Albrecht, Haruka Suzushiro, Mizuki Inaba, and Nelyna of Thessia."

"Yeah, uh, I don't think anybody on that list is strategic conspiracy material. Except maybe Inaba. She's treacherous," said Kaname with a little smile.

"I'll make a note of that," Sosuke deadpanned, and Kaname genuinely couldn't tell whether he was serious. Then he said, "You seemed exasperated. Was the unexpected room traffic disturbing you?"

"Huh? Oh. No. Actually I didn't even notice that. It's just that I noticed I have a huge hole in Sunday's schedule. From lunchtime until the dance there's bupkis. I could double up some of the stuff from Saturday, weather permitting, but that would be kind of lame. I hate repeating myself."

Sosuke looked interested. "How much of a time span are we talking about?"

"Four, five hours," Kaname replied. "Say from 12:30 'til dark, and maybe a bit past, depending on what was going on. It'd have to wrap up by five o'clock or so either way, so everyone would have time to get some supper and change for the dance." She spread out the papers again and surveyed them glumly. "The ice boating is going to be all done Saturday. I suppose we could just do more snowball fights, but, I mean, how many snowball fights can we have? We're not six years old any more. That kind of thing gets old."

Sosuke gave a decisive nod. "It's not a problem," he said firmly. "Leave it to me."

Kaname blinked. "... Seriously?"

"Seriously. I'll take care of it."

"Uh... OK, well, thanks." Out in the hall, students started passing in small groups, bound for the dining common. Kaname started gathering the papers up and stuffing them back in her bookbag. "I'll need to have your plans for whatever it's gonna be by Thursday morning, so I can coordinate with whoever's in charge of the facilities it'll be using."


"Can you give me a hint?"


"Fine, be that way." She finished packing up and paused, eyeing him thoughtfully. "So... all these girls wanting to go to the dance with you."


"Are you going to?"

"Of course not," Sosuke said flatly. "As the event organizer, you'll have to be present in some official capacity. When you're out in public, I'm on duty."

"Oh. Yeah. 'Course." Kaname went a bit red again and glanced away awkwardly. Then, to laugh it off, she said, "I can't believe you didn't know they were asking you for a date."

"Dating is outside my occupational specialties," Sosuke replied.

"Yeah, well, so's a lot of stuff you ought to try," Kaname said. "I'm going to be holed up in here working on Winterfest stuff for the rest of the week. You should go out one of these nights."

What the hell are you talking about? she asked herself.

Sosuke frowned as if only his inherent reserve was preventing him from asking the same thing. Then, brow still furrowed in puzzlement, he said, "What would such a thing entail?"

"Well... first you ask somebody. And if they say yes, then you set a time and... I don't know. There isn't really much of a nightlife around here," said Kaname, facing the awkward realization, now that he'd asked, that she really had no idea what one would do for a date on Jeraddo. "Go out for dinner, I guess. If you really wanted to make an occasion of it, you'd go someplace fancy, where you wouldn't normally go."

"Hmm. This might be a worthwhile reconnaissance operation," Sosuke mused. "Perhaps Mr. Weeks - "

Kaname would've choked if she'd had a beverage, envisioning Sosuke going out on the town with DSM's one and only Carcharoid student, Frank "Shark Week" Weeks. Shark Week not only wasn't human, he wasn't even from a species that had gender as humans understand it. He was only called "he" because he was way too laid-back to insist on gender neutrality in a language that didn't really have a provision for it, and because he happened to have picked a masculine Standard name when emigrating with his parents from Parathrox to New Avalon some years before.

"No, Sosuke," she said after taking a moment to get hold of herself again. "A girl. Or at least another humanoid life form," she qualified.

Sosuke took that on board with his usual grave expression, then nodded and rose to his feet. "Very well," he said, and then strode to the archway (with a startled Kaname trotting to keep up with him) and said to the nearest female schoolmate he recognized, "Miss Tesla."

Mileva Tesla skidded to a halt, breaking off from her conversation with her roommate Irina Woods, and said, "Uh... yes?"

"Let's go on a date."

Mileva blinked a couple of times, utterly baffled, then replied, "Uh... OK?"

Kaname stared blankly at the two for several long seconds.


Wednesday, February 10, 2410

"This is ten different degrees of wrong," Kaname grumbled, pacing outside the elevator doors, waiting with Mileva Tesla for Sosuke to arrive.

Bad enough that Mileva was the youngest person on her floor. (She was twelve, having been home-schooled up to this point by some of the most brilliant people in the galaxy.) Bad enough that she was one of the relatively few other non-Duelist students besides Sosuke who held a weapons permit from the Campus Security Service. Bad enough that she was quick-witted, clever, almost relentlessly cheerful, and - despite what could only be seen as a very sheltered upbringing - outgoing. She also, on top of all that, happened to look great.

Kaname wasn't one of those catty girls who could never bear to admit it when another girl looked good, and Mileva was looking very well-turned-out tonight, in a crisp white blouse under a peppy little Klein-blue jumper dress, GI black cold-weather tights, and smart-but-practical boots. She even had on a matching little Garibaldi hat at a rakish angle, which was a more than a trifle old-fashioned, but somehow timeless on her, and over her arm she carried a navy-blue wool pea-jacket. She wasn't ravishing - not at twelve, and possibly never - but with her big brown eyes, her perfectly straight nose, her short black hair, and her general air of fresh-scrubbed, clean-living wholesomeness, she was completely adorable. Kaname reminded herself firmly several times, as they waited, that this was a ridiculous thing to be resenting. (And where had she learned to put on makeup, growing up surrounded by Action Scientists?)

The elevator dinged, the doors hissed open, and there was Sosuke. Instead of the usual DSM school uniform Kaname had grown used to seeing him in, he was wearing a garment she'd never seen before - like a suit, but with a double-breasted, lapelless jacket over a white shirt with a stiff, upright collar. The suit was dark charcoal grey and structured so that it managed to look casual and formal at the same time, which was, Kaname dimly recalled, the hallmark of some Salusian fashion house or anoth -

Emporio Armani di Saenar, Salusian fashion firm established 2005 by Giorgio Armani, an Earthman already famous on his homeworld for -

Not NOW -

Sosuke, unaware of the mild ripple he'd just caused in the collective psyche of a species (never mind among the students who "just happened" to be loitering in the lounge), nodded cordially. "Miss Chidori." He then turned his attention to Mileva, and what he said next startled Kaname clean out of reflections on his fashion sense:

"Good evening, Miss Tesla. You look lovely."

Mileva blinked - clearly she hadn't expected him to say that either - but recovered quickly and thanked him with a slight blush, adding, "You clean up pretty good yourself."

"Where did you steal that suit?" Kaname asked before she could stop herself.

Sosuke didn't seem offended; he merely replied, matter-of-factly, "It's standard issue. When TechCom personnel are assigned to guard civilians, there's always the chance we'll need to blend in on a higher social level than is usually encountered in everyday life."

"Oh. So it's part of your spy gear."

"Essentially, yes," he said. "Shall we, Miss Tesla? Our table at Pellucidar is reserved for 1930 hours."

"Remember, lockout is at eleven," Kaname said. "That's 2300 to the military brain. And I don't want to find out tomorrow that you messed with the security system or teleported in after hours or some such craziness," she added sharply, though whether for Sosuke's benefit or Mileva's she couldn't have said.

As she put on her jacket, Mileva only giggled and replied, not all that reassuringly, "Don't worry, Kaname... you won't."

"We'll be back in plenty of time," Sosuke promised stolidly. "I'm uncomfortable about being out of fast-return range for even that long - "

"I'm not going to be anywhere but the lounge and my room. Now go, before I change my mind!" Kaname declared, gesturing to the elevator. Then she softened a little - hell, it was probably Tesla's first date, no need to be such a tyrant about it - and said, "Have a good time."

Once they were gone, Kaname returned to the War Room, ensconced herself in the corner again, and resolutely buried herself in her work, determined to give the pair of them no further thought until they returned.

Thursday, February 11, 2410

"Kweh! It's morning! Kweh! Get up! Kweh! Kana-chan, you'll be late! Kweh!"

Kaname didn't think of herself as a "morning person", and there was plenty of evidence to back up that assertion.

"Kweh! Kweh! Good morning, Kana-chan, you'll be late!"

It usually took two iterations of her alarm clock to even get her out of bed, and she couldn't be considered functionally ambulatory until after her morning shower. Fortunately for her, the woman's bathroom and shower on Hamlin Four was directly opposite her room, so she didn't have to worry about getting lost along the way.

Getting dressed and getting packed for her morning classes was usually an automated process. Her clothes and books were laid out ahead of time, and quickly taken care of. At that point it was a simple matter to head out, board the elevator, and head down to the dining common on the first floor. Still ensconced in her little world, she barely registered that Sosuke wasn't present for breakfast; but he had to have gotten back in time, because Mileva's check-in hadn't triggered any red flags or alarms.

Therefore, it was not until she had consumed breakfast and was headed out the doors of Hannibal Hamlin Hall, that she realized there had been a strange conversational undercurrent among the students in the dining hall. She tried to think of what it could be, but her mind had been much more preoccupied with the circumstances behind Mileva and Sosuke's date...

Spirit, you're obsessing, Sterling, she chided herself. If they had a good time, more power to them. It's not my business to pry. ... Never mind they're both my responsibility, and Sosuke has no clue what's really involved in a date, and Mileva's technically underage. Spirit of Light, what was I thinking??

Kaname was so lodged in her dudgeon as she walked that she didn't notice Lindsey Willows approaching until she was beside the taller teen and poking her in the side.

Kaname jerked, startled. "Huh? Wha?"

"I said 'Hi, Kaname!' Jeez, you're out of it today." Lindsey peered at Kaname thoughtfully. "You feeling all right?"

Kaname grunted. "Had a late evening," she stated by way of explanation. "Still booting up."

"All right," Lindsey conceded. She then continued, "I take it Sosuke and Mileva's date went OK, because otherwise there would've been at least two thermonuclear explosions last night and we'd be due one this morning."

"I wouldn't know," Kaname grumbled, looking away. "I'm the one under surveillance. Besides, what am I, the cruise director?"

"Maybe they're up on the lido deck!" she mentally continued. Why do people keep bringing that up?

Lindsey blinked. "Cripes, Kaname. No need to bite my head off."

Kaname seemed to return to herself then; she shook her head to clear the mental static and looked back at her friend. "Sorry, sorry. I've just got a lot on my mind, that's all."

"Mm-hmm. So I see."

"I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop," Kaname explained as they turned a corner to start walking along the north Commons path. "Sosuke still hasn't delivered on -- what the hell is that?!"

Kaname came to an immediate halt, staring across the snow-covered Common. The gently rolling terrain, cut by the deep blue line of the Little Neverwinter and crisscrossed by student paths, was a long-familiar sight.

The two thick, blocky structures that were now present at either end of the Common? Those were new.

Lindsey blinked. "... that's a pretty big 'shoe'."

Slowly, as if in a dream, Kaname stepped out onto the Common. Her mind continued to try and parse what she was seeing. At first glance, they looked like nothing less than block-built military bunkers, and indeed there was a definite air of brutal unsophistication to them.

Getting closer, however, revealed interesting variations in the design, that made the structures more than just bunkers. They seemed to be circular in shape, with slightly sloped outside edges. A ramp in one curved wall led up to the upper surface; Kaname supposed there would be a matching ramp on the opposite side. Up on top there were large, bulky barriers regularly spaced, like crenelations on an ancient fort, to serve as cover for whoever was on the roof.

Climbing up the ramp was not difficult; the material it was made of looked to be akin to rather dirty snow, but it definitely supported her weight and Lindsey's. Now on the roof, she could see that the change in altitude gave a nice view of the Common and the matching structure on the opposite side in front of Main Administration. And if that wasn't high enough, there was even a sniper tower on one "corner" of the structure for better observation capability.

An opening in the roof revealed an inner space, and it looked like it wouldn't be too dangerous to jump in if need be. Presumably there would be exits from the room inside. Scattered here and there, both up above and down below, were Dumpster-like metal bins, painted blue and evidently empty. Bright dots of color in the distance showed that the opposite fort was similarly equipped, but the bins over there were red.

"Good morning, Miss Chidori," said Sosuke with an air of satisfaction. He stood at the base of the sniper tower, looking off toward the opposite fort through a pair of collapsible binoculars, apparently pleased with what he saw. Not far away, Mileva Tesla was speaking into a handy-talky, evidently directing unseen activities within one of the two structures.

"What is this?" Kaname asked, mystified. "What did you do?"

Sosuke lowered his binoculars, turned to face her, and replied, "As you requested, Miss Tesla and I have solved the afternoon recreation gap."

"This thing is the snow fort from hell!"

Sosuke nodded. "That was the basic idea, yes." He gestured toward the opposite fort. "If our calculations are correct, combining the innocent childhood pleasures of snowball fighting with the small-unit tactics and teamwork of a basic capture-the-flag exercise should yield a most satisfactory afternoon's entertainment for the more physically inclined and competitive students."

Appearing to digest that, Kaname sat down on one of the lower crenelations, then sprang up again in surprise. "What the - this isn't snow, it's rock-hard!"

"It's a composite material called pykrete. It was developed on Earth in the mid-twentieth century."

Lindsey rapped experimentally on the smooth surface with a knuckle, then asked, "What's it made of?"

"Ice reinforced with sawdust. It's an economical and quick building material in sub-freezing conditions, and surprisingly resilient." Sosuke gestured to the front of the fort, which sloped sharply down to the Common like the face of a dam. "This glacis would easily withstand up to 80mm mortar fire."

"How are we going to get RID of these things after Sanity Week ends? Jackhammers?"

"Not a problem. Miss Tesla and I have it all worked out." Crouching, Sosuke picked up a bulky object that had lain at his feet, concealed by the battlement at the base of the tower, and hefted it into view. Mileva wheeled over another, very similar object, this one mounted on a small cart. They were strange-looking things, part industrial tool, part weapon, with heavy-duty controls and a curious cowling at the front on which some jaunty soul had painted fighter-plane-style shark teeth.

Kaname said nothing.

"Salusian-issue M7057/Defoliant Projector, for progressive meltdown," Mileva explained. "We start at the top, work our way down, job done. Should take about half an hour."

"You're going to melt it with flamethrowers?! What about the sawdust?"

"... Sawdust is flammable, Miss Chidori," Sosuke pointed out as if reluctant to believe she wasn't aware of so basic a fact.

"spiritiamnothavingthisconversation," Kaname muttered through her teeth, and then, out loud, "Lindsey? Take me away from here before I do something Sosuke will regret."

"You didn't ask," Lindsey observed cheerfully as they left the fort, "but I think this is gonna be bitchin'."

Friday, February 12, 2410
00:43 hrs

Kaname didn't really mind that the final push on the prep work for Winterfest had kept her in her corner bunker in the common room past midnight. She was getting a lot done, and starting to form real confidence that everything was, in fact, going to be ready in time. Besides, it was nice and quiet with everyone else on the floor in bed.

Almost everyone else.

"Rory," she said flatly, without looking up from her work. "In here. Now."

There was a pause; then Rory Williams entered the room from the hallway, looking a bit sheepish. "Uh... hey, Kaname," he said with feigned bonhomie. "Still hard at it, I see."

Kaname held up a hand for him to wait and be quiet, used the other to finish filling in a form, then put her pen down, got up, and regarded him with an expression that was not so much annoyance as resignation.

"Rory... " she said, then sighed. "You have to stop sneaking in here after curfew every night. I mean, you're good at it, props for that, but my ass could end up in the sling with yours if you get caught." She put her hands on her hips. "It's very dashing and romantic, I'm sure, but can you honestly not live without your girlfriend for a whole eight hours a day? Seriously. I know you're not a frosh, you're only on my floor because the housing numbers were weird this year, but I can only cut you so much slack for that. You keep this up and I'm going to have to go to Dean Montaigne eventually."

Rory raised a hand and opened his mouth to reply several times, each time frowning at himself and pacing away a few steps before returning to try it again. Finally he stopped, looked her straight in the eye, and said,

"All right, look, I'll level with you. Amy and me?" Kaname raised an eyebrow, wondering where this was heading, but in none of the scenarios she envisioned in the second or so before he went on did she come anywhere close to predicting what he actually said next: "We're time travelers. We're not really 15, we've been together for something like 20 human lifetimes at this point. Sometimes... sometimes we get separated. When that hasn't happened, we prefer to keep it that way as much as possible." He shrugged. "So."

Kaname looked back at his perfectly earnest face for a couple of seconds, her own expression completely blank; then, finally, she couldn't hold back the laughter any longer and giggled her way back into her chair.

"Awright, points for creativity. You're off the hook this time, but do me a favor and try to get back here by 11 most nights, huh?" She shook her head, picked up her pen, and moved on to the next form. "Good night, Rory."

With a slight smile on his face, Rory sketched a salute. "Ma'm," he said, and turned to go.

"And shave properly in the morning!" she called after him. "This is school, not a music video."

"Yes, ma'm," he replied, followed by the sound of his room door opening and closing again.

16:57 hrs

The assembled students milled about in the Student Union's Grand Ballroom, waiting for somebody to come and explain what was up with the two structures that had appeared on the Common the previous day. A schoolwide email had been issued, stating that explanations would be forthcoming for anybody who wanted to hear them; but in order to hear them, they'd have to come to the ballroom at a certain time in the afternoon, and this was nearly that time.

They didn't have to wait long. At 5 PM, Kaname Sterling stepped out onto the ballroom's small stage, came to a halt behind the podium that was there, and composed herself.

"Hello!" she declared, her voice amplified to reach the far corners of the great room. "May I have your attention please?" The murmuring tapered off as everyone turned to face the stage. "Ah, good. Well." She smiled cheerfully. "Thank you all for coming. You all know why we're here. Sanity Week is upon us, and we're going to kick it off in style with the fourth annual Winterfest!"

Kaname waited for the cheers this remark roused to subside, then went on, "Now, for those of you who've done this before, you can relax - we've got all the stuff you know and love from last year's Winterfest coming up. Ice boating, lake hockey, the cross-country ski race, it's all in there. Full details are available in the schedule packets you should all have found in your mailboxes this morning." She held up an example of the colorful publication in question, in case anyone hadn't grasped what they were. "However, this year, we're also going to try something new. You may have noticed," she added dryly, "the ice structures that have been erected out on the Common? Well, it's not some kind of weird avant-garde art installation. That's the venue for an experimental new Winterfest event!"

She took one hand off the lectern and gestured grandly to her right, where a simplified, idealized, slightly cartoonish holo of the two ice bunkers and the no-man's-land in between them appeared. "We call it... Snow Gulch."

/* "Attending School Duty"
Toshihiko Sahashi
Full Metal Panic Original Soundtrack 2 (2002)*/

After giving her audience a few seconds to take in the holo, Kaname stepped from behind the lectern and paced in front of it, explaining as she did so,

"Semi-organized snowball fights are a Winterfest tradition, but Snow Gulch is a snowball fight with a difference. You will divide into two teams, codenamed Red and Blue; preliminary selections to be made now, final rosters must be posted by dinnertime tomorrow. Professor Moore will be faculty supervisor for Red, Professor MacGregor for Blue, but internal organization of those teams - chains of command (if any), areas of responsibility, and so forth - are entirely up to you.

"At one PM on Sunday, the teams will report to their obvious rallying points and the game will begin." The holo switched from an isometric perspective to the view from the blimp, enabling Kaname to point out various blinking waypoints. "This will be a simple capture-the-flag exercise, with which many of you are no doubt familiar from all that online gaming you do when you're supposed to be studying." That got a mild, vaguely guilty laugh, as Kaname pointed out the flashing red and blue triangles in the centers of the two forts.

"On the off chance that anyone doesn't know how this works, each team will have an obvious and accessible token in a central location," she said. "You are not allowed to remove your own token from its designated area. The object of the game is to enter the opposing team's fortification, seize their token, and convey it back to your own fort without losing your own token." To illustrate this point, the red triangle left its place in the red fort, moved across the battlefield, and took up a position next to the blue triangle. "When one team has both tokens in their central holding area, the other team will have two minutes to remove one or both from that area. If they do not succeed in doing so, the team holding both tokens is awarded a point, the round ends, the tokens will be reset, and a new round begun."

Really getting into the general-on-the-stage thing now, Kaname turned and paced back toward the lectern, her hands folded behind her back. "We'll start with a couple of rounds with small test teams, just to make sure the system works and there are no unforeseen glitches with the scoring. If all goes well, all-hands battles will follow. Play will continue until three rounds with the full teams are complete, or until dark, whichever comes first. At the end of that time, the team with the most points is the winner. In the event of a tie because we ran out of time, the referees may make a decision based on creativity, team spirit, casualty rates, or other factors, or we might put it to a vote. Sportsmanship is expected."

Having gone up and down a couple of times, Kaname arrived in front of the middle of the holo again, turned to face the audience fully, and said, "And that brings me to the most important rule: Your only weapon - and I cannot possibly stress this enough - will be snow. That's it. No other means of attack will be permitted. You can be as creative as you want about how you employ it, but the only thing I want to see hitting people out there is snow, and not snow packed so tightly it's basically ice. And a bit of light wrestling is OK in close combat, but no brawling! I know some of you people can get pretty competitive - " (that drew another laugh) " - but this isn't actually a war, so control yourselves. It's supposed to be fun. If anybody gets hurt, we won't be doing this again." She held her firm gaze on them for a few seconds, letting that sink in, then smiled to break the tension. "Any questions?" She nodded to the owner of the first hand up. "Yes. Frank."

"What about equipment?" Frank Weeks asked. "You said we could be creative, does that mean we're allowed to make things?"

"Well spotted, yes," said Kaname. "You are allowed to build devices that throw snow, if you think of any. Just a couple of things. They either have to be fixed in position, in which case, go nuts, or they have to be small and light enough that one or two people, no more, can carry and operate them. And you have to be able to make them out of stuff that's readily available on campus in the next day. Anything you build has to be vetted by the referees by the team selection deadline tomorrow."

"What about a trebuchet?" someone asked.

Kaname laughed. "Sure, if you can build one by six o'clock tomorrow night," she said.

There were a few other questions, mainly procedural; then she turned them loose to set up their teams, and the gathering dissolved into what looked from a distance like chattering chaos as the students began to discuss the matter animatedly among themselves.

Kaname smiled with satisfaction as she watched the mass of students break up into smaller clusters, as teams were formed and battle lines drawn. Everyone seemed excited, which she took as a good sign, and she found herself looking forward to this crazy idea coming to fruition more than she might have expected she would before delivering the briefing.

"Not bad, not bad at all," Lindsey commented as Kaname dismounted from the stage to land on the ballroom floor. "Our most famous alumna couldn't have done it better herself."

"You know, Lins, I think you may be right. This is gonna be 'bitchin'," Kaname said with a wink. "And I should hope so, I've had plenty of practice."

The two went out into the room, half-listening to snippets of various groups' negotiations as they began to form coalitions and build up into what would become the two armies. Sosuke, who had hovered off to the side during the briefing, joined them.

"Mileva's idea appears to be a popular one," he said, sounding gratified. "I look forward to seeing it in practice."

"Will you be playing?" Lindsey wondered.

"Negative, Miss Willows. My experience in these matters would give me an unfair advantage."

"Oh, pff," said Kaname. "It's an organized snowball fight, not the Battle of Debney Ridge. I bet some of these kids are way better at it than you are."

"That sounds challenge-like to me," Lindsey observed.

"I suppose I could moderate my participation," Sosuke allowed after a moment's consideration. "It would be a useful opportunity to observe the other students' performance in a simulated crisis."

"There, you see? You can even turn fun time into work," said Kaname. "Also, hang on, she's Mileva now? What happened to Miss Tesla?"

Sosuke glanced at her, then replied with a perfectly straight face, "She asked me to call her Mileva. It's only polite to comply."

"What, so all I have to do is tell you to stop calling me Miss Chidori?"

"Negative. The situation is very different. You're not a girl, you're my assignment."

Kaname sighed. "Get out of here before I hurt you."

Sosuke nodded. "Affirmative. Excuse me while I make preparations."

As he was turning to go, the three passed the very girl they'd just been talking about, standing with her roommate Irina. They'd have gone on by, except that Kaname happened to catch the word Panzer in their conversation.

Looking over her shoulder at the two youngsters, Kaname proclaimed, "... NO TANKS!"

Irina looked crestfallen. "Aw, but Mileva and I were hoping..."

"No. Just... no."

"The school's Panzer 26 would be inappropriate for the terrain and environment, anyway," Sosuke observed helpfully. "You would be much better served with a Napoleon-class microtank. Their turrets can be easily swapped out - "

Kaname glared at Sosuke. "DON'T ENCOURAGE THEM!"

"I thought encouraging the younger students to push their limits was part of an upperclassman's responsibility," Sosuke protested mildly, and Lindsey burst out laughing at the look on Kaname's face as she realized he'd just played back something she'd said.

"Go!" Kaname commanded, pointing imperiously in a randomly chosen direction. Sosuke, with the faintest hint of a smile, saluted and took himself off to do something out of her way for a while. Irina and Mileva departed in another direction, revising their plans as they went.

Mizuki Inaba drifted out of the crowd, arriving just as the other three left, and inquired cheerfully, "Trouble with Electra Girl and Bomb Boy?"

Rolling her eyes, Kaname sighed. "That kid's a bad influence."

"Who? Sagara or Tesla?" Mizuki asked.

Kaname flatly replied, "Yes."

Lindsey considered this for a moment, then opined, "He encourages her to think bigger, she encourages him to think non-linearly. That's a terrifying kind of feedback loop. I think we need to separate them for the galaxy's protection."

Saturday, February 13, 2410

Saturday morning opened bright and clear, a beautiful opening to 2410's Winterfest.

Day One ran like clockwork, a testament to Kaname's meticulous planning and the hard work of her delegates (who had taken to calling themselves "General Sterling's colonels"). The daylight hours were full to bursting with wintry fun. For the more sedate and artistic, there was ice skating on Lake Jeradar. For the slightly hardier, several old-timey lake hockey games were waged nearby, with the rink defined by hay bales (where had Professor May gotten hold of baled hay in February?) and the players learning first-hand how good they had it, playing their regular games in state-of-the-art Walsh Arena. For the really hardy, and the speed demons, there were the iceboat races over on Crowe Reservoir.

Up on Castle Hill, the younger members of the Duelists' Society cheerfully proctored the use of their clubhouse's perch - the only clear high ground on the campus proper - for sledding. Inside the Castle itself, the senior Duelists welcomed anyone who cared to stop by for some hot cocoa, perhaps a baked good, and a spot of good-natured interpersonal violence. They were having their Alumni Day that day too, so a number of the club's alumni - wryly nicknamed the Elder Gods by some of the youngsters - were on hand as well.

Kaname spent the morning feeling like she was pretty much everywhere at once, and more than once she thought what she really needed was an International Police Lens. That way she wouldn't be at the mercy of Student Activities' slightly battered handy-talkies, which had an annoying habit of automatically seeking to the same frequency that was used by the drive-thru at the Port Jeradar KFC if you weren't careful. Several times that day she found herself trying to reach the Crowe Dam team and finding herself taking somebody's order for a party bucket.

Of course, that would only have helped her get in touch with a bare handful of people on Jeraddo, and most of them were over at the Xavier Institute, so she still wouldn't have been able to communicate with the two lake venues without the use of Student Activities' also-slightly-battered van. Things calmed down a little bit after lunch, since operations at the reservoir were wrapped up by then (without casualties, amazingly enough, unless you counted Professor Hammond's pride), leaving only the skating, the freestyle snowball fighting on the practice field, and the action up on Castle Hill.

With her most trustworthy colonels in full charge at the lake and on the field and the radios more or less behaving, Kaname felt - barely - clear to spend most of the afternoon at the Castle. This was mostly in her role as Hamlin 4's Resident Advisor, since a number of her charges were attending the open house, but also partly as Winterfestführerin (as Professor Kesselring had dubbed her upon stumbling across her command post in the Hamlin 4 common room). She had to deal with the band, after all, and they were all up there. Or at least that was the excuse.

Dinner in the Hamlin Commons was more boisterous than usual, everyone red-faced and genial, talking that little bit more loudly as people who have been outdoors all day tend to do. The fact that it was fully dark outside by suppertime at this time of year was usually a bit of a downer, but tonight the darkness outside the windows, broken by the frosty glow of the campus streetlamps and the lights in the windows of other buildings, seemed almost homey when viewed from the brightly lit, happily communal dining hall.

"It's going really well," Lindsey remarked, her own voice raised to be heard over the cheerful din.

"So far, so good," Kaname replied.

Everyone raced through dinner at an unseemly pace, in anticipation of what came afterward. Kaname had the sense that she was leading a parade, or perhaps an unusually chipper protest march, as the Res Group West students streamed out onto the Common, past the frozen fortifications of Fort Sagara (the red one opposite had, inevitably, been called Fort Tesla), and met up with the smaller contingent from Res Group East in the center of the snowy expanse.

Here loomed the Fire Pile, several tons of wood and other combustible material, intricately stacked and interlocked by students under the supervision of Professors Hammond and Mikelewski of the civil engineering and physics departments, respectively. Maya Ibuki, the chemistry department's beloved Science Ninja, had provided a massive quantity of some highly classified accelerant, dousing the stack with a contraption that looked like the kind of thing an airport would use to foam the runway, and it had been soaking in all day. She guaranteed that, exposed to a temperature above a very specific threshold, the whole heap would be fully involved within moments.

Hearing the target temperature, Sosuke perked up slightly and remarked, "A phased plasma rifle in the 40-kilowatt range would achieve that temperature easily."

"No, Sosuke, you cannot use a plasma rifle to light the bonfire," Kaname told him. "Spirit, where would you even get one of those? Don't answer that."

"Are we ready?" Kaname asked the night in general. A roar like that of the crowd at a sporting event was her response. She turned to Sosuke. "Sergeant-at-Arms, do your duty."

Sosuke nodded. Having vetoed the plasma rifle plan, she was expecting him to haul out a firelighter or a road flare at this point, but instead, he turned and marched away from the Pile, the crowd of students parting to let him pass, until he stood about forty yards away. Then he reached into his coat and pulled out a pistol-shaped object that glinted brass-golden in the glow of the streetlights. This he proceeded, with a sort of ceremonious precision, to break open like an old-fashioned shotgun, so that he could slide a fat plastic shell into its breech and snap it shut. As he thumbed back the hammer and raised it, aiming into the air above everyone's head, Kaname could see that the device's muzzle was belled like a trumpet, and in that instant she recognized it. She'd seen something just like it in a movie once.

Sosuke pulled the trigger, and with a sharp PHUT the antique Very pistol in his hand spat a brilliant red signal flare into the air. It traveled in a hissing parabolic arc, plunked down squarely on top of the Pile, and easily ignited Professor Ibuki's secret accelerant. Fire cascaded down the sides of the stack, racing through the cracks and seams in the timbers, and within moments - just as promised - the whole thing was ablaze, flooding the center of the Common with heat and merry orange light. The student body and assembled faculty broke into spontaneous applause and cheers.

"Oooooo. Classy," Lindsey murmured.

As Sosuke returned to her side, tucking his flare gun back into his coat, Kaname smiled and told him, "OK, I admit it, that was cool."

He nodded cordially. "Thank you, Miss Chidori."

Sunday, February 14, 2410

Sunday morning opened grey and overcast, a suitable air of tension permeating the air, heralding the conflicts to come. Although the morning was still allocated for sledding and ice skating, the majority of students who were involved in Winterfest activites were already directing their attentions towards preparations for that afternoon's entertainment.

By the time lunch rolled around, those students who had chosen to participate in the grand experiment had gathered at the steps of the Student Union facing the Commons. Those who hadn't chosen to participate, yet were still interested in the proceedings, had begun to gather in small groups along the edges of the Commons.

/* Klaus Badelt
"Blood Ritual" (begin at 01:10)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) */

In front of Fort Tesla, Professor Charles Moore had dressed for the occasion in a battle-dress uniform he appeared to have borrowed from the 20th-Century Earth faction of the Institute's Society for Creative Anachronism chapter, the bright red beret on his head displaying his team affiliation plainly. With his hands folded behind his back, he paced up and down before his troops, surveying them with flinty eyes. Many of the freshmen from Kaname's floor were here, keyed up and ready to play. A few wore sports equipment, mainly hockey helmets and a few cricket shinguards. Rory Williams, though not a freshman, had joined his floormates, toting a tall, curved, gaily painted red-and-gold shield he'd appropriated from the Theatre Department props room (a leftover from the previous fall's Shakespeare-on-the-Common production of Julius Caesar).

"Now I want you all to remember something," he said, his voice deliberately pitched in a lower, raspier register than his students were used to. "General Sterling told you on Friday that this was a game. But this is not a game! This is war! And nobody ever won a war with guts alone!" He rounded on them. "Wars are won with brains! And tools! Mr. Weeks!"

"Here!" Shark Week declared.

"Is your invention ready?" Moore demanded.

"Affirmative, sir!" Weeks replied, brandishing what looked like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a firehose.

"All right. Everybody use your heads, think tactically, and don't let those Blue - " He hesitated fractionally. " - bozos taunt you into losing your cool! We're gonna win this thing by fighting smarter, not harder!"

Meanwhile, at Fort Sagara, Professor William MacGregor had adopted an entirely different persona. As a proud son of New Caledonia, he was decked out in the full Highland regalia, as if he'd just arrived from the Battle of Culloden. Most of the Duelists who were taking part were on his side, as well as a handful of the alumni who'd come to campus for the festival. Down in front, Amy Pond - probably the only person in the B'hava'el system who was more Scottish than MacGregor, being from the genuine and original Inverness - had taken his theme fully on board, sporting not only slightly ragged Clan MacIntosh tartan but vivid blue war paint. Nobody else had gone quite that far, but they all looked cheerfully up for a scrap.

"I'll bet ye ennathin'," MacGregor bellowed, his burr even broader than usual, "Old Nancy Moore is over there righ' noow tellin' his kids tha' this is a war, an' ye win a war wi' smarts. Bu' we all knoow tha' isna so! Ye win a war by bein' harder than the other fella! By nae bein' afraid!" He brandished his round Scots targe. "By knoowin' tha' they may take our lives, but never our honor! Now go ou' there an' show 'em wha' for!"

After the faculty-advisor pep talks, the first couple of rounds were almost anticlimactic. Fought with small squads, skirmish-style, they were only intended to test the mechanics and make sure the timing of the game actually worked. The referee panel (two deans, Odo, and President Tiefeld) carried out a few rules adjustments on the fly, tweaking the precise workings of the game based on the results of these rounds, and by one-thirty, everything was in place for the all-hands showdowns to begin.

Blue took the first round, but messily, with heavy losses. Red took the second, but it was a laborious process, featuring a number of gambits that were canny and well-thought-out, but lacked something in spectator appeal. For the third and final, tie-breaking round, the referees ruled that the faculty captains were far too invested in the thing and ordered them off the field, to be replaced with player captains selected by popular demand.

To no one's great surprise, the Duelist-heavy Blues immediately dragooned their emerita VP, the most senior member of the Interscholastic Duelists' Federation participating in the game. To no one else's great surprise, the Hamlin 4th-dominated Reds responded by naming their beloved RA.

Stepping to the center of the pitch for the kickoff to Round Three, Kaname grinned and inquired, "You ready for this, Utena?"

Utena Tenjou responded with a trademark grin of her own and replied, "Let's give 'em a show."

"Oh it is on," Lindsey Willows cried happily from the Blue side as the 30-second warning horn sounded. The two captains shook hands ceremoniously, parted and walked back to their lines.

"What's the plan, Miss Chidori?" Sosuke inquired as Kaname entered the Red command post.

Kaname grinned. "That's your department, Sergeant-at-Arms."

Sosuke looked a little taken aback for a moment, then smiled slightly and gestured for the others to gather around. When they had, he indicated points on the big tactical map and began rapping out instructions: "Kazama. Holstein. Kruger. Proceed to point delta-four and await Miss Chidori's signal. Avoid engagement until that time if at all possible. Yumemiya, Wáng, Williams, I need you right here. Woods, Hallard, Senoh, echelon left. Mukai, Inaba, Zak, echelon right. Everyone else, stay here, defense formation C, but be prepared to move out. Miss Chidori, you're with me."

Outside, the "commence game" siren wailed. Kaname's grin widened; she clapped the sergeant on one shoulder, grabbed a snowball out of the nearest bin, and said, "Right, then. Let's get it on!"

/* Dropkick Murphys
"Hang 'Em High"
Going Out in Style (2011) */

Red's assault force burst out of Fort Sagara with a suddenness and cohesion that took Blue somewhat by surprise - they were clearly expecting a few opening minutes of probing attacks and feints, not a frontal assault - but they were ready to defend themselves. The main force encountered heavy resistance almost from the start, first in the form of plunging fire from the Fort Tesla battlements, then - as they drew nearer - direct fire from the front-line defenders. Trainee Invader Zak was the first to get it, falling with a despairing cry of "I have failed you, my Not-Quite-As-Tallest!" as they crossed the centerline of no-man's-land. On the left flank, Irina Woods was next to go, although - with a mighty effort - she dispatched her roommate even as she fell.

When they reached the outer perimeter of the Blue side itself, Sosuke put the next phase of his plan into action, relaying instructions through Kaname and her handy-talky. On the far side, having crept into position all but unnoticed amid the fury of the frontal attack, Shinji Kazama's sapper team began scaling the rear of the fort, stealthily eliminating the handful of Blues chafing at their rearguard assignments. Once they were in position, Kaname - at a tense nod from Sosuke - ordered the breaching phase to commence.

Arika, Nina, and Rory broke away from the main force and ran for the Unionside front corner of the opposing team's fort, Sosuke and Kaname a bit to their right, the rest of the formation trailing a few paces and maintaining volley fire over their heads. To the left, in the most exposed position on the wedge, Rory hustled along next to the two girls, keeping them covered with his giant shield. Arika glanced at her roommate, asked quickly with a grin, "The one-two?" and received a curt nod in reply.

Nina and Rory sprinted ahead to the base of the fort, using an inside corner of the walls for cover from two sides while Rory hunkered down and grounded his shield to cover the third. Arika took a moment longer to accept snowballs from her teammates, handed to her while on the run. Then, without breaking stride, her arms full of snowballs, she ran straight for Nina, who had crouched down and laced her hands together.

As soon as Arika's foot was in Nina's improvised sling, Nina bent her entire body back and raised her arms, launching Arika into the air with a mighty "HUP!"

Now airborne, Arika easily soared over the upper ramparts of the base, taking the few students stationed up top by surprise. Skillfully thrown snowballs pasted two in the face, and the remainder were dumped, claymore-style, on three more before she landed among their fallen forms. With the top now distracted, Arika called out to her compatriots, "The top's clear! GO GO GO!" As Sosuke, Kaname, and the rest of the assault force scaled the glacis, Arika rushed to the nearest snow bin to resupply for the inevitable counterattack.

When it came, it was massive and furious, all hands on the Blue team rallying to defend the nerve center of their citadel. Had it been anything more serious than a snowball fight, the carnage would have beggared description, because - with the hour growing late - everyone sensed that this was it. Seeing that Blue hadn't had time to mount a strike of their own, Kaname called out most of the reserves she and Sosuke had left behind. The final confrontation, the climactic battle of this epic afternoon, was at hand.

Amid the melee, a hundred little dramas played out individually. In lonely corners of the battlefield, friends, roommates, even brothers and sisters were pitted against each other in this final, feral, merciless phase of the Snow Wars, often with endings that were straight out of Greek tragedy. As everyone had known from the start was inevitable, Amy and Rory exterminated each other all but simultaneously, Rory abandoning his shield upright to protect Kaname's left flank and then fearlessly meeting his lover's banzai charge with one of his own. Off to the right, Nina and Arika perished in a withering crossfire set up by Lindsey and Boba Fett before the former fell to Shark Week's snow bazooka and Tom Palmer - having traitorously agreed to switch teams for balance's sake after Round Two - picked off the latter with a surgically applied snow slider. Onager fire from the upper battlement swept away much of the Red afterguard before Shinji's sappers, striking from behind, could silence the weapon and most of its crew.

Spying the pink streamer of Utena's hair as she jumped down from the doomed onager's platform with black-clad Corwin Ravenhair alongside her, Sosuke turned to Kaname and said, "Miss Tenjou's all yours, Miss Chidori. I'll deal with Ravenhair."

Kaname nodded and went to the left as Sosuke broke right, loading up his non-throwing arm as he went - and so, as everyone had also known would be inevitable, it came down to a snipers' duel between team captains. While their bodyguards were busy annihilating each other with massed fire, Utena Tenjou and Kaname Sterling pitted their pitching arms against each other across the circular gallery overlooking the flag room - a distance, entirely by design, of exactly 60.5 feet. In many ways this was a classic confrontation: lefty versus righty, power versus finesse, Utena's crushingly direct four-seam fastball against Kaname's trademark viciously late-breaking cutter.

While the combatants dug themselves out of the deep spots, brushed themselves off, laughed uproariously, and in a couple of cases got in a little surreptitious making out under cover of snowdrifts before emerging, the final score had to be determined with a frame count of video footage from Chie Hallard's handycam. This showed that, though both teams had suffered 100% losses in that final assault, and therefore, strictly speaking, no one had won Round Three, Red's captain had "lived" exactly 0.027 seconds longer than Blue's. Therefore, based on the overall scores, Red were the afternoon's ultimate winners - though all agreed that, in the final analysis, they'd all won because damn, we are so doing this again next year.

Hearing the verdict at the scorer's table, Utena finished wiping snow out of her eyes, turned to Kaname, and offered her hand again with a smile, remarking, "You've got a hell of a breaking ball there. Good game!"

"Thanks," said Kaname, shaking it. "Are you guys staying for the dance?"

"Wouldn't miss it."

19:00 hrs

Having combed the snow out of their hair, changed clothes, and grabbed a quick dinner, the students reconvened in the Grand Ballroom. This was an altogether less, well, formal affair than the Spring Formal. There was no chamberlain at the Winterfest Dance, no announcement queue, no photo line, not even the standard tacit expectation that the attendees would come as couples (though most still did). In keeping with the Winterfest/Sanity Week theme, it was more like a big, school-sanctioned party: Come as you are and be prepared to get down.

The ballroom was configured in a modified concert auditorium setup. Up on the stage, the briefing equipment from Kaname's introductory speech on Friday had been removed, the curtain closed, and the risers, amps, and stacks of a rock band erected on the apron (along with the Union's upright piano), but down in the main room, the floor was as devoid as ever of seating, apart from the benches along the room's long walls.

Precisely on the dot of seven, the band took the stage, six figures unmistakable to anyone at all familiar with the school's history. A slim, dusky girl with wiry grey hair, her golden eyes glittering in the stage lights; a dark-eyed, auburn-haired young woman in a black tank top printed with an industrial safety sign (DANGER: THIS MACHINE ROCKS AUTOMATICALLY); the massive black-clad form of a Hoffmanite; a slender, blue-haired young man in a ruffly shirt and leather jeans; a bespectacled brunette in what looked to be a white marching-band jacket and cargo pants; and a tiger. Wearing sunglasses.

"Ladies and gentlebeings!" Moose MacEchearn boomed, not requiring amplification to reach the farthest corners of the ballroom with his stentorian voice. "Welcome to the fourth annual Winterfest Dance! We - are the Art of Noise!"

And with no more buildup than that, they were off, laying down the intro of the song they'd chosen as this year's regular opener.

/* Boston
"Peace of Mind"
Boston (1976) */

Kaname watched from the sidelines as her classmates danced and mingled, enjoying the music in the moment. Despite Kate's concerns that the Art of Noise was more accustomed to playing concerts, where the audience might occasionally get up and boogie in the aisles in reaction to one song or another, and not an actual full-on dance, the band acquitted itself admirably. The people around her were gettin' down and feelin' the sound, as the saying went. Kaname half-suspected that Kate had been protesting more as a matter of form than an actual legitimate complaint, anyway. If her expression was anything to go by, Kate was experiencing no doubt about the gig now, as she stepped to the center mic and hit the chorus harmony with Azalynn and Miki on either side of her.

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind

Besides, didn't they play the music for Anthy and Utena's wedding reception? From all reports, that was spectacular, Kaname reflected to herself with a grin. Hutchins, thou dost protest too much.

One of the things the students In the Know were waiting for during the first set of the Winterfest Dance slash Concert was the guest stars. For some time now the Art of Noise had been known within their fan base for abruptly producing the most unexpected guests during their shows, usually without any advance promotion whatever. The Superconducting Supercolliders, Minmay and the Marauders, Sheryl Nome; you just never knew who might suddenly take the stage alongside Kate and the gang during an Art of Noise performance.

The first set ended without one, though, as most of the band left the stage while Kaitlyn stayed behind her bank of keyboards. All the lights went down apart from the one on her as, without comment, she busied herself making some config changes to the stack of gear that stood to her right. This was also part of the Art's standard operating procedure. After a few moments of this she squared herself behind the array, touched a key, and a spine-chilling electric sound planed down to a simple but driving bassline that hammered from the speakers: the signature undercurrent of the most distinctive television music in the galaxy, the theme from Professor Enigma.

She played a very minimalist version of it at first, twice through the main theme with the soaring bridge section in between, held the last note of the outro for a moment... and then started again, this time with a much bigger sound.

/* BBC National Orchestra of Wales w/ Ben Foster
"Doctor Who Series 4 Closing Credits"
Doctor Who Series 4: Original Television Soundtrack (2009) */

This arrangement was new, not precisely any of the many versions that had graced the show's opening titles since its debut in the mid-20th century, with the kind of lush instrumentation that suggested it was meant to be played with a full orchestra's backing. Sharp-eared fans, and there were more than a few in this audience, caught some of the distinctive sounds of the very first arrangement, circa 1963, layered into the soundscape. Others remarked to themselves (it being largely impossible at this point to remark to anyone else) that her synthesizer array was doing a really good job of simulating the sound of an orchestra behind her.

Until the lights came back up in the middle of the reiterated bridge and they saw that she had an orchestra behind her, along with the rest of the Art of Noise. The Art were known for creeping back during the blackout, but to bring an entire concert orchestra with them was taking the stunt to something of a new level.

They finished the theme with a variant on the traditional thundering crescendo. As it was fading, before anyone in the audience recovered enough to start applauding, a woman nobody recognized emerged into the light a short distance from Kaitlyn. About Kate's age and serious-looking, with dark hair pulled back in a rather severe French braid, she was dressed in a kind of Victorian adventuress costume, if "adventuress" in Victorian times had implied two-fisted tomboy action and not unsuitable romantic decisions: white high-collared shirt, blue waistcoat with watch chain, sharply creased turnup trousers and sturdy shoes. She stepped up to the center mic (vacant since Kate was behind the keyboards) and said, in a quiet but intense, portentous voice,

"No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched by intelligences which inhabited the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed we were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded the Earth with envious eyes... and slowly and surely they drew their plans against us."

/* Jeff Wayne et al.
"The Eve of the War"
Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The New Generation (2012) */

Even in a student body as eclectic as DSM's, there were relatively few young people who had heard of the 1970s rock opera version of The War of the Worlds, but after the Art of Noise's performance of its first song, quite a number made mental notes to track it down, even if it had been a bit difficult to dance to - and to find out who the woman was who was doing the narration and the vocals.

"The chances of anything coming from Mars
Are a million to one," he said
"The chances of anything coming from Mars
Are a million to one"
But still they come...

(The first time that refrain appeared, the school's one Martian student got a big laugh from those near her by shrugging with a 'well, hey, what're you gonna do' expression on her face.)

At the song's end, the woman in the Victorian waistcoat broke her character's serious mien with a dazzling great smile and declared, "Ladies and gentlemen, all the way from Westminster Prime, give it up for the BBC Æthereophonic Orchestra!" While they cheered, she raked her fingers through her hair, shaking it out of the braid and down around her shoulders, and suddenly at least a handful of people in the audience realized who she was. She wasn't galactically famous, certainly not to the standard established by other Art of Noise guest stars over the years, but she'd enjoyed a certain amount of success in the Crown Colonies, which were well-represented in DSM's student population.

True, when last they'd seen her, she was appearing in the music video for the one song of hers that had charted off her homeworld, and in that she was blonde and dressed like a skater grrl, not a brunette in Victorian Gentleman drag - but no one who had ever seen Rose Tyler smile like that could ever really be said to forget it.

When the lights went out on the orchestra, Rose and the Art played that one song - a bit poppy by Art of Noise standards in its original incarnation, but they rocked it up nicely, reinforcing some people's suspicions that it had been intended to be harder-edged when originally written. Then she joined them for the Art's signature "welcome guest artists!" number, "I Think I Like It", after which she thanked them and Kate and left the stage. Only once she was gone did it occur to many students that she hadn't actually mentioned who she was, leaving it for the people who knew to explain to the people who didn't.

Naturally, when the lights came up again behind the band, the orchestra was gone, and the Art went on with their second set as if nothing unusual had happened. They looked like they could've gone all night, but even the Winterfest Dance eventually had a curfew, and as the time came up toward 10 PM, they started to wind things up. Kate reiterated the names of her bandmates as, one by one, they dropped out of the long windout of "Sultans of Swing" - a practice she referred to as "outroduction" - and left the stage, until finally she was once more alone. She finished "Sultans" alone, racked her Stratocaster, and went back to the keyboards. For a second it looked like she was just going to start shutting things off, thank everyone for coming, and go, but then a thoughtful look crossed her face and she switched her keyboard-stack mic back on.

"So, listen," she said. "I've been gone for a while - does the school still have that rule about public displays of affection?"

Yes, the crowd replied, a trifle ruefully.

Kate considered that for a second, then said, "Hm. Well... sorry in advance, then," and began to play a slow, deliberate, faintly haunting melody in a synthetic organ voice.

/* Procol Harum
"A Whiter Shade of Pale"
Procol Harum (1967) */

Now that's just mean, thought Kaname wryly. She leaned against the upright of the archway leading out to the Student Union's main lobby, her eyes seeking out various couples and little groups as they danced or just hung out to this last song. Slow numbers at dances and school policies on PDA had always and forever been in opposition, and Kaname was pleased to see that both sides of the eternal divide were doing what they could to maintain détente tonight: the students by not pushing the line too far, their chaperones by not toeing it too strictly. (Indeed, the only really diligent chaperoning going on right now, she noticed with a suppressed giggle, appeared to be Professor Steinberg struggling to keep Professor Sugiura off Professor Hammond, and that had been going on more or less all night.)

There'd been a lot of mixing and matching over the course of the evening, naturally, but for this last number, it seemed like all the school's "canonical" couples were out on the floor. Natsuki and Shizuru, playing it cool, as though they could've just happened to be dancing with anyone, like that was fooling anybody. Chie and Aoi - strange to see them moving so slowly under any circumstances. Amy and Rory might've been the only people out there, so collected and smooth she could almost believe they'd done this a thousand times. Shark Week and Nelyna, hey, why not. Steve Dukat and Nita Daran, ditto. Kazuya and Akane, no surprises there. Mizuki and - hang on, Mizuki and Boba Fett, really? Well, OK, he's a lot better than the last jerkweed she dated.

And so it was later
As the miller told his tale
That her face at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale...

Kaname smiled to herself. Yeah, see, this was why she got involved in things like this. Not for power or for glory, but for the satisfaction of seeing her friends having a good time and knowing that she had a hand in making it come to pass.

She suddenly detected a presence at her side; turning, she saw Sosuke Sagara, a flute of mineral water in each hand. He presented one to her, keeping the other for himself.

"Thanks," she said. "You know, Mileva did have a great idea. You guys really came through for me. That was the perfect way to cap off the festival and set everything up for the dance." She grinned. "People'll be talking about this year's fest for years."

Sosuke inclined his head. "Then I must conclude that Operation WINTERFEST is a success, Miss Chidori."

Kaname gave Sosuke a cockeyed grin, as she lifted her glass of water and tapped it against Sosuke's. "I'll drink to that."

And so they did.

"DSM Panic! Mission 5: Operation WINTERFEST" (a Symphony of the Sword Mini-Story) by Philip Jeremy Moyer and Benjamin D. Hutchins
Special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2013 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited

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