Dusty's façade broke and Miyami's started to fail, in Chapter 5.
Now that the characters are established, it's time to expand the setting beyond the Academy. Everyone has a backstory, even if it's not as mysterious as Dusty's. Lars is from Tamar, the world the Academy is on, so he gets to be the tour guide. Some of what he mentions will return, but for now, it's local colour. I got to show that the planet is more than just the Academy and the starport. There's a farming town a few hours away. The world is out there, beyond the Academy's compound.
Dusty finally shows a bit of emotion. She keeps her feelings bottled up. On first seeing Rhiannon, she didn't let anything slip, not even after being hit back in Chapter 2. Her history, as shown so far, does give her reason for not wanting to be the tall poppy, But at some point, she needs to let her emotions out. Dusty isn't an automaton, as much as she might wish she was one. At the same time, she doesn't feel safe letting herself express herself openly. This isn't a good situation for her.
Back in Chapter 1, I established Miyami as being underaged and getting in after hacking her personal information to change her birthdate. I returned to that idea in part because Miyami needed more screen time and in part because hacking isn't that simple. Even today, she would have to go after several databases to make the one change. With a global computer network, getting all the sources is difficult but doable. Across several worlds where faster-than-light communications isn't instantaneous? That's going to require constant maintenance. Not every network is going to be vulnerable. Not every system is going to crack under a hack.
That leads to another issue I had to work out. Lag exists on today's Internet, either because of old equipment, poor wiring, or sheer congestion. The Mecha Academy setting does not have near-instantaneous faster-than-light communications. Colonies and backwater worlds receive data packets on inbound starships. Core worlds maintain shunt gates that allow for communications between worlds; transmission times are still measured in hours. The Empire does maintain a fleet of communications ships to ensure that colonies and backwaters don't go months without data service.
Of course, with shunt gates, it may be time to discuss how faster-than-light works in the setting. In short, it doesn't. Ships cannot exceed the speed of light. What they do instead is open a singularity to let them bypass the normal universe. Not quite warping space; closer it artificial wormholes. Major worlds maintain shunt gates, allowing ships to other worlds without needing a shunt drive. Tamar, though, isn't a major world. Shunts are one-way, no way back, so ships wanting to leave Tamar need a shunt drive to open a gate to another planet. The safest way to travel is for two shunt gates to align and connect, giving ships stable endpoints. Using a shunt drive at the beginning and end is the most dangerous; navigators need to keep an eye on the ship's relative position.
The scene with Dusty and Lars harkens back to the original concepts I had for the story. In them, Lars had a crush on Dusty; she didn't return his affections mostly because she didn't feel worthy and didn't want him to get tainted with her history. Right now, that idea is long gone. Dusty is keeping to herself because she's been identified. Lars, though, might still have the crush. Why isn't he acting? Well, Susanna. And, as Lars reveals, Vesta. Which had me wondering if maybe, culturally, high school girls on Tamar are the ones expected to take the initiative to ask someone out. Ideally, gender shouldn't matter in the far future; everyone should feel able to ask someone else out with the only risk being told no. Somehow, though, high school on Tamar seems to expect the girls to be the aggressor. Go fig.
Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roommates" Chapter 7, "Happy Birthday".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Arrow.