Aug 25, 2018
Earth, Thirty-five years before Operation Typhon

She was but five years old when the battle for Earth ended with the victor decided.

Five years, so young, born into the conflict. So very, very young, yet old enough. Old enough to remember, to remember as hope soared in the hearts and faces of everyone around her while her tiny hand was holding to her mom’s as hard as her chubby arm could. But while the Elaima around her all had hope in their hearts none of it showed on their faces.

And why would it? It was not hope for the present, for the present was already won, but hope for the future. Hope for a future free of oppression, hope for a future of freedom.

And so, while hope soared in all their hearts, it was not with hope that all the people of Earth looked into their various screens at that moment, but rather fervent reverence.

It was the moment that was etched into the hearts and souls of every being alive on the planet at the time, the rallying cry of freedom. The triumphant moment that was a culmination of the combined determination of the whole Earth. And young Laura Aikaterine was no exception. She was more aware of the state of things than normal kids her age. For even then her special talents had been recognized, and with heavy hearts her parents had given their permission for the Elaiman resistance to hone and train her. Despite being so very young, the conflict was already shaping her in its image.

Perhaps by that point already, despite how young she was, despite the promise of peace delivered by the Kurogane, perhaps it was already too late. It was a question that plagued Markos Agnides unto his death at the world’s end. That they had botched things bad with Laura Aikaterine was unquestionable. Had they ever done anything right?

Island nation of Maake
Thirty-three years before Operation Typhon

The peace did not last. It never did. And later, when she was on her own in the broken ruins of the planet, Laura mused on how naïve everyone had been then; to expect that the peace would - could - ever last.

But at the time it shocked the Elaima of Maake, and the entire world besides. Everyone on the planet had banded together to earn their freedom. To see the people that had less than two years ago fought side by side in harmony were now at each others’ throats, mercilessly slaughtering one another over some worthless patch of land, came as a great shock.

Yet though people had expected the peace to last, that did not mean that the hard lessons learned during their rebellion and uprising were lost and forgotten. The scars and lessons learnt were still fresh in the minds and bodies. Too much so even. While the officials had stopped Laura’s training once the Uyudaro-class had been drilled by Kurogane, deeming it as unnecessary now that they had peace, with the news of the new conflict it did not take long for the grim-faced agents of the still-emerging nation to return to the doorsteps of the Aikaterine household. To begin Laura’s training anew.

The training would not be as intense as it had been, they were assured by a weary and bitter Markos, it would be an extracurricular activity, it would not replace her school. Laura would still be allowed to live the life of a normal child, just with an extra… hobby as it were, until she was older when she would be moved to a full military education.
Her parents accepted. In truth, they had little choice, but even if they had they wouldn’t have refused. Not when their precious baby girl looked so happy at the news.

What was the harm in it? The burgeoning nation would benefit from Laura’s talents, and Laura enjoyed the education, the squeal of joy made that quite clear.

Island nation of Maake
Thirty-one years before Operation Typhon

The first sign that something was not quite right came half a year after Markos Agnides had restarted Laura’s training. She had just turned seven, and while the lack of other children in the small and quiet birthday party had worried her parents they soon had greater things to be worried about.

Laura had been a part of a playground altercation. Something normal, something that every child is a part of at least once.

What was not normal was for the other side of the altercation to ‘walk’ out of it with second degree burns on their face. Laura had just barely missed taking out Antony’s eye, and was currently being lectured at for her actions.

Laura stared indignantly back at the faces of her parents, mister Markos and the fat principal. She had done nothing wrong! Antony deserved having his eye taken out. And what was he even doing here? So far he had done as much as he did at school - fat load of nothing.

The faces Mum and Dad were making did hurt, however, but she was certain they’d understand. They were great like that.

Markos rubbed his face. “Why Laura? Why did you do it? You almost took his eye.”

From the look on her face, Mum looked about ready to explode, but before she could Laura huffed, expressing her indignance at this whole farce. “That’s what I tried to do!” She cried out. “He deserves to have his eye burnt, he kept making fun of Fadja’s eyes and how they can’t look at the same place! He should have to go through it himself, see how he likes it!”

Everyone stared at her for a moment, with her Dad pinching the bridge of his nose to indicate his consternation. “Sweetie, that’s no reason to attack someone so savagely as to destroy their eye. Just punch them instead.”

“Forget about that for a moment!” Her Mum huffed and puffed, turning to Markos. “You said - you promised - that you wouldn’t teach her anything lethal or even close to it until much later! For Ende’s sake she’s only seven! What do you think you are doing to our daughter!?”

“We have not.”

Laura squirmed in her seat. “I did it…” Her voice trailed off in the face of the disappointed and angry looks of the people she looked up to, and Fatty, and she sunk deep within herself and the seat both. “Markos and the others always compliment me whenever I show initiative or do well so… I’ve been tinkering with the candlelight Dogma…”

In the end, the fat bully that was her principal forced her to stay home for the rest of the school year and she had to redo her year, and her training with Markos was halted for a month as well. Her parents had several stern conversations with her about her attack on Antony, and during her break from training she was taught ‘proper ethics and morals’ by blabbering, stupid philosophers.

Laura hated philosophers.

But at least Antony left Fadja alone and steered clear from Laura.

As did everyone else, even her friend. But Laura was fine with it. The wary, scared, downright lost looks of everyone except Fadja were actually really funny.

Earth, Island nation of Maake
Twenty-nine years before Operation Typhon

Laura loved her training. It was far better than the stinky, stuffy school she was forced to attend with the sheep swarms. Her instructors always made it so very fun.

And instead of getting more boring through the years like school did, it only ever got more exciting!

The obstacle courses she had to clear perfectly kept getting more and more intricate, with more conditions and challenges piled on throughout with each subsequent course.

This one had her get into the heart of the improvised compound the training hall had been turned to to draw an image to the object that would be found there. To get there she had to avoid the notice of patrols, whether by sight or sound, leave as little traces of her passage as possible, and solve puzzles on her way further in. All while keeping a little floating will o wisp alight in front of Markos.

It was her third time attempting it. The first time she had been caught, and she had run out of time the second. But this time, this time she would do it. The previous failures had taught Laura much about this challenge set ahead of her - the solutions to the puzzles and the patrol routes did not change between attempts, ‘to better simulate gathered intelligence you would have on the field’ or something like that, as Markos had put it.

More like no one other than Markos would be bothered to put in that much effort for this, and his underlings would rise up in open rebellion if he tried to force them. She was pretty comfortable in her theory being closer to the truth than Markos’ explanation.

Which was why it was so vexing to both Laura and the rest when an alarm blared when she was puzzling out one of the last puzzles. The sudden, ear-piercing noise that blared and rung through the obstacle course hardly could be anything else. More frustratingly for the young girl, the surprise made her jump and lose her concentration.

A third failure. Markos called the alarm a ‘sudden shift in the mission parameters that you need to be prepared for as the situation could change at any moment.’

Laura called it unfair meddling. For once the praise she always received for the things she had done well failed to make her feel better, frustrated abou the unfair meddling as she was.

Earth, The Island nation of Maake
Twenty-six years before Operation Typhon

The Fat Bully kept on droning. On and on, his dull monotone tones kept on delivering the meandering speech he likely thought was inspiring, and Laura wanted to go burn several of her target dummies Markos and his fellow instructors liked to give her as her target.

Graduation really was just the most magical of times. Forced to stand around in a gym hall packed to the brim with sweaty idiots with their heads buried so far down in the ground even their lungs were underground.

The most esteemed principal had been going on for fifteen minutes now, and the only thing that was keeping Laura on her seat was reminiscing about the openly surprised faces of everyone when she had actually shown up to the graduation ceremony. The looks of bored resignation on the other attendees only did so much.

But ultimately the only reason Laura had yet to loudly moan their doomed fates and bang her head against the chair in front of her was that this wasn't the moment to make a scene. Not yet.

Eventually, at long last, the torturous speech came to an end and the ceremony moved to the part why they all, Laura included, were here. The Suckup Awards. Awarding the biggest teacher’s pets and suckups with various awards while expounding on all their various ‘achievements.’

Still she patiently sat on her seat, until the Grand Suckup was to be rewarded. And everyone knew that it would be Matilde. Such a sweet suckup she was, loved and adored by all and with high grades. And, if Laura was asked, an insufferably arrogant ass who always looked at her like she was superior, despite living in blissful ignorance like everyone else. She’d never have to see her again after today. Matilde would go on to do… whatever it was that perfect suckups did, while Laura would go do what she had been trained for for as long as she could remember, join Reflection.

But that did not mean that Laura did not want some payback for all those smirks and looks only someone utterly convinced of their superiority over some half-insane failure would throw. And so when Matilde was called for the Grand Suckup, she was not the only one who rose from her seat, with Laura rising up as well, the legs of her chair screeching against the floor loudly. A minor distraction all in all, but more than enough to ruin the moment for Matilde, hungry for attention as she was.

Their eyes met, and Laura graced Matilde with a single word before marching out of the hall, slamming the doors open as loudly as possible. Toodles.

Laura did not leave for home immediately. She still had to find Matilde’s bike - not hard to do, she had been planning for this for a while - move it around - harder to do with the lock on it, the bike being stolen would ruin it all and destroying property would lead to more stupid moralistic grandstanding anyway, and finally throw it under a nearby hive of wasps.

Matilde was allergic to their stings.

When Laura finally left the school grounds, the sheep were already starting to pour out of the building. She skipped all the way home, beaming with satisfied delight.

Earth, Island nation of Maake
Twenty-five years before Operation Typhon
A few days before Laura Aikaterine’s, age 15, 'final evaluation' and first combat mission.

Sitting atop her favorite boulder on the shore, idly swinging her leg back and fro, Laura looked out into the vast expanse of the sea opening before her eyes, and into the lands far away out of sight with longing. Just a few more days.

“Just a few days more.” Laura softly repeated her thoughts out loud, giddy with anticipation and joy.

Markos and the rest had finally given her permission to participate on a mission. They had finally seen that she had already learned everything they had to teach her about their trade, that further waiting would be nothing but a waste of resources. Just a few more days until she could finally go out there and show what she had learned over the years.

And oh, what fun will that be. She had so many ideas that had been brewing in her head on how to really incite the nations against one another. The thought made her heart aflutter with excitement and, unnoticed by Laura herself, a grin crept on her features.

She couldn’t wait. She'd show Markos just how well they had trained her.

END of Part 1.