"I would like to help Fei and the others, but...I don't know how much use I'll be without any kind of gear, though..." Ramsus admitted.
Sigurd and Jesse looked at each other, then Hyuga said, "We have something to show you first. Let us grab your coat out of the barracks."
Kahr got up and Sigurd led the way. The coat was grabbed without incident, though not re-donned, and Hyuga began leading them further into the ship. "Where are we going, Hyu?" Kahr asked, having absolutely no clue what to prepare for.
"Something that might convince you to join us if you're still on the fence," he replied.
"I have an axe to grind with the right people this time," Ramsus said. "Stick me in a Tin Robo, I don't care, as long as I can help chop Krelian down to size."
Jesse let out a rough cackle. "As mad as you are, you could do it! Change of plans, we have to stop back over to Dazil and comb the desert searching for the most beat-up Tin Robo we can find!"
Ramsus couldn't help but chuckle a little. "I'm serious, I'll fuckin' do it."
"You won't have to settle for that, Kahr, don't worry," Sigurd chuckled.
"What's that supposed to mean? I had to leave Vendetta in Nisan when Lieutenant Van Houten...did...whatever she did to make it stop work...ing..."
They had reached the hangar, and although it was half-taken apart, he still recognized Vendetta. He stopped and ran up to the guard rail, gawking. The other Ex-Elements formed up behind him. "No...no way."
"It's no Tin Robo, but we hoped you would find this acceptable," Sigurd said. "The techs made a breakthrough last night."
Hyuga spoke next. "Its locomotion was arrested, and a lot of the systems were still pointing to the Anima Relic that had transformed it. It will not be battle-ready for another few days, should you decide to join us. If what Fei has to say makes you reconsider, we will have to pull our techs back to service the active combat gears, but I think Vendetta knows that its master still has a part to play."
"How on earth do I...repay you for even starting this?" He kept his back to the rest of them so they couldn't see the tears in his eyes.
"Emperor Cain was well aware of your true identity, Kahr. All he had to do was look at you to know who you were," Hyuga said, stepping forward to stand next to him. His expression and tone of voice softened when he could see his old friend about to cry. "You were the warning that let him know that his time had run out. It was a hope of his that you would come to see how you were being used, but the web Krelian had woven around you and Emperor Cain prevented either of you from helping each other."
Kahr put his head down and tried to squeeze the tears out of his eyes with one of his hands. The other hand had clamped very tightly down on his coat, much like he had clung to the blankets earlier. He felt like a child, or at least how he thought a child might feel.
"If you wish to talk of payment owed, count your suffering thus far, and worry no further. Emperor Cain's will, when I entered into his service, was to protect humanity. I see your recuperation, the restoration of your gear, and an opportunity to join the fight against Krelian, as being perfectly in line with that will."
It was upsetting for Hyuga to see Kahr the way he was in Merkava, but the sob he let out next legitimately scared him. "No, this isn't the way it goes. Shit like this doesn't happen to me. I owe you more than I could ever hope to repay, and one of you is secretly one of the Gazel or something. That's the only way this works."
"I know it is difficult to seed self-worth, Kahr, but please know that my words are not hollow. I am who I am today because of you. Had Emperor Cain been completely blindsided by Krelian's treachery, there would have been no need for me at all. He had been convinced for ten thousand years that the resurrection of God was the only meaningful thing the people of this world were capable of doing, that all that had transpired on this planet was of no worth at all. Without you, all of us would be dead already, or part of that thing, with no will of our own to speak of."
"This is way too much, Hyuga. I'm just--"
"If you say you are trash around me one more time, Kahran Ramsus, I am going to snap. I do not care what you were. I care about who you are, and who you will be! I did not meet a disembodied brain fourteen years ago. I met an inspiring young man! Someone who saved Sigurd from being ground up in the Soylent System, someone who helped Jesse's radically leftist ideals take root in our culture. Before Emperor Cain took me into his confidence, I thought you were just a spoiled and blue-blooded first class idealistic brat, and I was still impressed with you. Knowing your journey to the absolute top was so much harder than I thought it was has only made me admire you more. If you are worthless, Kahr, what on earth does that make me? What on earth are Sigurd and Jesse? What on earth are your girls?"
Kahr sniffed and looked him in the eye. "I...I'm sorry, Hyu..." He realized he'd never quite been this close to Hyuga Ricdeau before, even at Jugend. Hyu had always kept himself one step removed from him, and he was never sure if it was because he disliked him or not. The look on Hyuga's face now—a look of sympathetic admiration—finally dispelled that fear of being disliked. "I...was so distracted."
Hyuga found himself staring into Kahr's deep amber eyes and had to shake his head. "I do not think I need to go into detail about how much I adored Emperor Cain. I have a lot to tell you about him, but there is not a whole lot of time right now. I will tell you this, though. He said to me once, 'If you ever wonder what I look like, look at Kahran Ramsus, imagine his skin could tan in the sun, and then add ten thousand years to him.'"
Kahr allowed himself a chuckle. "He sounds like he had a good sense of humor. I'm a little envious."
"I do not think there is anyone in the world who would not envy Emperor Cain, Kahr."
Sigurd shifted his weight and cleared his throat. "I wasn't expecting this much of a reaction at seeing Vendetta again, but before you get more worked up, it does have some...external damage done to it by the survivors of your attack on Nisan. Those that are left...aren't very happy with you right now."
"I ran into Mother Marguerite earlier...she...made her unhappiness quite clear."
Sigurd nodded. "And I think you already know how I feel about it, too."
"I would like to show you and the girls' room. As angry as I am with you, you do have Fei to talk to next, so I'd rather not knock you down any further than you already are. I feel badly about it, but...you destroyed most of Nisan, and I can't ignore that, Kahr. Bart won't be able to ignore it, either, so...I don't know, just don't expect anything from the Fatimas for a while."
The Ex-Elements continued their walk through the hangar. The girls' gears were lined up in front of his, with temporary ramps and leading up to them. Ramsus looked up at Vendetta, half-disassembled and its wires mostly exposed, and thought, You look just as exposed as I feel. He turned his attention back to Sigurd as he showed him the way to the room.
"This used to be one of the spare parts rooms. I'm afraid it's not much nicer than the barracks, but it's much more private..."
The ice in Sigurd's tone made him panic in regards to what had transpired in the barracks with Dominia earlier. "It's more than..." I deserve. "...generous, Sig. Thank you so much."
Sigurd smiled politely. "We've been hoping very fervently that you'd come around, Kahr. I'm sorry it took losing everything else you had to make you see."
Kahr half-smiled. He could still see the hostility behind Sigurd's polite mask. "I'm sorry, too."
Sigurd continued, "When you had to leave Vendetta in Nisan, Margie asked us to have it removed. Some of the survivors of your assault made it a project out of vandalizing it."
Ramsus walked over to Vendetta's ankles to inspect the Nisanite graffiti, but Jesse stepped ahead of him, attempting to block his view of an artfully painted SOLARIAN PIG-FUCKER that was as tall as both of them. "You ain't exactly in the best state to look at this, Kahr."
"I'm suddenly kinda glad my grasp of surface common has eroded." Ramsus stared blankly at the mural, which Jesse was suddenly less concerned about shielding his eyes from. He couldn't make out any of the words, but the Nisan cross was etched in several places around Vendetta's feet enough for him to understand, as well as several crudely scrawled upside down, crossed out and pissed on Solarian emblems. He seemed rather unaffected until he spotted a couple of stick figures that looked very much like Lieutenant Van Houten bending him over. It was nothing more than a smear of red, purple and yellow paint, but its arrangement meant enough to him for him to recognize it. "Well...this one isn't inaccurate..." There were a limited number of people in Nisan that knew his uniform and his hair color, so he figured it must have been done either by one of Van Houten's men that had defected from Gebler to stay by her side, or Mother Marguerite herself. He could feel his anxiety start to rise again.
"I thought I asked you to get on removing that before he saw it, Sigurd," Hyuga growled.
Sigurd was poised to retort with a catty remark, but Kahr shook his head. "No, keep it. Keep all of it." The others looked at each other, concerned. Ramsus could see their reaction in Vendetta's gold-chrome plating without having to turn around. "I might change my mind after I can read it again, but I dunno. Right now, it's...funny. Maybe it'll be good luck when I roll up in Merkava to fight God. Who knows? It might be distracting enough to get an extra hit in."
"How exactly do you...forget surface common?" Jesse scratched his head.
Ramsus looked at his feet. "I kinda...let a few things get rusty when I became the commander of Gebler. I figured I'd never need it, surrounded on all sides all the time by my troops and Miang. I was spoiled, and they were happy to keep me spoiled." He was starting to fold back in on himself, and the others could see it, too.
"How about this?" Sigurd suggested, "We can get you some charts to study while Vendetta is rebuilt and you regain your strength. No one else needs to know."
"I'd like that, thank you. I...don't care who knows, really. I've been a spoiled brat, and this takes the polish edge off an otherwise free ride. I've always had something to prove to someone. Better you than Krelian."
Sigurd sighed. "I wish I wasn't so mad at you, Kahr." One of the Yggdrasil's crew came up to him with the rest of Ramsus' uniform before he could say anything more. He took it and offered it to him. "Would you like to change into something a little more familiar, just for now?"
"I'm not sure. How many people know me and remember me as an enemy in this uniform? Solaris is gone. It doesn't mean anything to anyone anymore."
"I'm sure it means something to the girls, though," Jesse said.
"And it was given to you by Emperor Cain himself," Hyuga added.
Ramsus took a deep breath in and out and nodded. "All right. Let's do this."