Lucile drummed her manicured nails against her desk. Sara sat in front of her, flanked by Sani and Rachel.
“So what is the issue?” Lucile asked, tapping her index finger against the desk three times in quick succession.
Rachel cleared her throat. “Gabriel’s neural sync levels, which you know are well above average even for his age, have been significantly lower since his return from Earth. We have run him through multiple scenarios over the past three days, but he has been unable form a stable link. The highest rating he achieved was sixty-eight percent during… during the incident in Arena Two.”
“Really, that’s the issue? Because I thought the issue was Gabriel nearly beating an Orbital Knight to death during a training exercise,” Sara said softly. She was promptly ignored as Lucile let out a soft sigh.
“What does that mean, Rachel?” she asked.
“It means he cannot Pilot as the Archangel. At least not until we solve this problem.” Rachel said.
“What is the cause?” Lucile asked, directing the question at Sara.
“I’m not sure,” Sara said with a shrug. “Physically there is nothing wrong with Gabriel. While he suffered quite a few injuries during his time on earth, they are superficial in nature. Well, they are at least treatable, and nothing worse than he has experienced before. As such, I can only speculate that the cause is mental.”
“One would think with your impressive medical background, Sara, you could do more than speculate,” Sani said, a condescending tone slipping into his voice.
Sara smiled at him. “My expertise extends only into the realm of the physical. The lies that people are told to get through the day I leave up to slimy creatures such as yourself.”
“Sara, Sani, this conversation lacks relevance to the matter at hand.” Lucile chided gently. “Now Sani, Rachel, what are our options?”
Rachel spoke first, beating out Sani. “I would recommend we continue to keep Gabriel under medical examination and bed rest. We rushed his recovery and his body reacted adversely. With an extended resting period he could—”
“Could is all very well and good,” Sani cut her off. “But the Archangel program has been trapped in limbo for almost two months now. The people are beginning to grow impatient as their Champion continues to hide away. I have already reached the limit of effectively using Michael as a distraction. Archangel needs to complete a successful mission against the ELA and it must be soon.”
“Gabriel is not ready to Pilot,” Rachel countered. “And it is very likely the high level of stress he experienced on Earth is the cause of this problem.”
Sani gave her an unimpressed look. “If he can no longer handle the stress of battle then he is no longer fit to be the Archangel.”
Rachel ignored his quip. “Furthermore, it will take longer to select a recruit and train them to take over for Gabriel than it will to simply wait for him to recover. He needs time to rest and recover, truly recover, and no amount of pushing or prodding is going to change that.”
“Are you so sure?” Sani asked suddenly.
“Yes,” Rachel said without hesitation. “Even with your list of candidates, to fully train them to the point of being capable to replace Gabriel could take months.”
“That is not what I meant,” Sani said. He looked to Lucile who gave him a small nod to continue. “You were right, Rachel, when you said Gabriel is not someone we can simply hope to replace. That is why I don’t want to replace him.”
“You don’t?” Rachel said cautiously. She did not trust the sudden gleam in Sani’s eye as he stood up and walked to the window, clasping his hands behind his back.
“Tell me, does anyone know Gabriel’s greatest military achievement?” he said
“His battle against Goli?” Sara ventured, answering what everyone else knew to be a rhetorical question.
“No,” Sani said as he turned back to the room. “His greatest achievement was from before he was even the Archangel. Dying and alone he managed to not only activate a Kniv with little formal training, but pilot it well enough to decimate a three Kniv ELA strike force.”
“What is your point, Sani?” Lucile tilted her head to the side, interested in where Sani was going. Rachel already had a feeling she knew and her hands were balled into tight fists.
“Gabriel excels under stress, he does not buckle, as Rachel seems to believe. We have put him in situations that no other Pilot could have survived and he has thrived. We do not need to coddle him, we need to push him.”
“Are you insane?” Rachel was on her feet.
Sani ignored her and spoke directly to Lucile. “The Orbital Knights have finalized their plans for the assault on Freeport. They have requested Archangel to help spearhead the attack.”
“I see.” Lucile leaned back in her seat.
“Lucile!” Rachel was appalled. “You cannot be seriously considering this. Gabriel could barely keep his sync levels high enough to participate in a training exercise. He won’t be ready to contribute in a battle, let alone lead in one.”
“Oh, I think you will find she is more than open to the idea,” Sara muttered beneath her breath, too low for anyone but Rachel to hear.
“Sani, please continue,” Lucile said, ignoring Rachel’s protest. “But do keep in mind your previous failure.”
Sani held up his hands. “I have not forgotten. I am not asking to be put in charge of the military aspects of this mission in any capacity. I will, of course, leave that to Rachel. My main goal is simply to give Archangel the greatest chance of success.”
“And how will you do that?” Rachel asked. “If you force him to Drop into that battle nothing will change. His sync will either be too low to properly function or fail completely. He will die, we will lose a valuable asset, and Novan Morale will plummet.”
“Not if we give him the proper incentive,” Sani said.
“Ah,” Lucile smiled, but it lacked any sense of joy. “Fairy and Chance?”
“Exactly,” Sani said. “Thea Fairchild is already a member of the Alpha Division. It would be a simple matter of pushing Reed Chance into one of the participating Divisions as well.”
“Even as a member, Fairchild has not been approved for combat,” said Rachel. “Neither of them are ready for a battle, especially not one as large scale as this.”
“Something Gabriel will be well aware of.” Sani glanced at Rachel. “How much do you think Gabriel values their lives? Enough to lead Nova to victory?”
“Sani…” Rachel grit her teeth.
“This is the only reason Gabriel has been allowed to participate as a student in the first place,” Sani snapped.
“You’re disgusting,” Rachel spat.
“I am simply doing what is best for Nova,” Sani said with a sniff. “We needed him to form an emotional bond with other Novans, you know this as well as I do.”
“Really?” Sara said, bringing her eyes up to stare at him. “Did you absolutely need him to do that?”
“Yes,” Sani replied without hesitation. “When Gabriel was recruited he had nothing. No family, no friends, no life. There is an old adage that the most dangerous man is the one who has nothing to live for, but that is not true. The most dangerous man is one who has everything to lose.”
Lucile cleared her throat, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. She took in a deep breath and nodded her head. “Sani is correct. Rachel, make the arrangements. As of now both Reed Chance and Thea Fairchild are assigned to the Alpha Division of the Orbital Knights and will participate in the opening wave of the Freeport assault.”
“That is your final decision?” asked Rachel, her voice low.
“Yes,” Lucile said. “Unless you have a counteroffer to Sani’s plan. One that is feasible in the short term.”
“At least give me a week,” said Rachel.
Lucile glanced at Sani. “How long do the Knight’s need to finish their preparations?”
“At least three days,” Sani answered.
Lucile nodded. “Rachel, you may use that time however you see fit to prepare Gabriel. However, regardless of your results, Archangel will participate in this battle.”
“And if Sani’s plan fails?” Rachel glanced at Sani who stared back at her with a confident smile. “What will we do if the Archangel cannot lead Nova to victory?”
“Then Gabriel will no longer be considered viable as an asset and I will before forced to authorize Wormwood,” Lucile said simply. “Do you have any more questions, Rachel?”
Rachel’s brow furrowed before she let out a sigh and nodded her head. “No. I will begin the preparations immediately.”
“Shocking,” Sara sighed and lifted her eyes to stare at the ceiling. “I am shocked.”