â€œWeâ€¦ understand each other, right?â€ Anew asked, a bit hesitantly even as the final seconds of her life ticked by.
â€œOf course,â€ the man she loved answered.
â€œThatâ€™s good,â€ she replied, giving him one final smile as they parted. She closed her eyes as they separated, and knew when her time passed. And thenâ€¦
There was blackness. No sound, no texture, just blackness. There in the darkness, Anew waited.
And then, there was something. An itch. But simply scratching it made it go away, and she went back to waiting in the darkness. It wasâ€¦ surprisingly boring. Not what she had expected for when she died.
â€œThen why donâ€™t you open your eyes?â€ came a voice when she said it aloud. â€œThink fast.â€
â€œWha-?â€ she began, but was cut off by a thud as something hit her face. Clawing it away and opening her eyes, she saw the person who threw it.
â€œThe idea is to put the clothes on,â€ said the blond-haired man, looking away for modestyâ€™s sake. â€œAs interesting as it is to know that the drapes match the curtains, youâ€™re not exactly my type. Plus, I doubt you really want to be an exhibitionist where youâ€™re going.â€
Hastily putting on the full-body cloak, she looked up as he said that. â€œGoing?â€ she asked. â€œWhere? And who are you?â€
â€œI am Joshua of Alaska,â€ the man in the blue Union uniform introduced himself, â€œand I am your guide to-â€ and he pulled two fans out of seemingly nowhere, as confetting and neon signs came down in the middle of the ethereal nothingness.
00 S2 Drabble 20
The Nine Ships
I will let you goâ€¦ to Another Dimension!
Modestly cloaked, Anew asked â€œAnother Dimension? This isnâ€™t Heaven or Hell? Iâ€™m not dead?â€
Joshua waved the thought aside. â€œYouâ€™re dead,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve just always wanted to do that to someone. This isnâ€™t Heaven or Hell either. Well, not quite. No flaming demons or anything, but youâ€™re judged by your character in life, and sent accordingly.â€
â€œWell, I did some good things, but I was an Innovator, and I took a child hostageâ€¦â€ Anew admitted, tapping her fingers together.
Joshua rolled his eyes. â€œNot your actions, your character. How well you were developed. Not like that!â€ he exclaimed when Anew cast a doubtful eye down her cloak. â€œI mean what sort of character development you had, or what kind of character you were. You could conceivably be a total douche and get off lightly here.â€
â€œI still donâ€™t understand,â€ Anew said.
â€œNo one does their first time,â€ said Joshua. â€œFollow me and Iâ€™ll show you around.â€ He turned and began to walk into the ethereal nothingness, no direction apparent, but he turned around. â€œArenâ€™t you coming? I will leave you behind,â€ he warned, and Anew hurried to follow behind him, and as she did the nothingness blurred around them. A great host of ships and machines appeared, heading for some unknown direction, and they quickly zoomed towards the leader.
The First Ship â€“ The White Base
Your guide ushers you across Time itself, and you find yourself at the head of a great fleet at the edge of a terrible war, in the halls of a Trojan Horse. You are in the White Base, a place in war but past loss. You encounter relics of the past and inspirations of the future, and inside these halls you find souls guided by the light of reason and their own determination, beyond self-doubts or petty motivations. These are virtuous soldiers and those who have found the will to fight, men and woman who wish for peace but have consented to wage un-hypocritical war until that day. You share company with the likes of Amuro, Shiro, or Quatre, men who have developed across the lengths of their stories to their final maturity and resolve, overcoming personal weaknesses along the way. There is little personal pettiness here, only resolve, but there is still a lingering regret for those who have died and those who will continue to do so.
â€œItâ€™s a nice place, as you can see,â€ said Joshua, leading her onto the bridge. â€œDefinitely the most prestigious ship in the Fleet to be assigned to.â€
â€œReally?â€ she asked after Joshua exchanged greetings with another character. â€œIt seems soâ€¦ archaic. Just look at those lights and buttons: what do they do? And those computers; they must be centuries old, at least.â€
Joshua gave her a sharp look before deigning to explain. â€œItâ€™s a matter of style: havenâ€™t you ever heard of the Rule of Cool? It doesnâ€™t matter that this ship was thought up before the laptop was even affordable, or that holo-screens were strictly in the realm of sci-fi, or that other ships were designed with much fancier abilities and materials. This ship will always be top of the line and capable because it is considered cool, and it is cool because it was the First. Everything else, every other White ship in the fleet, traces itself back to this one. It is the prototype for all else, and you know what that means.â€
â€œBut Iâ€™ve never seen anything like this ship in my life,â€ protested Anew. â€œNeither in Celestial Being or from the Innovators. And prototypes arenâ€™t better than production-run weapons; they are prototypes because theyâ€™re still using experimental technologies that havenâ€™t yet been firmly militarized yet. A prototype is a test bed for new technologies, and production models are nearly always superior. Just look at the Gundams of Celestial Being: the 0 Gundam and the Second Generation Gundams were considered obsolete even compared to conventional mobile suits. Your logic makes no sense.â€
Joshua sighed. â€œItâ€™s no use arguing; logic and reason doesnâ€™t necessarily apply here, something youâ€™ll understand soon enough. Anyways, back on topic. Nice place, good people. This is where fully developed characters go, characters who have changed steadily over the course of their lives.â€
â€œIs this where Iâ€™m going? Is that why you brought me here?â€ asked Anew.
Joshua stopped in mid-step, and silence fell across the bridge. Then Joshua gave up the fight and began bawling in laughter.
â€œYouâ€¦ you thinkâ€¦ you think youâ€™re developed enough for here?â€ he managed through laughs. â€œOh, thatâ€™s rich! Iâ€™m going to have to tell the boys about that one.â€ More than a few others were also chuckling, though many were at least trying to hide the fact.
â€œLieutenant Joshua!â€ came a strong British voice. â€œI believe you made your point already. Lay off the lady; you didnâ€™t know everything after your death either. Thatâ€™s no reason to be offensive towards her.â€
â€œOh, go bugger your mother, Limey,â€ Joshua said, flicking off one of the most famous characters in Franchise lore. â€œItâ€™s in my character to be more than a little asshole-ish.
â€œAnd itâ€™s in my character to do what Iâ€™m about to do,â€ said Captain Bright. â€œMiss Returner, would you mind stepping out into the hall briefly? I have some corrections to make.â€
A few minutes later, Joshua limped out of the bridge and over to where Anew was. â€œSorry,â€ he bit out before throwing a glare at the bridge. â€œLetâ€™s go to our next stop, shall we?â€ Turning down the hall, he stepped forward, and they were back into space.
The Second Ship â€“ The Argama
You have come to a ship darker than the last, but brighter too, where the winds of cruel fates echo down the halls beside laughs of camaraderie and love. This is the Argama, where those who ended in tragic and pathetic fates after being stripped of all they held dear now live their lives with those who left before them. Some are heroes, some are villains, and a few might have been either but for a change of perspective. The whispers of their past lives and tragedies ripple down these halls, but are kept distant in the presence of past loves and friends whose loss drove many to despair, desperation, and beyond. Tragedy knows no sides, and neither does irony: Kamille Bidan and Jerid Messa both walk these halls in solidarity with you, as does every man and woman who has died only after watching everyone and everything they cared for slip between their fingers. But there is hope, even in this ship of war: never forget, you are never truly beyond those who love you, nor are you ever forgotten.
â€œItâ€™sâ€¦ chilly,â€ was the first thing Anew could bring herself to say upon the second ship, wrapping her too-thin cloak tighter around her.
Joshua shrugged. â€œYouâ€™re just not with many people; the warmth is proportional to how many people are with you. People with many comrades find this ship warm and pleasant; those constantly alone find it frigid. Same with the whispers youâ€™re likely hearing in the background: the more company you have, the more distant they seem. I think itâ€™s someoneâ€™s idea of a metaphor for the friendships and company one kept in life, compared to the tragedies they endured in losing almost everyone and everything.â€
He shrugged. â€œOr maybe someone left the air conditioner on, I donâ€™t know. I never lost that many people, but then Iâ€™m also wearing a warm coat,â€ he said, and Anew wrapped her cloak a bit tighter while looking on with envy.
â€œCome on,â€ Joshua said, indicating for her to continue walking. â€œIâ€™ll introduce you to some of the people.â€
â€œJoshua! Whatâ€™s hanging man? Whoâ€™s the new chick?â€ came a friendly voice, and Anew turned to see a young white man with a long ponytail suddenly leaning against the American.
â€œMaxwell. Speak of the Devil, eh,â€ muttered Joshua, trying to shake the smaller man off. â€œThis is Anew Returner: new arrival. Itâ€™s my job to show her around. Introduce yourself, boy,â€ he said, finally pushing the younger man away. The other man turned the stumble into a hop, and landed in a deep bow towards the female Innovator.
â€œDuo Maxwell, at your service,â€ he said. â€œI may cheat and steal, but I never lie. At least not to beautiful young ladies such as yourself,â€ he said with a wink, shamelessly flirting.
â€œIâ€™m probably older than your father,â€ she threw out, and hid a smile at his incredulous start. â€œWhy are you here on this ship?â€ she asked to change the subject. â€œA priest like youâ€¦â€ she trailed, misled by his preacher clothes.
â€œWhat, you donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve suffered enough loss to be here?â€ he asked, offended. â€œI had to watch my childhood friends die, watched the Priest and Sister die because of me, and I had to watch my own Gundam blow up in front of me, twice! I might add, and you ask if I havenâ€™t lost enough?â€ Seeing her rush to apologize, he broke a grin and showed he wasnâ€™t quite serious. â€œIâ€™m just joshing with you. I do have a bunk here, but this isnâ€™t where I live now. Iâ€™m just visiting.â€
Anew blinked. â€œYou can do that?â€ she asked. â€œI thought you would be confined to your place in this afterlife.â€
â€œHah!â€ Duo laughed. â€œThey havenâ€™t made the prison that can keep me!â€ he boasted.
â€œHave they tried gripping your hair?â€ asked another man who had walked up behind Duo, giving the braid a quick tug. â€œKamille Bidan,â€ he introduced himself and extended his hand to Anew. With him were a few people, including a number of women.
â€œDonâ€™t even joke about that sort of thing, man,â€ Duo said, cradling his braid protectively. â€œHowâ€™d you like it if someone cut off your hair?â€
â€œI think heâ€™d thank them,â€ came a third voice from the other end of the hall. â€œIt would stop confusing people about if heâ€™s a girl or not. Isnâ€™t that right, Kamille?â€
â€œJeridâ€¦â€ growled Kamille, and both Joshua and Duo paled slightly at the combination.
â€œThatâ€™s Jerid Messa to you,â€ the tall blond said, giving his full name for Anewâ€™s benefit. â€œNew arrival?â€ he asked Joshua, indicating Anew. Behind him were a few people, including two women, who also looked curious.
â€œYes, Anew Returner. Newtype equivalent. We were just about to leaveâ€¦â€ he said meaningfully, pushing Anew out from between the two groups. Duo tried to escape as well.
â€œWhat is it with exhibitionist newtypes these days?â€ asked Jerid, taking sight of her thin cloak. â€œHave things really changed so much? Back in our day, we had the decency to wear clothes during our newtype moments,â€ he said, and his green haired companion remembered semi-fondly her own death day experience.
â€œItâ€™s not like I asked for it,â€ Anew defended herself, but she was mostly forgotten.
â€œI say it really went down with Kamille-light at the back of the Fleet,â€ Jerid continued, ignoring the firm touches from the two woman behind him.
â€œJerid! Donâ€™t pick a fight!â€ both Maour and Lila warned, but he continued regardless.
â€œGranted,â€ he said, â€œat least it was clear he was more of a man than Kamille would ever be-â€
Before Kamille could throw a punch, Jeridâ€™s own female companions beat him to the punch, none-too-gently sending him into the middle of the hallway with a punch-kick combo.
â€œHa!â€ Kamille crowed, anger turning into gloating at the other sideâ€™s treachery. â€œHow do you like getting beat by a real girl, Jerid?â€
â€œAt least I can pick real women, boy,â€ Jerid spat from the ground.
â€œHah!â€ Kamille mocked. â€œYou couldnâ€™t beat me, and you canâ€™t even control your own women! What kind of man do you think you are?â€
Friends and more they might have been, but Kamilleâ€™s own female companions were no more submissive and obedient than Jeridâ€™s, and Kamille soon found himself sliding on the ground beside Jerid.
â€œIâ€™m terribly sorry this is happening again,â€ said Lila, advancing in a combat crouch towards the fallen men. â€œI could have sworn Jerid promised that he wouldnâ€™t pick fights again.â€
â€œItâ€™s our fault,â€ said Four, darkness covering her face. â€œI suppose we didnâ€™t teach Kamille well enough to convince him to give up those silly taunts.â€
â€œTruce?â€ offered Fa, showing no sympathy for the downed Kamille.
â€œOf course,â€ accepted Maour, advancing as well.
â€œIf we want to get out of here intact, weâ€™ll have to work together. Again.â€ whispered Kamille from the floor. â€œTemporary truce?â€
â€œAgreed,â€ whispered Jerid back. â€œThough for the record, the only reason I never killed you a half dozen times over was because someone always saved your worthless hide at the last moment.â€
â€œDuly noted.â€ Together, sworn adversaries turned to face the approaching women, but Anewâ€™s attention was diverted when Duo and Joshua both ran her out of the hall and back into the ether.
â€œWhat was that about?â€ she asked as both men panted in the starry cosmos.
â€œJerid and Kamille hate each other,â€ said Joshua, stating the obvious.
â€œLike, a lot,â€ interjected Duo. â€œIt might have something to do with how they kept killing eachotherâ€™s loved ones.â€
â€œHowever, theyâ€™re also both quite a bit alike when you come down to it.â€
â€œParallel character development, bitter rivalry, similar flaws, the whole nine yards,â€ piped in Duo.
â€œPart of that is a fondness for strong women,â€ Joshua continued. â€œAnd unfortunately, the women get along better than they do. I donâ€™t know whose idea of a joke it was to put them both on the same ship, but itâ€™s easier just not to be caught in between their fights.â€
â€œArenâ€™t the two already dead?â€ asked Anew. â€œI can understand a bitter rivalry in death, but surely after returning to their loved onesâ€¦â€
Duo and Joshua blinked. â€œLady, werenâ€™t you paying attention?â€ demanded Duo. â€œItâ€™s not the two of them fighting you have to watch out for: itâ€™s when the women tag team the both of them and try and make them get along!â€ Duo began to wail theatrics into Joshuaâ€™s sleeve, ignoring the blond manâ€™s disgusted attempts to dislodge him. â€œItâ€™s brutal, man, just brutal. Theyâ€™ll drag in any bystanders, and-â€
Joshua, more frightening than anything else he could have done, actually patted Duoâ€™s head in sympathy.
The Third Ship â€“ The Ptolemaios
On the third ship, you find yourself amidst blue and white, and in halls with conveyors both fast and stalled. Those with intermittent developments dwell here, moving in quick spurts followed by long stalls in death much as their character development did in life. This is not to say yours was bad or slow: sometimes, it was very fast indeed. Sometimes it was for the best, and sometimes it was for the worst. But at least it was there, and now so are you. This ship races to and fro, never stopping for any one battle for long, but now there is more than enough time for you to develop into who you were meant to be.
â€œIâ€™m sure you already recognize, but this ship is-â€ Joshua began, but Anew was already struck by the recognition.
â€œPtolemaiosâ€¦â€ she whispered, touching the walls of the ship she had been upon only hours ago.
â€œIndeed,â€ Joshua answered, though he had none of the fondness that she did. â€œCelestial Beingâ€™s ship.â€
â€œIs itâ€¦ real?â€ she asked. â€œI was just on it a few hours ago!â€
â€œItâ€™s as real as anything here,â€ the Union ace said, bitterness apparent. â€œOne of the newest ships to the fleet, and likely where youâ€™ll be staying; most characters fit the flagship they served with. Thatâ€™s why the people-movers start and stop like that: itâ€™s another metaphor. Not too many people here yet; mainly minor characters who had an episode of development here or there.â€ Indeed, much like the living Ptolemaios it was an almost barren ship, only a few sounds down the halls giving any proof of life onboard.
â€œLetâ€™s go on,â€ urged Joshua. â€œThere arenâ€™t many onboard, and no one you would know.â€
Anew turned, but a flash of a green pilot suit caught her eye as she was about to follow Joshua back into the ether. â€œLockon?â€ she gasped, not believing her eyes. â€œLyle!â€ she called, immediately chasing after the phantom.
â€œWait!â€ called Joshua, but she paid him no mind. Pushing down the halls, she was caught sight of the green suit turning another hall, one that she couldnâ€™t remember from life. Kicking off the wall, Joshua well behind her, she entered the room her target had entered. It was an observation room, one she had never been in onboard the Ptolemy, and from it one could see the ethereal void, and the entire Fleet as it journeyed through. Lockon was there, watching it.
â€œLockon!â€ she called again, ignoring the view. â€œYou canâ€™t be dead!â€
The man in the green pilot suit turned, and the same face she had died watching looked back at her in confusion. Not quite the same face, actually; this one had an eyepatch over one eye. But it was the same eyes, the same hair, the same bone structure.
â€œI canâ€™t?â€ he asked, confused, and it was the same voice as well.
â€œBut you were supposed to get clear of the explosion!â€ she exclaimed. â€œLyle, you were supposed to live! Was it another Innovator? Has that much time passed?â€
Hearing his name surprised him, but the man had a flash of understanding and placed a hand gently on her shoulder. â€œMiss,â€ he said gently, â€œLyle is alive, I promise you. Iâ€™m his brother, Neil.â€
Anewâ€™s eyes showed her surprise, but Neil smiled gently. â€œWe used to get that a lot,â€ he admitted. â€œIâ€™ve been long dead now. By the sounds of it, you knew my brother? Closely, I take it?â€
â€œAh, yes,â€ Anew said, uncomfortable both from her mistake and from the prospect of meeting family so soon. â€œWe were very close.â€
â€œIâ€™m glad to hear it,â€ Neil said, and scooted to lean back against a wall. â€œIs he doing well? I havenâ€™t heard of him or seen him for years. Not the worst thing, all things considered,â€ he mused, knowledge implying the death of others.
â€œHeâ€™s alive,â€ Anew admitted. â€œIâ€™m afraid Iâ€™ve made him sad, though. What with dying, you know.â€
â€œAh, right,â€ said Neil, awkwardly trying to salvage the meeting, but Joshua entered the room.
â€œThere you are,â€ he said upon spotting Anew. â€œI tried to warn you not to get lost; these arenâ€™t the actual ships you know. Theyâ€™re meant to be crewed by the souls of soldiers past, and there are a lot more dead soldiers than these ships were originally meant to hold. Theyâ€™re indefinite, and youâ€™ll just get lost if you rely on living memory.â€ Too late he recognized who else was in the room. â€œYou,â€ he growled out, the true reason for his earlier haste to leave apparent.
â€œJoshua,â€ greeted Lockon amiably enough. â€œYouâ€™re looking in good health.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a poor joke coming from the man who killed me,â€ Joshua snapped.
â€œDonâ€™t be like that,â€ Lockon urged. â€œIt was a fair fight. Besides, your commander promptly avenged you by giving me a thrashing I still remember. I would have been captured, too, if it hadnâ€™t been for the Trinities.â€
â€œThat doesnâ€™t make it better,â€ Joshua growled. â€œHow would you feel if you met your killer and he told you to not hold a grudge?â€
â€œIâ€™m already here,â€ said Lockon. â€œIt was my decision to trade my life for that shot, and mine alone. But if you mean what will I do when I see Ali al-Saachez againâ€¦?â€ he shrugged. â€œIf I do, it will mean heâ€™s already dead, and my revenge will have been fulfilled. As it is, I can already visit my parents and sister. In death, Iâ€™m beyond vengeance. Itâ€™s in the past now.â€
Joshua only glared, and Lockon relented. â€œAlright,â€ he admitted, â€œIâ€™d probably take a few pot shots at him.â€
â€œWell, in that case,â€ said Joshuaâ€¦
The Fourth Ship â€“ Solomon
In the heart of the fleet lies Solomon, a bastion in turbulent times. Not a ship, true, but here the noble and enduring foes and allies both now work to endure the battles ahead, battles without end but that are faced with head raised high regardless. You will man the ramparts along with the heroic legends of Ramba Ral and Andrew Watfield, Norris Packard and recently even Sergei Smirnov. Treize Kushrenada, the embodiment of battlefield nobility and purpose, leads among them. Enemies or allies alike, noble and sympathetic warriors now prepare for the battles ahead, and you have the privilege to serve beside them. Justâ€¦ try not to get in a fight with someone you might have killed before.
â€œI still canâ€™t believe you punched him,â€ repeated Anew as they stepped into the great asteroid at the heart of the Fleet. â€œAnd in his good eye too!â€
â€œHey, with an opening like that? It would have been wrong not to take it,â€ Joshua defended, more than a little smugly. â€œBesides, would you rather I had punched him in his bad eye?â€
â€œYes, well, no, but-â€ she said, indecisive, but the sound of a throat clearing stopped them both. Upon turning to see who it was, Joshua immediately jumped to a formal attention.
â€œSir!â€ he exclaimed, as well as any new recruit.
â€œAt ease, soldier,â€ commanded General Revil, taking a well worn pipe out of his mouth. â€œI take it youâ€™ve been in a recent scuffle? Perhaps with a past foe?â€
â€œYes sir!â€ responded Joshua, not trying in the least to cover it up.
â€œWell then, put it behind you now. Thereâ€™s no reason to fight anymore, not now. I know old grudges die hard, but we do need to work together for what lies ahead. That means all of us, friend and foe. If we return to the battles weâ€™ve already fought, there wonâ€™t be a future after the battles to come. Do you understand me?â€
â€œYes sir,â€ submitted Joshua, and Anew was taken aback by how quick the normally cocky pilot was to accept a rebuke. She hadnâ€™t known him long, true, but it didnâ€™t seem like something he would normally do either.
General Revil turned to her. â€œAnd who might you be, young lady?â€ he asked, but without the least bit of patronizing. â€œA new arrival?â€
â€œYes sir,â€ she found herself saying with respect. â€œAnew Returner. Innovator.â€
â€œInnovator, hm?â€ the old General said. â€œAh, yes, the new breed of newtype. Iâ€™m not quite clear what sets you apart, but Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll find your place with us soon enough. Welcome to our Fleet, Ms. Returner. Has the Lieutenant here been showing you around the fleet?â€
â€œYes sir,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™ve just arrived here, atâ€¦â€ she trailed off meaningfully.
â€œSolomon,â€ said Revil. â€œThis is the heart of the fleet, or the brain if you will. Everything that goes on, goes on from here. Selecting the guides for new arrivals, determining the final destination for every new arrival, everything. The greatest soldiers and officers live here, and it is our duty to see this fleet through it all. Should you find yourself with us, I will be glad to welcome you.â€
â€œThank you,â€ she said. â€œBut General,â€ she began, before pausing to see if she should continue her question. He gestured for her to continue. â€œGeneral, just what is this fleet going through? Where is the Fleet going? What battles are left to be fought, if past enemies are to put aside their difference?â€
The General threw a look at Joshua, but the Union man only shrugged. Sighing, the General put in his pipe once again and turned. Around them their surroundings changed as it did every transition, and now they were on the peak of Solomon itself, inside a massive command center. Soldiers bustled here and there, diligently at work, and the image screens (Or were they glass? It was anachronistic enough to be either.) offered a commanding view of the Fleet. Far in the front and in the distance, Anew could see the ships she had already visited, from the White Base to the Argama.
â€œMs. Returner, what do you see out there?â€ asked General Revil.
â€œShips,â€ she said. â€œMany, many ships.â€
â€œBut what are those ships traveling through?â€ asked another voice, strong and commanding, the ideal of true aristocratic nobility.
â€œSpace,â€ she answered.
The new voice, a regal man in a formal uniform, stepped beside the General. â€œAnd what is out beyond that?â€ he asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Anew admitted.
â€œWe do,â€ Treize Kushrenada answered. â€œOut there is a battlefield that we have not yet found.â€
â€œBut the war is over!â€ she protested. â€œWhoâ€™s left to fight? Ourselves? Weâ€™re already dead!â€
â€œNot ourselves,â€ General Revil said. â€œNever ourselves. Not again.â€
â€œThe enemy,â€ Treize said. â€œThe last enemy we have not yet faced, who stands between us and the peace we wish to live. We do not know who it is, but each one of us knows it in our very bones: somewhere out there is a something else, an uncaring force that will destroy everything all of us care for. That is why we have this Fleet: to remember who we were in life, so that we can overcome that terror. That is what we sail towards, Ms. Returner, and that is what we have to fight.â€
â€œThere is an old saying,â€ General Revil brought up as they watched the Fleet journey through the ether. â€œThose who desire peace prepare for war. All of us on Solomon wish for peace very much, and that is why we are so very prepared.â€
The Fifth Ship â€“ The Albion
First behind Solomon is a familiar ship in the model of several before and many after. Though different in appearance, it has little distinct development, instead relying on expected traits and characteristics to see it through. This is the Albion, and this is the home of archetypes and characters who in life relied more on quirks and general characteristics than characterization to flesh out their person. Evolved humans, older veteran pilots, tragically crazed women, or masked men made out of the same mold, these are relegated along with the Black Tri-Stars, and Flag Fighters of the Franchise to this ship, ready to support, but never supplant, those stationed ahead of them. Donâ€™t despair for your identity if you find yourself here, though; commonly used ideas are commonly used often because they are good. Just because you followed an archetypical life or lived the life of a maverick does not mean that you did not live a memorable or exemplary one.
â€œThey were very serious,â€ noted Anew as they stepped away from Solomon and towards their next destination.
â€œThey were,â€ Joshua confirmed. â€œI know this is new to you, but if you must believe anything, believe them. Solomon is where the strong endure, and they work for the rest of us.â€ He stepped forward, and turned around to face her.
â€œAnyways,â€ he said, lightening up the mood, â€œwelcome to the Albion. This is my favorite ship, not least because itâ€™s my own. This is where the interesting characters who werenâ€™t main characters reside: the deviants, the lunatics, and the just plain awesome, like myself.â€
â€œIsnâ€™t that another way of saying gimmick characters?â€ Anew asked, catching on to how these ships worked. â€œOnes that were distinct more for quirks and in-jokes than actual back story and development?â€
â€œOf course not,â€ said Joshua.
â€œReally, what gave you that impression?â€ said Heine.
â€œThis lady comes up with the craziest ideas, right guys?â€ asked Miguel, and all three men nodded before Heine and Miguel vanished as quickly as they arrived.
â€œWho were they?â€ asked Anew.
â€œThose two guys who just appeared to agree with you. They looked just like you.â€
Joshua stared at her oddly. â€œI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about,â€ he said.
â€œANYWAYS,â€ Joshua over-spoke, â€œthe Albion has a number of cool characters. Not just run of the mill old-veterans like South Burning â€“ yes, I said it, go cry in a corner old man â€“ but also most of the legendary teams of the Fleet. Say hello to the one thing Celestial Being hasnâ€™t ripped off yetâ€¦ the Black Tri-Stars!â€ Down the hall, certainly on cue, came the three large men, Gaia, Mash, and Ortega roller skating past them in their trademark formation with hockey sticks raised.
â€œThe Copycat Tri-Stars!â€ Behind the originals came the doppelgangers from Destiny. Though their gear was shinier and hippier than the Black Trinity, they caused nowhere near as much awe and Joshua quickly moved on.
â€œA personal favorite, The Victory Bikini Assault Team!â€ A number of woman of all ethnicities, wearing only bikinis and military weaponry, passed by in a display that would leave any military fanboy with a hard on. At least one stopped close to Joshua and handed him a slip of paper, which he quickly put away.
â€œAnd last, but certainly not least, my own team! May I introduceâ€¦ the Overflags!â€ Down the hall hurried just shy of a dozen men, all in Union piloting suits. Though there were nearly full dozen of them, including Joshua only three had discernable faces.
â€œItâ€™s good to see you around, Joshua,â€ greeted Darryl Dutch. â€œThe guys were thinking you gave up on us, and were about to move down Fleet.â€
Joshua rolled his eyes. â€œYou wish, Aker fanboy. Yaâ€™ll still obsessing over the manâ€™s life?â€
â€œYou know youâ€™re curious too,â€ said Howard Mason. â€œDonâ€™t deny it; I say you interrogate the Innovator arrivals.â€
â€œI hate the man, remember,â€ Joshua defended.
â€œWhatâ€™s this I hear about hating and obsessing?â€ asked a late arrival, and Graham Aker walked up to the men as Anew look on with surprise.
â€œNothing, Commander,â€ lied Darryl as he and Howard tried to divert the American pilot, and Anew grabbed Joshua aside.
â€œHe canâ€™t be here!â€ she hissed. â€œHeâ€™s not dead!â€
â€œCall that his dignity and reputation, then,â€ Joshua whispered back. â€œDidnâ€™t the Creator himself say that Graham Aker was died during the final battle? He was speaking metaphorically. Graham Aker has a strong place on this ship, and perhaps on a few others; he isnâ€™t the only one who can find berth on more than one ship. A number of characters rightfully belong to multiple ships, and thatâ€™s why the bastard can be here now. His character died long ago: they arenâ€™t the same man.â€
â€œBut he is!â€ protested Anew, accidentally raising her voice. â€œHe didnâ€™t die! Everyone knows that Mr. Bushido is Grah-â€
The Sixth Ship â€“ The Radish
Behind the Albion lies the Sargasso, the heart and sinew of the Fleet, a multitude of ships surrounding Solomon. To the right lies a massive sea of ships, flatter and modular, bristling with untold numbers of soldiers and persons. Each one is of similar design or purpose, and is on one of these that you find yourself. This is the Radish, and it is where soldiers who fight to defend Earth find themselves in the Beyond. Those who serve here are good men and women, trained and proficient in their crafts of war, but lacking even those exceptionalities or quirks would warrant them on the Albion. Call them cannon fodder if you must, but remember; these are the men that make up the heart of any victory. If you find yourself here, you are likely to be forgotten. But even so, there are worse fates, and worse roles.
â€œ-amâ€ she finished as Joshua dragged them onto one of the many ships of the Fleet.
â€œDid you really have to say it?â€ berated Joshua. â€œHoward is such a crybaby about that fact, and Darryl isnâ€™t much better. Itâ€™s as if you told a child that Santa isnâ€™t real. Waah waah waah.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry?â€ offered Anew.
â€œAnd really, I was trying to make that an enjoyable stop,â€ he continued. â€œCouldnâ€™t you tell by how out of character I seemed, acting like a circus ring leader like that? I was doing you a favor, believe it or not. Trying to give you a comedic highlight before we got here. And look how well that worked!â€
â€œI said I was sorry,â€ said Anew, but Joshua just barreled on.
â€œYou know what this level is? Boring. B-O-R-I-N-G. Almost no one of any interest is stationed here: only character-less grunts who might have gotten a name to make some emphasis on just how tragic war is for all sides.â€
â€œHey!â€ Lieutenant Ming objected. â€œI-â€
â€œNo one cares, Ming,â€ said Joshua. â€œAt least I stand out because I was a dick to a fan-favorite. You? You just made Hallelujah popular, because nothing makes people like a psychopath quite like torturing a noble soul to death. So there; maybe someday someone will give you a role in a fanfic.â€
He turned to Anew. â€œSo, yeah, this is where the good grunts go. And by good, I mean nominally sympathetic and on a good side, which really screws you up when the other side is the protagonist in a side story. Not much else here; you can go around all the ships in this sector and still never meet anyone of note.â€
â€œIâ€¦ see,â€ said Anew.
â€œWell, nothing interesting happened here at all, right?â€ asked Joshua. â€œLetâ€™s get on with the next stop, shall we?â€ he asked, and they stepped back into the ether.
The Seventh Ship â€“ The Musai
Guarded by various fearsome mobile armors, the smaller left half of the Sargasso is the mainstay fleets of colonial rebels and resistances. Though they may be violent, may serve tyrants and warmongers in pursuit of genocide, and though the stench of lingering corruption can be overpowering, these are not bad men. They fight for their homes, their freedoms, their survival, and are no less sincere than those from the Earth, even if it is often their fate to hang at the mercy of their more numerous or advanced enemies. Even so, these men and ships fight on regardless. Nothing exemplifies that more than the ship you stand on now, the Musai, home for those whose only crime was to oppose the protagonists. They are many, and they are varied. Gene was among the first, Barack Zinnin the latest. They are all but forgotten, but their presence remains very real. Welcome to their ranks, Revolutionary.
â€œItâ€™sâ€¦ quaint,â€ Anew commented upon seeing the Musaiâ€™s bridge and its anachronistic monitors and computers. â€œA lot like the White Base.â€
â€œSame era,â€ explained Joshua. â€œThis part of the fleet is the other side of the previous one: this is where enemy grunts go, and by enemy I mean those who end up fighting for some crazed genocidal bigot or another. These things happen, though; most of these guys arenâ€™t that bad. Or at least I get along well enough with most of them.â€
â€œNo one of note here either?â€ asked Anew, ready to move on at the mention of the company in the area.
â€œActually, more than the other side of the Sargasso,â€ Joshua said. â€œEnemy grunts are more likely to have names than allied grunts, and they get killed more often as well. Sometimes they even matter later in flashbacks.â€
â€œReally?â€ asked Gundams newest dead woman.
â€œNah,â€ said Joshua. â€œNot unless you consider Rusty dying half a dozen times over important. Considering how no one saw his face until extra materialâ€¦â€
â€œExtra material?â€ questioned Anew, and Joshua realized he had said a bit too much to a new recruit.
â€œOh, look at the time,â€ he said, avoiding the question. â€œCome on, weâ€™re getting close to done. Letâ€™s go. Here, put these on,â€ he said, pulling out a pair of gloves out of nowhere.
â€œWhat are these for?â€ Anew asked.
â€œTo keep you from catching the contagion. I dislike this part of the tour, but itâ€™s necessary. Follow me, and for the love of god donâ€™t fall behind.â€
The Eighth Ship â€“ The ArchAngel
Many believe they wish to serve eternally in the ArchAngel, one of the two rear guardians of the Fleet. Beautiful, powerful, and firm in convictions. Those who set foot aboard it become party to its aspirations, and in the implications therein. For when taken to their logical extremes, these are stop being virtues Narcists without substance, might without effort or justification, unbending obstinacies and obedience despite the reasoning and opportunities of other views, and this is becomes a ship of superficial perfections, of character stagnation. What was good once is not always good the next time around, and this ship tells the tale of actors who linger on the stage too long rather than take a more modest role. That is the legacy of this ship: initial excellence, followed by misuse and stagnation. A fulfilled promise followed by disaster and hypocrisy.
But at least it has a nice bath.
â€œWhy do people hate this ship?â€ asked Anew after exchanging warm pleasantries with many of the crew members onboard. â€œI noticed it from others earlier, but I canâ€™t tell why. These people are sincere in their good faith, arenâ€™t they?â€
â€œOf course they are,â€ Joshua said. â€œLots of people are sincere. Iâ€™m sincere in my dislike of a number of people, fan groupies especially. You donâ€™t come to this ship because youâ€™re sincere, or because you have an opinion. It is how you act that sends you here.â€
â€œBut they want just peace; whatâ€™s wrong with fighting for that?â€ asked Anew. â€œCelestial Being wants peace, the Innovators want peace, and Iâ€™m sure most people from these ships hope for peace as well. But why is this ship so much farther behind the Fleet than the rest?â€
Joshua carefully looked down the halls to check for anyone else and then leaned forward.
â€œThis is hard to explain, so Iâ€™ll be frank,â€ he said. â€œThis ship is filled with doppelgangers.â€
â€œDoppelgangers?â€ Anew asked, and Joshua nodded.
â€œRemember how I told you that Bastard Aker could be on more than one ship, because he fit more than one roll?â€ Anew nodded. â€œWell, in death youâ€™re present in all your rolls simultaneously. Donâ€™t ask how or why, itâ€™s just how the afterlife works. That way everyone is where theyâ€™re supposed to be all the time. So while Iâ€™m here showing you around, Iâ€™m also with the Overflags at the Albion, and probably somewhere in the Sargasso, and so on. Part of you is still on the Ptolemaios as well.â€ He paused a moment to let Anew absorb the implications.
â€œThatâ€™s only one kind of doppelganger, though: you donâ€™t have to only be in one place at one time in death. Physics arenâ€™t quite real. Thatâ€™s why these ships have infinite capacity, always enough for everyone inside them. Thatâ€™s also why we can step into and through the ether just by willing it.â€
â€œBut thereâ€™s another kind of Doppelganger as well: the cross-character doppelganger. When a character undergoes a significant change, especially after a time skip, he or sheâ€¦ splits. Thereâ€™s no better way to describe it. The sum of his character before becomes one person, and the sum of his character afterwards becomes another. Graham is one of those characters: his earlier character is dead and distinct from his current state, and thatâ€™s why he already has his place in the Fleet. I, on the other hand, donâ€™t have a Doppelganger,â€ he said, and she could hear the capital D. â€œI never had the character change to create one.â€
â€œDo I have one?â€ asked Anew. â€œWhen I recalled my nature as an Innovator, Iâ€¦â€ she trailed off, ashamed and upset at her actions.
Joshua shrugged. â€œMaybe,â€ he said. â€œYouâ€™ll find out over time. Some people have nearly insignificant Doppelgangers that are never seen: well-developed character are clearly different at the end of their development than from the beginning, but their beginning character is rarely what theyâ€™re known or remembered for. You may be the same way.â€
â€œSo, these people-â€ Anew prompted, catching the implications.
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ Joshua confirmed. â€œThis ship is where post-development Doppelgangers with no character come. Theyâ€™ve become mere caricatures of the people they were during their development: a Lacus Clyne who speaks of peace and understanding but refuses to unclench her fists from power and control, a Kira who talks of avoiding bloodshed but is directly responsible for ever more of it. In their development, it was understandable; there were exceptional times, and they were still coming to grips with themselves. But when they stopped growing but kept preaching the same words even as they took more and more actions against the spirit of their lessonsâ€¦â€
Joshua shook his head. â€œThey became stagnant and hypocrits. Everybody is to some extent, but they also usurped the stage to do so. Iâ€™ve met the true crew of this ship, from before their stagnation. Some of them even deserve to be on the White Base, others donâ€™t but still have respectable stations. I donâ€™t like them, mind you, but I have some respect for them. They have virtues, but they also have flaws that they deal with. Theseâ€¦?â€ he said, gesturing to the near throne- room of the bridge, where Lacus Clyne had sat above everyone else, the center of the ship.
Anew thought of it, and thought back to her meeting with the Lacus Doppelganger who sat at the head of the bridge, of how impeccably beautiful and gentle she had been without a hint of real human in her. Even Innovators, who were beyond mere humans, still felt emotions from love to anger.
â€œThatâ€™s very sad,â€ she said, but Joshua shook his head.
â€œThis is where those whose development has stopped despite their continued prominence come,â€ he said. â€œWhere weâ€™re going next, itâ€™s even sadder.â€
The Ninth and Final Ship â€“ The Minerva
This is the last ship of the fleet, and where the failed protagonist Shinn Asuka himself resides. His character derailment echoes eternally through the annals of the Fleet, producing a chilling cold on anyoneâ€™s spine. The three faces of Shinn, angry, crying, and emo, can be seen with mouths gushing bloody foam and eyes forever weeping at lost potential as he curses the three most hated names: Freedom, Fukuda, Morwosa. This ship is furthest removed from successful characters, and those who reside here are frozen in the moments their characterization was tossed aside. Hated or pitied by those few who will remember them, lost to their own series, they are the results of a careless or hurried Creator, and their tragedy is the greatest loss of all: potential. The Minverva is home to those dregs who are not the worst or the most vile, but who so clearly could have been so much more. Pity, not hatred, is what they deserve.
It didnâ€™t take Anew long to realize what was wrong. â€œThis is justâ€¦ terrible,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s as if someone is trying to force me to feel various ways. Aggressive music and dark shadows for those Iâ€™m supposed to hate, white light and choirs for those I should favor. But theyâ€™re all soâ€¦ empty.â€ Vacant stares and blank attitudes had been the dominant responses to her initial greetings, and now they watched as most merely passed them by.
â€œIt is,â€ Joshua agreed, no smugness in his tone. â€œThese arenâ€™t characters who merely stalled: these are characters who actually regressed from potential. Not merely the ones who lived on this ship in life: others to. There are Doppelgangers of others here to: I donâ€™t know if you spotted Jerid Messa around here, but he had much of his own relevance cast aside by the end. A few protagonists as well: there was one time when Quatre Winner fell into insanity. We were supposed to feel pity for him, butâ€¦â€ he shrugged. â€œIt was ham-handed, as was other twists such as Wu Fei joining the coup army after the war. Anyone whoâ€™s regressed as a character will have a doppelganger here; Mr. Bushido already has an entire suit reserved for him.â€
â€œIs there any hope for them?â€ asked Anew, sympathetic. â€œAnything at all?â€
â€œPerhaps,â€ said Joshua. â€œFor some characters, regression is temporary. They develop out of it, and their Doppelgangers are largely forgotten. For other thoughâ€¦ well, thereâ€™s always a chance that theyâ€™ll be given another chance for some sort of development in extra material. Not much of one, mind you, but itâ€™s there. If nothing else, thereâ€™s always fan imaginations. Not much compared to actual development, but itâ€™s the most some of us could hope for. Not that many would care to revive my ghost for anything but to kill me again, though.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not a very optimistic view,â€ Anew chastised.
â€œNo, but itâ€™s true,â€ Joshua defended. â€œThis ship isnâ€™t a repository of characters who must be saved: itâ€™s a monument to those who were ruined. The fantasies of others is all the hope that exists for some people.â€
â€œI can still hope for them,â€ Anew said. â€œThereâ€™s still potential for further use and growth. For them, and even for you.â€
Joshua looked at her sharply. â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ he conceded. â€œYou may even have some potential left in you as well, Anew Returner.â€
â€œSoâ€¦ whatâ€™s left?â€ asked Anew after they stepped back into the ethereal space. â€œThat was nine ships, and I know this metaphor. Is it time to go to my level and doâ€¦ whatever we do?â€
â€œSmart, but not quite yet,â€ Joshua said, leading her as they walked through the Fleet. â€œI have just a two more things to show you. Have you noticed the bright specks of light outside of the fleet?â€
â€œThe stars?â€ asked Anew, wondering if it was a trick question.
â€œNot quite, though itâ€™s hard to see from here. Follow me.â€ As they approached closer, it was apparent that they werenâ€™t just stars. Some of them were moving much too fast, and as they got closer Anew could even see too-familiar traces of light between them.
â€œAâ€¦ battle?â€ she asked in disbelief.
â€œNot quite. Punishment. Those are balls.â€ The leer alone in his voice made Anew blush, but as they got closer she could see it was correct. Tiny littleâ€¦ spheres, with even smaller rockets attached and an under-compensating gun on top.
â€œThatâ€™s where the worst of the worst go; the hated bastards who no one loves or cares for. Everyone whoâ€™s deserves it has a doppelganger down there. Theyâ€™re doomed to be stuck in one of those balls until the final battle, forced to fight from a position of total helplessness and weakness.â€ He grinned a bit savagely. â€œAnd, as a bonus, anyone else who wants to can launch and blow up however many they want to; they just respawn after a little bit. It makes for great boredom relief to blow up some boorish officer who sold his subordinates down the river.â€
â€œArenâ€™t you afraid you might be down there?â€ asked Anew, skeptical. â€œYou donâ€™t seem like the most lovable person.â€
Joshua snorted. â€œWhat have I ever done?â€ he asked. â€œSo I didnâ€™t like a popular guy; big deal. I never did anything bad. Iâ€™m a dick, not a ball,â€ he said, laughing at his own bad pun.
â€œAlright, thereâ€™s just one stop left to go,â€ he said, and pointed to a star brighter than the rest. â€œWeâ€™re going there.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s there? Whyâ€™s it so far away from the Fleet?â€ asked Anew.
â€œWhy wouldnâ€™t it be?â€ asked Joshua in return. â€œJust watch.â€
Ship Zero â€“ Peacemillion
You have moved past war and means to fight it and have set foot in the Peacemillion, a vessel meant to reach mankindâ€™s destiny in space. Though the battlefield now lies behind you, much work remains to be done for the good of mankind, and it will take just as much of your skills, determination, and patience as war ever did. As the blood washes from your hands and recedes into distant memory, you will be illuminated by the pure light of the stars, and you will join others like you, soldiers and civilians both, smiling and content in the peace of infinite space. Here reside the civilians lost and those that you sought to protect. Here work the soldiers who have put war behind them. Before long you will know the serenity of building the future of humanity through peaceful space colonization, where no one will be asked to pull a trigger ever again. But know this: simply desiring peace is not enough to earn a place on this ship. You must be willing to throw away the gun as well, or else your hands will never unclench from being fists.
Explanations didnâ€™t seem appropriate, as if they would tarnish the sight. The colonization ship easily dwarfed the Memento Mori in all its might, and yet was the antithesis of it as well. The Memento Mori, or â€œRemember Death,â€ was a weapon made to conquer, to force the world into unity. It was a weapon in itself, and nothing more. Like a sword, it was designed with just one purpose: to kill. It could do nothing else well. Even the warships of the Fleet could remove their weapons and still serve a purpose.
But this ship was different. It could carry great and terrible might, true, but to do so would be to defy its purpose. This was a ship made to explore, to spread life. Watching in silence, Anew and Joshua gazed on as men and woman of all ages and ethnicities worked together.
There was a civilian pod, carrying construction materials to and fro through the shipâ€™s giant corridors. Here was a young boy working at a laptop, creating a robotic pet for a dear friend. Out in front of the ship were workers, laboring to create a great spherical colony dwarfing anything Anew had ever seen in her previous life. A planetoid in scale, easily, and yetâ€¦
â€œItâ€™s Home,â€ said Joshua, breaking the silence. â€œThatâ€™s what we call it. One day it might even be complete.â€
â€œItâ€™s beautiful,â€ Anew marveled, even though the masterpiece was only just started and scaffoldings and plates littered the space in between.
â€œIt is,â€ Joshua agreed. â€œI donâ€™t think you can find anyone to say otherwise in the entire Fleet.â€ He turned to her, and was once again completely serious.
â€œYou asked why we have the Fleet, and where we are going,â€ he said. â€œThis is it. This is where everyone hopes to come. Those on this ship are the closest, closer than even the White Base. They are the ones who will build us our Home.â€
â€œBut why doesnâ€™t everyone from the Fleet join together to build it?â€ asked Anew. â€œWouldnâ€™t it be finished so much faster?â€
Joshua shook his head. â€œRemember what you heard on Solomon? Thereâ€™s still something out there, something malevolent. I donâ€™t know who, or what, it is, but I knew it with every fiber with my being after I died. You do to, even if you donâ€™t realize it yet. But itâ€™s there. And as long as it is, we still need to fight against it.
He turned and gestured to all the people aboard the Peacemillion, to all those working on the great colony. â€œThese people, theyâ€™re ahead of us,â€ he admitted. â€œIâ€™m not one of them. I may never be. These are people who know how to do something I never did: they build, they create, with no other desire but to further life. Theyâ€™re beyond war, something most people only claim to be, including those who seek peace through force.â€
But he looked at her straight in the eyes, with no hint of shame in himself. â€œBut I can fight, and I can defend them from the Threat. Thatâ€™s why I fight, and thatâ€™s why everyone on the Fleet is resolved to work together, whether friend or foe in life alike. Because we can fight, we can protect, and if we protect then these people can continue to create Home. I know that when that day comes that the Enemy is defeated, I can return here and live.â€
Anew wondered about that. She considered asking him if that Threat was really out there, if anyone had ever seen any sign of it, or if it was some unreal boogeyman that would forever be used to convince enemies to put aside their hatred and work together. That was what Celestial Being did, what Ribbons would have tried to do.
But then she turned back to Home, saw what was at stake, and decided not to. It was too much to risk if she was wrong, and nothing would be gained if she was right. In fact, everything could be lost. And regardless of either one, perhaps this was a case where the journey was just as important as the destination.
And so she said, â€œI think I would like to live here to.â€
I'm sorry this letter is so long, but I did not have time to make it shorter. -Mark Twain
Official Jerid Fanboy