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 Post Posted: Mon May 09, 2011 4:59 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 248
Location: Illinois, USA
MBF-06/ZGMF-X12A Arbiter wrote:
Hey, hey, hey! Where's the updates man? This is a a great story! Keep on trying!

I'm curious as to how you're going to work with the relationship between Flay and Cagalli. Seeing as how Flay isn't a lesbian, seducing Cagalli isn't going to work... so what? Is she going to just try to outright kill Cagalli? Maybe try to frame her or something?


I've made progress on the next chapter, which will answer your question about Flay's strategy . . . or will it?

I've been dealing with two jobs and basically mild depression all at once. That's why there's been no output from me. I'll try to get the next chapter done soon. If I'm lucky or feeling particularly inspired it might even be later today.

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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: Mon May 09, 2011 10:32 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
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Location: Illinois, USA
Chapter Seventeen: Miss Murder

The end of the battle did not relieve the stress and worry that was filling my heart. The only consolation was that I had finally gotten used to zero-G enough to not get spacesick, I didn't need the pills anymore. But I was in a panic. Desperate.

I had to make sure Dorothy Eliarez was okay. I had promised Melanie she'd be fine. I hadn't protected the ship well enough.

It didn't matter that we had managed to win. Everyone had wanted to make it to the fleet completely intact, with no casualties. So the people who started the journey with us at the wreckage of Heliopolis could see their homes again.

I wish we could say we had become a band, forged by fire, but we really weren't. We were just out for the same goal: safety. As long as that goal was in sight, we could make it. Sure, we volunteered for things and for the most part tolerated people we didn't like, but it wasn't like any civilians were going to stick around to become soldiers, and that the soldiers of Artemis weren't going to land in hot water for what they tried to do to us.

If something happened to remove that safety, I wasn't sure what would happen. But we were a powder keg that would become ready to blow the moment something resembling a fire broke out.

But first and foremost I had to check on Dorothy Eliarez for the sake of her daughter. As I made it to the medical bay, I found a soldier entering something into a datapad. I figured he was as good of a potential source as any and I approached him.

He looked at me. "Hey, ain't you the-"

"Yes, I'm the GUNDAM pilot. Do you have the casualty list?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Say wha?"

"The casualty list. There's someone important to me who was in the Gottfried that got hit and I need to know that she's okay."

"Oh." He cycled through his datapad, highlighting something I couldn't see with his tiny plastic stick. "Uh, I got eleven casualties plus one MIA. Four KIA, seven WIA." "Just give me the names. I know who I'm looking for."

He nodded. "Uh, okay. Um, do you want the wounded first or the-"

"Just start with the dead and unaccounted for," I said. I could barely keep myself from yanking the datapad out of his hands and look through the list myself. Already, I could feel my breathing bordering on the frantic, and I could audibly hear my heartbeat.

I was on the verge of completely freaking out in front of this guy.

"Uh, Seaman First Class Jorge Ramirez, Seaman First Class Jacqueline Vermor, Seaman Second Class Kolei Carmelson, and civilian Hans Cooper. MIA is civilian Seamus Kucinich. No one's seen him since the Gottfried got hit."

So at least Dorothy wasn't dead. That made me feel a lot happier inside. "Okay, it's none of them."

He ran down the list of wounded. Just as I thought Dorothy wasn't going to be mentioned, on the fifth name he said "Civilian Dorothy Eliarez."

So, she had been hurt. I stopped him just as he began reciting the sixth name. "That's who I'm looking for. How hurt is she?"

"Uh, burns, mostly. Nothing serious. Why? She a relative of yours?"

"I'm her daughter's babysitter."

He just gave me a look but I didn't care. I moved past him and went as fast as I could through the medical bay. It seemed pretty well-organized, but the medical bay looked like it could hold a lot more than seven wounded. Even with the manpower issue it looked like they could capably take care of seven wounded.

There's nothing I could do for the dead, and I figured what had happened to Seamus Kucinich was that he got sucked into space or something. Crappy way to go but there's nothing that could be done about that. I was sure he'd be "presumed KIA" very soon.

When I finally made it to Dorothy Eliarez's room, she was not only conscious, but wide awake, her left arm draped in burn bandages but nothing else seemed amiss.

Her nurse looked up at me and asked "May I help you?"

Thankfully, I didn't have to answer, because Dorothy spoke next. "It's my daughter's babysitter. It's all right, she can come in. She's been a big help."

The nurse looked at Dorothy, then back to me, and then did a double take. "Wait, you are the-"

"Yes," I said, "I am the Coordinator, and I babysit your patient's daughter. Is that such a big deal?"

The nurse couldn't come up with a response to that, and Dorothy mercifully spoke. "It's all right. Leave us alone for a few minutes, please."

The nurse, whose face was beet-red, looked grateful for the opportunity. "Uh, yes, ma'am."

She left the room without saying a word or even looking at me. I went to Ms. Eliarez's bedside, and she looked at me and smiled. "Why're you here?"

"I failed to protect the ship. I'm sorry," I said. My voice was strong and clear. I had no clue whether that was a good thing or not. I wasn't normally the type to choke up unless things got really bad, but you would think my voice would at least weaken a little bit in this kind of situation, show some inner vulnerability.

"Don't be stupid. What hit us was a shot from a ship, not from a Mobile Suit. That's not your fault."

"Maybe-"

"There's no maybes, Ms. Yamato. That ship was too far away to fly to. I don't even think Lieutenant La Flaga, as good as he is, could've handled all of those GUNDAM-things all at once. You made the right decision. And, anyway, I'm still alive, right?"

"Not everyone's all right," I pointed out, thinking about the dead and other wounded.

Ms. Eliarez shook her head. "Look, not everything's your fault. You did what you had to do. I-"

"Mommy!" That was undoubtedly Melanie, and there she charged, into her mother's free arm, which quickly wrapped itself around her.

The nurse I had encountered earlier dutifully followed Melanie in here. "Please, she's wounded, there's . . ." She looked at me again, and her face flushed once more. She turned around and left as quickly as she came in. I couldn't tell whether she was angry at me or simply embarrassed.

Melanie was wailing, and there was nothing I could say. It was clear that this wasn't my moment. I was not a member of their family. I was an intruder upon them, a guest, an acquaintance. Nothing more than that.

The fact that Melanie had just charged past me without saying a single word spoke volumes as to who meant more to her.

I had gotten my confirmation as to how badly Ms. Eliarez was injured. There was no other reason for me to be here, I would just be getting in the way. So I left, and silently floated down the hallway, hoping that in the end Melanie wouldn't completely hate me for her mother being hurt.

Even though Ms. Eliarez herself said that I wasn't to blame for the injury, I couldn't help but feel that it was. In the end, my effort to protect the ship hadn't been perfect, and after the end of this horrific journey, it would've been really something for all of the military personnel and civilians to make it to the end.

But I guess that such a thought is unrealistic in the end.

Still . . .

It really would've been something. Something truly special.
***
That night, I settled down with Miriallia on what I was hoping would be our last night onboard the ship. We were still en route to Haliberton's main force. It wouldn't be until tomorrow morning, Greenwich Mean Time, that we'd make it to the main force and be able to disembark. That would be February 12th.

Two days from the anniversary of the Bloody Valentine. My God, and I would spending it up here, in space, rather than in the comfortable, warm home of my parents.

I still feel a kind of kinship with the Coordinators. I went to Coordinator academies for years. I was one of them. I may not have lost anybody dear to me in the Bloody Valentine but still, it was a massacre of my kind. My people.

At the same time, though, these were my people too, even though they were all Naturals. Tolle, Miri, Kira, Badgiruel, Ramius, La Flaga . . . they were people too.

In the end, I think that we're all humans. We may be different genetically but there's no hiding the real fact that Coordinators and Naturals are both human beings, despite such a genetic difference.

So why do we feel the need to kill the other just because we're different? Seeing this war shows that both Naturals and Coordinators have the same emotions, the same fears, the same flaws, and unfortunately, the same hatred.

This is such a disgusting war.

Thankfully, I was going to see the end of my participation in it. Or so I thought.

Miriallia laughed softly from above me. "Hard to believe it's the last night, isn't it? We're going back into our civilian clothes, we'll be going home, back to Orb."

"I'm looking forward to it," I said. "Which island do you live on again?"

"New Guinea."

"Oh. I live on Onogoro."

Miriallia chuckled again, but this time with a hint of sadness. "Yeah, kinda makes seeing each other difficult. Tolle lives on New Guinea too."

After everything I had been through, that fact did not surprise me at all. "I see."

"Of course," Miriallia said, "That's if Prince Kira even lets us get off."

This was new. "What?"

"Kuzzey says that he heard that Kira's trying to prevent us from getting off this ship," Miriallia said. "He's really arguing with his father personally."

"You mean . . ."

"Yeah, the Lion of Orb himself. 'Course, this is just what Kuzzey's saying, I don't know how much to buy."

"Why would Kira not want us to leave? I don't think he wants to be here anymore than we do. I mean, he said to me best, that he's a diplomatic incident waiting to happen."

"I don't know. Again, this is just what Kuzzey's saying. He's not so good as explaining motivations and crap."

Now this was making me ill. The thought of remaining stuck on this ship fighting ZAFT forces . . . no way in hell. I wanted to go home. I had served my time, now it was time to let me go. Let me be a civilian again.

But would the Earth Alliance forces just so amicably let me go?

After all, Orb was neutral. I could fly anywhere in the Earth Alliance, or indeed right into the ZAFT. I could wind up shooting at the Earth Alliance. I would never do that, I was going to stay neutral, but how would the EA know that? Or care if they did? I was of the same kind as the enemy.

Natarle Badgiruel, by far the creepiest of the Archangel personnel, loomed in my mind like a demon. I could see the dark manipulations she was planning behind those violet eyes. She had already gone against Murrue Ramius' orders before. Who said she wouldn't go rogue completely in order to get me?

Thankfully, stealing my attention away from possible Badgiruel manipulations was Melanie.

The door shuttered open softly, and I asked "Who's there?"

Melanie. "My mom told me to sleep with you tonight."

I could hear Miriallia groan from up above. "Come on. Isn't your mom aware that someone besides Cagalli sleeps in this room?"

"I-I'm sorry. Just doing what Mom told me to do."

I sighed. "Melanie, it's all right. You can share the bed with me."

"Thank you," she said, and I let her crawl into bed right beside me. I could tell she was nervous. Why wouldn't she? Her mom had just gotten badly hurt.

"You're taking responsibility for her, including if she wets the bed," Miriallia said.

"I don't wet the bed," Melanie said, a defensive tone creeping into her voice.

"Just sayin'," Miriallia said, and I decided to let that one slide. Miriallia had a right to be cranky just like the rest of us.

I wrapped my left arm around Melanie and tucked the covers around her just enough so most of her body was underneath. "It's okay. You'll be safe here tonight. There's me and cranky old Miriallia up there."

"Who's cranky and old?" Miriallia snapped.

"You are. You're a cranky old woman even though you're younger than me," I said.

"Gee, thanks. Remind me to sic some cats on you. If I'm gonna be old I might as well be the crazy cat lady," Miriallia grumbled. That made Melanie chuckle a little, which was what I wanted. Anything to keep her mind off her mother.

After a brief period of silence, where I thought Melanie would just go to sleep, she said "I tried to stay with Mom but the nurses insisted I go sleep somewhere else."

"The nurses are being smart," I said. "They don't want you to get hurt accidentally. It's been crazy on this ship."

"Probably gonna get crazier," Miriallia unhelpfully added from up above.

"Yeah, I know, but . . . I just feel weird about leaving Mom alone. I don't know why," Melanie said.

Now she was beginning to creep me out. "Your mom's gonna be fine, Melanie."

"That's what she said to, but . . ."

"If your mom says she's gonna be okay, then that's how it's gonna be," I replied, this time trying to sound final.

"I guess," Melanie said, and this time, I heard a small sigh from her. She was finally ready to sleep.

And frankly, so was I.

I wasn't going to deal with any trouble until the morning.

And, it turned out, there was gonna be a ton of trouble.
***
Picture this avalanche of bricks crashing upon your houses, crushing it underneath the immense weight. Picture yourself in said house as it crumbles right on your head.

That's what happens to a child who loses a parent.

Everything is crushed by death and there's no escape from it.

The moment Melanie and I stepped outside to face the new morning, that's the news I got to hear.

The soldier pulled me aside, away from Melanie. "What's going on?" I asked as we were separated. Another soldier, a woman, was bending down and whispering to Melanie, whose eyes were increasingly widening in horror, and her hands were rising in front of her mouth.

"We've been looking everywhere for Melanie Eliarez," the soldier said. "Somebody said she'd be with you because you're her babysitter."

"Yeah, so? Can't you tell me what's going on?" I asked.

The soldier looked away from me. "Dorothy Eliarez was murdered last night."

"What?" I shouted. That startled both Melanie and the woman, who both looked at me for a moment before the woman began speaking to Melanie again.
The soldier just shook his head. "Her throat was slashed open. We don't know who did it. Just . . . just come with us. You're the closest thing that girl has to a guardian onboard this ship . . . you have to."

He then led me down the hall, away from Melanie, who looked increasingly fearful and helpless as I turned the corner, away from her.

My place wasn't by the corpse, it was by her.

But I'm a soldier, at the same time. So my place is by a corpse, ironically enough.

Which one was I, the soldier or the college student?

When I did make it to the hospital room, I dreaded seeing the cover being lifted up to reveal Dorothy Eliarez's face. I hoped against hope that it was a case of mistaken identity, that someone would burst into the room claiming that the real Dorothy Eliarez was still alive and this person was a lookalike or something.

But no, when the cover was lifted up, I saw Dorothy's face. It was pale, and her eyes were still open, staring at some unknown enemy with terror still evident.

I just stared. I could barely even fathom the sight. Finally, I tore my eyes away from it. Murrue Ramius was in the room now, looking vaguely melancholy. "Who . . . who did this?"

"I don't know," Murrue said softly. Her brown eyes looked at me then, now with tinges of faint suspicion. "Do you have an alibi, Cagalli?"

"I was sleeping in my bunk last night," I said. "Both Miriallia and Melanie herself can vouch for that. In fact Melanie was in the-"

"I had to ask," Murrue said. "There's no telling who of us is the suspect. So far everyone has an alibi."

This was just great. Now not only were there rumors that everybody on this ship was gonna be stuck on it, but now there was a murderer on board too! Only thing that would make this better was a surprise ZAFT attack.

Knowing my luck, Rau Le Creuset was planning a surprise attack right now.

Murrue placed her hand on my shoulder. "You knew Ms. Eliarez better than most people on this ship. We're questioning everybody who knew her, including everyone who worked with her that survived. We need to know anyone who might've had a grudge against her. Please, come with me."

"Who's doing the questioning?" I asked.

"Natarle Badgiruel," Murrue said, confirming my worst nightmares.

As she led me out of the room, I saw a brief flash of red hair to my left. I turned, and saw Flay Allster for the briefest second.

My glimpse of her wasn't very long, and I didn't get a good look at her face as she rounded the corner, but I thought I saw the slightest smile cross her face as she vanished.

Was it her? Could it really have been her?

Why?

Murrue tugged on my arm, this time just a bit forcefully. "Cagalli, please. I want you cleared as a suspect as soon as possible so you can get back in the Strike if something happens today."

"I thought I was done with the Strike," I said.

"That's up to the prince and his father," Murrue replied cryptically.

So, the rumors were true that Kira was trying to keep the Orb civilians onboard. Why the hell would Kira do that?

No, the greater mystery was the murder of Dorothy Eliarez.

And I had a feeling I had just seen not only the primary suspect, but the perpetrator.

Flay Allster.

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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: Tue May 10, 2011 7:58 am 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

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Dun DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUH!!!

As quick as it was (not a bad thing), it was still quite enjoyable. Now, we have a full-fledged murder mystery. Let's hope Gumshoe Badgirule can crack the case... or something to that effect.

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 Post Posted: Tue May 10, 2011 8:29 pm 
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Der Bigen Slicen
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Location: Cruisin' the Universe w/Spaceman Spiff!!!
Interesting, very very interesting. Unless there's a wanted murderer on board among the civilians (which would be really random) then I'm willing to bet Flay did it. And why not? She wanted Kira to kill Coordinators in the Strike and then die himself. I could totally see her killing this poor woman to get back at Cagalli.

Now it remains to see what will happen with the investigation. This isn't CSI New York, so I'm pretty sure that on a confined ship they'll figure it out. As unreasonable as Natarle can be, I'm sure she's got what it takes. Unless she wants to use this to keep Cagalli on the ship? :twisted:

I wonder, if Cagalli starts spouting off that Flay did it, I'm sure Flay would use that to her advantage and maybe turn Cagalli's friends against her? Ah, so many possibilities! I think your fic is really gaining momentum at this point. Keep changing things up! You don't have to follow the show's plot too much.

You get 5 stars on the MAHQ scale for this chapter! :)

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 Post Posted: Fri May 20, 2011 8:58 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
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@Rob:

Well, the truth is Badgiruel would rather be doing other things. You'll get more detail about that in the next chapter.

I tried to be as "dun dun DUUUUN" as possible. It's fun to do that.

@Arbiter: Don't be so sure that it's Flay. Even Flay, in all of her grief, should realize that by killing someone she'd naturally get all of the suspicion put on her. Despite what people like to think about her she isn't that stupid.

Everything else you've said would mean discussing spoilers, which I'm sure no one wants, right? ^^

I have the next chapter completed, it will go up on Monday.

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


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 Post Posted: Mon May 30, 2011 12:49 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

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I didn't like I wrote Kira in the first draft, so I went back and redid the scene. However, I wasn't satisfied with the draft until Friday, and then I just figured I would wait until Monday to post because that's my normal posting day.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Eighteen: The Missing Frame

Natarle Badgiruel is not the kind of woman you want to meet in any kind of enclosed space alone. Around other people, she blends in just well enough that you think she's at least a semi-normal person. But when it's just one on one with her, you become aware that her eyes are ice cold, that you are just a body to be used and discarded when you are no longer useful.

This case was a needless distraction to her. She wanted it cleared and out of the way so she could concentrate on other things. Like speaking to Admiral Halberton, most likely.

Her violet eyes gazed into my brown ones, and I knew that I was guilty until proven innocent. It was nothing personal with her. That was the way she operated. Probably had to operate that way her entire military career. Feminism is not what it was back in Anno Domini. It's much more difficult for women to move up in any of the three militaries, including Orb, creating a cutthroat atmosphere for them.

You can see the sexism in just some of the outfits that some of the women wear. Including on this very ship, actually. Flay and Miriallia's skirts are definitely not of the practical kind, they show off more than they probably should on a military vessel. Probably because I'm a GUNDAM pilot and thus in a "give her respect or we die" situation, I don't have to wear those. I wear normal-length skirts like Badgiruel and Captain Ramius. But among the rank and file, the sexism is there.

When you think about that, it makes Badgiruel's ruthlessness all the more understandable. That is, if that is the root cause of it. A couple of weeks stranded with her on a ship does not make me Badgiruel's shrink or anything like that.

Badgiruel just sighed when she saw me. "C'mon, let's get this over with. We've got better things to do right now."

Hearing her dismiss her own investigation was so bewildering I was too surprised to get angry. "What do you mean? A woman just got murdered onboard this ship!"

Badgiruel shook her head. "That's the tip of the iceberg. There's rumors of a ZAFT fleet approaching the Eighth Fleet, which we're about to link to. And then there is the civilian situation. Your precious prince won't obey his father's instructions to get the civilians off of this ship and onto a shuttle that's supposed to be prepared by the Menelaos."

The Menelaos was Admiral Halberton's flagship, I had passed by a virtual representation of it multiple times on training runs. It was one of the most powerful ships in the EA arsenal, but it could be beaten by the ZAFT. Any ship could.

Badgiruel leaned back in her chair, not to show carelessness but something resembling restlessness and frustration. "I have to keep the soldiers on full alert in case some of the more impulsive among you decide to start a riot. This murder investigation prevents me from keeping consistent contact with my troops. Plus, who knows when the ZAFT decide to attack us? The sooner this is over, the better off we will be."

I had my doubts about that, but I was in no position to argue that with her. I was on the wrong side of the table to be starting arguments.

Badgiruel looked at me then, her eyes cold once more. "Cagalli Yamato, where were you last night?"

"I was in bed in my room. Miriallia had the top bunk, and in the night Melanie Eliarez, Dorothy Eliarez's daughter, came into the room and asked to sleep with me, and I said yes."

Badgiruel nodded slowly. "Well, that matches up with Melanie Eliarez's account and Miriallia Haw's."

"You already asked her?"

"I'm the one asking the questions, Yamato, before you forget."

I guess none of my considerable questions were worth Badgiruel's precious time then.

Badgiruel sighed again. "In all honesty, Yamato, there's no way in hell you did it. You couldn't have done it without waking the daughter in the middle of the night."

I thought about Flay, about what I had thought was a small smile on her face. I could not shake the thought that it was her. But was Flay really capable of killing that woman? And why would she? There was no motive. Okay, she hated my guts and I was close to the Eliarez woman but . . .

Really, was that enough to make her kill someone? Just to get back at me? Seemed to be a little overboard.

But nothing else made any sense to me.

Badgiruel continued on. "But that fails to exempt the majority of the crew. Including your friend Miriallia, who could have left that room without awakening you or the girl."

I found the idea of Miriallia killing Dorothy Eliarez completely ludicrous. "Right, and who saw Miriallia leave the room?"

"Flay Allster claims she did."

Of course Flay would claim that my best friend committed the murder. That just pointed the finger more in her direction.

But before I could talk, Badgiruel spoke. And, hauntingly, it felt like she had read my mind. "Flay Allster has an alibi, she was with one of your friends, Sai Argyle. He confirmed Allster's alibi, as does another of your friends, Kuzzey Buskirk."

If it had just been Sai, I'd be willing to think he was covering for Flay. He and Flay seemed to be getting pretty close. After all, they did have an arranged marriage of sorts going on, though how likely it would be after the death of Flay's father . . . yeah.

But Kuzzey too? Maybe it wasn't Flay. I don't think Kuzzey particularly liked or disliked Flay. Why would he lie?

My thoughts turned to Miriallia. Could it really have been her?

I just couldn't think of my best friend as a murderer.

Badgiruel sighed. "Actually, it wasn't just Allster. Multiple people saw Miriallia skulking around the ship by herself, though no one actually saw her in sick bay. But right now your friend is a suspect, and probably the closest to a primary one at that."

"She's not that kind of person. There's no motive, even," I said.

"It doesn't change the fact that she was spotted by multiple people, alone, and close to sick bay. Now, granted, many of those accounts are people who are under suspicion themselves so they're being taken with a grain of salt. But Miriallia did herself admit she was alone on the ship last night, claiming to be getting a drink of water."

"Did anyone see her get water?"

"No," Badgiruel said, with finalty. "So that just shines the spotlight on her more."

"Why are you telling me this?"

Badgiruel's eyes narrowed. "Tell me everything you know about Miriallia Haw. Every single scrap of information you've kept in that pristine Coordinator brain of yours."

I could tell there was no way I'd be able to sneak anything past her. Badgiruel was too smart, and too "bad cop" to be messed with.

Problem is, I didn't know as much about Miriallia as I thought. I mean, I didn't even know until yesterday that she lived on New Guinea, which was pretty much the western edge of Orb territory.

The dark part of my mind said that Miriallia told me so I could have something to tell Badgiruel. But I couldn't believe it. If I did I'd lose hope in just about everyone I knew, because it meant that I had no friends, just people using me and then stabbing me in the back.

After I told Badgiruel what I knew, she nodded and told me to leave. As I left, I felt incredibly sick, overwhelmed by a nausea that wanted to make my head explode and my stomach erupt all at once. And it wasn't from spacesickness.

It was the thought, however unlikely, that my best friend was anything but.
***
I got desperate as the hours went by. Melanie was too distraught to see anyone, or so the nurses told me, and the closer we got to the Menelaos the more restless the civilians were getting. By now the rumors were widespread and everyone wanted to confront Prince Kira over his apparent rebellion against his own father.

I needed to take my mind off of Miriallia and the murder, and as Melanie wasn't available, that meant Kira had to serve as my stress relief.

Poor bastard.

Problem is, when a significant portion of the ship is furious with somebody it's hard to find that somebody. After all, who wants to face an angry mob? But at least searching for him kept my mind and body occupied.

It didn't take as long to find Kira as I expected. After a few minutes aimlessly wandering the corridors, I realized there was a spot that civilians weren't allowed to access. The Archangel's launch bay crew was composed entirely of Earth Alliance military personnel. Most of the civilians were helping in auxiliary or medical positions, or in the guns and cannons.

So the safest and most isolated place Kira would be was most likely the cockpit of the Strike GUNDAM.

I wondered how long it would be before some of the other civilians came up with that logical deduction. It wouldn't be long, though it would help that Kira's habits of maintaining the Strike GUNDAM weren't common knowledge. But how long before someone who did know about Kira's trips to the launch bay wound up blabbing about it?

I could have anywhere from the entire day to a matter of minutes before all hell breaks loose.

Again, not like I blame people for being angry at their prince. They want to go home, and so do I. But would they really start a riot or something onboard the ship just to force Kira to give in? Orb is supposed to be a pacifistic nation, as are its citizens.

How would violence solve anything?

Just as I expected, I found Kira sitting in my cockpit, he was holding some kind of device that was plugged into the Strike's main console.

"What are you doing?"

"Relieving stress," Kira replied.

"Seriously." Kira sighed. "I'm making a copy of the O.S. you're using. The console's going to need to be wiped because Naturals can't use it, but I'm hoping that I can modify this copy to ultimately make an improved O.S. that Naturals can use."

"What, this isn't the ZAFT O.S. anymore?" I asked.

"No. I think this could be even better than theirs," Kira said as his eyes moved back and forth, watching the screen.

I peeked at the long lines of code, as well as the progress bar. This was a big program, taking everything from the simulations to simple operating mechanisms and copying them all to the external drive Kira was using. And the external drive, for such a small, diminutive thing smaller than my thumb, had a ton of space. Roughly 500 GB of it, actually.

And even a drive of 500 GB could barely contain the Strike's O.S. I could scarcely imagine how much of a nightmare it was to modify this bloated program.

Kira had to be very good at what he did in order to keep everything straight, much less change it.

Unfortunately, one thing he wasn't good at was people, apparently. Otherwise, his citizens onboard this ship wouldn't be on the verge of rioting.

I tried to be tactful. "Kira, there's been rumors you're arguing with your father over the civilians. Is this true?"

Kira sighed. "Yes, they're true, Cagalli."

"Why?"

Kira couldn't quite meet my gaze. "My father's a good man. In most situations his decision would be the right one. But he isn't up here. He and the rest of the staff aren't aware what it is like to deal with a foe like Rau Le Creuset. They only know that ZAFT is coming, and the perception is there that the Earth Alliance is using Orb civilians as human shields."

"That's not true," I said. "If it weren't for the civilians the Archangel would hardly be functioning. We'd be dead if the civilians weren't here to help with so much."

"Most likely ZAFT operatives are putting pressure on my father and the council," Kira said. "My father wouldn't say it, but I say there's a decent change that PLANT has become aware I'm onboard the Archangel. The hawks have been eyeing Orb for a while, we hold a strategic location. Killing me will either draw Orb into the conflict, or if that fails, at least create the pretense for a ZAFT strike."

Patrick Zala, Athrun's father, came to mind. He was the leader of the hawks. Was he aware that I'm on this ship, too? Athrun had to have told him by now, wouldn't he?

Or was that just wishful thinking?

Kira yanked the drive then, and pocketed it. "I think chances are incredibly strong that Le Creuset's forces will launch an attack on Admiral Halberton to get at us."

I wanted to agree, but Le Creuset only had three ships that I knew of. I just couldn't believe that Le Creuset would have the audacity to attack an entire fleet with just three ships, though if anyone could pull it off I wouldn't be surprised if it was Le Creuset. After everything else the man already did, like lead a strike on Heliopolis and destroy it with merely a small task force.

"But Le Creuset's outnumbered. Even with superior equipment and troops they couldn't beat the EA . . . could they?" I asked.

"Le Creuset will most likely get some reinforcements, but yeah, he would still be outnumbered." But then Kira shook his head. "But it doesn't matter. He holds the game breakers, four of the five GUNDAMs. Those four GUNDAMs will cause a lot of damage and more than equalize the battle . . . they'd probably shift the battle in favor of Le Creuset. I hate to say this, but I think Admiral Halberton is a dead man."

I had never expected to hear such strong, stark words by Kira in any situation, ever. This was a young man who had been shaking like it was below zero when he had stepped in front of me to protect me from the Archangel guards, right when this all began.

"You can't be serious," I said.

"I am serious. And launching a defenseless shuttle when Admiral Halberton's a sitting duck is asking for a humanitarian disaster," Kira said. "I don't want the civilians released until we land in Alaska. Then I can make arrangements for a shuttle to come, pick us all up, and fly us back to Orb."

"Land in Alaska?" I asked.

"There's a fortified Earth Alliance base there," Kira said. "Good place to land as any. I think Halberton will be meeting with the officers soon to hash it out officially but that's what Lieutenant Ramius seems to be leaning towards, or so she told me, anyway."

Kira's words made sense. But they came with a horrifying undertone. Not only did it mean that we were going to be stuck on this military vessel for longer than we all thought, but . . .

"I'm going to have to fight again, aren't I?" I asked.

Kira smiled. "I hope not. I hope we'll escape before Le Creuset tears his way through the fleet."

"Then why aren't you letting us get onboard the shuttles and get out of here?" I asked.

"Because I don't think we will escape in time. Le Creuset has to know this is his last, best chance to get us. And if I'm wrong . . . then I lose a few popularity points. What matters is that we get home the safest way possible. And a defenseless shuttle is not it."

"Then instead of telling me this, why don't you tell your people?" I asked.

Kira blinked.

"Tell your people why you want them to stay on the ship for a little longer, to head down to Earth in the Archangel instead of in the shuttle."

Kira made a "tch" noise and shook his head. "I already know what they're thinking. They're mad as hell. They won't listen to me."

"Who says they won't? They'll ignore you only if you ignore them, which is what you're doing," I said. "Look, the situation's going to boil over before we descend into the atmosphere. Tell everyone why you're making this decision. You have to do this. You're a politician, not just a mechanic. Talk to your people."

"But-"

"I'm the political science major, Kira. You are committing a basic fundamental blunder by not communicating with your people. Now tell your people that you want to meet them somewhere, even if it's right here in the launch bay, and you'll explain your decision to them and answer all of their questions and concerns."

"Uh . . ."

"You know I'm right, Kira."

Kira gave me an uneasy smile. "Remind me to hire you as my political adviser once you graduate."

That just made me laugh. "I wish. Good luck to me in that area. I don't think I'm going back home."

Kira raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"You really think the Earth Alliance is going to let me, a Coordinator, slip through? What if I use Orb as a waypoint to get to ZAFT so I can fight them? They don't trust me at all."

Kira put a hand on my shoulder. "That will not happen. You're one of my citizens too. I'll make sure you get home."

"You sure about that?"

Kira smiled. "Yeah. I'll make the big speech and make sure you come home with us, but only if you promise to graduate so you can become my adviser."

"Do I get a choice?"

"I'm the son of the Lion of Orb. You decide that for yourself. You think there is a choice?"

I peered into his violet eyes, and I realized I truly could not read this guy. "I have no idea if you're joking or being serious."

Kira laughed. "So, I finally got you at something!"

"Oh, shut up."

He just laughed again.
***
I didn't hang around while Kira made his big speech towards all of the Orb civilians onboard. I knew people weren't going to be happy and he was going to be bombarded with hostile, accusatory questions and comments. At this point, I wanted to be alone, and try to think.

I managed to get a brief encounter with Mu La Flaga, who seemed to be in a rush. He said "We're linked with Halberton's main force. He's boarding his ship to meet with us privately. I'm sorry, I can't really say anything more."

I let him go, but now I felt oddly alone.

Would Kira's authority really be enough to keep me from the Earth Alliance's grasp? It wasn't Ramius who was the problem, or La Flaga, or even Admiral Halberton. Halberton had a reputation of being an honorable, upstanding individual, though that could be just a persona he put on. But I couldn't find anything to contradict that reputation.

The person I was worried about was Natarle Badgiruel. She was the cold, calculating one. She's the one who practically directed me into the GUNDAM's seat in the first place. And she had shown that she would directly rebel against her commander's orders to do what she felt was the sensible thing, regardless of personal feelings or emotions.

I was nothing but a weapon to her. A weapon slipping from her grasp. She had practically made that clear to me during her quick interrogation. She didn't give a damn about me personally, she just wanted me cleared so I could fight again. She wants me in the EA military for the long haul.

I didn't want to believe that. But that perception haunted me. I wanted to find out where the meeting was being held so I could try to eavesdrop, but I had no clue where that was.

I became so bored and nervous at the same time that I decided I was going to set out and try to find the meeting room. I retraced La Flaga's path, and took wild guesses where to go.

Ramius was not a traditional commander. During our meetings on the bridge she never had guards posted outside to block people. I guess by making people assemble in unguarded areas she assumed people would skip the area and go elsewhere. I found it an unresponsible, rookie mistake, but then again what do I know? I'm not majoring in military affairs and operations. I'm not a soldier.

But as I floated through the hallways, my hand firmly on the railing, I saw a figure that was all too familiar to me.

Next to a kind-looking female officer was the little girl I had spent the night with. Melanie Eliarez, the daughter of the recently deceased Dorothy Eliarez.

I thought about turning away and trying to hide, but I chose not to. That would be the cowardly thing to do. Why hide in shame, and act like I'm guilty? I did not kill her mother and there was no way for me to prevent her death. If someone onboard truly did want to kill her, there was nothing I could have done to stop her. There was no way I could have known she was in danger.

How would I?

Why would someone hate her so much that they would kill her? Or was it because that someone hated me?

Whatever the cause, that someone had ripped Melanie's life to shreds. The girl, for all practical purposes, was an orphan, unless her father was somewhere. I had never asked if she had a father.

But if she did have a father, he was not onboard this ship.

Then who would take responsibility for this child?

I knew the answer to that before I even finished asking the question. Melanie was already partially my responsibility. Now I had to take full responsibility. I stood no chance of replacing her mother and filling that void, but she needed some kind of guidance. Someone watching over her so she wasn't alone.

So, after my brief moment of indecision, I approached the female officer and Melanie in the hallway.

The female officer smiled sadly at me. "Melanie here's been looking for you for a while now. No one knew where you ran off too, Cagalli."

I felt weird that she knew my name but I didn't know hers. "Uh, thanks. I was . . . just in the launch bay."

"No wonder we couldn't find you." The female officer rubbed Melanie's shoulder softly. "Here's Cagalli, Melanie. Is there anything you want to say, or are you okay?"

"I'm okay," Melanie said softly.

I bent down in front of her. Her head was down, her eyes hidden by her bangs. I couldn't tell whether she was going to break down and cry or attack me. The fact that I couldn't tell the difference was unnerving. I closed my eyes and braced myself for Melanie slapping me, pulling my hair, punching me somewhere . . . anything that resembled physical abuse.

But none of that happened.

Melanie quietly, gently, put her arms around me and leaned against my shoulder. She began to sniff, began to cry softly. I realized that Melanie wasn't going to do anything to hurt me, and it took me a moment to return her embrace.

"I'm here," I whispered, having no idea what else to say. "I'm here."

"Don't leave me too," Melanie quietly sobbed. "Please."

"I won't," I said. "I won't. I'll bring you home, Melanie."

She didn't answer me. In a way, I felt guilty, Melanie just seemed incredibly, impossibly, forgiving for what had happened to her mother. She was just a child. How could she know enough not to blame me for what happened to her?

Maybe she just didn't want to be alone and was afraid that if she blamed me that would be her fate.

I knew then my place wasn't eavesdropping on the meeting with Admiral Halberton, wherever it was. I had taken on responsibility, and now I had to see it through. My own desires and questions needed to be set aside in favor of this young girl.

But that didn't mean that I wasn't unhappy. I needed my questions answered. I needed to know what Badgiruel truly thought of me. I needed to know if I was thought of as a person, or as a thing, by the Earth Alliance.

It was small comfort that Melanie Eliarez thought of me as a person.

But it was comforting nevertheless.

I did not let myself leave her side as the ship came to rest in lower Earth orbit.

_________________
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: Tue May 31, 2011 9:34 am 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
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Location: over there
Very nice. I like the 'characterization' for Kira and Natarle. You've brought out what Cagalli thinks of them really well.

Next up, the the nice, the good, and oh-so-bad.

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*insert witty eyecatch here*


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 Post Posted: Sat Jun 04, 2011 11:56 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 248
Location: Illinois, USA
Rob DS Zeta wrote:
Very nice. I like the 'characterization' for Kira and Natarle. You've brought out what Cagalli thinks of them really well.

Next up, the the nice, the good, and oh-so-bad.


Glad you think so. I'm still unsure about Kira here, I'm trying to find that balancing act between "being Uzumi's son" and "still being Kira". Obviously Kira's different so he's going to be OOC a little but I don't want him to be unrecognizable.

I can safely say that chapter 19 is finished and will go up on time. Part 1 will conclude with the 20th chapter.

_________________
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 Jun 06, 2011 11:28 am 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 248
Location: Illinois, USA
Chapter 20 has been completed in addition to this chapter. Chapter 21, which kicks off part 2, is a WIP.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Nineteen: Vessels

This was a day of good news and bad news. The good news was that no riot broke out onboard, Kira was able to diffuse the situation before it got any worse.

And . . . I can't think of much else. I think it might've been the only bit of good news the entire day.

I guess this means the day pretty much sucked.

It started in the cafeteria. Some of the civilians were in there, and they were talking about Kira's speech. They were not happy, but they were reluctantly accepting. After all, they were going to go home eventually anyway? They just had to wind up in cold, bitter Alaska first.

As I tried to eat the lackluster grub passing as a meal, Badgiruel approached me. She was holding a large stack of papers and put one at my place at the table.

"What's this?" I asked.

"You hold onto that. You're going to need to sign that the moment we land in Alaska," Badgiruel replied.

I took a look, and it took me all of five seconds to figure it out. "Discharge papers?"

"It's illegal for civilians to participate in military action in all circumstances," Badgiruel replied. "Because of the necessity, however . . . we arranged to have every Orb civilian who participated in the fighting, however minor, to have retroactively enlisted in the Earth Alliance military before the destruction of Heliopolis."

"Every civilian?" I asked.

"Yes. Including your Prince Kira. He had quite an unpleasant look on his face when he got handed his papers." I saw a small wisp of a smile subtly cross Badgiruel's face. It was a stunning sight, I had never seen her smile at anything, much less have what appeared to be a small amount of amusement.

"Wow," was all I could think of to say.

"Don't sign it until we land. Just store it in a safe place where you can find it quickly. We don't have enough copies to have backup papers for everybody," Badgiruel said, and just like that, she left.

I looked at the discharge papers. I had never considered myself part of the military, but they thought differently.

I wondered how difficult it had been for Badgiruel to hand me this sheet of paper, knowing full well I was going to slip away.

Maybe Halberton or Ramius gave Badgiruel this duty on purpose, just to remind her she wasn't in charge.

At that moment, though, Melanie began choking her food and I had to help her spit it out.

One thing at a time, I guess. One thing at a time.

But I pocketed my discharge papers. No matter what happened, I was keeping them on me. There was no way I was going to stay on this ship after Alaska, no matter what. The moment I was on Alaskan soil these papers were being signed and I was getting the hell off this ship, Melanie in tow. Hopefully my parents wouldn't mind me picking up a little sister along the way. At least poor Melanie would have a home of some kind, now.

Now my job was to bring Melanie there.

That meant I couldn't die. How the hell else would Melanie make it there?

As we left the cafeteria, though, I didn't go far before bumping into an older man who I had never seen before on this ship.

He was taller than me, looked to be in his late thirties. He had blue eyes, blond hair, a fair, gentle face that suggested something fatherly and intelligent.

It occurred to me that I was staring at Lewis Halberton.

It took me a moment to break out of my shock and salute him. "Admiral Halberton, sir! I'm sorry for getting in your-"

He raised his hand, and a small smile crossed his face. "It's all right. Accidents happen."

He looked at me, and then at the little girl. He sighed wistfully. "I never thought I would see the day a young girl like her would be on a military ship."

Melanie responded to that by cowering behind me. She seemed to be doing that a lot. Just seemed to be afraid of people in general.

"It wasn't her idea," I said.

"I would hope not," Halberton said. He looked back at me, a slightly uncomfortable look on his face. "You are Cagalli Yamato, correct?"

"Uh, yes, sir."

He nodded. "Lieutenant Ramius told me you were young."

He paused for a little bit, clearly searching for the right words to say. "A lot of people would call me a fool for not forcing you to remain the pilot of the Strike GUNDAM and send you in military operations. But you are just a child. You shouldn't be forced to experience war."

He paused again. "Then again, judging by Lieutenant Ramius' account, you have experienced war. Plenty of it. Am I correct?"

"Yes, sir," I said.

"Did you have any questions about what you were fighting for, Cagalli Yamato?"

That was a strange question to ask me, but as I thought about how to reply, it occurred to me that despite my questions about Athrun and everything else, I knew what I had to do. I never considered betraying the Archangel at all.

"No. I was fighting to protect this ship and everyone onboard. Until we land in Alaska that will remain my objective, sir. I've made a lot of promises to people, I'm not going to break them."

He smiled. "That's good. You've heard the old saying of the 'fog of war', I'm glad you have some clarity about what you are doing. There isn't enough of that in war."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"It must be difficult for you to fight against your own kind. If the first thing you did upon returning to Orb was take the first flight to the PLANTs to enlist in the ZAFT forces I would not blame you at all."

"I can't do that. Again, I've made promises. I have too many friends here, too many people who need me. Also, frankly, the reason I'm in Orb was to stay out of the war. I have no interest in fighting for either side," I said.

"You have strong convictions . . ." Halberton sighed. "I wish I could continue this conversation, but I must return to my own ship. I am glad I was able to speak with you, however briefly."

He paused, and then he smiled. "If it means anything, I have arranged for all of the volunteering Orb civilians be given a military rank until your landing in Alaska. As you are a pilot, that makes you an officer, Ensign Yamato. Handle your responsibility well."

It took me a moment to realize I needed to thank him and fast. "Uh, thank you very much, sir! It's an honor."

"Good luck to you, Ensign."

And then he left, moving past me and down the hallway, presumably heading for the launch bay in order to return to the Menelaos.

I'm an officer.

I found that so difficult to believe.
***
I left Melanie in my room for a little while, as I wanted to see my friends and I wasn't allowed to bring a civilian onto the bridge with me. Just as I expected, they were indeed at the bridge. Tolle was there, along with Sai, Kuzzey, and Miriallia. Only Murrue Ramius was there out of the senior officers, the others were apparently on break other than the helmsman, Arnold Neumann.

There wasn't a lot going on, apparently, so no one really cared when I showed up. I did notice that my friends had military rank markings on their uniforms now.

Ramius smiled at me. "Oh, Cagalli. I was told to give this to you."

She handed me a pair of yellow stripes. "Put these on the collars of your uniform. Congratulations on your new promotion."

"Hey," Tolle protested. "How come Cagalli gets something on her collar while the rest of us don't?"

"Cagalli's a pilot. Pilots have to be commissioned officers, it's always been that way," Murrue said, as she pinned the small strips to my collar. It felt embarrassing but I didn't protest. Better her doing than me, when I could wind up struggling to put those things on for hours.

"Wait, that means Cagalli outranks us," Kuzzey said.

There was a brief silence before Ramius spoke. "That's right, she's an Ensign. The lowest rank for an officer but still an officer."

"Aw man," Tolle whined from the front of the ship. "I only made Seaman Second Class."

"I made Seaman First Class," Miriallia said proudly.

"That was my rank too," Kuzzey said.

I looked at Sai. "Yours?"

"Seaman Second Class," Sai said softly. "Same as Tolle and Flay."

"Wait, Flay got a rank too?" I asked.

Ramius sighed. "When Lt. Commander Badgiruel put her into that uniform, that made her a volunteer too."

"But she doesn't fight," I said.

Ramius looked at me evenly. "It is not every soldier's responsibility to fight. Many do important work behind the lines, supporting those who do fight. Even with modern technology handling much of the support work, there still needs to be a human element to that network. Flay Allster is best suited to being part of that network."

Aka, that means she's scrubbing toilets for the rest of her stay here, I thought. At least, if Badgiruel was still in charge of handing out duties to everyone.

But then, something in Ramius' words made a light turn on in my brain. "Wait . . . you just said Lieutenant Commander Badgiruel. I thought she was an Ensign."

Ramius smiled. "Admiral Halberton promoted everyone. I am officially a Captain. Mu La Flaga is now a Lieutenant Commander like Badgiruel, though pilots' ranks work differently than ship ranks, Badgiruel actually outranks La Flaga now. Most everyone else got promoted at least one rank to go with their increased responsibilities, and Halberton was able to arrange a small transfer of additional personnel. The ship's going to need it when the Orb civilians finally leave."

"Wow," I just said. "Admiral Halberton must be amazing to pull all of that off."

Ramius just laughed. "Admirals can promote whoever they want, it's not that big of a deal, Ensign Yamato."

She was already beginning to address me by my rank. I hoped it wouldn't be that way for long. I didn't want to think or feel like a soldier. Getting an actual rank put me one step closer to being an official soldier, fighting for the Earth Alliance instead of being an Orb civilian.

How long before my Orb civilian identity was gone?

"How many people are coming?" I asked.

"Halberton was able to free up twenty noncommissioned to assist with maintenance, security, and supplies," Ramius said. "Some airborne Skygrasper fighters were delivered to us too, but we have nobody to fly them except La Flaga. We're going to need to wait at least one more day for pilots, and that's time none of us are sure we have. "

"Skygraspers?" I asked, sounding dumber than I intended.

"They're the most advanced version of a classic airborne fighter plane," Ramius said. "They're armed enough to be classified as Mobile Armors, and have air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities. Pretty decent equipment, but they can't be operated in outer space."

"I've always liked those old fighter planes," Tolle said. "If they're anything like those old planes I'd like a chance to fly them."

That was a big no according to me. I was stressed enough by the battles I had already fought. I didn't want the weight of Tolle being out there on my back. Granted, we were just heading to Alaska and going home, but if anything went wrong, if the ship just went a little off course . . .

"Aren't you doing a good job here?" I asked, trying to be as diplomatic as possible.

"Apparently no," Tolle said. "Not if I'm Second Class."

Ramius turned towards Tolle and smiled. "Part of it was that you were shot on Artemis. You didn't have much of an opportunity to show what you can do, and your shoulder is still sore, I'm sure."

Tolle looked down, and I could see in his eyes that he knew Ramius was right.

Ramius said "The pay between Seaman First and Second Classes isn't that much different. I wouldn't worry too much about it."

"Yeah, but Cagalli's like going to be rolling in cash," Kuzzey said.

"Ensigns don't make a lot of money either by officer standards. Also, you need to remember that this pay is coming from the day before Heliopolis to the moment you sign those discharge papers. That's only for a couple of weeks. Your paychecks will be quite small."

"Well, when you put it that way . . ." Kuzzey said, clearly disappointed.

"You kids did well. You helped us survive out there behind enemy lines, in an environment when our own allies turned against us. You all should be proud of what you've done."

"Thank you, ma'am," Miriallia said.

I eyed her for just a second. Was this girl really the primary suspect in a murder case? Why was she being left on the bridge, serving right under Badgiruel's nose? Maybe it was so Badgiruel could keep a better eye on her? Or was this some convoluted plan by Badgiruel to use Miriallia as bait to find the real killer?

So many questions that I might never get the chance to answer.

Suddenly, the alarm sounded. It was like a switch flipped inside Ramius, that turned her from this motherly figure into someone firm, projecting authority and command. She looked at Kuzzey. "Why is the proximity alarm going off?"

"Uh, um . . ." Kuzzey paused. "It looks like we got ZAFT vessels approaching! Enough for a fleet!"

Rau Le Creuset, I thought. It had to be him. It figured he would strike now. This was his last chance to get us. And he had brought enough ships to do it, unless Kuzzey was exaggerating.

"Understood," Ramius said, and she got on the com. "We have enemy ships approaching! All hands, assume primary battle stations!"

"We have an emergency transmission from the Menelaos!" Kuzzey shouted.

"Bring it onscreen," Ramius said.

Seconds later, the familiar, paternal mug of Admiral Halberton appeared onscreen. Like Ramius, he was projecting authority now, there was no questioning his command. "Captain Ramius, head to the rear of the fleet. You will not be participating in this battle. Instead, you will prepare for re-entry. That's an order."

"But sir!" Ramius was cut off as she began her protest.

"It is not your responsibility to engage the enemy! We will not let them pass! Just concentrate on re-entry and making it to Alaska! Over and out!"

Just like that, he was gone, leaving us with a static-filled screen.

Arnold Neumann looked at Ramius. "What should we do?"

Ramius bit her lip, and then took a deep breath. "We follow his orders. Pilot the ship to the rear, and prepare the re-entry sequence."

She looked at me. "You get on standby with the Strike, Ensign Yamato. Hopefully we won't have to launch you but if something happens before we enter the Earth's atmosphere . . ."

I got her implications. "I'm on my way. Good luck, everyone."

I left them there, and I suddenly had the weird feeling that I was just a little bit heavier than I was before.

Maybe we were being affected by Earth's gravity already, or maybe it was just my imagination.

Or maybe it was just the realization that, once again, everyone's lives rested with me.

What a cross to bear.

My necessary albatross.
***
The launch bay was bustling back and forth, but I was really surprised to see Kira sitting inside the Strike's cockpit yet again, messing around with something.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "We don't have time for this!"

"I was calibrating the Strike's specs to fight an atmospheric battle," Kira said. "As it is, I wouldn't recommend using anything other than the Sword Pack. The rifles will burn up in the atmosphere for sure, or at least melt. But you can put the swords away, which will protect them."

"Lovely," I said. I realized how rude I was sounding and said "Sorry. I'm just thinking about me descending into the atmosphere and the guns are what you're worried about."

"Actually, theoretically, the Strike is supposed to be able to handle re-entry," Kira said as he stepped out of the cockpit.

I tossed my helmet into the cockpit and turned around at him. "You're serious? It can survive entering the atmosphere?"

"Theoretically," Kira repeated. "It hasn't been tested yet. We don't know if it actually can."

That's reassuring, I almost said sarcastically and just barely bit back. Instead, I said "So, what do I do if the Archangel and I get separated?"

Kira sighed. "I honestly don't know. This is completely new to me. I never thought the Strike would have its re-entry capabilities tested so soon. Again, it's supposed to be able to make a solo landing, unlike the Moebius Zero and all the other Mobile Armors. But the Strike isn't what I'm worried about. It's you."

"Me?" I asked.

Kira nodded. "The heat and turbulence of re-entry is a lot more severe in the Strike than it is in the Archangel. The cockpit has some insulation but I don't know if it's enough to keep you from being cooked. If you have to make a solo landing I would highly recommend you falling back-first and turning off the engines. That'll keep the engines from exploding and not expose you to as much friction. But I don't know if that'll be enough."

"So, basically, my best way of surviving re-entry is not actually re-entering," I said.

Kira gave me a nervous grin. "Yeah, pretty much."

"You're a big help."

Kira looked hurt, and not in a joking way either. "I'm sorry. I'm doing the best that I can do."

Again, I felt guilty over snapping at him. "No, no, you're right. I'm just stressed out. I don't want to burn up in the atmosphere."

"Well, if things go well, you might not even have to launch," Kira said. He reached and patted me on the shoulder as I sat down in the chair. "If you have to launch, good luck. If it means anything, I don't think it's your destiny to die right here."

"I sure hope not." I paused. I didn't want Kira to go away just yet, even though I knew he had to. I liked having someone to talk to right now, and there was this peculiar sense of familiarity that made me want to stay by him.

"Out of curiosity, what's your rank?"

"My rank?" Kira asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Admiral Halberton gave all of the Orb citizens military ranks until we make it to Alaska. You got a rank too, didn't you?"

Kira blinked, and then he looked away, his face flushed. "Petty Officer."

"Not bad, but not good enough. I'm an Ensign. And you know what that means?"

Kira looked mortified. "Aw, no."

"I get to give orders to the Prince of Orb."

Kira, judging from the look on his face, couldn't decide whether to be embarrassed, to laugh, or to be afraid. It looked like a draw, which gave his face a really amusing expression. "Oh, boy."

"And my first order is this," I began. By that point, I had dropped the joking sound in my voice. Something occurred to me as I started joking about my authority, and it wasn't good.

"Please go to my room. There's a girl there, Melanie Eliarez. Keep an eye on her until I come back, okay?"

Kira blinked again, and then he nodded. "Oh wait, the girl. Yeah, I'll do that, Cagalli."

"Thank you," I said. "Now you should probably get out of here."

Kira nodded. "I will. Again, good luck. I hope you won't have to launch. See you soon."

"See ya."

Kira slammed the cockpit shut, and that left me alone in my little cage. I put my helmet on and stared at my console. Any moment now, I could be ordered to go out and fight despite us trying to re-enter the atmosphere.

That was nerve-wracking, even more than my previous battles. Kira's words hadn't reassured me at all. I didn't want to die, especially not by burning up in the atmosphere. There's much quicker, less painful ways to go than that. Dying that way would just be . . .

Just be a dumb joke by God, by Haumea, or by whatever god or gods there is or are.

I turned on my radio communications, and brought Miriallia onto the screen. I couldn't stand not knowing what's going on. "Miri, what's happening up there?"

"The battle's just begun. Badgiruel says the fleet is forming a phalanx formation to meet ZAFT head-on. Don't ask me what that means."

I knew what a phalanx was. "The phalanx is a-"

Badgiruel interrupted. "They're basically forming in close order to force ZAFT to run through them to get to us. It's a high-risk formation. Right now, just from my observation, it doesn't look to be paying off. The phalanx doesn't take GUNDAMs into account, unfortunately."

That wasn't what I wanted to hear. "How bad is it getting?"

"That's something I don't have concrete information on yet," Badgiruel said. "Stay on standby. Hopefully we won't have to send you and La Flaga out."

I didn't like that answer either. That just made me more nervous. I wanted to know, one way or another, whether I was going to be heading out there. It would be less terrifying in a way to know for sure that I had to go. That would take the suspense out of it. Then I'd just have to survive.

But still, staying in here for the ride down to Earth was preferable to fighting. Please Admiral Halberton, hold on. Keep them back.

But my hopes were ultimately dashed. Badgiruel came back on the line. "We've lost approximately half the fleet. The GUNDAMs are breaking through the final defensive line, supported by what we believe to be the Gamow. La Flaga, Yamato, we need to launch both of you and hold off the GUNDAM machines before we reach the atmospheric entry threshold."

"Uh, what's an atmospheric entry threshold?" I asked.

La Flaga answered me. "It's the limit as to how close we can get to Earth before its gravity becomes so strong that we can't break free of it. The moment we cross the threshold, we better be ready to start the re-entry process or we're in serious trouble."

"The plan is simple," Badgiruel said. "The two of you go out with five minutes to go before the threshold and hold the enemy back. At one minute to go, retreat to us and get inside the launch bay at all costs. I don't know if the GUNDAM can tolerate re-entry for a while, but I know for the fact that the Zero can't."

"Prince Kira told me the Strike can handle a solo landing," I said.

Badgiruel raised an eyebrow. "Uh huh. I bet they haven't tested it, Ensign."

I couldn't help but grin sheepishly. "He admitted it to my face that there's been no tests."

"Then you're coming in with La Flaga. No ifs, ands, or buts. Got it?"

"Yes, ma'am," I said. Not like I wanted to try re-entry anyway. I made a mental note to start a stopwatch on the console. I was no programmer but surely I could get a timer going.

After what seemed to be an eternity, I did get a timer set. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at the unmoving 5:00:00. Five minutes, zero seconds, zero tenths and hundredths of seconds.

That was all I was going to get.

Miriallia this time. ""They've broken through the final defensive line. It looks like the Duel and Buster are taking the lead, with Aegis and Blitz not far behind."

I thought I had badly damaged the Duel. How could they have repaired it so quickly? And I heard the pilot scream in agony, I had wounded him, too. How had he recovered so quickly? PLANT technology could accelerate the healing process but I don't think that it could heal the pilot's injuries in just two days or so.

Unless, of course, this was a different pilot. But my gut was telling me it wasn't.

Badgiruel leaned over Miriallia's shoulder. "La Flaga, Yamato, both of you going out. Strike takes the lead, followed by the Zero. Ensign Yamato, take your spot and prepare for launch."

"Yes, ma'am," I managed, despite my stomach suddenly feeling sick.

I positioned the Strike on the catapult, and took a deep breath as the launch bay depressurized and opened.

I'm so gonna die.

I prepared the acceleration. "This is Cagalli Yamato. Well, I mean, Ensign Cagalli Yamato, piloting the Strike GUNDAM."

I paused, as I suddenly saw something I never saw before. I could see the thin outline of the blue skies of Earth, right below the endless sea of stars I had seen for such a long time when launching the Strike before. It was breathtaking.

I shook my head and forced myself not to think about it. The Earth could very well wind up killing me. This was the worst possible time to admire the beautiful world who was home to my nation.

I activated the timer. Five minutes. I only needed to be out there for five minutes. I can manage that surely, right?

I hit the accelerator. "I'm sorry. This is Cagalli Yamato, launching! See you soon!"

The Strike GUNDAM rushed out of the launch bay and I found myself suspended in outer space once again, but this time right above the Earth.

If everything went well, this was going to be my final flight.

If everything went badly, this was going to be my final flight.

Either way, this was the end of my time in the Strike.

Five minutes. That's all. I can surely fight for five minutes and then go home and pretend this horrible experience never happened, right?

But as I looked out, and saw the Duel and Buster approaching, something occurred to me.

Time flies when you're having fun.

This was going to be the exact opposite of fun.

This was going to be the longest five minutes of my life.

_________________
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: Fri Jun 10, 2011 7:48 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
Posts: 370
Location: over there
I can't believe that I just noticed this. I need to pay better attention. :/

Great chapter, again. Looks like Cagalli's slowly coming to terms with herself as a soldier, even though it's almost what's supposed to be the end of it. Oddly enough, she and Kira really do make me think of a sister and a brother arguing. Hurr-hurr...

Next up: Atmospheric Slaughterhouse! Terra Firma or Bust!

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*insert witty eyecatch here*


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 Post Posted: Mon Jun 13, 2011 5:59 am 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 248
Location: Illinois, USA
Rob DS Zeta wrote:
I can't believe that I just noticed this. I need to pay better attention. :/

Great chapter, again. Looks like Cagalli's slowly coming to terms with herself as a soldier, even though it's almost what's supposed to be the end of it. Oddly enough, she and Kira really do make me think of a sister and a brother arguing. Hurr-hurr...

Next up: Atmospheric Slaughterhouse! Terra Firma or Bust!


One of the things about Cagalli is that she accepts that she has to fight. She just has that type of personality. She may be afraid and nervous but she won't turn away. And yeah, that's exactly what I'm shooting for with Cagalli & Kira. Glad I accomplished that feeling.

Important event time. I dunno if anyone noticed, but all of the chapters are named after songs or albums. This one is no exception, though it's named for a James Horner score rather than a pop/rock song or album.

I will post a list soon.
__________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Twenty: War

I couldn't believe that the Duel and Buster had gotten through Halberton's fleet so easily. They just swatted all of those ships away like they were oversize insects. Nothing the ships had could match the GUNDAMs' maneuverabilities. They could dodge the flak like it wasn't even there.

These pilots were the ones I would be fighting for less than five minutes. The ones named Dearka and, if he was in there, Yzak. They seemed to be the most bloodthirsty of Athrun's little thieving group, at least judging by my short impressions on them. This was going to be anything but fun.

I didn't have my rifle. All I had were my swords. I ignited them and charged right at the Duel, who did the exact same thing I did, draw swords.

I got interrupted on the public channel right away. I had a feeling that it was the Duel's pilot, but curiosity won out and suddenly, I was staring at the face of a bandaged, clearly-in-pain young man.

"You bitch, I swear I'm going to kill you, right here, right now, or die trying!" the young man I only knew as "Yzak" shouted.

He aimed his rifle at me and began shooting. I raised the Strike's shield and absorbed the blows, and he came shooting past me, probably faster than he intended. He cursed and struggled to turn his machine around, and I realized how much of a benefit Kira's adjustments had been.

The Strike was already feeling heavier and heavier. I felt gravity, real gravity, assert itself slowly, gradually, over me. It was a strange sensation, and made me feel like I was twice as heavy than normal. This was going to affect me too, but Kira had made sure it wouldn't hamper me as much as the other side.

Thirty seconds had gone by. Mu La Flaga had launched in the Moebius Zero, and my sensors said he was engaged with the Buster. This left the Duel to me. Neither Athrun or his friend, the Blitz pilot, were close enough to be factors yet.

But I knew they would be. Athrun at least. This was his last chance to try to get me as well. If I went down to Earth, there'd be no way for him to try to convince me to go with him, go to the ZAFT.

I hadn't fulfilled my promise yet, and I had no interest in being further involved in the war. I was staying in Orb until this thing was over. I had played my tiny role, and it was ending within the next four minutes as far as I knew.

I heard Mu La Flaga. "Princess, you may not need to destroy the machines. Just disable them. If you can knock out power to their engines, they'll be helpless. If you can't kill them do that, it's basically the same thing at this point."

"Yes, sir. And for the absolute final time, don't call me-"

My reply was cut off by another bloodthirsty scream by "Yzak". I had forgotten I was still connected to the public channel even though I was communicating with La Flaga.

"I will not be toyed with!" He came charging at me, firing wildly, but I could see he had slowed down. It was becoming more difficult for him to accelerate out of the Earth's gravity. Soon, it would become impossible.

He's making this way too easy. I raised the Strike's sword as Yzak accelerated the Duel right at me, and he barely corrected himself in time to avoid getting sliced in half. I was, however, able to cut right through the Duel's rifle, and it exploded in the Duel's hands, knocking him off balance.

Actually, Kira had made this way too easy. While I had beaten the Duel before, "Yzak" was a good enough pilot to make it a challenge. But Kira's mechanical adjustments had compensated for the increasingly heavy gravity. The adjustments wouldn't hold out forever before the gravity would become too strong, but for now, I had a definitive advantage. And ZAFT had forgotten to make the same adjustments to the Duel.

Why, I didn't know. Maybe they figured that the Duel wouldn't be in action right now. After all, who in their right minds would let a pilot fly with just one eye? Maybe this was against orders, an act of insubordination, and as a result "Yzak" was fighting with a GUNDAM ill-prepared for these conditions.

I charged after him. I was going to knock him out of the battle right here and now. If he kept fighting when he was down to three limbs, maybe even two . . . then there'd be nothing anyone could do for him. He'd be too far gone.

The Duel spun around, its sword in the process of being drawn. But it was much too slow. I could kill the Duel if I wanted to. Slice it right in the middle, through the cockpit, cleave the machine and its pilot in half.

It was tempting, but I forced myself not to give in and kill him. The war was over for me. I had killed enough people already. The war didn't need yet another casualty.

But as I prepared for the wounding strike, several shots came between me and "Yzak", and I forced the Strike to spin to the right.

It was the Aegis, in its Mobile Armor mode. And it was fast.

"Cagalli, what the hell are you doing out here?"

"Athrun, the Archangel is still under my protection. You shouldn't be surprised at all!"

"My father promised me . . ." He trailed off.

"Promised you what, Athrun?"

"Will you two damn lovebirds shut up already!?"

"Yzak, wait!" Athrun cried, but here was the Duel charging right at me. I was still facing Athrun, being able to launch a counter-strike against the Duel was impossible, even with Kira's adjustments the Strike felt slow, bloated. It was like I was in slow-motion and the Duel was in lethargic-motion.

Controlling the Strike hadn't been this difficult since my first battle on the ground, fighting that lone GINN.

I barely got my sword up in time to deflect the Duel's strike, and then we began falling closer and closer to Earth, slashing at each other, but I could not get a kill strike.

In the distance, two ships were falling into the atmosphere. One didn't look Earth Alliance, while the other did. I couldn't focus on either of them, but both ships were blasting the hell out of each other, and both were turning a scintillating red that was almost the color of blood as they began to hit the atmosphere.

I briefly wondered what those two ships were before "Yzak" came right at me again.

His machine was beginning to glow red as well. I was pretty sure mine was doing the same. The cockpit was also beginning to get hot. We were definitely hitting the atmosphere now.

I looked at my timer. Less than two minutes. I was really starting to cut it close before I had to fall back.

Athrun flew around us, clearly indecisive as to what to do. I couldn't get a read on either the Blitz or Buster, my sensors beyond the immediate area were becoming increasingly fried, though it looked like the ZAFT had managed to overwhelm the Eighth fleet, though at a cost, a cost dear enough to almost be a Pyrrhic victory.

The two ships falling into the atmosphere continued to shoot, until the one that looked ZAFT-ish suddenly crumbled and exploded. For a second, I felt elated, the other ship had won! The good guys had emerged victorious!

Then, in a sight not altogether different from the Montgomery, the Earth Alliance ship split in half and began burning into a crisp, disintegrating at a pace faster and faster by the second. Then I saw the bridge, wrapped in flame, and I knew who the ship was.

I recognized it from the simulators I had flown.

The Menelaos.

It was dying in front of my eyes, and I was helpless to stop it, helpless to save Admiral Halberton, helpless to save anyone.

I heard another vicious scream from Yzak and I deflected him yet again. The momentum sent him spiraling away, and I got a good look at the flaming Menelaos just before it finally exploded, and the remaining shards quickly shriveled into dust.

The Eighth Fleet had been slaughtered to a man to protect one single ship, and one single Mobile Suit.

Were we really so valuable that our survival equalled the loss of an entire fleet? That this hodge-podge group of soldiers and civilians from all over the world could somehow make up for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of professional soldiers?

Were we really worth all of their deaths?

All I knew was that if their deaths were to mean anything at all, we had to land in Alaska. I could worry about living up my debt to them later.

I looked at my clock. One minute, seven seconds. I had to head back.

"Athrun," I said, "I don't know if you're listening, but we're approaching the threshold. Unless you and your buddy want to be dragged along with us you better get out of here."

Silence.

I heard Mu La Flaga then. "Princess, the Buster ain't returning home. I'm heading back to the Archangel right now!"

My sensors suggested that Buster was still alive, but I realized that La Flaga was saying that the Buster was beyond the threshold. Earth's gravity had a firm grip on it, and there was no escaping it now. And I was getting awfully close to that point, and so were Athrun and the Duel's pilot.

Whether the Buster would burn up or not was largely up to fate, and if the GUNDAMs were as sturdy as Kira thought.

"I'm on it, sir." I turned and accelerated towards the Archangel. With the Earth's gravity pulling me in, the Strike was moving faster than I thought possible. The G forces had me pressed against my seat so hard I could barely keep my hand on the control stick. Realizing I was going to have to brake, I slowed down quickly, before I wound up doing an unintentional kamakaze on the ship I was trying to save.

My sensors beeped. I was beyond the threshold, there was no going back to space for me. And a good thing too, after the last two weeks or so I had no desire to ever see space again.

But then I heard a different beeping, one that suggested danger beyond burning up in the atmosphere. And it was coming fast.

The Duel was coming right at me full speed, its acceleration assisted by the Earth's gravity.

The pilot's words were so angry and bitter I could almost see the emotions. "I'm not letting you get away! If I'm dying here, you're coming with me, you stupid bitch!"

He crashed into me and we rocketed into the atmosphere. It felt like my cockpit temperature had shot up forty degrees at once. I felt like I was going to drown inside my sweat.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the clock ticking down. Thirty-two seconds.

I had to defeat the Duel now.

To my relief, Athrun seemed to have decided that discretion meant more than me. He was hovering just beyond the edge of the threshold, in a holding pattern, clearly deciding whether I was worth possibly dying for.

"It's over!" I screamed. "There's nothing you can do anymore!"

"Yes, there is!" he screamed back. "Killing you!"

I could barely keep control of the Strike as we continued to fall into the atmosphere. It felt like my body was going to bloat up and burst. I had to get to the Archangel and do it now.

I realized that while I barely had control, the Duel didn't have control period. It just had not been modified for atmospheric battle. As I moved the Duel's sword out of the way, I saw my chance for a strike.

I cut straight down and sliced the Duel's right arm clean off.

It should not come as a surprise that "Yzak" screamed bloody murder at me as he realized his machine was without an arm.

"I told you there's nothing you can do," I said. I spun the Strike around awkwardly, and managed to kick him away from me.

I could see the Archangel to my left, its launch bay still open. They were going to wait for me until the last second. The ship's heavier weight meant it was descending much faster than I was, it was going to be right below me in a matter of seconds.

Timer was twelve seconds. I hit the acceleration and blasted right towards the Archangel. I would just make it. But only just. They'd have to slam the doors the second I got inside.

But then I heard Yzak's voice, a condemning tone I had never heard before. It was fatalistic, depressed, infuriated, all at once.

"You forgot there's one more thing I can do."

And then the Duel right towards the Archangel, at a pace faster than mine. Every inch of its power was being devoted to this GUNDAM's acceleration, it was more like a rocket now than anything else.

For a second, I wondered why "Yzak" would be so stupid as to rush the Archangel. I had destroyed the rifle and the sword. Duel was out of weapons. What could it do against the Archangel at this point.

But then I knew.

"Oh no." My voice was a whisper, filled with the sudden onset of total bewilderment and horror all at once. This whole time, I had never considered the possibility that maybe, just maybe, that one of the pilots I had fought would become so desperate that they'd . . .

"You had to ruin everything, didn't you, Strike? Well guess what, you ruin me, I ruin you!" "Yzak" screamed as he was about to rocket past me.

I could see his trajectory. He was aiming right for the bridge. That was one of the most vulnerable parts of the ship. He hit there, or even near there, nobody was going to make it home.

There was a chance he would miss, of course. There's always that chance. But was it one I wanted to take just to get in the launch bay? Why would I head into a launch bay that could no longer exist in the next five seconds?

The Archangel knew he was coming. They were already shooting at him, but their shots only did structural damage and did nothing to blunt his charge. "Yzak" was clearly going to put it all on the line to put an end to the Archangel, and allow ZAFT the pleasure of total victory . . . and giving his parents, whoever they were, the knowledge that they had raised a martyr.

As he passed parallel to me, I knew that there was really only one choice I could make. I had just enough steering left to alter my course. Kira's modifications, even now, could grant me that much.

But by doing that I would not be able to get onboard. I would be left on my own out here, to take the brunt of falling into the atmosphere.

I already felt like I was going to boil over. But my survival meant nothing. If the Archangel was destroyed, if the Strike didn't hold, I was good as dead anyway.

The Duel, by doing this, had forced my hand.

I was going to suffer the same fate as the Duel, or as the Buster.

I ignited my sword and spun to the left just as he began passing me by.

I had no communications left with the Archangel. I could only imagine the looks on their faces as they saw me deviate from my course, sentencing myself to what could be a slow, excruciating death by incineration or by literally having my bodily fluids boil over.

I could hear the Duel's pilot, though. His breathing was ragged, as if he was psyching himself up mentally and physically to do what he was doing. This was not a choice he was making lightly.

"Mother, sister . . ." I heard him whisper as I managed to get right above him.

It almost made me hesitate.

Almost.

I stabbed downwards, right into where the cockpit would be. I felt the Duel violently vibrate as the sword pierced into the control center, where the pilot would be.

Suddenly, I could no longer hear the Duel pilot's breaths.

All I could hear was a tumultous, wild explosion.

I can scarcely remember what happened. I took the explosion full force, and it sent me spiraling out of control, away from the Archangel, away from Alaska, away from everyone I had striven to protect.

My friends. Those soldiers. The little girl.

I had lost them all in order to save them.

My fall could no longer be controlled. The explosion had done something to the Strike's controls. As the cockpit shook and shook and shook as if the world was going to come apart, as the heat came so tantalizingly close to making me feel that I was going to burn just by sitting in here . . .

I felt like I was barely there.

It was like I was a ghost, floating above the burning Strike, watching myself fall farther and farther away from my salvation.

Faster and faster I fell, spiraling downward, my Mobile Suit wreathed in flame much like the Menelaos in its dying moments.

I'm going to die. I found a way to screw up after all.

Tolle's image appeared in front of me. Either my gloved hand inside the cockpit or the ghostly bare hand reached towards the image, as if this transparent apparation would suddenly become alive and take my hand. I could find no words to say to this motionless memory. My feelings were beyond such fleeting things.

All I could do was cry. Tears poured out of my eyes, mixing with the seemingly billions of sweat droplets all over my face and visor, turning into steam as they evaporated. My helmet was rapidly becoming a sauna for my head.

Beyond the transparent visage, I could see small bits of the Strike breaking off, falling away.

I'm really going to die. Oh my God I'm going to die!

I tried so hard to grab Tolle, and the other people who seemed to pop up all around him. Everyone from the rest of my friends to Melanie to even Natarle Badgiruel all seemed to flash in front of me, vanishing and being replaced with someone else with every blink of my eyes.

Last of all were my mother and father, who, despite not looking a bit like me, despite "merely" adopting me, were my parents in heart and spirit. They were going to be absolutely heartbroken to learn I had made it so far just to fall now.

In stopping a suicide run, I had made my own suicide run. There was no way I could take an explosion like that and expect to survive a descent through the atmosphere. The Phase Shift wasn't going to hold.

Had I known that, somewhere in the back of my mind, when I had chosen to strike rather than gamble on "Yzak" missing his target?

I closed my eyes then. I pictured myself slowly but steadily going on fire, becoming a momentary flare in the sky before I was utterly destroyed.

Whoever's listening, just let this happen fast. Please let it happen fast. I don't want to feel a thing.

Please!

And then, I heard a voice. And it sounded far too mortal, and far too young, to be a god or something beyond this plane.

"Cagalli!"

I opened my eyes, and suddenly I saw the Aegis, wreathed in flame much like I was, its claws slowly trying to wrap themselves around me.

"Athrun?" I asked softly. My throat was so dry I could barely manage a coherent sound.

I could hear Athrun cry out as more turbulence hit us, nearly knocking us off course. "Damn it, you're heavier than I expected."

I could not help but chuckle so raspily and brokenly. It was just too perfectly cruel. "My God, Athrun. We're going to burn up in the atmosphere together and all you can say is an insult about my weight?"

"That's not what I'm doing! I'm trying to save you!"

I had so much pressure inside my head. The world was becoming increasingly blurry, an incoherent mess of color.

"Well, try harder then," I replied.

"What do you think I'm doing, Cagalli?"

"Why?" I asked then.

"Why what?"

"I just killed your friend. Why are you trying to save me?"

A brief moment of silence. "Because you weren't supposed to be here. You don't deserve to die here with the soldiers."

I closed my eyes, in a futile effort to remove the pressure from my head. I realized, faintly, I had made a big mistake, that all that would happen was that I would lose consciousness. But it was too late. I could already feel myself fall from reality as my final words slurred their way out of my mouth.

"Ha. And here I thought . . . "

Thought.

Thought.

Thought what?

I didn't know anymore.

I couldn't even hear Athrun. Just static. My communications were gone completely.

I had no reason to hold onto even the sliver of consciousness I had left.

And so I let myself fall.

And let the comforting darkness engulf me completely, and shield me away from the crushing heat, the throbbing pressure . . . and all of the burdens of living in reality.

I let myself fall forever.

PART 1: INVOKE FINIS

_________________
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: Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:18 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
Posts: 370
Location: over there
Well, there goes Yzak...

And the plot appears to have been completely blown sideways thanks to Yzak's last minute attempt at settling his grudge. I like it, though... but I'm not sure why. I, personally, liked Yzak later on, but oh well. I'll just have to settle for what is likely to be an AsuCaga overdose.

Whoo!

Next Part! Moment: The Golden Dawn and the Red Lion!

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 Post Posted: Tue Jun 14, 2011 8:35 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 248
Location: Illinois, USA
Rob DS Zeta wrote:
Well, there goes Yzak...

And the plot appears to have been completely blown sideways thanks to Yzak's last minute attempt at settling his grudge. I like it, though... but I'm not sure why. I, personally, liked Yzak later on, but oh well. I'll just have to settle for what is likely to be an AsuCaga overdose.

Whoo!

Next Part! Moment: The Golden Dawn and the Red Lion!


Actually, Athrun and Cagalli will not see each other for probably a dozen chapters. Maybe even more than that. The upcoming arc will be similar to canon in some ways but much, much different in many others.

Chapter 21 will be up on Monday and kickstart Part 2. I'm almost done with Chapter 22 as well so I think I could have a decent buffer forming again.

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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: Thu Jun 16, 2011 12:54 pm 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
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Location: over there
Oh... Well, yay.

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 Post Posted: Fri Jun 17, 2011 11:49 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 248
Location: Illinois, USA
I'm 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: Mon Jun 20, 2011 5:27 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
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Location: Illinois, USA
Part 2: Moment

Chapter Twenty-One: Where One Road Ends

As I open my eyes, I realize it's all dead.

The Strike was dark. No lights were on. I faintly saw cracks on my monitors and screens. The Strike must've crashed hard, wherever I was.

I touched a few buttons, just to see if something would turn on, but nothing did. The Strike was truly dead, it wasn't even running on emergency power.

Could I even get out?

I nudged the cockpit, softly, quietly. It moved with a soft creak.

No wonder why I hadn't suffocated. The latch was busted, air's been coming inside this entire time.

But I was still wearing my helmet, so that didn't make sense either. How would I still be breathing if . . .?

Wait. The cracks I was seeing weren't on my monitors. They're cracks on my helmet. I touch my visor faintly and the cracks grow widespread. The helmet was totally busted.

I take it off and carefully set it down. It's dark and almost impossible to see in here. Only the faint glimmer of light coming from the busted hatch allow me to see anything at all.

There's no way to tell where I was, or when. All I knew was that I was on Earth somewhere. And considering I wasn't half-frozen, it couldn't be Alaska. I was off course.

I faintly remembered Athrun grabbing my Mobile Suit. Where did he wind up steering me?

I was about to find out.

I had a pounding headache and my throat was so dry it felt like a miniature desert had appeared inside it. I tried swallowing, to try to force saliva down my throat, and the pain was enormous. I forced myself to keep swallowing, to allow my gel-like saliva to coat my throat, so it wouldn't be so dry, so it wouldn't hurt. Eventually, the pain went down, but it never went away.

I was too dehydrated and too tired to shake it off completely.

I tried to think past my headache and discern what had happened. Obviously, I had crash-landed. The Strike wouldn't be in so much trouble if I had landed the thing properly. In fact, there was a good chance I had been out of control the whole descent. That meant sixty tons or so had plowed into the ground full stop.

At least I wasn't underwater. So much of Earth is covered in ocean. I was extremely lucky, or Athrun was a really good pilot, in order for me not to have drowned.

But Athrun wasn't here. He either lost consciousness himself and lost control of me, or had underestimated our combined weight and had plowed into the ground with me. He was either a good distance away, or maybe he was right next to me, and I had beaten him in regaining consciousness. One thing was clear: he had not come to pull me out of the Strike's wreckage.

That meant the only person I could rely on was myself.

I reached into the sides of my seat. There were emergency supplies to the right, and a pistol with a small amount of ammunition to the left. They were in packages meant to withstand extreme heat and cold, but I had no idea how exteme the heat had been. For all I knew, it all had been cooked and was useless.

I pulled the pistol out of the package. It still looked usable to me. I loaded it and pulled the hammer back, it was ready to fire. I wasn't in the mood to test that theory, though. Who knew where I was. Who knew if enemies were nearby. If ZAFT troopers were nearby, scoping the wreckage, I did not want to alert them. I had no chance in a gun battle, and I didn't want to find out what they did to Coordinator P.O.Ws. I doubt they'd grant me any mercy, especially the zealots. I was a blood traitor.

Where was I, anyway?

No way to tell unless I opened that hatch and got out.

I gingerly touched the hatch. My headache was making it difficult to think, a steel wall felt like it was erected in my mind, preventing most coherent thoughts and strategies from forming in my head. But enough common sense stayed that I knew I had to be quiet, just in case. I had no idea how a GUNDAM crash-landing wouldn't cause a disturbance, but apparently it hadn't been significant enough for anyone to find me yet.

I pushed, softly, carefully. I did not want anyone nearby to hear me.

But as I opened the door, I realized that all of my precautions meant nothing.

A rifle barrel was directly in front of my face.

The voice was steely. "Drop the gun, hands behind your head."

I looked from the rifle barrel, then directly into the soldier's young eyes. "Um . . ."

"No 'um'. Drop everything you have and put your hands behind your head," the soldier replied.

There was no talking my way out of this one. I dropped the gun and my supplies and put both of my hands behind my head. The soldier immediately grabbed me by the shoulder and moved me away from the GUNDAM. I wound up in the custody of two other soldiers. It was becoming dark, it was apparently evening and overcast where I was, but I could see the ZAFT emblem.

Worst case scenario. I had been captured by ZAFT ground forces.

My aching, dense mind struggled to decipher what new information I had just gotten. Obviously, I was now a P.O.W., but where on Earth did ZAFT have a strong ground presence?

Australia was a place. Africa was another. South America was the third and final landmass where ZAFT had a significant presence. ZAFT also had various scattered islands all over the world for rapid-reaction and raids upon Earth Alliance territories.

I didn't think Athrun would've crashed us onto an island, too risky. So that meant Africa, Australia, or South America.

'Course, that didn't help me much, but it whittled things down a little bit. And it also told me I was a long ways away from Alaska.

One of the soldier tapped my shoulder with his rifle barrel and I realized he wanted me to kneel down. So I did, rested on both of my knees, while the ZAFT soldier who had seen me first searched my cockpit.

I was outside. I tried to use my peripheral vision to see where my GUNDAM had crashed, and could barely make the outline of part of a building. So I had crashed somewhere in a city.

One of the soldiers began talking. "I think this girl's a traitor."

"I know this is a traitor, man. No one can fly a Mobile Suit other than us."

"Traitor?" I dared to ask.

One of the ZAFT soldiers knelt down by me. He had a scraggly three-day beard on him. I immediately thought of him as Beard, and the other soldier next to me as Shave.

Lame, I know, but my mind was not completely there.

"Yes," Beard said. "We've been hearin' stories about a traitor who's been fighting our space forces this whole time."

"Cool," I said. "Treachery in ZAFT. I love political intrigue, it's so exciting."

Beard did not take that very well. Immediately I felt a sharp pain in my head. He was pulling on my hair. "Damn you! You killed a lot of our pilots, traitor!"

Shave shoved Beard. "Dude, DeCosta's not gonna like you picking on a prisoner! You know how he is."

"Yeah, he's a stupid by-the-book officer. He don't got any idea about real war, or how to deal with traitors," Beard growled.

"I can't be a traitor if I wasn't on your side to begin with," I said through clenched teeth. I was pissed off over my hair being used as a torture device. I wanted a fight, even though I'd probably die.

"What the hell do you mean?" Beard asked.

"I'm from Orb. I fought for the Earth Alliance for reasons you probably wouldn't understand."

"Oh, I understand all right. You're a draft dodger and then you chose to kill your own kind. You're even worse than a traitor!" Beard spat.

"Dude, we don't even know if she really is a Coordinator," Shave said.

"She basically admitted it to us!" Beard shouted. "Are you some kind of idiot?"

"Enough!" shouted the soldier standing by my cockpit. He was taller than all of us, so he became Tall Guy. He walked over to us, and shook his head.

"Look, we went through hell to get here. Right now, it's just the three of us watching over this prisoner and this GUNDAM until somebody manages to break through Desert Dawn."

"Desert Dawn?" I asked.

"Natives," Beard spat.

Tall Guy was more diplomatic, to a point. "They're guerrilla fighters from the Middle East and North Africa. They cling to their precious Allah and their guns like insane people."

Okay, that solidified where I was. Since the Middle East was still mostly in Earth Alliance hands, that meant I was in North Africa. I was not sure whether to be relieved by that, though.

"Why do these people cling to their religion? The Coptics ain't much better," Shave grumbled. "Ain't there proof that there is no God?"

"If you guys believe that," I said, "Then why are you guys saying 'damn' and 'hell' all the time?"

I was asking for it, and I realized that too late as Beard punched me right in the face and I collapsed into the dirt, feeling like my cheek was nothing but a stem of pain. "Shut your mouth or I'll tear it off!"

He kicked me in the stomach and I rolled onto my side, clutching it. Beard was strong. He could kick a lot of ass, and in my weakened state, that definitely included me.

Tall Guy grabbed Beard by the shoulder. "Enough. We need to get under cover before some sniper decides that we make easy marks. Grab the prisoner and take her-"

He stopped then, as we all heard the sounds of an approaching vehicle. I turned behind me and I saw an off-road vehicle pull up in front of us. An officer was in the back, and he looked young. His red hair was close-cropped and his blue eyes looked fairly human and fresh, they didn't have a thousand-yard stare or any of the exhaustion the three troopers were displaying.

"Aw crap, it's DeCosta," Beard growled.

DeCosta walked out of the jeep and ran up to us. "You three all right? A chopper reported that a few of us were at the Strike crash site."

"Yes, sir," Tall Guy said. "Area's quiet, at least for now."

As DeCosta replied, I realized I could hear the distinct sounds of gunfire. They sounded almost like firecrackers. A battle was going on, far away from me. "It's not going to stay that way. We really angered the locals."

"Screw the locals," Beard said. "Burn them all."

DeCosta shook his head. "We're not even supposed to be here right now. General Waltfeld is not happy. Do you at least have the pilot?"

"Right here," Tall Guy said, pointing at me.

DeCosta bent down to look at me. "You seem bruised up, boy."

I was almost too tired to be angry that he was yet another person who had mistaken me for a boy. But only almost. I could muster up just enough anger to make my feelings known. "I'm a girl, you dumbass."

I felt a sharp, painful blow in my backside and I crumpled face-forward. Beard shouted "I don't care! Shut up!"

"Enough, Private!" DeCosta barked. "We don't abuse our prisoners! It's already bad enough we've created a meat grinder here in Tassill. Now get the prisoner into the jeep before-"

I heard a loud whoosh from up ahead. I looked up just in time to see the jeep explode in a giant fireball, metal debris showering everywhere.

Gunfire from the right. I could see several gun flashes from behind windows in the building in front of the crash site. That must be Desert Dawn.

Tall Guy was dead, he had been shot in the head. Beard was also down, wheezing, clearly in great pain. Shave and DeCosta had hit the dirt, and they were scrambling to get behind anything resembling cover. I realized that now was my chance. I needed to escape now.

A helicopter flew over my head and began strafing the building. Missiles and machine-gun bullets showered the apartment, sending stone debris flying off with each blast. I could faintly hear people scream as they were assaulted. A lone rocket shot off from somewhere and struck the helicopter in the tail. The helicopter spun around repeatedly until it crashed into the building it was strafing, causing debris and smoke to fly everywhere.

More gunfire, all of it, everywhere. I was a sitting duck in the open.

I ran over by Tall Guy's corpse. There was my pistol and my emergency supplies, laying right by him, he never had any time to pocket them or secure them. I grabbed them both, but as I tried to grab his rifle, I heard an odd mechanical noise from straight ahead.

I looked up. I immediately wished I hadn't.

What seemed to be a colossal mechanical, one-eyed wolf seemed to be staring at me.

Several rockets slammed into it, but they only seemed to be causing minor impacts, without creating any crippling damage. The giant metal wolf fired several missiles everywhere from the top of it, and they blasted over my head.

Staying here meant death or imprisonment. Even though it looked like Desert Dawn was getting its ass kicked, I had to make it over to them somehow. The enemy of my enemy was my friend.

At least Desert Dawn wasn't going to throw me around.

I ran as the missiles and bullets flew everywhere. I don't know how I avoided being hit as I ran for the nearest alleyway and kept running. Maybe I wasn't anyone's concern. Desert Dawn was obviously shooting at the giant wolf and the wolf was shooting back at them. I meant nothing in the overall scheme of things, I was almost like a civilian.

I had no idea if Shave or DeCosta were following me. I didn't want to find that out. I kept running through the maze, looking for some corner where I could stop and collapse for a while and collect myself.

Finally, I thought I found a corner partially shielded by debris that looked promising.

I ducked behind there and collapsed, and prayed the war would go away.
***
As the hours passed by, the guns refused to completely die. Desert Dawn and the ZAFT were having a really intense fight for this town. It looked like my little corner didn't mean anything in the larger scheme of things, though, because no one from either side was coming over to check it out.

Night was falling, and quickly. Dusk's remaining light faded gradually but noticeably, which was accelerated by the firm overcast sky, one that seemed to be not your ordinary cloud system. In fact, they almost looked like rain clouds. The desert didn't get a lot of rain, but maybe this was the wet season? It was February, after all.

And who knew how close we were to the Mediterranean Sea. Storm systems happened on the coast a lot. Maybe something was coming over here to dump some water on us.

I dug into my emergency supplies and greedily sucked down one of my two water bottles. The water was anything but cold but I didn't care. I devoured a protein bar and just let the wrapper lay down on the ground next to me. Littering was the least of my concerns right now.

Underneath the consistent soundtrack of missiles and guns was a more symphonic sound. Something deeper, louder, something greater than anything man could build. Thunder. A deep, powerful sound not created by war.

Rain was coming.

I was still thirsty, even after drinking an entire water bottle, but my throat no longer felt like it was part of the desert. That helped my well-being significantly. I was surprised by how cold the night felt. Maybe it was the rain, partially, but I had always heard the desert was hot. What happened to the endless waves of baking desert heat?

In a way, I was glad I was still alive to be asking those questions. Sure, my pilot uniform felt a bit ratty, and I had lost the Strike, and I was stuck in the middle of intense urban warfare. But I was still alive. Who knew what would happen to me in the end, but as long as I lived I still had a chance of returning home.

I thought of my parents, who had to be thinking I was dead. Wait until they saw me, whenever it was that I finally returned. I wanted to see them smile at me, cry for me, embrace me. And I would return their affections twofold. I wanted nothing more than to be with them.

And then Melanie, and Tolle, and everyone else. I just wanted to be with them.

But none of them were here. Not a single one. I was alive, but I was alone.

They had to be alive, and well, safe in Alaska probably. But they had no way of knowing I was still alive. They probably assumed I was dead. Why wouldn't they? How would they know that I lived?

Tears appeared in my eyes as I thought about the funeral service they had to be planning for me. I wondered who would be giving my elegy on the Archangel. Who? Tolle, maybe, but he wasn't the greatest with words. Maybe it would be Murrue Ramius herself.

I wanted to sleep, but I forced myself not to. It was much too dangerous, and I had no one watching my back. War was going on all around me. I could not afford to be taken prisoner by the ZAFT again. Maybe if I wound up in Desert Dawn's hands I could finally collapse and have some rest.

I don't know how long I sat there, staring at the wall in front of me, trying to contemplate my new reality. It was a reality deeper in war than ever, but I had no GUNDAM, no friends, no nothing.

At least I had gravity on a consistent basis again. Sure, I felt like a sack of bricks, but maybe I'd be back to normal in a few hours or days or something, right? I couldn't remember how long it took to recover from a couple of weeks with inconsistent zero gravity.

I thought back to the Archangel and the seemingly physics-defying rooms that did have some gravity. I had no idea how the ship designers pulled that off, but I felt better because of it. There was no way I wouldn't been able to run away like that if I had been in zero gravity consistently.

Speaking of running, what should my strategy be?

Should I try to escape into the desert into the east somewhere? Or should I stay here and try to find a pocket of Desert Dawn resistance? As long as I was wearing this Earth Alliance pilot's outfit they'd have to assume I wasn't out to kill them. And although going into the desert would get me out of the battle, there was no guarantee I'd find shelter before sunrise. Sleep deprivation plus heat stroke would definitely kill me.

I didn't want to admit it, but I was stuck in Tassill until someone gave me a ride out of here.

I waited for the sky to get just a little darker, for the thunder to be a little louder. Then, as I saw lightning crackle its way across the sky. I stood up.

No more running away. I was going to run with a purpose: getting out of this town, and getting out of this war.

I moved into the street, and began my self-imposed mission just as the first droplets of rain hit the ground.

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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: Tue Jun 21, 2011 10:12 am 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
Posts: 370
Location: over there
:D

This is, without a doubt, an excellent direction to take. Cagalli's been dumped into the ZAFT v. Desert Dawn warzone, Athrun's gone, the Strike is toast, and good help is being so hard to find.

Needless to say, I'm very proud of you, Mr. Cheese.

As for characters, we see the (invincible) DeCosta, along with a group of attitude-based OCs. Once again, great characterization.

Great to see goodness! Hope you have luck in continuing.

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 Post Posted: Tue Jul 05, 2011 9:57 am 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Posts: 248
Location: Illinois, USA
Rob DS Zeta wrote:
:D

This is, without a doubt, an excellent direction to take. Cagalli's been dumped into the ZAFT v. Desert Dawn warzone, Athrun's gone, the Strike is toast, and good help is being so hard to find.

Needless to say, I'm very proud of you, Mr. Cheese.

As for characters, we see the (invincible) DeCosta, along with a group of attitude-based OCs. Once again, great characterization.

Great to see goodness! Hope you have luck in continuing.


I'm glad you like it so much. I'm trying for something different for a short while before Cagalli winds up in a cockpit again (we all know that'll happen soon XD).

Anyway, I've been very unhappy with chapter 22 until recently. The newest draft should finally meet my standards and I'll try to post it later today . . . if I can just get it finished.

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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: Tue Jul 05, 2011 11:02 pm 
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Creepy Bishonen

Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
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Location: Illinois, USA
Chapter Twenty-Two: Rain

It wasn't long before the rain became a steady downpour. It wasn't heavy, but it wasn't light either. The ground turned into muddy clay, sticking to my boots and gunking up my feet and my calves. My pilot's suit was soon completely soaked, and I found myself sheltering among as many buildings as possible as I wandered the streets on my own.

The gunfire had settled down as the rain began falling. Both sides must've decided they were done killing each other for the day, or maybe fighting in the rain was one discomfort too many. Or there was something else going on, something I couldn't quite fathom.

Maybe all either side was doing was taking a quick, collective break while they strategized how to kill each other.

I stopped around a corner near what looked to be the remnants of a market to catch my breath. I started calming down when lightning struck nearby, illuminating everything for just a brief moment, and sending nightmarish shadows skittering across the ground. I jumped back behind my cover, my heart racing. I told myself that what I had seen were just illusions, but I still hadn't shaken off some of the haze in my mind. That hazy part, tired and addled, was implying that something not of this earth was at work here.

I closed my eyes, counted to five, and re-opened them, just to see bright light as more lightning struck, and I saw even more crazed shadows out of a Lovecraft novel for a brief moment, before all was shrouded in darkness once again.

As the thunder cracked and rumbled, I closed my eyes again. It's not real you stupid idiot. Worry about what is real. Like ZAFT. Like Desert Dawn.

I peeked around the corner again, and forced myself to not look at any shadows when lightning flashed once more. I didn't see anybody. No civilians, no soldiers, no nothing. Only a couple of stray cats wandering the street, and I was of no concern to them.

It's like a ghost town. That was precisely the wrong thing to think because it got my imagination rushing through my head.

Maybe aliens just struck. Wouldn't that end the war really fast? Or maybe there's a zombie apocalypse going on. My God, what if there are zombies? Would they be the fast ones or the slow ones?

I drummed them out. God, I was so stupid. Getting distracted by momentary and horrific fantasies. I could not worry about the impossible . . . or at least the highly doubtful.

Focus, Cagalli. Focus. You've dead-ended yourself, unless you want to go back the way you came, the only way through is that market. You have no choice.

I bent to the ground. I felt disgusting, wallowing in the wet clay, but I had no choice. I had no idea if snipers were surveying the open streets. Most likely there were. And with every flash of lightning, I would be visible. The only way to stay invisible was to practically become a part of the ground . . . and hope no vehicles came by to squish me.

That would unquestionably suck.

I crawled forward the best I could, praying no one would notice me. Midway through, I realized that I was making a really dumb mistake. If I had just run for it, I'd be on the other side by now. I'd already be safe from sniper fire. And here I was, crawling through the dirt like an animal, an easy mark for anybody who looked down at the ground.

I was new to ground combat, I had no idea how the rules worked. But here I was, in battle school, where a failing grade meant death.

When I crawled behind a wagon, I stopped for a moment, and sat up just a bit, but not enough to let my head be visible. I wasn't going to crawl on the ground again. Damn, that was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

At least the rain was washing some of the clay off of me. But only some.

Was my pistol okay? Was it calibrated to handle the rain? Could it fire even when wet? I studied it, and I took a wild guess and thought it could. I didn't want to test that theory out though. It was best to remain invisible and hope I'd never have to use it.

After another flash of lightning, I ran for it as thunder shook the ground. I made it behind another solid building and I caught my breath. I had successfully traversed one road. But only one.

I found a spot with a thin layer of cloth, the remnants of a fruit stand by the looks of it. I searched the spot for anything edible, but what looked to be melons were either spoiled or filled with bullet remnants. A fight had broken out here, and I smelled the sickening scent of corpses near me. For my own sake, I didn't stick around here, and kept walking, not looking around to see where those corpses could be.

This whole city had become a graveyard, and I was its only living denizen. This was no place for me. This city belonged to the dead, much like Junius Seven. It was for the dead or for those who were going to die.

I was just about to let my guard down when I heard voices of the living. They were speaking the universal business language, English, not Arabic, so I immediately knew they were ZAFT. I ducked behind a corner and listened in to these intruders entering the dead city.

"God damn, Mike. What the hell are we doing here? The one time it rains in the desert and we're doing a patrol."

"I don't know. It's DeCosta's orders. He's trying to get the town secured for the general so he can look good. Apparently we weren't supposed to be here yet,we're stretching the front line," said who I assumed to be "Mike". "I heard that we got two GUNDAMs crashing in town. Never seen any of them, though I heard we got one of the pilots."

Athrun. They were talking about Athrun. It made sense that he wound up in the same town I did.

"Is he alive?"

"Yeah, I think so. Heard the other pilot was a girl."

"A girl, really?"

"Yeah. A Coordinator, the rumor is. But she's working for the Earth Alliance."

"God damn, Mike. I mean it."

"Yeah, I know. Why the hell would a Coordinator girl work for the Alliance? It makes no sense."

"We supposed to be catching her, Mike?"

"I haven't heard any orders 'bout it."

A third voice piped up. "Shut the hell up, both of you. Desert Dawn could be anywhere. You're making us easy marks."

"Sorry, Sarge," said Mike. The second voice didn't say a word.

By that point they had passed me and were moving on down the street, just chatting away as they moved down the street. There were a couple of other soldiers with them, but they weren't chatty, just marched in silence, looking every direction they could. I briefly peeked and saw green neon lights, tiny and scarcely visible, move around. Night-vision goggles. I quickly ducked back the moment I realized that. They'd see me easily if I stepped out.

Great. Just what I needed. ZAFT had night-vision and I didn't. This made things infinitely more dangerous.

I had to be even more careful with my movements. A single mistake and I'd be back in their hands again. And I doubted that DeCosta or this "general" would be pleased to see me. After all, I had escaped capture once already.

I highly doubted they would let me escape again.

I looked behind me. A gap in the wall. Looked big enough for me to fit through.

Part of me questioned whether it was a smart idea to go inside. It would be even darker in there than out here. Plus the downpour and thunder was masking my movements.

At the same time, I was exhausted. There was no other way to describe it. Exhausted and stressed out was not a good combination.

If I was going to go inside, it would be to hunker down for the night. Hide in some secluded corner, and hope no one would find me until daylight, where I was on even footing with the patrols.

Was this a good place to hide for the night?

I moved towards it, just a little bit. I aimed my pistol at the opening, and forced my aching eyes to focus. I could not screw this up. If anyone was inside, I needed to get the hell out and in a hurry before I was caught.

This place was only safe if abandoned, or nearly so. Or occupied by people who didn't give a damn that a pilot wearing an Earth uniform was in their midst.

I looked back around, toward the street. Finally, I made up my mind.

I was going inside. I was going to get some rest, and then get moving in the morning. Maybe if I found a burqa or something I would be able to disguise myself and move around fairly freely. I wasn't fully fluent in Arabic yet but maybe I could be just convincing enough for ZAFT soldiers to pay me no mind. Hopefully they hadn't enough time to force women to show papers and stuff too.

Also, it helped that I was really sick of being rained on. I was soaked to the point where there wasn't a single dry spot left on me.

I wasn't going to dry off quickly and my body would itch like hell, but minor discomforts didn't mean anything.

They truly didn't.

Not in the big picture of survival.

My mind made up, I went inside, pistol raised and ready to fire.
***
Killing someone with my gun wasn't on my mind as I stumbled through the hallways and rooms, looking for somewhere perfect for me to hide. Sure, I was thinking that someone could be around the corner, and I needed to be ready for him, but I wasn't thinking about killing. My only thoughts were You can't get caught, you mustn't get caught.

It was pitch-black in here, and the only sounds were my sloshy footsteps, my soft, nervous breathing, and the storm outside. Lightning would briefly illuminate the hallways I wandered through, giving the impression of monsters and phantoms lurking in the shadows, surrounding me.

But they never struck. I kept reasoning with my exhausted mind, telling myself that there were only humans to be afraid of here. Not the supernatural.

It's just like how I was at Junius Seven. Me being alone, with only my imagination, was a self-destructing phenomenon, where I have to keep fighting myself in addition to everyone and everything around me.

I wish I had a radio com with Kira, with anybody. My helmet had been busted which made my radio useless, but I still wished that I had it. I could've at least tried to make it work, try some form of improvisation to mess with it until it did.

But I had nothing. And, most likely, the only thing I would find were ZAFT channels anyway. And those could be tapped.

Finally, after so much senseless wandering, I finally picked a random room with its door half-open. I was three stories up, and much of the outer wall was blown out, leaving me exposed to the storm. Thankfully, the wind was blowing the rain away from the room, so the room was stone dry but had a bird's eye view of the storm and below.

I softly, silently shut the door. My thought process was that if it was opened, it would give me some time to hide. That was exactly the wrong thing to think, but I didn't know that yet.

I found a corner whose outer wall wasn't blown out, it was inside a closet, with clothes lying everywhere. No corpses.

I was too tired to think of trying anywhere else. I buried myself in the clothes, not caring how dusty they were. I pondered eating my last meal bar, but I opted not to. Even though I was already starving, I knew I couldn't eat right now. If I ate the bar, I would have nothing for tomorrow. Who knew how long it would take before I would find anything I could eat, much less friendlies who had a supply line?

The formless gruel I had eaten so much in the Archangel cafeteria suddenly seemed appetizing.

I forced myself to relax. I had found a building that ZAFT hadn't occupied. Neither side had occupied it, actually. It was all mine. My private little multi-story apartment.

I was already making plans in my head. When it was light out I was going to scope the building out, look for anything edible in any cupboards or refridgerators or something. I also needed to find a burqa. As much as the feminist in me despised those things, I knew one was necessary. ZAFT couldn't be that ignorant of this archaic tactic that they'd strip-search every woman with a burqa on, would they?

Plus, it would completely disguise me. And if my rather marginal Arabic sounded convincing enough to ZAFT soldiers' ears, my disguise would be complete. Then I could wander around until I found rebel lines or get out of the city.

A few booms shook me out of my stupor. I could hear something like aircraft flying over head, and explosions in the sky and on the ground. None struck nearby.

Great. An air raid or something. Just what I needed. But who was doing the raiding, ZAFT or the Earth Alliance? Something told me that it was Earth Alliance. A counterattack against ZAFT's offensive in Tassill. Probably wouldn't do a whole lot against ZAFT, though, and it probably would hurt or kill some Desert Dawn members, too.

As long as bombs didn't drop on me, I wasn't sure I cared. Still, for an air raid, there were a surprising lack of bombs hitting the ground. Sure, it sounded like a few fell, but it seemed pretty light for an air raid.

I forced myself to stop thinking about it. I'm not a soldier. I'm just guessing.

Relax, you idiot. Just relax. You're as safe as you can be, I told myself.

But as I was about to fade away, and finally enjoy some sleep with my makeshift blankets, I heard a distant male voice, one that was not speaking Arabic.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Just keep going, I'll catch up. Gotta take a leak."

My eyes shot open and suddenly I was wide awake.

Sheer fright makes a pretty good replacement for an espresso dose. But I don't recommend it. Fright makes the heart feel like it's going to explode in your chest, and your stomach feel like it's upside down. And do I need to mention the sweaty forehead, the strained breathing, and every single muscle tensing up?

The door I had shut opened, and my heart literally did skip a beat.

I gripped the pistol and my trembling hands fumbled with it, trying to turn the safety off. I know a bullet was already loaded into the chamber, so I wouldn't need to reveal my position by pulling the hammer back. But that didn't help my nerves. Even something as simple as flicking a switch nearly made me drop the gun.

I waited.

I kept thinking he was suddenly going to emanate around the corner, look into the closet, and see me. But his face never showed. Several seconds passed and soon I wondered if he was ever going to show up.

I slowly peeked my head out of the closet. Maybe he knew I was here, and was playing some kind of demented game with me. And the moment I exposed myself he would put the barrel of his gun at my head, let the moment sink in, and then make my brains shower all over the room.

But that didn't happen either.

Much to my amazement, the soldier really did have to take a leak.

Oh gross, I thought, as the man was perched right outside the shell hole.

I went back behind the wall and tried to relax, even if it was only a little. He wasn't here looking for me. He was just looking for a discreet place to relieve himself. That wasn't such a big deal, right? As long as I stayed quiet there would be no problem.

I heard the radio buzz softly again, and the soldier began talking. "Look, Sarge, I'll be out in a sec. Yeah, I know, the missing pilot, I get it. No, I'm not neglecting that part of the mission. Huh? What do you mean I have to conduct a sweep of the floor by myself? Are you serious? Yeah, I know, the place is deserted . . . fine, fine, I'll do it, Sarge. Just gimme a sec."

I heard the static buzz, and the soldier grumbled "Damn it, they punish me for taking a piss. God, who makes a soldier sweep a floor on his own? Do they want me to get killed?"

Now I was in full-on panic mode. I had just heard the soldier get orders to sweep the floor. Obviously, he would start by searching through the entire room.

And then he'd find me. It was going to be pretty damn obvious if someone was hiding in a pile of clothes.

He was going to be finished any second now. And as my heart seemed to want to eject itself out of my chest, I knew I only had one choice.

I had to ambush him. I didn't have the Strike's armor, nor its weaponry, but I had to ambush him.

I leaned out, my pistol in both of my hands. I could see the soldier messing with his fly, he was done. It was now or never. I pop him now and run for it, or I get captured.

I tried to aim for his head, but I quickly noticed how unsteady my grip was. I was so nervous that I was going to be lucky to make him feel the wind as the bullet passed by. So I aimed for the chest.

I can't believe I'm doing this.

I waited. He finished, and he seemed to pause for a second as he picked his rifle back up. Then he turned, directly at me.

It was sheer impulse. Even in this darkness, I knew he had seen me the moment he had turned around. I could hear a brief cry of surprise escape his lips, and his rifle quickly being aimed at me, carefully yet expediently by his arms.

I fired.

Bang. Spak.

The soldier immediately reached up and grabbed his throat. I had gotten lucky. Instead of hitting him in the chest or missing him quickly, I had ripped apart his windpipe, his throat. There was no way anyone was going to save him in time.

The soldier collapsed against the wall and slumped down, coming to a rest in a sitting position, his legs sprawled in front of him, both of his hands continuing to clutch his throat. I just stood there, mesmerized by this man dying in front of my eyes.

I was his executioner. There was no excuse for it. I had aimed, and I had shot him, and now he was going to die.

I forced myself to keep functioning. I told myself that this wasn't real. It couldn't be. I didn't have the guts to shoot someone.

But I had. I could see the results of my work as the soldier continued to struggle in a futile effort to breathe. His eyes were wide in pain and terror, and I knew he was suffering. I approached him, slowly and gingerly. I felt like I was not of this world, that I was an invader, and had used the man as mere sport.

He was fading. His eyes were beginning to close, his gasps becoming more pitiful and wheezy. I reached down to pick his rifle up, vaguely aware I was going to need more firepower.

"I'm sorry," I told him. "So sorry."

He didn't seem to register a word I said. He just continued his impossible struggle against death.

Then I heard new voices. "Wilson? Private Wilson! What the hell's going on over there?"

Oh no!

There was no escape for me here. Other than . . .

Jumping out of a third-story shellhole. What a brilliant idea!

I looked down. There was a cart of some kind. Maybe if it had anything resembling a cushion maybe I wouldn't break my neck from the fall.

Anything would be better than being caught by ZAFT soldiers after murdering one of their own.

Fear was my motivator. Fear of what would happen to me, a blood traitor, for killing a ZAFT soldier. The soldier was still fighting on, but his gasps were becoming softer and fewer. I wanted to be able to lie to myself, that he would be rescued and saved by his squad.

This wasn't like killing someone in a Mobile Suit. Up in space it was almost impersonal, like destroying a machine. Here? No machines, no protection. Bullets were all that mattered down here, bullets and missiles and rockets.

I jumped, aiming for the cart, hoping the sound of the rain and thunder would mask the crashing noises and any grunts of pain. I was instantly soaked, but that was the last thing on my mind as I fell to the ground and crashed into the cart.

Turned out there were melons of some kind inside. Spoiled melons, I could tell by the rather rank smell, but melons. I broke the cart, and I felt like my entire backside was a gigantic bruise, but as I scrambled off of the wreckage, it didn't feel like I had broken anything.

I could hear sounds of surprise and alarm inside the building. I scrambled to my feet and ran out of the lot and into the nearest alley and just plain did not stop until I could run no further. I collapsed on my knees and stared at the nearest wall, still feeling like I was not completely here.

As I regained control of myself, I realized I had maintained a death grip on the soldier's rifle. I was already trying to convince myself that I had experienced nothing but a bad dream, but the rifle told me the truth. I nearly dropped it, but forced myself to hang on.

I knew I couldn't run from what I had done. I had killed people up in space, and now I killed someone on Earth.

But it was different in space. I was protecting my friends, Orb civilians, shorthanded soldiers. Here, I had killed to protect no one but myself.

Was my life really worth so much?

I forced myself to think that I had no choice. That he was going to spot me. If I hadn't taken the shot I would be a prisoner right now, and considering the previous group's treatment of me, I could expect lots of abuse, maybe even death if they hated me enough. After all, I had escaped them once already.

And now, after killing a soldier in their midst, I could expect no mercy, period.

I was definitely going to be considered a blood traitor now. I could've just surrendered, but I had chosen to kill.

I thought about that soldier as I leaned my head on the alleyway, looking down on the soaked, cracked asphalt below. That poor soldier, who couldn't have been much older than me. Killed because he had to take a piss in the same room I was in.

What a stupid, pointless way to go, even in war.

Some mother, some father, was going to be getting a "KIA" message very soon about their child.

And I was responsible for that.

I collapsed to my knees and put my hands to my face. I couldn't help myself anymore. I was a murderer. A true murderer. How could I hope to ever become an ordinary civilian again? How could I ever look my parents in the eye?

Now, more than ever, war had touched my life, and left burning scars in its wake.

How could I ever hope to escape war?

How could I ever repay the lives I had taken?

The answers were no and no.

I began sobbing, and let the rain wash all over me, washing my tears off of my face and into the ground.

_________________
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: Fri Jul 08, 2011 7:51 am 
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Pilot's Doomed Girlfriend

Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
Posts: 370
Location: over there
Whoa! Okay... I'm here. Review time!

This chapter... is excellent, as usual. Cagalli's fear (and pending insanity) is well on display here, all capped upon by the cap-busting.

Okay, next up is operation rescue Athrun, perhaps? Or will she finally make a meeting with Waltfeld? Who knows?

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*insert witty eyecatch here*


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