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
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.
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.
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!?"
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.
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."
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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 . . . "
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?