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 Post Posted: Fri Dec 02, 2011 5:59 pm 
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Newtype Emo Guy

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 264
Location: Illinois, USA
I'm sorry for the six-month wait. I needed to take a break. A looooooooooong break from writing this, I burned myself out.

Anyway, with the announcement of SEED HD, I was inspired to start writing the fic again. So yeah, if any of you guys are still interested in reading this, the fic continues now. I can't guarantee how long the delay between chapters will be at this time as I'm trying to re-establish my buffer, nor the confirmed posting day. I'm still working that out right now.

But I hope you guys enjoy this chapter, and there should be more to come soon.

_____________________________________________________________________________


Chapter Twenty-Three: Pounding the Pavement

The rain lightened up a little bit, as did the lightning and thunder. I was totally drenched which made the relief moot. Combined with my general soreness my discomfort was the worse it had been since my ordeal had begun all the way back on Heliopolis.

It was actually kinda amazing I had no broken bones. Yeah, I smelled a little funny and was soaked, and probably had bruises for my bruises too. Then general sleep deprivation and fatigue. But nothing was broken. Maybe I had strained something somewhere but I couldn't tell. Finally, all I needed to do was look up at the sky and open my mouth for a little bit to get some water.

Basically, I needed sleep. And food. Both things looked like they were going to be impossible to come by.

I finally sat down in an alleyway, which had some kind of retractable roof covering over my head so I could get some shelter from the rain. The temperature felt surprisingly cold, and my eyes were aching. I so badly wanted sleep. But my fear was still keeping me awake.

I didn't even manage to get a disguise. I was still stuck in my pilot's outfit.

I had nothing to reward me for my trouble other than a ZAFT assault rifle that had an unknown number of shots in it. I didn't have any extra clips, I had no clue how to accurately fire the thing, and this was not the time or place to figure that out.

The rifle was more of a burden than a relief.

Finally, I could stay awake no longer and finally nodded off. I couldn't think anymore, couldn't act, couldn't function in any way minor or major.

It was stupid to fall asleep. I know that. But even though I seemed to be transforming into a soldier, I didn't have any basic training. No abuse from drill sergeants. No 5 a.m. wakeups. I was trying to transition from civilian to soldier without the six weeks in a camp somewhere. I just could not keep going like a soldier could. I can't function without sleep, without food, without water. No amount of reason or judgement could overrule my body.

Two hours would pass by before I woke up. And when I did wake up, it was not by under my own power.

Someone found me.
***
Something really strong washed through my sinuses all of a sudden and it jolted me from a murky dreamland back into the dark, harsh, wet reality. It shot my eyes open, and I saw myself staring into human eyes.

Before I could cry out, the man put his finger in front of his lips. "Ssh. Friendlies."

"Friendlies?" I repeated dumbly.

The man positioned his left shoulder in front of my face and pulled down on a piece of velcroed fabric, revealing the flag of the North American Federation. "Special forces. We're here to get you and recover the Strike."

"What?" I asked.

There was another voice, a woman's. "ZAFT patrols are beginning to move out. Looks like they're starting a sweep of the area. Desert Dawn's not doing so hot."

"They gotta hold out long enough for us to get this girl and the Strike out of Tassil," the man said.

"What are you talking about?" I asked. "The Strike's dead."

The man shrugged. "As far as we know ZAFT hasn't been able to move it yet. We have a transport on the way from the Archangel. Desert Dawn is to create a diversion to keep the ZAFT occupied while we get you and the Strike out of town."

As audacious as the plan was, what stunned me the most was a single word. "The Archangel is here?"

"Yeah," the man said. "They tried to get to you but couldn't make it. They wound up landing somewhere near here."

That, for some reason, made me feel like I was a part of the world again. Tears came to my eyes, not because of pain or sadness, but because of a sudden rush of hope that made my body come to life.

They haven't abandoned me. They're trying to save me.

This is not a small thing despite what an outsider might think. Here I was, thinking that the Archangel was off in Alaska somewhere and suddenly they were right next door. They had sacrificed their safety in order to find me. That meant that my friends, the Orb civilians, Melanie . . .

They were all waiting for me.

I knew right away that I could not die. For them to have given up their right on safety to land in Africa, just for me . . . even if the Strike was a motivation, I had to be part of it too. Someone had to pilot the dumb, overweight thing.

Plus, they needed protection if they were going to try to make it to Alaska, or wherever they were going, the hard way. That would mean me again. So if I died here, who was going to keep them safe?

Flay?

No, it had to be me.

Something else popped in my head then. While the Archangel made an effort to get me, what about Athrun? The person who actually did get me and prevented me from burning up in the atmosphere? He was important too, even though he gave me the impression of being a stalker before that heroic act. Would a stalker really risk his own life to save a girl?

Maybe, maybe not. I've never been stalked before. I don't know what typical "stalker" behavior is.

"The Aegis," I said. "What about the Aegis?"

"The Aegis crashed in a different part of the town. ZAFT has it locked down pretty well," the soldier said. "They're secondary objectives, targets of opportunity, nothing more."

He signaled something to his compatriot, and I realized that they were the only two Earth soldiers around. "Uh, what happened to the rest of the squad?"

"We're it," said the woman. "We got scattered due to the anti-aircraft fire and the storm. I don't know how the others are doing. Radio coms are a total mess."

"Cut the chatter, Noriko," the man said. "We've moving, now."

He turned his attention back to me. "Can you keep up with us?"

"Uh, yeah," I said.

"Then come on. We're going to take you to the rendezvous point and wait there for extraction," the man said.

I knew there was no point in trying to stay sitting down. It was time to leave. No matter how tired I was, no matter how miniscule the relief of my brief collapse was, the only way I was going to get a lasting rest was by getting to this rendezvous. I could doze off on the way to the Archangel.

I followed the unnamed man through the alleyways, while the woman named Noriko backpedaled behind us, her back to me. Clearly, Noriko thought that ZAFT was right on top of us.

At the edge of one of the ways out lay a public square. There was nothing but wreckage and a few bodies . . . and a distant ZAFT patrol. There was no way any of us could try to get through that way, not without causing attention.

Or so I thought.

The man looked at Noriko and I. "You think we can sneak past them?"

Noriko shook her head. "Wait for them to pass. Get behind something."

We ducked behind the nearest piece of cover. The ZAFT patrol was not leisurely walking around. They were actively searching all around, their rifles aimed at every window in every building around them.

"They know you're here," I said.

"I'd be surprised if they didn't. I know at least a few of us made contact with the enemy. They know something's going on," the man said.

Noriko looked up. "We need to go, now. They going in the opposite direction, around a corner."

"Let's go." The man got up and took off and I only just managed to keep up as we ran across the square and into a shattered storefront. We take cover in there, and face the buildings across from us. Nothing is heard or seen moving, not even a stray animal.

At least in here it's dry. I'm sick and tired of rain at this point.

The man sighed. "Radio's still a no-go. Too much interference."

"We're not too far from a Desert Dawn pocket," Noriko says. "If we can make it there, that'll be as good of a place for Ensign Yamato as any."

"You know my rank?" I asked dumbly.

Noriko smiled. "We were notified of Halberton's promotion before we deployed, Ensign."

"And we outrank you," the man says. "Follow our orders and you will survive this city. Tassil isn't going to last much longer but there's some mountain redoubts not very far from here. Desert Dawn's busy making them their new hideout and the Archangel is hiding there as well. Just do as we say and you'll be on your way there."

While their orders and their reasoning were clear, I still had questions. A lot of them. I wanted to know everything that was going on. I had been cut off from everything and now that I kind of-sort of wasn't, I didn't care what I found out as long as I did. Does that make any sense?

In the distance to my left, where the square was, I could see the sky beginning to lighten up. It was still dark, as the rain remained unrelenting, but now I could see the clouds. And they were beginning to break up. The rain was not going to last much longer, and would fade as the sun rose in the sky.

After getting drenched repeatedly and mercilessly, some desert sun sounded appealing.

Noriko gave the man a look. "Out the back or down the street?"

"Out the back if it'll open."

Noriko moved, and she tried the back door. "It won't budge."

"No point kicking it down and making a noise," the man said. "Through the street."

"We're more exposed there," Noriko said.

"No time to argue. We have a primary objective, we need to get her to extraction," he said.

He motions Noriko out the front, and she takes the lead, and I follow her, the man right behind me. An uncomfortable realization hits me, that these soldiers were acting as shields for me, blocking any bullets bursts that may come from front or back. They really didn't want me to die, even if it was at the cost of their own lives.

Why would people sacrifice themselves just for me? I had never claimed I was going to keep fighting for the Earth Alliance. I never was fighting for the Earth Alliance. I was fighting for the Archangel alone! Why were they insisting on treating me like I was one of their soldiers?

Was I really that valuable? Or were they trying to foster some sense of comradery to make me feel as if I belonged in the EA? So I would want to fight for them?

The thought was surprising and mildly frightening. If the Earth Alliance was going to risk their finest special ops soldiers just for a girl who had not guaranteed her involvement in this war until she got on Orb soil, they must be hurting for a pilot capable of shooting Coordinators down. I guess Mu La Flaga isn't good enough on his own. A Coordinator girl, no matter what her inexperience, in a GUNDAM machine, had proven herself valuable in the fighting she did in space.

Of course they would want her to stick around and kill more people!

As we moved down the street, I hoped I wouldn't have to kill any more Coordinators. At least not right now. At least until I could have the cold, impersonal way of a Mobile Suit. That was, of course, considering the possibility that the Strike was even operable. That thing had to have taken a hell of a beating.

But then, suddenly, things stopped going according the plan.

A ZAFT patrol emanated from around the corner. They spotted us immediately and began shouting alarms right as Noriko opened fire. Two ZAFT soldiers fell backwards, their guns firing wildly, and crashed into the ground.

I felt a force grab me by the shoulders and send me down the nearest alleyway. I heard the man's voice. "Move it! Hurry!"

I took off running.

I heard Noriko cry out, and I spun around just to see her collapse at the beginning of the alleyway. She was clearly dead or dying, the ZAFT must have shot her multiple times.

The man gets up in my face. "Go! We're not too far from the Desert Dawn pocket! Get there! I'll hold them off as long as I can!"

Behind him, I saw Noriko get shot a final time, and now she no longer moved.

The man cursed under his breath and raised his rifle. "Go, damn it! All of this is for nothing if you don't get out of here!"

"Y-Yes sir!" I didn't know how else to object, and I knew full well what he was planning to do, and there was no time to talk him out of it. When someone decides to make a brave sacrifice and become a dead man walking, it's best to make sure that sacrifice proves to be worth something. Like if it was for my life.

Once again, my life was more valuable than a pair of special-ops soldiers, who must've been trained and fighting for years, and had to be the best at what they did.

I took off running down the alleyway as gunfire roared behind me. I heard multiple people scream in pain and agony, and none of them sounded like the man. He was a good and efficient shot.

I rounded the corner and kept running. Being spotted meant nothing to me right now. All that mattered was getting as far away from the gun battle as possible.

When it felt like I couldn't keep going any longer, I found an open garage and collapsed inside it, and hugged the wall. I just could not keep running anymore, adrenaline wasn't good enough of a fuel alone. My reserves were completely gone, and my body felt like it wanted to shut down.

I just concentrated on trying to catch my breath so I could keep moving. No matter how badly my body wanted to collapse, like it had run an epic marathon, I was still too close to that ZAFT patrol, and probably to other patrols as well. A battle like that is going to get attention. Maybe the man would get some backup from his other soldiers in the area. Or maybe the ZAFT patrol would get other patrols to close in on the man and . . .

It occurred to me then that I didn't know the man's name.

That made me freeze for a second. It was almost if he had never existed, then. Just a nameless figure in my life, with me for maybe a half hour or an hour or so, and then he's gone, just like that. Same with the woman, Noriko.

Almost like phantoms.

That reminded me of Halberton talking about the "fog of war". Yeah, phantoms sound just right.

That's what people become when they're hidden in the fog of war.

Ephemeral phantoms, seen once, and never seen again.
***
I kept trudging down the streets and alleyways aimlessly. One thing was sure: I was completely lost.

The soldiers knew where they were taking me. They were moving with purpose, with direction. But I had none of that. The man had never given me an explicit idea where to go. He had merely told me that a Desert Dawn pocket wasn't very far.

It was beginning to lighten up around me, it was early in the morning. Darkness would not hide me for much longer. And my pilot's suit wasn't exactly meant for Earth camouflage. It was designed to be seen in the darkness of outer space so I could be rescued after being shot down in a battle.

I really needed some new clothing if I was going to keep running around.

However, the devestation to this city was becoming obvious. Nooks and crannies that never existed before now do. These created more hiding spots than ever. Of course, these things work both way, an enemy could come out of a shellhole or a collapsed building and either kill or capture me just like that.

As the day rose, so did the gunfire. It sounded like the ZAFT hadn't secured the city as much as it had appeared in the night. Desert Dawn might've just been probing around, and now that day was approaching and the ZAFT's advantage in night-vision was disappearing, Desert Dawn was eager to restart the battle on their own terms.

Tassil was not going to fall without a fight. And blood and death, for that matter.

How long before one of those battles erupted around me? Or for me?

I sat down in one of the corners and gobbled up my last protein bar. I was going to need the energy if I was going to get out of here, especially if I had to fight.

The distant gunfire gradually got more intense. I could hear explosions now. Even the whooshes of RPGs launching, followed quickly by additional explosions. No, these skirmishes weren't going to stay that way. They were becoming full-on battles. The entire city was going to become chaos in short order and I was still caught inside it.

At this point I didn't really care how I got out of this city as long as I got out.

I gave up on figuring out how to handle the rifle I had taken from the dying ZAFT soldier. I had slung it over my back and had my pistol out. The pistol I could figure out how to use and I still knew how much ammunition I had. The rifle was just too much of an unknown entity at this point.

I walked through the buildings slowly, cautiously, using any hole in the building or side or back door to manuever between them. There weren't any living civilians in any of them, unless they were hiding in corners I didn't wish to explore. Which was good. My goal was to avoid contact.

But, at the fifth or sixth building, contact became unavoidable.

I edged out the door, and stumbled right on a small ZAFT squad that had taken cover in the alleyway.

"What the-" a ZAFT soldier cried.

On pure reflex, I shot him in the chest.

I ducked back behind the door as a hail of bullets followed, riddling the back wall.

I heard the wounded ZAFT soldier groaning and yelling in pain and anger, and multiple yells for a medic by everyone around him. Above his din I heard a different soldier shout "Hey, that was the girl, wasn't she?"

"The Coordinator girl? The Strike's pilot?"

"Yeah, her! We gotta take her alive!"

"Then let's go! Take point!"

"You take point, wiseass!"

Ah, the brave, powerful ZAFT army, afraid of a civilian girl holding a pistol. It would be hilarious if this was a movie or a game or something. Unfortunately, in real life, when the bullets are real and so are the people, these kinds of situations aren't funny at all.

I didn't know whether to run or to try to fight it out. I backed away from the door, slowly, surely, all of my attention trained on that open doorway for the first sign of a ZAFT soldier breaking in.

Shooting that soldier had been easier than the last time. Like it almost wasn't a big deal. I felt like I could pull the trigger at will now. Like it was an extension of myself.

It wasn't much different than learning how to pilot the Strike.

It's just another way of learning how to kill.

Come on, I thought. Come on, come on. I'm not scared! Come and get me! I dare you!

Of course, I was terrified, but adrenaline makes you think funny things no matter how scared you are. Without meaning to, I was psyching myself into a frenzy, and suddenly firing this pistol was nothing more than pure instinct.

But I didn't need to.

Suddenly, I heard an explosion go off, and multiple gunfire sounds. The cries of the ZAFT soldiers were quickly silenced.

My first inclination was that the ZAFT soldiers had been killed by either Desert Dawn or EA soldiers, but at this point doubting something was easier than trusting something. But I was nervous enough about getting shot by a so-called "friendly" that I made my presence known.

"Who's there?"

"Desert Dawn," shouted a young voice from beyond the door. "Who are you?"

Part of me felt liberated at the sound of that name, but enough of me remained suspicious to not let down my guard. "Ensign Cagalli Yamato, Earth Alliance forces."

Was I North American? Eurasian? East Asia? It occurred to me that I didn't know which Earth Alliance federation I was serving. Halberton was North American, so I guess that? Did it really matter to anyone, though?

"North American Federation," I finally added as an afterthought. "I'm really from Orb, but I'm serving-"

"Yeah, I get it. I heard you're from Orb."

Then he showed himself, and he was every bit as young as he sounded. He had medium-brown skin and his hair was the same shade. Most surprisingly, he had blue eyes, hinting at a mixed heritage.

"You're also speaking English, which I heard you're pretty good at," the young man said. "So, you're looking for a ride back to the Archangel, I assume?"

"Yeah," I said.

He grinned. At that point he looked like an ordinary teenage boy, not like someone who just helped kill a bunch of enemy soldiers. "Good for you. The Earth Alliance special forces and we just retook the Strike. Now you can pilot it and kill the Desert Tiger for us."

"Desert Tiger?" I asked, having no clue what the heck he was talking about.

"Ah, I can fill you in on that later. We need to get you out of here and underground. The underground still belongs to us. The ZAFT didn't search it well enough, they were caught completely off guard this morning, we have them on the run . . ."

The young man sighed. "Never mind. We can talk once we're underground."

"Uh, just one thing," I managed. I had made this mistake with the special forces soldiers, and I wasn't going to repeat it here.

"Yes?" the young man asked.

"What's your name?"

The young man smiled warmly. "My name's Ahmed."

_________________
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

KIRA: What do you think this is; a cartoon?


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 Post Posted: Mon Dec 05, 2011 8:43 pm 
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Der Bigen Slicen
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Joined: Fri Jan 04, 2008 3:36 pm
Posts: 2646
Location: Cruisin' the Universe w/Spaceman Spiff!!!
Looks like more tragedy is headed Cagalli's way!

Good to see you back in the saddle, man!

_________________
Thundermuffin wrote:
AMURO: What? Don't be ridiculous- Tomino is just an abstract construct, he doesn't really exist.


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 Post Posted: Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:32 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
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Location: over there
Lovely! Made my day!

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*insert witty eyecatch here*


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 Post Posted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 3:34 pm 
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Newtype Emo Guy

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 264
Location: Illinois, USA
Arbiter GUNDAM wrote:
Looks like more tragedy is headed Cagalli's way!

Good to see you back in the saddle, man!


Is it? :twisted:

It's good to be back. I'm going to try to see how far I can get on this run.

Rob DS Zeta wrote:
Lovely! Made my day!


I'm glad! Thanks for reading!

_____________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Twenty-Four: Guiding Hand

It wasn't very long before Ahmed lead me to a building and we walked inside it. Inside were other Desert Dawn fighters, and most of them looked like they had been in war forever. They looked battle-hardened but exhausted, their eyes seeming to stare into blankness, with grim determination on their faces. Their qualms about war were stifled by their vows to continue fighting ZAFT . . . or, perhaps, their hatred of Coordinators. North Africa and the Middle East were notorious for being anti-Coordinator hotbeds.

How did these people feel about there being a Coordinator in their midst? Did they care? Or had they not been told that I was one? It occurred to me that Desert Dawn might not know. I hadn't told Ahmed that I was a Coordinator because of this fear that the Atlantic Federation might have deceived Desert Dawn in such a way, or misled them into thinking I was a Natural.

Unless the topic got brought up, I decided to keep that piece of information to myself. Something told me that Desert Dawn wouldn't be happy to discover that their men were getting killed over a Coordinator pilot.

"How long has the fight for Tassil been going on?" I asked finally, to break my own nervousness and get some kind of dialogue going with Ahmed. He seemed to be the only one capable of speaking a language I was fluent in.

Yeah, as I heard the fighters talk, I could make out some of the Arabic, but not enough to get more than a few words. It just confused me to listen to them more than helped.

"Only since yesterday," Ahmed said. "After you crashed."

So I was the reason. That made me feel guilty, until I realized that Athrun had to have steered me right into town. The blood was on his hands. Unless he had lost control himself . . .

"You think you can hold the city?"

"Probably not. A couple of hours before I found you I heard the Desert Tiger himself was bringing his main force here. It seems that ZAFT wasn't ready to attack this town yet and you and another pilot crashing into it forced their hand."

There it was, that mention of the 'Desert Tiger' again. Why did he expect me to know what he was talking about?

"Who's this 'Tiger'?" I asked.

"Andrew Waltfeld," Ahmed said. "He is supposed to be the most brilliant Coordinator on the Earth right now. No matter what we do we haven't been able to score a victory against him."

Ahmed sighed. "Of course, things have gotten better the last few days. Eurasia and the Atlantic Federation have felt like providing air and special forces support. Probably over you but I can't say I'm surprised. From what I heard about you, you've been able to kill the Coordinator bastards. That makes you important to them and to us."

That pretty much confirmed it without anything outright being said. Ahmed had no clue I was a Coordinator. So, I was going to need to play along until I was back in Earth Alliance hands, rather than Desert Dawn's. Ahmed and everyone else were potentially hostile.

"I would think so," I said. "Haven't fought any land battles yet though. I've just been up in space."

"What's space like?" Ahmed asked, his voice suggesting genuine curiousness.

"Weightless," I said, not really wanting to get into it. Not when I had so many more questions.

Ahmed turned to face me. "You think you're hilarious, don't you?"

"I've found that taunting my enemies can provoke them into making mistakes," I said. Quickly realizing my own mistake, I rectified, saying "Not that I'm implying you're an enemy. I . . . you know what I mean."

Ahmed shook his head. "Typical outsider."

That kind of made me feel bad, as we went down some stairs into a basement. I wasn't a typical outsider, but I had shown typical ignorance in my words.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I haven't gotten a lot of sleep or food or water or much else. I'm not thinking straight."

"Most of us haven't gotten a lot of sleep or food or water either," Ahmed said. "Consistent supply lines are nothing but a dream to us."

"I just want to help you," I said as we approached another door, which looked like it was tightly locked. Two of the men went over to unlock the door. "It's not like they're going to evacuate me. I don't think there's any way they can get me out of here, not without destroying this 'Desert Tiger' first."

"It's not that," Ahmed said. "Our collective enemy is the Tiger, but Sahib Ashman has always been hostile to the Earth Alliance. If he thinks you're going to walk on out of here, he'll destroy the Strike and you."

"Sahib Ashman?" I asked.

"The leader of Desert Dawn. Has fought in many wars, even before PLANT came unto its own. Before PLANT, he fought the Earth Alliance to hold onto what few remaining fossil fuels that remained. He has fought all of his life, and he does not trust you people. He will kill you if you try to leave, and most of us here will obey any command he gives no matter how reasonable or unreasonable it may seem."

"Sounds like a pleasant guy," I said, before I could stop myself.

Ahmed did not spin around and yell at me, but his voice was testier. "Don't mock him. He's held us all together single-handedly. He is the only one who inspires people to follow him. Who manages to get people to resist the Tiger rather than kowtow to him."

The men opened the door, and we walked into the underground. Surprisingly, it didn't smell that rank. Maybe no one had been using it for a while. Or perhaps this wasn't a sewer at all and instead was a truly elaborate underground passage. Or maybe I was just used to bad smells at this point, so inured that some new ones weren't making an effect on me.

"So if he does not trust the Earth Alliance, why is he working with them to help me? The 'enemy of my enemy is my friend' kind of situation?"

"Yes," Ahmed said. "Most of the people here would prefer an Earth Alliance victory, but that is choosing between bad and worse. At least bad is predictable. Worse is not."

It sounded like the Tiger was a really pleasant person too. I wondered if I was going to face him.

"How the heck are you guys going to get the Strike out of the city?" I asked.

"We're not," Ahmed said. "You are."

"Huh?" was all I managed to say.

"They're trying to power up the blasted thing for you, Ensign Yamato," Ahmed said. "You're going to be walking the thing out of the city."

Suddenly, what seemed to be a reasonable plan didn't seem like one anymore.
***
The Strike was still sitting where it was, looking like an absolute wreck.

"Is this thing even remotely flyable?" I asked no one in particular.

One of the soldiers by the Mobile Suit shook her head. "No. You're going to have to walk it back. I'm not joking."

I just stared at her, and then stared at the Strike. I had been through a night of hell in this city, walking around in circles, just to wind up where I had started, and learning that my salvation was this.

I almost felt like laughing.

The soldier sighed. "I think this can give you ten minutes of Phase Shift, plus five more minutes of unguarded power. That's enough to get out of Tassil. Once you're to the east of the city, you'll be beyond ZAFT's front line. The Archangel can take care of everything else from there. They're trying to get at least one Skygrasper fly-ready so some kind of air support can be provided for the ground units to get you back."

Fifteen minutes, five of which I was going to be completely vulnerable. That's all I had? Really?

A desperate plan clinging to a lot of things.

"This is not going to work," I said. "There's gotta be a way to transport this thing out of the city."

"Don't have the equipment and ZAFT has air superiority, they'd blow up any transport trucks we could bring here," the soldier said. "This is the only way."

Ahmed smiled. "We managed to chase off most of the BuCUES. That would be giving you the toughest fight around here. There might be a couple left but we'll handle them."

Was that supposed to make me feel better, Ahmed? I didn't even know what a BuCUE was at that time.

I remembered the robotic wolf-looking thing from yesterday. Had that been a BuCUE? The thing looked terrifying from the ground level, that was for sure. Would it look the same from a GUNDAM seat?

"So when is the Strike ready?" I asked.

"We just drained the last battery we could bring," the soldier said. "Get it out of here. Tassil is going to fall very soon, and ZAFT is trying to take the eastern side of the city, trying to cut us off and surround us inside the city. If you can manage it, cause some chaos. Make it easier for the rest of us to get out."

"Just don't hit the wrong side," Ahmed said. "Desert Dawn is fighting everywhere."

I could only wonder how easily I could keep that in mind, considering I was going to be entire stories above the Desert Dawn forces. How could I avoid stomping on a truck or a bunch of people if I had no clue they were there?

I was going to have to guess where I stepped. At least I could see where the buildings were. I could avoid those, that is, if something didn't plow me into one.

Those wolf-things looked like they could.

The Strike looked like it had seen better days, but it looked like there was no other plan. They were right, it would be extraordinarily difficult to just drive the Strike out of the city. It's best way out was when it was fully powered and armed. But with the Phase Shift rapidly draining what power there was, how far could I possibly get before the Strike would be doomed?

I decided the only way to find out was to try.

I could make vent air in from the outside, so I wouldn't suffocate the way I would in outer space. That was an advantage to fighting on Earth. I didn't need things to be completely sealed. If necessary I didn't need a helmet.

A convenience, of course, but not a necessity.

"Fine," I said. "I'm going to take the Strike out of here. You want me to head east, right?"

"To the east," the soldier confirmed. "I'm going to get everyone clear of the building to give you more room. We need to evac anyway, ZAFT is coming and fast. We can't keep them away from this place for much longer."

"Joy," I grumbled, I couldn't keep my mouth shut at that point.

The soldier frowned. "There's no need to be so sarcastic, Ensign. In subordination isn't tolerated."

I was about to point out that I was not a member of their military until the word "Ensign" resonated with me. Then I realized that the soldier was telling the truth. I had enlisted. Or, rather, had been "volunteered" by Natarle Badgiruel and promoted by Lewis Halberton personally.

So were my friends, and by this point, nearly every Orb civilian onboard the Archangel. They all had become soldiers. There was no one innocent left on that vessel anymore . . . other than Melanie, and that was because she was just a kid. Not even Badgiruel would dare to enlist Melanie, would she?

Just the thought of Melanie sitting by a flak gun made me want to walk up to Badgiruel in the Strike and squish her flat.

I was under the Earth Alliance's authority until we made it to Orb. And even then, who said that the Archangel had to stop there? We were soldiers. We had to follow orders. If they wanted to, we could be stuck on that ship forever.

I wonder how many of us were actually looking forward to serving the Earth Alliance and wouldn't mind such a fate. After all, this could be seen as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. None of them had to go out in the Strike, after all. No, they were safe behind their metal armor and gigantic engines. Except when they weren't, like what happened to that last battle before we entered the atmosphere, and several Orb civilians were killed over it.

No one really thought about what it's like for me to go out there, expose myself, and fight. The stress they had to deal with was nothing compared to my own. Every moment for me was terrifying and horrific. If I did my job, the Archangel may not see any action at all.

And yet, like I could just become a soldier again like clockwork, was the Strike, and I was expected to pilot it.

I couldn't even choose my weaponry. I was stuck with the Sword Pack, the same pack I had entered the atmosphere with. Out in the open, in the desert, it was borderline useless. Those wolf-things, with their cannons, they could shoot me at will.

And yet I was expected to just walk out of here.

What a plan. What an asinine, suicidal plan. And that was our only bullet. My only bullet.

"Fine," I said, after a long pause. "Get eveyrone out the building. I'll walk the Strike out. Give me as much cover as you can."

The soldier nodded. "Excellent, Ensign. Just so you know, you'll hopefully be within communication distance of the Archangel once you leave city limits. The buildings are interfering with radio communications in here."

The buildings would be nonfactors if it weren't for the fact that the N-jammers were interfering with communications. It was made incredibly clear about how the rules changed down on Earth. It's like all forms of communication had reverted back to where it was in Anno Domini. And when I mean Anno Domini, I'm talking about "lucky to exist in Anno Domini's 20th century".

"So what, I just call for help?" I asked.

"They're the ones who'll get you back the rest of the way," the soldier said.

I just shook my head. What a stupid plan. Desperate and reckless.

Ahmed, for his part, just gave me a thumbs-up. "Give the Tiger a headache."

I nearly flipped Ahmed off, but thought the better of it. I just simply said "Get your people out of here too," and walked towards the Strike.

Time for yet another battle.
***
The Strike, remarkably, was still operable. As I activated Phase Shift, I managed to turn on a power countdown, it told me I had fifteen minutes and 20 seconds of power, with about ten of those being under Phase Shift.

And the thing was clumsy as hell. I very nearly crashed the Strike into the left wall. If I had fallen, I would have brought the entire building down on me. I tried to blast out, but all I could manage was a pitiful lurch out of the building and into the middle of the street.

The rules were different. Down here on Earth, every bit of the Strike's sixty-ton weight was felt. The thing was an ungainly, slow metallic mess with a big sword.

Every step caused miniature craters in my wake. Nothing could support this monster. I could only imagine what was going to happen to me once I left asphalt and was in desert sand. I'd sink for sure.

I had no clue how to adjust the Strike so it could be more manueverable. I wished Kira was here with me multiple times, more fervently than I ever had. He'd know the proper settings. Why? Because he just plain did. I'd have never made it this far without his technical expertise. Without him, I felt lost trying to operate this behemoth.

I turned the Strike eastward and continued to stomp around. The Strike shook more than once, and it wasn't because of bad steps, but because every single ZAFT gun was now fixated on me. But the ammunition they were firing was nowhere near good enough to wipe out the Phase Shift. In fact, they were hardly even blips on the Phase Shift's radar. Even the rockets weren't making a dent in the Phase Shift. It represented an evolution in armor that made gunfire and rockets borderline worthless. Energy beams were the only things possible that could be threatening to me.

It wasn't long before I encountered my first enemy. It was just a helicopter, and considering the jerky movements it made the moment it saw me, it was just as surprised to encounter me as I was. I lifted the sword and swung it upwards, and cleaved the helicopter through the middle, and it fell to earth in two large, smoking chunks.

Why would ZAFT be so stupid as to send a helicopter to try and stop me? If I could obliterate GINNs almost at will, what made them think a helicopter would do any better?

Helicopters were a leftover of past wars, they were useless against the Strike, just like a lot of things.

It made me feel terrible about the pilots, though. Did they deserve to die because of their bad luck? No. But I had killed them anyway, because they were in my way. I had to escape, and if that meant killing another ZAFT soldier or two, that's what I had to do. I was a soldier, and I was following orders.

That's what I told myself as I worked through the city.

Finally, I stumbled on a clay wall and sliced that apart until all that remained in front of me was debris I could easily crush beneath this monster's girth. It was borderline impossible to trip over anything, the Strike's weight was just that massive. It would take a massive, momentous force to give the Strike pause on Earth, even if I couldn't take off.

Or so I thought.

The first step I made on desert sands told me an entirely different story.

I could only make it five steps into the sands before I realized something horrifying.

I was sinking.

The sands could not support the Strike at all, and instead seemed to turn almost into quicksand. It was more and more difficult to try to walk, and I realized I was a sitting duck with no way to shoot back.

What do I do? What do I do?

Was I far enough outside the city to try to reach the Archangel?

Kira, I needed Kira.

Kira would help me.

I found the Archangel's frequency and as I continued to try to lurch forward, my colossus continuing to sink with each passing step, I began yelling.

"Archangel, are you there? This is Cagalli. Ensign Cagalli Yamato! Does anyone copy?"

No response, just static.

"Archangel, please respond! I'm just to the east of Tassil, and I'm down to eight minutes of Phase Shift! Please respond!"

Static.

"Someone help me! Kira, Tolle, La Flaga, any of you! Help me!"

I suddenly heard a faint voice. Miriallia's? "Is that . . . Cagalli? This . . . Archangel."

"I need help! I can't walk in the sands! Get Kira, I need help trying to operate this thing!"

The voice that replied was Natarle's. She was louder and clearer. "This is Archangel. Ensign, try to proceed as east as you can. We'll launch La Flaga right away."

"I can barely move, I'm sinking!" I wailed.

"I'll have the prince on the line, now stop complaining and start walking."

I heard multiple beeps, and I realized that three of the wolf-like BuCUEs and several helicopters were approaching my struggling machine.

"How about you get a body bag, huh? Because that'll all I'll need in a few minutes!" I shrieked as the first BuCUE opened fire.

The lasers hit a lot harder than any missile could. The Strike was nearly knocked on its back, and only by me scrambling with the controls could I keep the behemoth standing upright.

I looked in the sky, where the helicopters were circling. I got the bright idea to try to jump into the air and try to slash at one of them. I fired the boosters and rocketed into the air, but I couldn't get remotely close, they all saw me coming and flew out of the way, and I came down a lot faster than I had gotten up. I felt a hard impact as I came down and it put the Strike on its hands and knees, and I began sinking anew.

The settings were all wrong. There had to be a way to get this thing to operate better on Earth, but I couldn't find one. As I panicked and tried to look through the settings I realized that I had no skill with this language, only if someone told me exactly what to do. This was not something I could do on my own.

I had made it farther away from the city with that pathetic little leap, but it was not enough. Nowhere close.

"Help me!" I shouted.

Badgiruel's voice again. "La Flaga will be launching a minute, Ensign. Stop panicking."

"I don't have a minute!"

Mercifully, Captain Ramius was the next to speak. "Ensign, you will be fine. We're coming to get you, understand? You've come too far to die now."

"You think they give a damn about anything like that?" I yelled, and then I couldn't help but scream again as the wolf-like BuCUEs opened fire again, knocking the Strike over. I forced the Strike back up, and then it occurred to me that I was surrounding, and they were circling me like sharks.

Dying like this would be pathetic. I had survived a descent in the atmosphere and a night inside that hellish city, and for what? Dying out here?

Or were they trying to capture me all over again? I got the impression that they were trying to take the Strike intact. Perhaps that's why they hadn't already killed me? They knew I was floundering.

Damn it, I wasn't going to be a POW! I was going to go home! I had to protect the Archangel and get everyone home! That was my job! No one else could do it!

Kira's voice, he sounded breathless. "Cagalli, you have to reset the friction coefficient!"

"What the hell is that?"

"It's what will make the Strike stand on something like sand! You need to set the sand's fluidity at negative 20! The Strike will take care of the rest!"

I tried to find whatever Kira was talking about, but apparently he and his Morgenroete people had forgotten to create an easily navigated menu. "I can't find it!"

"Cagalli, it's-"

I could hear no more, because I was shot yet again.

No, multiple times. It was putting my Phase Shift on the brink. They were firing without holding back now. Had there been a change in orders? What if the Desert Tiger had personally taken command? Was he ruthless? Would he just kill me and not risk the casualties to his soldiers?

They were going for the kill. All of them. The helicopters, the BuCUEs. They were all shooting everything they had at the Strike. I was knocked on my back and promptly began sinking in the small sand dune I had wound up in.

I was at their mercy.

Damn it, if those BuCUEs could manhandle me like this, what could they do to the Archangel? The Desert Tiger could kill everyone in a single battle!

My friends, the soldiers, Melanie . . .

No!

No, damn it!

Not ever!
***
It took me a bit to realize that the seed I saw wasn't just a reflex upgrade. It completely changed my thinking. I was a perfect soldier when I saw the seed shatter. And it is like every idea lost to me in panic appears to me immediately. I could think anything and act on it in mere seconds.

When the seed reappeared and shattered in front of me, it was like a whole blank canvas had suddenly become one with a clear, and stark image.

An image of death, of my triumph at the cost of everyone who dared to oppose me.

My voice was a controlled instrument, firm and strong. "Kira, tell me the friction setting again."

"Uh . . . negative 20?"

"Thank you."

I found the setting in seconds. I realized I had seen Kira recalibrate these setting before. I just forgot how to navigate the menu because it was something I had only seen out of the corner of my eye, I had not given it full focus. But now, it was like I had. No, not just that. That I had spent weeks studying the interface and learning its naunces.

I changed the setting. "The pressure differential?"

"Decrease it. You're no longer fighting in the vacuum of space. Set it almost to zero unless you're planning on flying anytime soon."

"Got it."

I forced the Strike to stand up, and found it much easier. It wasn't perfect, but it would get the job done, until Kira could manage a more comprehensive upgrade.

Kira's voice sounded nervous. "Cagalli, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. Let me focus."

I saw the helicopters, and realized what to do.

I fired the boosters and shot in the air, heading right for one of the helicopters.

I swung my sword right at the cockpit and connected. It exploded moments after I had sliced through it.

I saw one of the BuCUEs within landing distance. I shifted the landing angle and came down right on the BuCUE, crushing it beneath my weight.

I aimed my sword and stabbed the wolf-like BuCUE right where the metallic beast's "neck" was. It sparked, and realizing it was going to explode as well, I jumped backwards and let it blow.

I didn't focus on that lovely demonstration of destruction. Another BuCUE had chosen to rush me. It was a dumb mistake, unless it was out of ammunition and had no other way to attack.

That didn't change the real fact that rushing me was dumb.

I took the sword and aimed it horizontally and to the ground, and the BuCUE could not readjust in time to keep itself from literally running through the beam. It slid into a small dune in two pieces, and one of them exploded.

One BuCUE and two helicopters. That was all that was left.

The two helicopters were turning to run. I wasn't going to let them run away. They weren't going to kill anyone else. Not while I was here. They had to die.

I realized I had the perfect shot. They were flying away to the west in almost perfect unison. I could kill them both with a single attack. But without a gun, all I could use was my sword.

But that was okay. The sword could become a projectile too.

I chucked the beam sword right at them, and the thing swished like a tomahawk until it went through both of them before it crashed into the ground.

I sprinted down towards the sword, slid to a stop, and picked the sword back up. One last BuCUE.

I felt glorious, invincible, exhilarated. This could not have gone better. They were dead-

The Phase Shift vanished, and I lost my seed the next moment.

No, I was wrong. For all of my struggling and fighting, and no matter how lethal I had been in that brief moment, I had overlooked something despite all of my thinking and reacting.

I just plain did not have enough power left.

No, the last person on this battlefield that was going to die was me.

And the BuCUE knew it. It fired one last salvo of missiles, and the Strike took heavy damage and was knocked backwards onto the sand.

But why was there no kill strike? Why? Was it out of ammunition as well?

It had a beam sword as well, and wielded it through its mouth. It ran up to me, and stood on top of me like a predator staring at its kill.

For all of that, despite giving it everything I had . . .

I could no longer save myself.

I had been so close.

So close.

But ultimately, I had been too far away.

_________________
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

KIRA: What do you think this is; a cartoon?


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 Post Posted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 9:11 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
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Location: over there
My face: D8

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*insert witty eyecatch here*


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 Post Posted: Fri Dec 16, 2011 12:59 am 
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Newtype Emo Guy

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
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Heh, sorry.

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MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

KIRA: What do you think this is; a cartoon?


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 Post Posted: Sun Dec 25, 2011 3:28 pm 
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Newtype Emo Guy

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 264
Location: Illinois, USA
Merry Christmas.
___________________________________________________________________________
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Beauty of Gray

I couldn't feel its heat. Its energy. But I knew it was there. The moment it went through the cockpit I was going to be killed instantly. I mean, what would possibly happen to me other than being totally liquidified by the beam sword this wolf contraption has in its mouth? I mean, it's not like I know what being boiled alive feels like but it wouldn't last very long, would it?

There had to be something I could do. The monster was about to strike, and put that beam saber right through my cockpit. In a matter of seconds I was going to die.

What could I do, though? I had lost my Phase Shift and power to my energy sword.

But I couldn't just sit down and close my eyes and wait to die! As the BuCUE got into optimum striking position above me, its paws causing earthquakes in the cockpit as it stepped on the Strike, I realized that my acceptance of being liquidified was false. I was not going to let that happen to me, damn it! I had no weapons but I was going to fight anyway.

And then, I realized my only chance.

The BuCUE's bestial neck.

Just because I had lost Phase Shift didn't mean I still didn't have power. I forced the Strike's fists to move up and grab the BuCUE by the neck.

The wolf-thing was immediately halted, but immediately its right paw slammed against the cockpit, nearly making me lose control of the machine. And unlike a living, breathing being, I was not going to suffocate the BuCUE. The thing could hit me forever until the Strike was destroyed or out of power, whichever came first.

I did not need SEED mode to figure out what I had to do.

I forced the controls to respond and I wrestled the BuCUE to the ground to my left. Before the BuCUE could kick and thrash me off of it I forced the Strike's right fist to reach towards the BuCUE's mouth and literally snatch the beam saber from the BuCUE's jaws.

Immediately, the beam saber's power began draining. I had mere seconds before it ran out of power and became useless.

I was told later that I made the most horrific scream as I stabbed the BuCUE in its underbelly with its own beam saber. Like I was possessed, or had become a demonic monster masquerading inside a human skin. And in a way that was right. I had been possessed by the battle, by having to kill, and I had no mercy in me, just desperation and reflex.

The BuCUE sparked and thankfully did not explode. It just died. It did not have Phase Shift armor like the Strike so its armor plating did not turn gray, but it didn't need to. All that mattered was that I had won. I had managed to wipe out an entire BuCUE squad and accompanying helicopters with just a long sword and a Strike not optimized for desert warfare.

How powerful was the Strike? How well had Morgenroete designed this behemoth?

Apparently good enough for it to do its job, which was destroy ZAFT machines.

I wanted to try to move the Strike, but its power was so low that all I could do was move the Strike off of the BuCUE and put it to rest besides the dead, unmoving machine. It seemed I had killed the pilot rather than strike the power supply, which was why it hadn't exploded. In a way, I felt that it was good thing, one less threat to worry about. On the other . . .

Another life.

I was supposed to be done with killing. I was supposed to be in Alaska right now, maybe even on my way back home to Orb. To my parents.

Why did I have to be out here in these stupid sands having to kill people all over again? I even shot one guy in the neck in Tassil itself. Why could I not just go home and have the war mean nothing to me again besides the mild inconvenience of weak radio waves? Why?

Why did it have to be me?

But I knew the answer to that question already.

I had made the choice to sacrifice myself for the Archangel and my friends. That's why I was here. I could have gambled that Yzak and his suicide run would have been stopped by the Archangel or he could have missed completely. But I had chosen not to take that chance and sacrificed. Because that was the right thing to do. That was the only way to protect everyone. My life meant nothing if my responsibility, which was that ship, the crew, my friends, were all destroyed.

I realized, right then and there, that I was no longer a civilian. I had lost that way of thinking.

I was a soldier.

I really was a soldier.

Despite the heat of the outside, I had no choice. I was going to suffocate for the third time if I did not open the cockpit. I opened it. I was a good distance away from the gates, the battle had kept me within sight of the town, but far enough away so a sniper couldn't get a good bead on me. Or so I thought. In hindsight, this was not one of my smarter decisions. My inexperience was showing once again.

I buried my face in my hands, but I forced myself not to cry. I told myself I had to accept this. That there would be no way to completely transition back into a civilian. To be my old self. This new me, the soldier me, was always going to be lingering. No matter what I did or where I went, my battles were going to follow me, and so would every single person I had killed, faceless, voiceless, or fully in the flesh.

The sooner I accepted this, the sooner I could fight again and keep protecting everyone.

I heard a voice on the radio then. "Princess, are you all right? You look like you've seen better days!"

I recognized that voice immediately. "Don't talk to me about 'better days', Lieutenant Commander."

I paused. "And, please, for the absolute last time, don't call me 'princess'."

"Yeah, I should be calling you 'Ensign' anyway," Mu La Flaga replied.

"Ensign".

That really drove it even further home. I really was no longer a civilian. I was fair game.

I wasn't Cagalli Yamato, Orb college student.

I was Ensign Cagalli Yamato, Mobile Suit pilot for the Atlantic Federation.

And until I got home, that was who I was going to be.

Until I finally got home . . . and could be Cagalli Yamato, Orb college student again.
***
Tassil's fighting was terrible enough that ZAFT was still trying to pacify the city into the afternoon. Desert Dawn was fighting hard. To make the technologically superior ZAFT stop in their tracks in anything took either brilliance or grit. Brilliance was something I couldn't credit Desert Dawn for just yet, but one thing was sure, they had grit. And bravery. And they were going to fight to defend their homeland.

They put me into a jeep driven by the Dawn soldiers and they immediately shipped me back to the Archangel as they began preparing the Strike for transport. Multiple Skygraspers filled the skies, though I doubted they were all Archangel's besides La Flaga. Cyprus was still in Earth hands, as were several nearby Greek islands. That's probably where the Skygraspers were coming from.

I turned on a radio to the Skygrasper channel to figure out what was going on, and it became clear that it was not fun up there. ZAFT was shooting at them with a vengeance. I couldn't take more than a minute of their panic and terror and pained cries as they were hit before I shut the radio off.

The driver was no other than the teenaged Ahmed. He had somehow made it out of Tassil. Apparently drove out himself. I wondered if he was going to become one of those storied soldiers, ones who would go neck-deep in a million battles and somehow come out unscathed. He didn't have a single scratch on him, his hair wasn't even that messed up.

He was respectful, though, just giving me a wave as I hopped into the passenger seat and he put the jeep into gear. He took a moment before speaking to me. "You did it. I can't believe it. You're as good as the rumors say."

"I was lucky," I said, not really wanting to talk about the battle. I was going to relive that battle for weeks, months, maybe even the rest of my life. Why did I need to remember it right now, right after I had fought it?

"That is not luck. You are amazing. Amazing. We finally have someone who can beat the ZAFT! Beat them easily! I can only imagine how easily you'd win with full power and ammunition."

"I don't want to think about it," I told him.

Ahmed sighed. "I know, I was just seeing if . . . you know what, never mind. I keep forgetting you're just like the rest of us. You're not different just because you're a pilot."

I could not help but wonder if Ahmed would say such a thing if he knew I was a Coordinator too.

Would he kill me if he knew?

Would I kill him if he tried to kill me? If Desert Dawn turned on me, tried to kill me, kill my friends, would I wipe out their whole resistance?

Weeks ago, the answer would be an obvious no. But now things weren't so sure. Everything was in shades of gray. No easy morality. Killing was the way to survive.

And I was beginning to scare myself. It was getting easier to kill.

I had killed all of those pilots without even thinking about what I was doing! The last one was without even seeing that seed!

As we went into a rocky crevasse, suddenly, I saw the Archangel. They had managed to find a good hiding spot, and suddenly, I felt heartened by seeing that. But a scary determination rose in me as I saw that ship.

My mission would not be over until we were in Orb and safe.

I remembered Artemis. Garcia. "You like being dominant. You like resorting to violence. You make high-minded speeches about not fighting for military governments and putting up a pacifistic exterior. The truth is, you are a natural soldier. A little more battle-hardening and you'd be damn close to perfect."

Was that true? Had Garcia read me perfectly?

After all, was this what I was becoming? A soldier? Ensign Cagalli Yamato?

No, I couldn't be a perfect soldier, could I?

I had let Garcia and everyone inside that base die to Nicol. I had chosen not to sacrifice for them and so everyone in that base died. That was going to happen to the Archangel the moment I stopped fighting.

No, not just the Archangel. Not now. Everyone fighting the ZAFT was going to die if I stepped aside and refused to fight. Their lives were in my hands, and so was every ZAFT soldier who fought me.

I was going to need to separate them. Put everyone I wanted to protect in one hand and protect them, carry them with me, guide them to their goals. Then there was the hand carrying the ZAFT lives. I was going to have to crush every single life within it.

Damn it, I realized, as those thoughts popped into my head. Damn it, damn it, damn it. What the hell is happening to me?

"Are you all right?" Ahmed asked to my left.

I looked at him, and I suddenly realized I had begun crying. It wasn't super-obvious, just a couple of tears, but he had noticed.

"I'm just glad to see the ship again. I never thought I'd make it," I lied.

Well, sort of. I was happy to see the ship again for obvious reasons. But that was not what I was crying about. That makes it a lie, doesn't it?

"I understand," Ahmed said. "It is basically your home right now. You're lucky."

"No," I said. "The Archangel is not my home. Just my base. My home is . . . elsewhere."

"Until you get back to your real home, that ship is your home," Ahmed said. "You need to think of it that way. It'll make you want to fight for it, to protect everyone in there."

Thanks for stating the obvious, Ahmed. Ever thought that I wanted to be in denial?

I shook off the tears as we pulled up in front of the hangar bay. It wouldn't do for my friends to see me like this. I had to appear strong and defiant and ready to kick some more ass so they wouldn't worry about me.

I could pull that off, couldn't I?
***
It turned out I couldn't. Tolle was waiting for me and the waterworks restarted the moment I saw him.

I could barely speak as I saw him rush into the hangar bay, elbowing his way past a few of the stunned mechanics trying to fix a Skygrasper. "Cagalli?" he asked.

I bit my lip, and tried to speak, but only a choked whisper could escape my mouth. "Tolle."

I ran towards him and practically nearly tackled him. He grunted as I drove him back a couple of paces, but he managed to stand his gorund, and he embraced me, though nowhere near as tightly as I was embracing him.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I know I scared you, I'm sorry," I managed.

Tolle's voice was soft, warm. "I never gave up on you."

"Don't you ever give up on me," I said. "Never give up on me. I'm not dying out there. I'm dying of old age in a senior citizen's home. That's final."

"I know," Tolle said. "Do you want to talk about . . .?"

That was Tolle, trying to make sure I was okay. "Later."

"Okay."

We just stood there for a while, wrapped in each other's embrace. "I love you," I whispered to him. "I love you, I love you, I love you."

Tolle softly chuckled, and I could hear a hint of tears choking up in his voice as he responded. "It's okay, Cagalli. I love you too."

Why did I need to tell him that? At this point words weren't necessary to tell him how I felt.

No, I wasn't telling him that.

It was more to myself. I was reminding myself that I loved Tolle, not Athrun.

Athrun's action saving my life in the atmosphere was heroic and sacrifical if it had failed. But I could not choose Athrun. Choosing Athrun meant sacrificing my friends, including Tolle. Athrun's love was not worth the death of my friends.

I was reminding of myself of that. Why did I need to? Had Athrun's action affected me that much? I didn't even think of it that much while I was stuck in Tassil.

So why now? Why when I was in the arms of my actual boyfriend, did Athrun's action matter?

Was it because I never would have made it here if it wasn't for Athrun?

Damn it. I couldn't love Athrun. But now I was tempted to, because of what he did. His feelings were real. I don't think a stalker, even an interplanetary one, would sacrifice himself and his machine and go against his orders to save an enemy pilot. No, it wasn't like he wanted to possess me or anything else. Love had to have been his motivator.

But, again, loving Athrun meant that I would be abandoning my friends and this unlucky crew of various misfits working together. And I could not do that.

It just wasn't in me.

After a minute or so of being in his arms, I had calmed down enough that I was able to separate. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. "I'm sorry. I should've really taken a shower before I did that."

Tolle smiled. "You need a lot, I think. You have raccoon eyes going on."

"Gee, thanks."

"I'm just glad you're okay. Your appearance doesn't mean anything. What matters is that you're all right. You're not even hurt. I just hope we can get out of here soon so we can go home. I have no clue what you've been through but it must've been really bad."

"We can talk about it tonight," I said. I knew I could not say "later". If I did that, I would never want to talk to him about my night of hell. I needed to trust Tolle and that meant that I needed to open up to him rather than cramming everything down inside me to the point where it would boil over and then I'd wind up alienating him . . . and possibly everyone else.

"Where's everyone else?" I asked.

"They're on the bridge. I can take you there. They're doing a lot of important stuff so Badgiruel wouldn't release them. The captain managed to get Badgiruel to let me leave though. The captain seems to be the only person left onboard who realizes we're still Orb civilians despite our military ranks."

"We're not civilians anymore," I said.

"Huh?" Tolle asked, his eyes widening in surprise.

"These military ranks are real. So are our enlistment papers. They're real. We're actual soldiers, Tolle. And now that we're stuck down here, you know what makes that time in space? Basic frickin' training."

"Cagalli, I . . ." Tolle looked down. "I-I guess."

What had made me say that? I didn't need to be so frank and brutal about it.

"I'm sorry," I quickly said. "I'm just . . . I'm just cynical right now. And tired. I really need a shower and a bed."

"That sounds like a good idea," said a familiar voice.

I turned and saw the prince. He wore his Earth Alliance uniform, displaying his "Petty Officer" rank, rather handsomely.

"Prince Kira," I said.

Kira just laughed. "My title right now is 'Petty Officer Kira Yeley Athha'," he said. "Until I'm off this ship the 'prince' title doesn't mean a whole lot."

He walked up to us. "Tolle, can you excuse us for a moment?"

"Uh, sure, why?" Tolle asked.

"I have to talk with Cagalli about something important. It's regarding the Strike."

"Oh . . . okay. No problem. I would like to take her to the bridge so she can talk to her friends. I'm sure Melanie wants to see her too."

That's right. Melanie! The girl I had promised to save! I had to see her as quickly as possible!

But before I could take off Kira kind of stepped forward in front of me, all while maintaining his eye contact with Tolle. "This won't take long, I promise."

"All right," Tolle said, and he walked over to some strange machine by the Skygrasper. It looked almost like the Morgenroete simulator at the . . .

Oh damn.

Tolle, if you get any ideas in your head about trying to fly a Skygrasper so help me . . .

But Kira jarred me out of my newest worry just by his darker tone. I had never heard Kira use so suspicious of a voice before. He had always sounded so kind.

"Cagalli, I know what I heard on the radio and I didn't like it."

"What do you mean?" I asked, even though I had a feeling what he was getting at.

"I heard your voice. It changed. You sounded older, almost robotic. You did not sound like yourself anymore."

Oh no. He's talking about the seed back in the battle. The realization that it was no longer my secret made my heart slam against my chest to the point where it started to ache. I wanted to get away from him but he was the son of the Lion of Orb. He would not let me walk away. He had too much strength in him to let this go.

"I . . . I . . ." I had no idea where to begin, so all I could do was stammer.

"I'm beginning to think you're starting to develop an alternate personality, Cagalli. And that is scaring me," Kira said.

"An alternate personality?" I repeated, not quite believing my ears.

"Yeah. My father told me about this once, a person who would be totally different once he got into battle. He called it a 'berserker'."

"A what?"

Kira's voice softened. "I'm worried about you, okay? I don't . . . I don't want to hear that voice again. It's already bad enough I heard you shrieking like some kind of demon when you made your last kill, but I can understand that. That was you. And considering your situation I don't blame you for screaming."

He paused. "But that voice, your other voice . . . it was more terrifying than any scream I could hear."

"Get to the point," I said, both from wanting to run away from him and yet also wanting to hear what he was trying to tell me.

"It sounded like . . . it sounded like you had lost your soul," Kira finally said.

I froze. Completely, utterly froze. I had no way to respond to that.

"You had no trace of humanity at all. There was nothing but this eerie . . ."

Kira, paused and bit his lip.

"Kira, please," I finally said.

Kira's eyes looked right at me, in what seemed to be this combination of fear and sympathy. "Cagalli, I felt like I was talking to a monster."

I could only stare.

_________________
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

KIRA: What do you think this is; a cartoon?


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 Post Posted: Sat Dec 31, 2011 1:17 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
Posts: 370
Location: over there
Cagalli's face: 0.0

I finally found time to read. Loved this chapter, in spite of the dark tones.

_________________
*insert witty eyecatch here*


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 Post Posted: Sun Jan 01, 2012 7:29 pm 
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Newtype Emo Guy

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 264
Location: Illinois, USA
Cagalli's reaction isn't far off from what you thought. XD

Happy New Year!

_____________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Twenty-Six: Just a Girl

My stare must have been something searing, because after a couple of seconds Kira could not hold his gaze. His voice was soft, apologetic. "I've never heard anyone sound like that before. Not even Badgiruel at her worst comes close."

"Why are you telling me this?" I asked. "We are right in front of Tolle. I don't want him to hear this."

"He's looking at the Skygrasper simulator, he's not paying attention to us," Kira replied. "And don't change the subject."

"I don't want to talk about this," I said, and I moved to get past him. "If we're going to discuss this, let's make it tomorrow. I need a shower and sleep."

Kira's words, however, proved more resonant than I expected, they made me stop in my tracks. "The war's changing you, Cagalli. I don't want it to change you more than it already has. You let this war transform you any further, you could become worse than the people you are fighting."

"Stop it," I said, barely remembering in time to keep my voice low so Tolle wouldn't hear me. The last thing I needed was him listening to this conversation. "Stop talking like this. I'm not a monster."

"I'm not saying you are," Kira said. "But I can see the look in your eyes. I've seen that look on many Orb veterans. Whatever you went through on Tassil . . ."

"Enough," I said, having heard way too much. "We can talk about this tomorrow. I want a shower and sleep. Whatever look I have in my eyes, it's probably because I never got to sleep in Tassil."

"But-"

"Kira, I'm not going to listen to you. Just fix the Strike like you always do. We're all out here in the desert, now I have to keep doing my job. I have to protect everyone."

"I'm just worried about you," Kira said. "I'm at least thinking about what it is like for you to be out there fighting."

That made me snap. I was still aware enough to know not to yell, I didn't want anyone else's attention bearing down on me. I got up right in Kira's face, which startled him and actually made him back away a step.

"Don't, Kira. Just don't. You have no idea what it is like to be 'out there fighting'," I hissed. "No one will, no one other than another pilot. So keep your smart mouth shut and leave me alone. Save your sympathy and pity for someone who wants to hear it. Maybe Flay Allster would be interested."

I stomped away from him before he could try to answer.

Damn Kira. Why did he need to come up to me and say that? Say those words? As if I didn't have enough on my plate already! I was already terrified enough over seeing the seed a second time! Did Kira want me to stress out to the point where my hair would begin falling out?

The stress from using the Strike was already getting to me. I did not need any further stress to bother me outside the Strike. War is terror and boredom mixed in this unholy concoction and I had way too much terror and not enough boredom. I needed more boredom. I needed rest. I needed to sleep on this ship and not wake up for a while.

I needed to see the rest of my friends.

I did not need to hear that I could be turning into a monster.

Then all I would do is want to stay away from them, in case I wound up harming them.

Like hell I was going to do that! Isolating myself would just make everything worse!

So what if no one could understand what it was like to fly that thing! At least they cared! At least they didn't think I was a monster!

Stupid prince.

I nearly walked right past Tolle, who was trying to fly the Skygrasper simulator. I turned to my left and watched him try to complete a mission for a little bit. As I watched the mission unfold, I felt an ache rise in my chest as I saw Tolle try to get out of several dogfights and try to complete his primary objective: taking out a BuCUE squadron preparing to assault Earth Alliance forces near Panama.

Each missile and laser that was shot at Tolle made my heart ache even more, to the point where it felt like I was skipping beats. My imagination was taking control, I was seeing this as Tolle fighting for real. And Tolle's fairly clumsy reactions, and finally putting the Skygrasper into a stall, sent shivers down my spine and I covered up my mouth lest I distract him and have him get shot down.

I was witnessing a simulation of my boyfriend being shot down and killed.

Tolle could not pull out of a stall in time to dodge a flurry of missiles fired by a ZAFT ground battery. Multiple missiles slammed into his machine and the screen went dark for several seconds.

The screen blared "MISSION FAILED". Underneath that a "MISSION GRADE: F" emanated. All in flashing white and red.

Tolle leaned his head next to the headrest. "Aw, crap. I thought I had it that time."

I couldn't see this as a game where Tolle had merely failed and had to use up a life or a continue to retry. I saw this as an example of what would happen to Tolle if he actually passed the simulator and wound up flying a Skygrasper for real. He stood no chance, especially if he wound up against a GUNDAM! I had already gotten four pilots killed needlessly over having them try to take Athrun on.

I had to get Tolle out of this virtual cockpit before he wound up in a real one.

"Tolle, please, that's enough," I said. I was surprised by how shaken up I sounded. It wasn't just because of Kira, or merely because of what happened in the simulation. No, as I spoke, I realized why I sounded that way.

I was picturing Tolle being shot down for real.

No, not just by anyone. By Athrun.

Athrun cleaving Tolle's head clean off before the Skygrasper exploded into flames.

At that point, I never loved Tolle more or hated Athrun more. That image was enough to evoke a confused yet passionate plethora of emotions that I walked right next to Tolle and pulled him out of the seat and embraced him tightly.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Cagalli what's . . . oh."

"Please." I realized I was beginning to beg, and even though that felt pathetic there was no way for me to keep from sounding that way. "Don't do this anymore. Tolle, stay away from the simulator, please."

"Hey, it's not like it's for real," Tolle said.

"I don't care. I know you, Tolle. You'll get good enough that they're going to want to send you out there. I won't let that happen. You have to stay safe at the bridge."

"Are you serious?" Tolle asked. "This is just for-"

"Tolle, please!"

Tolle looked absolutely stunned for a moment.

"Please," I begged. I felt something hot and wet drip down my cheek and I knew I was beginning to cry again. Unlike meeting Tolle just minutes ago, these tears felt embarrassing, ridiculous, and I could not meet his gaze. I let go of him and turned around, and I felt like I wanted to go crawl in a corner and waste away because I felt so stupid.

"Please stay where I can protect you," I managed to say.

"Cagalli . . . probably by the time we get back home I still won't be good enough to fly," Tolle said. "This is just a time-waster."

"That's not it! We have no idea how long we're still going to be out here! We could be out here for months, Tolle!"

I looked at him, and realized he still didn't understand. He really couldn't fathom the consequences of what he was doing.

"I-If something happens, Tolle, and if t-they n-need people to fly the . . . the other Skygraspers, they'll . . . they'll, you know, call up the people who s-scored best on the simulator. And if that's you . . ."

I gave up on him trying to understand and turned back around, facing away from Tolle. "Whatever. Do what you want. I guess war is still a game to you."

I ran.

"Hey, Cagalli, wait!" Tolle yelled, but I didn't want to hear him.

The Archangel had suddenly become this impossible maze. I didn't know where I was going, nor did I care. I just wanted a corner far away from the idiot who wanted to fly.

Finally I stumbled into an empty bedroom and collapsed right behind the door. I leaned against the wall and hugged my knees and wished with everything I had that no one would find me, so I could just cry alone.

Why? I asked myself endlessly. Why does he not understand? He can't go out there! If he does he'll get killed for sure! Why doesn't he see that?

I wanted to hit the floor, hit the wall, hit the beds besides me, hit myself. Anything to get the frustration out of my system, anything to take my mind off Tolle.

But guess who would come in other than Tolle himself?

He was breathless. "Geez, Cagalli!"

"Leave me alone!" I shouted, but I couldn't even bring myself to flinch when he sat down by me and he rubbed my shoulder.

"I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry. I won't fly the simulator. I had no idea it would freak you out so much. I'll stay away from it if it'll make you feel better, okay?"

That was only part of the point, and a minor one at that. Tolle still didn't get it. He still couldn't comprehend actually becoming good enough that he'd become a viable pilot candidate particularly if this ship got desperate. He could not make that leap from clowning around on the simulator to fighting for real.

I stammered a couple of times, then took a deep breath. I had to talk coherently. Blubbering wasn't going to help him understand. And blubbering wasn't like me either. I had cried way too many times that day as it was.

"I don't want you to fight. Not in the way I do," I said, barely managing to keep my voice from trembling out of control.

"I know, I know," Tolle said, and he held me close.

"I'm so tired. Tired of fighting. I just want a break," I said. I felt dizzy all of a sudden, or maybe drowsy? Maybe a combination of both? Maybe my freakout had taken the last remnant of my energy away and now my body wanted to shut down and collapse.

"Hopefully nothing will happen, Cagalli," Tolle said. He sounded so far away . . .

"I'm tired . . . tired of . . ."

Of . . .

I guess the best answer was that I was tired of everything.

But I didn't say that to Tolle. By the time the thought popped in my head, I was gone. The world had gone black.

And I fell into the tapestry of a nightmare.
***
I didn't remember the nightmare that I had. It wasn't like the Garcia nightmare. This one was far less vivid. It had been hazy, surreal, and seemed to involve spruce trees with knives for needles. Lastly, there had been blood, blood everywhere. On me, or someone else, I didn't know. But it was something that scared me, scared me to the point where I gasped awake and shot up in the bed I was in, nearly banging my head against the mattress above me.

I grabbed my head and forced myself to breathe. I had already forgotten whatever had scared me to death, but that was helpful. That meant that without an idea of what I had been scared of, it would be easier to get over myself and be able to live out my day.

A voice from my right. "Glad to see you're back."

I turned to the right, and I saw Miriallia sitting by my bed.

I moved part of the covers off of me. "How did I . . .?"

"Tolle carried you here. He spent hours watching you before I made him go to bed and said I'd watch you instead. Just in case you got up," Miriallia said.

Tolle had carried me? I suddenly felt weak and useless. I had never been carried by anyone since I had been a small girl! Why did he . . .

Oh wait. I had fallen asleep in his arms. Of course he'd move me. Tolle was a nice guy. He wasn't going to let me sleep on the floor.

Though I didn't think . . .

Wait a minute.

"He had help carrying me, didn't he?"

Miriallia smiled. "Yes. He begged me not to tell you though."

"Who?"

"Does it really matter, Cagalli? Don't you like need a shower or food or something?"

"Y-Yeah," I said. I wasn't happy about being reminded of that, because now I felt absolutely ravenous, even for typical Archangel slop.

"Yeah," I repeated, and got up from the bed with a sense of purpose. "Uh, do I have a . . ."

"Your uniform's right in the drawer."

"Thank you." I walked over and grabbed it. "I'll see you in the cafeteria."

"Yeah, will do."

I walked out of the room and walked right towards the showers. I had wanted to get away from Miriallia. It just felt creepy being watched by her. Was it because Badgiruel had admitted to me that Miriallia was the primary suspect for the murder of Melanie's mother? Was it because I just had this feeling that my best friend was not so?

Or was it because I was afraid of the conversation going to places I didn't want it to go, like what had happened to me in Tassil?

Maybe it was both.

I just could not be sure anymore.

War was killing my trust.
***
I still could not find Melanie, not before I wound up in the cafeteria and surrounded by my Orb friends. I listened to them regale me with the stories of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, landing right here in the desert after they couldn't reach me, and then linking up with Desert Dawn.

Kuzzey in particular had admiration for Desert Dawn. "They just came in like badasses. A trio of BuCUEs came after us and they detonated mines and blew them all up. If that isn't a way to make an entrance I don't know what is."

"You are aware people died in those BuCUEs," I said.

Sai shook his head. "Better them than us. They're soldiers, they know what they're getting into. We're civilians just trying to go home."

"Are you saying you're fine with letting them die?" I asked.

"If I had to choose between them and you, I'd choose them," Sai said. "You die we're all screwed."

"I'm not that important," I said.

"The captain, La Flaga, and Badgiruel don't see it that way," Miriallia said. "They were desperate to find you. Especially Badgiruel."

The thought of Natarle Badgiruel being in a desperate panic proved to be an impossible visual. "Are you serious?"

"Badgiruel kept talking about calling in favors on the bridge," Kuzzey said. "I've been hearing Badgiruel may have been in special forces or something."

I was suddenly reminded of those special op soldiers in the streets of Tassil, sent specifically to find me. It made sense, except that Badgiruel wasn't of the rank where she could call in favors . . . unless she had impressed a particular superior officer.

Then again, a Coordinator fighting for the Earth Alliance would prove worthy of favors, wouldn't it?

"Is the Strike back?" I asked.

"It got loaded up a couple of hours ago," Sai said. "The prince's been practically living in it ever since."

That did not surprise me at all. After the way I had blown up at him, Kira probably needed to focus upon his work so he wouldn't snap at me the next time I saw him. Though Kira was hardly the kind to snap, perhaps the better word would be brood. That was something that was in Kira.

Tolle showed up then. "Cagalli! Are you feeling better?"

"Plenty," I said. While I wasn't completely rejuvenated, being back in normal gravity was helping my psyche, and having water and food made me feel human. I was still exhausted, my sleep had not been restful, but it had been better than nothing. But I was going to need another long night asleep, hopefully without another nightmare, before I would feel rested.

"Is what happened last night . . .?"

"Just stay away from the simulator, Tolle."

Tolle sighed. "I said I'll do it."

"How does the simulator work anyway?" Miriallia asked.

Tolle explained. "Basically you need to get five straight 'A' rankings in order to qualify for flying the Skygrasper for real. You're not supposed to be combat ready yet, but you're considered capable of going into real training. And in order to get an 'A' in the first place you pretty much have to be flawless. Just a minor mistake, even if you finish the mission and complete the objectives, can result in a 'B'."

"That sounds like a lot of work," Kuzzey moaned. He looked up at the ceiling. "I was considering seeing how far I could get, but if you have to do something like that . . ."

"I was told it's nearly impossible to qualify for training just by doing the simulator," Tolle said. "You pretty much have to be perfect."

"I bet even Cagalli couldn't pass the simulator immediately," Miriallia said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, surprised that Miriallia would say that. "If I can fly a GUNDAM I can fly a Skygrasper."

"Yeah, but I mean, you didn't set out to be a pilot," Miriallia said. "Even with your reflexes I think it would take a while."

"Probably," I said, knowing that Miriallia was probably right. My amateur mistakes piloting the Strike illustrated my flaws and inexperience. I'd probably fail the Skygrasper simulation if I tried it now, especially since the Strike was incredibly different from the Skygrasper. It'd be like learning to fly all over again.

I tried to smile. "But I'd pass eventually. If the Strike isn't repaired in time then I'll have to pass the simulator and fly a Skygrasper. Somebody's gotta go out there and it has to be me."

"Aren't you the martyr," Kuzzey sighed.

"Look, I don't want any of you to go out there fighting, I-"

"Cagalli!"

I could recognize that voice even from a mile off.

I spun around and got up from the table immediately. "Melanie!"

She ran towards me and hugged my waist, and I held her the best I could despite standing up. It was enough to make me feel like I had suddenly been turned into Melanie's mom.

That felt strange. Had I become so important to Melanie that she needed me the way she needed a parent? Was it because I promised to protect her? Or spent all that time with her?

Or was it because I was the only person who was guaranteed to not have killed her mother?

"I knew you'd come back. I knew you'd come back. You're not done protecting us from the Coordinators yet."

"I am a Coordinator, Melanie," I corrected as calmly as I could.

"Yeah but you're better than the others. Flay says so."

Instantly, alarm bells went off in my head and I looked up from the top of Melanie's head and looked for Flay. And there she was, in uniform and with her fire-engine red hair, standing just a few feet away from the table.

"Oh, did she?" I asked, unable to keep all suspicion out of my voice.

"Yeah. She says that you're the good Coordinator and you're going to make sure the bad ones don't touch us. Like one must've touched Mommy."

It wasn't just alarm bells this time. Now it was an air-raid siren going off in my head.

Damn it, Flay. You have to poison this kid's mind?

Sai intervened. He knew me well enough to know I was ready to blow. "Look, Cagalli, Flay's just trying to-"

And I knew Sai well enough to know whatever explanation he came up with was not going to help. "Sai, do me a favor and shut up."

"Okay." Sai sighed and sat back down.

"What's wrong?" Melanie asked.

"I'm going to have a nice long talk with Flay. Hang out with Tolle and Miriallia for a while, okay?" I asked.

"Uh, sure," Melanie asked, her voice both concerned and confused. There was no time to explain to Melanie, but now I was sure I was not going to let Flay near her anymore. Flay had made her prejudices known and I was not going to tolerate them anywhere around an impressionable and innocent girl.

Flay knew she was in trouble because she had already turned around and tried to slink away as my attention had shifted to Sai and Melanie. But there was no escape. I marched right up to her at the edge of the cafeteria and she stopped.

"What? Here to tell me you own the place now?" Flay asked bitterly.

"No," I said.

"Then what is it? Are you going to try to preach peace, love, and understanding or some B.S.?"

"No," I repeated.

I wondered how to confront Flay. Just flat-out telling her to stay away from Melanie wasn't going to help things. She had to be the one who killed Melanie's mother, there was no one else! I couldn't come up with a motivation for her but she had hung around the crime scene like a killer admiring her work would! She had no right to hang around the kid!

As I was about to speak, I realized something important. Flay has no role on this ship. Other than being a custodian, and there were plenty of people who were doing that.

Flay's hands were idle. And idle hands . . . well, you know the saying.

I was going to need to find something for Flay to do. But what?

"Well?" Flay asked, her eyes narrowing.

Then it came to me. The thing that I didn't want Tolle to do . . . was perfect.

"Come with me," I said.

"Oh yeah? Where?" Flay asked, folding her arms.

"Do you want the Coordinators to die?" I ask.

"They killed my father, Cagalli," Flay growled. "And there's no one willing to avenge him."

I guess that could be taken as a "yes". As I listened to Flay, the rest of my plan formed in my head. I knew where to lead this conversation.

"You want the power to make a difference, don't you? You want to kill Coordinators. I can show you how to do that. And you won't be wasting time on this ship ever again."

Flay's eyes widened. "Wait, what?"

I had her. Now to make sure it stayed that way.

"There's something in the hangar that I want to show you . . ."
***
I led Flay right to the hangar. In the distance, the Strike GUNDAM was already here, being worked on by what seemed to be a small army of workers. It looked like Kira was in full control, instructing people around and having Kojiro Murdoch yell at people when things weren't going according to plan.

Flay stared, dumbstruck, at the Skygrasper simulator. "You must be joking."

"If you want to avenge your father so bad, take it into your own hands to do so because I can't and neither can Mu La Flaga," I said. "We have other things to do."

Flay glared at me. "I won't do this, Cagalli! I'll just get killed!"

"You're doing nothing on this ship other than cleaning toilets, Flay!" I said. "All you're doing is stewing in your anger and hatred. Use it rather than drown in it. Learn how to fly. Learn how to fight."

"This is a joke," Flay growled, but her eyes looked away from me. She knew I was right.

"I need help out there," I said. "Mu La Flaga and I can't protect the Archangel from this 'Desert Tiger' without another pilot or two. We have the Skygraspers, but we don't have the pilots. But if you learn how to fly, you will make a difference."

Flay bit her lip. "But . . ."

She eyed the simulator. "Damn it. I just want the bastards who killed my father to die."

"Then learn how to kill them. Get stronger. Get smarter. I don't care. But I don't think you want to clean toilets for the rest of your stay here. We could be stuck in this desert for months, Flay. Perhaps even longer."

Flay looked at the simulator again. "Damn it!"

She stomped over to the simulator and turned it on. "Watch. I can't do it."

"I'd be surprised if you did the first time," I said.

Sure enough, Flay didn't even take off properly. The Skygrasper went into a spiral and plowed into the ground, exploding, and the flashing "MISSION FAILED" and "GRADE: F" flashed on the screen.

Flay punched the side of her seat. "See? I'll just get killed! I can't even take off!"

"The purpose of this simulator is to train you so you won't do stuff like that when you fly for real. Try again," I said.

Flay crashed again, but this time it took longer. Instead of spiraling into the ground, she wound up crashing right into a mountain.

"God!" Flay spat, and she held her head in her hands. "This is stupid!"

"Try again," I said. "You actually took off this time, you just forgot to compensate for the mountain."

"This is just stupid," Flay growled. But she gave it another go. The third time, she had the launch sequence memorized enough that she got a clumsy but decent enough launch and found herself flying.

"See? They've really made the Skygrasper an easy-to-pilot aircraft," I said. "It's almost like a video game in execution. Granted, you don't have the unlimited machine-gun ammunition and stuff, but you can-"

Flay shrieked. I looked at the screen and immediately saw ZAFT helicopters incoming.

"They're helicopters, Flay. You can outmanuever them. Try," I said.

"R-Right," Flay said, and she attempted an evasive manuevers as the helicopters fired their air-to-air missiles at her. She overdid her spin and wound up in a death spiral that resulted in her crashing into the ground.

Flay snarled at the screen and she punched the side of her seat again. "Stupid!"

"You're getting better each time Flay," I said. "I mean that."

Flay just looked at me. "You know I can't do this."

"Correction: you think you can't do this."

"I'm just a girl, Cagalli!"

"You don't have to be 'just a girl', Flay. Look at how much progress you made on just your third flight. I bet within a few days you might even start finishing missions."

Flay didn't answer. She just looked at the screen, which was patiently waiting to be used again.

"Give yourself the power to make a difference," I said. "And you won't be Flay Allster, 'just a girl'. You will be Ensign Flay Allster, a valued pilot on this ship and everyone will respect you and compliment you for being brave and rising above yourself. And those Coordinators? You can kill them. Or you can just keep cleaning toilets and drive everyone insane. Your call."

"Thanks," Flay growled, but she kept looking at that screen. There was something in her now, a determination to fly.

Just according to the plan.

"Now keep trying. You'll be amazed at the progress you can make. Just remember, you need to get five 'A' rankings in a row. That's your goal, Flay."

"Yeah," Flay said softly. She didn't move, just kept staring at the screen.

"Good luck," I said, and I turned to walk away from the hangar.

As I approached the entrance, I heard Flay growl again. I turned, and I could already tell she had either crashed or had been shot down. But she still didn't leave the machine. She was going to keep trying.

Which was what I wanted.

Flay had no piloting talent. She was panicking far too easily and overcompensating for everything that went remotely wrong. She stood no chance of qualifying for the Skygrasper training. She could try for weeks and months and still wouldn't be good enough to qualify because she just didn't have the right mindset to be a pilot. You needed nerves of steel and Flay didn't even have plastic.

She'll never fly a Skygrasper, I thought.

But now she would stay away from Melanie, because there was now something to occupy her time. She now had something to do, something to strive for.

The plan was virtually foolproof, because there was no way Flay would become good enough to fly. She was hopeless! It couldn't be possible!

That's what I thought anyway, as I exited the hangar, hoping to keep Melanie away from Flay forever.

_________________
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

KIRA: What do you think this is; a cartoon?


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 Post Posted: Sun Jan 01, 2012 11:45 pm 
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Aww yeah pilot Flay to save the day.

Also hilarity at Cagalli's nightmare of what happened to Tolle in the show.


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 Post Posted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:04 pm 
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The Green Flame wrote:
Aww yeah pilot Flay to save the day.

Also hilarity at Cagalli's nightmare of what happened to Tolle in the show.


Well we'll see about Flay whether she becomes a pilot or not. Remember Flay has no outlet to channel her anger this time around as Cagalli won't be manipulated like Kira was and there's no reason for Kira and Flay to really interact in this fic anyway. She might be able to do it, but will she last any real length of time?

I thought that the vision was a nice touch but it wasn't intended to be THAT funny. XD

The next update will be next week. I want to get the buffer a little longer, hence the delay.

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MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

KIRA: What do you think this is; a cartoon?


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 Post Posted: Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:34 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

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Wow... I didn't notice that you'd updated until you responded to Green Flame. XD

Anyway, I'm actually kind of impressed by this use of Flay. She's been sitting unused for a while, but now we're going somewhere interesting with her.

Everything else was basic. I'm slightly intrigued by the thought of Natarle being a badass spec ops soldier, though.

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 Post Posted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:44 pm 
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You're going to notice a lot of minor changes leading up to big ones over the course of this arc. By the time we get to the equivalent of Episode 26, there will be earthshaking moments that will permanently separate this story from the SEED arc.

Natarle has an interesting past and there's a reason why she was attached to the Archangel. We'll find out why and how very soon.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Only

There was one thing I had not accounted for in my master plan to keep Flay occupied and away from Melanie. Sai Argyle.

I had royally pissed him off.

It wasn't until the next day that he confronted me over it. By that point, I had rested enough that I was able to keep my composure and not yell at him. I had to put my political science training to use in some way, and it should've mellowed me out more, but I guess I'm naturally more of a screaming commentator than a intelligent, layered diplomat. I guess that makes me more exciting but not someone to fix a particularly strained situation.

It was right in the hallway, and I was by myself. Melanie was asleep in my room, taking the bunk across from Miriallia's and mine, and I was letting Melanie sleep. Thank God.

"What the hell are you thinking?" Sai said the moment he saw me.

"It's not a big deal," I said as he stomped right up to me.

"Not a big deal? Really? You'd say that?" Sai yelled. "After the hissy fit you threw over Tolle in that thing you think it's okay to encourage the girl I love to jump in the simulator?"

"Big difference," I said. "Tolle's good enough to pass. Flay has no chance in hell."

"You're just assuming this!" Sai shouted. "Flay's addicted to that thing! She keeps trying to finish a mission! She almost did it last night before I pulled her away from it myself!"

"Look, getting five straight As in that simulator can't be easy," I said. "Otherwise we'd have a zillion Skygrasper pilots out there."

"Yet you freaked out over Tolle being in there," Sai said.

It was true. I had.

"Tolle is not like Flay," I said. "I think he could learn how to fly. I'm just looking for something to keep Flay away from Melanie, that's all."

"That 'something' could get Flay killed too, you know!" Sai growled angrily and pounded his fist against the wall. "You don't think about anybody but yourself, don't you?"

That one finally set me off. "I am thinking about Melanie, okay? What, is it wrong to be concerned about Melanie when she's around Flay? You know what kind of crap Flay believes in."

Sai looked at me, and seemed to bite back a response before shaking his head. "She doesn't. She's just angry. You can understand that, can't you?"

"Yeah, but until she gets over it I don't want her anywhere near Melanie," I said. "I'm looking for something to occupy her time so she doesn't put bad ideas in Melanie's head."

"It's all about the little girl," Sai said with a sigh. "Of course."

"Damn straight it is," I said. "Her mother is dead. She's my responsibility now."

Sai raised an eyebrow. "Really? It is?"

"Who else is going to do it?"

"Flay?" Sai said, his eyebrow still raised.

"No," I replied. "Not until Flay gets over herself and her petty hatred. I don't want Melanie to grow up to be a member of some anti-Coordinator group because of Flay's crap."

Sai turned around. "I see there's no way to convince you that you're wrong."

"I am right," I said. "And you know it. You've had to have heard some of the things Flay's been saying, haven't you?"

"We'll see, Cagalli," Sai said, his voice so soft it seemed to be a wisp in the air. "We'll see."

He walked away, hands in his pockets.

I didn't know what to say to him other than what I already had. There was no way Flay could get five straight As on the Skygrasper simulator! She'd quit in a few days because she'd be sick of being shot down and by that point Melanie will hopefully be detoxed of Flay's anger and hate. And, maybe eventually, Flay could work things out for herself. Maybe Sai, if he was so worried about her, could help Flay out with that.

It was odd. I didn't hate her as much as I had on Heliopolis, despite knowing more about Flay. But I could understand why Flay was saying the things she was, and why so much anger was inside her. She had lost her father to Coordinators from ZAFT, and a Coordinator, me, had failed to save him. To Flay right now, Coordinators were just scum, including me.

Okay, maybe I was one step above scum, like maybe a horsefly or something to Flay. Because I actually meant something as this ship's chief defender. But it didn't change the real fact that Coordinators had killed her father, killed him apparently mercilessly and so Flay was taking her anger out on all Coordinators.

She was just an ordinary girl filled with anger and no way to channel it or work it out of her system. After enough sessions in the simulator, maybe Flay would burn herself out. Grow sick of it and realize how stupid she was being. Or maybe she would keep smashing her head against the proverbial wall for weeks and months, still making little if any progress.

Whatever the case, Flay would never fly, but she would never spit her creed into Melanie's ears ever again.

That was my goal with Flay, until she finally let go.

And she had to. All of that had to be a poison festering inside her. It's not good for someone to live with so much hate.

She would let go.

For her own sake, if no one else's.
***
I knew there was no way to dodge Prince Kira for much longer. If I kept avoiding him, Kira would bring the subject up with the captain, or Mu La Flaga, or, be still my heart, Natarle Badgiruel. I didn't need any of those scenarios to be happening, especially the one with Badgiruel.

The fewer who knew about this, the better.

It wasn't difficult to find Kira. As usual, he was in the hangar, sitting in the Strike cockpit, running some kind of program or making a modification to the O.S. Just like the good old days in space.

Even after I had yelled at him he was still willing to work on the Strike for me. That said something about Kira more than words could ever express. He had a compassionate and caring heart. It was nice that his ideals and his kindness were not getting beaten out of him by this war. If he never saw combat, and only witnessed it, it would be a triumph for me, and for this crew.

"Hi," I said as I leaned into the cockpit.

Kira sighed. "I'm going to need a new spot to hang out. You're finding me way too easily."

"I know you're not. This machine's pretty much your baby," I said.

Kira gave me a funny look. "That put the weirdest visual in my head. Thanks."

It took me a moment to realize what he meant, and then I saw what I thought Kira had pictured, the Strike GUNDAM in a baby's pajamas.

It made me blush slightly, I could feel the heat rushing to my cheeks. "Sorry."

"Nah, it's okay." Kira finished a typing spree right as he said that, and hit the ENTER key. He kicked back in the seat.

"All right," he said. "I've managed to optimize the Strike for its new surroundings. You're not going to be able to take off and fly, not without some serious booster attachments that we don't have, but you're going to be a lot more mobile and a lot more accurate."

"Will that be enough?" I asked.

Kira nodded. "I would hope so."

"You hope so? What about me?" I asked.

Kira sighed. "It's not exactly easy for me to send you out there with my adjustments, you know. If you get killed, that means that I screwed up. I didn't make the right adjustments to give you what you needed to win."

He had a point. I never considered what it was like for Kira when I was out there fighting. I wondered whether Kira truly meant he was thinking about me when I was fighting.

Did the prince of Orb actually care about me?

The thought made me freeze up for a second before I could shake it off. I couldn't have any flights of fancy. Not now.

"You've never screwed up," I said. "Not even when we first started this. You're not going to screw up now."

"Hopefully not," Kira said. "I know what the adjustments should be for the terrain and gravity but calculations and hypotheses are different than actually putting it into practice. I could be off."

"Let's just assume you're not," I said. "I mean, look. I was able to get the Strike out of Tassil without any adjustments whatsoever. It's on me if I get shot down, not you."

"You also kind of lost your mind," Kira said.

There we went. Back to the conversation from a couple of days ago. But now I was rested and ready to have it.

"I saw something, Kira. This is the second time I've seen it, actually," I said.

"Wait, this happened before?" Kira asked, clearly stunned.

"Yeah. Remember when the Duel pounded me into the Archangel? That's when it happened for the first time."

Kira shook his head. "And you told no one?"

"If I did everyone would believe I'm crazy for real," I said. "I doubt anyone's seen a brown seed explode in front of them and set off some kind of weird kill-everyone mode or whatever."

"Huh?" Kira asked.

"Both times, I've seen a seed the color of my eyes," I said. "It cracks and then shatters, and all of a sudden it's like everything I need to do to win the fight is right in front of me. Like I know exactly what to do and how to do it. The right manuevers, whether to shoot or slash or, I don't know, do cartwheels if I have to, it's all there in front of me, and I process it all in an instant and then act on the best one."

Kira stared at me blankly.

"That's how I was able to make your recommended adjustments with minimal instruction," I said. "I just knew where to put the settings even though there was no time to figure it out. In fact, I probably shouldn't have known the best settings. I have no clue how I did. My programming courses have all been pretty basic and none had to do with Mobile Suits."

"This is weird," Kira said.

"You don't believe me?" I asked.

"Oh no. That's just too strange not to be real. I've never heard of that happening, though. I know berserker attacks are real, as well as the 'dead man walking', but I've never known of some random seed appearing in your vision and exploding."

"Maybe it's something that only happens in Coordinators," I said. "Maybe we make a projection or something in our heads."

"Someone would've noticed it by now if every Coordinator could do it," Kira said. "And why would it be a seed? With your eye color?"

"You're asking me this? I have no clue," I said.

Kira rubbed his forehead. "Now I'm regretting asking. This is getting really weird."

"So I'm a freak?" I asked.

"That's not what I meant, Cagalli, and you know it," Kira said. "Have your parents ever told you about why they made you a Coordinator? Or who did the genetic adjustments?"

"My parents adopted me," I said.

Kira's face fell. "Oh."

"As far as I know, I was maybe two, three years old when my parents adopted me," I said. "They said they picked me up in an Orb orphanage one day and took me home."

I thought about what Mom had said to me about why they adopted me. "They said they hadn't been planning on adopting that day but when Mom saw me . . . she said she . . . she said there was something about me that made her decide she wanted to adopt me right away. She convinced my dad of it and within a week I was out of that orphanage and at their house."

Kira smiled. "I see. I never knew my mother, myself. It's always been my father in my life."

"Oh wow, really?" I asked.

"My father always said that my mother didn't live long after I was born . . . that's all he'd ever say about that," Kira said. "I've always took it as my mom died in childbirth."

"That's sad," I said.

Kira just shrugged and smiled sadly. "There's nothing I could've done about it."

"I know," I said. "I can't imagine how that feels, though."

"You get used to it, and eventually all of the other kids who have normal families stop being such a big deal. After all, complaining about it only draws attention to your own weirdness," Kira said. "Though I never got to know a lot of kids my age. I mean, my father runs Orb. I'm a security risk. I can't do a lot of things normal kids get to do."

"Well in this case it's a good thing. Because I would've died a long time ago if it wasn't for your work," I said.

Kira chuckled briefly. "I hope so."

Murdoch pounded on the side of the cockpit door then. "Yo, Cagalli!"

"What's up?" I asked, peeking out of the cockpit.

"The captain sent me to get you! You're needed on the bridge. Some kind of strategy thing."

"A strategy meeting?" I asked.

"Yeah. It involves the head of Desert Dawn himself," Murdoch said. "It's really important."

Kira nodded to me. "Get going. I'll finish up here."

"All right Kira," I said. "I'll be back soon."

"Yeah," Kira said softly, and I left him behind.
***
The bridge didn't have any of my friends on it, just the officers who had been running the show this whole time. I spotted Ahmed, though, who was hanging out by the entrance, his rifle relaxed. He gave me a smile as I entered the room but didn't say anything, and I didn't have time to say anything back.

"So, this is your pilot," said a bearded, middle-aged man who looked like he had actually gone through hell. He was muscular, and his beard was not large enough to disguise a distinctive scar on his cheek that suggested he had been in one serious knife fight. A bandanna that looked worn by sweat and dirt was wrapped around his head, and his bulletproof vest looked just big enough to wrap around his frame.

No wonder the man had kept a rebel organization together by force of will. He demanded respect just in his appearance.

The man who must have been Sahib Ashman seemed to size me up again before shaking his head. "Your chief protector is a girl who is clearly haunted and has yet to finish puberty. This doesn't inspire confidence."

I was not in the mood to be dissed by a man I barely knew. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? I've killed a lot of people in this war to protect this ship! What do you want from me?"

There were several audible gasps in the room, including all of Ashman's men in the room and Murrue Ramius herself. "Uh, Cagalli . . ."

Sahib Ashman just smiled. "Though her spirit isn't quite beaten down yet. She could have some use after all."

I was ready to tear into him again but Murrue got right in front of me. She placed her hands on my shoulders, and spoke firmly but soothingly. "Cagalli, this man is the leader of our only allies in this region. Please, I've heard you're a political science major, put it to use."

I wanted to kick Sahib Ashman's ass, but like with Garcia there was no benefit in trying to do so. Especially as, unlike Garcia, Ashman looked more than capable of handling me. He could break me like a twig and not lose sleep over it.

"You are clearly a civilian girl who has no business fighting this war," Sahib said. "Times must be desperate if a girl is going to be pressed into combat service. But you are what you are. You're the pilot of the Strike GUNDAM, and we need you to do us a favor."

"A favor?" I asked.

"This is the strategy Ashman's outlined with us to destroy the Desert Tiger, otherwise known as Andrew Waltfeld," Natarle Badgiruel said. "We're going to start implementing it in the dead of night tonight."

"We're going to kill Waltfeld?" I asked.

"That's the ultimate goal, yes," Ashman said. "Our current enemy is the Tiger. I don't like how the Earth Alliance does things but you have the firepower and intangibles to help us kill him and free our people."

I could tell that no one was joking about this. They really did have a plan. Murrue looked at me again. "Cagalli, please have a seat."

"Fine," I growled and I sat down on the nearest chair facing Ashman. It figured that after two days of being on this ship and not interacting with any of the officers that the first thing they'd do is drag me into a room where I was going to learn who I was going to kill.

Ashman leaned over the holographic display, and pointed at Tassil. "Your crash-landing in Tassil changed a lot of things for the Tiger," he said.

"How?" I asked.

"Urban warfare isn't the Tiger's preference," Ashman said. "The Tiger has actively tried to avoid it, and hunt only the members of Desert Dawn down if possible. He seems to have some compassion for human life. I've been tempted to use that against him, but if I do so it will only enable the Tiger to annihilate everyone in sight."

But then Ashman smiled. "But the Tiger was not ready to attack Tassil. Your landing forced his hand, he had to try to get you and your machine and try to take Tassil violently. And he's taken a lot of casualties in the town. Our forces have managed to stall him, but they are low on ammunition and food and need to withdraw."

Ashman pointed at caves not far from where we were. "Our remaining forces in Tassil need to get here. From there they can use the underground network we have to escape completely. Your mission is to cover their escape, and inflict as much damage as you possibly can before you withdraw yourself."

"So I'm a distraction," I said.

"The best kind," Ashman said. "A lethal one."

Great, so I was going to be bait and take all of the attacks ZAFT could offer while Ashman's men got away scot-free. How was that fair?

We were being used and spat out, and this was going to be repeated until the Tiger was killed. I needed to find this guy and kill him quickly or we were either going to fight in this desert forever, or die in it.

Mu La Flaga joined in. "We have another pilot coming to join us, she was downed near Tassil and is en route to us. We have a Skygrasper ready to fly for her. She will help you and I in the distraction."

"Oh yeah? Who's she?" I asked.

"That's me," said a new voice. I turned and saw a tall woman with hair almost the color of flames and blue eyes standing at the entrance. She looked nearly as intimidating as Sahib Ashman did, even the fighters seemed to give her space and respect.

"That was fast," Natarle said, with a bit of surprise, and what sounded like suspicion, in her voice.

Ashman's eyes widened slightly. "Now if you told me that she was your Strike GUNDAM's pilot . . ."

"Thank you for the compliment, but I am not. I am an ordinary pilot. If I were extraordinary I wouldn't have already been shot down," the woman said. I looked at her shoulder and saw she was a First Lieutenant.

"What's your name?" I asked.

The woman looked at me, and I had the distinct realization that I was recognized somehow, even though there was no good reason she should. "My name is First Lieutenant Hilda Harken, Ensign Yamato."

I looked at her for a moment longer, and even though she turned her eyes back on Ashman, I sensed something was off. She recognized me. She knew who I was. And while she seemed to be pleasant there was this edge in her, like I was her enemy or something. Or, even worse, a target.

Why? Why was this woman giving me that impression? Especially as everything about her body language, eyes, or voice seemed perfectly normal?

She walked right up to Mu La Flaga and saluted. "It is a pleasure to fly with you, Lieutenant Commander. You are the Hawk of Endymion after all."

"Uh, thank you, Lieutenant," La Flaga said, clearly surprised by the formality.

"Endymion?" I asked dumbly. I had heard the name before but couldn't place it.

"That was a battle where Lieutenant Commander La Flaga single-handedly defended an Earth Alliance fleet from ZAFT forces," Natarle Badgiruel did. "Though he doesn't seem to display the medals he earned from that battle."

"There's a time and place to display them and that is not while we're still at war," La Flaga said.

"Back to business," Ashman said, as he took a sip of his coffee. "You, Ensign, will lead the distraction unit into the edge of Tassil. The town is still standing, but I don't want you to actually wander inside. Just draw the ZAFT forces out and fight them while the remaining fighters in town withdraw. We will launch a signal flare to let you know when to pull back."

"I have a limited power supply," I said. "How much time would you need?"

"Long enough. If you have to come back, recharge, and deploy again, so be it," Ashman said.

Wonderful. So basically I was going to keep getting thrown to the wolves so Ashman's own men would escape. Some plan.

Despite having all the weaponry, it was quite clear who had the power in this room. And that was Sahib Ashman. The man didn't have our weaponry, but he had something none of us had. He inspired fear and respect, and he was not afraid to use either to his advantage.

"I understand," I finally said, not wanting to make him ornery by not responding at all.

"Excellent. After my men are out of Tassil, we will begin operating to destroy the Tiger once and for all," Ashman said.

"That simple, huh?" La Flaga asked.

"Yes, that simple. You people arriving are a gift from Allah. You think I would be a fool and not use you?" Ashman asked. "I don't think so."

He got up after downing what remained of his coffee. "After my men escape, we will need supplies, munitions. I'm sure your group need some as well. I have many contacts that will give us what we need. Be ready to start those operations once the Tassil evacuation is finished."

"I understand," Ramius said.

Ashman nodded and walked away, and his fighters, including young Ahmed, left with him, leaving us on the bridge.

Hilda Harken just chuckled. "I can't believe you're just going to let him order us around, Captain Ramius."

"There's no choice. This is Ashman's territory," Ramius said. "Before you and Ensign Yamato arrived, Ashman made it pretty clear that if we did not fight him he would treat us like the 'Tiger'."

"His exact words were 'destroy you without hesitation'," La Flaga said. "I'm pretty sure we could fight off an attack by Desert Dawn, but even so, that will leave us alone and outgunned by Andrew Waltfeld."

"That doesn't excuse letting him intimidate us," Badgiruel said.

"I'm inclined to agree. I thought that commanders of a brand-new ship like this would be braver to use it," Harken added.

I didn't envy Ramius' position. Now she had two people, Badgiruel and Harken, openly questioning her authority. Knowing that two exceptionally important subordinates didn't trust her adjustment had to hurt. At least La Flaga seemed to be taking Ramius' side, but that still didn't bode well. That meant there could easily be a power struggle for this ship and that wouldn't end well for any of us.

I wanted to stay neutral, but at the same time, I much preferred to have Ramius in command instead of Badgiruel. Ramius actually had some compassion and at least she didn't want to shoot first and ask questions later. And she didn't view me as an asset either, she viewed me as a human life.

So I decided to support Ramius. "I think the captain's right," I said. "I don't like this situation any more than any of us do but the captain is making the right call. In an environment like this, it's best to keep our enemies to a minimum."

Ramius smiled at me. "Thank you, Ensign."

"No problem," I said.

"Hmmph." I turned at Harken's noncommittal grunt and saw the smallest little smile on her face. It was just for a second, then it was gone.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing, Ensign. Nothing at all. Just remember to watch your back out there. I'm not sure anyone has it."

And like that, she turned around and left the room.

"Damn, she's a piece of work," La Flaga said.

"I think we all are at this point," Badgiruel grumbled.

For once, I thought Badgiruel was right.

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MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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 Post Posted: Sun Jan 15, 2012 4:17 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

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OMG I LUV HILDA.

Erm... Great chapter! *puts bag over head*

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 Post Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 12:40 am 
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Newtype Emo Guy

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 264
Location: Illinois, USA
Sorry about the hiatus, I have been prepping my novel Nanomancers for Kindle publication. If you want to buy it I will be releasing it on Wednesday for $2.99.
___________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Town of Fiction


The Strike GUNDAM was ready early the next morning. While it still looked a little bit beaten up, it at least didn't appear like a trash compactor had gotten ahold of it.

I was amazed to see the Strike so intact, actually. It had got through the wringer. How many machines could take a fall through the atmosphere and getting the crap kicked out of it and still be ready to fight? The answer is: not many. I guess the other GUNDAMs could qualify.

"You like your machine?" asked a voice from behind.

I turned around and saw Hilda Harken. She had snuck up behind me and I had not heard her. The realization sent a chill down my spine before I could even reply.

"Of course I do. It's why I'm still alive," I replied.

"That simple, huh?" Hilda asked as she walked up beside me and gazed at the Strike. She chuckled after a moment. "I'm not surprised. I've heard you and the Strike have been through a lot."

"Yes, and we're about to go through even more together," I said. "Why do you care?"

"Have you ever thought about handing the Strike over to someone else?"

She wasn't understanding how much a barrier Kira had put over the Strike. "I would if there was another Coordinator. The O.S. prevents a Natural from flying it."

"Oh. Now it makes sense," Hilda replied.

Was she really that stupid or just playing dumb? Whatever the case, she was making me nervous. Why was she going out of her way to unnerve me? What was she getting at with this?

"Look, I'm doing this to protect everyone on the ship, okay? That's all there is to it. Is this what I wanted? Of course not. But I promised everyone on this ship that I would protect them until we make it to Orb."

"Orb, huh?" Hilda asked, somewhat surprised.

"You haven't noticed that a lot of people here are Orb civilians?"

"They all look like soldiers to me," Hilda replied.

"Half of the crew on this ship are Orb civilians who have been retroactively enlisted in Atlantic Federation forces," I replied. "The moment we make it to Orb, their enlistment ends. The war is over for us. It should have been over already if it wasn't for me."

"Your fall," Hilda said.

"Yes. The captain decided that I was worth saving. And you know what, that means something to me, okay?"

"You shouldn't be so defensive," Hilda sighed, and she turned around and walked towards the nearest Skygrasper.

I couldn't get how weird she was out of my mind. There was no point for any of this but making me feel uneasy. Why would she do that? Did she hit her head when she had to eject?

Speaking of hitting, I heard Flay yell out in rage and slam her fist against the simulator. I turned, and saw her rubbing her hand, her eye blues clearly determined and pissed off even from this distance. Her red hair, usually meticulously combed, was a sloppy mess that scarcely resembled her usual hairstyle.

At least Flay had determination. I couldn't take that away from her. She wasn't taking any of this anger out on anyone, just an inanimate object, so in that phase, my plan had worked. Really well. Better than I expected.

But that determination was worrying me. And a brief "what-if" popped into my mind.

What if she really did it? Passed the simulation? Became a pilot?

Was this crazy girl really who I wanted to watch my back?

Flay or Hilda? Potentially crazy bigot or the strangest, most eerie woman on the planet?

What a choice.

"Hey, princess, get your head out of the clouds, you gotta launch!" La Flaga yelled from his own Skygrasper.

"Uh, right!" I managed and threw on my helmet.

At least now I only had to contend with Hilda. At least she was being paired up with Mu.

For my own sanity, I hoped it would stay that way.
***
I couldn't get very far off the ground even when I was airborne. Earth's gravity was just too much and flying was annihilating my battery power.

Murrue Ramius' voice was coming in loud and clear. "Just worry about providing cover. You're the decoy, Ensign. Draw their fire."

That sounded comforting, not. However, the "Ensign" label reminded me that I didn't have the right to talk back, much to my dismay. I desperately wanted to be sarcastic and coarse. It felt like it was the only way I was going to make it through this without losing my mind. Eventually, I wasn't going to be able to bite back any sardonic remarks.

"Yes, ma'am," I said, in a tone that sounded dreading and rueful even to me.

"You'll be fine. You have the firepower," Ramius said.

I landed the Strike on the ground and approached Tassil cautiously. Any second, the town would be in my sight and following that I was going to have to start a fight.

"Yeah, and Kira's adjusted everything really well," I said.

"He's Petty Officer Athha right now, Ensign," replied Natarle Badgiruel.

Just because I was in the military now didn't mean I wanted to be reminded of that. Though Badgiruel seemed to be confident in the security of our communications considering she had blathered Kira's famous last name on our channel.

"Yes, of course, Lieutenant ma'am whatever," I grumbled, before I could stop myself.

Ramius thankfully spoke before Badgiruel could tear my head off. "Prepare for battle, Ensign. You're approaching Tassil. La Flaga and Harken will begin their preliminary attack runs any moment."

As if on cue, I saw both Skygraspers rocket over me and charge to Tassil directly ahead. One more sand dune and I'd be able to see the city.

"Just let me know what's happening," I said as I increased the Strike's running speed.

But as I neared the top of the dune, I heard La Flaga. "Princess, it's a trap! Stop! We need to pull back immediately!"

"A trap?" But I had already made it to the top of the dune, and what I saw was something I could never forget.

Tassil was gone.

All that stood were broken ruins not even two stories high. Not even a puff of smoke escaped them. It was total obliteration.

And then I saw it.

There was a Mobile Suit standing there. No. Not just a Mobile Suit.

A GUNDAM.

And it looked almost exactly like the Duel.

"H-How?"

Harken's voice. "It's safe to say there aren't any survivors. We need to get back to base."

Ramius. "What's going on? What happened to Tassil?"

"It's the Duel. It's right there," I managed to say.

"The Duel?" Badgiruel shouted. "I thought you destroyed it, Ensign!"

"I . . . I did," I said.

The Skygraspers shot past me again, heading back in the general direction of the Archangel. They knew better than to fight a GUNDAM head on.

And then the Duel shot towards me, blasting out of the shattered ruins and coming right towards me. It would be on top of me within thirty seconds.

Ramius began shouting to me. "Ensign, if the Duel is moving toward you, fall back! We need to reassess the situation!"

I wished it really was so simple. But the realization came that I had to stay and fight. The Duel was the one responsible for wiping Tassil off the map. What would stop it from charging right to where we were hiding if I ran? I'd lead it to the Archangel and ZAFT would know where we were hiding!

"I don't think I can do that," I said, and I readied my rifle. I had the Aile Pack, which at least gave me both melee and ranged options. Plus I probably had more power than the Duel anyway. I could outlast it.

I aimed and fired.

The Duel raised its shield and it deflected my shot into the sky.

Much to my surprise, it didn't shoot back. It took me a moment to realize that it didn't want to have a ranged fight. It wanted to kill me up close and personal.

That was fine with me. Everyone knew I was best with melee combat anyway.

I dropped the rifle and drew one of my pair of small swords. If this was how the Duel wanted to do it, then I was going to oblige.

I fired my Igelstellung machine-guns at it to give it a distraction, and the Duel raised its shield to block that salvo. Then I charged, holding down the machine-gun trigger while raising the sword for a strike.

I couldn't worry about how the Duel could have survived me destroying it. What mattered was that it had blown up Tassil. It had killed thousands upon thousands of people. For what? To draw me out? To piss me off? Or just because the pilot was a depraved psychopath and found this fun?

I didn't hit the Duel. The Duel got its own sword up in time and blocked me, and then rammed me with its shield and I was driven backwards.

I quickly repositioned myself, thank God for Kira's modifications. But the Duel didn't try to press the advantage, and instead, just stood there.

Why?

Did it want me to come after it again? Was it sizing me up? Or something else?

Then my coms beeped. The Duel was trying to message me.

Did I want to bite? La Flaga had lectured me time and time again about going on an open channel and talking to my enemies.

No. I wanted to know how exactly the Duel was standing in front of me when I had destroyed it! I had killed its pilot and annihilated the machine! How was it still here so it could do this atrocity? How was it still here so it could threaten the Archangel?

I answered, and I saw the face of a female pilot who looked uncomfortably similar to the face of Yzak, the Duel's pilot.

The resemblance was enough to make me briefly wonder if Yzak had gotten a sex change over the last few days.

"So," the Duel's pilot said, with her unquestionably female voice, "You are the Strike's pilot. Cagalli Yamato, is that right?"

"How do you know my name?" I asked.

The pilot chuckled darkly. "Oh, hearsay from here and there. I just wanted to make sure I had your name right before I blew you all to pieces."

Okay, she was mad too. Somehow I wasn't surprised.

The pilot smiled sickly at me. "I bet you're wondering how the Duel is back, aren't you?"

"The question did come to mind," I replied. It took me a moment to realize that I had begun backing the Strike away, slowly but surely. I conscious stopped the movement, but the fact that I had been doing that meant that the Duel was scaring me.

"This isn't the Duel you blew up, and I'm not the pilot you killed. When we got it, we took a copy of its design. We made a new Duel. A better Duel. This is the Duel Assault Shroud. It's more advanced and capable than all of the other stupid GUNDAMs Morgenroete bothered to create!"

Well, that explained a whole lot. I didn't exactly want to think about how ZAFT had been able to copy and improve upon the Duel's design so quickly, though. Production should've taken a lot longer than just a month or so! And I was no techie. It was just common sense!

"Why are you here? Why did you blow up Tassil?" I asked.

"Oh, I didn't do that. I asked for a salvo from orbit. Boom," the pilot said. "Having connections to the Le Creuset team and a mother high up in the government has its advantages."

Rau Le Creuset. It figured he'd be behind this. Did that mean that he had killed his own allies, though? The ZAFT had been patrolling the city just a couple of days ago!

The pilot chuckled. "I know what you're thinking. I can read faces really well, Yamato. Don't worry about the ZAFT soldiers that were in here. We gave the 'Desert Tiger' plenty of warning to pull out. Pissed him off a ton too. But it doesn't matter. Wiping out Tassil gave me the opening I wanted. Now I have you exactly where I want you."

"Who are you?" I asked.

The pilot cocked her head to the side, and her eyes widened just a little bit, and that sick smile widened just enough to show some teeth. "My name is Asta Joule. You killed my little brother. Prepare to die."

The picture vanished. And then the Duel charged without any further warning.

The new Duel was fast. Faster than any GUNDAM I had ever faced. It was a total blitzkrieg.

Her voice began shrieking wildly in my ears, so audio communications were still working even though the visual was off. "Is that all you got, Yamato? Are you really the one who killed my little brother? You're nothing but a joke!"

Her movements were so fast that I had to rely on my shield, not just my sword, to block her. She wasn't kidding about the improvements to the Duel. And she had clearly had everything calibrated for the desert. None of the problems her brother had in his final battle against me were present.

I tried, vainly to find an opening. But every time I could think to counter, the Duel would strike again and I would have to block yet another blow.

"C'mon, you bitch! Fight back! Make me enjoy killing you!"

Before the war, I was wondering if people really did say psychotic things like that. Guess it's true.

The Duel kicked me and I was knocked down the sand dune and slid all the way down. I managed to look up in time to see the Duel leap into the air and plunge right towards me. I quickly leapt backwards and the Duel pounded the ground, sending a small sand cloud into the air.

Finally, an opening! I lunged forward, looking to stab the Duel in the chest, where the cockpit was, and end the fight just like that.

The Duel got its shield in the way in time, but there was no way I was going to let it regain the initative.

I was going to make the Duel work to kill me.

I attacked it over and over, trying to find some way to catch the Duel off guard. But Asta was good at this. She wasn't like her brother, who had trouble with me whenever I turned the tables on him. She knew how to protect and block.

And, even worse, Asta could counterattack.

She lashed out with one of the Duel's legs and successfully knocked the Strike off balance, and I scrambled to get away as the Duel immediately picked off where it left off. It made no attempt to shoot at me. Apparently skewering me was the only thing on this woman's mind.

It took me a moment to realize that the way I had killed Yzak was by stabbing the cockpit. Was that what Asta was aiming for, to kill me in the exact same way?

If so, how could I turn that into my advantage?

Could I even think about stuff like that when Asta was trying to skewer me left and right?

Then rockets blasted the Duel from behind and I heard Asta cry out from shock. "What the-"

"You okay, princess?" Once again, Mu La Flaga was back to rescue me.

"Better now," I said, and then I attacked the Duel.

I heard Asta shout "Damn it!", but no exclaimation was going to be enough to stop me. Asta barely got the Duel's arm up in time to have it get sliced off instead of the cockpit and it bounced into the sand.

Asta growled something unintelligible and snarled "I'm going to cut you into dozens of blood-spewing pieces, Cagalli Yamato! Just you wait! I'll avenge my baby brother!"

As she said that, the Duel blasted up the sand dune and ran off. I prepared to engage engines to follow, but I heard Harken's voice. "It looks like the Tiger's forces are entering the area. If we try to finish the Duel off we could be surrounded."

La Flaga agreed. "This is a battle for another day, princess. We need to retreat back to the Archangel, try to figure out what the hell is going on."

"No, there's no need," I said.

"What is it, then?" asked Harken.

"The pilot flat-out said it to me. It's a modification of the Duel's design that ZAFT made. She's here to kill me because I killed her brother. That's all it is."

Silence on the coms. Then, finally, La Flaga. "So we have someone out for revenge."

"We can discuss this later, we all should pull back before the Tiger winds up on top of us," Harken replied.

"Good idea," I said, not exactly wanting to face Andrew Waltfeld with only half of my power remaining, approximately a third of which I was going to need to run back to the Archangel.

I turned the Strike around and shot towards the Archangel's direction. This was the last thing I needed, someone out for revenge against me. Revenge solves nothing. All it does is briefly fill an emptiness when you finally get what you desire against the person who wronged you. Then you realize you've descended below your enemy's level in order to hurt or kill him, and you realize you're just a monster.

But, at the same time, it's so easy to seek revenge out. Because that motivates you to live. It gives you something, something energizing, something primal that entices you with a glimpse of that satisfaction when you finally win.

Too bad I was never going to explain this to Yzak Joule's older sister.

Most likely, I was going to wind up killing her before this was over.

And that would be a bigger tragedy than her getting revenge against me.

Why?

Because all that would mean is that someone meaninglessly wasted her life to try to kill me and fail. She had lived only to die.

That is the worst way to die.

I hope I will never die like that.

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KIRA: What do you think this is; a cartoon?


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 Post Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 7:52 am 
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Mecha Flunky

Joined: Sun Oct 16, 2011 1:09 pm
Posts: 4
Once again, you managed to subvert the expectation of your readers.
The trap was not unexpected (Hilda!), but the appearance of the new, advanced Duel Gundam (was it supposed to make up for the humiliation of the Duel in the original Desert arc?) and the identity of the pilot were big surprises.
Will Asta Joule become a proper re-appearing rival to Cagalli or die soon?
She is certainly a bigger threat than Yzak was, though much of it seems to be the result of having a better Duel than Yzak.
What happened to the people of Tassil, evacuated or were they hit by the orbital bombardment (conventional orbital bombardment should be used more often)?

rebel_cheese wrote:
Well, that explained a whole lot. I didn't exactly want to think about how ZAFT had been able to copy and improve upon the Duel's design so quickly, though. Production should've taken a lot longer than just a month or so! And I was no techie. It was just common sense!


Thank you, Cagalli. I was thinking the same.
How (and why) could ZAFT copy a captured Gundam as fast as they did?


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 Post Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2012 5:19 am 
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Okawara x Katoki Love Child
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Location: Melbourne, Australia
Up to chapter 6 so far, and really enjoying it (especially as it's the realization of an idea I had in my head before it was pointed out to me that you were doing it). I'll hopefully catch up before too long.

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April 7, 1979: The first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam premieres. Fanboys declare Gundam "Ruined FOREVER".


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 Post Posted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:51 am 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
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Finally tracked down my password so I could log in again. XD

Great chapter, as usual. Looking forward to more!

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 Post Posted: Sat Apr 21, 2012 9:06 pm 
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Newtype Emo Guy

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 264
Location: Illinois, USA
@Golos:

I'm glad I was able to subvert your expectations. I can't answer a lot of what you're asking for spoiler reasons. The people of Tassil were killed by orbital bombardment. As for Asta . . . let's put it this way, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. She has a lot of Yzak's flaws but has her mother's brain, so she can be very cordial and manipulative but has a lot of Yzak's rash decisions and anger management problems. The Duel Assault Shroud actually does exist in canon, though it was a modified original Duel, not an entirely rebuilt one. The reason for the change will be explained.

@Vent Noir: I hope you enjoy the entire story thus far. It's been fun. XD

@Rob: Thank you!

The reason why I have not updated yet is because my home PC is toast. Once it comes back online I can post more chapters. :)

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MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

KIRA: What do you think this is; a cartoon?


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 Post Posted: Sun Apr 22, 2012 12:10 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

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PC toast is the worst kind of toast. Even worse than gray toast.

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