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(Collab between me and Judge)

Nightfall had just began to cover the small Japanese town known as Hakone, a small tourist trap south-west of Tokyo known for its hot springs, scenery, and being the quintessential image of a mountain town. Street lights glistened as a single taxi pulled into one of the market regions. The lone passenger pressed her fist on her cheek, pushing back her long brown hair while looking out the window.

I can’t treat these things like a vacation…

As the vehicle got closer to her destination, she pondered in thought. After a weekend of trying out hot springs and many other recreational activities, all she wanted to do was rest in her hotel. However, this was no average woman. This was Celestial Being’s tactical forecaster, sent on a mission to find one of the missing pieces of their puzzle.

The car came to a halt across from a small sake bar. She felt this was the perfect place to meet up with the possible recruit. Close enough to Tokyo to not be remote, but far enough away to avoid any unwanted attention. Not only would they be alone, but the forecaster felt that a few drinks could make the event a little more exciting. Pushing through the wooden door, there were only a few seats against the bar, but only one patron. “Yep, that’s him.” She pondered, noticing how… broken he looked. 

At first, their choice of meeting place had confused the man but now that he was sitting there in that quiet little bar, he supposed he understood. There wouldn’t be any Union types here. Just locals and tourists. And himself of course, sitting at the bar and endlessly turning a glass of beer with his left hand, a small gesture that carried a heavy weight for him. Perhaps it was just the missing hand or his posture giving her this idea, but it wasn’t want she was expecting for someone who’d pilot their mobile suit. 

It had been a few months since the accident, but his body still ached with the pain of it, still bore its scars. He had pulled the hood of his cast-off sweater up over his head and refused to take it down in public, refused to remove the sunglasses he thought he could hide behind, refused to look down at the empty space where a part of him used to be lest he acknowledge its absence and with it the absence of everything that had made him him over the last couple of years. 

But these people, this Celestial Being, had implied that his loss might not have to be where it all ends for him. The man heard a car pull up on the street outside, followed soon after by the slamming of the door, the clicking of shoes drawing nearer and nearer.

She’d decided to wear a nice red blouse and black pants for the occasion, hoping to keep a professional persona, but part of the forecaster felt like it wouldn’t matter much. Plus, the other customer started to remind her of herself. Taking a seat next to him, she glanced at the array of sake aligning the wall in front of them. “Thank you for meeting with me.” She smiled at the person, then looked back at the drink. “Which one would you recommend? I’ll buy yours too, of course.” She hoped to start some small talk before getting to the real conversation.

There was no doubt about it, this was her, this was them.

This was Celestial Being.

She asked him a question, wondered what sake he would recommend her. He glanced at her askance from beneath his hood. 

“This some kind of test?” he croaked at first. He shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know. It all tastes the same to me now,” he did his best to avoid meeting her gaze with his own and, like a wounded animal, tucked away that empty spot, what remained of what once was whole, so that she couldn’t see it.

This’ll be harder than I thought.

Although she considered herself a connoisseur for these types of drinks, the forecaster knew he was right. The taste didn’t matter, only whether it could take the pain away or not. Pointing at one of the green bottles, a bartender poured the liquid into a nearby glass, sending it her way. “No tests here.” She responded to the other patron as she took a sip of her drink.

Hm… Sour…

Apparently she’d chosen wrong.

Opting to not continue with the sake, for now, she decided to handle this situation with the prospect a little more delicately. There was a reason why Celestial Being would want a broken man like this and she wanted to not only persuade him to join the cause, but to better him as well. A plan was also already put in motion for him to pilot the first new generation mobile suit, which could possibly be benefitted by the pilot’s disability.

Staring at the slight lipstick smudge on the glass, she started to speak again. “You already know why I’m here, but I wanted to go into detail with you in person.” The bartender had already left for the back room, leaving the two alone. The man watched as the bartender disappeared into a backroom and he instinctively tensed up before allowing himself to relax. There were no enemies here, he thought to himself. And even if there were, what did he have to lose? 

“The reason we’ve offered this job was to give you another chance. A chance to actually change the world with your skills and be someone new.” The forecaster noticed the patron attempting to hide his lost appendage. Saddened to see the state he was in, she hoped to brighten his spirits. “I know about the hand.” She stated as she took another sip. When she mentioned his hand, he tucked it away even more. “We can give you a new one. Not just a regrown one like the hospitals do, but an actual improvement over a regular hand.” She tried to look him in the eyes, but the patron was making it a difficult task.

“Why me? Why waste your time and money on fixing up some broken nobody?” he asked, turning his accusing gaze on the brightly dressed lady. “If it’s because of my credentials, I’m sure you can find someone twice as good as me without any of the investment. Or is it because of my condition? If you’re looking for some charity case you can turn into a puppet for good PR, you may as well walk out that door right now,” 

The man caught his left hand clenching itself into a fist once more. He let out a sigh and tried to relax himself again but found it more difficult than before. His own words—not hers—had gotten the better of him. He shook his head and took a sip of the warm, tasteless beer in front of him. As he set it down, he scanned the bottles lining the shelves behind the bar, trying his best to clear his mind before speaking again. 

“I want to make this world a better place, lady. My hand aside, no one wants a hero who looks like me, so I have to stop and wonder what your game is and why you’ve come here. “

Once again, the patron did bring up a good point. While Celestial Being did work in mysterious ways, the more he talked, the more she began to wonder if maybe he wasn’t the right choice for them. However, she felt the same way once. The group picked a tactical forecaster who made one of the biggest mistakes in warfare, after all. 

All those people I killed. I… killed him…

In order to stop reliving those painful memories before any tears started to appear, she pulled up her glass, drinking a little more than necessary. As she put it back down, the patron’s words lit up in her head like a lightbulb. “Wait a minute!” She spoke, moving slightly closer to the man in excitement. “We won’t have to fix this ‘broken nobody’ if they no longer exist.” Thoughts started to race through her, giving her many ideas.

The man leaned away from Sumeragi as she moved closer in her excitement. Her outburst had taken him by surprise. “No longer…” the man narrowed his eyes behind his sunglasses. “What the hell are you—” but she kept going, explaining her grand idea. 

“This person next to me can be gone, because all I see is a man named Alistair sulking away in bars, wasting his life.” Quickly finishing her drink, she did wish the bartender could fill her glass up again, but that wasn’t the priority.

At the mention of his name, the man winced but said nothing. His own name seemed so foreign now, completely detached from the person—the thing—that he had become. It almost saddened him to hear it spoken aloud, a grim reminder of all that he had apparently lost, of what the Union had taken away, but he pushed on and listened to her speak on. 

“We have codenames.” The forecaster continued. “But you can become more than that, and not just with a new hand. You could dye your hair, change your clothes.” She also thought he would hopefully take a shower, but that DEFINITELY wasn’t the time to say that.

“You can make the world better with your skills, but at the end of the day, you know inside that you can’t keep going like this.” She stopped, wondering if she got too excited, or if the sake had a much higher alcohol level than she’d thought.

“If you change now, the world will automatically become better. That’s what I believe.”

When she finished, he let silence hang between them. The man stared at Sumeragi from behind his coloured lenses, his mouth a firm, unyielding line.

“You really think it’s that easy? That I can just dye my hair and change the way I dress and that’ll help make the world a better place?” he said the words with disbelief, but as he heard them again, they began to sink in. He turned away from her and made to grab his beer, his fingers jabbing into the glass clumsily and nearly knocking it over. He watched it wobble back and forth for but a moment before his hand shot out again and steadied the glass, which he contemplated deeply for a moment before releasing it once again.

An image came to him then, seemingly out of nowhere. Not of the man he was, but the man he could be.  Alistair turned to the woman again and brought a hand up to his face, taking away the orange tinted sunglasses and revealing two brown eyes, one of them severely bloodshot. 

“I’m going to need a lot of work. For whatever reason, the Union wrote me off. To them, I officially died somewhere over the south Pacific. So if you and your organization are willing to put in the time and effort, are willing to acknowledge that I’m still alive and give me back my life, then that life will be committed to achieving peace no matter what it takes.”  

Alistair nodded, mostly to himself. “But I get to pick my codename. I’m not going to let you saddle me with something ridiculous.”

Jackpot!

The plan had worked out extremely well. The forecaster knew the only way to win this man over was to have him regain his confidence. Apparently, this required him to completely change everything about himself. As the patron took off his sunglasses, she finally got to look him in the eyes, silently agreeing with his statement of “needing a lot of work”.

Let’s hope the other Meisters will be a lot easier to convince…

The forecaster stood up out of her chair as she paid, assuming the bartender at the hotel could help with her problem, but the one here was done. “We got ourselves a deal then. Welcome to the team.”

She smiled as started to walk out, but stopped to put her hand on his shoulder. “My name is Sumeragi, by the way. I can’t wait to know yours.”

Her heels tapped on the wood floor, interrupting her train of thought about what he was going to end up looking like, but then she realized the man needed a few more details. After all, it wasn’t like he was needed immediately. “We’ll keep in contact with you.” Sumeragi looked back at him while opening the front door.

“When the time comes, we’ll make you ready. See you soon.” Waving out the door, the hardest part of her day was over, but it also meant Celestial Being was given a new beginning.

Alistair watched as Sumeragi left the bar and then silently turned his attention back to his beer. He took a sip and recoiled at the warmness of the beverage, setting it back down again. The man thought on the woman’s parting words with a wry smile as he watched the bar tender slink back in from the other room. 

“Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” he mused to himself. “Sounds about right for a shady secret organization.” The bartender had busied himself with clearing the woman’s glass and coaster, making quick, furtive glances at the severe man still at the bar. The employee reached for the money and began counting the bills. 

“I’ll have another, actually. What she had,” Alistair said a moment later. The bartender stopped mid-count, gave the man a long look and then nodded. 

“Of course. Right away,” he said, preparing a glass of sake and placing it in front of him. Alistair thanked the man but did not drink right away. Instead, he looked at his reflection in the drink and thought once more about the words Sumeragi had left him with. 

Can’t wait to know…my name…

The man grabbed his drink and took a hasty gulp, letting it coat his mouth before downing it. His face wrinkled and he let out a gasping cough. “Good lord,” he wheezed. The bartender whirled around to look at his patron who was still coughing. Alistair had all but lost his sense of taste but that woman’s palette was either worse off than his was or more refined than he could’ve ever imagined. When at last the coughing fit had subsided, Alistair turned to look at the door and shook his head. 

I better watch out for that one…

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