Description: Deep within Shadaloo headquarters, The Black Dahlia and the Doll Marz continue their devious scheming to secure the future for the Great Lord Vega. Take out food and V-Tubers are involved also.
A blue-haired virtual idol beckons from the lower right corner of the stream, as the opening screen of the latest 'bullet hell' shooting game fills the stage behind her. "You guys, you guys might remember last week, when Emika-tan running into some problems last week! Well, it turns out Emika-tan's computer is getting sick, with the vent fan making really loud sounds. The computer nerds tell me my power supply might be going, too, waaaaaaah!" The idol makes exaggerated sniffling noises, before looking directly to the 'camera'.
"So you guys, you guys have an -urgent mission- to make Emika-tan happy tonight! Any donations go to Emika-tan's computer fund! The more you guys, you guys donate, the better a rig Emika-tan can get! Hwei!"
The idol, Emika, points to the chat window, even as the game is started and moves into the initial cutscenes. "As always, Emika-tan will read out any -red- superchat message to the channel, so the more you donate, the more you will be -immortalized- for all time in my channel! Just don't mess up my game, you guys, you guyyyys! Nya ha ha ha ha ha!"
Subtitles pop up on screen, helpfully spelling out her unusual intonation: Nya / Ha \ Ha / Ha \ Ha / Ha
"Now, Emika-tan has never ever played this game before, so it is very important for me to--"
A fanfare sound is heard.
A red message scrolls into the chat window.
Emika's idol image shifts to one of anger. "AAAAAAH! YOU GUYS, YOU GUUUUUYS!" She then breaks into peals of laughter: "Nya ha ha ha ha ha!"
Again, with the subtitle: Nya / Ha \ Ha / Ha \ Ha / Ha
The idol shows a sweatdrop, and renews her determination. "You guys, you guys! Emika-tan has to listen, okay? But... Oh right! Spangles-san, no wait, that's... Okay, okay, it's -Spangles-tan- says 'Keep it up, we believe in you!'" The idol's cheeks redden, and a fist sticker appears on the stage. "Why thanks, Spangles-tan! Emika-tan -will- keep it up! Th-thank you for your... generous superchat donation! Emika-chan will get a great computer with this!"
Chat remains quiet for the most part -- some green and orange messages pop up, but nothing red. Emika gets better and better at moving her character throughout the sporadic waves of bullets. And then the boss appears. And charges its laser. A large circle appears, and a smaller circle expands in size to match it.
"This is Chiriko Pajamasan! You guys, you guys, Emika-tan read this boss is so easy! All Emika-tan has to do is avoid the telegra-
A fanfare sound is heard.
A red message scrolls into the chat window.
And Emika's character gets utterly -nailed- by the sudden blast from the enemy boss.
"Waahaahaaaaaaa!" howls Emika. "You guys, you guyyyys!"
- - -
Laughter fills room 112-B of the Shadaloo compound. Its sole occupant, Scarlet Dahlia, chopsticks out a morsel of phoenix chicken from the container of Chinese takeout in her left hand. Crossed feet are propped up on the workdesk, filled with scores of tablet computers -- and a keyboard is perched precariously in her lap. A look of sheer, sadistic glee is cemented on her face as she keeps her eyes on the monitor in front of her.
Yet again, more overacted crying from the blue-haired avatar on screen. "Sp-spangles-stan, you are getting Emika-tan killed here! Emika-tan will... well--- 'Try to avoid those laser things!' Yes, yes, Emika-tan IS VERY MUCH TRYING TO AVOID THOSE LASER THINGS--"
Dahlia glances over at the chat window, her grin growing ever larger. Emika is clearly not the -only- one pissed off at the timing of "Spangles-Stan's" supposedly well-intentioned donations.
In a similarly darkened office not far away, a similar scene plays out. The guffawing, blue-haired idol begging and babbling about her power supply in order to gather up funds for their cause. For all the shrill, cutesy sounds the V-idols make, it somehow never seems to distract. If anything, the steady chatter about nothing has been a steady whitenoise that has served as the rhythm for one of Shadaloo's Dolls to work. A whitenoise she has been more than open to pushing onto her sisters whenever she can manage.
But this time is different. Normally, Marz really just prefers Emika-tan's collabs where she can go all out on her trolling, but sometimes the solo streams are good enough to keep going in the background. At least until a familiar name crosses her ears. She looks up from her laptop, the true workhorse nestled among of a web of monitors more for entertainment and informational display than actual work. She adjusts her glasses to focus on the name she swore she just her belted out by the cackling Emika.
Marz scowls, reaching over for her own container of steamed dumplings. She hums to herself and leans forward toward her computer. Something is definitely not right here. She has to see to the bottom of. . .
The woman stops, she pops a dumpling in her mouth and leans back. She has an idea of a much easier way to get to the bottom of this. Off comes headphones and down goes the volume. Somewhere in the near distance she can hear all the proof she needs. But she decides to wait, to hold, to just be scientifically certain of what she suspects.
She looks at the chat. At the name. At the amounts of money.
Loud, erratic cursing in German precedes an out of uniform Marz as she storms Dahlia's citadel. "Is this really an appreciable use of time and resources!" is the first coherent sentence she manages to string together on arrival.
The sound of fanfare can be heard from the speakers.
The image of carrots filling one side of the screen reflects in Dahlia's glasses, slowly subsumed by the crimson of a death screen.
"AAAAA WAAA HAAAAAAA!" An audible sigh, then an immensely frustrated tone. "SPANGLES-STAN says 'HAVE YOU TRIED GRAZING? I read if you get close to the bullets before dodging you get a momentary boost!' Emika-tan will try that after Emika-tan spends another ten minutes getting here!"
Dahlia flashes a tight-lipped smile back to Marz, and nods cheerily. "Come to think of it, yes!" And then she chopsticks another morsel into her mouth. Chewing thoughtfully for a moment, she arches an eyebrow. "Is it the noise that's bothering you, or is it that you're no longer streamboss?"
Dahlia turns an eye over to the channel, only to see that the screen has been replaced with a 'screensaver', showing that Miss Emika seems to have gotten frustrated enough to leave her stream for a moment. She mimes a frown momentarily, before turning her attention back to Marz. "Well, she's a f k, and -you- ruined my train of thought. Now who's being inefficient?"
Scattered across the tablet screens on her desk are images of several popular virtual idols, or 'v-tubers'. Some are playing videos, some are fixed upon wiki pages explaining the idols' likes and dislikes. And others on popular media sites discussing said idols. Knowing Dahlia, there's a good chance they're related to the trolling, however tenuous the link may be.
"Bah!" Marz protests. "As if I would be so shallow!"
All the same, she remains with her arms crossed and willfully invades Dahlia's sanctum to squint at the collection of panels all around. "Why do you watch even the trash ones?" she asks. "Not enough hours in your day to waste here? It is not as if you play anything, so why are you so interested?"
she adjusts her glasses as she puts to mind the various information she's seeing in front of her; mostly to see what things she hasn't already been on herself. As she does, she off hand reaches for Dahlia's portion of the take out to partake of herself.
"You should be guiding Emika to collaboration, she is better when she can be pitted against others, not left to flounder against a bullet hell," she says, trying, trying to sound above the very depths she is clearly opinionated on.
Dahlia flashes a grin at Marz's renewed interest -- even as she curls the takeout container closer, deftly avoiding the Doll's lazy attempt to swipe her meal. "You have your own," she snaps, rolling her chair away from the desk with a light kick to afford Marz more comfortable access to the tablet array.
Settling herself -- for it seems from her casual attire that she'd just availed herself of the workout chambers -- she nods towards the tablets. "The game isn't my focus, dear Marz, it's the people. Emika's flaming out, instead of showing some spine and getting one of her mods to shadowban me. For the span of a five-minute experiment she has failed, -miserably-, to contain me. And, Kamui willing, she gave me a break from that pathetic -bawling- she's been carrying on with."
Dahlia gestures to the chat window, full of angry postings. And many of those are red superchats themselves -- voicing support for Emika-tan, teaming up the rest of chat in solidarity against the supposed cruelness of Dahlia's 'Spangles-stan' persona. "Or maybe it's just an act? And maybe Emika's a master at it, pretending to sulk in her corner while raking in the donations of an audience ready to forgive her apparent unprofessionalism."
Wrinkling her nose, she takes another bite of her post-workout meal. "It's a market you've been purportedly studying for months, and yet I can't recall when you've sought an opportunity to weaponize it. And yet, here I am, with a way to bring glory and victory to Lord Vega, while you simply use it to keep the twin horrors of an empty desktop and silent workspace at bay. Tsk, tsk!"
She inverts her chopsticks, nudging a tablet with the dry ends. "See, on the one hand, San-Ha there is trash, but she's a potential asset for Shadaloo."
Dahlia returns the chopsticks to her meal, humming thoughtfully. "But how many other -gifted- enlistees are we missing out on? Surely, I can't be the first to have considered data-mining the psychic potentials of these immense fanbases by now, hmm?"
"But yours is more readily accessible," Marz states in a matter-of-fact way, as she steps into the space left open for her.
She leans, again, getting close enough to bring into question the utility of her glasses. "Had she banned you, you would be whining about how she was not strong enough to take your money. You and I both know that so let's not be kidding ourselves." She is cavalier in her tutting, and off hand in its focus.
What she sees does not surprise her, the dogpiling of a celebrity's fans is not a thing invented by these digital mini demagogues. It is, however, something to consider. But even when considering, there's a matter of pride that Honoka brings up. "Bah!" she retorts, "This is entertainment, not my focus. There are still serious chi fluctuations that risk interfering with the usual applications of Psycho Power. You only consider them inductees because you think they are really pretty girls and not digital puppeteers, no?"
Looking self satisfied, she smirks down at Dahlia, glasses sliding down her nose. They never really did fit her face all too well. "Besides," Marz adds, "I would be more considering their use for indoctrination, pacification and commodification of the general masses. Memetic statements, parasocial dependency, financial exploitation."
"See, that's where you're wrong, and it shows you have no insight at all into the mindset of a performer. Rejecting a potential customer is a point of -pride-, and I'd have a deal of respect for that -- and it was something I'm sure Lightning Spangles never -ever- did. Hence the moniker, mm?"
Dahlia's past interactions with Marz may have placed her a bit out of her element. But here -- Dahlia had made a point to -avoid- inviting Marz's involvement at all. To stop talking about any sort of plan -- and start the wheels to put one in motion all the same. To -provoke- Marz, even, into involving herself. So she's quite content to allow Marz the appearance of running roughshod over leisure plans, when in fact the discussion is something else entirely: bait.
To the idea that these streamers are pretty, Dahlia merely scoffs. "If they were pretty, why would they need a digital avatar? The odds are, they're sitting in their respective homes with sweatpants and track jackets, bags under their eyes from playing video games ten hours a day." She seems... willing to continue, but happy to let Marz draw her own conclusions.
... which are then provided. Dahlia nods, displaying an impressed look that is likely only skin-deep. And with a nod and a shrug, Dahlia says, "And why not let them continue to exploit their fans without any additional effort on our part? It's what they're good at, right?" She hums softly to herself, tapping her chopsticks on the side of her takeout container. She -does- hope it reminds Marz that she was eating a few minutes prior.
"... but their fans are -- how shall I say this? /Cheap,/ quite often. Unless someone suitably determined can bait them into sympathy donations."
Dahlia grins, as Emika-tan returns to the screen with a sad expression and a brand new game to play. And as the chat log floods with renewed interest, Dahlia nudges her chopsticks into another one of her tablets. On its screen is a schematic for a sort of technological wristband, with the markings of the Shadaloo R&D division.
"What if we were to give a fans an alternate means of donating to their favorite streamers?"
"I feel I should remind you that I do not have the same obsession for an American children's entertainer as yourself," Marz states. "She was a failure of several magnitudes and a terrible waste of resources." And besides, the whole situation in Mexico saw Marz spend most of it getting her septum mashed into her face by several individuals. Anything related to that operation was a tiresome memory despite her overall positive results.
She takes off her glasses. "I suspect that privacy is also a concern," she says, sticking the bow between her teeth to chew as she thinks. "Not everyone is seeking the troublesome aspects of celebrity, especially those benefitting from the anonymity of the internet." Words spoken pointedly to the Spangles-tag user in the room.
"Now who is ignoring opportunity to weaponize a new frontier," Marz retorts, smirking. She takes her glasses and slips them back on when the screen changes enough for her to have to see it. "Go on," she invites, once more reaching over for Dahlia's chicken. She was eating just a moment before, after all.
Dahlia frowns bitterly. "Despite her shortcomings, her fanbase was -many- times greater than any of these aspirants has been able to scare up. But it's clear that times are changing, and it's imperative that we keep our fingers on the pulse of the current zeitgate."
It's true that Dahlia may have momentarily forgotten that, were it not for Shadaloo standards of decorum, Marz might quite happily have settled into the template of the disheveled appearance she'd so described. And she might happily seek to avoid the limelight, as well. Rocking back in her chair, she swats the dry end of her chopsticks at Marz's invading fingers. "Why, Marz-chan, are you suggesting streaming as a possible career path? You'd be perfect for it, putting all your personal idiosyncracies on display!" With an almost musical laugh, she notes, "If you want to become a virtual streamer, there's plenty of us here who can help you follow your dreams! ... Though, kidding aside -- I've not ignored it. I have pages of research on the possibilities of acquiring a stable or two of streamers."
Rolling her chair around -- cognizant of the risk of food snaring from Marz -- she plucks the tablet off the table. Seemingly unfazed by the needling attacks, she offers a lazy grin. "But anyway. The device here would appear to authorities to be a -mood ring-, responding to bloodflow and other metrics to generate a signal that streamers -- or anyone, really -- could respond to. But as the preeminent purveyors of psychoactivity -- we'd be able to gain a wealth of information on psychic potentials -at large-. Instantly, with only the effort of distributing mass-produced devices at low cost. Doubly potent, should we proceed with acquiring talent and resources."
"That would have much to do with those backing her than it does with her own talents, no?" Marz is still going to favor the support staff of marketers and execs over the Spangles herself. She also adds, under her breath, "Zeitgeist."
Her focus still on the streamers, is broken only with a snorting laugh. "I would not dream of such things. Me? One of those dancing puppets?" she asks, laughing it off and turning to lean against the desk in order to face Dahlia. "But I will agree with you on the matter of attaining a stable of such acts. And I am more than certain that Enero is far more suited for such tasks, anyhow."
Legs cross at an angle, her insignificant weight bearing down on Dhalia's desk. "So the plan is simply to gather physical metadata in hopes of discovering whichever ones are capable of harnessing Psycho Power? That seems minimal, even by your ambitions."
Dahlia flashes a measured smile at Marz. She may know multiple languages, but there's still words that escape her grasp from time to time. "Yeah, that," she offers in a similarly low mumble.
Dahlia's expression takes a considerable nosedive at the mention of Enero -- not the least of which because the Doll leader has been making life hell for her extended circus family. Grinding her teeth, the Ainu woman turns instead towards the monitor -- which she had muted so as not to be disturbed by the idol's chalkboard-scraping tendencies -- so as she can simply nod in agreement. "If we -were- to pick a Doll for such a time-consuming task, to be sure. It's far from the best use of resources."
It would seem, however, that the downturn in her mood might be continuing for the next moment or so -- for she simply raises an eyebrow in response to the criticism. "It's a wide net, but also a simple net. The true value is one we've simply come to similar understandings on -- in that we need a stable, yes? The trick is that NESTS is already starting to move on this idea."
Dahlia pulls up one of the tablets, paging through to another browser tab she'd had open. "Their shell companies are already starting to move. The purchases I'd hoped would be easy are considerably less so now. The field of options is shrinking by the day, possibly even by the hour. So if we're going to make a move to buy a stable -- which, of course, is the -lynchpin- of this plan -- it needs to be soon."
And this is where Dahlia finally smiles, reaching over towards the tablet that had figures on the stables she had looked into purchasing... ever mindful to keep her takeout box safe in the process.
"But as you've noted -- I don't play these games. What would you think -- are they -all- trash, or is one group particularly influential in comparison?"
There was little else to do but correct. Her birth language being malapropped was something to not let alone. She returns the smile, nose inclining as she stands triumphant.
Marz is aware of her sister's actions regarding occupying Dahlia's precious circus folk, it's a subject of considerable satisfaction for Marz. Best to keep the Dahlia's attentions focused on Shadaloo actions and not at rebuilding her private little empire. It was tiring enough keeping her eye on the Dahlia and occupied for Lord Vega.
The mention of true competition, however is enough to rouse Marz's interest. "Them. . ." she intones with a distinctive measure of disgust. "Ja ja, acquire a stable. I am not the entertainer here. Perhaps you would do well behind the rigging?"
It's a hanging joke, one that can fall either way should it be taken as such. But Marz does have her eye on the matter at hand. "I would look to Japan, they have the most. Following, English speaking ones. And they are all trash in their own ways. Accepting that is a good sign of gaining popularity. You already have vested capital in Emika-tan, have you considered her collaborators?"
The Ainu woman offers a broad smile as Marz acknowledges her nature as both an entertainer and a puppeteer of sorts. "You could say that, yes." Long fingers comb through her red forelocks, her vanity properly appeased by the compliment. "I'll get started right away on acquisitions, then. A keyboard combination is pressed, a prepared message sent.
"Yes, Emika-tan and her little friends have certainly sparked my interest. But while their management hasn't changed hands recently, I suspect it's not for a lack of attempting. They won't go cheap."
Dahlia polishes off the scant remnants of her meal, considering silently for a moment. "That's a good plan, yes. There is some sort of stratification taking place, and there's a number of Japanese options to pursue. If we can't claim the S tier, it'd certainly be possible to reign in the A and B tiers. And I'm certain we can build from there."
The Ainu mastermind sets her now-empty takeout container on the desk, contenting herself to twirling chopsticks around a finger. "Isn't your meal getting cold by now, hmm?"
Something to keep the Dahlia busy is as good a success as she's going to be getting here. And it at least gives Marx herself something to work on beyond trying to accumulate a distressing dearth of information on chi fluctuation and its impact on Psycho Powered individuals. This was at least something with a predictable level of success rather than piles of data leading nowhere.
Marz puts her knuckle to her lips as she looks at the screen and the series of animated faces bobbling about. "There is also the matter of notice. The lesser knowns would be less likely to attract errant attention from the usual competitors and international policing agencies," Marz adds. "But it would be of interest to own the interests of Emika-Tan."
"Microwaves exist for such things," Marz points out regarding her own food. But the truth remains is that her gyoza is sitting all by its lonesome in her office, and it does need retrieval. "But do not think you will be stealing from it," she says, pointedly, on her leaving to gather up her half of the order.
'Keep your head down and look busy' is the strategy that has served Dahlia well all throughout her life. Upholding this general strategy has allowed her to regain most of her sanity throughout Akatsuki's integration into Shadaloo operations. And even as her headstrong underlings experienced a severe culture shock transitioning from Dahlia's lax guidance to the more regimented nature of the Shadaloo Corps, her passive approach afforded her the ability to observe the process, without danger of being ground up by the gears of change.
More importantly -- it also allowed her the opportunity to acclimate to Shadaloo reign. To harbor impure, treasonous thoughts, to cloak them beneath irregular brain patterns. To test the limits imposed upon her. And to persuade even the suspicious Doll that her intentions, while counter to doctrine, were merely the product of insufficient ambition.
"Right." Her forelocks sway as she shifts her weight to one side, chopsticks clacking together softly in her loose grip. "Standing out amongst the crowd is not the goal here, so much as -swaying- the crowd once the footholds are established."
Dahlia steps forward to place a slender hand on the back of her rolling chair, grinning smugly. "The way your peculiar tastes run, I doubt I'd be interested anyway." Slipping into her chair, she turns back to her screen, continuing her self-satisfied smile as she turns her attention back to the stream, unmuting it until such time that Marz can return. She's also fairly deliberate about propping her feet back on the desk -- her 'lax' posture countered by the tablet she then starts paging through. Is it research or goofing off? Only time will tell...
In the light of her office computers, Marz stands holding onto her container of dumplings. She looks at the streams, of games and of information. She looks down at her dumplings and plucks one out to chew on as she mentally chewed on the matters at hand.
She had work. She had things she really could be doing. There was the matter of Chi. That was important, the current fluctuations could mean a lot of problems regardless of however many people with latent Psycho Power. But the scattered ambition of the Dahlia's Vtuber project could be a welcome distraction from dead ends and faltering projections.
Marz grouses to herself, lamenting the additional truth that at least working with the circus girl was better than beating her head against a brick wall of inscrutable data points. Alone for that matter.
Quick footsteps take her back into Honoka's office. "Lower status individuals!" she says, nearly bursting back into the room. She doesn't much care about the Dahlia's posture, it would be assumptions off opinion bias and any interpretation would be faulty data at best. And Marz knows more than that. Besides, Marz had a far greater revelation. "Gathering larger numbers of capable people through your machinations, they could be studied regarding the fickle chi, like Koto, without utilizing more valuable operatives."
It's rare that Scarlet Dahlia is ever truly slacking off. Many people her age require six to seven hours of sleep a day. Marz would have the records to know that Dahlia, when stationed in the Shadaloo facility, rarely goes two hours without restoring her access to the core mainframe.
This is one of the fleeting moments in which sleep has momentarily overtaken her. It'd be easy to miss, really; she -always- tries to project an air of comfort. And she certainly looks comfortable, propped back in her chair, arm curled about a tablet perched upon her stomach. However, it would be unmistakable that the Ainu mastermind was caught in the midst of a snore.
With a three second delay from the loud announcement, Dahlia fills her lungs with air, bracing herself against the chair. Her eyelids flutter open, as she turns glassy eyes to address Marz. Gold-flecked irises tense, pupils narrow. And in moments, Dahlia has the context she needs to make sense of the initial statement.
"... Yep." Her monosyllabic response is delivered in a half-whisper, slow and deliberate. And after another intake of breath, she nods her head once more, clarity returning to her gaze.
"That's one option of many, yes. All our... /fact/-finding from Koto was somewhat... inconclusive." She turns back to her tablet, setting it on her desk. Boots settle back on the floor as she sits upright, steepling her fingers. The chopsticks, apparently she'd placed those on the desk moments earlier.
"But with more data points, I agree." A sardonic smile creeps across her facade. "It'd be a much more effective use of Shadaloo's data analysis team, yes. ... Have you had any new revelations on that field of study, lately?" It's less of a dig -- and from all impressions, it seems like honest curiosity.
A sleeping Dahlia. Unexpected. Marz knows there is rarely a delay in responses, as is the whispery response. It is impossible at that moment for Marz to hide the clever smug grin of self-satisfaction. Punctuated by a slow popping of a dumpling into her mouth.
She hums to herself, walking past Dahlia to place her dumplings on the desk and resume her earlier position. "We've never seen anything like this," Marz admits. "I had considered if it were a simple shifting, but it seems more chaotic than originally thought. And we are," a querulous little murmur comes from Marz's throat, "lacking in experience and information comparative to our competitors. "
She pinches the bridge of her nose and closes her eyes. "I dislike thinking that it may be in our interest to infiltrate NESTS facilities more often in order to determine what they may know on the matter. Secondarily, direct competition with the NOL could yield more data."
Dahlia fails to be surprised at the Doll's self-satisfied grin. But at that precise moment, she lacks the acuity to call her on it anyway.
By the time Marz is circling around to place her dumplings dangerously close to her array of tablets, though, the tusukur is aware enough to respond to the intrusion of space. "At least put down a napkin first." A sigh of mock irritation follows. "Savage."
Still. There may be food on her desk, but there's also plenty of food for thought, as Dahlia turns over the words in her mind. "... I know you -loved- our last little infiltration so dearly, but... have you considered consulting any of the qualified experts on 'chi' studies who -aren't- part of our competition?"
Her hand slips sideways, fingertips dancing across the surface of a secondary tablet. "I'm quite sure that NESTS has a great deal of information, but finding the weak point in their armor and formulating a plan to compromise the data we're not sure exists... may take longer than circumventing them entirely."
A number of portraits appears on her tablet. And with a flick of her fingertips, the portraits fly onto the screen of her main monitor, occluding Emika-tan's gameplay stream. Portraits of fighters, a mix of both tournament competitors and relative unknowns. "Take Brandon Malone, for instance. Detective, and also quite well-versed in some bizarre arcanery. Spark his interest -- at a -trifling- cost, I might add -- and he can be a valuable asset for us rather than a mere bump in the road."
"Just a subtle machination, to force you into cleaning your workstation," Marz teases. The teasing itself comes off-hand, distracted, focused as she is on the problems arrayed in front of her. She has a flat look about her, mostly for the euphemistic take on her feelings regarding the last infiltration into a NESTS facility. It lingers long enough for her eyes to close and for her to take off her glasses.
"We may not be certain, but I believe it is reasonable to presume given history and capability," she says, not wanting to say she has a bad idea, but also being more than willing to not venture out again, "But you are correct, there may yet be other avenues." She slips the glasses back on, turning around to look at the portraits coming into view. "Tell me what you know about them."
She looks at the portrait shown, her lips quirking downward. "He has a silly hat," she judges.
Dahlia's brow furrows, but rather than continue to contest the point of 'cleanliness', she concedes with a placid smile. Marz doesn't have to comprehend her organizational schemes to understand their results.
"Perfectly reasonable, yes. And we have plenty of operatives to follow those leads and alert us if anything useful emerges from the sea of white noise."
From here, she moves forward to address the person before her. "Detective of sorts. Highly oriented towards the vague notion of 'justice.' Typical film noir 'private investigator with a heart of gold' archetype -- aggressively pursued the HitBit money trails, with some help as I understand. Minor thorn in my side, which is one reason I'd rather not give him any new leads to us." Dahlia scratches her scarred chin, thoughtfully. "I suppose we -could- work the angle that our close friend Koto is suffering from this malady -- or perhaps someone else, if we'd like to distance our marks from one another. Given a mystery, and a small monetary payment, he might turn up leads we hadn't considered."
"... And yes," she adds, "it is quite silly."
Marz wins. Verbal Victory.
Marz takes a deep breath and focuses on the face and profile information. She listens to Honoka's description. She adjusts her glasses and nods by the end of it. "So what I am gathering is I need to go undercover again and," a slow, shaking annoyed breathy sigh, "Speak with people."
She shrugs and waves off the prickly feeling running up and down her spine. "I presume he is not familiar with myself, even if he has run ins with yourself?" she asks, uncertain as to what information Honoka may have inadvertantly leaked by little more than association. "If so, I could look into making an appointment with him and offer some information as to what tragedy has befallen my 'friend' Koto."
Her lips press thin and she looks displeased by the amount of obvious sense that involving an unknowing detective as a patsy is making. She doesn't like having to exchange words outside of her sisters.
"Gasp, the horror," Dahlia deadpans with an amused smirk.
"I would suspect he's not terribly familiar with you, but I don't know what means he has at his disposal..." She trails off, as her fingers start flying across the screen of the tablet nearest her. "... Regardless, I'd fathom that your alibi as a Pacific High student is the strongest lead he has, which only lends legitimacy to your cause. The biggest question he's likely to have for you might be how a student has the money to broker his services." She offers a mild shrug. "But, again, Pacific High. Are Yayoi's parents defined well enough to have an offshore banking account?"
She looks up from her tablet, catching sight of the displeased look. "Aww, she's frustrated. Look, I know it's not great, but Plan C is getting Xiayu and Jianyu involved with one of the hardcore chi masters. I gotta say though, I got doubts either of them could check their egos long enough to get actionable intel. And Decapre?" Dahlia traces her cheek for effect. "Love her, she's a role model for us all, but without a serious amount of prep she's 'bout as useful for infiltration as Coffee Maker."
"Yayoi's paperwork and data trail is enough to satisfy school district regulations," Marz admits. Her work is primarily data focused and she isn't the kind to go out of her way to supply additional information. "As for their income sources, it is through a common account held off shore. Suspicious, but no more so than any other moneyed individuals."
She crosses her arms and sets a fingertip to her chin. "I suppose it is enough to cover what is necessary."
A sudden frown. A glint of light from the monitors shines off Marz's glasses; effect made. "Xiayu and Jianyu are both very capable of any task required of them. And Decapre's capability would be hinging on your ability to prepare her. Are you saying you are not a competent command?"
Marz is not tall, but she is standing a lot straighter in this moment.
The Ainu woman's jab hits the mark, proving the bonds between sisters are just as strong as ever. Dahlia grins confidently, basking in the glare of an unexpectedly bright light. "Make no mistake, Marz -- /time/ is the enemy, and my only concern is that we stay one step ahead of it. I'd rather not squander our lead." It may be a slight deflection, but it's one she had already clarified - it'd take longer for Dahlia to prepare dossiers for the team than to have Marz simply acquire the information. Her grin fades, her brows lowering in sincerity. "That my plans favor you is simply a testament to the work you've already put into the Yayoi persona, months of work we'd need to duplicate for questionably equal effect."
Dahlia plants both palms against the deck, leaning back upon it with a casual air. Satisfied, she continues with an arched eyebrow: "Whereas you can just... walk up and mention your legitimate concerns for Koto's health. What avenue could he even have to doubt the truth of your words?"
Mark hit, Marz stands stiff with arm across her stomach, elbow in hand, other hand settled at her chin. Her eyes are dark behind her glasses lenses. Lips pulled thin and strained. Things may not often hit her, but she is as deathly serious as can be when it comes to sniping at her sisters. A crack in the revelation of how little in her life matters to the Doll.
She takes a step away from the desk and takes measured, pacing steps away from the desk before turning on her heel to face the other woman. She clicks her heels together, same stiff posture maintained. "Then I will not waste your time any further, Dahlia. You are correct in that I can accomplish this task faster than yourself. Perhaps you may be of assistance to myself in this matter. I appreciate you admitting your shortcomings."
As Marz walks about the room, Dahlia steps free from her desk. She crosses her hands behind her, pivoting to keep her shoulders square with Marz as she walks about. Smiling that grin of false humility as Marz's heels click-clack across the floor.
The barbs are loaded, and fired. And Dahlia weathers the storm with unwavering confidence. The grin grows incrementally upon Marz's mention of wasting her time. And yet, the veneer of politeness holds.
"Of course. Working together accomplishes far more than working in solitude."
In Dahlia's mind, it -wasn't- an admission of any sort of shortcoming -- just a statement of cold, numerical efficiency. She may -appreciate- approval from Marz, but she won't lose sleep for lack of it.
As long as the job gets done.
Still. The notion of -family- is strong with her. And sentiment is an emotion Dahlia has yet to fully divest herself of. Sometimes the words spill out, unbidden.
"It's nice to have a family you can trust, isn't it?" The family of Dolls -- their bonds nigh unbreakable. It's a thing of beauty -- a synergy that has no equal within the ranks of Shadaloo. The Ainu draws in her breath, warmth flooding her cheeks.
And in one measure, her smile falters. She wrests control, forcing the thought to remain unspoken: Does Marz even realize why Honoka fought so hard for -her- surrogate family?
Family is not something Marz genuinely thinks on. Much of her emotional connections have been manufactured; it would be hard to tell if much of the girl she was even exists. Marz's loyalty it Lord Vega is hard programmed, seemingly unassailable, rote. But as firm as it is, it doesn't have the lingering heat that happens when Dahlia takes swipes at her fellow Dolls. It doesn't burn as hard, or rouse her to the same defense. Marz would state that the Dolls are her family, and above them all is Vega still. However, words and thoughts and gut reaction are not always the same.
Marz turns on her heels. She takes a step out of the office, stops, and pushes up her glasses. "It is. Some day, you might know that," she says with more distant hope than the bitter venom that was supposed to come out. "I will be in my office. Researching."
Marz leaves without knowing why she told Dahlia that. Nor does she fully know why she leaves the door of her office open as she climbs into her chair, sits cross legged, and pulls up every datafile she can tabulate from Shadaloo's archives on chi practitioners and theorists.
What she is certain of, is her order to Coffee Maker to do exactly what his name implies. And to add a second cup to leave at the Dahlia's desk. For efficiency, Marz tells herself.
Log created on 19:50:45 12/22/2020 by Marz, and last modified on 20:10:21 12/28/2020.